Wind whips the hair from my face. Light sears white patches into the backs of my eyes.
Scream like I never knew I could scream. The sound tears from my body, burning through my lungs and throat. The pain so deep it exits my lips as a deathly wail.
Fingers bite into the tops of my shoulders, and a warning whispers against my ear.
It’s too late for warnings.
I shake like I’ve gone into a fit. I’ve experienced pain so many times now I should be immune. I’ve suffered heartbreak, but not like this.
I see fire. Not the figurative kind. Actual real fire. Flames engulfing my future—ravaging my soul.
I fight the hands holding me back. They won’t be dissuaded, wrestling me against an immovable body.
He lied to me. After everything, he lied to me again.
Broke my heart.
I trusted him. Believed in him when he swore everything would be all right.
That nothing could keep us apart.
I thought I’d found a love that could survive anything. I thought love would keep us safe.
Love would be the death of us.
I looked across the bed to where he stood placing clothes into a brown leather bag. He glanced up, caught my gaze, and smiled. His lips rose on one side, and deep groves buried into his cheek. My lungs burned. No matter how many times I saw that smile it stole my breath.
I grinned back.
Haithem smiled wider, crinkles fanning his eyes. The sun shone orange in the window behind him. Lit up the black of his hair with a warm undertone.
Click, click, click.
I captured the moment in my mind. Not only because he looked magnificent—like a scene torn from a magazine. For the first time since I’d met him he wore blue jeans. Paired with a black T-shirt, he should’ve looked nondescript. That’s what we were going for after all. I don’t think he realized how impossible that would be—like asking water not to look wet. You can’t disguise the essence of what something is, and everything about Haithem commanded attention. I captured the moment because in that one instant nothing had ever been so simple or so pure.
Haithem and I, and nothing but us.
No more secrets, no more lies and, no matter how much it hurt, everything between us was honest—and with that honesty we were untouchable.
Except, in a few short hours we would leave the bubble of our secret little world, and I had no idea what waited for us outside.
He’d warned me it’d be dangerous.
I wasn’t afraid of danger. I’d learned that everything worthwhile carried risk. I’d sacrificed enough already to prove that. Changing the world wouldn’t be easy but we were about to do just that. Not with guns, weapons, or explosives. Not with words, or politics, or diplomacy.
Technology capable of saving the planet. Technology people would kill to have, and kill us to destroy.
He left the bedroom and went into his adjoining office, reappearing with a small stack of books. I tucked my toiletries case into the side of my own bag. Haithem set the books one next to the other on top of his clothes.
“Only the necessities, ha?”
He pushed on top of the books. “These are necessities.”
I crawled across the bed, kneeled in front of his bag and picked up the thickest volume. “Aristotle?” I looked up. Don’t know what I’d expected. The Art of War? How to Conquer the World, possibly?
He met my eye, daring me to tease him.
“Didn’t take you for a philosopher.”
He pushed the bag aside and leaned his palm on the mattress beside me. “Then obviously you’ve never read Aristotle.”
“Maybe I should.” I stared at the book in my hand, and flipped open the pages, dog-eared with pencil marks in the margins, at odds with the meticulously neat Haithem I knew.
I stopped and read out a highlighted line. “‘Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others.’ ” I smirked and looked up. “Now I think I see…”
“You think so, do you?”
I forgot the book in my hands for a heartbeat, lost in the tone of his voice and the way he watched me. He always watched me, but sometimes at times like this he made me believe he had access to secrets I didn’t even know I kept.
I took a breath and broke from his gaze, then flipped through the book, pausing at a tagged page. Pencil left a thick smudge under a line. “To the query ‘What is a friend?’ his reply was—” I cleared my throat, voice getting sticky “—‘A single soul dwelling in two bodies.’ ”
I stared at the page, and re-read the words.
He tugged the book from my hands, closed it and put it back in the bag. The zip slid closed with a slow whine, and the vibration seemed to echo up my spine.
“You told me once that we were friends.” I looked at him. “Tell me again.”
He tugged the bag off the bed and rested it on the floor, then turned and fixed his attention on me. My skin heated, warming around me. He leaned over me, hands resting either side of my hips.
I breathed deep. Breathed in his strong yet subtle scent. He didn’t touch me, yet I felt touched.
“Angelina, you are my friend.” He raised a hand. Finally, he did touch me—his fingers resting on my cheek, his thumb brushing my lower lip. “You are my heart.” The rough pad of his thumb dragged across my mouth then pressed against my chin. “And now you are my family too.”
My chest tightened around my lungs, squeezed out air and made my head spin. I grabbed his T-shirt, curling my hands around cotton. “I love you.”
His eyes flashed from warm to hot.
He kissed me, mouth open over mine, searing and claiming. I pressed my tongue into his mouth, tasted and took him. Desire woke in my abdomen, rising through me like a flame. A sleeping ember waiting for his breath to bring it to life.
I pulled him closer in attempts to drag him over me.
He broke our kiss, but rested his cheek on my cheek. “There’s no time for me to love you the way I need to.” His fingers clutched the back of my neck. “But hold on to this, because when I do I swear it will be worth the wait.”
His promise seeped into my skin—settled anticipation into my bones I wouldn’t be able to shake until he fulfilled it. Bless him, because now I had something else to occupy my mind outside of what we were about to do. Maybe he did that on purpose—knowing him, he did.
Didn’t make me any less excited.
He pulled away. “It’s time to go.”
I swallowed, then rolled off the bed and did up my bag. Haithem passed behind me and took something from the wardrobe.
I turned and nodded.
He held what looked like a small stocking out to me. I took it and walked into the bathroom and stared in the mirror. My hair had already been pinned back, but now I stretched the beige cap over my head and watched my old self disappear.
Disappear behind the tan that only weeks on a yacht had managed to achieve on skin that usually only came in two shades—pale or burned. Disappear behind expensive clothes I’d never have owned, and never have worn—a white belted dress with a high lace neckline.
Disappear behind eyes that weren’t my own. Contacts bled the pale green of my eyes into hazel.
I leaned closer to the mirror and stuck two strips of tape to my hairline, then took the mop of dark brown hair off the foam head resting on the vanity and pulled the wig onto my scalp from the back to the front, then adjusted the hair, and pressed over the tape. I combed back the hair with a brush. The bangs settled around my face and shoulders, just as wonder settled into my bones. Someone else stared back from the mirror. Someone with my bone structure but little else.
Someone older, sexier, and sleeker.
My ears rang. My heart beat faster than it should.
I should be afraid, shouldn’t I?
That I’d lost myself. Given myself up for someone else. That was wrong wasn’t it? To sacrifice your identity? Maybe I should’ve been ashamed, or worried. Yet my heart raced not with fear—but with thrill.
I’d shed a skin that never actually fit.
I smiled at the woman in the mirror, then left the bathroom.
Haithem glanced up from the screen of his phone, then tucked it into his back pocket and walked to me. His gaze scanned me, but not as it usually did. Not with desire and hidden meanings to be untangled.
He analyzed me, looking me over, up and down, searching for flaws in our disguise.
“Do I pass?”
He moved closer. “I’d rather just keep you on this yacht.”
I laughed softly.
“I just felt the feminist part of me develop a tic.”
His forehead wrinkled but the side of his mouth kicked up. “That’s not what I meant.”
“I know,” I whispered, even if maybe there were a few scenarios in which being kept didn’t sound so bad.
He touched my brow with his index finger. “I’m concerned.”
I lay my palm on his chest and stroked over his heart through fabric. I was learning to speak Haithem. Knew what concerned translated to. Knew that words like worried, or afraid, were not ones he could wrap his tongue around.
“Don’t worry about me. We have this.”
He rubbed my eyebrow the wrong way. “These give you away.”
“Too light?” I touched my other brow.
He smiled. “Too ginger.”
“I am not ginger.” I smacked his hand away. “It’s chestnut—auburn at the most.”
“If you say so.” He held up his hand in surrender. Pity his eyes didn’t say surrender. “But I happen to like ginger-chestnut-auburn no matter how you call it.”
My cheeks warmed, but not in the way they usually did when people used to talk about my hair. He didn’t know over time I’d darkened to this shade. That as a kid I’d been adequately ginger enough to suffer the classroom ribbing that comes along with being at all different. It didn’t really matter anymore, and I hadn’t really known it’d still been a sore spot. What I did know was that Haithem’s compliment made me hot.
That despite all logic, I loved everything about him too.
“Do you have your makeup case?”
I nodded then went to the bathroom and collected the case of cosmetics not essential enough to make it into my travel bag, and set it on the table. Haithem opened the case and rummaged through the contents, coming up with a dark brown eyeliner.
“Come closer,” he said.
I stepped in, drawn by the rumble of his voice more than what he’d said. As always the simplest things he did, the most casual words, turned me inside out. Made me read carnal implications into the most mundane things. I don’t know where this part of me had hidden before I met him.
He popped the lid off the eyeliner.
I knew what he planned to do. Yet I still fought the urge to remove my clothes in the hopes this was some kinky new drawing game.
“Close your eyes.”
My core burst with heat.
Close my eyes?
Now that was not fair.
Something dirty had better happen. I shut my eyes. He held my chin, his thumb and forefinger gentle, but firm enough to remind me he touched me.
I breathed in.
His scent filled my mouth, close enough to taste his cologne. My head swirled, it hit me like speed, or acid. Quickening blood, pounding heart, and a wild electric energy zinging just under my surface. I had to wonder what they were putting in cologne these days.
The fingers on my chin squeezed.
I didn’t need to open my eyes to know he saw it—my desire. Betrayed by my open lips and shaking breath. Something pointy touched my eyebrow.
He wasn’t deterred. Wasn’t distracted by my lust.
But he knew it was there, his grip betrayed him.
I tried not to smile.
The pencil brushed across my brow in small sweeps. He paused, and then the point pressed against my other brow.
He stopped and rotated my face from side to side.
I opened my eyes. He watched my brows, a look of concentration biting grooves into his forehead. He placed the pencil into the case and pulled out an eye-shadow palette.
“I’m surprised you know your way around a makeup case so well.”
His attention moved from the case and he met my gaze.
There was no saving these panties now. I flooded. He’d been focused not unaffected. Now he didn’t conceal his desire. His expression a warning of the kind of fucking I had coming.
I gripped the edge of the table.
I remembered what happens when you make a man like Haithem wait. You’d think it’d be fast, rough punishment.
When I’d first met him that’s what I’d thought of him. That he was the kind of man that took what he wanted by any means. A man who punished those who didn’t comply with his demands. Not so, well kinda, he could be rough. He could be demanding. But the few times he’d had to wait?
Perhaps you could call it punishment.
Because anticipation made him all the more determined to enjoy every single pulsing moment. Made him focused. Made him draw things out, take me apart over and over until I didn’t know how I’d fit back together again. The man was a freak that way.
He was a freak in many ways. For one he’d just told me with a look more than most people could articulate in an entire conversation. More than most people would be bold enough to communicate to someone else. He opened the palette and swirled a thin brush in a mat brown shadow, then filled in my brows. I watched him. Watched the concentration he could muster play out in the tension on his jaw and the narrowing of his eyes.
He put the shadow and brush back in the case and stared at me again.
“Almost.” His fingers moved to the back of my neck.
Oh, thank god.
I shut my eyes and let my head fall back.
Air fanned my brows, tickling and electrifying my skin. His warm breath blew against my eyelids. I gasped, and gripped his T-shirt.
“Tell me your name.”
I blinked, the blunt beautiful features above me coming into focus. “Angel—”
“Not that one.”
My skin prickled. I knew what he wanted. We’d been through this enough times.
He walked into me, his hips touching mine, forcing me backwards. “And who are you, Lina?”
My back brushed the wall, the surface cool through the light fabric on my back.
I moistened my lips, my pulse fluttering so fiercely in my throat I almost expected to start spitting out butterflies. He’d coaxed me to say it before—the details of this first scenario.
My favourite of all the scenarios and plans we’d memorized.
Still the words made my tongue stick. I looked at him. Looked right into his midnight irises.
“I’m your wife.”
We hope you enjoyed this sample of Didn't You Promise, Book 2 in the Bad For You series, by Amber Bardan.
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