Sheikh's Unlikely Desire (4 page)

BOOK: Sheikh's Unlikely Desire
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She shoved things around in her closet, and her eye caught on a flash of white.

Surely not...
but then, as if it had a mind of its own, her hand reached out to grasp at the dress at the back.

It was short sleeveless number, pure white except where a design of black branches and falling red flowers was painted across it. The neckline came all the way up to her throat in a mandarin collar, but the hem left a nearly indecent length of leg showing beneath. It had been on an incredible sale on Rodeo Drive, and without thinking about where she would wear it or who she would wear it for, she had snatched it up. It had lived at the back of her closet... until now.

“All right,” she whispered, pulling it on. “Let's see how this goes.”

***

When she got to the front steps of the Marseilles, she was startled to see Zayn and his escort. She threw her car keys to the valet, coming up the stairs slowly. The only heels that really went with this dress were vivid cherry red, but they were also an inch taller than what she was used to.

“Sheik Zayn, I thought you would be upstairs still...”

His grin was wide, making her smile in return.

“Zayn,” he said firmly. “I refuse to budge from this spot until you are willing to call me by my right name.”

“Zayn,” she repeated, smiling at the way his name felt on her mouth.

“And you, what shall I call you?”

“Leah,” she replied promptly. After that smile, there was no way in the world that she was going to let him call her Ms. Montgomery.

His grin turned into a real smile, and he offered her his arm. She took it automatically, not missing the way those green eyes roved up and down her body. She knew that she should put a stop to it, but right now, it simply felt too good. She told herself that she was doing exactly what Grant or Bryce would have done. She was working with their client, getting to know him, putting him at his ease and instilling a real sense of trust in him. She was pretty sure that neither of them did it wearing a dress this short, but she ignored that part of it.

“Where are we going?” she asked. “I can't imagine that your hotel needs you to get this dressed up.”

Zayn had changed again, this time into a bronze suit that looked as if it was made for him. A green gem winked at his lapel, and his eyes were as dangerous as the wind before a storm. He didn't look like a man who was going to stay in his hotel room and order room service.

“Well, I thought I would leave that to the driver. I asked him to show us the best of what Los Angeles has to offer.”

Leah was going to ask what driver he was talking about, and then a black stretch limousine pulled smartly up to the curb. At a gesture from Zayn, his honor guard piled into the dark cars in front of and behind the limousine, and he handed her down the steps and into the car. Leah’s jaw dropped once she was inside the luxury car. The seating area was nearly as large as the sitting room in her very first apartment, and the set of crystal glasses strapped to the seat backs glimmered like pure good fortune.

She must have done a good job concealing her awe because Zayn quirked an eyebrow at her.

“Does this not suit your standards?” he asked, his voice teasing. “Should I have sent for the dragons, instead?”

“No, this is incredible,” she said, settling back into the leather seat. When he came to sit down next to her, their knees were touching. His heat was immense, and she fancied for just a moment that he had brought some of that hot desert sun with him.

“I had the idea that you are not a woman who is easily impressed with material things, but I am sure that you will forgive me for trying it.”

“Not dragons and not all cars, but I was impressed by your horses.” The words popped out unbidden, but she was gratified to see Zayn's eyes widen a bit, and his smile, so charming before, gained an element of warmth that it had previously lacked.

“Horses? Almira has one of the finest stables in the Middle East, but what do you know of horses?”

“I talked to my cousin Daisy,” she said, feeling a little like a high schooler who had been caught passing notes. “She told me about how she and her husband saw you calming down a stallion. She said that your entire family has a gift for it.”

Zayn nodded, a wry smile on his face. “Your cousin is as kind as she is beautiful,” he said. “Frankly, if you ask me, I simply think that what my family has is a rare gift for stubbornness. We have been riders for centuries, and one thing that you learn after being thrown off enough horses is that if you can simply keep your seat, they will generally see your way of it.”

“She said that the white stallion you were gentling eventually did calm down. Did he see your way?”

“Oh, Bayzid?” Zayn laughed. “There is an interesting tale to tell there. Centuries ago, a fleet of Spanish galleons foundered on the north shores of Almira. The men were rescued, but they could do nothing about the dozens and dozens of horses that they lost. Some of the poor animals were lost among the waves, but many more made it to shore.

“It makes me thoughtful sometimes, to consider their fates. They were the treasured mounts of the world's elite army at the time. They had been bred for war and service, and here they came to a land that needed them for neither. Almira had a mounted cavalry, and some of those horses found their way into it, but the vast majority seemed happy to kick off their traces and be free.”

“What kind of horses were they?” asked Leah. “I used to ride a little when I was a girl and when my family could afford it. It was western riding, and I never got over my love for paints and pintos.”

“Well, they were warm blooded, that is for sure. They're an old breed, and the truly wild ones in the deserts and the mountains, their line has been kept completely pure all that time. They have the delicacy of the Arabian and the height of the akal-teke, but they are heavier than either. From time to time, when we catch one or one decides that it has tired of its wild ways, we find that the mares are surprisingly sweet tempered and willing.”

“But it sounds like the stallions are a different story.”

Zayn laughed ruefully. “He's a devil still. He's happy to take the food we give him, and of course he likes all the cool water he could dream of. I am the only one who can ride him however, and when we breed him, we must be very careful to choose the right mate.”

“A mare that is very even tempered, I suppose?”

Zayn shrugged, and for some reason, in that moment, he locked eyes with her. That green was a color she could drown in, and when she saw them, she thought of lands she had never been to, far across the sea.

“That would be one way to do it, I suppose,” he said. “We don't breed for docility in Almira, though. When I think of a match for a stallion as wild and as used to his freedom as Bayzid, I think of a mare who will stand her ground and fight. A mare that might serve, but will never be a slave.”

For a breathless moment, Leah didn't know what was going to happen. It was a strange place to be, where almost anything seemed possible. Then, to her surprise, Zayn broke it. He looked down, and the moment was over.

“You let me talk about my horses too much,” he said easily. “Look, here we are.”

Leah was startled to see that instead of being at one of LA's famously busy and star-studded night clubs or restaurants, they had pulled up to a small shopfront around the back of a rather older building. The driver looked supremely confident, however, and Zayn ushered her in, his honor guard a menacing but subtle presence around them.

The place was quiet, but more than once Leah saw discreet stars and their families around the restaurant. LA was full of well-kept secrets, and this seemed to be one of them. The Shiroyan turned out to be a traditional Japanese restaurant, or at least that was the way it looked until she saw the menu.

Side by side with mouthwatering orders of sashimi and beautifully cooked bowls of beef in broth, there were rolls that she had never heard of before. Some of them featured foods from other places in Asia, while some rolled up traditional Japanese cuisine with things like steak tartare and rabbit.

Leah was intrigued, and when Zayn gave her leave to order, she chose items that she had never heard of before.

“You've been here before?” he asked her after the waitress had taken their order.

“Oh god no,” she replied, “but if I'm here now, I'm going to do my best to see what it's got.”

The food was incredible, and the whole time, she was aware of Zayn's large body next to hers. His men were scattered around, and though she knew that they were alone, this felt very much like they were simply a couple on a date together.

Yeah, right, if the impossibly wealthy and handsome sheik of Almira was going to go on a date with a lawyer from LA.

The fact that it was so preposterous to think about made her bold. She was confident and brash in a way that she seldom was when she was actually on a date, and more than once she made Zayn stop and stare at her with that combination of humor and interest that she was beginning to love.

“All right,” she said when they were almost done. “I'm your knight, and you're the lord who is going into battle. What do we have to do to seal the deal? Do we drink? Do we do something with blood and spit?”

Zayn laughed. “No, and before I leave, I will want to know exactly what you think we do with blood and spit. No, all we do is eat out of each other's hands. It shows trust in both directions. After that, you are my knight, and I will trust you in all ways.”

“Sounds good to me,” she said. “Me first?”

“Of course. You are a lady, after all.”

Leah scooped up one of her last steak tartare with balsamic reduction rolls. It was an impossibly delicious morsel, but for some reason, she didn't mind the idea of sharing it with Zayn.

“All right. After you eat this… this delicious thing, I am your knight, and I will fight your battles, protect you in all ways, and … and... comfort you in the night.”

She wasn't sure where that last bit had come from, but it felt right. Zayn looked as if he was going to laugh at her, so she pushed the small roll into his mouth. Her small fingers brushed against his lips, and unexpectedly, his sharp teeth, sending a shudder right through her body. There was something behind this ritual. It was far more intimate than she had thought it would be when he was simply describing it to her.

He chewed with every evidence of enjoyment, but he never took his eyes off of her.

“It's good,” he said, and she wasn't sure if he meant her words or the food itself. “All right, my turn.”

He picked up one of his own rolls. Momentarily, she found herself captivated by the grace of his fingers, by the single platinum ring that winked on the middle finger of his right hand. He was, in many ways, an astonishingly beautiful man.

“I accept you as a knight in my service, and I swear that whatever battles I send you to fight for me will be fair and just, that they will cover you in glory and that you will never have cause to doubt for a single moment that you fight on the side of the angels. I will heed your counsel, I will protect you as if you were my own heart, and of course, I will comfort you in the night.”

Hesitantly, Leah opened her mouth, and he fed her the bite of his roll. It was a gorgeously decadent piece, a slice of raw tuna belly with a rosemary aioli, but she could only focus on the touch of his calloused fingertips, brushing across her lower lip and leaving her feeling slightly lightheaded. It was as if all the light had gone out of the room, leaving Zayn as the only bright spot.

She was almost shocked when he drew away and things returned to normal.

“Good?” he asked.

“Very,” she murmured, though at that point, she couldn't tell whether he meant the food or that single burning touch across her lower lip.

“We should return to my hotel,” he murmured. “It's growing late.”

It was on the tip of her tongue to tease him about staying out, that she expected much more from a man so wealthy and worldly, but she remembered that he had after all been traveling for most of the day.

“Of course,” she said.

She waited for him to pay the bill, leaving a tip so generous that it made the waitress's eyes bug out. Then it was back into the limo for the ride back to the Marseilles.

Something about the dinner, lavish as it was, had left her exhausted. The day felt like a long mirage, from fighting with the security guard, to landing the case, to hearing Zayn's stories. On the twenty-minute ride back to the hotel, she found herself pressed against his body, leaning against him as if they had ridden home together from delicious dinners every night of their lives.

There was something soothing about this, something real, which was pure foolishness as he was, after all, her client. Sometime after this was done, likely sooner rather than later, he would get on a plane and head back to Almira...

For some reason, the thought made her flinch, and she put it away.

Zayn must have noticed, because he wrapped his arm around her, pulling her snugly against him. “Are you all right? Shall I have the driver turn down the air conditioner?”

“I'm fine,” she said softly. “Just... I don't know, maybe a little lonely?”

“Mm, I could understand that, I think.”

They made the ride in silence, and once they reached the Marseilles, she hesitated. She knew that she should call for her car, but then Zayn turned to her expectantly. She could only pray that he never figured out how convincing those green eyes were when they were soft and warm.

“Come up for a moment,” he said. “My secretary in Almira faxed me some documents that she thought you should have.”

“Oh! Yes, I'll come up right away.”

She didn't know who she was fooling. She wanted to spend just a little more time with him. Leah was all too aware that when tomorrow came, she would be embroiled in the case. He would become her client in truth. Tonight, however, he was something else, and she wanted to hold on to it for as long as she could.

Moving slowly so she wouldn't trip in her red heels, she got into the elevator with him. For some reason, she caught a slight grin from Azim as they went up. He was a man with a face as hard as granite, and when he smiled, it was as if the rock had cracked and lifesaving water had come out.

BOOK: Sheikh's Unlikely Desire
11.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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