Zuri stood in the massive office, looking around and pretending that she wasn’t terrified. Too many issues, too many emotions. She wasn’t in the best frame of mind to be here, but she’d run out of options. This was her last resort.
The door to the office whipped open and an incredibly tall man stepped in. “Zuri! What’s wrong? Why are you doing here?” Tarin bin Linar demanded furiously. His dark eyebrows formed a line above his mysterious eyes and heat flashed through her. She wished it wouldn’t.
“I need your help.”
“What’s wrong?” he asked, moving closer. Too close though and she inched away.
Immediately, his eyes changed, the look shifting from concern to…something else.
Knowing what he would say next, she lifted her hand, stalling his comment. “My brother is missing,” she blurted.
There was a pregnant pause, and he shifted into what Zuri thought of as his “battle stance”. When other people stood with their hands on their hips, feet wide, and an intense look of determination in their eyes, Zuri took note. But when Tarin did it, her heart did a little flip.
“How long?” Tarin demanded.
“I don’t know,” she admitted, feeling relief flow through her. No matter how much she irritated him, she knew that she could count on him for help. Probably not if she were missing, Zuri cautioned. But Tarin and her brother were good friends. For Jabril, Tarin would help unconditionally.
He frowned, but Zuri refused to be intimidated. She lifted her chin, straightened her spine, and frowned right back.
“How can you not know? You live in the palace with him!”
Good point, she thought. Zuri ran a hand through her hair. “I know!” she replied, trying to calm him and focus on the issue at hand. “But we live separate lives. We don’t see each other all the time. I have things I do during the day and he has a huge country to run. You know what it’s like,” she snapped. “As sheik of an equally large and powerful country, you are a bit of a difficult man to reach!”
“All evidence to the contrary,” he snapped right back.
Oh, that wasn’t fair! “I’ve been waiting here for over an hour!” she growled. Although, why she should be surprised was the real question. This man lived to irritate her!
Her words seemed to infuriate him further, although she didn’t understand why. “You should have been led directly to me. I’ll speak with my staff.”
“Don’t bother. Just…”
“You’re my fiancée, Zuri! Of course I’ll bother!”
“Whatever!” she yelled back at him. “Just…help me find Jabril! He’s been missing for days.”
She watched as he rubbed his forehead, his long fingers always a fascination for her. The man was so tall, she barely came to his shoulder. He was tall, strong, and frighteningly powerful. The exact opposite of her in every way. She was shorter than average, a bit too curvy, in her opinion, and there was nothing intimidating about her.
Just the sight of him got her all hot and bothered. It was embarrassing and she hated it. She wanted to be freed from this arranged betrothal and enjoy an easy, relaxed life. She wanted to enjoy her time with her husband and be a full partner with him, have common interests, and develop a kinship with her mate. But Zuri knew that she’d never be able to relax, find that Zen state, if she were married to Tarin. He was too intense at everything he did. They didn’t have anything in common, beyond both being raised as royals. And Zuri doubted that he would ever consider her to be an equal partner in anything.
Unfortunately, every time she spoke to her brother, Jabril, about how disparate her and Tarin’s personalities were, Jabril just gave her that annoying grin and shrugged. “Get to know him, Zuri. I think you’ll find that you have a lot more in common with him than you think.”
And even worse, Jabril had started inviting Tarin to visit more often lately. Which meant that Zuri had been forced to become even more creative in her efforts to avoid him!
Which was all beside the point. Right now, she needed his help.
She huffed a bit, mimicking his pose. He hadn’t even reacted to her news, which sparked her temper. “How can you not be worried? He’s your best friend! And he’s been gone for…I don’t know how long.”
“Have you spoken to his guards?” he asked, leaning against his desk, spreading his long, muscular legs out for balance.
Zuri was proud that she managed to refrain from rolling her eyes. “Yes.”
“And?” he prompted.
“And…” she started off sarcastically, “they wouldn’t say anything. If he was okay, they’d say so. But their silence indicates that he’s not okay. Hence my presence here when you know very well that I…” she stopped, looking up at him with a guilty expression.
“That you normally try to avoid me at all costs?” he finished for her, standing up and towering over her.
He grabbed her hand when she tried to back up. “Zuri, why is that?” he asked, feeling her finger shake. “Why do I frighten you so much?”
His voice gentled as he pulled her relentlessly closer.
Her lips softened and her body…she was so damn beautiful, he thought. What the hell was it about her that completely did it for him? And what the hell did he do to her that made her pull back every damn time he came around?
If it hadn’t been for that kiss several months ago, he would give up and release her from their engagement. But that kiss had blown him away and, by the equally dazed look on her face, he knew with absolute certainty that she’d felt the same way.
“Because you’re a huge obnoxious–”
She stopped, distracted, when his thumb rubbed over the pulse pounding at her wrist. “So, my size frightens you?”
She opened her mouth, then closed it, staring down at his callused hand cradling hers, fighting back a blush. Tarin might be big, but he held her gently. If she wanted to pull away, she could. He wouldn’t hurt her or push himself on her.
That damn blush made his body harden with white-hot need…something that always happened when Zuri was around. Even with all of her crazy thinking, her vegetarian preferences, and those damn mystery novels, which he knew freaked her out and yet she devoured as many as she could get her hands on, he thought she was the most amazing, sensuous, lively, and incredible woman he’d ever met.
Not to mention, every time they touched, the sparks could light up the city!
“No,” she finally whispered, pulling her hand away. “It isn’t your size. It’s…there’s just something about you that I…”
He waited, wanting to understand, but she gave up, shaking her head. But without her words, without an explanation, he was clueless.
She took a deep breath and stepped back. “Regardless of our personal issues, I am asking, begging, you for help. I know that something is wrong and Jabril is in danger.”
“What do you know?”
“Just that he’s gone and most of his guards are too. There’s a lot of activity in the control room, so I know that his security team is doing something too. They appear a bit frantic and maybe planning something, something big. But they won’t tell me what’s going on. I’m in the dark and that pisses me off!” she gritted through clenched teeth. “I’m not a stupid little girl, Tarin. I shouldn’t be left in the dark like this.”
“You’re right,” he agreed soothingly, trying to calm her temper. “I’ll see what I can find out.” He paused, waiting for her shoulders to relax slightly. Then he added, “Under one condition.”
She frowned warily. “What’s that?”
He leaned against his desk again. “I want you to kiss me.”
She stared at him as if he’d just said she needed to build a rocket and fly to the moon.
“I’m sorry but…?”
He leaned forward until their faces were barely inches apart. “Kiss me, Zuri. Just a small kiss. Prove that you’re not afraid of me.”
She frowned thoughtfully up at him, nibbling on her lower lip. Longing, he realized. Her eyes dropped to his mouth and he wanted to laugh with relief at the subconscious confirmation she felt the power between them too, but held back. If she dared to look any lower, she’d know exactly how her look had affected him and she’d run away.
“You can,” he argued softly.
“One kiss, Zuri. Not too much to ask for in return for my help.” He put his hands on the desk behind him. “I won’t even touch you. Besides, if Jabril is truly in danger, I might be in danger as well when I find him. This might be our last kiss. The last time we see each other.”
Zuri’s heart clenched painfully in her chest with the possibility of never seeing Tarin again. The idea was…impossible! Tarin was too big, too powerful! She had to believe that. The pounding pain in her chest warned her that she was in too deep already, but the idea of never seeing Tarin again was so awful, she actually ached at the possibility.
She knew that Tarin was too big to be taken down by mere mortals. What could mortals do to a god? But then again, she’d believed that of Jabril too! And look what had happened? He was gone and no one would tell her where he was, or even if he was okay!
“Don’t…” she started, stepping closer once again. She pressed her lips together and took another step. “Don’t get hurt!” she whispered fervently. “I…I want my brother safe, but I don’t…I don’t want you hurt either.”
“Kiss me, Zuri. Kiss me as if this is the last time you might see me.”
She shivered at the possibility, stepping closer still. She felt the heat radiating from him and her fingers lifted, needing that heat, the reassurance of his strength and power. He was so big! She reached out, tentatively touching the bulging pectoral muscle. “Tarin, I…”
“Please, Zuri,” he interrupted, his voice doing that rough and husky thing that never failed to make her lady parts liquefy.
She contemplated kissing him. Not just what it might feel like, but also how to actually accomplish such a task. Tarin was leaning against his desk, lowering his height, but he was still much taller and she had to lift up onto her toes. Doing that meant she had to hold onto something. Since his legs were spread wide and she stood between them, she couldn’t reach his desk. Nor was she brave enough to put her hands on his rock-hard thighs for balance. That meant that she needed to put her hands on his chest. His firm, muscular, drool-worthy chest and…
She glanced up to find him watching her. Licking her lips, she contemplated his mouth. How did one kiss a man like Tarin? Should she just…?
Oh, please don’t let this be their last kiss, she thought with a surprising sharp pain in her heart. Lifting up on her toes, she stared into his eyes. Every interaction with this man had been focused on getting away from him. And yet, the thought of him not being around for her to annoy or avoid, was too painful to contemplate.
And deep down inside, Zuri admitted a certain fascination at the idea of kissing the man. Yes, she’d avoided him after their last kiss because it had gotten out of control. She’d felt things that…she didn’t want to explore. But being in control…that would be so much better! She could control the passion of their kiss this time! She could…
“It isn’t complicated, Zuri,” he teased. “It’s just a kiss.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Shut up, Tarin!” she grumbled. He’d always been in control, always in charge. She’d tried to be nimble at avoiding his touch, even though she often failed. But now…she was in charge! Oh, how exhilarating!
“Zuri, if this is too…”
“Shut up!” she repeated, but this time, she lifted onto her toes and pressed her lips against his. It was a clumsy move, designed to stop whatever he’d been about to say. But as soon as her lips touched his, everything changed. Her lips softened, she tilted her head slightly, switching from a mashing of her lips against his to a soft, electrified caress.
Back and forth, she experimented with the texture of his lips, exhilarated by the sensation every time her lips touched his. Over and over, she kissed him, his lips softening as well, becoming more active. He leaned in, giving her better access, while she reached up, her fingers diving into his hair and pulling his head closer.
Seemingly of its own accord, their kiss intensified. His lips parted, his teeth nipped at her lip and she gasped, which gave him access to her mouth. He deepened the kiss further, his mouth ravaging hers and she loved it, pressing in against him instinctively.
Zuri couldn’t think any longer. Her thoughts whirled incoherently as she pressed closer, wanting him to touch her, to wrap his arms around her. At that exact moment, his hands closed on her back and slid lower, cupping her bottom through the filmy material of her dress. A moment later, their positions switched. He was now standing over her, his hips pressed between her legs as he perched her precariously on his massive desk. Leaning in, his mouth pulling away from her lips to nuzzle her ear, her neck, moving lower as his hands moved higher. Suddenly, there was no material between his hands and her legs. It was just white-hot skin against skin, his fingers curling against her bottom. Something ripped but she wasn’t aware of anything or anyone, other than his hands against her skin. Nothing was enough and she arched into him, gasping for breath as she pulled his head closer.
And then he stopped! Zuri took a deep breath, her lips feeling swollen, as did certain other parts of her body. Swollen and aching and furious that he’d stopped!