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One Hot Desert Night(9)

By:Kristi Gold



He surprisingly clasped her hand and brought it to his lips for a soft  kiss. "I will look forward to the moment when we meet again."

After he released her, Rayad turned and retreated in the opposite  direction, leaving Sunny's mind in a serious state of confusion. She'd  begun to discern a soft side to the tough guy, but perhaps his  consideration only covered his true goal-seduction. She refused to fall  in the frail-female trap. Or maybe she'd become too jaded to believe any  man's motives. After all, she thought she'd known Cameron well, and  she'd been terribly wrong. What true friend and former lover turned his  back on someone in their hour of need? A man whose own guilt overrode  his compassion. A man looking for a way out of a relationship that had  grown static due to both parties' opposite goals and vast differences.  She, in part, had played a role in their demise by pushing him away.

If she ever decided to have a serious relationship with someone else,  Sunny vowed to choose a man who believed in open, honest communication.  She honestly doubted Rayad Rostam would be that man because soul-deep,  she suspected he had his own serious flaws and secrets.

Tonight she would converse with him, be cordial and try her best to ignore his charms. How hard could that be?





 Four

The man's name should be Bond. Sheikh Bond.

Exactly Sunny's first thought when she glanced to her right to witness  Rayad Rostam's grand entrance. She hadn't seen this much neck-craning  since she'd been involved in a twenty-car pileup in Los Angeles.

He'd shaken and stirred almost every female in the packed ballroom-every  size, shape, age and nationality-as they seemed to instantaneously  notice the darkly gorgeous, debonair man dressed in black tie. She tried  not to notice, honestly she did, but he was extremely hard to  disregard.

When Sunny caught his glance, she refused to count herself among his  admirers, even if she'd like nothing better than to go to him and  request he take her away from the crowded ballroom. For that reason, she  immediately turned her attention back to Maysa Mehdi, who looked  beautiful in her flowing aqua gown, her waist-length brown hair woven  into a loose braid. She also looked as if she could give birth at any  minute. "Do you need to sit down?"

The queen pressed a palm into her lower back. "I need to go into labor."

"Hopefully not at this moment."

Maysa smiled. "That would definitely make the evening much more interesting."

Sunny couldn't argue that point. "When are you officially due?"

"Two weeks. As a physician, I know it's best if I complete the gestation  period. As a woman with swollen ankles, tomorrow would not be too  soon."

Standing not far behind Maysa, Sunny noticed the darkly handsome and  somewhat fierce-looking man she'd last seen at Piper and Adan's wedding  reception. "It seems Tarek Asmar is still on the guest list for all  important royal events."

"Yes, he is. My husband is quite impressed with his business acumen."

"And that young woman seems quite impressed with him, too."

Maysa subtly glanced over her shoulder. "That is Kira. She basically runs the palace now that Elena has decided to retire."

The woman looked as if she'd like to run off with the billionaire. Or  perhaps she was only being polite to an honored guest. Nope. Sunny  recognized serious flirtation when she saw it.

Maysa presented a bona-fide frown, something she rarely did. "I believe you are being summoned, Sunny."

She followed the queen's gaze straight to Rayad, who was holding up the  wall adjacent to the double doors, towering over several people in his  vicinity. When he crooked a finger at her, she laid her hand above her  breast and mouthed, "Me?" He answered with a nod.

She could fail to respond to the request, or she could see what he  wanted. At the very least she should wait a bit so as not to appear too  eager. But as if he'd morphed into some high-powered magnet, Rayad drew  her toward him with only a sly, sexy smile.

As Sunny attempted to work her way through the crush of people, Piper  clasped her arm, halting her forward progress. "Are you leaving so soon?  We haven't even sat down for dinner yet."

Food wasn't quite as appealing as a striking guy in a tux. So much for  ignoring Rayad. "I'm just going to grab some fresh air. It's a little  warm in here."                       
       
           



       

"Will you be gone long?"

Not if she could help it. "I'll be back before the first course."

As soon as she reached Rayad, he clasped her hand and guided her to a  corner away from the crowd. "May I say you look very beautiful tonight?"

She couldn't resist rolling her eyes. "Yes, you may, and I've heard that one before."

"It certainly bears repeating, and often."

Odd how he knew all the right things to say, and she felt the need to  return the favor. "You look very handsome yourself, Your Highness."

He also looked as if he'd eaten a mouthful of pickled eel. "I prefer not  to be burdened with an official title by someone with whom I have a  personal connection."

They were definitely up close and personal at the moment, thanks to the  middle-age woman wearing the purple silk caftan standing behind her,  practically pushing Sunny into the sheikh. "All right, Rayad. Personally  speaking, for such a thoroughly macho military guy, you wear refinement  very well."

Amusement flashed in his dark eyes. "I truly appreciate your somewhat  dubious compliment. Now if you would please come with me, I have  something to show you."

All sorts of possibilities ran through Sunny's mind, none of which she  could repeat in a social setting, unless it happened to be a biker bar.  "Is it bigger than a breadbasket?"

Rayad's smile melted into a frown. "I am not quite clear on your meaning, yet I believe you will find it interesting."

Too bad she didn't know what it was, but her inherent sense of curiosity  propelled her answer, and she couldn't discount the benefits of  spending time with him. After all, she hadn't completely learned what  made him tick. "I suppose I'm game since the noise in here is stifling.  But you do realize if anyone sees us leaving together, rumors will  spread like wildfire."

"They will only envy me due to my good fortune of having your company,"  he said, followed by the kind of grin that could drive a woman to write a  poem in praise of his perfection.

But not her. Never her. She wasn't that taken with him. Much. "Since you put it that way, let's go."

As Sunny followed Rayad into the red-carpeted foyer, she cursed her  apparent weakness where he was concerned. She ran through a mental  laundry list outlining all the reasons why she couldn't become involved  with him, if only temporarily. Reasons that hadn't existed until  recently. Reasons she wished would just go away and allow her to be  carefree again.

Together they navigated a labyrinth of hallways until they reached a  steep, narrow staircase leading downward. "Is this the way to the  dungeon?" she asked when Rayad stepped aside.

"No. It is a place of great historic interest."

That should make her feel better, but as she descended the stone steps  on the stupid spiked heels, the claustrophobia began to hinder her  breathing. Fortunately, the stairs weren't substantial in number, and  she reached the bottom winded but without incident. Rayad joined her to  open a heavy wood door, allowing her entry into a large room that  resembled a museum, complete with glass cases.

"What is all this?" she asked him over one shoulder.

"Artifacts," he said as he walked to the display to her right. "The history of Bajul's past."

Sunny moved closer to him and studied the primitive pottery, glossy  stones and weathered scrolls. "I'm no historian, but that all looks  rather ancient."

"It is. Most of these relics were excavated in the desert region to the south of the mountains."

"That must have taken several years."

"It did take some time, yet it was worth my efforts."

She shot him a surprised look. "You found all this?"

"Yes. On the land I own approximately eighty kilometers from here."

While she mentally converted that into fifty miles, Sunny went back to  surveying the artifacts. "Interesting. Is it a mountainous area?"

"No. The terrain is flat, and the climate much more arid."

One thing about Bajul-its topography was as varied as the state of Texas. "Do you prefer the desert?"

He inched a little closer to her side. "Yes. It holds a certain magic, particularly in the evening."

Cue the return of the midnight lovemaking fantasies. "Yes, it does.  There's nothing quite like a warm breeze on your face while stargazing. I  remember that from a trip to the Sahara."

"Would you wish to experience it again?"

"Experience what?" she asked, the rasp in her voice indicating her recent penchant for wicked yearnings.                       

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