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Zarif's Convenient Queen

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ELLA PARKED HER mother’s car with the extreme care of someone strung up tight with nerves and terrified of making a mistake at the wheel.

Earlier that morning she had visited both her parents and that had proved a disorientating experience. On medication her father was now much calmer but he had seemed utterly divorced from the events that had led to his breakdown in the first place, not once even referring to them. In any case she had been warned before her visit not to touch on any subject that might cause him distress. Luckily Gerald’s overriding source of concern had been his wife’s recovery and he had lamented his inability to be with her. At least Ella had been able to tell her father that her mother was out of Intensive Care and receiving visits from her friends. Jennifer Gilchrest, however, had been equally reluctant to discuss the events that had preceded her heart attack.

As a result, Ella had been left feeling totally bereft of support and she was still guiltily reproaching herself for being so selfish. After all, neither of her parents was well enough to assist her. At the same time, Ella remained horribly aware of the huge burden of expectation resting on her shoulders while bankruptcy and repossession threatened her parents’ business and home. She had already fielded several excusably angry phone calls from staff members who hadn’t received their salary and who were struggling to pay their bills. In the midst of catastrophe, and in spite of being their father’s partner in the firm, Jason had done absolutely nothing beyond contacting another former student friend to establish where Zarif was staying prior to delivering his speech at the university. Jason had then contacted the hotel on the evening of Zarif’s arrival, had spoken to his chief aide and had been granted an appointment.

Jason had then made some wildly opportunistic and slick forecasts about the likely result of his sister speaking to Zarif in person.

‘Zarif’s really hot on family values, so he’ll be very sympathetic when he appreciates how devastating all this has been for us,’ Jason had opined optimistically. ‘I’m tremendously relieved that you’ve decided to see sense about this.’

‘Don’t you think that you should be coming with me?’ Ella had asked in surprise for she had certainly originally assumed that her brother would, at least, be accompanying her to the meeting. ‘I mean, Zarif made the loan to you, not to me, and I won’t be able to answer any business queries he has.’

‘Take it from me. You’re the best messenger the family could have,’ Jason had insisted.

Only, unhappily, Ella did not feel equal to that challenge. She was painfully aware that any slight regard Zarif might have cherished for her three years earlier had died the same day she refused to marry him. Determined not to reveal her true feelings after he put her on the spot and demanded an explanation for her refusal, she had employed lame excuses, which had not only offended him but which still made her cringe in remembrance. Could she really blame him for his anger that day?

Zarif al-Rastani was born of royalty and was scarcely the average male. She might often have overlooked that reality when he was visiting them in the UK and displaying few of the trappings of his true status, but the day she had said ‘no’ Zarif had regarded her with stunned disbelief and his extremely healthy ego had visibly recoiled from the affront of her rejection.

Of course, he had said and done nothing that could be remotely termed emotional that day. Evidently Zarif didn’t do emotion and she would have been far too emotional a being to make him a good wife, she reflected wryly. She had been sadly mistaken when she once naively assumed that Zarif’s icy reserve and self-discipline masked powerful inner feelings that he preferred to keep to himself.

While she had fallen madly in love with Zarif and had craved him with every fibre of her being, she had recognised the very last time that she saw him that he was virtually indifferent to her and was not in love, merely in lust and in need of a male heir. Had Jason only realised how shallow her former relationship with Zarif had ultimately proved to be, he would not have been so hopeful that by some miracle his sister would somehow be able to save her family from the consequences of his extravagance. Indeed Ella suspected that Zarif was more likely to be annoyed than appreciative at her daring to request another meeting with him. Women were gentle nurturing motherly creatures in Zarif’s world and that kind of woman was his ideal, as Ella knew to her cost.

She walked into the imposing country house hotel. Jason had told her that Zarif and his entourage were occupying the entire top floor of the building.

‘Miss Gilchrist?’ A slim Arab man with a goatee beard was on the lookout for her before she even got to engage with the reception staff. ‘I am Hamid, the King’s chief aide. I spoke to your brother on the phone. His Majesty will see you upstairs.’

While Hamid talked valiantly about the weather, his efforts undimmed by her monosyllabic replies, Ella smoothed damp palms down over her long skirt, wishing she had had a smart business suit to don in place of her usual more casual clothing but she didn’t own any formal outfits. She had teamed the skirt with a pristine white layered blouse and camisole. At least, she wasn’t wearing jeans, she told herself in consolation, desperate to think about anything other than the approaching challenge of an interview with Zarif. Her heart started to beat very, very fast, a chill of nervous tension shivering through her slender frame and making her tummy flip. She breathed in, slow and deep, striving to calm herself.

‘Miss Gilchrist...’ Hamid announced, pushing wide the door.

Ella walked a few steps into the room and then saw him and her courage failed her and she came to a sudden halt. Six feet two inches tall with a lean, powerful build, Zarif was a stunningly beautiful male and, in her opinion, far and away the most handsome of the three half-brothers. He was also the youngest of the trio, the other two of whom she had met briefly.

Zarif had the tawny eyes of a lion framed between lush black lashes and set deep below straight ebony brows.

An arrogant, slim-bridged nose dissected exotically high cheekbones and his stunning features were completed by a strong masculine jaw line and a perfectly modelled mouth, the very thought of which had once kept Ella lying awake at night. She had craved his touch like a life-giving drug.

The memory sent chagrined heat surging through her tense body as she remembered all too well how frustrated she had become with his hands-off courtship. She had been a virgin but she would have surrendered her innocence any time he asked and if she was still a virgin, she conceded with undeniable resentment, it was only because she was determined not to settle for anything less than the intense hunger that Zarif had once inspired in her.

‘Eleonora...’ Zarif murmured, his rich as dark chocolate deep drawl dancing down her spine like the brush of ghostly fingers from the past. He did not have a definable accent because he had learned English from his British grandmother.

Her throat convulsed. ‘Zarif...’ she responded, struggling to push his name past her lips.

Zarif surveyed her with razor-edged intensity, luxuriant black lashes covertly veiling his acute gaze. He’d had an antique storybook as a child, which featured a lovely pale-haired princess imprisoned in a tower, and had once idly wondered if that had been the mysterious source of his one-time obsession with Ella Gilchrist. She was a beauty of the pure English Rose type with her translucent porcelain skin, bright blue eyes and long waving hair that had the depth and gloss of rich golden honey. Slim and of medium height, she had surprisingly lush curves for her slight frame and she moved as gracefully as a dancer. He scrutinised her soft bee-stung pink mouth and his body betrayed him with an immediate reaction. Anger stirred along with the indignity of the prickling heaviness of arousal at his groin.

She had always contrived to look natural, unadorned, untouched. His even white teeth ground together at that improbability. It had probably only ever been part of the demure fawn act she had staged for his benefit in the days when he had been that credulous and impressionable with the female sex, he reflected with angry resentment.

Time would have moved on for her in any case, just as it had done for him, and he refused to think further along that line because it would cross the bitter defensive boundaries he had raised inside his mind. After all, it was purely due to Ella Gilchrist’s power over him that Zarif had later betrayed every principle he had once respected, and he still reeled from any recollection of the mistakes he had made and the very large dent inflicted on his once stainless sense of honour. She had embarked on a dangerous power game with him. She had played him like a fish on a line, vainly determined to get the ego boost of having royalty propose marriage to her without ever considering acceptance as a viable possibility.

He had considered the matter many times and believed that was the only practical explanation for her behaviour.

‘Won’t you sit down?’ Zarif invited smoothly, his outer assurance absolute. ‘Then you can tell me how I may be of assistance.’

So, Zarif was going to play dumb, Ella reckoned uncomfortably and then wondered if she was being unjust. Was it possible that he hadn’t a clue about the situation her family was in?

She settled into a high-backed, opulently upholstered armchair and went straight to the heart of the subject. ‘Until this week, I had no idea that three years ago you gave Jason a very large loan.’

‘It was not your concern,’ Zarif fielded without skipping a beat.

Ella stiffened defensively. ‘But I wish it had been,’ she fenced back, refusing to be intimidated by his powerful presence. ‘Giving Jason a million pounds without any form of supervision was the equivalent of putting a fox in charge of a hen coop.’

Zarif compressed his handsome mouth. ‘You are not very loyal to your brother.’

‘I wonder how loyal you would feel towards one of your brothers if his wheeling and dealing had plunged your father’s firm into bankruptcy and left your parents facing homelessness. Right now, I’m worried about them, not about my brother,’ Ella spelt out combatively.

A gleam of surprise lightened Zarif’s spectacular eyes for it had been a very long time since anyone had addressed him with such a pronounced lack of respect. Indeed the last to do so had probably been her and he was both aggravated and yet strangely entertained by her boldness. It was a complete novelty in his world, where almost every word addressed to him was wrapped in flattery and a desire to ingratiate and please. His jaw line squared. ‘I was not aware that your parents were involved in this debacle.’

‘They were very much involved the moment Jason became a partner in Dad’s firm. My father was so proud that his son was joining the family business that he gave Jason a completely free hand,’ Ella explained heavily.

‘My business manager has already presented me with a file covering his investigation into how the loan was utilised,’ Zarif revealed gently.

‘So, really it wasn’t very nice of you to ask how you might be of assistance when I arrived!’ Ella shot back at him with spirit.

‘You were being facetious at my expense.’

‘Was I?’ Zarif quipped, scanning the animated expressiveness of her exquisite face, which openly brandished every emotion she experienced. He was convinced he could now read her like a children’s book and recognise her angry resentment and mortification that she should be put in the position of pleading her unworthy brother’s cause.

Zarif, in point of fact, had very few illusions about his former friend’s character. Long ago, Zarif had slowly been repelled by the traits he saw in Jason and would have dropped the friendship much sooner had it not been for the draw of Ella’s presence in the same house. His dark gaze hardened when he thought of the day it had all ended and the persistent bite of his indignation and dissatisfaction stung his ferocious pride afresh, tensing his spectacular bone structure and settling the charismatic curve of his mouth into a hard stubborn line. She had humiliated him, insulted his country and his people and outraged him beyond forgiveness but torture would not have persuaded him to admit that reality.

‘I think so,’ Ella told him squarely, noting the way his long dark lashes shadowed his cheekbones when he glanced down at her, seeing his handsome dark head take on a familiar angle, recalling how he had once listened to her with just that attitude. Unnerved by the memory and the overpowering urge to stare and eat up his heartbreaking gorgeousness without restraint, Ella glanced furiously in the direction of the window like someone calculating the chances of her escape.

Unbelievable as it now seemed, she had once loved Zarif with her whole heart and soul, she recalled painfully. She would have done absolutely anything for him and in return he had hurt her very badly, inflicting a wound and an insecurity that even the passage of three long years had failed to eradicate. Even so, it had been a novel experience to discover that a marriage proposal could actually be wielded like an offensive weapon.

‘When I gave that loan to Jason, it was in the true spirit of generosity,’ Zarif countered with quiet assurance. ‘He was devastated by the loss of his employment and your parents were equally upset on his behalf. I genuinely wanted to help your family.’

‘That may be so,’ Ella conceded uncomfortably, because he seemed sincere, ‘but nothing is ever that simple. Jason needed another job more than he needed that cash. The loan just tempted him into dangerous fantasies about building his own business empire.’

‘As well as the settling of his personal debts, which was dishonest and in direct conflict with the terms on which the loan was made,’ Zarif sliced in calmly, cold censure of such behaviour etched in his lean bronzed features. ‘Your brother squandered the bulk of the money on frivolous purchases, which included a new Porsche and a personalised Range Rover. I will not write off the debt and forgive it. It would be against my principles to overlook what amounts to fraudulent behaviour.’

‘That is all very well, but what about my parents’ position in all this?’ Ella demanded emotively. ‘Do they deserve to suffer for Jason’s mistakes?’

‘That is not for me to answer,’ Zarif responded without expression. ‘They raised Jason, taught him their values. They must know their son best.’

‘No.’ Ella challenged that view with vehement force. ‘They only know the man they wanted him to be, not the man he actually is! At this moment, my mother and father are distraught at what Jason’s done.’

An untimely knock on the door at that instant of high tension heralded the appearance of a waiter with a tray. Ella closed her lips and breathed in deep to master her tumultuous emotions. Coffee was served in fine china cups, cakes proffered. Any appetite Ella might have had following her scratch meals in recent days had been killed stone dead by her ever-growing sense of dread of what the future might yet visit on her parents. In the lingering silence while the waiter walked to the door to leave, she searched Zarif’s extravagantly handsome features, cursing his inscrutability, desperate to see some sign of a softer response to her appeal on her parents’ behalf.

‘I’m afraid I don’t understand what you want from me,’ Zarif murmured half under his breath, his temperature rising as she sat forward, inadvertently revealing the shadowy valley between her full rounded breasts. There was a bitter irony to his response for he knew in that moment of fierce driving desire that what he wanted from her was exactly what he was convinced he could have had for the asking three years earlier.

Back then he had been no sophisticate, having never slept with anyone other than the wife he had married at the age of eighteen. He had wanted Ella and she had wanted him but he had believed it would be dishonourable to become intimate with her before he married her. Thanks to Ella’s rejection, he was no longer that innocent, he reflected with a bitterness that was laced with regret for past mistakes. His wide sensual mouth narrowed and compressed while he wondered if she was deliberately playing the temptress as women so often did with him in an effort to divert and attract him.

‘No, you are not that stupid,’ Ella flung back at him feelingly, pushing her slender hands down on the arms of the chair to rise upright and confront him. ‘You know very well I’m asking you to show some compassion for my parents’ predicament.’

The swishing luxuriance of her golden hair as it swung round her shoulders engaged his scrutiny, which lingered to take in the rosy colour warming her delicate features, serving only to accentuate the sapphire brilliance of her eyes. ‘In what way? And what are you offering me in return?’ Zarif murmured very drily. ‘Do you not think that in the complete loss of that loan, I have already paid dearly for my act of generosity towards your family?’

Confronted with that blunt question, Ella felt her face burn as though he had slapped it hard because that was not an angle she could take into account when she was asking him for yet another favour. ‘Yes, you have paid dearly...we all have, but I do genuinely believe that you should have thought about what you were doing when you offered Jason that loan in the first place.’

‘Before you start blaming me for your brother’s dishonesty and awakening my anger,’ Zarif purred like a jungle cat, shimmering dark golden eyes settling on her with predatory force and shocking her into sudden silence, ‘think about what you are saying and what you are asking me for. Some form of forgiveness which, as I have already stated, is out of the question in this case? Or are you asking me to throw away more money on your family?’

Standing there, Ella turned very pale, shame and anxiety combining to stir nausea in her tummy. Her tongue was glued to the roof of her mouth. She absolutely got his point and she could not bring herself to outright ask him for money to aid her parents because that seemed so very wrong, indeed quite outrageous in the circumstances. For the first time she questioned why she had approached him in the first place and why she had allowed Jason to influence her attitude. Surely, had she taken the time to think things through, she would have recognised that to ask Zarif for further financial help would be indefensible?

‘I’m just asking you to show some compassion, not for Jason or me but for my parents,’ she completed limply, too mortified to even make an attempt to meet his slashing gaze, knowing that it would only intensify her awareness of the weak and humiliating role she had allowed her brother to browbeat her into accepting. For an instant, she almost burst into speech about her parents’ current health problems, but compressed her lips on the conviction that playing a thousand violins to invite Zarif’s pity would only shame her and her family more.

‘Nicely put,’ Zarif countered with sardonic bite, his dark eyes glittering like jet knives, so shrewd was the stab of his incisive gaze. ‘You know how wealthy I am and like many other people I have met you expect me to come to the rescue. And I would have to ask you, especially when you have the audacity to ask me to go against my principles, what am I to receive in payment?’

The suffocating tension was convulsing Ella’s dry throat. She turned away, dropped down into her seat again and lifted her coffee cup like a tiny shield. ‘In payment? Anything I can offer,’ she muttered unevenly, knowing she had nothing to offer but gratitude and seriously embarrassed by that reality.

‘Are you offering me sex?’ Zarif enquired lazily.

And for a split second in receipt of that shocking question Ella wondered if she would agree to such a belittling act of intimacy if it could magically return her parents’ lives to normal. The answer came fast and forthright in her mind. And colour surged across her cheeks and ran up in a tide of pink to her hairline while her coffee cup rattled on the saucer as her hand trembled.

‘I can get sex anywhere whenever I want,’ Zarif derided.

‘I wasn’t going to offer it,’ Ella told him with as much dignity as she could muster, her teeth gritting on his arrogant self-assurance. Nevertheless, she suspected that he was simply stating the situation as it was. He was exceptionally good-looking and shockingly rich even without considering the kick it would give some women to bed a reigning king. She was quite sure that willing women formed queues for the privilege of getting him into bed and her staunch conviction that he was a virtually irresistible package only incensed her more.

Surprisingly for a male so well aware of the high currency value of sex, Zarif believed Ella because he couldn’t credit that a truly sophisticated woman would still blush the way she did. But the imagery in his mind was far from sophisticated and he knew from the intensely male burn of his rapidly awakening libido that if she had offered, he would have said yes and to hell with whether or not such ignoble behaviour would be beneath him!

That discovery shook him because while sex was easily available to Zarif and an appetite he could not ignore, he had never viewed it as a special or even greatly prized pleasure. But for some reason when he looked at Ella Gilchrist his body hummed with the expectation of extraordinary pleasure because it was the passion in her volatile nature that had drawn him to her from the first. He crushed that exciting fantasy at source, reminding himself that he needed a wife and a child much more than he needed a passionate mistress.

On that thought, he stiffened, unable to overlook the reality that had she said yes when he asked her to marry him he most likely would have been a father again by now. All the old dark anger and bitterness he had buried stirred deep inside him once more, razor-edged thoughts of his unresolved desire for her taunting his ferocious pride.

He had never wanted a woman as much as he had once wanted Ella Gilchrist and she was the only woman he had ever desired whom he had not enjoyed. Perhaps that was the secret of her persistent attraction, he reasoned with inherent self-loathing at the concept of such a personal weakness, and it would naturally follow that familiarity would soon breed contempt. That conviction soothed him, offering as it did the promise that in the future he would forget about her and the way she had once adversely affected him. Life was too short for regrets and ‘what ifs’. He would get bored with her. He always got bored in the end because women could be very predictable. She would be his very last rebellion against the staid and respectable married future that awaited him. He would have some fun and then he would do his duty by settling down again with a wife and having children, he swore to himself.

‘That’s unfortunate,’ Zarif responded in reply to her proud declaration that she had not been offering him sex. ‘Because what you say you would not offer is the only thing that I want from you.’

Extreme disconcertion slithered through Ella while she mentally unpicked his words several times to persuade herself that she had not misunderstood his meaning. He was telling her that he still found her attractive and that the only thing he wanted from her was sex? How dared he admit that with such smooth and utterly shameless cool? Heat warmed her cheeks afresh and speared down between her breasts as she bit back furious words of reproach and fought to breathe normally.

‘I can’t believe you can say that to me.’

‘Duplicity would be of little use to you at this point,’ Zarif countered quietly. ‘Whatever else I may be guilty of, you can trust me to always tell you the truth.’

For an instant, Ella froze, recalling the last unforgettable occasion when he had told her the truth that he did not love her and would never love her: a hauntingly savage moment that had coloured her every memory of him with pain and a deep sense of humiliation. She had often thought that lies would have been kinder, only then she would have married him and ultimately would have ended up being very unhappy.

‘I want you in my bed,’ Zarif admitted with unblemished cool. ‘In return I would ensure that your parents’ financial status is restored to what it was before Jason’s mismanagement ruined their security.’

I want you in my bed. A tingling sensation curled like a tongue of flame low in her pelvis and Ella shifted uneasily on her seat, trying not to imagine what it would be like to share Zarif’s bed. Wide-eyed and hot inside skin that suddenly felt tight over her bones, she focused on the undoubtedly handmade leather shoes on his feet and kept her ready tongue clamped firmly between her teeth. She was fighting her own natural instincts harder with every second that passed. She could have asked him if he was joking and instantly rejected such a shocking proposition. She could have made a scene and stormed out in an impressive temper. But Ella had a strong streak of caution and practicality and she was all too well aware that Zarif al-Rastani was the only possible individual in a position to help her family.

‘That’s immoral,’ she declared half under her breath, unable to resist making that accusation. ‘You’re inviting me to sell myself to you.’

‘I’m offering you the only rescue bid you’re likely to receive. It is for you to choose whether or not you will accept my proposition,’ Zarif contradicted, shutting out every protest emanating from his clean-living conservative soul and refusing to listen. One final act of rebellion, he reminded himself doggedly. And didn’t she deserve it for the games she had played three years back when she had lured him in with the promise of her passion and her beautiful body and falsely encouraged him to believe that she genuinely cared for him?

‘How long would you envisage this...arrangement lasting for?’ Ella prompted, her voice high and tight with strain for she could barely credit that after three years apart she could even be having such a conversation with him.

‘A year...’ Zarif murmured, disconcerted by the speed with which that time period had suggested itself to him and wondering where that idea had come from. After all, he had never kept a single mistress for as long as a year. His interest in a woman faded within the first few weeks of bedding her even though he saw comparatively little of his lovers. At the same time he tried and failed to picture Ella in the Dubai apartment while wondering if word of an Englishwoman’s presence there would be more likely to be leaked to the press. Just as quickly, he realised that the Dubai option would be a very bad idea. And that indeed he had a much better idea in the offing and one indeed that would make the punishment fit the crime.

‘For the sake of appearances, we will get married,’ Zarif decreed without hesitation.

‘Married?’ Ella exclaimed with stark incredulity.

‘I don’t want a scandal and if I marry you, even when it ends in divorce after a year, it will be a safer and more acceptable option to my people. Marriage would also have the advantage of allowing me to see as much of you as I want to,’ Zarif completed smoothly, his mind made up, the stirrings of his conscience magically washed away. If he married her, after all, he wouldn’t be breaking any rules or taking advantage of her. It was wonderful, he thought with a rare lightness of heart, what a little thinking outside the box could achieve.

Feeling rather as though she had gone ten rounds with a champion boxer, Ella stood up and set down her coffee cup. Marry Zarif? Embrace all that she had rejected three years earlier? Her entire being shrank from such a challenge. ‘I couldn’t do it...I couldn’t marry you.’

Raw anger roared like a hurricane through Zarif’s lean powerful frame and gleamed pure, startlingly bright gold in his tawny eyes. ‘You have twelve hours in which to consider that position,’ he breathed in a raw-edged undertone. ‘If you don’t phone me within that period, I will assume that the negative answer stands.’

Ella’s feet were locked to the carpet, her eyes flying wide on his hard, darkly handsome features. Dismay was piercing her with little warning stabs and reminding her that rejecting her parents’ only rescue option was not a good idea. ‘Twelve hours is ridiculous,’ she said nonetheless, playing for time.

‘It is more than generous,’ Zarif contradicted.

Ella was pale as a white sheet. ‘Even when you know you’ve already won?’ she whispered, because all the pros and cons were piling up like an avalanche inside her brain and she could not evade the obvious answer.

Zarif could turn the clock back for her parents, returning their lives to the safe cosy routine that had been theirs before Jason’s interference. Zarif was the only person with the power to do that. Her father’s staff would also be protected from unemployment. How could she possibly turn her back on such important results and walk away, leaving her parents and everybody else concerned to sink or swim? All the cons, after all, would be on her side of the fence, making the payment one of personal sacrifice.

Zarif stalked closer with all the grace of a prowling black panther. ‘Have I won?’

‘How could I turn down an offer like that?’ Ella asked shakily. ‘My parents don’t deserve what they’re going through right now. It’s bad enough for them to be forced to face the kind of person Jason really is without facing financial ruin at the same time.’

Zarif stretched out a slim tanned hand and closed it round hers to tug her closer. ‘So, you will marry me?’

‘But it won’t work...even for only a year,’ Ella protested weakly. ‘I won’t fit in.’

Eyes golden as the heart of a fire flamed over her troubled face. ‘You will fit in my bed to perfection,’ Zarif assured her and as panic and sexual awareness clenched her every muscle with raw tension Ella registered that that was really the only thought in his mind.

She stared up at him, almost mesmerised by his stunning gaze, and he lowered his head. His wide sensual mouth nuzzled against the corner of hers and she shivered, suddenly hot and cold inside her skin while little tingles of sexual awareness snaked through the lower part of her body. The scent of him was in her nostrils, a hint of some exotic spice overlaid with clean, husky male that was both familiar and dangerously welcome. His wide mobile mouth drifted across hers, his tongue breaking the seal of her lips and darting within, plunging deep in a single measured stab of eroticism before he pressed his hard mouth urgently to hers. That kiss was like being hit with white lightning, desire exploding within her like a fire ball, fiery tendrils of heat reaching low in her belly, and her knees trembled, her breasts swelling and nipples pinching tight.

Zarif lifted his handsome dark head and slowly drew in a deep breath to look down at her with hot possessive appreciation blazing in his golden eyes. ‘Yes, you will fit into my bed as though you were born to be there.’

In the aftermath, rage gripped Ella and she wanted to smack him across the face. For a split second she had lost control, indeed lost sight of everything because he had thrown her straight into that disturbing world of exciting sensation that she had almost forgotten. And she could have wept at that knowledge for she had diligently dated more than one attractive man over the past three years and not one of them had made her heart leap and her body tremble with a single kiss. At the same time she had no doubt that that brief embrace had affected Zarif on a much less high-flown level.

‘No, I wasn’t born to be in your bed... Azel was,’ Ella murmured flatly.

Disconcerted by the mere mention of Azel’s name, Zarif froze and shot an icy look of censure down at her. ‘You will not mention the name of my late wife or that of our child ever again,’ he warned her forbiddingly.

Well, at least she didn’t need to have any doubts about exactly where she stood in her future husband’s affections, Ella reflected grimly. But then that had been exactly why she didn’t marry the man she had once loved. Even seven years after her passing, Azel still ruled Zarif’s heart.


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