Only a fool could think he’d turn a blind eye to that!
The woman Asim married would become wife to the Sultan of Jazeer. She would be intelligent, beautiful and capable; a devoted mother. She would be a woman of dignity and self-control, of impeccable standards. Not the subject of salacious gossip.
His wife would be everything his mother hadn’t been.
Oh, she had been beautiful. And loving, in her own way.
An icy finger tracked down Asim’s spine.
Fate preserve him from love!
That curse had destroyed his parents and now his sister. He had no intention of suffering a similar destiny.
He drew a slow breath. He’d hoped to keep his decision to acquire a wife quiet. Now speculation would be rife and he’d be bombarded with hopeful candidates.
A sharp cry brought Asim up short. He lifted his head, searching for its source.
It came again, an unearthly shriek on the still night air, raising the hairs on the back of his neck. It wasn’t a peacock, or a wild dog beyond the city outskirts.
Asim strode down an arched passageway to an even older building, long disused. The cry sounded again as he emerged into a space wilder and less formal than the other gardens.
He knew this place. As a boy he’d listened to the old stories of tragedy and avidly watched for proof that the garden was, indeed, haunted.
Now, at thirty-five, Asim didn’t consider the possibility of meeting a ghost. He was more concerned with the flesh and blood source of that scream.
It came again. High, anguished, wordless. Its tenor of distress catapulted him forward. As he neared the pavilion on the far side of the garden a glow caught his eye and
adrenalin pumped hard in his blood.
Asim sprinted towards the light. Fire in the centuries-old building would be disastrous.
Yet there was no scent of smoke, no crackle of burning. Perhaps the flames hadn’t taken hold.
He slammed through a wide entrance, past dark, empty rooms to a doorway spilling light.
He jerked to a stop, heart pounding. The peace of the scene before him, after the turmoil he’d expected, flummoxed him for a moment and he strove to take it in.
An old-fashioned hanging lamp sent shafts of multi-hued light across the wall murals and inlaid floor. The place was bare of furniture but for a small table, a carved chest and a bed.
It was the bed that caught his attention. He stared, disbelieving, at the woman who lay naked upon it.
Asim sucked in an astonished breath, his fingers curling around the door jamb.
Lamplight painted her bare flesh in delicate rainbow hues. Gold across her long, slim legs, lithe and restless. Rose at her hips, over her smooth, pale belly and the V of reddish-brown pubic hair. Lavender across the perfect swell of firm, high breasts that shook and trembled with her agitated breathing. Pale azure over her neat jaw, slender throat and contorting mouth.
Surprise, curiosity and a surge of raw masculine hunger warred within him at the enticing picture she presented.
With her arms raised high above her head on a satin cushion, she looked like some delectable feast laid out for his enjoyment—an invitation to touch and taste.
Sexual arousal slammed into him, congealing thought.
Asim swallowed as his groin tightened and his blood rushed faster. His gaze drifted from the swell of her dainty breasts to her shifting
Heaving an unsteady breath, he grappled back to sanity and strode forward.
Spikes of damp, tawny hair splayed over the pillow as she tossed her head. Her throat worked and a soft mew emerged from her lips. It had to be a sound of distress, yet some primitive part of him wondered if that was how she’d sound in the throes of passion.
Heat rose from her. Asim felt it as he stood beside her. Deliberately he clasped his hands behind his back, conquering the base instinct that made him want to reach out.
He should comfort her. But the compulsion to touch sprang as much from the need to know if her creamy skin was as soft as it looked.
Asim scrubbed an unsteady palm over his face, forcing down impulses that could only be dishonourable.
Who was this woman?
What was she doing in the most ancient part of his palace, alone and naked?
Despite the gravity of his royal position some women had gone to inordinate lengths to offer themselves to him.
Was she one of them? Was this her idea of a tantalising new twist on the age-old mating ritual?
His body’s reaction showed she’d succeeded in piquing his interest.
In his wilder youth he might have been tempted by such a tactic. But it was a wife he sought now, not a one-night stand.
Inevitably his gaze was drawn back to her body. She was slim almost to the point of thinness. A model? She was tall enough. Yet she was completely unadorned—not even a ring or gold chain.
He didn’t know a woman who didn’t wear some jewellery, even if just stud earrings.