Julia could see the tube station entrance ahead of her, not far from the building she’d just left behind. The night – time London air was unbearably heavy around her now, making a light sweat break out over her skin and on the nape of her neck under her hair. Thunder rolled ominously in the distance. A storm had been threatening all evening and if she’d been in better humour she could have appreciated the pathetic fallacy. The clouds that had been squatting in the distance were now firmly overhead, low, dark and menacing.
What was making the weather feel even more ominous was the fact that she’d been having disturbing dreams of Kaden lately. Maybe, she wondered a little hysterically, she was hallucinating? Hesitating for a moment, Julia stopped and looked back. But the building just sat there, innocently benign, lights blazing from the windows, laughter trickling out into the quiet street from the party. She shuddered despite the heat, she wasn’t going back now anyway. She couldn’t face Nigel again. Or Kaden’s coolly sardonic demeanor. As if nothing had ever happened between them.
Part of her longed to just jump in a cab but her inherently frugal nature forbid it. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a sleek black shape slow to a crawl alongside her just before she heard the accompanying low hum of a very expensive engine. At the same time as she turned to look on a reflex, lightning forked in the sky and the heavens opened. She was comprehensively drenched within seconds but had become rooted to the spot.
Everything seemed to happen in slow motion as she registered the Royal Burquati flag on the bonnet of the car. She noticed the tinted windows, and the equally sleek accompanying jeep, which had to be carrying the ubiquitous security team.
As she stood there getting soaked, unable to move, Julia was helplessly transported back to a moment in the winding hot ancient streets of Burquat city, when breathless with laughter, her hand clamped in Kaden’s, they’d escaped from his bodyguards into a private walled garden. There, he’d pushed her up against a wall, taken away the veil hiding her face and had kissed her for the first time.
It was only when the back door of the car opened near to her and she saw the tall figure of Kaden emerge, that reality rushed back. Along with it came her breath and heartbeat and the knowledge that she hadn’t been hallucinating. The rain seemed to bounce off him, spraying droplets into a halo around him. The sky was apocalyptic behind him. And still that rain, beating down.
Julia backed away, her eyes glued to him though, as if mesmerized.
‘Julia. Let me give you a lift.’
Her name on his tongue with that exotic accent did funny things to her insides. A strangled half laugh came out of Julia’s mouth. ‘A lift?’ She shook her head, ‘I don’t need a lift – I need to go home, I’ll take the tube.’
She dragged her gaze from his and finally managed to turn around, only to feel her arm caught in a hard grip. Electric tingles shot up and down her arm and into her groin just as more lightning lit up the sky. She looked up at Kaden who had come to stand in front of her. So close that she could see his jet back hair plastered to his skull, that awesomely beautiful face. Those black eyes. Rain ran in rivulets down the lean planes, over hard cheekbones.
‘What do you want Kaden? Or should I address you by your full title?’ Bitterness and something much scarier made her feel emotional, ‘You gave a very good impression back there of not knowing who I was. I’m surprised you even remember my name.’
Through the driving rain she could see his jaw clench at that. His black gaze swept her up and down, his hand gentled on her arm and perversely that made her feel even shakier. With something she couldn’t decipher in his voice he said, ‘I remember your name Julia.’ And then with easy solicitude, ‘You’re soaked through, and now I’m soaked. My apartment isn’t far from here, let me take you there so you can dry off.’
Panic mixed with something much more hot and primal clutched Julia’s gut. Go with Kaden to his apartment, to dry off? She remembered the way his look had changed earlier to something ambiguous. It was a long time since she’d felt that curl of hot desire in her abdomen and to be reminded of how this man had been the only one to ever precipitate it was galling. And that he could still make it happen twelve years on was even more disturbing.
She shook her head and tried to extricate her arm. ‘No thank you. I don’t want to put you out of your way.’
His jaw clenched again. ‘Do you really want to sit on a tube dripping wet and walk home like a drowned rat?’
Instantly she felt deflated. She could well imagine that she did resemble a drowned rat. Mascara must be running down her cheeks in dark rivers. He was just being overly polite, had probably seen her and hadn’t wanted to appear rude by driving past. His convoy would have been far too conspicuous to go unnoticed.
‘I could take a taxi if I need to, why are you doing this?’
He shrugged minutely. ‘I wasn’t expecting to see you…it’s been a surprise.’
She all but snorted. It certainly was. She had no doubt that he’d never expected to see her again in his lifetime. And to think of that now – how close she’d come to never seeing him again, Julia felt an aching sense of loss grip her. And urgency. She wouldn’t see Kaden after tonight, she knew that. This was a fluke, a monumental coincidence. He was just curious, perhaps intrigued.
He’d been her first lover, her first love. Her only love? Before she could quash that rogue and disturbing thought Kaden was already maneuvering her towards the open door of the car, as if some tacit acquiescence had passed between them. Julia felt weak for not protesting but she knew in that moment that she didn’t have the strength to just walk away, because meeting him again didn’t mean nothing to her.
He handed her into the plush interior of the luxury car and came around the other side. Once his large rangy body was settled in the back seat alongside her, he issued a terse command in Arabic, and the car pulled off so smoothly that Julia only knew they were moving because the tube station passed them in a blaze of refracted lights through the driving rain.
Kaden sat back and looked over at Julia. He could see her long dark lashes, her nose had the tiniest bump which gave her profile an aquiline look, and her mouth…he used to study this woman’s mouth for hours. Obsessed with its shape, a full lower lip and the perfect curve of its bow shaped upper lip. He’d once known this profile as well as his own. Better.
She wore a light figure hugging jacket over her dress but the rain had made her clothes heavy and the V in the neckline of the dress was dragging downwards to reveal the pale swells of her breasts. He could see a tantalizing hint of the black lace of her bra, and the evidence of her agitation as her chest rose and fell with quick breaths.
Rage at his uncharacteristic lack of control rose high. He’d fully intended to leave, and put her out of his mind, but then he’d seen her walking along the street, with that quick efficient walk he remembered. Not artful or practiced but completely sensuous all the same. As if she was unconscious of how sexy she was. He’d forgotten that a woman could be unconsciously sexy. Before he’d known what he was doing, he’d found himself instructing his driver to stop the car.
Sexual awareness stunned him anew. It shouldn’t be so overwhelmingly fresh. As if they’d hardly been apart. For a long time after she’d left Burquat, Kaden had told himself that his inability to forget about her was because of the fact that she’d been his first lover, and that brought with it undeniable associations and indelible memories.
But, he couldn’t deny as he sat here now, with this carnal heat throbbing between them that the pleasure they’d discovered together had been more than just the voluptuous delights of new lovers discovering unfamiliar terrain. It had been as intensely mind – blowing as anything he’d experienced since. And sitting beside Julia now was effortlessly shattering any illusion he’d entertained that he’d been the one to control his response to women in the intervening years. They just hadn’t been her. That knowledge was more than cataclysmic.
Julia could feel Kaden’s eyes on her but she was determined not to look at him. When they’d been together, he’d always had a way of looking at her so intently…as if he wanted to devour her whole. It had thrilled her and scared her a little in equal measure, his intensity was so dark and compelling. She’d felt the lash of that dark intensity when it had turned against her.
If she turned and saw that look now…she raised her hand on a nervous reflex to her neck and felt that it was bare. The wave of relief that coursed through her when she realized what she’d just done was nothing short of epic. She always wore a gold necklace with the detail of an intricate love knot in its centre. It had been bought from a stall in the souk in Burquat. But the main significance was that Kaden had bought it for her and despite what had happened between them, she still wore it every day, apart from when she was traveling, for fear of losing it.
The only reason she wasn’t wearing it now was because she’d been in such a rush earlier upon returning from the US that she’d forgotten to put it back on. The knowledge burned within her because she knew that it had somehow symbolized her link to this man when no link existed anymore. If he had seen the necklace – her mind seized at the prospect. It would have been like wearing a badge saying, You still mean something to me. And she was only realizing herself, here and now how shamefully true that was.
The car was drawing to a smooth halt outside an exclusive looking building. A liveried doorman was hurrying over to open the car door and before Julia knew it she was standing on the pavement watching as Kaden came to join her. The rain had become a light drizzle and Julia shivered in clothes that felt uncomfortably damp against her skin, despite the heavy warmth of the night.
Kaden ushered Julia in through the open doors, the doorman bowed his head deferentially as they passed. Julia felt numb inside and out, shock was spreading, turning her into some sort of automaton. Sleek lift doors were opening and then they were standing in an opulently decorated lift, the doors closed again and with a soft jolt they were ascending.
A sense of panic was rising as she stood in that confined space next to Kaden’s formidable presence but before she could do anything the door was opening again and Julia was led straight from the lift into what had to be the penthouse apartment. It was an old building but the apartment had obviously been re – fitted and it oozed sleek modernity with an antique twist. It was decorated in understated tones of cream and gold, effortlessly luxurious. The tall windows showcased the glittering city outside as Kaden led her into a huge reception room and turned to face her.
Julia looked away from the windows to catch Kaden’s dark gaze making a leisurely return up her body. Heat exploded in her belly and when his eyes met hers again she found it hard to breathe.
He backed away to an open door on the other side of the room and said coolly, ‘There is a bedroom and ensuite bathroom through here if you want to freshen up and get dry.’
Julia followed his tall form feeling very bedraggled. She was aware of trailing water all over the luxurious carpet. He turned again at the open door through which she could see a set of rooms, a smaller sitting room leading into a bedroom.
‘I’ll have your clothes attended to if you leave them in the sitting – room.’
Julia looked at him as a curious kind of relief went through her. ‘You have a housekeeper here?’
Kaden shook his head, ‘No, but someone will attend to them and I’ll leave some dry clothes out for you.’
How could she have forgotten the myriad silent servants who had always been present to do the royal bidding no matter what it was? Like erecting exotic Bedouin tents in the desert in a matter of hours just for them. Her belly cramped. Still in a state of shock, she could only nod silently and watch as Kaden strode away and left her alone.
She walked through the opulent rooms until she came to the bedroom where she carefully closed the door behind her. She grimaced at herself, Kaden was hardly likely to bash the door down because he was so consumed with uncontrollable lust. She could well imagine that his tastes no longer ran to wet and bedraggled archaeologists.
Shaking her head as if that might shake some sanity back into it, she kicked off her shoes and pushed off the door. She explored the bathroom which held a glorious sunken bath and huge walk – in shower. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and her eyes got big. She did indeed look like she’d been dragged through a hedge backwards and hosed down with water. Her long blonde hair hung in rats tails over her shoulders and was stuck to her head. Mascara had made huge dark smudges under her eyes.
With a scowl at herself she peeled off her drenched clothes and got a towel from the bathroom to protect the soft furnishings and left them in the outer sitting – room, half terrified that Kaden would walk back through the door at any moment. She scuttled back through the bedroom into the bathroom. With a towel wrapped around her she gave a longing glance to the bath but stepped into the shower instead. Taking a bath in Kaden’s apartment felt far too decadent a thing to do.
As it was, just standing naked under the powerful hot spray of water felt illicit and wicked. To know that Kaden was mere feet away in another room…also naked under a hot shower? With a groan of disgust at her completely inappropriate imagination, Julia turned her face upwards. She resolved to get re – dressed in her wet clothes if she had to, and get out of there as fast as she could.