In Defiance of Duty
Dare she disobey the King?
Kiara Fredrick is living an ordinary life until, one whirlwind romance with Sheikh Azrin and the largest diamond ring in the Khatan desert later, Kiara discovers that not only is she a princess but she’s also become public property overnight.
As Azrin stands to take the throne, Kiara discovers that royal life might be enough to destroy their once strong marriage… But Kings of Khatan do not divorce—and Queens of Khatan should know better than to ask…
Can Kiara remain defiant in the face of a craving hotter than the scorching desert sands?
In Defiance of Duty
Kiara didn't turn toward the deep, commanding voice, even as it washed over her and somehow into her blood, her bones, making her very nearly shiver. She'd sensed his approach before he'd helped himself to the chair next to hers—there had been a certain expectant stillness in the air around her, a kind of palpable, electrically-charged quiet, as if all of Sydney fell silent before him. She'd pictured that easy, confident walk of his, the way his dark, powerful masculinity turned heads wherever he went, the way he'd no doubt been watching her with that intense, consuming focus as he drew near.
But then, she'd been expecting him.
"That's a terrible pick up line," she pointed out, a shade too close to flippant. But she couldn't seem to help herself. She decided she wouldn't look at him, unless he earned it. She would pretend to be enchanted by the water of the harbor, the coming sunset. Not by a man like him, no matter how tall, dark, and dangerous he might be, even in her peripheral vision. "Especially here. This particular view is famous, I think you'll find. Renowned the world over."
"That should make it all the more lovely, then," he replied, a thread of amusement beneath the steel and velvet seduction of his voice. She felt it like heat, pressing into her skin. "Or are you the dreary sort who finds a view is spoilt forever if too many others look upon it?"
Kiara sat at a small outdoor table tucked in on the lower concourse beneath Sydney's glorious, soaring, Opera House and the sky above, with full and unfettered access to the famous and beautiful arch of the Harbor Bridge opposite. The setting sun above had just settled into rich and tempting golds, sending the mellow light dancing over the sparkling water of the harbor itself, as if taunting the jutting skyscrapers of the city—as if daring them to look away from the spectacular evening show.
She certainly knew the feeling. And she wasn't even looking at the man who lounged next to her as if he owned the table, the chair, and her too, though she was aware of him in every possible way. In every part of her skin and blood and bones.
"Don't try to change the subject," she said mildly, as if wholly unaffected by him and the great tractor beam of power and charisma that seemed to emanate from him. He was lethal. So compelling it almost hurt not to turn and let herself look at him, drink him in. "You're the one who trotted out a tired old line. I only pointed it out. I don't think that makes me dreary."
She didn't have to look at him to know that his particular brand of dark male beauty—so fierce and breathtaking, laced through with all that dizzying masculine power—would be equally dazzling if she dared turn her head and look at it. She could feel it. In the way her stomach clenched and, below, ached around a deep, feminine pulse. The way the fine hairs on her arms and the back of her neck stood at attention, almost making her shiver. The way the whole world seemed to shrink to just this table, this chair.
Instead, she fiddled with the coffee cup she'd drunk dry a while ago, even toyed with the ends of the wavy light brown hair she'd swept back into a high ponytail, her hands betraying her even as she sat there with such studied carelessness, pretending she was unaware of the great strength of him next to her. The imposing fact of him—ink-black hair against oddly light eyes, the stamp of his Arab ancestry in his fierce features, and that mouthwatering fantasy of a body—that she could grasp even with only the briefest glance from the corner of her eye. The impact on not only her, but the whole of the Opera House Bar around them.
She could see the group of older women at the next table—the way they turned to look at him, then widened their eyes at each other before dissolving into besotted giggles better suited to the girls Kiara imagined they'd been some thirty years hence.
"Tell me how to play this game," he said after a moment that seemed overripe with the gold sinking against the water, the murmur of the crowd of tourists all around them, his own dark magnetism spread over them like an umbrella. "Will I woo you with my wit? My appreciation of the local beauty? Perhaps I will tell you a series of pretty lies and convince you to come back to my hotel with me. Just for the night. Anonymous and furtive. Do you think that would work?"
"You won't know until you try," she said, biting back a grin, even as carnal images chased through her head—none of them either anonymous or furtive. All of them spellbinding. Wild with passion. "Though I hardly think laying out your options like that, so coldblooded and matter-of-fact, will do you any favors. You should think in terms of seduction, not spreadsheets." She found she was grinning despite herself then, but still kept from looking at him, staring resolutely ahead at the delicate arch of the bridge as if unable to tear herself away. "If you don't mind a word of advice."
"I relish it, of course." His low voice was cool, ironic, and still managed to kick up fires all along her skin. And deeper. She shifted in her seat, crossing and then re-crossing her legs, wishing he did not take up quite so much space. He did not seem to move at all, and yet, somehow, she was even more aware of him.
"So far," she continued, her own voice confiding, pitched for his ears alone, "I must tell you that I'm completely unimpressed."
"With the view?" Now his amusement wasn't hidden at all. It moved through his voice even as it moved through her, teasing her with hints of something else beneath his crisp British public school vowels, something that indicated English was only one of his languages. The faintest suggestion that he was nothing simple or easily categorized. "I hope you're not one of those terminally bored socialite types, so shallow and endlessly fatigued by everything the world has to offer."
"And if I am?"
"That would be a great disappointment."
"Luckily," she said dryly, "you can hardly have been too invested in something that could only have ended in lies and a furtive hotel visit, could you? I imagine the disappointment will be minor."
"But I am captivated," he protested in an insultingly mild way that made her laugh despite herself.
"By my profile?" She smiled at the bridge, imagined the man, and shook her head. "It's all you've seen of me."
"Perhaps it is your profile superimposed on such a famous view," he suggested. "I'm as awestruck as any run-of-the-mill tourist. If only I'd remembered my camera."
She forgot she didn't mean to look at him and turned her head.
It was looking into the sun. Searing. Dizzying.
He was beautiful—there was no other word for it—but there was nothing in the least bit pretty about him. He was a study in controlled ferocity. He was all sleek muscle and hard, strong lines. His rich black hair, his dark skin, the gleam in his unusual, near-blue eyes. The merciless thrust of his cheekbones, his belligerent jaw. He lounged beside her with seeming nonchalance, but she wasn't fooled.
He was all focus and menace, his rangy, athletic body showcased to perfection in a dark suit and a snow white shirt that he wore open against his neck, as if he was attempting a casual gesture when everything else about him shouted out the formidable force he wore the way another man might wear a jacket. He looked as if there was nothing at all he couldn't do with his disconcertingly elegant hands—and nothing he hadn't already done with them. She could think of several possibilities, and had to swallow against the shocking surge of heat that swept through her then, wild and out of control.
She was sure he could feel the very same flames.
"Hello," he said quietly as their eyes met. Held. His sensual mouth curved into a knowing smile. "I like this view, too."
Kiara forced a jaded sigh. "You really aren't very good at this, are you?"
"Apparently not." His impossible eyes, somewhere between blue and green, or possibly grey, gleamed. "By all means, teach me. I live to serve."
She didn't laugh at that. She didn't need to. His own mouth quirked up in the corner, supremely arrogant and male, as if he was as unable to imagine himself serving anyone or anything as she was.
"For all you know, I could be meeting someone." She forgot about the view; he was far more mesmerizing, especially when his gaze turned darker and something like stormy. She smiled then. "My very jealous lover, for example, who might find you here and take out his aggression all over you. With his fists."
"A risk I feel prepared to take,somehow."
There was no denying the edge of confident menace in his smile then, and she wondered what sort of woman she was to find that as appealing as she did. Surely she ought to be ashamed. She wasn't.
"Is that a threat of violence?" she asked tartly. And then lied. "That's incredibly unattractive."
"That is exactly how you look," he said, the knowing quirk of his hard mouth deepening, his storm-tossed eyes too hot, too sure. "Unattracted."
"Or perhaps I'm simply a single woman out on the town, looking for a date," she continued, in the same nonchalant, careless tone. "You seem to want to talk only about the view. Or make depressing remarks about the furtiveness of a night of wild, uncontrollable passion. Neither is likely to make me want to date you, is it?"
"Are we talking about a date?" His mouth curved again, as if he was trying not to laugh, and very nearly failing. His almost-blue eyes reminded her of the winter sea, and were as compelling. "I thought this was a negotiation about sex. Acrobatic and endlessly inventive sex, I believe. Or hope, in any case. Not a tedious date, all manners and flowers and gentlemanlike behavior."
It took her a moment to breathe through the way he said sex,like some kind of incantation. Much less the images he conjured up, and their immediate effect on her body. How could one man be this dangerous? And why was she wholly unable to offer up any kind of defense against him?
"The way this works is that you pretend to be interested only in a date," she told him, as if she was this close to exasperation but only the kindness of her heart kept her from it. "You pretend that you want to get to know me, as a person. The more you do that, the more romantic it will all feel. To me, I mean. And that, of course, is the quickest route toward rampant sex in a hotel room." She shrugged her shoulders as if she felt she shouldn't have to be the one to share this with him. As if every other person in Sydney was well aware of this, and she wondered why he wasn't.
"I can't simply ask for rampant sex?" he asked, as if baffled. Possibly even shocked. Though that lazy, indulgent gleam in his eyes said otherwise. "Are you sure?"
"Only if you are planning to purchase it." She eyed him, and the hint of a smile that toyed with that mouth of his, and made her wish all sorts of undignified things. "Which is, of course, perfectly legal here. And no, buying me a drink is not the same thing."
"Your country has so many rules," he said softly, the amusement leaving his gaze as something far hotter took its place. "Mine is far more... direct."
She felt the way he looked at her, the fire in it moving over her like a caress, making her wish that she was dressed far more provocatively. Making her wish she could bare her skin to his gaze, to the night falling all around them. The black blazer she wore over a decadently soft black jumper and the dark blue jeans she'd tucked into her favorite black suede books felt confining, suddenly, instead of the casually chic look she'd been going for. She wished she could peel it all off and throw it all in the harbor. She wondered what it was about this man that made such an uncharacteristic urge seem so appealing in the first place.
But she knew.
"Direct?" she echoed, feeling the pull of that hard face, those unholy eyes. She wanted to move closer to that wicked mouth of his. She wanted it more than was wise. More than she should, out in public like this, where anyone could see. For a moment she forgot the game—herself—entirely.
"If I want it," he said quietly, so quietly, but she felt it flood into her as if he'd shouted it, as if he'd licked it into her skin, "I take it."
Kiara felt that hum in her, electric and something like overwhelming. For a moment she could only stare back at him, caught in that knowing gaze of his, as surely as if he'd caged her, somehow. Trapped her as surely as if he'd used manacles and heavy iron bars. She shouldn't feel that like a thrill, twisting through her, but she did.
"Then I suppose I should count myself lucky that we are not in your country," she said after a moment, not sure until she spoke that she would be able to at all. She was surprised that her voice sounded so steady. Almost tart. "This is Australia. I'm afraid we're quite civilized."
"All of you in your new, young countries are the same," he said in that low tone, his voice its own dark spell, weaving its way over her, inside of her, as inexorable as the setting sun. "So brash, forever carrying on about your purported civility. But you are all so close, still, to your disreputable pasts, aren't you? All of it welling up from beneath, making a lie of these carefully cultivated facades."
Kiara realized two things simultaneously. One, that she could listen to him talk forever--about countries, about pasts, about whatever he liked. That voice of his triggered something deep inside of her, something helpless and wanton, that made her breathless and so wrapped up in him that the world could fall to pieces around her and she wouldn't notice. Or, as now, the sun could disappear entirely beneath the horizon without her registering it, ushering in the inky sweetness of the Sydney night, and she would still see nothing but him.
And two, and more important, that she would die if she didn't touch him. Now.
"As fascinating as your thoughts on young countries and disreputable pasts may be," she said then, keeping her voice a low murmur, her eyes hot on his, "I think that I'd rather dispense with all this meaningless chatter and just get naked. What do you think?"
He smiled again, and she felt it shiver through her and curl her toes. He reached over and took her hand in his, carrying it to his mouth. It was the faintest hint of a kiss, a timeless gesture of chivalry for the benefit of the people all around them, but she felt it like a hard kick. Like a promise.
"There is nothing I would rather do," he said, that gleam of amusement in his eyes turning them something near silver. "But I'm afraid I'm meeting my wife for dinner. I'm sorry to disappoint you."
"I'm sure she'll understand." Kiara played with his strong fingers in hers. "Who would want to stand in the way of acrobatic, inventive sex, after all?"
"She's terribly jealous." He shook his head almost sadly. "It's like a sickness—ouch." His gaze turned baleful, and a silver heat gleamed there, while something almost too warm to bear echoed in a kind of sizzle low in Kiara's belly. "Did you just bite me?"
"Don't act like you didn't enjoy it." It was a dare.
He let go of her hand, but shifted closer, reaching over to pull gently on the end of her ponytail, tilting her head up slightly to meet his searing gaze.
"Perhaps I can risk my wife's jealous rages after all," he said, musingly. He moved still closer, until their faces were a mere breath apart, his delectable mouth just there, just out of reach.
Her breath came out ragged, then, as if she'd broken into a run. She felt as if she had. His smile licked over her, into her.
"You look like you can take it," Kiara agreed, and then she closed the distance between them, and kissed him.
His wife, Sheikh Azrin bin Zayed Al Din, Crown Prince of Khatan, reflected with no little amusement, was endlessly delightful to him.