His satiric sable brows pleated. ‘Why not?’
His disregard of the obvious was superb and he managed to magnify her awareness of the huge inequality between them. She was also taken aback that he should reorganise her day by calling in her charge’s nurse to take care of her when she herself could perfectly have done so. After all, looking after Zahrah was her job. But her surprise had been replaced by pure amazement at his casual announcement that refreshments were to be served in the middle of the park at his request. He saw nothing strange in the indulgence, she realised, for, like his royal brother, expecting immediate fulfilment of his every command was as normal to Jasim as disappointment and compromise were to her.
Staff emerged from the vehicle at the double and an array of hot and cold drinks, china, glasses and snacks were laid out while an exquisite wool rug was spread across the grass. Elinor, who had dimly expected a picnic-style metal mug to be thrust into her hand, was nonplussed once again. Jasim drank only water. She watched his sensationally attractive face hollow as he drank and swallowed, noticed how the sunlight glimmered across his hard bronzed cheekbones and reflected off black hair that the breeze had ruffled into faint curls. Her throat felt tight. Seated on the rug while he lounged back against the tree with the pure animal fluidity that distinguished his every move, she sipped awkwardly at her coffee in its elegant china cup.
‘Now you can tell me why your birthday was a disappointment,’ Jasim decreed.
‘I hoped you would forget about that comment,’ Elinor confided.
Jasim flashed her a mocking smile that tilted her heart on its axis and made her feel so warm that she was momentarily afraid that she might spontaneously combust. Unable to take her eyes off him, she explained about the nightclub tickets, while wondering why his handsome bone structure seemed to tighten when she praised his brother’s kindness.
‘Murad is a very generous employer.’ Her admission was yet another nail in her coffin as far as Jasim was concerned, as he saw in it good reason for Yaminah’s concern. He could not credit that such favouritism could be innocent, or that its recipient had not deliberately flirted and coaxed her way into his brother’s notice and regard. He even understood why Murad had put a family limo at her disposal. His brother had naturally wished to ensure that she came back to Woodrow at the end of the evening.
‘Yes, but I’m not that fussed about nightclubs,’ Elinor admitted. ‘I never meet anyone anyway, I’m far too tall for most men—’
‘But exactly the right height for me,’ Jasim inserted softly, his dark accented drawl roughening the vowel sounds in a way that sent a responsive quiver down her taut spinal cord.
Perturbed by that personal comment, Elinor reddened. ‘Well, I find being this tall an embarrassment.’
Jasim stretched down a hand. ‘Stand up. Let me see you.’
Setting down her cup with a noisy rattle that betrayed her confusion, Elinor clasped his hand and he levered her upright. For a long timeless moment eyes as dark as liquid oil, richly enhanced by inky, spiky lashes of inordinate length, inspected her hectically flushed face. She leant her hips back against the tree trunk for support because her knees felt wobbly.
‘You have fabulous long legs,’ Jasim murmured, lean fingers brushing curling strands of rich red hair back from her brow. ‘Glorious hair and a mouth that is a temptation to any red-blooded man.’ His attention dropped in emphasis to the generous swell of her lips and so caught up was she in the power of the moment that she trembled. ‘From the first instant I saw you I wanted to kiss you—’
‘You were furious with me,’ she contradicted, even though she was locked to the allure of his gorgeous eyes.
‘It didn’t stop me wondering what you would taste like.’ Jasim was so close that she could barely breathe until he finally lowe
red his proud dark head to satisfy his curiosity.
It was a good few months since Elinor had been kissed. But never, ever had she been kissed as Jasim bin Hamid al Rais kissed her. His sheer passion blew her away. His tongue delved and dipped between her readily parted lips with sensual skill and explicit eroticism. A slow, almost painfully sweet ache awakened between her slender thighs and a slight gasp escaped her. Her nipples pinched into taut tingling buds that pushed painfully against the scratchy lace cups of her bra. Her hands clutched his shoulders to keep her upright. He rocked against her and she felt the raw urgency of his arousal and exulted in his response to her with an earthiness that startled her. All of a sudden she was finding out what it was to really want a man, and the strength of that longing shook her back into an awareness of what she was doing.
Almost the instant she reclaimed her sanity, she pulled away from him, turning to hide her face, shaking hands flying up to rake her hair out of her eyes and brush her swollen tingling mouth as if she still could not credit what she had felt. ‘Sorry, this isn’t right,’ she muttered unevenly.
Jasim went from surprise at the apparent rejection to bleak amusement at what he saw as a clever ploy by an experienced woman. There was nothing more tantalising to a man than a brief taste of forbidden fruit followed by a maidenly show of reluctance. He too preferred the thrill of the chase to an easy surrender, but the urgency of his arousal had almost persuaded him to forget the game of sexual entrapment he was engaged in playing.
‘How is it wrong?’
‘I work for your family…we’re worlds apart. How many reasons do you need?’ she retorted in a surge of grudging candour, for the last thing she wanted to do just then was make it easier for him to walk away from her.
Jasim decided to give her what he knew she must want—the encouragement to ditch her designs on his brother and concentrate on him instead. He went in for the kill with words that were the virtual antithesis of his usual cool, uncommitted approach to her sex. ‘I find you incredibly attractive and I am not a snob. My great-great-grandfather was a poor but proud man when he took the throne of Quaram. I have known many women but I have never felt like this before. We must explore what is between us.’
Her troubled green eyes switched back to him and clung to his lean dark features. She craved that visual contact and wanted to trust in what he had said, but at the same time she was terrified of getting hurt as her mother had been in a fairytale romance that had swiftly crumbled and led to a lifetime of unhappy comparisons and regret.
‘I don’t think your brother would approve and I value my job,’ Elinor framed uncertainly.
His shrewd dark-as-charcoal eyes glinted as he received what he deemed to be her most honest answer yet. Which brother was she to place her trust in? After all, she wouldn’t want to fall between the proverbial two stools and end up with neither man in tow. He reached down and closed his hands firmly over hers. ‘I promise you—you will come to no harm with me.’
And that heartening vow reverberated through Elinor while Jasim made easy conversation about horses on the ride back to the stables. Nothing but trouble could come from an ordinary person trifling with royalty, she told herself fiercely, but she could still taste him on her lips and she couldn’t help reliving the heady excitement of that stolen embrace. Zahrah was already with her nurse when Elinor reappeared and she saw the older woman note in surprise that Jasim was with her and stare. She wondered if her mouth was as swollen as it felt and she flushed brick red with discomfiture. He insisted that she travel back to the house with him, another mark of conspicuous favour that embarrassed her.
That afternoon, Elinor clung to her usual schedule and took Zahrah out shopping and then on to a newly released children’s film showing at the local cinema. As was usual on a Saturday, they ate a light supper in the nursery. She gave Zahrah her bath and tucked the little girl into bed afterwards with a fond hug. Too enervated to settle for an evening by the television, she put on her swimsuit, donned a towelling robe and headed downstairs to the indoor swimming pool. When Zahrah’s parents were in residence she didn’t like to use the facility unless she had Zahrah with her, but with the couple away she felt there was no harm in doing so. The pool complex was huge and spectacular, complete with a stunning waterfall and underwater jets, and a spa to one side of it.
Emerging from the lift, Jasim was impressed when he saw that Elinor was already waiting in the water for him. This was not a girl who let moss grow over an opportunity, or who was prepared to run the risk of a man losing interest from lack of exposure to her available charms. He watched her slide from the bubbling spa into the main pool, giving him a ravishing display of her slender but curvaceous body sheathed in tight purple stretchy fabric that left little to the imagination. The ripe swell of her firm little breasts and the heart-shaped femininity of her derriere were wonderfully visible and would have awakened any man’s appreciation. But Jasim resented the powerful pull she exerted over him and thought that the look of surprise and selfconsciousness she then assumed at first glimpse of him was an award-winning effort. What an actress she was! How many other men had she practised her wiles on? Nobody knew better than Jasim that once a woman got a man weak with lust, she could convince him of virtually anything. Bitterness assailed him as he recalled his own past.
Elinor didn’t feel right staying in the pool when Jasim was in it as well. After all, it was his house and his pool and she couldn’t help worrying that the other staff would think she was throwing herself at their prince if they saw her there, daring to share the same water as royalty. She climbed out and pulled on her towelling robe.
Jasim swam over to the side and heaved himself out. Water streaming in rivulets from the taut contours of his lean bronzed body, he approached her and lifted a towel. ‘Why are you leaving?’