The Call of the Desert

BOOK: The Call of the Desert
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‘I thought the storm was over.’

With a move so smooth she didn’t even feel it happening Kaden had put his hands on her arms and pulled her closer. Their bodies were almost touching.

‘I think the storm is just beginning.’

For a second confusion made Julia’s head foggy. She couldn’t seem to be able to separate out his words. And then she realised—when she saw how hot his gaze had become and how it moved down to her mouth. Desire was stamped onto the stark lines of his face and Julia’s heart beat fast in response. Because it was a look that had haunted her dreams for ever.

Desperately trying to fight the waves of need beating through her veins, she shook her head and tensed, trying to pull back out of Kaden’s grip.

‘Kaden,
no
. I shouldn’t be here … We shouldn’t have met again.’

Kaden shook his head, and a tiny harsh smile touched his mouth. ‘From the moment we stood in front of each other in that room the possibility of
this
has existed.’

Bitterness rang in Julia’s voice. ‘The possibility of
this
stopped existing twelve years ago in Burquat—or have you forgotten what happened?’

About the Author

ABBY GREEN
got hooked on Mills & Boon
®
romances while still in her teens, when she stumbled across one belonging to her grandmother in the west of Ireland. After many years of reading them voraciously, she sat down one day and gave it a go herself. Happily, after a few failed attempts, Mills & Boon bought her first manuscript.

Abby works freelance in the film and TV industry, but thankfully the four a.m. starts and the stresses of dealing with recalcitrant actors are becoming more and more infrequent, leaving her more time to write!

She loves to hear from readers, and you can contact her through her website at www.abby-green.com. She lives and works in Dublin.

Recent titles by the same author:

THE SULTAN’S CHOICE
SECRETS OF THE OASIS

The Call
of the Desert

Abby Green

www.millsandboon.co.uk

This is for India Grey, Natalie Rivers
and Heidi Rice—I couldn’t do this job without any of
you, and it wouldn’t be half as much fun. Thank you.

(My phone company also extends its thanks
for keeping them in business.)

CHAPTER ONE

“T
HE
Emir of Burquat. His Royal Highness Sheikh Kaden Bin Rashad al Abbas.”

Kaden looked out over the thronged ballroom in London’s exclusive Royal Archaeology Club. Everyone was staring at him and a hush had descended on the crowd, but that didn’t bother Kaden. He was used to such attention.

He walked down the ornate marble steps, one hand in his trouser pocket, watching dispassionately as people were caught staring and turned away hurriedly again. Well, to be more accurate, the men turned away and the women’s looks lingered—some blatantly so. Like that of the buxom waitress who was waiting at the bottom of the stairs to hand him a glass of champagne. She smiled coquettishly as he took the glass but Kaden had already looked away; she was far too young for his jaded heart and soul.

Ever since he’d been a teenager he’d been aware he possessed a certain power when it came to women. When he looked in the mirror, though, and saw his own harsh features staring back at him, he wondered cynically if all they felt was the seductive urge to wipe away that cynicism and replace it with something softer. He
had been softer … once. But it was so long ago now that he could hardly remember what it had felt like. It was like a dream, and perhaps like all dreams it had never been real.

Just then a movement on the other side of the room caught his eye, and a glimpse of a shiny blonde head among all the darker ones had his insides contracting.
Still. Even now
. He cursed himself and welcomed the sight of the club’s managing director hurrying towards him, wondering angrily why he hadn’t yet mastered such arbitrarily reflexive responses to the memory of something that had only ever been as flimsy as a dream.

Julia Somerton’s heart was palpitating, making her feel a little dizzy.

Kaden.

Here.

In the same room.

He’d descended the stairs and disappeared into the throng of people, despite his superior height. But that first image of him, appearing in the doorway like some sleek, dark-haired god, would be etched on her retina for ever. It was an image that was already carved indelibly onto her heart. The part of her heart that she couldn’t erase him from, no matter how much she tried or how much time passed.

She’d noted several things in the space of that heart-stopping split second when she’d heard his name being called and had looked up. He was still as stupendously gorgeous as he’d been when she’d first met him. Tall, broad and dark, with the exotic appeal of someone not from these lands—someone who had been carved out of a much more arid and unforgiving place. He’d been
too far away for her to see him in any detail, but even from where she’d stood she’d felt the impact of that black gaze—eyes so dark you could lose yourself for ever.
And hadn’t she once?

Some small, detached part of herself marvelled that he could have such an effect on her after all this time. Twelve long years. She was a divorcée now, a million miles from the idealistic girl she’d once been. When she’d known him.

The last time she’d seen Kaden she’d just turned twenty—weeks before his own twentieth birthday. Something she’d used to tease him mercilessly about: being with an
older woman
.

Her heart clenched so violently that she put a hand to her chest, and one of her companions said with concern, “Julia, dear, are you all right? You’ve gone quite pale.”

She shook her head, and placed her drink down on a nearby table with a sweaty hand. Her voice came out husky, rough, “It must be the heat … I’ll just get some air for a minute.”

Blindly Julia made her way through the crowd, pushing, not looking left or right, heading for where patio doors led out to a terrace which overlooked manicured gardens. She only vaguely heard her colleague call after her, “Don’t go too far—you’ve got to say your piece soon!”

When she finally reached the doors and stepped out, she sucked in huge lungfuls of air. She felt shaky and jelly-like—at a remove from everything. She recognised shock. It was mid-August and late evening. The city air was heavy and oppressively warm. The faintly metallic scent of a storm was in the atmosphere. Huge clouds sat off in the distance, as if waiting for their cue to roll
in. The garden here was famous for its exotic species of plants which had been brought back by many an adventurer and nurtured over the years by the dedicated gardeners.

But Julia was blind to all that.

Her hands gripped the wall so hard her knuckles shone white in the gathering twilight. She was locked in a whirlpool of memories, so many memories, and they were as bright and as painfully bittersweet as if it had all happened yesterday.

Ridiculously tears pricked her eyes, and an awful sense of loss gripped her. Yet how could this be? She was a thirty-two-year-old woman. Past her prime, many people would say, or perhaps coming into it, others would maintain. She felt past her prime. The day she’d flown away from the Emirate of Burquat on the Arabian Peninsula something inside her had withered and died. And even though she’d got on with her studies and surpassed her own dreams to gain a master’s degree and a doctorate, and had married and loved her husband in her own way, she’d never truly
felt
again. The reason for that was in the room behind her, a silent malevolent presence.

God, she’d loved him so much—

“Dr Somerton, it’s time for your speech.”

An urgent voice jarred her out of the memories. Dredging up strength from somewhere deep inside her, from a place she hadn’t needed to visit in a long time, Julia steeled herself and turned around. She was going to have to stand up in front of all these people and speak for fifteen minutes, all the while knowing he was there, watching her.

Remembering?

Perhaps he wouldn’t even remember … Perhaps he’d struggle to place her in his past. Her mouth became a bitter line. He’d certainly had enough women to make her blur into the crowd—not to mention a marriage of his own. She hated to admit that she was as aware of his exploits as the next person on the street who read the gossip rags on their lunchbreaks.

Maybe he’d wonder why she looked familiar. Acute pain gripped her and she repressed it brutally. Perhaps he wouldn’t remember the long nights in the desert when it had felt as if they were the only two people in the world underneath a huge blanket of stars. Perhaps he wouldn’t remember the beautiful poignancy of becoming each other’s first lover and how their naïve lovemaking had quickly developed beyond naivetée to pure passion and an insatiable need for one another.

Perhaps he wouldn’t remember when he’d said to her one night: “
I will love you always. No other woman could ever claim my heart the way you have
.”

And perhaps he wouldn’t remember that awful day in the beautiful Royal Palace in Burquat when he’d become someone cold and distant and cruel.

Reassuring herself that a man like Kaden would have consigned her to the dust heap of his memories, and stifling the urge to run from the room, Julia pasted a smile on her face and followed her colleague back into the crowd, trying desperately to remember what on earth she was supposed to talk about.

“Ah, Sheikh Kaden, there you are. Dr Julia Somerton is just about to speak. I believe she used her research in Burquat for her masters degree. Perhaps you met her all
those years ago? She’s involved in fundraising now, for various worldwide archaeological projects.”

Kaden looked at the red-faced man who’d forced his way through the crowd to come and join him, and made a non-committal response. The man was the managing director of the club, who had invited him with a view to wooing funds out of him. Kaden was trying to disguise the uncomfortable jolt of shock to hear the name
Julia
. Despite the fact that he’d never met another Julia in Burquat, he told himself that there might have been another student by that name and he wouldn’t have necessarily been aware, considering his lack of interest in all things archaeological after
she’d
left.

This was his first foray back into that world and it would be ironic in the extreme if he was to meet
her.
She had been Julia Connors, not Somerton. Although, as an inner voice pointed out, she could be married by now. In fact, why wouldn’t she be?
He
had been married, after all. At the memory of his marriage Kaden felt the usual cloud of black anger threaten to overwhelm him. He resolutely pushed it aside. He was not one to dwell on the past.

And yet one aspect of his past which had refused to dissolve into the mists of time was facing him right now. If it
was
her. Unaccountably his heart picked up pace.

A hush descended over the crowd. Kaden looked towards the front of the room and the world halted on its axis for a terrifying moment when he saw the slim woman in the black cocktail dress ascending the steps to the podium.
It was her
. Julia. In a split second he was transported back to the moment when he’d realised that, because of lust, he’d placed her on a pedestal that she had
no right to grace. And only that realisation had stopped him making the biggest mistake of his life.

Shaking his mind free of the disturbingly vivid memory, Kaden narrowed his eyes on Julia. Her voice was husky; it had caught him from the first moment they’d met. She’d been wearing a T-shirt and dusty figure-hugging jeans. Her long hair had fallen in bright tendrils over her shoulders. A safari-style hat had shaded her face from the sun. Her figure had been lithe and so effortlessly sensual he’d lost the power of speech.

If anything she was more beautiful than that first day he’d seen her. Time had hollowed out her cheeks, adding an angularity that hadn’t been there before.
She’d only been nineteen.
Her face had still held a slight hint of puppy-plumpness. As had her body. From what he could see now, she looked slimmer, with a hint of enticing cleavage just visible in the V of her dress. In fact there was a fragility about her that hadn’t been there before.

She was a million miles from that first tantalising dusty image he held in his mind’s eye; she was elegance personified now, with her long blonde hair pulled back into a low ponytail. The heavy side parting swept it across her forehead and down behind one ear. Her groomed appearance was doing little, though, to stop the torrent of carnal images flooding Kaden’s mind—and in such lurid detail that his body started to harden in response.

He would have anticipated that she’d have no effect on him. Much like any ex-lover. But the opposite was true. This was inconceivable. He had to concede now, with extreme reluctance, that no woman since this woman
had exerted such a sensual hold over him. He’d never again lost control as he had with her—every time.

And he’d never felt the same acrid punch of jealousy to his gut as when he’d seen her in another man’s arms, with another man’s mouth on hers, tasting her … feeling her soft curves pressed against him. The vividness of that emotion was dizzying in its freshness, and he fought to negate it, too stunned by its resurgence to look too closely into what it meant.

This woman had been a valuable lesson in never allowing his base nature to rule his head or his heart again. Yet the years of wielding that control felt very flimsy how he was faced with her again.

More than a little bewildered at this onslaught of memories, and irrationally angry that she was here to precipitate them, Kaden felt his whole body radiate displeasure. Just then a rumble of laughter trickled through the gathered crowd in reaction to something she’d said. Kaden’s mouth tightened even more, and with that tension making his movements jerky he said something about getting some air and stalked towards the open patio doors.

As soon as Julia’s speech was over he was going to get out of there and forget that he’d ever seen her again.

Julia stepped down off the dais. She’d faltered during her speech for long seconds when she’d noticed Kaden head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd, at the back of the room like a forbidding presence, those dark eyes boring through her. And then with an abrupt move he’d moved outside. Almost as if disgusted by something she’d said. It had taken all her powers of concentration to keep going, and she’d used up all her reserves.

To her abject relief she saw her boss at the fundraising foundation come towards her. He put a hand to her elbow and for once she wasn’t concerned about keeping distance between them. Ever since her divorce had come through a year ago Nigel had been making his interest clear, despite Julia’s clear lack of encouragement. Tonight, though, she needed all the support she could get. If she could just get through the rest of the relentless schmoozing and get out of there perhaps she could pretend she’d never seen Kaden.

Nigel was babbling excitedly about something as he steered her away, but she couldn’t even hear him above the din of chatter and the clink of glasses. People were making the most of the
gratis
champagne reception. Julia craved that sweet oblivion, but it was not to be.

With dread trickling into her veins and her belly hollowing out, she could already see where they were headed—towards someone at the back of the room, near the terrace. Someone with his back to them: tall, broad and powerful. Thick ebony-black hair curled a touch too much over the collar of his jacket, exactly the way it had when she’d first met him.

Like a recalcitrant child she tried to dig her heels into the ground, but Nigel was blithely unaware, whispering confidentially, “He’s an emir, so I’m not sure how you have to address him. Maybe call him Your Highness just in case. It would be such a coup to interest him in the foundation.”

In that split second Julia had a flashback to when she’d met Kaden for the first time. She’d only been working on the dig for a couple of weeks, had still been getting used to the intense heat, when a pair of shoes had come into her line of vision. She’d barely looked up.


Don’t
step there. Whoever you are. You’re about to walk on top of a fossil that’s probably in the region of three thousand years old.”

The shoe had hovered in mid-air and come back down again in a safer spot, and a deep, lightly accented voice had drawled seductively, “Do you always greet people with such enthusiasm?”

BOOK: The Call of the Desert
5.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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