The Sheikh's Rebellious Bride(8)

By: Cara Albany

Zoe's face paled slightly as if she hadn't expected him to agree so quickly.

They faced each other like two warriors caught in an unending battle.

When Zoe spoke her voice was firm and clear. "The last time we saw each other you said that if I ever got into trouble, that you promised you would rescue me from harm. Make me safe. Protect me."

Tariq nodded, knowing that he had indeed said those words.

Zoe continued: "You promised you would marry me. Didn't you?"

There was a long pause. Tariq drew in a deep breath and looked own at Zoe.

Had he made that promise?

Of course he had. He remembered making it; had never forgotten uttering those words.

Tariq gazed down at Zoe, a curious mixture of deeply felt attraction and unease sweeping through his body.

She looked so beautiful, he wanted to sweep her up in his arms and take possession of her lips, consume her entire being. But, he was held back by the intense trepidation that held him rigid, reluctant to respond.

Tariq nodded. "I remember saying that. How could I forget?"

"Then, I'm asking you to keep that promise," Zoe said.

Tariq felt the floor shift beneath his feet. Every nerve in his body was vibrating, muscles tightening, his breath becoming shorter by the second. Why did he feel like this? His heart was thudding as he took a step forward, but Zoe matched his movement by taking one, hesitant step back. He frowned at her.

"I need you, Tariq," Zoe said. "I need you to keep that promise. If you do that, then the company will be safe. You will be in a position to guarantee the finances and my father's legacy will continue," she said.

Tariq's eyes narrowed. "And us?"

Zoe swallowed nervously, her gaze determined. Defiant. "We will marry, as you promised. But, it will be strictly a marriage of convenience."

Tariq felt his jaw drop open. This woman had such gall, he thought. How could she stand there and demand that he marry her, just because he had blurted out a rash promise in a moment of utter madness?

"What do you mean?" he demanded.

"I will become your wife. For one year. And then, we can go our separate ways. You will have kept your promise to me and I will have preserved my father's legacy."

Tariq sucked in a heavy breath, filling his lungs, feeling the maelstrom of emotion spinning inside. He glanced up at the roof of the stables, seeking guidance, straining to comprehend what was happening. Had she come all this way to make this demand of him? Was she making fun of him?

Tariq gazed at Zoe. No. She was deadly serious. He could see that in those unwavering green eyes. There was such promise in that gaze, a deep well of passion he remembered from long ago. Could he keep such a promise? What would one year of marriage to Zoe be like? Images floated into his mind; passionate, irresistible visions that clawed at him, tempting him. By keeping his word, he would have Zoe to himself. He'd get a second chance to fix the mistakes that had tormented him these past two years. Wounds could be healed.

Tariq sighed and narrowed his eyes. "If you are my wife, then you will be so in every way possible," he declared slowly and with heavy emphasis to make absolutely sure that she understood what he expected.

Zoe's eyes blazed suddenly. In spite of himself, that fiery look merely ignited even more desire in his loins.

"No! I will not do that. Those are my terms. I will be your wife in name only. In exchange for that, you get to keep your integrity. I think that's a fair exchange."

"That's outrageous," he roared.

"No more than you breaking a sacred promise, Tariq," she countered. "Am I worth that sacrifice?"

Tariq sighed. She was partly right, of course. Even if no-one else knew about Tariq's promise to Zoe, he would know. It would torment him. He knew that.

Tariq turned away from Zoe and paced the earth covered stable floor. He glanced at the horses in their stalls. Was he as trapped as those animals? Had Zoe used Tariq's promise to confine him like a broken stallion? He turned and gazed deep into her eyes. She met his gaze, still defiant, still determined. He had to admire her spirit. It must have taken a huge amount of courage to come here and do this.

"I need time to think this over," Tariq said.

Zoe nodded and her shoulders softened with visible relief. "Of course. I understand," she said.

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