Sheikh With Benefits, страница 1
This edition of Sheikh with Benefits includes a one-scene preview of Strange Academy, the first hot paranormal romance from Teresa Morgan, writing as Teresa Wilde.
This story is dedicated to Cynthia Boyko. No one has supported me more, in writing and in life.
Thanks for everything.
Thank you Sheryl Kaleo and Debbie Mazzuca, my brilliant critique partners!
In future, he would make it clearer to her that she was to arrive at these events before eleven, decided His Royal Highness Javad Shirin, first in line for the throne of the republic of Ulai. Either before eleven, or she was to text him the reason why, along with her estimated time of arrival. After scrolling through his messages again and finding nothing to explain her absence, he dropped his BlackBerry into his vest pocket and scanned the room.
The most beautiful women in the country gazed at him with dark eyes. A famous American dance diva sang her latest number one hit on the stage, keyboards and electronic beats thundering behind her. Strobe lights and smoke machines that wouldn't have been out of place in the hottest night spot in Ibiza filled the club. A dozen people had complimented him on the arrangements for this intimate party, not knowing that half of them had been Arya's idea. Her hand was everywhere he looked tonight, from the dry ice smoke to the laser lights to the special cocktails. In fact, the whole party had been her idea. She'd suggested that the young European prince visiting the country would appreciate the club atmosphere before the formal events that started tomorrow.
He knew he should relax and enjoy the gathering, or at least feel satisfied at his impeccable planning, but there was Arya to think of. If she did not arrive in fifteen minutes, he would have to contact her father. No, ten.
He found an empty spot on the banquette seating that lined the walls, one that allowed him full view of the entrance at the bottom of the stairs leading from the street to the below-ground club. It happened to place him next to an attractive blonde he had not yet met. She took one look at his three piece grey suit, the only one in the club, and hesitated. He turned from her before she attempted to engage him.
He did appreciate the irony that the woman he waited for was quite ordinary in her beige dresses and plain shoes. Her own sisters outshone her as the sun does the moon. Yet something about Arya made other women seem... He struggled for the right word. False. That was it. Next to her, they all seemed false.
He checked his watch again, the one item of clothing he never removed. It was nearly midnight. Normally, she and her father arrived early, just as they departed early. Unless her father's political machinations required staying later. Her sisters came and went as they pleased, of course. With her entrancing sisters near, he had hardly noticed her in their shadows when her father had returned from his service as Ulai's ambassador to Canada several months ago.
Too bad she was such a mouse. Still, he should introduce her to a rich man who would treat her well. Make some arrangement where she would be at these events for the rest of his life. Where he could talk to her, in the way they had been doing for the last few months. An old husband would let her go her own way and then conveniently leave her a widow, free to do as she chose. He could sweeten the pot for her future husband if her own charms weren't obvious. Perhaps old Sheikh Zakharias. Wasn't he confined to a wheelchair now? She wouldn't even have to put up with his touch. That would be perfect.
He did, however, wish to dance with her. He had no idea why it was so important to him, or why her continual refusal bothered him to the point where he nearly permitted it to show on his face. Perhaps tonight, she would relent. If she ever arrived.
When the other woman walked in, he turned away, irritated. But then he noticed half—the male half—of the room's attention was now on the entrance to the club.
He took a second look, and discovered why. That dress, or the lack of it. If you could even classify the scrap of fabric as any kind of garment. She wore nothing but her own skin and a few well-placed sequins that dazzled in the pulsing red and blue lights. No woman should wear such a thing in public. In the bedroom, he had to admit, it would be most suitable.
He was in motion instantly. He had to get to her, escort her out of here before she created some kind of incident. This was an informal party to welcome the visiting crown prince of the minor European nation of Orméa before the formal elegance of tomorrow's official reception in the palace ballroom, but he would have no scandals attached to the royal house of Ulai. The alcohol flowed so freely that he didn't trust several of the too-bright male eyes aimed her way.
He knew what those men were thinking. The same thoughts marched through his mind.
Getting to her first had another advantage. He could perhaps get her phone number before another man had the same idea.
As he moved toward her, a feeling of horror grew in his chest, the pain and shock intensifying as he stepped nearer. Her profile was achingly familiar. He knew that shy tilt of her chin, the scarlet blush that spread over her cheekbones as she became aware of the interest she'd earned from the men in the room.
He was five steps away when his mind interpreted what his senses told him. It was her.
Dear God, what was Arya thinking? No. Thinking had clearly not come into it. How had her father permitted this? The man should be charged with some kind of crime for allowing this sweet girl with a fondness for the color beige to show up in public in a dress a whore would blush to wear.
He took off his jacket and as soon as he was within arm's length, threw it over her shoulders.
She mouthed something at him, but the music was far too loud for her soft voice.
He leaned down to her, offering his ear. She was so much shorter than him that the effect of this was to give him a close-up view of the front of her dress. And her in it.
She was fuller in the bosom than he had imagined. He had thought she was completely flat. Apparently not. She wouldn't be modeling for Victoria's Secret anytime soon, or even competing with her own sisters, but still, she did have greater curves than he'd imagined. Not that he had been imagining anything, of course. Lovely freckles decorated her skin, he noticed, for the first time.
"Thank you—" As she began to speak the American diva finished her set and the music ended. She yelled the final word in his ear.
She apologized, turning pink with embarrassment. Her flush didn't end at her neck, but continued down as far as he could see, darkening those freckles. He felt only gratitude that the music had lowered. The too-loud beats had begun an odd throbbing against his ribcage. Particularly when he had leaned in close to her.
"Thank you for your jacket," she continued, pausing when another woman jostled her arm. "But it's very warm in here."
She imagined that he'd done it because he thought her cold? She was usually more aware of him than that. For some reason, her being out of touch with his feelings irritated him. "Perhaps not," he said, through gritted teeth. "But you have lost your mind. That dress."
She'd been staring at him with amber eyes, the legacy of her British mother, a good-natured, but plain, woman her father had married after his first wife had divorced him. Unfortunately, Arya's mother had passed away, and her father had married for a third time, the spoiled daughter of a Persian oil magnate. Each of these three unions had produced a daughter. Two were beautiful.
The third was standing before him, practically naked.
"I know. Isn't it scandalous?" Her eyes lit at the corners, showing a spark of mischief he'd never seen before.
"And likely illegal," he pointed out.
"Oh, I doubt it." She pulled the lapels of his tuxedo jacket apart to display her body.
He couldn't help himself. He willed himself not to look, b
A woman in a beige dress. His close inspection—very close—revealed that the gown covered every inch of her, but in a fabric that matched her light olive skin tone as if it had been made to do exactly that. Though no fabric could mimic those interesting freckles.
The result was a dress that hid everything, but also hinted at everything, clinging to curves he was only now beginning to discover his friend had. Perhaps she wasn't the one who had lost her mind. She also seemed to be taller, which made no sense.
As if she read his mind, she said, "I can nearly look you in the eye, Your Highness. It's these shoes."
He made the mistake of looking down to examine them. The shoes in question were the sexiest article of clothing he had seen—except for that trompe d'oeil dress that made her seem naked while it covered her. If the dress was scandal-worthy, the shoes were obscene. Four inch heels and two tiny straps. One at her toes, the other around her ankle. Emerald spangles and shimmer.
Other men loved breasts or backsides. He'd always appreciated a woman with lovely feet. They were, as far as he was concerned, an essential erogenous zone. He loved the way a woman's legs wrapped around his waist and how her heels thudded against his back when he was inside her. A woman who took care of her feet was a prize to be treasured.
Her tiny toes shone a frosted pink, like candy.
"They are excellent shoes," he told her, filled with a sudden desire to leave before he swept her into his arms to give them a more thorough inspection. "I should go. I believe my brother requires something."
"Oh," she said, her disappointment clear. "Well. Here. Have your jacket back."
He intended to leave her, to go to the corner of the club where his brother was directing a server to pop the cork on another bottle of champagne for their guest, to hide his thoughts before he betrayed them and preserve his friendship with Arya while they still had one. However, as soon as his jacket was back on his own shoulders, he felt the weight of the male attention in the room shift back to her.
He could not leave her alone, not looking like this. What had possessed her to dress in such a fashion? She had never done so before. In fact, he had overlooked her until the reception for the visiting Prime Minister of Thesaban two months ago. That night, he'd had a headache that threatened to burst his skull. He'd endured, as usual, keeping up appearances, entertaining the guests.
While preparing to smile at yet another of the Prime Minister's jokes, though plastic explosives threatened to detonate in his skull, he felt a tiny hand press something into his palm. A pair of aspirin, he discovered. When he'd turned, he saw a plain woman in a beige dress walking away.
He'd stared at the two white pills for half a second, stunned that anyone could tell he was in pain. As the second son, he'd been trained from birth to support his brother, to soothe others, and to never show his own feelings. He did not mind keeping his thoughts and emotions to himself. The rest of his life was lived in the spotlight, in front of the people, courtiers, foreign diplomats. If he chose not to show everything—or anything—he felt, it was his right. Having a little privacy, even in the middle of a crowd, by showing the world a blank face, appealed to him. Or perhaps he didn't feel things as deeply as others. His own father had repeated often enough that he had no desert wind in his blood. The spirit that had driven his ancestors to break from the Persian Empire over two thousand years ago despite overwhelming odds against them was silent within him.
But that night, Arya had seen past the face he showed the world. It had opened the door for a surprising friendship between them. She wasn't so shy once you got to know her. He had put in the effort to speak to her and learned that she was quick-witted, intelligent, and observant. A useful ally and an honest friend.
"When does your father arrive?" he asked.
She shrugged, making the sequins on the front of her dress cascade in the flashing yellow strobe light. "He'll be here for the official event tomorrow, but he's out of town tonight."
"And your sisters?" He guessed the answer. They weren't coming either. She had chosen to dress in this provocative manner when her family wouldn't be around to check her behavior.
It was clear. He would have to stay by her side all night to prevent other men from troubling her. Yet he was having difficulty keeping his eyes to himself. In fact, his hand strayed to the small of her back of its own accord.
He felt her spine stiffen under his hand. She gave him a confused look that had him reaching for an explanation.
"Come, I require a drink."
He didn't give her a chance to protest, but pressed his hand to her spine, steering her toward the bar. As they passed, the gazes of several of his brothers' friends followed her. He scowled at one potential predator, who was straightening his blue silk tie and looking ravenous. Everything about the man's demeanor, his fashionable hair, his too-tight designer t-shirt, the slight tan line on his ring finger, warned Javad he was not to be trusted. Javad seemed to recall he was attached to the Australian embassy, but for once in his life could not remember a single important detail about someone. Like this, Arya distracted him too much. He would have to watch her like a security camera tonight, not even taking a fraction of a second to blink.
"An appletini," she told the bartender. Her order was delivered instantly, with an appreciative glance from the man mixing cocktails.
"You have never taken alcohol before." As the glass was passed, Javad restrained his desire to throw it to the floor.
"Maybe I do now," she said, tasting the liquid in the very full glass. "Mmm. My sisters told me these were delicious. Why haven't I ever tried one?"
"Common sense," he told her. "Tell me the reason you act so strangely tonight."
She shrugged, dislodging one of the straps holding up her dress. Without thinking, he reached over to replace it.
He slid his fingers under the silken strap. She stopped mid-sip of her electric green drink, frozen in time. His knuckles brushed over the far, far too exposed skin of her collarbone. Her skin was as soft as any woman's he'd ever taken to his bed. A masculine thrill lit him up as he felt her shiver under his touch.
He was certain she had.
She resumed drinking, gulping down nearly half her alcohol in a single swipe as if she were a warrior fortifying herself for battle. Then she gave him an unexpected sultry grin over the rim.
He cursed himself. What was he doing? This was Arya he was thinking of. He had no interest in her. She was the only woman in the world who was his friend. Perhaps the only person, male or female. It was the dress having this effect on him. And those shoes. And the temptation of those toes.
"Arya, you are not yourself tonight. I must know why." Perhaps then he could answer why he did not feel like himself tonight either.
"Maybe I don't want to be myself anymore. It's not like it's gotten me anywhere." The DJ had replaced the thudding club beats with a slow dance. She looked out across the dance floor as if she wanted to join the couples moving to the music.
He was about to tell her that he preferred her as she was when she grabbed his arm.
The muscle of his bicep flexed of its own accord. She didn't seem to notice.
"I want you to ask your brother something for me." Her voice squeaked. He found that squeak reassuring. His mouse of a friend still hid somewhere underneath that dress.
Underneath that dress... He wrenched his thoughts back before they wandered places he wasn't prepared to go. "Ask him yourself."
She exhaled a not-quite sigh. The small sound was familiar. This was more like the way things should be. The two of them together, in their standard roles. Talking like equals while around them people played diplomatic games, trying to outmaneuver each other. The two of them together might possess the one genuine friendship in the room.
"It's too embarrassing, Your Highness."
"You don't have to call me that, as I have tol
She looked down, pouting uncharacteristically into her empty glass. At that moment, a waiter showed up, seemingly from nowhere. He had, on his tray, a single appletini. She accepted the drink with a glow in her eyes. "You've never said that."
Javad refrained from snarling at the waiter as the man glided away. "I am certain I have. And whatever is so embarrassing that you have to drink yourself stupid before asking my brother will be too embarrassing for me to ask as well."
"But you're more sophisticated about these things." Her tone was nearly a whine. It reminded him too much of her sisters for his liking.
"What things?" he asked, even as he began to suspect he did not want to know.
"I want you to ask him if he wants to sleep with me."
He waited for the punch line to the joke. For her to smile and say she teased him. Instead, she took another drink and looked twice as nervous.
She meant it. This explained everything. She wished to sleep with his brother. The dress was an attempt to catch Darius' eye. The shoes were meant for him. Her new persona was designed to attract the attention of his brother. All the pieces of the puzzle fit into place.
It was the puzzle itself that made him desire to grit his teeth. He swallowed to keep his voice from coming out in a growl. "Ask him yourself."
"I can't. I'm too shy. I think I'd die. But I thought maybe if he doesn't talk to me..."
"If you are too shy to ask him, then you are too shy to make love to him," he informed her. She should know him better than to think he would act the pimp for Darius. He had sacrificed so much to support his family, devoted his life to working in the shadows, dealing with things before they ever came to his brother's attention. To start procuring women for Darius? This would not happen. To offer him Arya? Impossible. "What is this all about?"
She stepped in front of him, turning her amber eyes wide. "Please help me. You're my friend, aren't you?"
Wasn't he? In the months since her return, her friendship had become as essential to him as breath. Now it seemed that whatever he did in this situation, the friendship he so valued would slip away as easily as the strap from her shoulder. "You do not need help. And you do not need to sleep with him."