Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014
“Why are there no children?”
Heart thundering in her ears Charisse stared up into that flushed but harsh face and wondered what had just happened? Her mouth felt swollen, throbbing with a pulse that matched her frantic beat of her heart. She licked her lips. She could still taste him.
Why wouldn’t her brain function?
Why were there black spots in front of her eyes?
The room spun.
Khalid pushed her down onto the couch and sat next to her as she blinked up into that incredible face.
His eyes went dark as they dropped to her mouth.
Then he drawled in that incredible voice, “Stop licking your lips, Charisse, or we will end up naked on the floor.”
She pressed her burning lips together and found that her hands were shaking.
“I’m sorry,” she said and clasped her hands tightly. “Did you just ask me a question? I can’t think.”
“Know the feeling,” he muttered. Then he shook his head as if to clear it and she caught the flash of a twisted smile. “I asked you why there are no children.”
She had nothing to hide, so why was the truth so painful?
How could she tell him that her relationship with his uncle was one of a father and daughter rather than as husband and wife?
How could she tell him she’d never known a man?
That until a moment ago, she’d never even been kissed?
How could she have agreed to marry this man?
She couldn’t do it.
Then something like despair burned in her heart, her mind.
But then if she left Onuur, where would she go?
Onuur was the only home she’d ever known and she loved the country and its people with her whole heart. But she couldn’t think of all that now, he was waiting for an answer.
She took a shaky breath.
“Asim had a congenital heart condition. He was unable to father children. Or even…”
Her voice broke as the scorch of utter mortification burned her cheeks.
She stared down at her hands.
Khalid hissed out a breath. “Poor bastard. So he was married to you and couldn’t touch you?”
She shook her head, and risked a peek at his gorgeous face.
He was frowning now and that face appeared tougher, even more forbidding.
“We loved each other very much,” she said. “He’d come to terms with his physical limitations many years before he met me.”
As if he couldn’t help himself, Khalid’s hand reached out and stroked her hair.
And that darkly possessive look in his eyes made her tremble. “Don’t kid yourself, baby. To see you every day and not be able to touch you must have been its own kind of hell.”
And knew that this was the perfect opportunity to tell him the truth.
But when his eyes stayed on hers Charisse found the words trapped in her throat as he took her in his arms and inhaled the scent of her hair. When he gently stroked the length of her from shoulder to hip and back again, she found herself almost overwhelmed by the need to sink further into his strong embrace.
And that need made her pull back.
She stared up into that dark and brooding face and wondered what he was thinking.
“Have you settled into your rooms? The redecorating of the main apartments will take a few weeks.”
Those grey eyes narrowed in a way that told her she’d annoyed him.
But why had her question annoyed him?
Taking her hand, he stood and hauled her to her feet.
“Actually, my rooms were not at all suitable. Let me show you where I live.”
The dogs rose to accompany them, but Khalid sent them a sharp look.
Confused, they turned to Charisse to give them direction.
“Stay,” she ordered, and felt her heart break at their woeful expressions.
The animals had no idea what was happening, and if the truth be told neither did she.
Hand in hand he led her out of her apartments.
They walked down the stairs to find Arabella studiously ignoring one of the ugliest men Charisse had ever seen in her life. His eyes, small and black, flicked to their joined hands.
“We do not require either of you in our private apartments. You may leave,” Khalid commanded in a tone that told Charisse he was a man who gave an order and expected it to be obeyed without question.
Arabella’s eyes met hers and Charisse gave her an infinitesimal nod. The sudden squeeze of Khalid’s firm fingers on hers told her the nod had not gone unnoticed.
He pulled her through large double doors.
She smelled fresh paint and turpentine.
Her gasp of alarm as the doors banged and he backed her up against the wall.
His smile wasn’t friendly.
He brought her hand to his mouth and pressed a kiss to each finger sending fiery bolts of arousal through her system. Those grey eyes watched her with an intensity that dried her throat. They scanned her hair, her face, and settled hungrily on her mouth before rising to meet her eyes.
“When I give an order, Charisse, I do not expect your protection officer to look to you. If it happens again, she’ll be on the next flight out of the country. Do I make myself clear?”
Again, she wondered what on earth she was doing to even think of marrying him. He was nothing like the man she’d imagined. He was harder, tougher, more uncompromising than she’d anticipated. From what she’d read in the press she’d expected a playboy prince so laid back he was horizontal. But this man appeared to have no soft edges and absolutely no empathy for her recent loss.
Irritation with him for treating her life a serf stiffened her spine.
Her chin lifted.
He smiled again, and it wasn’t nice.
His fingers stroked her cheek, her chin.
Those eyes lasered into hers.
“Brave little thing, aren’t you?” he said softly. The words held an implicit threat. But before she could wonder at their meaning, he spun to turn into the room. “Do you like what I’ve done to the place?”
She wasn’t sure what he referred to since the room was an empty space except for the most enormous four poster bed she’d ever seen in her life sitting slap bang in the middle of the room. The deep mattress was covered in white cotton sheets. A pile of fat, white pillows sat at one end.
The walls and ceiling had been lime washed white, which made the space feel bigger, lighter. Endless. Vast doorways were open to the elements and the wind sang its unique song, stirring large ceiling fans made of hardwood. He’d turned the entire space into an artist’s studio. In one corner, she noticed two large workstations, which held tubes of paint and jars of brushes grouped by size. Another workstation, organised to within an inch of its life, held pallet knives, tins of chalks, and sticks of charcoal. Enormous blank canvases were stacked against the walls. Four paintings at various stages of creation were propped against another wall.
Above the workstations ran a line of white pin boards crammed with drawings and photographs. While across the room on a wide desk was a super-slim computer, state-of-the-art, along with a printer and phone connection. Running along the back wall were two massive sofas in soft suede the colour of dark toffee covered in throws of various materials in jewel shades.
Khalid, she realised, liked vivid colour and coarse textures.
Off to the right were the bathrooms and bedroom wing.
He’d taken up residence directly below her apartments.
She turned to find him watching her.
“I apologise for placing you at the wrong side of the palace. It didn’t occur to me you might need the correct light for your work,” she admitted in a conciliatory tone.
She was prepared to compromise, but thinking of the type of subjects he painted, she couldn’t help but curl her lip.
Without taking his eyes off her face, he moved into her and his fingertip tapped her chin.
“See, right there, that look in your eye, is going to be a big problem for me.”
Alarm that he could read her so well made her eyes wide.
As if he’d read her mind, he continued in that slow drawl that already had the ability to make her system hum, “I’m an artist, baby. An observer of life. I adore women. I can read them. And you have a very expressive face.”
Stung, she lifted her chin.
“I can’t be someone I’m not. My feelings, my thoughts, are my own.”
Black brows winged into his hairline.
“Very true. And I wouldn’t want you to be anyone other than your authentic self. But I’m warning you now to dump the preconceived ideas and very low opinion you have of me. It’s not as if you are as pure as the driven snow, is it? From the glowing reports of you I received from my aunt Yasmin I’d expect you to at least give me a chance. Get to know me, before judging me.”
The truth of his argument struck her with incredible force.
Her hand flew to her cheek.
He was right.
She had pre-judged him.
And she’d found him wanting.
The contents of Asim’s letter spun through her mind reminding her of his sentiments that Khalid had potential. She had a huge respect for her late husband’s opinion of others. He’d never been wrong, yet.
Taking a deep breath, she reached for Khalid’s hand and his fingers found hers.
“I apologise. You are correct. I have not been fair to you.”
A wicked glint appeared in his eyes as he gave her his first genuine smile.
Long fingers squeezed hers.
And her breath hitched.
The smile changed his whole face and made him look much younger, kinder.
“I bet that statement stuck in your throat, honey.”
Still reeling from being called ‘honey’ for the first time in her life, she couldn’t help but admit the truth. “It almost choked me.”
He laughed. “Ahh, a sense of humour. Excellent.”
Wondering why she was breathless all of a sudden, Charisse reclaimed her hand and wandered through the room.
Khalid simply stood and watched her.
“What’s the bed for?” And as soon as the stupid words were out of her stupid mouth she wished she’d kept it shut.
He leaned his shoulder against the wall.
The glint in his eyes was more pronounced now.
He loosened his tie, slid open the top buttons of his shirt.
“It’s for my muse to lie on while I paint her,” he said in a silky voice.
Her eyes flew to his and he bit his lip as if trying too hard not to laugh.
“I’m not at all comfortable with strange women being brought here,” she said in a tone that meant business.
His tongue ran over his top teeth as those grey eyes went too dark, too intense, as they held hers.
“I have no intention of bringing strange women here. Now I’ve met you, I’ve decided you will be my muse. In fact, right at this moment I have a vision of you lying right there, naked.”
Face too hot, her heart going wild in her chest, she shook her head.
Not a chance.
“Then you’ll have a very long wait. Because there’s no way you’re going to paint my private parts and add them to your vast collection of lady bits.”
Her voice was firm.
But it was the tone and the scorn in it that made Khalid push off the wall and stalk towards her.
Oh, his little wife-to-be couldn’t seem to help but challenge him. And there was nothing Khalid El Haribe loved more than a challenge. After the way she’d responded to him upstairs, he knew it wouldn’t take much to have her naked on his bed.
But the genuine alarm in those vividly blue eyes held him back from showing her just who was the boss in this relationship.
There was no point in scaring her half to death, he decided.
He’d have plenty of time to make her his.
Plenty of time to have her naked and her legs spread wide if he so desired.
And that brought another issue to the front of his mind.
He had no intention of waiting six weeks to make her his wife.
It hadn’t taken Khalid and Sarif more than a couple of days to realise that Charisse wielded immense power in Onuur. She was adored, almost revered. The brothers had agreed it was crucial that Khalid brought her under his control sooner rather than later. There was no way he would take a back seat in his own country to someone who was nothing more than a girl. The quicker he got her pregnant and busy with a baby, or two, the better.
And that thought had his groin fire in a way that caught his breath as he stood before her and read sheer defiance in those blue eyes.
He could see how much it cost her not to step away from him and he found himself, yet again, admiring her courage.
Charisse was an interesting character, he decided.
She was beautiful, brave and bright. And, he realised, with some surprise, that if it wasn’t for the fact she was a greedy little witch, he could quite easily like her.
“Whether I paint you or not is not something we need to discuss here and now, honey. Can I look forward to the pleasure of your company for dinner this evening? My brother is looking forward to meeting you.”
Her flush of guilt almost made him laugh out loud.
“Ah yes, I believe you mentioned you’d much rather have married him.” The way her blue eyes went wide as her jaw dropped made him bite down hard on his bottom lip. God, she was adorable. “However, let me give you fair warning. If you repeat those words again, you won’t find me terribly forgiving.”
His hand reached out to cup the soft skin of her neck.
And she went absolutely still as he pulled her into him.
The mad pulse in her neck beat like a trapped bird’s and he rubbed his thumb over the spot. He didn’t miss the dilation of her pupils or the sharp inhale of breath. Ah yes, in spite of herself, she was attracted to him.
It would make his life a hell of a lot easier to have a willing wife in his bed rather than a reluctant one.
And now he wondered how many lovers she’d had.
Best not to go there, he decided.
Then his eyes narrowed as they examined her face with his artists’ eye.
Something… something about her didn’t quite add up.
The woman who’d sold herself to a sick old man for money, even if she had been a loyal wife who’d nursed her husband until the bitter end, didn’t add up with the vibrant, sensual and sexy woman he now knew her to be.
Studying her stunning face with the clear skin, big eyes and that tempting mouth, Khalid found himself again desperate to kiss her.
But he understood the weakness of his character well enough to know that he wouldn’t stop at kissing.
His thumb rubbed the alluring fullness of her bottom lip as his eyes met and held hers.
“I don’t see any reason to wait six weeks for our wedding. Do you?”
Something like fear flashed those eyes even as she gave a microscopic shake of her head.
“We need to honour Asim,” she whispered.
He nodded. “True. I understand you are an orphan?” For the first time her eyes slid from his. A tiny nod was all the response he received. Hmm, a tender spot. “We’ll have a small ceremony here in the palace with my family in attendance.”
His eyes narrowed fractionally as he continued to study his thumb stroking her vulnerable bottom lip. And that vulnerability worried him, tugged at something buried inside him, in a place he didn’t want tugged. In his conscience.
Khalid was well aware he wasn’t an easy man to live with. It didn’t bother him. It was simply a fact. He had needs, dark sexual needs. Her eyes went wide now as she studied him, perhaps picking up his mood? Her mouth trembled as she took a breath. And a vision of her on her knees, taking his manhood in that mouth, along with him doing other things, dark things, to her made him go too hard, too fast.
She was an incredibly beautiful woman.
And in his vast experience in dealing with beautiful women, Khalid had found that honesty was always the best policy.
“I have a very strong sexual appetite with specific… needs.” He let the last word hang between them. Saw heat scorch her cheeks. “Are you quite certain you want to do this?”
Her eyes flew to his.
And he caught a glimpse of heartbreak along with something dark lurking at the back of her eyes. Add in the way she trembled under his fingers, and his instincts now screamed that something about her, and about this situation, was very wrong.
Her response was no more than a whispered, “I have no choice.”
And just what did that mean?
Of course she had a choice.
She had a fortune in Swiss banks.
“Everyone has a choice, Charisse.”
The shake of her head was so tiny he almost missed it.
“I don’t even know you,” she admitted now.
He understood perfectly well that she was evading.
And decided to permit the change of subject, for now.
“Did you know my uncle before you married him?” Her cheeks went radioactive as her eyes again dropped from his. She shook her head. Pleased with her reaction, he continued, “Then I don’t see your problem. I’m younger and can more than satisfy your sexual needs. And by your reactions to me you will satisfy mine. I can give you a child. Surely you want to be a mother?”
Taking a deep and shaky inhale of breath, she looked up to search his face.
“Yes. But will you be a good King? A good husband? A good father?”
And those, Khalid had to admit, were very good questions.
So far he’d failed as a brother and as a son.
But staring down into that lovely face Khalid had the strangest feeling that with Charisse at his side there was nothing he could not do. Then he told himself he was being fanciful. She was simply a beautiful face with big blue eyes and a greedy heart.
“I’ve no idea. But I promise to do my best. What about you?” he asked.
She gave him a sad little smile that again stirred something in his chest.
“I’ve already fulfilled two of those roles. It is up to you to give me the third.”
By the way his groin stung, he could certainly do that, so he pressed his lips to her smooth forehead and felt her tremble.
Delighted by her reaction to him, and by his to her, Khalid looked down into those big eyes. The sensation was like sinking into the deep blue sea.
“It will be my pleasure, Highness.”
Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014
Chapter Six tomorrow.