Jamilah’s phone rang at five thirty am, just as she was about to go out and do her morning round of the stables to check everyone was where they should be. She was grouchy from lack of sleep and the constant feeling of being on edge. For the past few days there had been the non – stop clatter of helicopter rotar blades as numerous choppers had been taking off and landing on the castle’s grounds. Even though it was a fair distance to the stables, enough had flown close enough to the horses to spook them for hours. Jamilah had heard through the robust grapevine that Salman was hosting an unending series of parties at the castle.
Now she gritted her teeth and answered the phone in the office which was part of her private rooms. All she heard on the other end was hysterical sobbing until finally she managed to calm Hana down enough to listen for a minute.
With an icy cold anger rising, she eventually bit out through a break in the tirade, ‘I’m on my way.’
Clinging onto that cold rage to distract her from the prospect of seeing Salman again, Jamilah went outside and got into her jeep making the ten minute journey to the Castle courtyard in five minutes, where Hana was ringing her hands. As soon as Jamilah stepped out of her jeep Hana was babbling, ‘…all night, every night…such loud music, and the food! It’s too much…couldn’t keep up with the demands and then they started throwing things…in the ceremonial ballroom! If Nadim was here…’
Gently but firmly Jamilah cut through Hana’s hysterics, ‘Get the staff organized for a clean up, and get Sakmal here with the coach. I’ll have all these guests out of here this morning.’
By the time Jamilah had reached the quarters Salman had commandeered for his private use about an hour later, her rage was no longer icy but boiling over. She’d just seen the devastation caused by what appeared to be half the population of Europe’s Eurotrash party brigade and she’d just supervised about a fifty seriously disgruntled, still inebriated people onto a coach, where they would be delivered into Al – Omar and back home.
She pushed open the door to Salman’s suite and it slammed back against a wall. The immediate dart of hurt at what she saw nearly made her double over and that made her rage burn even brighter. At the evidence that he was still affecting her.
Two bodies were sprawled on an ornately brocaded couch. Along with an empty champagne bottle and glasses strewn around them. The nubile blonde woman was caked in make up, wearing a tiny sparkly spangly dress. She looked up drunkenly from where she lay beside a sleeping Salman, one arm flung across his bare and tautly muscled chest. Thankfully he was at least wearing jeans.
‘Excuse me,’ She slurred in cut glass tones, ‘Who do you think you are?’
Jamilah strode over, trying to block out the sensually indolent olive –skinned body of Salman and took the woman’s skinny arm, hauling her up.
Jamilah was unrepentant as she marched the sluggish woman over to where two maids hovered anxiously in the door, clad head to toe in black, two sets of huge brown eyes just growing wider and wider. Jamilah said with icy disdain, ‘Girls, please escort this guest to the coach after she’s picked up her things, and then tell Sakmal he can go, that should be everyone.’
Jamilah shut the door firmly on the woman’s drunken protestations and sighed deeply. She turned around and Salman hadn’t budged an inch. Her heart clenched painfully; he’d always slept like the dead, and now that was obviously exacerbated by his alcohol intake. Her eyes roved over his hard hewn muscle packed form. She hated to admit it, but for an indolent louche playboy he possessed the body of an athlete in his prime.
Dark stubble shadowed his firm jaw, a lock of black hair had fallen over his forehead making him look deceptively innocent. Long black lashes caressed those ridiculously sculpted cheekbones. He looked like a dark fallen angel who might have literally just dropped out of the sky.
But an angel, fallen or otherwise he most certainly was not. Jamilah clenched her jaw as if that could counteract the treacherous rising of heat within her and went to the bathroom where she found what she was looking for. Coming back into the main drawing room, she said a mental prayer for forgiveness to Nadim and Hana for the damage she was about to do to the soft furnishings and then she threw the entire bucket of icy cold water over Salman.
Salman thought he was being attacked. Reflexes that had been honed long long ago snapped into action and he was on his feet and tensed for action before he really knew what was happening.
In seconds though, he assessed the situation and forced locked muscles to relax. Jamilah was standing in front of him with an empty bucket and a belligerent look on her beautiful face, and something inside him rose up with an almost giddy surge. For the first time since he’d returned he felt centered; not rudderless and scarily close to the edge of his control.
With her hair tied back, no make – up, dressed in a white shirt, jeans and riding boots, she might have passed for eighteen. Her stunning blue eyes were glittering like bright sapphires and a line of pink slashed each cheek with colour. She was a veritable jewel of beauty compared to the artificially enhanced women who’d been vying for his attention the last few days and self disgust curled inside him when he remembered the one who’d eventually fallen into an unwelcome drunken slumber beside him earlier that morning.
He’d vowed to order his private jet to get rid of the horde of unwanted guests, realizing what a mistake he’d made, but it would appear by the look on Jamilah’s face as if it had already been taken care of.
‘How dare you…’ Jamilah was saying now in a suspiciously quivery voice which he guessed had more to do with anger than emotion.
‘How dare you come back here and proceed to turn this castle into your personal playground. Poor Hana is distraught, she has quite enough to be doing without pandering to your needs and all the Little Lord Fauntleroys you invited to join in the fun.’
‘And apart from the chaos and destruction here, your friends’ constant arrival by helicopter has been spooking the horses at the stables.’
Energy crackled between them.
Salman rocked back on his heels and surveyed Jamilah with a lazy sweep up and down. He seemed to be oblivious to the fact that he was soaking wet and with a gulp Jamilah could see that this was not proceeding how she’d expected at all. Salman didn’t look remotely contrite, or even drunk. His eyes were as sharp as ever. And on her. She had to consciously not let her gaze drop to where his jeans must be plastered against his crotch and thighs.
He crossed his arms nonchalantly across his chest making his biceps bulge and Jamilah had the very belated realization that she’d just wakened a sleeping panther. He drawled, ‘Not even a kiss hello to greet me? That’s not very nice now is it?’
Jamilah put the bucket down because she was afraid she’d drop it. And she stood up to see Salman staring at her with a disturbing glint in his eye. Feeling the sudden urge to escape and fast, she said glacially. ‘Clearly you feel that Merkazad is too boring to sustain your attention, I’d suggest that if you’re looking for entertainment you should follow your friends to B’harani where they’re headed right now on the tour bus.’
For a second Jamilah could have sworn she saw the merest smile touch Salman’s lips but then it was gone. And the urge to escape grew more acute. She whirled around to leave the room but before she could reach the door she was whirled back again by a strong hand gripping her arm and a guttural, ‘Where do you think you’re going?’
‘What the – ‘ she spluttered ineffectually.
Salman knew he should be letting Jamilah go, he’d told himself that he would not pursue her, but faced with her now and her timeless beauty, that sleek curvaceous body, it was too much for his battered soul to resist.
Salman arched one ebony brow, ‘Like I said, you can’t even greet me with a civil hello?’
Jamilah glared up at him, already cursing herself for having come here to deal with this. ‘Why would I want to bother saying hello to someone who can’t even treat his own home or staff with any respect?’
His eyes flashed blackly, ‘Exactly. This is my home and you would do well to remember that.’
Jamilah spat out, ‘You mean remember my place? Is that it Salman? It’s been a long time since anyone had to remind me that I’m not part of your family.’
She tried to break free but his grip was too strong and then two hands drew her round in front of him now and his gaze fairly blistered down into her defiant one. Of course she wasn’t a member of their family; for all of Nadim’s care, inclusion and protection after her parents had died, Jamilah had always known her place, so why was she provoking Salman like this now?
‘That’s not what I meant at all and you know it. The fact is that this is my home and I shall do as I like here. As acting ruler I don’t have to answer to anyone.’
Jamilah stuck her chin out pugnaciously, something deep and visceral goading her on, ‘You’ll answer to me. I may not be the ruler but the staff here know who is in charge and it’s not you. You’d need to earn their respect first. I won’t stand by and watch you come in here and desecrate Nadim and Iseult’s home.’
Before Jamilah could even question where that urge to provoke had come from, suddenly they were a lot closer and her breath faltered as Salman’s unique and intensely male scent washed over her. Dimly she recognized that she couldn’t smell drink on his breath. He hadn’t been drunk? That didn’t fit with the scene she’d just witnessed.
‘Like I said,’ his voice was as glacial as hers now, ‘this is my home as much as it is Nadim’s and I will invite whomever I want, whenever I want.’
Unable to articulate a response and quickly becoming overhwhelmed by Salman’s intoxicating proximity, Jamilah tried to break free of his hold again, twisting around in his hands.
All it did though was to force her back into his hard chest and then she heard a muttered curse. Suddenly strong arms were below her breasts and she was being lifted clear off her feet and carried bodily towards the bathroom. She kicked her legs, but her struggles were futile, and puny in the face of Salman’s overpowering strength. She was plastered against a hard, wet, body. And that was entirely her fault.
She couldn’t even get a word out before they were in the bathroom and Salman easily held her with one arm while he turned on the shower. Both her hands were trying to free herself, to no avail. His arm was like a steel bar. She could feel her hair loosening from its untidy pony – tail.
The water was running and steam started to rise around them when she finally spluttered out, ‘What the hell do you think you are doing…let me down this instant!’
In that moment Salman walked them both under the warm spray of the huge shower and she heard him say grimly over her head, ‘Giving you a little taste of your own medicine miss high and mighty.’