Syvlie couldn’t believe she was back at the house in Richmond again so soon. She usually managed to avoid it because Sophie lived in central London in the family’s pied – a – terre.
But the pied – a – terre wasn’t suitable for this occasion: a party to celebrate the announcement of her little sister’s engagement…to Arkim Al – Sahid.
Sylvie could still hear the shock in her sister’s voice when she’d phoned her a few days ago: It’s all happened to fast…
Nothing would have induced Sylvie to come into the bosom of her family again except for this. No way was she going to let her little sister be a pawn in her step – mother’s machinations. Or that man’s.
The man she’d been avoiding thinking about ever since that night. The man who had at first dismissed her, and then…she shivered even now, her skin prickling with awareness at the thought of meeting him again.
The memory of what had happened was as sharp and humiliating as if it had happened yesterday. His voice. The disgust. Don’t ever come near me again.
The shrill voice of Sylvie’s step – mother hectoring some poor employee nearby stopped her thoughts from devolving rapidly into a kaleidescope of unwelcome images.
Her hands closed over the rim of the sink as she took in her reflection. Despite her best efforts, she could still remember the excoriating wave of humiliation and exposure when she’d watched Arkim Al – Sahid walk away and realised that her breast was exposed and her legs were still splayed in wanton abandonment. Panties pulled aside. One shoe on, one off. And she’d been complicit, every step of the way. She couldn’t even say he’d used force.
He’d all but crooked his finger and she’d come running. Panting. Practically begging.
The true magnitude of how easily she’d let him – more or less a complete stranger – reduce her to a quivering wreck, was utterly galling.
Sylvie cursed herself, she was here for Sophie, not to take a trip down memory lane. She stood up straight and checked her appearance. A far cry from the gold dress she’d worn that night. Now she was positively respectable in a knee – length black sleeveless shift and matching high heels, her hair pulled back into a low bun. Discreet make – up.
She didn’t like to think of the reaction in her body when her sister had informed her of the upcoming nuptials. It had been a mix of shock, incomprehension, anger and something far more disturbing and dark.
Sylvie made her way into the huge dining room which had been set up for a buffet style dinner party. She was acutely aware of Arkim Al – Sahid, looking as grimly gorgeous as ever and made sure to stay far away from him. It meant though, that she couldn’t get Sophie to herself. And she needed to talk to her.
The evening was interminable. Several times as Sylvie made mind – numbingly boring small – talk, she felt the back of her neck prickle as if someone was staring…or more likely, glaring, at her. But each time she looked around, she couldn’t see him.
Looking for, and not seeing her sister anywhere now, Sylvie determined to find her and went looking. The last place she thought to look was in her father’s study/library and she opened the door carefully, seeing nothing inside the oak – pannelled room filled with heaving shelves of books, but the fire which was dying down low.
The warmth and peace called to her for a minute and she slipped in and closed the door behind her.
Then she saw a movement come from one of the high – backed chairs near the fire and she stepped in to see better. ‘Soph? Is that you?’ The room had always been her little sister’s favourite hide and seek place when she was younger and Sylvie felt a lurch near her heart to think of her sister retreating here.
But it wasn’t Sophie, which became apparent all too quickly when a tall dark shape uncoiled from the high – backed chair to stand up.
Arkim Al – Sahid.
Instinctively Sylvie backed away and said frigidly, ‘At the risk of being accused of following you again, I can assure you I wasn’t.’
She turned to go and then stopped and turned back. ‘Actually, I have something to say to you.’
He folded his arms. ‘Do you now?’
He was as implacable as a stone pillar. It infuriated Sylvie that he could so effortlessly arouse seething emotions within her. She stalked over to the chairs and gripped the back of the one he’d been sitting in. She hated that he looked even more enigmatic and handsome. As if the intervening months had added more hard muscle to his form. And made his features even more saturnine.
He was dressed in similar pristine fashion to the last time – in a three piece suit. He sent a dismissive look up and down her body and then said with a faint sneer, ‘Who are you trying to fool? Or are we all going to be treated to an exclusive performance where you reveal the truth of what lies beneath your pseudo – respectable façade?’
Sylvie’s anger spiked in a hot rush. ‘At first I couldn’t understand why you hated me on sight, but now I know. Your father is one of America’s biggest porn barons, and you’ve made no secret of the fact that you disowned him and his legacy to forge your own. You don’t even share his name anymore.’
Arkim Al – Sahid’s body vibrated tension, his dark eyes narrowing on her dangerously. ‘As you said, it’s no secret.’
‘No.’ Sylvie conceded, slightly thrown off balance by his reponse.
‘And your point?’
Sylvie swallowed. Lord but he was intimidating. Not a hint of humanity anywhere in his whipcord form, or on that beautiful face.
‘You’re marrying my sister purely to gain social acceptance, and she deserves more than that. She deserves love.’
Arkim emitted a short curt laugh. It was so shocking to see his face transformed by a smile, albeit a mocking one, that Sylvie almost lost her train of thought.
‘You’re for real? Since when does anyone marry for love? Your sister has a lot to gain from this union, not least of which is a lifetime of security and status. At no point has she indicated that she’s not happy for this engagement to proceed. Your father is keen to secure her future which is no surprise considering how his eldest daughter turned out.’
Sylvie kept her expression rigid. Amazing how much this man’s opinion snuck under her guard with such devastating effect and struck far too close to the heart of her, which was the last place he should be impacting.
He continued, ‘I’m not stupid, Miss Devereux. This is as much a business transaction for him as it is a chance to secure his daughter’s future. It’s not a secret that his empire took a big hit during the down – turn and he’s doing all he can to bolster his coffers again.’
Business transaction. She felt nauseous. Sylvie had known vaguely that her father’s fortune had taken a dip…but she also knew perfectly well that her step – mother was the real architect behind this plan, a firm believer that a woman’s place was by her rich husband’s side, and no doubt convincing Grant Lewis that this was their ticket to security for the future.
Sylvie ungritted her jaw and desisted from belabouring whether or not love existed. Clearly in his world, it didn’t. ‘Sophie’s not right for you, and you are certainly not right for her.’
An assessing look came over that starkly handsome face. ‘She’s perfect for me. Young, beautiful, intelligent. Accomplished.’
He looked Sylvie up and down. ‘And above all, she’s refined.’
Sylvie held up a hand, hating that that stung. ‘Please, save your insults. I’m perfectly aware where I come on your scale of condemnation. Clearly you have issues with certain industries and you’ve deemed me worth judging on the basis of what I do.’
‘What you are.’ He said harshly.
Sylvie’s hands clenched to fists. ‘You didn’t seem to have much of an issue with what I am the last time we met.’
His face flushed dark red and Sylvie felt the bite of his own self – condemnation as sharply as if he’d just slapped her.
‘That was a mistake, not to be repeated.’
Something about that lash of recrimination made her want to curl up and protect herself. The look on his face was pure…disgust. And it was worse than if it was solely for her. But she could tell it wasn’t. It was for himself.
Hurt lodged deep in Sylvie’s belly, like a dark malevolent thing, tugging on other hurts, re – opening wounds. Reminding her of the disgust on her father’s face when he’d looked at her after her mother had died…
She desperately wanted to lash back, and see this man’s icy condemnatory control snap. Acting on blind instinct and that hurt, she stepped out from behind the chair, and right up to Arkim Al – Sahid. She pressed her body to his, lifting her arms to wind them around his neck.
His nostrils flared and those black eyes flashed. His hands were on her arms, gripping tightly enough to hurt. ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’
But…he didn’t pull her arms down. Sylvie’s entire body was quivering with adrenalin at her bravado.
‘I’m proving that you’re a hypocrite, Mr Al – Sahid.’
And then, in the boldest move she’d ever made in her life, she reached up and pressed her mouth to his. She moved her lips over his, and through the frantic thumping of her heart, she could feel excitement flood her at the sheer proximity of their bodies. Brain cells scrambling in a rush of heat.
She could feel the tension holding his body rigid…but what he couldn’t disguise was the explicit thrust of his arousal, against her belly. That evidence was enough to send a thrill of exultation through Sylvie and help her block out the memory of how he’d pushed her away the last time.
Except, she started to forget why she’d even started this. Her body moved against him, closer. Arms locking tighter. And after a heart – stopping and infinitesimal moment, his hands loosened from her arms and slid down the length of her torso, to her hips, gripping her there as his mouth started to move on hers, slowly at first and then like a storm gathering strength, with bruising and an almost rough intensity.
For a long moment everything faded into the distance as the kiss became hotter and more intense. Arkim Al – Sahid’s hands pulled Sylvie even closer, so close that she could feel his heart beating.
And then something shifted. He went very still, before abruptly breaking the kiss. Sylvie was left grasping air when he thrust her away from him. She stumbled backwards and found herself landing heavily into the chair behind her, breathing laboured, heart out of control. Dizzy.
Arkim’s mouth twisted, his voice was rough. ‘No. I will not do this. You dare to try and seduce me on the evening of the announcement of my engagement to your sister? Is there no depth to which you won’t descend?’
Sylvie was going cold, all over. The lust which had risen up like wildfire, dissipated under his muderous gaze. Her brain felt woolly, it was hard to think. Why had it been so important to kiss him like that? What had she been trying to prove? How did this man have the ability to make her act so out of character? She looked up at him. ‘It wasn’t like that. I’d never do anything to hurt Soph.’
Arkim made a rude sound, just as a knock came to the door and it opened. Sylvie heard a voice say, ‘Sorry to disturb you Mr Al – Sahid, but they’re ready to make the announcement.’
Sylvie realised that whoever was at the door wouldn’t be able to see her in the chair, just as Arkim Al – Sahid answered with a curt, ‘I’ll be right there.’
The door closed again and he looked down at her, black eyes glittering with disgust and condemnation. ‘I think it’d be best for all of us if you left now, don’t you?’