The silent mist swirled around her, dew slowly seeping into her shoes, leaving her feet cold. Eighteen year old Sada didn’t care. Maybe another day, she’d worry about the condition of her boots, but not today! Not at all! This was the day! It was finally going to happen!
Peering through the mist, eyes wide as eagerness and nerves caused her heart to race. “Is he there?” she whispered, but the damp, morning air insulated her words. Her words and the sound of her pounding heart were her exciting secret this morning.
“He has to be there!” she breathed, picking up her pace. “If he’s not…”
The hard soles of her riding boots slipped in the dew-wet grass, but she caught herself easily. England was quite different from her beloved Altair, but she’d been here at The London School for Girls for several years now, and knew how to walk in the more humid area. Unlike the sunny warmth of her beautiful desert country, England was wet and cold most of the time.
Sada didn’t mind the different climate. She endured a lot in order to have the freedoms boarding school allowed her.
One such freedom was this morning, she thought almost skipping through the grass. She restrained herself, not wanting to give away her eagerness. Not to Manny, the cutest boy in the boys’ boarding school down the street. And not to anyone else who might be out and about this morning. This was her secret time. A time for dangerous and nefarious purposes.
Not that anything she was doing at the moment was dangerous or nefarious, but she liked to think that anything was possible.
The mist moved, silently swirling through the trees and…there! Standing in the doorway to the stables was Manny! He’d come!
Sada couldn’t stop the grin that formed on her features as she picked up her pace, heading towards the stables and the waiting Manny.
Sada froze, her mind screeching to a halt.
“No!” she cringed, her anxiety levels hiking about ten levels. “Not him! Oh, please don’t let it be him!” Closing her eyes, her shoulders tensing, she slowly turned around, praying that she was wrong, that it wasn’t him. Over her shoulder, she could still see Manny in the doorway. She was close enough that she could see the confusion on his face but...with that other voice so close, she didn’t dare call out to him.
Panic! She glanced over her other shoulder and…sure enough, Prince Zahir del Sudar, Crown Prince of Ditara and best friends with her older brothers, Jaffri and Tavon, was stalking towards her. He looked magnificent as always! Tall, dark, ruggedly handsome, and with that astounding aura of confidence that made her knees weak.
Every time she saw him, the same thing happened. Her heart pounded, her knees became wobbly, and her whole body tingled with excitement. It was embarrassing! Why couldn’t she be cool and calm, like she was with the other boys she met?
But Zahir wasn’t a boy. He was a man! A big, huge, powerful man!
When she was younger, Sada had wished that Zahir was her older brother, because he treated her so much better than Jaffri or Tavon, both of whom loved to tease her, pull her hair, and torture her in so many ways that she wanted to just…hurt them. If she had a toy, Sada knew to hide the toy from her brothers because they loved to do horrible things to her dolls and stuffed animals. Of course, she might have precipitated their actions by being a brat, but that was irrelevant.
Zahir visited the palace often over the years, having met Jaffri and Tavon in school and the three had become fast friends. But Zahir never took the stuffing out of her stuffed toys. He never shaved the heads of her dolls or drew camouflage patterns all over them either. And he never cut up her doll outfits!
Zahir was always kind, always made her laugh and never pulled her hair. He brought her presents as well, a bonus when she was younger and flattering now that her feelings had…changed.
Unfortunately, as she’d grown older, her feelings for the man had morphed from brotherly adoration to something more…painful. At eighteen, Sada knew she was too young to feel genuine love. Her friends at school all fell in and out of “love” with the slightest provocation.
No, her feelings for Zahir were different. The yearning and happiness she felt at the sight of him made her heart pound, her stomach clench, and…all of those other silly reactions that she hated so much. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t stop her feelings. She couldn’t figure out how to see Zahir as just another person who came to visit her.
Unfortunately, his presence was…bad! Really bad! She’d finally decided to move on, to try and see the other boys she met here at school as more than just friends. Hence, her invitation to Manny to meet her at the stables this morning!
And by the almost instant fury that leapt into his eyes, he wasn’t happy about it!
Ho boy! Zahir in a good mood was a force, a powerful personality that overwhelmed anyone around him, especially Sada, who fell a little more in…like…with him every time they were together. But Zahir in an angry mood…watch out! As the future ruler of his country, he had been raised to command and get results. No one defied him.
Although, Sada was going to try! She’d been on the verge of experiencing her first kiss, an opportunity to try and push Zahir out of her heart and her mind. Of course, next to Zahir, every male looked young and more than slightly wimpy. Zahir was just so big and strong and overwhelming.
“What the hell is going on here?” he demanded, towering over her, splitting his glare between the pair of guilty faces. His suspicious frown deepened when she refused to meet his eyes. “Sada?” he demanded when she didn’t answer.
A strong offense was a great defense, she reminded herself. “What are you doing here?” she asked, thinking to put him on the defensive.
At twenty-six, Zahir was the son of a sheik, a prince in his own right, and brilliant at many things. Obviously, being diplomatic wasn’t one of them.
Refusing to show how nervous she was, Sada glared up at him, folding her arms across her chest. “You didn’t answer my question, Zahir. Why are you here?”
Unfortunately, Manny hurried from the stables, trying to step between them. Chivalrous, yes. But stupid. Manny was only a couple of inches taller than Sada. Zahir topped both of them by about a foot!
“Excuse me, sir–” Manny abruptly rose into the air as Zahir grabbed his collar, lifting him to Zahir’s eye level.
“Um…!” Manny shook his head. Or tried to. With Zahir’s fist holding him close, there wasn’t much poor Manny could do. “No sir!” he squeaked.
Horrified and genuinely afraid for Manny’s life, Sada grabbed Zahir’s wrist, trying to break his hold on Manny’s shirt. “Stop it, Zahir!” Sada yelled. “You’re going to hurt him!”
Sada would have rolled her eyes if Zahir hadn’t been completely serious.
“Of course he was going to kiss me!” she groaned, her cheeks turning pink. “And you’re not helping!” she whispered, tilting her head towards the young man who was still making choking noises. “If you’d release him, perhaps I could…”
Sada desperately hung on to his wrist, digging her nails into his hand. “Please, let him go.”
“He was going to…”
Exasperation hit her and she threw her arms in the air, moving away three steps before turning. Glaring up at him, she stomped her foot. “Yes! He was! And I wanted him to! I’m the only person in the entire school who hasn’t kissed before!” She glared furiously at Zahir’s boots as embarrassment and rage turned her face bright red.
Manny choked again, regaining the attention of both Sada and Zahir. Leaning in, Sada implored restraint on Zahir’s part, not wanting Manny to be hurt simply because she’d wanted to see what it was like to kiss a boy. Touching his arm, she smiled gently up into his dark eyes, “Zahir, please. Manny is a good person. And a kiss is not a crime. It is innocent and perfectly fine.”
“It isn’t fine,” Zahir growled, but thankfully released Manny who dropped like a stone, and collapsed on the ground. He started to stand, using his hands to steady himself, but his wobbly knees and the damp grass hindered his efforts. Thankfully, the boy wasn’t hurt, just terrified.
“Why did you do that?” she demanded, punching Zahir’s shoulder. Of course, the big brute didn’t flinch. Not even an inch. Not even to let Sada have the meager satisfaction of knocking him off balance to soothe her wounded pride. “You could have hurt him!”
“You are…” he stopped, unable to finish his statement. He gazed down at her, muttering under his breath as he turned on his heel to leave. But he immediately turned back around to face her. “Sada, you cannot want a man such as this to kiss you!” Zahir gestured to Manny who was still a puddle of trembling limbs on the damp ground.
Huffing, she turned away, determined to help her almost-boyfriend and ignore the exasperating man who still treated her like a child. “You need to leave, Zahir.”
“I’m taking you out to breakfast,” Zahir announced.
Sada turned back, letting her gaze take in his tall, muscular body, while ignoring the small zing that sparked through her stomach. She was eighteen. He was years older than her and future ruler of Ditara. Already, Zahir shouldered enormous responsibilities for his country. He took his responsibilities seriously and she admired that about him. Zahir wasn’t one of those pampered princes that partied and jetted across the world, caring about nothing but his next thrill, though he had the money, the resources, and the looks to draw women to him, so the life of an indolent prince was entirely within his grasp.
Oh, she knew that he had plenty of women in his bed. Probably a different one every night. She’d seen him at social events and knew that women fought for his attention. Their desire to hold onto him, even for one night, wasn’t just because he was disgustingly wealthy. No, the man was tall, strong, with intense, dark eyes that drew your attention – catnip for most women, Sada thought acidly.
Not for her, though! Nope! Despite all of the childhood fantasies she’d had starring the man, Sada refused to fall for a man like Zahir. He was a good friend to her older brothers, Tavon and Jaffri. Zahir and Tavon had gone to school together, fought together, trained together. She’d seen the two of them in the sparring room. It was a terrifying, primal event when those two men battled. They trained hard and fought harder. When her oldest brother, Jaffri, entered into the fray, bodies slammed against the mat so hard, their grunts could be heard echoing down the hallway. And yet, the three loved it! They might come out of that room drenched in sweat and bruised by their efforts, but they were always laughing!
Insanity, she thought with a shake of her head.
“Breakfast. Right.” She sighed. Ignoring Manny for a moment, since he was busy still cringing away from her, she turned and focused all of her attention on Zahir, needing him to leave so that…
She watched him go, before staring at the footprints left in the grass, stunned and appalled that he would abandon her in such a cowardly manner. Zahir would never run away if she were in trouble. He would fight to the death for her. Not that she’d allow it, but it was a comforting thought.
Swinging around, she glared up at the man who never seemed to be far from her mind lately. And that irritated her!
“Why do you show up here to take me out for meals so often, Zahir?” she demanded, and for a moment, there was a flash of heat in his gaze. It disappeared so quickly she dismissed it, thinking she’d imagined it.
Unfortunately for her tender heart, he moved closer, towering over her once again as he looked down into her eyes. With a charming smile, he lifted her hand to his mouth, pressing a kiss to her fingers. “I enjoy our meals together, Sada. Our conversations are always stimulating and entertaining. And I consider you a very good…friend. I owe it to your brothers to ensure that you are safe and well cared for when away from home.”
That hurt! She’d been hoping he’d say something more. Something along the lines of, “I enjoy our meals together because I’m falling in love with you.” But that was ridiculous! Sada suspected that Zahir didn’t have a heart. She read the news. She understood that he was feared in the business world. He controlled the family empire and maneuvered their vast financial resources with brilliance. He’d more than doubled his family assets since taking over. Some of the news reports said he was fair. Others described him as brilliant. But most said he was the kind of man that business leaders feared.
He couldn’t have a heart with that kind of a reputation.
Besides, the man was in his mid-twenties and there had never been any female name connected to him romantically, although she knew that many women had tried. Most men at his age would have fallen in love at least once. Maybe several times! But not Zahir. He was hard, focused, and merciless.
“Are you okay?” he asked gently, reaching to touch her cheek.
Sada blinked, realizing that she’d gone off into her own world again. That happened far too often when he was around. Or when he accidentally touched her. Or after their meals together. After any sort of interaction with this man. Or even when she read a news article about him. When it came to Zahir, Sada’s imagination had a will of its own and wove silly, unrealistic romantic fantasies inside her head.
“I’m fine,” she carefully removed her hand from his and hid it behind her back. She couldn’t let him see that his touch made her tremble. He’d laugh and…maybe he’d stop coming to London to take her out for their sporadic dinners.
She forced a smile, even though her heart cracked just a little bit. “So I’m your entertainment when you come to London. Right.” Bowing her head, she turned and headed towards the main buildings of campus. “Why not just hire a clown?” she asked without looking at him, knowing that he was right beside her. She always knew when Zahir was close by. Perhaps it was his size. Or maybe he emitted pheromones or…something. But Sada always knew when Zahir was around. Most times, she even knew when he was going to call her. A sense, a premonition, or something strange told her to expect his call.
So far, she’d never been wrong.
“You are far more beautiful than a clown,” he replied smoothly.
More platitudes. Great. She forced a smile, trying to be polite even though her heart ached. “When did you fly in?” she asked, wondering what meetings he had scheduled this time. She knew that he owned several businesses in London, and it had become his headquarters in a way because he came through so often.
“My plane landed about forty minutes ago.”
“What meetings do you have scheduled for this trip?”
And so it went, their usual conversation. Sada tried to tell herself that she was only being polite because Zahir was a close, family friend. She had homework to finish before class tomorrow and needed to read through several articles. But Sada didn’t care. Instead of hurrying through the meal, she sat across the table from him and enjoyed the hour-plus meal and conversation.
It had nothing to do with inappropriate or unrequited feelings for the man, she promised herself. Nope! This was just a friendly meal and a break from the stress of school. Besides, she’d been eating in the school cafeteria for months. It was nice to get out and enjoy a lovely meal for a change. Yes, she had an allowance that would allow her to dine out whenever she wanted to, but she didn’t. She stayed close, pushing herself to study and ace all of her classes. Zahir was the only distraction she allowed herself. Well, Zahir and…the feeble Manny!
Pushing the cowardly boy out of her mind, she listened to Zahir. She loved talking with him, listening to the gravelly timbre of his voice, enjoyed the sparkle in his eyes as he listened to her talk about her classes. She even enjoyed the details of his work issues, and his business strategies fascinated her. Zahir had a unique way of looking at the world that she admired immensely. Every business he bought had a strategic value to the core of his empire. Even other businessmen didn’t understand why he bought certain companies, and took over certain products…until it was too late.
Zahir sighed as he pulled off his clothes that night. Breakfast with Sada had been…wonderful. She was intelligent, beautiful, and a delight to be with. He texted Tavon with an update, telling him that Sada was fine.
Tossing his phone on the bed, he walked over to the windows, thinking about his day. Sada was more than fine. She was lovely, brilliant, and when she smiled, he just…aljahim! He felt better after their times together.
Images of her in the arms of that…buffoon…infuriated him. That idiot had been about to kiss her. Kiss Sada! She was only eighteen years old. Damn it, he knew that she was almost of marriageable age now. And in many countries, she might have been married already. That didn’t make the realization any better. She’d been hurrying to the stables towards another man!
“Another man?” he growled aloud, pacing around the bedroom of his penthouse. “Madha bihaqi aljahim?!” Sada wasn’t his, which meant that she couldn’t be cheating on him. Nor did he want her. She was too young, too inexperienced. She needed to see the world more, to understand what she wanted. She’d been accepted to one of the best universities and deserved time to earn her degree, and discover what really thrilled her.
Of course, she’d be married soon. If the idea made him sick, it was just because she was like a…sister…? Did he really think of the dark haired, blue-eyed beauty as a sister? He shrugged, accepting that term for the moment, simply because he didn’t have a better term to use. So yes, Sada was like a sister.
No, that term didn’t feel right. Maybe a cousin…a very distant cousin…to him and he didn’t like the idea of her being married to anyone.
“Allaena!” he cursed, turning away from the London skyline when he realized that he was picturing himself in the role of Sada’s husband. He was seeing himself holding her as she told him that she was going to have their baby.
If a small voice in the back of his head pointed out that she was what he wanted, Zahir ignored it. He was too old for Sada. He couldn’t think along those lines.
Walking over to his desk, he sifted through the papers, lifting up a contract. Business. He had business here in London. Yes, he should be in Tokyo right now for that conference. He shouldn’t even be here in London.
No answer occurred to him so he focused on the contract, using a red pen to slash through several clauses.
He’d fly out to Tokyo tomorrow, after meeting with the director of his London based office.
As he read through the contract, he tried to stop picturing Sada’s soft lips as she smiled, or the way her head tilted when she listened intently. Stripping off his clothes, he brought the contract into the bathroom and…
Glancing down, he realized that his body was hard and aching for….
Not for Sada. “Hell!”
Dropping the contract on the marble counter, he flipped on the shower and stepped under the warm spray. Ignoring his erection, he focused all of his attention on his next acquisition and made a mental note to visit his mistress.
His next thought irritated him more. He needed to find a new mistress. His last had left in a huff, irritated that he hadn’t been to see her in months. Her furious departure hadn’t even raised a blip on his mental radar.
Women were nice, but business took priority.
After the shower, he checked the weather on his cellphone. A cold front was coming through London in a few days. Sada needed new sweaters and he told his assistant to send her several. “Make sure at least two of them are blue,” he finished.
Sada’s blue eyes were an interesting contrast to her creamy skin and dark hair. Yes, blue sweaters would complement her eyes perfectly.