Pursued By The Desert Prince. Dani Collins
The hiss in her tone sliced the air like a blade. “That is not the way it went at all. Hasna didn’t even know Sadiq knew us. She said we were her dream designer and he arranged it secretly, to surprise her. We’re the ones who decided not to charge him.”
“Yes, funny that he would have kept this tremendously close ‘friendship’—” he let her hear his disdain “—such a secret from the woman he had been courting for a year and professed to love. I might have understood if he was paying you off.” He wouldn’t have condoned it, not when Hasna had fought so hard for a love match and had managed to convince him that Sadiq returned her feelings, but at least he would have seen the why of this ridiculous arrangement.
“Have you discussed this with Sadiq?” she demanded frostily, arms crossed. “Because I am as insulted on his behalf as I am on my own.”
“Sadiq is plainly not capable of doing what is needed. I will advise him after the fact.”
“I am not sleeping with Sadiq! I don’t sleep with married men, or engaged ones, either.”
“I’m fairly confident you stopped sleeping with him once the engagement was announced. I can account for his whereabouts since then.”
“He knows you’re watching him like that? With these awful suspicions about him?”
“I don’t judge him for having lovers prior to settling down. We all do it.”
Although it annoyed him that his brother-in-law had slept with this particular woman. Kasim didn’t examine too closely why that grated. Or wonder too much about how such a soft-spoken man had managed to seduce her. Sadiq had always struck Kasim as being more book-smart than street-smart, earnest and studious and almost as naive as Hasna.
This woman was surprisingly spirited. She would dominate someone like Sadiq.
Which more than explained why Sadiq hadn’t been able to end things as definitively as he should.
“And I’m...what?” she prodded. “Trying to coax him back by outfitting his wife? Your logic is flawed, Your Highness.”
Her impertinence took him aback, it was so uncommon in his life. The most sass he heard from anyone was from his sister and she typically confined it to light teasing, never anything with this much bite.
He found Angelique’s impudence both stimulating and trying. She obviously didn’t understand who she was dealing with.
“Why are you arguing? I’m offering to pay you for the work you’ve done. The more you resist admitting the truth and promising not to see him again, the more likely I am to lose patience and pull the plug on this entire arrangement, Hasna’s tears be damned.”
“You would do that?” Her jaw slacked with disbelief. “To your sister?”
She had no idea to what lengths he would go—had gone—to protect his family.
He wouldn’t allow himself to be drawn into yet another inner debate about his actions on that score. It still wrenched his heart, especially when Hasna still cried so often, but he had done what he had to. Ruthlessly.
And would do it again.
But he would not see his sister’s heart broken again. She loved Sadiq and Sadiq would be the faithful husband she desired him to be. If that meant fast-tracking a new wedding gown, so be it.
He let Angelique read his resolve in his silence.
She stood there with her chin lifted in confrontation, trying very hard to look down her nose at him. “All I have to do is say that I’m Sadiq’s mistress and this goes away?”
“Plus send me the bill and never contact Sadiq again.”
“I can give your money to charity,” she pointed out.
“You can. The important thing is that you will not be able to hold the debt over Sadiq’s head.”
“Ah, finally I learn my real motivation.” Her arms came out in amazement. “I was beginning to think I was the stupidest mistress alive.”
“Oh, I’m quite in admiration of your cleverness, Angelique.”
* * *
His use of her name made her heart, which was already racing at this altercation, take a jump and spin before landing hard.
“Have we arrived at first names, Kasim?” It was a deliberate lob back, not unlike when she played tennis with her siblings and she was so well matched she had to throw everything she had into each swing of her racket.
This man! She had spent years developing a shield against the world and he brushed it aside like it was a cobweb, making her react from a subterranean level. It was completely unnerving.
His lashes flinched at her use of his given name.
“Your insolence toward me is unprecedented. Take extreme care, Angelique.”
Her fingernails were digging into her own upper arms, she was so beside herself. She used the sharp sting to keep a cool head. She had training for this type of negotiation, she reminded herself. He thought he was holding a small fortune in seed pearls and silk hostage, but he was actually holding a knife to the throat of her sister’s happiness along with the debt their family owed to Sadiq.
Given that, there was no way Angelique wanted to jeopardize the wedding arrangements or cause a long-term rift.
Listen. That was the first step, she reminded herself as her ears pounded with her racing pulse. Apparently Kasim felt he wasn’t being heard.
“To be clear,” she said with forced calm, “you believe I’ve orchestrated this to put Sadiq into my debt?”
“Perhaps not financially. His family is wealthy in resources and political standing as well as actual gold. You’ve managed to neutralize yourself in my sister’s eyes, so she couldn’t possibly see you as a threat if you were to move in at a later date for whatever Sadiq was deemed useful for.”
“Can I ask how you concluded that I’m so cold-blooded? Because even the online trolls don’t accuse me of this sort of thing.” She was nice! Her family regularly told her she was too nice.
“If your heart was involved, you would have refused this commission altogether. If you wanted to retaliate for a broken heart, you wouldn’t be trying so hard to please Hasna. No. I’ve told you, I’ve had mistresses. I understand exceedingly practical women. This is an investment in your future. I accept that on a philosophical level, but not when it risks my sister’s happiness. That I cannot allow. So.” He nodded decisively at the card he’d left on the desk. “Send me the bill. Do not contact him again.”
He made as if to leave.
“Wait!” She leaped forward and grabbed his arm.
He froze, gaze locking onto her hand on his sleeve for one powerful heartbeat before he lifted his eyes. His face was filled outrage and something else, something glittering and fiercely masculine.
“Have we arrived at that level of familiarity, Angelique?” He pivoted in a swift move to face her, taking her own arm in his opposite grip.
It was the sudden dive and snatch of a predatory bird catching prey in its talons.
They stood like that in what seemed like a slowdown in time. Her heart pounded so hard her lungs could barely inflate against it.
“We’re not finished t-talking.” Her voice came out painfully thin. She knew she should release him and step back, but she was quite blown away by the masculine interest that flared to life in his gaze.
She wasn’t falsely modest. She knew she was beautiful. It was one of the reasons camera lenses so often turned on her. Men looked at her with desire all the time.
There was no reason she should react to this man’s naked hunger. But she did.