Lugar shifted in his seat and looked around, impatient with today’s schedule. He deeply respected the United Nations and the agency’s mission, but right at the moment, he had other important issues to deal with. There were rumblings back home that his security team was concerned about and he wanted to deal with those problems.
But here he was, sitting in the hallowed General Assembly of The United Nations, preparing to listen to his enemy’s speech on…whatever. As Sheik of Shadir, Lugar’s presence at the United Nations over the next few days was merely symbolic. He was attending several meetings, specifically this speech, prepared to glare at the speaker, wanting the government of Cordaire to know that he still hated their country and everything they stood for.
In reality, he didn’t really hate Cordaire. In fact, he respected the leader. Sheik Girad bin Saldira, the current ruler of Cordaire, was a bastard of the first order, but he was a good bastard. He’d guided his country through some difficult problems over the past several years.
Unfortunately, there was a bit of tense history between Cordaire and Shadir. Animosity ran deep in his people’s hearts. There had been some sort of scuffle about a hundred years ago, something about a princess being stolen from Shadir and trade agreements that each country considered unfair. At some point during his education, he’d learned about the issues, but he didn’t remember them now. They all seemed ridiculous, a hundred-plus years later.
How could the people of both sides still hate each other? It seemed petty, especially since no one who had been around during the initial problems was still alive. But Lugar understood that, after a certain period of time, hatred became a habit, the enmity passed from one generation to the next. It wasn’t the first time that a population had continued to retain the animosity long beyond when it seemed reasonable, and it wouldn’t be the last. Humanity tended to hang on to emotions long after they were useful.
Hence, his presence here today. And his job here was to glare and have the cameras capture his facial expressions, demonstrating that he wasn’t going to like anything that the speaker from Cordaire discussed.
“The speaker is the sister of…” his ambassador to the United Nations started to whisper into his ear. But at that moment, a hush fell over the room. A woman moved towards the podium and Lugar’s angry, irritated expression smoothed out to one of…shock.
This wasn’t the bastard Sheik of Cordaire, he realized. This was…an angel! A dark haired, chocolate-eyed vision of beauty and elegance. His eyes followed her as she walked gracefully up the stairs, moving to the podium with a poise that caused everyone to sit up straighter in their leather chairs. For a protracted moment, the angel in a soft, brown suit shuffled her papers and everyone in the room fell silent, politely waiting for her to speak.
When he heard her voice, Lugar was stunned by melodic sounds and the sweet tones, the crisp accent that captured his attention, in a way no other speaker ever had.
Unfortunately, he had no idea what she was saying, instead focusing on her features, her eyes, and her lips, wondering what they would feel like if he kissed them.
In an odd way, Lugar was relieved to have her interrupt the almost constant fantasies that had plagued him over the past two weeks. Ever since that dark night when he’d held a soft, curvy woman in his arms, felt her lips against the palm of his hand when she’d tried to speak while he’d attempted to keep her silent as his men rescued the kidnapped women.
He’d been obsessed about that stranger, dreamed about her at night, thought about her during meetings, instead of focusing on getting things done. The sensations of her body pressed against his interrupted his focus during the most inopportune moments.
But now he had a new woman to…hell!
Lugar brutally stopped his thoughts from going in that direction. He didn’t have time to dream about a woman! Especially not a woman from Cordaire! He didn’t know who this woman was, but if she was from Cordaire, she was the enemy.
And yet, he couldn’t seem to pull his gaze away from her. She never once looked in his direction, but that was to be expected. The animosity between his country and hers was well known. Just as he should be glaring at her, this lovely woman couldn’t be seen looking in his direction. It might appear that she was talking to him, at him, or…some other twisted perception that the media might create.
There was a thundering of applause, which finally broke the spell surrounding Lugar. Everyone stood and clapped, obviously in full agreement with whatever she’d just said to the members of the United Nations.
“Get me a transcript of her speech,” he murmured to his ambassador, then headed out of the auditorium. He didn’t clap, not wanting to appear to be in agreement with a speech that he hadn’t heard. This was all a show, a series of scenes in which everyone played their part.
Heading out, he checked his watch as his aide handed him notes for his next meeting. He was here in New York for three days, meeting with various representatives from other countries. He knew what he needed to do, what he needed to accomplish during these three days. Still, the image of that dark haired beauty lingered in his mind.
Avi smothered a sigh as she stepped out of the meeting. She’d needed a bathroom break for the past hour, but after her speech in front of the General Assembly, several people had rushed to speak with her. Then she’d been late to the next meeting and, well, one thing after another had kept her from sneaking off to the bathroom! Now, it was more of a crisis, and she wasn’t going to stop until she got there. Yes, she knew that she should wait for her guards, but…well, this was an emergency!
The ladies’ restroom was down the hall and to the right, so she rushed into the facilities, blocking out everything else.
Five minutes later, after struggling back into her control top pantyhose…surely a sadist had invented these…she glanced at the mirror to ensure that she looked presentable. No lipstick on her teeth. Hair in place. Cream silk blouse tucked neatly into her brown skirt, the matching brown jacket in place and, thankfully, no coffee stains anywhere to be seen, even though she’d been so nervous about her speech today that her fingers had trembled when she’d lifted her coffee cup.
Thankfully, that was over and she could relax. Speaking in front of that crowd had been a miserable, horrible experience, but it was part of her job as ambassador for Shadir. It was her job to show the people of her country that women could lead and be in positions of responsibility. She’d been making progress at changing the ultra-conservative views of her people, but it was a painfully slow effort. Her only solace was the knowledge that other countries in her region were struggling with the same issues. Good grief, even her grandfather had owned a harem of over one hundred women! And yes, “owned” was the correct term since many of the women in his harem had been bought and paid for, then restricted to the palace and “protected” by guards. Thankfully, her father hadn’t owned a harem during her lifetime, a prelude to the changes that needed to be made in Cordaire.
Smoothing down her skirt, she gave her reflection a curt nod of approval, then turned to leave the bathroom.
The long corridor was silent and empty as she headed for her next meeting.
Staring blankly at the floor, she mentally reviewed the issues that would be brought up. Perhaps if she’d watched where she was going, she might have avoided the person rushing down the hallway.
Unfortunately, she didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. Which meant that she didn’t see the person hurrying around the corner until it was too late. When he ran into her, he knocked her off balance and she threw her arms out, trying to keep herself from falling.
Something hard and powerful stopped her fall, pulling her up against something that was almost as hard as the floor.
“I got you,” a gravelly, deep voice whispered in her ear as strong arms tightened around her.
Avi’s breath left her lungs in a whoosh. “Thank you!” she whispered back, looking around to make sure no one had seen the embarrassing collision.
Lugar held the shockingly beautiful woman carefully, feeling her bottom inadvertently press against his groin as he steadied her. A familiar tug hit him. The curves against his body were familiar in odd way. For a long moment, he couldn’t place where he’d felt this woman before. None of his mistresses had ever felt this good! He did a mental inventory of the women he’d bedded, but none had been this curvy. Or this soft.
And none of them smelled this…!
It was her! It was the woman from two weeks ago! That night…! She’d saved the damn dogs, then snuck over to the building where the women were kept. Without any doubt, it was her!
Slowly, he released her. Lugar kept his hands on her waist until he was sure that she was steady. Only then did he move away. Then he watched, almost as if her actions were in slow motion, as she turned to look at him, tugging her brown suit jacket back into place.
He knew the exact instant that she recognized him, although how she did, he wasn’t sure. He’d worn a black balaclava that night.
“You!” she breathed, her soft, pink lips forming an interesting moue as she stared up at him.
He wasn’t sure how to react to that, especially since he also realized that this was Princess Aviera bin Saldira of Cordaire. An hour ago, he’d watched her speak, had been stunned by her poise and beauty and now….!
They were enemies, but…!
Hell, she was stunning! Her soft cheeks glowed with an attractive pink as he stared down at her.
He reached out, pushing a stray lock of hair off her forehead. “Do we know each other?” he asked, pretending he hadn’t recognized her. He doubted that any woman would want to know that she had been recognized by the impression of her derriere against his groin.
“You’re the one that…” she paused, moving closer to him and dropping her voice. “You saved those women! All of them! You were there that night!”