Stolen by the Sheikh

By: Trish Morey

CHAPTER ONE




SHEknew it without turning.

The sudden flush to her skin, the disconcerting prickle that crawled the length of her spine, told Sapphy Clemenger that whoever had just entered Bacelli’s Milan salon was no ordinary customer. In an atmosphere that suddenly felt superheated, instinct screamed that no way was this one of her usual clients rushing in five minutes before evening closing time to search for the perfect outfit to woo her husband, or even her lover.

Her muscles strained and tensed, her senses heightening so much that even the hushed click of the cushioned door closing registered to her senses as significant.

Battling the sensations that continued to skitter up and down her back, she blinked away the weariness bequeathed by her 3 a.m. mornings leading up to this week’s successful fashion-week show and swivelled right, a smile of welcome at the ready, only to have her eyes jag on blackness.

His power hit her first.

Like a rush of electricity she felt his impact surge over her. He was a wall of power, a wall of authority.

Black roll-neck sweater, well-cut black jeans topping hand-stitched black boots. Even his hair glossed blue-black in the beam from the ceiling’s downlights.

But it was his eyes that reached across the room and snared her. Dark and fathomless with a glint that came and went like a shooting star in the night sky, their midnight quality reeled her in.

Was it possible to feel your pupils dilate? Yes, if what she’d just experienced was any indication. And given the sensory heights she seemed to be suddenly subjected to in the last few seconds, maybe she shouldn’t be surprised.

He said nothing as he moved towards her, never taking his eyes from her face and leaving no doubt in her mind that he hadn’t just stumbled upon the salon.

He’d come to see her.

She shivered, instantly regretting letting Carla, the salon’s permanent assistant, go home early. This was no time to be alone. But still she didn’t move. Not that she was certain she could. It was all she could do to swallow as he devoured the distance between them.

‘Buona sera,’ he said, his voice rich and deep and containing so many influences she couldn’t place his accent. ‘Or would you prefer I speak English?’

His lips curved slightly yet lacked any real warmth in a face that seemed all harsh angles and planes. She felt her eyes narrow. So he knew she wasn’t Italian. What else did he know about her? And why?

‘Thank you. English will be fine.’ Her voice sounded remarkably steadier than she felt as she readily accepted his offer to use her native tongue. After four years working in Italy away from her Australian homeland, she spoke fluent Italian, but here, in this man’s presence, she didn’t trust herself to think and speak her adopted language without tripping over her tongue. ‘How can I help you?’

‘You are, I presume, Sapphire Clemenger? The designer?’

Still she couldn’t place his accent. It held touches of English, a trace of American and more besides. He wasn’t Italian, of that she was sure, even though his dark features could have passed for Mediterranean. Yet he was too tall, too broad in the shoulders.

And much, much too close.

The heat came off him in waves. She felt herself flush, her mouth desert dry. Finally she nodded in answer to his question, incapable of forming the words.

‘I suspected as much,’ he continued. ‘I understood you to be quite beautiful. Of course, until now I had no idea just how much.’

She blinked slowly as something lurched inside her. How could just a few words affect her so deeply? She was used to the flattery and attention she received from the local males. They had a reputation for appreciating the feminine form and they certainly lived up to it. But it was always given in good spirit and in a way that was more lighthearted than serious.

This man’s words resonated on another level entirely. Maybe it was something to do with the way his eyes continued to scrutinise her face as if drinking in every detail, to rake over her body with the hot power of a blowtorch.

And still she didn’t know who he was.

She straightened her back, pushing herself taller and battling to damp down her own mounting temperature. She’d had enough of being on the defensive.

‘You seem to have me at a disadvantage, Signor…?’

‘Call me Khaled,’ he said, offering her his hand.

She took it and almost immediately wished she hadn’t, sensing her new-found courage melt away. For now, with his long, tapered fingers enclosing hers, their latent strength seeping into her flesh, she felt as if he’d somehow taken charge, as if he somehow possessed her.

And that was crazy.

She didn’t belong to anyone, least of all to this dark stranger. Even Paolo, whom she’d been seeing on and off for more than two years, didn’t instil this sense of possession in her.

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