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Home > The Sheikh's Claim (Desert Nights #2)

The Sheikh's Claim (Desert Nights #2)
Author: Olivia Gates

One

Twenty-seven months ago

“So you managed to get away with murder this time.”

Jalal Aal Shalaan frowned at the words he’d spoken aloud.

He was standing at the door of an opulent sitting room in one of the most breathtaking manors in the Hamptons, where he’d been received for years as an esteemed guest. He’d thought he’d never set foot in here again because of the woman who stood with her back to him. The woman who was now lady of the manor.

Lujayn Morgan. His ex-lover.

She’d been picking up letters from an antique marble table when his words had hit her. After a start, she’d frozen midmotion.

His own body was tense all over, too. His fists and jaw were clenched, his every muscle bunched, buzzing.

B’haggej’jaheem—by hell, why had he said that?

He hadn’t intended to show her any hostility. Or any emotions at all—he’d thought he’d had none left. He’d come here for one reason. To see her without the lust that had blinded him for the four-year duration of their affair. He was here for closure, something she’d robbed him of when she’d stormed out of his life, giving him no chance to defend himself, to negotiate, leaving him wrestling with shock then rage and groping for explanations.

But he’d thought the resolution he was seeking was strictly intellectual. He’d thought he’d properly recovered during the two years since she’d walked out on him, working through his feelings until nothing remained but cold curiosity and mental aversion.

So he’d been deluding himself. What he’d felt for her, though it had reversed in nature, had remained as fierce.

He’d always presented the world with a devil-may-care facade. It was partly his nature and partly defensive. Having Sondoss, the notorious queen of Zohayd for a mother, and Haidar, the enigma who’d tormented him since childhood for a twin, made defenses necessary. They were the only ones who had ever managed to crack his control. Then had come Lujayn.

He was still vulnerable to the mere sight of her. And she hadn’t even faced him yet.

Then she did.

Air deserted his lungs, heartbeats started to thunder.

Her beauty had always been mesmerizing. Her Middle Eastern and Irish genes conspired to create the personification of the best of both worlds. By the time she’d left him, brand names were starting to compete to have her willowy grace showcase their products, and makeup lines wanted that unforgettable face with those one-of-a-kind eyes to smolder at consumers out of their glossy ads.

But throughout their affair, she’d shed weight continuously. It had alarmed then angered him that her obsession with getting ahead in her career had blinded her to how she was harming herself to achieve a perfection she already possessed.

But the gaunt woman she’d been at the end of their affair had disappeared. In her place was the epitome of health and femininity with swells and dips that not even her severe black suit could tame, and had everything male in him roaring to life.

Marriage had been very good to her. Marriage to a man he’d once considered a good friend. A man who’d died less than two years after the wedding. A man whom he’d just more or less accused her of killing.

She inclined her head as she straightened, the movement emphasizing the elegance of her swan neck, the perfection of her raven chignon-wrapped head.

Her cool tranquility was a superb act, but her shock registered in something beyond her acting abilities. The pupils of uncanny irises, as silvery as the meaning of her name did that thing that had enthralled him when she was agitated or aroused, expanding and shrinking, giving the illusion that her eyes where emitting bursts of light.

The need to look closer into those eyes propelled him forward. Then words he hadn’t known he’d been thinking, taunts that segued from his opening salvo, spilled from his lips.

“Not that I’m surprised. You’ve managed to fool the most suspicious and shrewd people I know, including myself. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that not even New York’s Finest were a match for your cunning.”

“What are you doing here?”

Her voice jolted through him. Once a caress of crimson passion, it had filled with dark echoes, deepening its effect.

She shook her head as if exasperated with the inanity of her own question. “Scratch that. How did you get in here?”

He stopped two feet away, though every cell was screaming for him to keep going until he’d pressed his every inch to hers. Like when they’d been lovers. When she’d always met him more than halfway, impetuous, tempestuous…

Cursing inwardly, he shoved his hands in his pockets in feigned nonchalance. “Your housekeeper let me in.”

She shook her head again, as if finding his answer ridiculous. Then her eyes widened with harsh accusation. “You intimidated her!”

Something twisted in his gut. In the past, she’d made him believe she thought he walked on water. Now the first thing that occurred to her was that he’d done something reprehensible. Worse, criminal.

But why would that upset him? He’d long accepted that her early adoration had been an act. One she hadn’t been able to maintain once she’d suspected it wouldn’t fulfill her purpose. Though he should marvel that it had taken over two years before she’d begun to slip, for instances of discord to accumulate.

He’d still refused to see that for what it was, pure manipulation. Instead, had assigned it all to the stress of her competitive job and the provocation of the dominant personality he became with her. He’d thought friction had only fueled their already incendiary relationship, had reveled in it to the point of instigating it on occasion. He’d misguided himself so thoroughly, that final explosive confrontation had utterly shocked him.

But after two years of dissecting the past, he now saw it clearly. He’d dismissed all evidence of the truth to maintain the illusion because he couldn’t live without her passion. Or so he’d thought. He had. Hadn’t he?

She now pulled herself to her full statuesque height, six feet in her two-inch heels, her pose confrontational. “You might have scared Zahyah, but you must have forgotten all about me if you thought your arm-twisting tactics would work. You can walk out as you walked in, under your own power, or I’m calling security. Or better still, the police.”

He flicked away her threat, his blood heating with the challenge and ardor she’d always ignited in him with a glance, a word. “What would you tell them? That your housekeeper let me in without consulting you and left you alone with me in an empty mansion?” Any other time he would have recommended the housekeeper be sternly chastised for such a breach of protocol and security. For now he was only glad she’d acted as she had. “On questioning, she’d swear there’d been no intimidation of any sort. As one of your mother’s former colleagues, it was only natural for Zahyah to let me in.”

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