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One Hot Desert Night(8)

By:Kristi Gold

"Or you could wear these." Piper reached into the pocket of one garment  bag to retrieve a pair of silver sandals with three-inch heels. "The  perfect finishing touch, and they'll give you a little height, although  at five-six you really don't need that."

Her sister's long-time height envy was now showing. Sunny snatched the  platform torture shoes and set them at the foot of the bed. "Great. I'm  all set. Now if you don't mind, I need to bathe."

Piper gathered the remaining dresses into her arms and sighed. "If  you're hungry, the chef has some lunch for you in the kitchen. Wear a  little extra makeup tonight, and if you need your hair done, Kira is a  master."

She'd only briefly met the palace staffer and frankly didn't trust  anyone with her hair. "I can handle my hair, so if you're done giving me  orders, you can run along now."

Piper backed toward the door, grinning. "You are so going to totally blow Rayad away."

Her sister quickly left the room before Sunny could insist she didn't  need to impress anyone, let alone a man who was virtually a stranger.  She did need to get on with the day and ignore thoughts of that man that  had played on her mind much of last night.

After making the bed, she made quick work of her routine and emerged  from the shower feeling somewhat more human. Then she caught sight of  the raised horizontal welt right above her collarbone and cringed.  They'd told her she could eventually have a plastic surgeon repair it,  but in time she hoped to be brave enough to wear it as a badge of honor.  A reminder that life could end on a moment's notice with one flick of a  switchblade.

Pushing the recollections aside, she dressed in a light blue T-shirt  that concealed the evidence, put on a pair of white cotton shorts and  slipped her feet into plain beige flip-flops. Next step-finding food.

After twisting her damp hair into a knot at her nape, Sunny walked out  the door and strode down the lengthy corridor, all the while considering  the sinfully sexy sheikh...until she realized she had no idea where she  was going when she hit a dead end in the hallway. She could turn right  or left, and decided on right, only to discover Rayad heading her way,  as if she'd somehow conjured him up.

He continued to walk as he focused on a document in his hand, giving her  a prime opportunity to covertly check him out. From the confident gait  to the broad chest and all points up and down, he would be the kind of  man worthy of a magical love spell. The kind of man who drew attention  the moment he entered the room, or a confusing corridor in this  instance. Then she remembered how she looked at the moment-wet-headed  and bare-faced-and heat flowed over her cheeks, most likely leaving  crimson in its wake.

Who cared if she wasn't dressed like a prom queen? So what if her  appearance was barely fit for public viewing? It truly didn't matter  what he thought. She didn't give a rat's patoot if he caught sight of  her, turned and ran away.

Yet when he looked up and met her gaze, he continued to move toward her,  a hint of a smile curling the corners of his sexy mouth. As the space  disappeared between them, he stopped and tucked the papers under one  arm. "Good afternoon, Sunny."

The sound of her name on his lips made her think about warm desert  breezes, the whisper of his voice in her ear, making love at midnight  beneath the stars...

Heaven help her, she had died and gone to Southern belle hell, where romantic ideals were as common as mint juleps.

She managed to clear her throat, but she couldn't quite clear her mind  of the silly notion that he would ride in and save the day, complete  with a sword and horse. "Good afternoon to you, too, Rayad. And before  you ask, yes, I'm lost. Which way to the kitchen?"                       


He pointed behind him. "Maintain your current course and take a left immediately before the staircase, then follow the scent."

The only scent she discerned at the moment was him. An earthy, exotic  scent that gave the flower the night before a run for its money. "I take  it you've already had lunch."

"Yes, and breakfast several hours ago."

He probably thought she was an absolute slug. "I slept in."

"Apparently, yet this is a good thing. Did you rest well?"

As well as anyone plagued by visions of masked villains. "Fairly well. And you?"

"Not as much rest as I perhaps should, but I require little sleep."

"Oh." Now what? Ask him about his reading material? What he had planned  for the day? Could she come along for the ride? Ride as in... "I guess  I'll go grab something to eat."

No sooner than she'd said it when a silver-haired, golden-skinned  gentleman dressed in white muslin came toward them at a fast clip, a  tray balanced in one hand. Sunny stepped to one side to get out of his  way, but he paused and afforded her a quick glance before addressing  Rayad. She knew a few Arabic words, but the exchange was spoken so fast,  none of it made much sense. Then Rayad seemingly barked out an order  before pointing down the hall.

The man sent her an oddly apologetic look, lowered his head and continued on his way.

"What was that all about?" she asked after he disappeared.

"Your meal. I instructed him to place the tray in your room immediately  after he asked if I had seen you. I told him you were standing before  me."

Sunny shrugged. "That's understandable. He wouldn't have any reason to know me. I hope you weren't too hard on him."

"Only after he made the mistake of assuming you are my lover and not the sister of a princess."

She swallowed around her self-consciousness. "So he thought I was your mistress?"

"Precisely, yet he did apologize when I clarified your identity,  although it was tempting to allow him to believe we are involved."

She leaned a shoulder against the wall as the need to be somewhat coy, even flirtatious, overcame her. "In your dreams."

He moved closer and nailed her with those damnable dark eyes. "I did have those dreams last night."

She playfully slapped at his arm like a fourteen-year-old with a first crush. "You did not."

He sent her a half smile. "Yes, I did. One cannot control the subconscious."

Clearly, she was having trouble controlling herself around him because  at the moment, she really, really wanted to kiss him. "I agree with you  on that. But I also know that you and I have no business dreaming about  each other."

He inclined his head and studied her for a moment. "Did you have dreams of me?"

If only that were true. If only she were that well-adjusted. "Actually,  no, but don't take offense. I was extremely tired and I fell asleep the  moment my head hit the pillow." And that happened to be one colossal  lie.

"My dreams of you were very interesting," he said, his voice low and compelling.

"In what way?"

He reached out and streamed a fingertip down her cheek, a gentle and  almost comforting gesture, as if he sensed she needed that. "You were  very spirited in my imaginings. I believe you are that way in all your  endeavors."

Her recent past came crowding in on her. "At one time, I suppose I was, but lately that's not necessarily true."

"Is this due to lack of confidence due to your lover's disregard or has some other event changed you?"

His intuitiveness took her aback. Yet for the first time, she was very,  very tempted to confess. "No, it's because..." She had no reason to tell  him anything, though somehow she sensed he'd understand. "Let's just  say things happen when you least expect it. Some not so great things,  and we'll leave it at that."

After a brief bout of silence, Rayad took a step back. "Should you wish  to speak to me of these things, it would be my honor to listen, and you  may trust what you say will remain between us."

How badly she wanted to believe him, but she really couldn't. Not yet. "Thanks for the offer. I appreciate it."

He offered a warm smile. "I suppose you should return to your room before your meal turns cold."

"You're right," she said as she pushed away from the wall, clear disappointment in her tone. "Have a productive day."

"Will I see you tonight at the gathering?" he asked.

"Unfortunately, I'm required to make an appearance. But I only intend to stay long enough and mingle very little."                       


"If you are inclined, will you mingle with me?"

That would not be classified as a chore on any level. "I suppose I can add you to my dance card."

He frowned. "I do not believe there will be dancing at this event."

She laughed. "I know. That's just a saying...never mind."