Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014
The startling hum of sexual attraction tingling up her arm shocked Charisse in its intensity.
With infinite care she removed her hand from his strong grip and tried to tear her eyes from his, but she couldn’t look away.
Good God, the glamorous pictures of him in the society pages didn’t do the man justice. She’d never seen him smile in a photograph. He certainly wasn’t smiling now. He looked like an austere rock star. His skin was smooth and the colour of spun gold. His ebony hair was tied back at the neck in a slippery tail. But his eyes were the palest grey and so vivid they seemed to burn right through her.
He was long and lean. Too thin, was her first thought, quickly followed by, what an amazing bone structure. His face was all angles and plains with a long straight nose and a fabulously sculpted wide mouth that had a tendency to appear brooding, along with a purely masculine jaw, which already had a faint five o’clock shadow.
It was the face of a man who meant business, tough and uncompromising.
It was a face that could have been carved out of granite.
He blinked as if waking up from a dream.
Then he frowned at her in a way that caught her breath.
It made him look like a bad tempered warrior.
“How the hell can this be? How old are you?” he demanded.
The deep American drawl had initially thrown her, and it did the same thing now.
However, his question didn’t surprise her.
“I am twenty-two. I have been married for six years.”
That dead-on stare was made her nervous.
He made her nervous.
To keep her hands busy Charisse took a sip of coffee.
Those eyes went dark now and ice cold.
She shivered at the look in them for her.
“He bought you, didn’t he?”
The clutch of fear in her belly was an old and familiar foe.
She hadn’t felt the presence of that foe for six years.
Charisse straightened her spine, reminded herself that she was no longer broken.
And she wouldn’t be intimidated by anyone, certainly not by the man looking at her as if she was a bad smell.
Her chin lifted. “Excuse me?”
Khalid sat back on the sofa, all relaxed and in control, and with an arrogance that made her palm itch. He didn’t fool her. The way his eyes narrowed flicking over her body as if she was an object rather than a human being made the ache in her heart burn. It felt as if the organ was being squeezed in an iron fist. Fear. It rose up from her belly into her throat in a way that brought back hellish memories of a time when the world as she’d known it had ended. Of a time when powerful men had looked upon her as a commodity to be bought and sold.
She shuddered with a memory that had a cold sweat trickle down her back. A flashback of lying naked, bloody, freezing cold and in pain entered her mind. And it took everything she had not to tremble in front of Khalid.
A Khalid who now looked at her as if she was something he wanted to scrape from the sole of his Italian handmade shoe.
“My accountants are very thorough. I’ve been through a variety of bank accounts with them. Six years ago, my uncle Asim paid three and a half million Euros—for you.” The drawl was now filled with utter disdain. “And he’s left ten times that amount in Swiss bank accounts in your name.” He leaned into her. “Well, I hope he got his money’s worth.”
Heady relief that he had no idea of the awful truth of her past fought with a righteous outrage that he believed she would marry a man for his money. That she had no moral compass or cared nothing for her country or her people.
How dare he?
“Do not look at me like that, as if I am a piece of meat,” Charisse warned in a tone of solid ice.
She rose and found her legs far from steady. She stalked to the doors open to the balcony and back again, all the while trying desperately to hang onto her temper. Picking up the tension in the room, the dogs growled and she silenced them with a hand signal. Her eyes remained glued to the dark angel lounging on the sofa and staring at her in a way that made her hand hurt to smack him, hard.
She didn’t attempt to hide her fury as she spoke, “How dare you of all people sit there in judgement of me? You know absolutely nothing about me.”
The sneer corrupting his beautiful mouth was an ugly thing. “Drop the contempt, baby. Right back at you. And you know nothing about me other than what you’ve read in your glossy magazines or listened to gossip while you’ve been holed up here in your ivory tower.”
The way her stomach churned made the room spin, so she took deep breaths until the black spots in front of her eyes receded.
Charisse counted to ten and prayed fervently for patience. “I do not, and have never, lived in an ivory tower. I care about the people of this country, this continent. I care…”
His imperious flick of his hand shocked her into silence.
The need to pick up a giant fishbowl crammed with fresh roses and pour it over his dark head was so overwhelming she had to fist her hands.
“Spare me,” he drawled in a tone she was coming to hate. “Unlike you, I’ve never been anything less than honest about how I live my life and what I choose to do with it. What do you think your loyal subjects would think if they knew you were bought and paid for by my dear uncle? What do you think the starving, the needy, would think of you—a beautiful young woman—paid millions to marry a man old enough to be her grandfather? And a woman who now happens to have tens of millions of Euros in banks in Switzerland?”
When he put it like that, what had happened to her sounded so terribly sordid. But there was more to the truth than the bald facts he’d spat at her.
She’d been avoiding Khalid, that was true.
But she’d clung to the fragile hope that even though Khalid had, to put it mildly, a regrettable reputation, as a person he might be amenable and reasonably easy going. Perhaps even a little simple-minded. Never, in her wildest dreams, had she imagined a man with the tongue of a viper.
And now he was threatening to expose what he thought he knew of her past to her people?
How on earth was she going to be able to live with a man who held her in such deep contempt?
The room spun as his words pierced her fragile heart with hot knives and left it bloody and broken.
She sank to the couch and simply could not tear her eyes away from his.
“I knew nothing about the money until I read Asim’s letter. You must believe me.”
Jet brows flew into his hairline.
“Must I? I don’t have to believe anything. From what I’ve heard, few people saw my uncle in his final months except you and my aunt Yasmin who thinks the sun shines out of your cute little ass.”
Cute little ass?
Never had anyone spoken to her like this.
And it appeared he regarded her as a… as a… con artist. Her hands fisted and her nails dug into the palms of her hands as Charisse battled the urge to scream with utter frustration.
“I adore Yasmin. She’s been like a mother to me.” Her voice broke and she cursed her wayward emotions. She’d never been good with overemotional dramas, they reminded her too much of her childhood. “Why are you behaving like this? Why have you judged me without even giving me a chance?”
Those grey eyes, cold as ice, narrowed into hers in a way that made Charisse brace herself. “Not fair. Is it, darlin’?”
Bewildered, she blinked.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t you? The palace staff knows exactly what I’m talking about. ‘He’s a dick-swinging party animal and a waster.’ And I see from the colour draining from your face you know what I’m talking about.”
Her mouth went bone dry.
Charisse cleared her throat.
There was no point in denying it.
To do that would make a horrendous situation even worse.
She found herself wringing her hands, the words coming too fast. “I was upset at the time. Asim’s letter was… a shock. I’d no idea he’d even considered me marrying anyone, never mind marrying a…”
His grey eyes went wide with a warning that had heat scorch her cheeks.
Dear God, she’d nearly insulted him to his face.
He was angry and who could blame him? But what dismayed her was the fact that members of her staff had been gossiping about her.
She simply could not believe it.
His thin smile told her he was more than aware of the near insult.
“Good job you stopped right there, Highness. I gave my word to my father that I’m a changed man. No drinking. No women. And apparently if you and I get it together we’ve to make a baby sooner rather than later. A baby which will, according to my father, bring the hill tribes together. With us as parents, the poor little bastard has my deepest sympathy.”
The way he said, ‘Highness’ and the way he looked at her with eyes filled with a mix of lust and dark contempt made her heart thunder too loud in her ears.
This was a complete nightmare.
Khalid placed the fragile cup and saucer on the table and stood.
And she realised he was very tall.
The dogs rose and he simply sent the animals a look that had them immediately drop their butts on the floor, and then lie down in a submissive gesture that had her jaw drop.
Boris and Rufus obeyed her and no one else.
Charisse stood and felt the full force of an invincible will and an even stronger temper as his eyes held hers with an intensity that caught her lungs.
Real fear crawled up her spine as he moved towards her and she forced herself not to back away.
Negative energy hissed and spat in an atmosphere filled with a tension between them that was combustible. Dangerous. The dogs growled low in their throats.
She gave a hand signal and they whined their anxiety.
Khalid stepped right into her personal space and she couldn’t help the tiny shudder of panic that ran through her.
“If those animals so much as twitch I’ll have them destroyed. I refuse to live in my own home in fear of having my throat ripped out.” The drawl was no longer lazy but clipped and harsh.
She read the truth in those chilling grey eyes.
He meant every single word.
His hand lifted and strong fingers gripped her chin as he tipped up her face to his. For the first time in six years a man was treating her like a thing. A possession. And it was as if this man’s touch scorched her skin, branded her as his.
“So very beautiful. So very young,” he murmured. Then his eyes narrowed and she read annoyance. “You’ve kept me waiting for many days, Highness. What’s it to be? Marriage to me and a life of duty and sacrifice? Or a life of leisure on the French Riviera? With those looks you’ll have no problem bagging yourself another sugar daddy.”
The insulting tone told her he was certain he knew exactly which life she would choose.
His touch burned her flesh and she couldn’t tear her eyes away from the utter loathing in his.
His breath, the heat of his body spun around her over-heightened senses.
The cologne he wore was a spicy, peppery scent mixed with a citrusy top note.
But most potent of all was the scent of an aroused man in his prime.
A scent that sizzled through her system sending a liquid ache low in her belly, her breasts. Charisse had read enough that she understood the laws of chemistry, the fickle law of attraction, as well as pheromones, and what was possible between a man and a woman.
What she simply could not understand was how on earth her body was attracted to this man?
He hated her.
She despised him.
And yet she read arousal in those dark eyes, even as they studied her mouth for an eternal moment.
Charisse couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe.
It was as if her life was poised on a knife edge, on the decision she must make.
The strong fingers holding her chin squeezed hard, telling her he was becoming impatient for a response.
He lowered his head and his mouth was a mere whisper from hers.
Khalid watched her big blue eyes widen as she stared up into his.
The delicate pulse in her neck beat a frantic tattoo.
She was trembling now.
And guilt that he frightened her made him pause.
He took a deep inhale.
God, he loved how she smelled. She wore a light floral scent, could be jasmine, but most of all he loved the scent of a warm, soft, and willing woman. Her hair was fabulous, like a silver river of pure silk. And he had no trouble imagining her in his bed, that slim body under his, long legs spread wide, taking his manhood to the hilt. No trouble at all. And her full mouth was a lesson in vulnerable temptation for a hungry man who hadn’t tasted a woman in a very long time.
He wondered what his brother would say if he knew the women he entertained at his home in London were in fact real life models for his work? Yes, he drank too much, but he’d already begun to cut back if for no other reason because too much alcohol had a detrimental affect on his creativity, never mind his libido. Khalid couldn’t help but enjoy the heady excitement this woman appeared to bring to his over stimulated senses. He read real fear in those blue depths as well as a courage and dignity that made his chest ache.
Her eyes searched his face before flickering to his mouth, and back, to search his eyes.
“Marriage,” she whispered.
Again, she’d caught him by surprise.
Well, well, and he wondered for a moment if he’d misjudged her? But then the tip of her pink tongue flicked over her full bottom lip and he shrugged the thought away. Oh no, Charisse knew exactly what he was doing to him with those big innocent eyes.
She had the face of a seraph.
And the heart of a harlot.
Temptation whispered in his ear that she might be a harlot, but now she was his harlot. And Khalid decided to help himself to the offer of those trembling lips.
First his teeth tugged gently on the full bottom lip in a way that had her gasp into his mouth. Lord, she was so soft and tasted so fucking sweet. His libido roared like a formula one racing car on the starting line as blood surged into his erection so fast he shuddered with the pleasure pain of it. For the first time, he thanked God he’d given up alcohol. Then his mouth took hers. He plundered, in a crushing and bruising kiss that had her moan deep in her throat. And at last he gathered that silvery waterfall of scented hair in his hand to tip back her head to get the angle just right. His hand skimmed down her back, past a tiny waist, to that tight little bottom, jerking her against the hard evidence of his need.
He never took his eyes off her stunning face as she shivered in his arms, shaking uncontrollably in reaction. Slim arms wound tentatively around his neck. Little tease. Someone had taught her well how to act the artless ingénue. He bet there wasn’t a man alive who wouldn’t be turned on by this supposed naïve performance.
And all the while her eyes were tightly closed as she pressed her soft body against his in a way that told him she’d completely surrendered.
Dear heaven he was trembling, too.
Alarm bells pealed loud and long in his brain.
The need to taste her was like a drug.
But needs were dangerous things because needs led to addiction. And addiction led to the destruction of the soul and of the body and of the mind.
A little thrill of panicked excitement whipped through Charisse.
His mouth, hungry and hard, devoured hers. His big hands bruised, branded. This was not the gentle, soft kiss, or the murmur of whispered promises by the man of her dreams. This was something dangerous, something dark, and something she simply could not defy.
Charisse felt her blood heat, sizzle under her skin as his hands, rough, impatient, ran from her shoulders down to her hips and back again. There was an urgency, almost a ferocity, about the way his mouth took hers. She tasted dark needs, and a complete lack of self-discipline. And a little voice told her to be very, very careful. She ignored it, straining her body against the hardness of his, willing, impatient and ready to go wherever he took her.
Then her body shivered once, a violent whip of the senses, as needs, long dormant, rose to take her up and over a ragged peak.
He heard her smothered cry, swallowed it, tasted the sweetness of her. And by God she was so addictive as her fingernails clung onto his shoulders digging deep with a desperation that thrilled him. Khalid knew it was crazy, they’d just met, but he wanted her now, here, on the floor. Dragging his mouth from hers, he watched her through narrowed eyes as he tried to catch his breath. His mouth had gone bone dry. His heart made a desperate bid to escape through his ribcage.
On a vicious curse, he shoved her back to stare into her eyes. Huge. Her skin, flushed with arousal as the pulse in her neck fluttered erratically. Her soft mouth was trembling, swollen, from his. And he found it so erotic he cursed, yanked her back to devour that willing mouth again. And again he heard her smothered cry against his mouth and he caught her hair, slippery in his hand, pulling her head back. His mouth plundered hers, and even as she trembled and cried out again he could do nothing to stop.
Then she went stiff in his arms.
Her short little breaths panting into his mouth.
And reason finally battled through insanity.
No one was that good an actress.
She was unskilled.
The truth hit him hard.
What the hell was he doing?
This time when he thrust her away he took a careful step back.
She was too pale and her eyes appeared dazed with what looked like shock.
And, by the physical signals her body sent, she was aroused and in as bad a state as he was.
He could also see she was terribly scared.
Well, that made two of them.
“Do you have any idea what you are doing? How dare you respond to me like that.”
That comment was unjust and hit well below the belt and he knew it.
But the fear tickling his gut made him lash out. “If I wanted to I could take you now. Right here, on the floor.”
He realised Charisse was breathing as if she couldn’t pull enough oxygen into her lungs, her small breasts rising and falling under her T-shirt.
The look in her blue eyes for him now was fear warring with a vicious fury.
Her chin lifted.
Her gaze dagger sharp.
She looked as if she could conquer Poland with one hand tied behind her back.
She looked magnificent.
Well, well, what a turn up for the books this was.
Who’d have thought his uncle Asim would have had the exquisite taste to take such a woman to wife? He took another step back even as his hand itched to smooth her hair. The heavenly scent of it spun around him. He wanted to feel that hair again, so soft and so silky, as it slid between his fingers. And the crazy need to bury his face in her hair had him take yet another very careful step back.
Now those blue eyes filled to the brim with absolute loathing mixed with utter contempt. A look that told him more than words ever could that she’d summed him up and found him wanting.
For an unremitting moment their eyes clashed in a silent battle of wills.
“You,” she said in a low and shaky voice. “Are a lower form of life.”
Khalid never disputed a stated fact.
“Too true, baby.”
Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014
Oooooh, things are about to get hot for the pair of them. Hehehe.
The Ludlow Hall sneak peek is coming later tonight!