Forbidden: The Sheikh's Virgin(7)

By: Trish Morey

‘You know I do.’ And so did Sera remember him, if the way she was working so hard at avoiding his gaze was any indication. She’d heard him say how much he hated her, so it was little wonder she couldn’t face him, and yet still he wanted her to look at him, challenging her to meet his eyes as he followed her every movement.

‘Sera,’ he said, his voice schooled to flat. ‘It has been a long time.’

‘Prince Rafiq,’ she whispered softly, and she nodded, if you could call it that, a bare dip of her already downcast head as still she refused to lift her gaze, her eyes skittering everywhere—at his mother, at the bolt of fabric she held in her hands, at the unendingly fascinating floor that her eyes escaped to when staring at one of the other options could no longer be justified—everywhere but at him.

And the longer she avoided his gaze, the angrier he became. Damn her, but she would look at him! His mother might expect him to be civil, but he wanted Sera to see how much he hated her. He wanted her to see the depth of his loathing. He wanted her to know that she alone had put it there.

Through the waves of resentment rolling off him, Sera edged warily forward, her throat desert-dry, her thumping heart pumping heated blood through her veins.

She knew he hated her. She had known it since the day he had returned unexpectedly from the desert and found her marrying Hussein. She’d seen the hurt in his eyes, the anguish that had squeezed tight her already crumpled heart, the anguish that had turned ice-cold with loathing when he’d begged her to stop the wedding and she’d replied by telling him that she would never have married him because she didn’t love him. Had never loved him.

He hadn’t quite believed her then, she knew. But he’d believed it later on, when she’d put the matter beyond doubt…

She squeezed her eyes shut at the pain the memories brought back. That day had seen something die inside her, just as her lies and her actions had so completely killed his love for her.

Yet walking in just now and hearing him say it—that he felt nothing for her but hatred, and that he could never forgive her—was like twisting a dagger deep in her heart all over again.

And she had no one to blame but herself.

Her hands trembling, she held out the bolt of fabric, willing him to take it so once again she could withdraw to somewhere safe, somewhere she could not feel the intensity of his hatred. She could feel his eyes on her face, could feel the burn as his gaze seared her skin, could feel the heat as blood flooded her face.

‘What do you think?’ she heard the Sheikha say. ‘Have you ever seen a more beautiful fabric? Do you think it would sell well in Australia?’

At last he relieved Sera of the burden in her arms. At last, with him distracted, she might escape. She took a step back, but she couldn’t resist the temptation that had been assailing her since she’d first seen Rafiq again, couldn’t resist the compulsion that welled up within herself to look upon his face. Just one glance, she thought. Just one look at the face of the man she had once loved so much.

Surely that was not too much to ask?

Tentatively she raised her lashes—only to have the air punched from her lungs.

Because he wasn’t looking at the fabric!

Blue eyes lanced hers, ice-blue, and as frozen as the glaciers that adorned mountaintops in the Alps. So cold and rapier-sharp that just one look sliced deep into her psyche.

And she recognised that this was not the man she had loved. This was not the Rafiq that she had known, the man-boy with the warm smile and the liquid blue eyes, eyes that had danced with life and love—love for her. Oh, his features might otherwise look the same, the strong line of his nose, the cleft jaw and passionate slash of mouth, and the thick dark hair that looked like an invitation in which to entangle one’s fingers, but his eyes were ice-blue pits, devoid of everything but hatred.

This man was a stranger.

‘What do you think, Rafiq?’ she heard his mother say, and a moment later his eyes released their icepick hold, leaving her sagging and breathless and weak in its wake. ‘Come, sit here, Sera,’ Sheikha Rihana continued, pouring another cup of coffee as she patted the cushions alongside her.

And, while escape would be the preferred option, with Sera’s knees threatening to buckle underneath her it was all she could do to collapse onto the cushions and pretend that she was unshaken by the assault his eyes had just perpetrated against her. Maybe now Rafiq would ignore her, for there was no reason for him to so much as look at her again. Hadn’t he already made his hatred plain?

Rafiq tried to concentrate on the fabric. He wasn’t formally trained in such things, but once upon a time he’d single-handedly selected every item that would be shipped to Australia for sale in his emporiums. Times had changed since those heady early days, and now he had a handful of trusted buyers who circled the Arab world looking for treasures to appeal to his customers, but still he knew something special when he saw it. Even now, while his blood pumped hot and heavy through his veins, he felt that familiar spike of interest, that instant of knowing that what he held in his hands was extraordinary.

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