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Excerpt from A Question of Honor

CHAPTER ONE

‘YOU know why I’m here.’

The man’s voice was as deep and dark as his eyes, his hair . . .his heart for all Clemmie knew. He filled the doorway he stood in, big and broad and dangerously strong. Worryingly so.

She didn’t know what put that sense of danger into his appearance. There was nothing in the way he stood, the long body relaxed, his hands pushed deep into the pockets of the well-worn jeans that clung to narrow hips and powerful legs that spoke of threat or any sort of menace. And his face, although rough-hewed and rugged, did not have the type of features that made her think of black shadowy novels about serial killers or vampires rising from the dead.

Not that serial killers conformed to the myth that evil had to be ugly as well. And this man was definitely not ugly. He was all hunk, if the truth was told. Those deep brown eyes were combined with unbelievably luxuriant black lashes, slashing high cheekbones, surprisingly bronze-toned skin. He was a man for whom the word ‘sexy’ had been created. A man whose powerfully male impact went straight to everything that was female inside her and resonated there, making her shiver in spite of the warmth of the spring sun. But once the image of a vampire, dark devastating and dangerous, had settled into her brain there was no way she could shake it loose.

It was something about the eyes. Something about that cold, direct, unflinching stare. Dead-eyed and unyielding. She couldn’t understand it. And because she couldn’t find a reason for it, it made her shiver all the more though she forced herself not to show it and instead pasted a smile that she hoped was polite but not overly encouraging on to her face.

‘I beg your pardon?’

If he caught the note of rejection and dismissal she tried to inject into the words then not a sign of it registered in that enigmatic face. He certainly didn’t look discouraged or even concerned but flashed her another of those cold-eyed glances and repeated, with obvious emphasis, ‘You know why I’m here.’

‘I think not.’’

She was expecting someone. Had been dreading his arrival for days – weeks. Ever since the time had approached when she celebrated her twenty-third birthday. If ‘celebrated’ was the right word for marking the day that would mean the end of her old life, and the start of the new. The start of the life she had known was coming but had tried to put out of her mind. Without success. The thought of what her future was to be hung over her like a dark storm cloud, blighting each day that crept nearer to the moment her destiny changed.

But she had prayed he wouldn’t come so soon. That she would have at least a few more days – just a month would be perfect – before the fate that her father had had planned for her when she had been too young to understand, let alone abject, closed in around her and locked her into a very different existence.

The person she had been expecting – dreading - was very different from this darkly devastating male. He was much older for a start. And would never have appeared so casually dressed, so carelessly indifferent to the demands of protocol and security.

Which was just as well because the sudden and unexpectedly early ring at the doorbell had caught her unawares. She hadn’t even brushed her hair properly after washing it and letting it dry naturally, so that it hung in wild disorder around her face. Her mascara was smudged, and although she’d decided that the lipstick she’d been trying on was really too bright and garish, she hadn’t had time to take any of it off, or in any way lessen the impact of the vivid colour.

‘I have no idea who you are or what you’re doing here. If you’re selling something I’m not interested. If you’re canvassing, I’ll not be voting for your party.’

‘I’m not selling anything.’

No, she’d expected that. His clothes, while too obviously casual for a salesman, had a quality and style that contradicted that thought.

‘Then in that case. . .’

She’d had enough of this. If he wasn’t going to explain just why he was here then she had no intention of wasting her time standing here in the hallway. She had been busy enough before the autocratic and impatient knock had summoned her to the door and if she hung around any longer she was going to be late for Harry’s party and he would never forgive her.

‘I’d appreciate it if you would just leave . . .’

She made a move to close the door as she spoke, wanting this over and done with. Hunk or not, he had invaded her world just at the worst possible moment.

She had so little time to spare. Correction – she had no time to spare. No time at all for herself or to come between her and the future, the fate that had once seemed so far away. She had to finish packing, organise the legal transfer of the cottage and everything else she was leaving behind. And that was always supposing that she could persuade the man she really was waiting to turn up to give her just two days more grace.

Just forty-eight more hours. It would mean so little to him, except as a delay in the mission he’d been sent on, but it would mean the world to her – and to Harry. A tiny bubble of tension lurched up into her throat and burst there painfully as she thought about the promise she had made to Harry just the previous evening.

‘I’ll be there, sweetheart, I promise. I won’t let anything stand in my way.’

And she wouldn’t, she had vowed. She had just enough time to visit Harry, be with him through this special time, and then make it back home. Back to face the fate she now knew her dreams of escaping would never ever come true. Back to face the prospect of a future that had been signed away from her with the dictates of a peace treaty, the plans of other people so much more powerful that she could ever be. The only thing that made it bearable was the knowledge that Harry would never be trapped as she had been. Her father knew nothing about him, and she would do anything rather than let him find out.

But that had been before she had received the unwelcome news that the visitor she so dreaded seeing would be here much sooner than she had anticipated. Forty-eight hours earlier. The vital forty eight hours she needed.

And now here was this man – this undeniably gorgeous but totally unwelcome man – invading what little was left of her privacy, and holding her up when she needed to be on her way.

‘Leave right now,’ she added, the uneasy feelings in her mind giving more emphasis to her words, a hard-voiced stress that she would never have shown under any other circumstances. As she spoke she moved to shut the door, knowing a nervous need to slam it into its frame, right in his face, mixed with a creeping, disturbing conviction that if she didn’t get rid of him now, once and for all, he was going to ruin her plans completely.

‘I think not.’

She only just heard his low-toned words under her own sharp gasp of shock as the door hit against some unexpected blockage at it base. She suddenly became disturbingly aware of the way that he had moved forward, sudden and silent as a striking predator, firmly inserting one booted foot between the wood and its frame, a long, strong fingered hand going out to slam into it too, just above her head, holding it back with an ease that denied the brutal force he was employing against her own pathetic attempt at resistance. The shock of the impact ricocheted disturbingly up her arm.

‘I think not,’ he repeated, low and dangerous. ‘I’m not going anywhere.’

‘Then you’d better think again!’ she tossed at him in open defiance, her head going back, bronze eyes flashing golden sparks of rejection.

He’d expected problems, Karim al Kahlifa acknowledged to himself, The way that this woman had taken herself off from the court, the sort of life she had set up for herself , ignoring all demands of protocol and safety, in a different country, all indicated that this was not going to be just the straightforward task his father had lead him to believe. Clementina Savanevski – or Clemmie Savens which was the name she was masquerading under in this rural English hideaway knew where her duty lay, or she should do. But the fact that she had run away from that duty, and had been living a carefree life on her own had always indicated that she held her family’s promise very lightly. Far too lightly.

And now that he was face to face with her, he felt he understood why.

Excerpt from A Question of Honor © Kate Walker

 

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