“You still want me, Sydney.”
“I don’t.” She said it firmly, coldly. Her legs trembled beneath her, her nerve endings shivering with anticipation. Her heart would beat right out of her chest if he kept touching her.
But she would not tell him to stop. Because she would not admit she was affected.
“I don’t believe you,” he said.
And then his head dipped, his mouth fitting over hers. For a moment she softened; for a moment she let his lips press against hers. For a moment, she was lost in time, flung back to another day, another house, another kiss.
An arrow of pain shot through her breastbone, lodged somewhere in the vicinity of her heart. Was she always destined to hurt because of him?
Sydney pressed her hands against the expensive fabric of his jacket, clenched her fingers in his lapels—and then pushed hard.
Malik stepped back, breaking the brief kiss. His nostrils flared. His face was a set of sharp angles and chiseled features, the waning light from the sunset hollowing out his cheeks, making him seem harder and harsher than she remembered.
Sadder, in a way.
Except that Malik wasn’t sad. How could he be? He didn’t care about her. Never had. She’d been convenient, a means to an end. Impressionable and fresh in a way his usual women had not been.
The slow burn of embarrassment was still a hot fire inside, even after a year. She’d been so thoroughly duped by his charm.
“You never used to push me away,” he said bemusedly.
“I never thought I needed to,” she responded.
“And now you do.”
“Don’t I? What’s the point, Malik? Do you wish to prove your mastery over me one last time? Prove that you’re still irresistible?”
He tilted his head to one side. “Am I irresistible?”
“That’s too bad,” he said.
“Not for me, it isn’t.” Her head was beginning to throb from too much adrenaline, too much anger.
He pushed a hand through his hair. “It changes nothing,” he said. “Though it might make it more difficult.”
Sydney blinked. “Make what more difficult?”
“Our marriage, habibti.”
He was a cruel, cruel man. “There is no marriage, Malik. Sign the papers and it’s done.”
His smile was not quite a smile. “Ah, but it’s not so easy as that. I am a Jahfaran prince. There is a protocol to follow.”
Sydney reached for the doorframe to steady herself. A bad feeling settled into her stomach, making the tension in her body spool tighter and tighter. Her knees felt weak, making her suddenly unstable on her tall designer pumps. “What protocol?”
He speared her with a long look. A pitying look?
By the time he spoke, her nerves were at the snapping point.
“We must go to Jahfar—”
“—And we must live as man and wife for a period of forty days…”
Dying. She was dying inside. And he was so controlled, as always. “No,” she whispered, but he didn’t hear—or he didn’t care. His eyes were flat, unfeeling.
“…Only then can we apply to my brother the king for a divorce.”