In future, he would make it clearer to her that she was to arrive at these events before eleven, decided His Royal Highness Javad Shirin, first in line for the throne of the republic of Ulai. Either before eleven, or she was to text him the reason why, along with her estimated time of arrival. After scrolling through his messages again and finding nothing to explain her absence, he dropped his BlackBerry into his vest pocket and scanned the room.
The most beautiful women in the country gazed at him with dark eyes. A famous American dance diva sang her latest number one hit on the stage, keyboards and electronic beats thundering behind her. Strobe lights and smoke machines that wouldn't have been out of place in the hottest night spot in Ibiza filled the club. A dozen people had complimented him on the arrangements for this intimate party, not knowing that half of them had been Arya's idea. Her hand was everywhere he looked tonight, from the dry ice smoke to the laser lights to the special cocktails. In fact, the whole party had been her idea. She'd suggested that the young European prince visiting the country would appreciate the club atmosphere before the formal events that started tomorrow.
He knew he should relax and enjoy the gathering, or at least feel satisfied at his impeccable planning, but there was Arya to think of. If she did not arrive in fifteen minutes, he would have to contact her father. No, ten.
He found an empty spot on the banquette seating that lined the walls, one that allowed him full view of the entrance at the bottom of the stairs leading from the street to the below-ground club. It happened to place him next to an attractive blonde he had not yet met. She took one look at his three piece grey suit, the only one in the club, and hesitated. He turned from her before she attempted to engage him.
He did appreciate the irony that the woman he waited for was quite ordinary in her beige dresses and plain shoes. Her own sisters outshone her as the sun does the moon. Yet something about Arya made other women seem... He struggled for the right word. False. That was it. Next to her, they all seemed false.
He checked his watch again, the one item of clothing he never removed. It was nearly midnight. Normally, she and her father arrived early, just as they departed early. Unless her father's political machinations required staying later. Her sisters came and went as they pleased, of course. With her entrancing sisters near, he had hardly noticed her in their shadows when her father had returned from his service as Ulai's ambassador to Canada several months ago.
Too bad she was such a mouse. Still, he should introduce her to a rich man who would treat her well. Make some arrangement where she would be at these events for the rest of his life. Where he could talk to her, in the way they had been doing for the last few months. An old husband would let her go her own way and then conveniently leave her a widow, free to do as she chose. He could sweeten the pot for her future husband if her own charms weren't obvious. Perhaps old Sheikh Zakharias. Wasn't he confined to a wheelchair now? She wouldn't even have to put up with his touch. That would be perfect.
He did, however, wish to dance with her. He had no idea why it was so important to him, or why her continual refusal bothered him to the point where he nearly permitted it to show on his face. Perhaps tonight, she would relent. If she ever arrived.
When the other woman walked in, he turned away, irritated. But then he noticed half—the male half—of the room's attention was now on the entrance to the club.
He took a second look, and discovered why. That dress, or the lack of it. If you could even classify the scrap of fabric as any kind of garment. She wore nothing but her own skin and a few well-placed sequins that dazzled in the pulsing red and blue lights. No woman should wear such a thing in public. In the bedroom, he had to admit, it would be most suitable.
He was in motion instantly. He had to get to her, escort her out of here before she created some kind of incident. This was an informal party to welcome the visiting crown prince of the minor European nation of Orméa before the formal elegance of tomorrow's official reception in the palace ballroom, but he would have no scandals attached to the royal house of Ulai. The alcohol flowed so freely that he didn't trust several of the too-bright male eyes aimed her way.
He knew what those men were thinking. The same thoughts marched through his mind.
Getting to her first had another advantage. He could perhaps get her phone number before another man had the same idea.
As he moved toward her, a feeling of horror grew in his chest, the pain and shock intensifying as he stepped nearer. Her profile was achingly familiar. He knew that shy tilt of her chin, the scarlet blush that spread over her cheekbones as she became aware of the interest she'd earned from the men in the room.