‘I don’t need your help,’ Elinor protested furiously, sliding off her shoes to ensure there were no further accidents and gathering them together in one impatient hand. ‘I hate people who preach…. I bet you say, “I told you so”, as well!’
The scent of her hair and her skin assailed Jasim in an evocative wave of sensuous appeal. She smelt like peaches and made him think of hot sunlight and even hotter sex. He was convinced that she would be a willing partner. Her style of dress and her behaviour had already persuaded him that she was far from being an innocent. Murad was much too trusting to be left at the mercy of his own lust and the manipulations of a rapacious youthful temptress. Elinor Tempest, Jasim decided, was a justifiable target for his calculating plan to bring about her downfall. Striving to keep the lid on his temper and his libido, he urged her upstairs.
‘All right…I’ll be fine now,’ Elinor muttered as she reached her comfortable bedroom. The defiance was steadily seeping out of her, for she was exhausted and her spirits were low. ‘You’ve been the perfect conclusion to a truly horrible birthday and now, please, I’d like to be left alone.’
Jasim subjected her to a measured assessment from the doorway. Alienating her was not a good idea. What had he been thinking of? Desire was pulsing through him and already as much entrenched there as the beat of the blood through his veins. He wanted her and once he took her to his bed Murad would turn his back on her. Taking her to bed would not be a sacrifice. Picturing her there with those flame-coloured curls loose and her eyes soft with longing offered him the prospect of a sweeter and more sensual pleasure than he had ever dreamt he might find in so premeditated an encounter.
Conservation needs had put the thrill of the hunt out of reach in Quaram and Jasim had long missed the excitement. He discovered that he could hardly wait for the satisfying conclusion of what promised to be a most enjoyable sexual game. It did not once occur to him that he might fail to get her into his bed—since he had never yet met with a refusal…
THE next morning, while Elinor showered, she turned clammy with horror when she recalled her dialogue with Prince Jasim. Alcohol had made an idiot of her! She should have been more careful about how much she’d drunk. But then it was six months since she had even tasted alcohol, she thought, biting anxiously at her lower lip. Furthermore she had been resentful about the fact that she couldn’t just have a couple of days off when she asked for them and a taste of youthful freedom.
But not so resentful that she wanted to lose her very well-paid job, she reflected worriedly, a job, moreover, which would add solid-gold appeal to her CV when she went off in pursuit of her next position. No, the very last thing she needed now was to get sacked for being cheeky to a prince! She hadn’t even called him ‘sir’ when she’d addressed him and she bit back a moan at the recollection. She was usually so sensible and polite. Why hadn’t she kept her tongue between her teeth? The truth was that she had been in a bad mood and the unhappy combination of his undeniable good looks and fanciability, followed by his cutting criticism, had proved the proverbial last straw. She already knew from hearing Prince Murad erupt when the smallest thing annoyed him that royal egos were eggshell thin and super-sensitive and royal tempers quick to ignite. Prince Jasim would never forgive her for being rude to him and he was certain to complain to his brother.
It was a Saturday and Zahrah had a riding lesson. While her charge was being taught, Elinor usually went riding as well since she was an accomplished horsewoman and the stables contained an enviable selection of mounts. She pulled on her shabby navy breeches, a lemon T-shirt and finally her boots. She was about to leave her bedroom when a knock sounded on the door. She opened it and was startled when a big basket of beautifully arranged flowers was presented to her by one of the manservants.
At first Elinor couldn’t believe the magnificent flowers were for her and she drank in the heady scent of the glorious pink roses with a blissful sigh before she detached the card envelope and opened it.
‘Happy belated birthday wishes and my apologies, Jasim’
Elinor was stunned. He was apologising to her? He was even wishing her a happy birthday and giving her flowers? Her jaw was ready to crash to the floor in disbelief. She summoned up a misty image of him. As well as being more beautiful than any man had the right to be, Prince Jasim had impressed her as being arrogant, autocratic and very proud. He definitely hadn’t struck her as being the apologising type. In fact she had s
een him more as the sort of guy who always had the last word and a disparaging one at that.
But obviously first impressions had been kind to neither of them the night before. It was the first time a man had given Elinor flowers and she was hopelessly impressed and pleased by the gesture because she really had had a lousy, disappointing birthday. Zahrah raced into the room. Bubbling with life, the four-year-old was a pretty child with a mop of silky dark curls and sparkling brown eyes.
‘Morning, Elinor!’ Zahrah carolled, giving her an affectionate hug. ‘Are you coming for breakfast now?’
They went downstairs and Elinor was about to head for the small dining room where she usually ate with the child when Ahmed, the major domo of the household, intercepted her. Zahrah acted as translator and informed Elinor that they were having breakfast with her Uncle Jasim today. They were ushered into the massive formal dining room.
Zahrah let out a yelp of excitement and bowled down the room to throw herself into Jasim’s arms. It gave Elinor a minute to compose herself as Jasim, having thrown down his newspaper, rose from the table to greet their arrival. In the full light flooding through the tall windows, his bronzed aristocratic face was startlingly handsome and once again she discovered that she found it virtually impossible to look away from him. He dominated the room with his powerful presence and she was hooked afresh by a fevered compulsion to study those lean classic features, still driven to try and work out what it was about them that repeatedly drew her attention. Her heart was already pounding, making it hard for her to breathe levelly. Then he smiled down at the child in his arms and the high-voltage force of his charismatic attraction hit her like a rod of lightning striking the ground.
‘Miss Tempest…’ he murmured lazily as he swung out a chair beside his own. Clad in tailored riding gear, he looked outrageously elegant and sophisticated. ‘Please join us.’
Elinor had to force herself to walk down the length of the table to join him in a seat a good deal closer than she would have chosen for herself. She was flustered. Butterflies were fluttering in her tummy and she didn’t know what to do with her hands any more. She felt ridiculously like a schoolgirl, selfconscious and silly and awkward, all at the same time. ‘Thank you for the flowers. You were very generous,’ she muttered in a rush, keen to get the acknowledgement out of the way while Zahrah was busy chattering to Ahmed about her favourite cereal.
The brilliant ebony eyes screened by dense black lashes rested on her and she honestly thought her heart might stop beating altogether. ‘It was nothing.’
‘I owe you an apology…I was rude,’ she framed.
‘A novel experience for me,’ the prince purred like a sleek panther being stroked.
For a split second Elinor wanted to slap him rather than stroke him for not giving a more gracious response to her attempt to make amends. ‘Nobody ever answers you back? Or quarrels with you?’ she heard herself query.
‘Nobody,’ Jasim confirmed as if that was a perfectly normal state of affairs. He watched her glance up at him from below her feathery lashes, a delicate flush of colour on her cheeks, and thought what a class act she was putting on for his benefit. He could hardly credit that it was the same woman, for no hint of the strident, argumentative redhead he had met the night before was on show. Everything about her this morning from her show of apparent unease to her soft tone of voice and her girlish reluctance to meet his eyes shouted the kind of shy uncertainty and sexual innocence that was most likely to ensnare an older man. No wonder his brother was upsetting his wife over the scheming little slut, he reflected grimly. The act didn’t work quite so well on Jasim. But then he was rather more sophisticated than Murad and better attuned to the liberal sexual mores of Elinor Tempest’s age group. As Yaminah had doubtless intended when she invited Jasim for a weekend while she and his brother were elsewhere, Jasim intended to make full and immediate use of the clear field she had given him.
‘More coffee?’ Jasim snapped long brown fingers with a natural assumption of command that seemed to come as instinctively as breathing to him. On immediate alert, a servant surged forward with alacrity to refresh the coffee cups. Zahrah had been inclined to treat Elinor the same way, until Elinor had taught the little girl otherwise. Even so, Elinor had daily exposure to the reality that members of the Quarami royal family were one step down from Divinity in the eyes of those who waited on them.
‘Tell me why your birthday was horrible,’ Jasim instructed silkily, studying her with those stunning dark eyes and relaxing back into his chair with the confident air of a male awaiting the commencement of the entertainment.
A pulse beating somewhere at the base of her throat and her nerves reacting like jumping beans, Elinor had grown very tense. ‘That wouldn’t be appropriate, sir.’
The dense black lashes lifted over frowning deep golden eyes. ‘I decide what is appropriate,’ he told her in immediate contradiction. ‘Talk.’
For an instant Elinor was astonished by that imperious command delivered with the absolute expectation of a male accustomed to instant obedience. It was a relief when Zahrah stole the moment with her nonsensical chatter.
‘You can explain later.’ Jasim delivered the reprieve over his niece’s downbent head. ‘I’m coming down to the stables with you and Zahrah.’