Authors: Carol Marinelli
âWas I asking for a relationship?'
âPleaseâ¦' He halted, because again he was assumingâbut it was an assumption based on long history. Always women wanted more than he could even begin to give.
âCan't we just see what happens? Any day now I could have Rachael.'
Zakahr closed his eyes, and Lavinia had the temerity to laugh as his face paled.
âZakahrâit's because of that that I don't want a relationship with
. I might take a risk with my own heart, but never with hers,' she said. âI know the sort of family I want to give Rachaelâ' it was Lavinia's turn to be brutal ââand that's something you could never provide.'
There was a conversation there, but he chose not to pursue itâhe did not want to hear what he could not give. The crew were out now, the cabin door was opening, and he could see the car and the King's aide waiting on the tarmac. Zakahr unclipped his belt, just wanting the hell out, but Lavinia caught his arm.
âI want to be twenty-fourâ¦' She caught his eyes and stared into them, and to the dangerous place beyond. âI am in no position to have a relationship, but I want to be with you. I want one nightâ¦' She didn't know the words, she didn't know how to articulateâto tell him that even if she must accept he wasn't interested in for ever still she wanted
. âFor one day, one night, I want to forget so that I can remember.'
He could not respond. He did not know how to respondâbecause he wanted more than one night. He had been going to propose a full weekâa week that would both resolve his past and secure her future.
He pulled his hand away and then stood. Only then did he respond. âAs I said on our first dayâyou have
no idea who you're playing with.' He shook his head in disbelief, angry with her for her misplaced trust. âAgain, I tell youâyou need to be more careful.'
There was no chance for further discussion.
The King's aide met them on the tarmac, and they were driven to the wharf, making polite conversation along the way but never to each other.
Lavinia could feel his tension, knew he felt beguiled, and only as they stepped out of the car and walked along the jetty towards the yacht was there a chance for terse conversation.
âYou should have told me.'
âIt's not something you just slip into the conversation. When was I supposed to tell you?'
âIn the car park it might haveâ'
âI'd known you less than a week!' Lavinia retorted, but her cheeks were burning as she recalled their blistering kissâhardly her usual response to a virtual stranger. âOh, well.' Lavinia tossed her hair. âJust because I'm off-limits on your strange moral compass, it doesn't mean we can't enjoy our time here.'
It would, Zakahr quickly realised, be
to enjoy his time here.
As they boarded they were warmly greeted by the King and his family. Jasmine, amongst her own family and in the privacy of the yacht, was unveiled, revealing a smiling, happy face, and she was clearly delighted to see Lavinia againâa completely different woman from the shy Princess they had first met. Their laughter filled the salty air, reaching Zakahr's ears as he took refreshment with the King on deck.
The stunning vehicle that was to be their home till tomorrow was soon moving out of Darling Harbour, and though it was a visual feastâthe huge Harbour Bridge, the splendour of the Opera Houseâit wasn't the scenery that over and over again forced his gaze. It was Laviniaâcompletely at ease with the royals, delighted in her surroundings, and the company he wanted to be keeping. He had, as Lavinia had pointed out,
Not just from her job, or the rumours, but from her bold kisses, from the desire of her bodyâyet her purity muddied the waters for Zakahr. He liked
âwould soon be walking away. A brief, albeit passionate, affair with Lavinia would have eased the stress of the day. This, though, however she denied it, was teetering Lavinia-style towards a relationship.
Refreshments taken, they were shown by staff to their accommodation. Yes, Zakahr realised, this day and night would be more than impossibleâit would be hell. And, thanks to his careful instructions when he'd accepted the invitation, it was a hell of his own making.
Lavinia had no idea what to expectâfor not only hadn't she flown, apart from a trip on the ferry to Tasmania she had never been on a boat, and the yacht they had boarded outreached even her wildest imaginings. It was as luxurious as any five-star hotel. They had walked through a lounge filled with scattered sofas, and a huge bar with large plasma screens, and there was a vast dining area where, Jasmine told her, they would
dine tonight. But lunch would be served on deck. There was even a dance floor.
As they took the steps down to the next level an aide took Zakahr to his suite and a female aide took Lavinia further along a narrow corridor. And though it was becoming clearer by the moment how luxurious this trip would be, Lavinia gaped in awe when she first glimpsed her suite.
A large four-poster bed was the centrepiece, with heavy walnut furniture, thick carpets and a dressing table. There was even a sunken spa.
âIt's stunning!' She roamed the vast suite, opening doors, admiring her already unpacked clothes and her toiletries set out in the bathroom. âWhat's thisâ¦?' she asked, stopping in front of another door.
âAdjoining,' Mara the aide said, lowering her eyes. âThe King understands there are differencesâ¦' Clearly a little embarrassed, Mara explained that lunch would served shortly on deck and left.
It was very like having a red button with a sign saying not to push itâonly it wasn't Lavinia resisting temptation, it was Zakahr. Refusing to be embarrassed, Lavinia gave the wooden door a sharp rap, and then opened it to find Zakahr lying scowling on his bed, gorgeous in the dark grey linen pants and white shirt, sulky and thoroughly fed up with his lot.
âHi there, neighbour!'
He didn't reply.
âDon't worryâI shan't be creeping in at night. You can sleep safely.'
âHa-ha,' came Zakahr's response.
âSorry to rot up your plans.' Lavinia perched on the end of his bed. âBut I told you not to assumeâ¦'
Zakahr shuttered his eyes. She was rightâhe
assumed. So much so that now he had Abigail arriving on Monday. His intention had been to have Lavinia safely tucked up in his bed for the remainder of his stay in Australia, distraction merited, but only at night. He looked over to where she sat. How much easier would it be to just reach out and pull her towards him? There was almost a thread between them in that momentâone that could draw them closer or snapâand Zakahr knew he had to break it. For there could be no involvement. They were from two different worlds, opposite sides of the world, and soon Lavinia would be carer to a child. Zakahr had tried relationships. They did not suit at the best of times, and this, for Zakahr, was the worst of times.
âIf you've waited this long you should wait to be with someone you're seriousâ¦' He couldn't finish, because he couldn't stand the thought of a future Mr Laviniaâor, worse, a one-night stand because she didn't want to be alone, with some lowlife who wouldn't take care of her.
âWe'd better go up for lunch.' Lavinia stood. âImagine them giving us adjoining roomsâI can't imagine why they thought us a couple.' She gave him a wink before closing the door. âSee you on deck.'
It was a casual lunch, with Lavinia chatting with Jasmine and her bridesmaids as waiters mingled with platesâand it was lovely to be out on the water, to be away from her problems for a little while.
âHe's very handsome!' Lavinia looked at a photo of Jasmine's husband-to-be.
âI know.' Jasmine smiled. âLucky for me I am the youngest of five girls. My father had a lot more say in my older sisters' husbandsâand he was not my father's first choice for me. He is a friend of my brother's,' Jasmine explained. âThey were at university together, and sometimes he would come to the palace. I had a terrible crush on him for years. My brother spoke with my father a few months ago, told him how unhappy I would be if I followed
choice. I am very blessed to have such a wonderful family.'
The Princess smiled as Zakahr walked over and joined them, and though she returned it, for a second Lavinia struggled: it was things like that that hurt at times. Lavinia certainly didn't show itâbut so many times she'd wondered how much easier things might have been if there had been brothers and sisters by her side. Even now her world seemed so smallâthere were friends, of course, but those friends had their own families. She ached sometimes, literally ached, for a sister to ring her up, or have coffee with her, a family to moan about too, to visit for Christmas and birthdays.
âI was just saying to Lavinia how nice it is to come from a large family.' Jasmine politely invited him into the conversation.
Zakahr respectfully declined.
âIt is my pleasure to meet them.'
They spoke for a few minutes about the King's cousin, who spent four months a year in Australia. It was his boat they were on. They spoke, but they only talked, and
Lavinia realised then that had she not known his past he would never have revealed itâsaw first-hand just how little Zakahr let anyone in.
âI need to speak with my father.'
Jasmine excused herself, and Zakahr revealed the real reason he had come overâhe had seen Lavinia's slender shoulders pinken, seen her nose and cheeks redden a touch, and even if she wasn't to be his lover she promoted reluctant responsibility. âYou need to apply sunblock.'
âI know!' Lavinia whispered. âI forgot to bring any.'
âAsk Jasmine if she has someâ¦' His voice trailed off. Jasmine's skin was lovely and brown; it was Lavinia who was lily-white. âYou need it.'
âI'm scared to ask,' Lavinia admitted. âThey're so polite they'll probably go and helicopter some in, or somethingâ¦'
âI'll sort it.' He was back a few moments later, having had a word with one of the crew, and handed her a tube. âThey will also put some aftersun in your cabin.'
âHardly a cabin!' Lavinia smiled.
People were starting to drift off. The afternoon sun was too fierce to stay on deck, and the King announced that he might sleep for a while. Jasmine wanted to watch a film. Lavinia was on the King's side.
âWe meet at seven for dinner,' Jasmine's mother informed them. âRelax for now, Lavinia. Enjoy the boat, your roomâ¦'
They were just the nicest people. Lavinia had been rather worried that she'd have to talk and entertain right
up till bedtime, but they were the most lovely hosts. The Queen sat in the shade with a book, Jasmine and her bridesmaids curled up to watch a film, and a very guilt-free Lavinia slipped down the stairs to the cool bliss of her suite. Peeling off her clothes, down to her bra and panties, she winced at her pink shoulders. They didn't hurt yet, but possibly would by evening.
She rubbed in cool aloe vera aftersun lotion, swore never to leave her room again without sunblock, and then stretched out on the bed, enjoying the gentle lulling motion of the yacht. She was relaxed, yet not. Aware that Zakahr was close, deciding that perhaps his reaction to her news was possibly for the best.
She wanted to be made love to by him, she wanted him to be her first, but her assurances to him that she expected nothing were perhaps more what he'd needed to hear than what she had wanted to say.
He captured her mind in a way no man ever had, Lavinia thought as she headed into a lovely long sleep. With him Lavinia wasâpossibly for the first time in her lifeâcompletely herself.
She'd told him of her past, told him of her present, even her hopes for the future.
It wasn't Zakahr who enthralled her.
Neither Belenki the businessman.
Nor the focussed Riminic, who had chosen to reinvent himself, who had Lavinia slightly spellbound.
It was the whole montage of himâthe smile that could make her stomach fold, the dark humour and those glimpses of a softer side, a protective side. To have
that, to be wrapped in it, to be held by it even for a little while, would be hell to let go of.
did not want to go in there, but it was after six, and there were no noises from her room, so Zakahr realised that it was up to him to wake her. Unlike Lavinia, Zakahr did not relish down-timeâhe had no desire to make small-talk with his hosts, nor did he know how to relax. Bed in the afternoon was what he had hoped forâbut not alone. He had taken off his shirt and stretched out on the bed, and spent a restless afternoon playing heads or tails with his conscience, thinking what they should be doing now. On too many occasions had come dangerously close to her door.
What was preventing him, Zakahr was not quite sure.
He had broken many hearts in his past, and Lavinia was willingâthere was a strange sense of honour that kept him back, though. A sense of the damage he could wreak, a wanting to spare her from the hurt that was inevitably to come.
âLavinia!' He knocked again and then pushed it open. âIt's after six.'
She jolted awake with the horrible realisation that she had less than an hour to get ready to dine with the King, and with no Katina on hand or a hairdresser to help this time. Sun, sea and a champagne breakfast had ensured Lavinia slept wellânow she heard the sound of laughter
from above, and a rap at the adjoining door, saw Zakahr standing in the doorway.
âOh, Godâ¦' Lavinia did her best not to dwell on the splendid sight of himânaked from the waist up, he was more beautiful than her many imaginings. His pale skin was shadowed with a smatter of chest hair like a charcoal smudge that led down to the now crumpled linen trousers; he looked sulky, restless and never more beautiful. But it was easier to snap than to admit itâ¦ âWhy didn't you wake me?' Her high, terse voice was a contrast to his drawl.