The Call of the Desert (3 page)

BOOK: The Call of the Desert
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“I can take a taxi if I need to. Why are you doing this?”

He shrugged minutely. “I wasn’t expecting to see you … it’s been a surprise.”

She all but snorted. It certainly was. She had no doubt that he’d never expected to see her again in his lifetime. And thinking of that now—how close she’d come to never seeing him again—Julia felt an aching sense of loss grip her. And urgency. She wouldn’t see Kaden after tonight. She knew that. This was a fluke, a monumental coincidence. He was just curious—perhaps intrigued.

He’d been her first lover. Her first love.
Her only love
?

Before she could quash that disturbing thought Kaden was manoeuvring her towards the open door of his car, as if some tacit acquiescence had passed between them. Julia felt weak for not protesting, but she knew in that moment that she didn’t have the strength to just walk away. Because meeting him again
didn’t
mean nothing to her.

He handed her into the plush interior of the luxury car and came around the other side. Once his large, rangy body was settled in the back seat alongside her he issued
a terse command in Arabic, and the car pulled off so smoothly that Julia only knew they were moving because the tube station passed them in a blaze of refracted light through the driving rain.

Kaden sat back and looked over at Julia. He could see her long dark lashes. Her nose had the tiniest bump, which gave her profile an aquiline look, and her mouth …

He used to study this woman’s mouth for hours. Obsessed with its shape, its full lower lip and the perfect curve of its bow-shaped upper lip. He’d once known this profile as well as his own.
Better.

She wore a light jacket, but the rain had made her clothes heavy and the V in the neckline of the dress was being dragged downwards to reveal the pale swells of her breasts. He could see a tantalising hint of the black lace of her bra, and evidence of her agitation as her chest rose and fell with quick breaths.

Rage at his uncharacteristic lack of control rose high. He’d fully intended to leave and put her out of his mind, but then he’d seen her walking along the street, with that quick, efficient walk he remembered. Not artful or practised, but completely sensuous all the same. As if she was unconscious of how sexy she was. He’d forgotten that a woman could be unconsciously sexy. Before he’d known what he was doing, he’d found himself instructing his driver to stop the car.

Sexual awareness stunned him anew. It shouldn’t be so overwhelmingly fresh. As if they’d hardly been apart. For a long time after she’d left Burquat Kaden had told himself that his inability to forget about her was because of the fact that she’d been his first lover, and that brought with it undeniable associations and indelible memories.

But he couldn’t deny as he sat there now, with this carnal
heat
throbbing between them, that the pleasure they’d discovered together had been more than just the voluptuous delight of new lovers discovering unfamiliar terrain. It had been as intensely mind—blowing as anything he’d experienced since. And sitting beside Julia was effortlessly shattering any illusion he’d entertained that he’d been the one to control his response to women in the intervening years. They just hadn’t been
her
. That knowledge was more than cataclysmic.

Julia could feel Kaden’s eyes on her, but she was determined not to look at him. When they’d been together he’d always had a way of looking at her so intently … as if he wanted to devour her whole. It had thrilled her and scared her a little in equal measure. His intensity had been so dark and compelling. She’d felt the lash of that dark intensity when it had been turned against her.

If she turned and saw that look now …

She raised her hand to her neck in a nervous reflex and felt that it was bare. The wave of relief that coursed through her when she realised what she’d just done was nothing short of epic. She always wore a gold necklace with the detail of an intricate love knot at its centre. It had been bought from a stall in the souk in Burquat. But its main significance was that Kaden had bought it for her, and despite what had happened between them she still wore it every day—apart from when she was travelling, for fear of losing it.

The only reason she wasn’t wearing it now was because she’d been in such a rush earlier, upon returning from the US, that she’d forgotten to put it back on. The knowledge burned within her, because she knew that it somehow symbolised her link to this man when no link
existed any more. If he had seen the necklace—Her mind seized at the prospect. It would have been like wearing a badge saying
You still mean something to me
. And she was only realising herself, here and now, how shamefully true that was.

“We’re here.”

The car was drawing to a smooth halt outside an exclusive-looking building. A liveried doorman was hurrying over to open the car door, and before Julia knew it she was standing on the pavement watching as Kaden came to join her. The rain had become a light drizzle, and Julia shivered in clothes that felt uncomfortably damp against her skin, despite the heavy warmth of the night.

Kaden ushered Julia in through the open doors. The doorman bowed his head deferentially as they passed. Julia felt numb inside and out. Shock was spreading, turning her into some sort of automaton. Sleek doors were opening, and then they were standing in an opulently decorated lift. The doors closed again, and with a soft jolt they were ascending.

A sense of panic was rising as she stood in that confined space next to Kaden’s formidable presence, but before she could do anything the door was opening again and Julia was being led straight from the lift into what had to be the penthouse apartment. It was an old building, but the apartment had obviously been refitted and it oozed sleek modernity with an antique twist. It was decorated in understated tones of cream and gold, effortlessly luxurious. The tall windows showcased the glittering city outside as Kaden led her into a huge reception room and turned to face her.

Julia looked away from the windows to catch Kaden’s
dark gaze making a leisurely return up her body. Heat exploded in her belly, and when his eyes met hers again she found it hard to breathe.

He backed away to an open door on the other side of the room and said coolly, “There is a bedroom and
en suite
bathroom through here, if you want to freshen up and get dry.”

Julia followed his tall form, feeling very bedraggled. She was aware of trailing water all over the luxurious carpet. He turned again at the open door, through which she could see a set of rooms—a smaller sitting room leading into a bedroom.

“I’ll have your clothes attended to if you leave them in the sitting room.”

Julia looked at him, and a curious kind of relief went through her. “You have a housekeeper here?”

Kaden shook his head, “No, but someone will attend to them, and I’ll leave some dry clothes out for you.”

How could she have forgotten the myriad silent servants who were always present to do the royal bidding, no matter what it was? Like erecting exotic Bedouin tents in the desert in a matter of hours, just for them. Her belly cramped. Still in a state of shock, she could only nod silently and watch as Kaden strode away and left her alone.

She walked through the opulent rooms until she came to the bedroom, where she carefully closed the door behind her, leaning back against it. She grimaced at herself. Kaden was hardly likely to bash the door down because he was so consumed with uncontrollable lust. She could well imagine that his tastes no longer ran to wet and bedraggled archaeologists.

Shaking her head, as if that might shake some sanity
back into it, she kicked off her shoes and pushed away from the door. She explored the bathroom, which held a glorious sunken bath and huge walk-in shower. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and her eyes grew big. She did indeed look as if she’d been dragged through a hedge backwards and then hosed down with water. Her long blonde hair hung in rats’ tails over her shoulders and was stuck to her head. Mascara had made huge dark smudges under her eyes.

With a scowl at herself, she peeled off her drenched clothes. She got a towel from the bathroom to protect the soft furnishings and left them in the outer sitting room, half terrified that Kaden would walk back through the door at any moment. She scuttled back through the bedroom into the bathroom. With a towel wrapped around her she gave a longing glance to the bath, but stepped into the shower instead. Taking a bath in Kaden’s apartment felt far too decadent a thing to do.

As it was, just standing naked under the powerful hot spray of water felt illicit and wicked. To know that Kaden was mere feet away in another room … also naked under a hot shower … With a groan of disgust at her completely inappropriate imagination, Julia turned her face upwards. She resolved to get re-dressed in her wet clothes if she had to, and then get out of there as fast as she could.

Kaden had showered and changed into dry clothes, and now stood outside the rooms he’d shown Julia into. He dithered. He never dithered, but all he could see in his mind’s eye was the seductive image of Julia standing before him in those wet clothes. She should have looked like a drowned rat, but she hadn’t. That cool, classic
English beauty stood out a mile—along with the delicate curves of her breasts, waist and hips.

The burning desire he’d felt in the car hadn’t abated one bit, and normally when he was attracted to a woman it was a straightforward affair. But this wasn’t just some random woman. This woman came with long silken ties to the past.
To his heart
. He rejected that rogue thought outright. She’d never affected his heart. He’d thought she had … but it had been lust. Overwhelming, yes, but just lust. Not love.

He’d learnt young not to trust romantic love. His father had married for love. But after his mother had died in childbirth with his younger sister his father had silently communicated to him that love only brought pain. It had been there in the way that his father had become a shadow of his former self, wrapped up in grief and solitude. Kaden had always been made very aware that one day he would rule his country, so he could never afford to let such frivolous emotions overwhelm
him
the way they’d taken over his father’s life.

Kaden’s father had married again, but this time for all the
expected
reasons. Practicality and lineage. Unfortunately his second wife had been cold and manipulative, further compounding Kaden’s negative impressions of marriage and love. Any halcyon memories he might have had of his mother and father being happy together had quickly faded into something that felt like a wispy dream—unreal.

Yet when Kaden had met Julia he’d been seduced into forgetting everything he’d learnt. Guilt weighed heavily on him even now. And that sense of betrayal. If he hadn’t seen her with that other man … if he hadn’t realised how fickle she was …

Kaden cursed himself for this sudden introspection.

In his hands he held some dry clothes. He knocked lightly and heard nothing. So he went in. The bedroom was dimly lit and the door to the bathroom was slightly open. As if in a trance he walked further into the bedroom and laid the dry clothes down on the bed. He’d picked up Julia’s wet clothes on the way through. Her scent hit his nostrils now and his eyes closed. Still the same distinctive lavender scent. A dart of anger rose up, as if her scent was mocking him by not having changed.

Before his mind could become clouded with evocative memories a sound made him open his eyes to see Julia, framed in the doorway of the bathroom, with only a towel wrapped around her body and another towel turban—like on her head. Steam billowed out behind her, bringing with it that delicate scent.

Lust slammed into Kaden like a two-ton lorry. Right in his solar plexus. Long shapely legs were bare, so were pale shoulders and arms. Kaden cursed himself for bringing her here. The last thing he needed right now was to be reopening doors best left shut.

He said, with a cool bite in his voice, “I’ll send these out to be dried.” He indicated the clothes on the bed, “You can change into these for now. They should fit.”

Julia’s eyes, which had widened on seeing him, moved to the clothes on the bed. He saw her tense perceptibly. She shook her head, a flush coming into her cheeks, and put out a hand. “I’ll change back into my own clothes and go home.”

An image of her walking out through the door made Kaden’s self-recrimination dissolve in an instant. He held the clothes well out of Julia’s reach. “Don’t be silly. You’ll get pneumonia if you put these back on.”

Julia’s eyes narrowed and she stretched her hand out more. “Really—I don’t mind. This wasn’t a good idea. I should never have agreed to come here.”

CHAPTER THREE

S
ILENCE
thickened and grew between them. Julia couldn’t fathom what was going on behind those darker than dark eyes. And then Kaden moved towards her and she stepped back. Her heart nearly jumped out of her chest.

He pointed out silkily, “But you did come. What are you afraid of, Julia? That you won’t be able to control yourself around me?”

A few seconds ago she’d seen a look of something like cool distaste cross his face, and yet now he was acknowledging the heat between them. Baiting her. Her heart was thumping so hard she felt sure it would be evident through the towel wrapped around her.

A long buried sensation rushed through her like a tangible force—what it had felt like to have his naked body between her legs, thrusting into her with awesome strength.

For a moment she couldn’t breathe, then she said threadily, “Just give me my clothes, Kaden. This really
isn’t
a good idea.”

But Kaden ignored her, was already stepping back and away, taking her clothes with him and leaving the fresh ones on the bed. She looked at them. Jeans and a
delicate grey silk shirt. Rage filled her belly at being humiliated like this.

She indicated the clothes with a trembling hand. Too much emotion was coursing through her. More than she’d felt in years. “I won’t wear your mistress’s cast-offs. I’ll walk out of here in this towel if I have to.”

Kaden turned. He was silhouetted in the doorway, shoulders broad in a simple white shirt. Black trousers hugged his lean hips. Julia hadn’t even noticed his still damp hair. She’d been so consumed by his overall presence.

He said, with a flash of fire in his eyes, “Be my guest, but there’s really no need. Those clothes belong to Samia. You remember my younger sister? You’re about the same size now. She’s been living here for the last couple of years.”

Immediately Julia felt petulant and exposed. She blushed. “Yes, I remember Samia.” She’d always liked Kaden’s next youngest sister, who had been bookish and painfully shy. Before she could say anything else, though, he was gone and the door had shut behind him.

Defeated, Julia contemplated the clothes. She took off the towel and put them on. There were even some knickers still in a plastic bag, and Julia could only figure that someone regularly stocked up Samia’s wardrobe. The jeans were a little snug on her rear and thighs, and she felt extremely naked with no bra under the silk shirt. Her breasts weren’t overly large, but they were too big for her to go bra-less and feel comfortable. There wasn’t much she could do. It was either this or dress in the robe hanging off the back of the bathroom door. And she couldn’t face Kaden in just a robe.

She went back into the bathroom and dried her hair
with the hairdryer. It dried a little frizzy, but there was not much she could do about that either. And, anyway, it wasn’t as if she wanted to impress Kaden, was it? She scowled at the very thought.

Fresh resolve to insist on leaving fired her blood, and she picked up her shoes in one hand and took a deep breath before emerging from the suite, steeling herself to see Kaden again. When she did emerge though, it was to see him with his back to her at one of the main salon windows, looking out over the view. Something about his stance in that moment struck her as acutely lonely, but then he turned around and his sardonic visage made a mockery of her fanciful notion.

She hitched up her chin. “I’ll get a taxi home. I can arrange to get my clothes from you another time.”

Kaden’s hand tightened reflexively on the glass he held. He should be saying
Yes, I’ll call you a taxi
. He should be reminding himself that this was a very bad idea. But rational thought was very elusive as he looked at Julia.

Her hair drifted softly around her narrow shoulders. Like this, with the veneer of a successful, sophisticated woman stripped away, she might be nineteen again, and something inside him turned over. The grey silk shirt made the grey of her eyes look smoky and mysterious. He could remember thinking when he’d first met her that her eyes were a very icy light blue, but he had then realised that they were grey.

The silk shirt left little to the imagination. Her bare breasts pushed enticingly against the material, and under his gaze he could see her nipples harden to two thrusting points. His body responded forcibly. The jeans were too tight, but that only emphasized the curve of her hips
and thighs. He wanted her to turn around so he could see her lush
derrière
. She’d always had a voluptuous bottom and generous breasts in contrast to her otherwise slender build.

Heat engulfed him, and he struggled for the first time in years to cling onto some control. Once again when it came to it … he couldn’t let her go.

Julia was on fire under Kaden’s very thorough inspection. “Please …” She wasn’t even really aware of what she was saying, only that she wanted him to stop. “Don’t look at me like that.”

He smiled and went into seduction mode. “Like what? You’re a beautiful woman, Julia. I’m sure you’re used to having men’s eyes on you.”

Julia flushed at the slightly narrowed dark gaze, which hinted at steel underneath the apparent civility. The memory of what had happened just before she’d left Burquat flashed through her head and brought with it excoriating heat and guilt. And nausea … Kaden’s eyes had been on her in her moment of humiliation. Even now she could remember the way that man had pulled her so close she’d felt as if she were suffocating, when all she’d wanted— She slammed the door on that memory.

She shook her head, “No, actually, I’m not. And this is not appropriate. I really should be leaving. So if you’ll just call me a taxi …?”

Kaden smiled then, and it was the devil’s smile. She sensed he’d come to some decision and it made her incredibly nervous.

“What’s the rush? I’m sure you could do with a drink?”

Julia regarded this suddenly urbane pillar of solicitude suspiciously. Her shoes were unwieldy in her hand. She
felt all at once awkward, hot, and yet pathetically reluctant to turn and never see Kaden again. That insidious yearning arose … the awareness that tonight was a bizarre coincidence. Fate. Surely the last time she would ever see him?

As much as she longed to get as far away as possible from this situation, and this man, a dangerous curiosity and a desire for him not to see how conflicted she was by this reunion made her shrug minutely and say grudgingly, “I suppose one drink wouldn’t hurt. After all, it has been a long time.”

He just looked at her. “Yes, it has.” Hardly taking his eyes from hers, he indicated a bottle of cream liqueur on the sideboard and asked, “Do you still like this?”

Julia’s belly swooped dangerously. He remembered her favourite drink? She’d only ever drunk it with him, and hadn’t touched it in twelve years. She nodded dumbly and watched as his large, masculine yet graceful hands deftly poured the distinctive liquid. He replaced the bottle on the sideboard and then came and handed the delicately bulbous glass to Julia.

She took it, absurdly grateful that their fingers didn’t touch. Bending her head, she took a sniff of the drink and then a quick sip, to disguise the flush she could feel rising when the smell precipitated a memory of drinking it with Kaden one magical night in his family’s summer palace by the coast. It was the night they’d slept together for the first time.

For a second the full intensity of how much she’d loved him threatened to overwhelm her. And he’d casually poisoned those feelings and in one fell swoop destroyed her innocent idealism. Feeling tormented, and wondering if this avalanche of memories would ever go
back into its box, she moved away from Kaden’s tall, lean body, her eyes darting anywhere but to him.

She sensed him move behind her, and then he appeared in her peripheral vision.

“Please, won’t you sit?”

So polite. As if nothing had happened. As if she hadn’t given him her body, heart and soul.

Slamming another painful door in her mind, Julia said quickly, nervously, “Thank you.”

She followed him, and when he sat on a plush couch, easily dominating it, she chose an armchair to the side, putting her shoes down beside her. She was as far away from him as she could get, legs together primly. She glanced at him to see a mocking look cross his face. She didn’t care. This new Kaden intimidated her. There was nothing of the boy she’d known. They’d both just been teenagers after all … until he’d had to grow up overnight, after the death of his father.

Now he was a man—infinitely more commanding. She’d seen a glimpse of this more formidable Kaden the last time they’d spoken in Burquat, but that had been a mere precursor of the powerful man opposite her now.

Julia felt exposed in her bare feet and the flimsy shirt. It was too silky against her bare flesh. Her nipples were hard, tingling. She hadn’t felt this effortlessly aroused once during her marriage, or since she’d been with Kaden, and the realisation made her feel even more exposed. She struggled to hang on to the fact that she was a successful and relatively sophisticated woman. She’d been married and divorced. She was no naïve virgin any more. She could handle this. She had to remember that, while he had devastated
her
, he’d been untouched after their relationship ended. She’d never forget how
emotionless he’d been when they said goodbye. It was carved into her soul.

Remembering who the clothes belonged to gave her a moment of divine inspiration. With forced brightness she asked, “How
is
Samia? She must be at least twenty-four by now?”

Kaden observed Julia from under hooded lids. He was in no hurry to answer her question or engage in small talk. It was more than disconcerting how
right
it felt to have her here. And even more so to acknowledge that the vaguely unsettled feeling he’d been experiencing for what felt like years was dissipating.

She intrigued him more than he cared to admit. He might have imagined that by now she would be far more polished, would have cultivated the hard veneer he was used to in the kind of women he socialised with.

Curbing the urge to stand and pace out the intense conflict inside him as her vulnerability tugged at his jaded emotions, Kaden struggled to remain sitting and remember what she’d asked.

“Samia? She’s twenty-five, and she’s getting married at the end of this week. To the Sultan of Al-Omar. She’s in B’harani for the preparations right now.”

Julia’s eyes widened, increasing Kaden’s levels of inner tension and desire. He cursed silently. He couldn’t stand up now even if he wanted to— not if he didn’t want her to see exactly the effect she had on him. He vacillated between intense anger at himself for bringing her here at all, and the assertion that she would not be walking out through his front door any time soon.

Kaden was used to clear, concise thinking—not this churning maelstrom. It was too reminiscent of what had happened before. And yet even as he thought that the
tantalising prospect came into his mind: why not take her again? Tonight? Why not exorcise this desire which mocked him with its presence?

“The Sultan of Al-Omar?” Julia shook her head, not liking the speculative gleam in Kaden’s eyes. Blonde hair slipped over her shoulders. She tried to focus on stringing a sentence together. “Samia was so painfully shy. It must be difficult for her to take on such a public role?”

An irrational burst of guilt rushed through Kaden. He’d seen Samia recently, here in London before she’d left, and had felt somewhat reassured by her stoic calm in the face of her impending nuptials. But Julia was reminding him what a challenge this would be for his naturally introverted sister. And he was surprised that Julia remembered such a detail.

It made his voice harsh. “Samia is a woman now, with responsibilities to her country and her people. A marriage with Sultan Sadiq benefits both our countries.”

“So it is an arranged marriage, then?”

Kaden nodded his head, not sure where the defensiveness he was feeling stemmed from. “Of course—just as my own marriage was arranged and just as my next marriage will be arranged.” He quirked a brow. “I presume your marriage was a love match, and yet you did not fare any better if you too are divorced?”

Julia hid the dart of emotion at hearing him say he would marry again and avoided his eye. Had her marriage been a love match? In general terms, yes—it had. After all, she and John had married willingly, with no pressure on either side. But she knew in her heart of hearts that she hadn’t truly loved John. And he’d known it too.

Something curdled in her belly at having to justify herself to this man who had haunted her for so long. She looked back at him as steadily as she could. “No, we didn’t fare any better. However, I know plenty of arranged marriages work out very well, so I wish Samia all the best.”

“Children?”

For a moment Julia didn’t catch what Kaden had said it had been uttered so curtly. “Children?” she repeated, and he nodded.

Julia felt another kind of pain lance her. The memory of the look of shame on her husband’s face, the way he had closed in on himself and started to retreat, which had marked the beginning of the end of their marriage.

She shook her head and said, a little defiantly, “Of course not. Do you think I would be here if I had?” And then she cursed herself inwardly. She didn’t want Kaden analysing why she
had
come. “My husband—
ex-
husband—couldn’t … We had difficulties … And you? Did you have children?”

That slightly mocking look crossed his face again, because she must know well that his status as a childless divorcee was common knowledge. But he just shook his head. “No, no children.”

His mouth had become a bitter line, and Julia shivered minutely because it reminded her of how he’d morphed within days from an ardent lover into a cold stranger.

“My ex-wife’s mother suffered a horrific and near-fatal childbirth and stuffed my wife’s head with tales of horror and pain. As a result Amira developed a phobia about childbirth. It was so strong that when she did discover she was pregnant she went without my knowledge
to get a termination. Soon afterwards I started proceedings to divorce.”

BOOK: The Call of the Desert
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