She closed her eyes. It didn’t matter. She didn’t want to know. He’d given up his name just as he’d given her up. Abandoned them both as if they meant nothing.
Forcing herself to chuckle, she tilted her head. ‘Akeem Ali—’ she shrugged ‘—or Abd al-Uzza, I don’t want you here, and I certainly don’t need you.’
‘Today is the beginning of the rest of your life. What better way to start that new life than with a night of pleasure in my arms, surrounded by opulence?’
‘You want to take me to bed?’ she spluttered.
‘Yes. You will spend one night in my bed—one night of extreme pleasure.’
‘Call it what you will—closure...’ he stretched the word.
‘Closure?’ Her heart hammered. ‘You came here uninvited because you thought I’d sleep with you one last time for closure?’ Her eyes widened, and she hooked a brow. ‘How very arrogant of you.’
‘Does my arrogance surprise you when I can see your pulse pounding wildly beside the hollow of your throat?’
‘Yes.’ She nodded. ‘The boy I knew would ask—never demand.’
Unbidden, memory claimed her. The swipe of tentative fingers across her naked hipbone. The press of his mouth behind her ear as he asked if she liked his hand there...did she want him to bring her pleasure with his fingers?
She shuddered. Her Akeem had been gentle, caring—never demanding. The Akeem she had known was not this man standing in front of her.
‘I am not the boy you remember.’ His voice was silk. Seductive. ‘The pleasure you will experience in my arms will be unlike any you’ve known before or after me.’
He raised his hand and applied pressure to the frantic beating at her throat. It took everything she had in her arsenal not to react to his touch and to remain indifferent. But she wasn’t indifferent. She’d only ever known him. All she could do was watch—feel all the things she shouldn’t be feeling.
She hated him, didn’t she?
‘Should I put my mouth here, so you may understand the power of attraction still between us?’
‘No!’she shrieked, unable to breathe or to think about anything but her disloyal body. It tingled from the intensity of his gaze—his touch. And she wanted to step into his embrace.
What was wrong with her?It was the day of her father’s funeral. She was on the edge. And here was Akeem, magnifying her overwrought emotions to fever-pitch. She couldn’t stand it. His ability to still affect her. He would not trick her into forgetting what he’d done. How he’d abandoned her.
‘No,’ she said again, ‘my bed is off-limits to you.’
‘It’s not your bed I want you in,’ he corrected. ‘It’s mine.’
‘Whatever bed,’ she huffed, knowing he’d purposely missed her point. ‘I won’t be in it with you,’ she declared, and hoped she meant it. ‘You’re the one that needs this.’ She waved her hands. ‘Not me. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here.’
‘You need to close the door on the past as much as I do,’ Akeem concluded, and moved his thumb up the taut lines of her throat. With his forefinger beneath her chin, he tilted her head. ‘Take a chance and come to bed with me.’
Temptation teased through her, and the knot in her abdomen was an acknowledgment of the desire she felt. She didn’t need his mouth on her skin to understand that whatever was still between them was powerful—more than it had been nine years ago. But it was different—stronger. An older kind of yearning... It was lust, she recognised. Desire.
She was a fool.
‘No,’ she whispered, and his hands fell away to his side. ‘I can’t.’
‘Fear stopped you when you were a girl, and now you are a woman—’ his eyes swept over her ‘—you’re still scared.’
‘How so?’ she asked, because he’d been the one to run away. He’d been the one who was afraid.
‘What do you have to lose?’ he asked, and she bit back the immediate response clinging to the inside of her mouth.
‘You have no job, no family, no money, and soon you’ll be homeless. Do you wish to remain exactly where you have always been until they forcibly evict you from everything you know? Your house? Your home?’
‘How do you know that?’
‘It is easy to imagine the life you have led.’ His lips thinned, and silently he held her gaze.
Of course he knew everything. He was a man of means now. She recognised it in every stitch of his handmade suit. He knew she hadn’t moved forward. To him, she was still the same girl he’d known. Scared, and alone, and thrust into a system she had been frightened would take her away from her dad.
She’d always kept her mouth shut. As her dad had taught her. Outsiders didn’t matter. Outsiders didn’t count. And she had told no one anything—not even the police who’d hammered on the door because the school hadn’t been able to contact her dad for three days and they’d had concerns for her welfare. They’d found her dad barely conscious. The social services team had delivered her to a children’s home, and still she’d remained silent. But she had told Akeem.
Eight weeks, they’d told her. An interim care order. If in eight weeks her dad could prove he was well enough to take care of her, she could go home. For those eight weeks it had been her and him. Akeem and Charlotte.
He’d been her first and only friend. She’d opened up for the first time in her life—because he’d offered her something she’d never had. Friendship.