Felicia awoke to his kiss and then drowned in the sheer pleasure of being made long, slow love to.
‘Merry Christmas,’ Leander said afterward.
Of course, it was!
‘Merry Christmas,’ Felicia said, and stretched and smiled. It was a very merry Christmas. In fact, it was already the happiest she had ever known.
Leander had always looked amazing in the morning, but he looked particularly so now. Unshaven and looking down on her, it would, Felicia thought, be all too easy to spend the day in bed.
‘You’ve been working out,’ Felicia said, and ran a hand down his toned arm.
‘Al-Zahan isn’t exactly Manhattan,’ Leander said. ‘Until the new hotel opens there isn’t a lot to do at night, and so…’
While the Al-Zahan nightlife was somewhat tamer, Leander knew he’d rather used that as an excuse not to move on from Felicia this past year. He’d told himself that turning thirty might be the reason he no longer wanted to burn the candle quite so brightly at both ends. Yet, he’d willingly burn it every night and again in the morning if Felicia were there with him.
And if Felicia were there, then those long work lunches would be a thing of the past, too!
‘What’s it like there?’ Felicia asked.
‘It’s already amazing,’ Leander said. ‘It’s going to be more so soon. The hotel is rose-gold colored, like the palace. It’s a great place for a holiday…’ Leander said. ‘Escape winter.’
He told her about the desert and the romantic getaways there as he drew circles with his fingers on her stomach. ‘I think that you’d love it,’ he told her, and then kicked himself as a little surge of tension shot through her. He wondered if he was hinting too hard, especially since he was due to head back there tomorrow.
Only it wasn’t about that.
Felicia wasn’t well traveled like Leander. She had never been out of the New York City and didn’t even have a passport, let alone any leave owing.
Hearing him speak felt at times as if he were describing a dream, but then she’d crash back to earth. And Leander must have felt the sudden change in her because he was climbing out of bed. ‘Where are you going?’
‘To have a shower, and then I’ve got a couple of work calls to make, and then...’ He hesitated.
Felicia guessed he was about to suggest that then they would speak, but he didn’t. ‘Have you got a lot of plans for today?’ he asked.
Felicia nodded. ‘You?’
‘Nothing I can’t rearrange.’
‘Don’t you have to be with family?’
‘Let’s speak in a bit,’ Leander suggested. ‘Why don’t you go back to sleep for a while?’
Felicia would have loved to go back to sleep, except she dared not. It was already after eight and her mom was calling at ten, and after that she had to head into work.
She just could not imagine speaking with her mom in front of Leander. Their calls were generally strained, but at times her mom could be downright hostile.
The knot of anxiety that lived like a host in her chest suddenly flared, and Felicia sat up in the bed and turned on the side light. For the first time since her arrival she looked around the bedroom and took in her surrounds. The silk wallpaper and the heavy walnut furniture were familiar from earlier times spent here. So too was the heavy carafe of water by the bed, from which she poured a drink.
Yes, her surrounds were familiar, and so too were the problems she faced—Felicia simply didn’t know how to tell him about her present, let alone her past. How could a man who kept an apartment in Manhattan, which he currently barely graced, even begin to understand that she had to go into work today?
Or that her mom, a repeat offender, was serving life.
Felicia simply didn’t have the strength to paint over her lies, and neither did she have the courage to admit the truth.
And so she ran.
Well, Felicia didn’t run as such. Instead, while he was in the shower she pulled on her underwear and gown and, hearing the taps turn off, she made her quiet way out of the suite.
Regret was present even as she closed the main door.
And near the elevators tears threatened to choke Felicia as she passed a smiling maid wheeling a champagne breakfast toward Leander’s suite. Oh, she knew it was headed for his suite because between the silver cloches there was a huge bouquet of burnt-orange tulips wrapped with a golden bow.
Oh, she wanted to run back there, to plead for the maid to discreetly let her in, but it was too late to go back now.
And anyway, Felicia told herself as she huddled in a cab, nothing had changed.
Her problems remained the impossible same.
‘You could always come for dinner…’ Leander said as he came out of the shower. He was trying to keep his voice casual, for he knew that any talk of family always made Felicia run.
Then he realized she wasn’t in the bedroom—breakfast must already be here. Mindful that burnt-orange tulips in the middle of winter might take a while to arrange, he’d ordered them while Felicia had slept.
But then he saw that her gown was no longer on the chair, and the realization hit that Felicia was gone.
On Christmas Day she had walked out on him.
‘Would you like me to set up, sir,’ the maid offered as he stepped into the lounge.
It took a few seconds before Leander could answer. ‘No.’ With supreme effort he remembered his manners. ‘No, thank you.’
Mimosas, Leander soon found out, were really no fun on your own. In fact, rather than maudlin, they made him cross.
Forget about her, he told himself.
Even when they’d been together, still she hadn’t really let him close.
‘“Oh, my apartment is being renovated.”’ Leander mimicked her voice as he paced his apartment.
He knew nothing about her.
She was evasive as to where she lived, where she worked. He knew only that she worked for some fashion house…
Another conversation—when he’d suggested meeting the other’s family—flashed to mind. “I’d love you to meet them, but my parents are away for fall.”
She’d moved so seamlessly into his life but had never allowed him into hers.
And it had driven him wild.
Hot in bed, cold in certain conversations, Leander recalled every instance that she had shut him out and told himself he was far better off without Felicia. He reminded himself how, when they’d been together, she’s been so secretive, so unforthcoming with details, that he’d actually considered there might be someone else.
That was it, Leander decided—Felicia could even be married.
But then he remembered that she’d been a virgin when he’d met her. She’d been so nervous yet trusting and wanting, and the memory hit like a fist.
Now came maudlin.
And it was only because it might be her that, when it rang, he picked up the bedside phone.
Only it wasn’t Felicia; instead, it was Khalid, who he’d texted from the en suite, hoping to arrange a few days off to buy him and Felicia some time.
‘It’s not a great time,’ Khalid said.
‘Yeah, I forgot it was Christmas when I messaged you, but…’
‘I don’t do Christmas, Leander,’ Khalid said. ‘I meant that the schedule is incredibly tight.’
Leander was about to tell him it didn’t matter…
Except Felicia did.
‘I’ve been putting in eighteen hours days for the best part of a year, Khalid. I’m taking some time off.’
There was a long stretch of silence before Khalid spoke. ‘Very well.’ He did not sound pleased. ‘Anything else?’
Leander could hear the sarcasm in the sheikh prince’s words, but he chose to ignore it. ‘Actually, yes. The woman you were speaking with last night…’
‘No,’ Leander said. ‘Her friend Felicia.’
‘I don’t know her.’
Nor did Leander.
But then Khalid spoke. ‘I don’t think she’s a friend of Naomi’s.’
‘I’m certain she is,’ Leander said.
Famous last words.
‘No,’ Khalid refuted. ‘I think she arranged Naomi’s gown. That’s right, she works in retail…’
‘Does she now.’
It was, Leander decided, time to solve the mystery of Felicia.
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