The Billionaire's InnocentBy: Caitlin Crews
ZAIR AL RUYI walked onto the yacht like a nightmare come to life, and Nora Grant’s first stunned thought was that she was hallucinating. She had to be, because he couldn’t be here.
Not Zair. Not here.
But it was still him, and he was still there in the entryway—his security guards flanking him as he stole all the air from the intimately lit sunken lounge with the French sea glittering in the moonlight outside the windows, wearing a hard smile and shaking the smarmy host’s hand—after Nora clamped her eyes shut and then opened them again. After she pinched herself savagely on her own mostly bare thigh, hard enough to leave an immediate purple bruise.
He was still there, and he looked as relaxed as a man like Zair ever did—maybe more relaxed than Nora had ever seen him. He appeared to be utterly at his ease, in fact, like all the rest of the enormously powerful, extraordinarily well-connected men indulging in this very high-priced evening on an especially extravagant luxury yacht off the coast of Cannes, France.
You don’t know what you’re asking, little girl, he’d told her six years ago on what had been, until now, the worst night of her life. He’d been very certain. His dark green gaze had left marks. Swim back to the shallow end before you drown.
“Prostitutes and punters,” one of the other girls said beneath her breath from beside Nora, which diverted Nora’s attention from the entryway. “A match made in heaven.”
“Lucky us,” Nora replied with a smoky sort of laugh, the way she would if she really were the jaded party girl she was pretending to be tonight.
She expected that when she looked again, it would be some other dark-haired man prowling there in the doorway. That her mind had conjured up Zair because he was, truly, the worst person she could imagine seeing in a place like this, outside a member of her own family.
But when she turned back, he was still there. Still Zair al Ruyi, the bane of her existence. The only man who had ever turned her down, and emphatically at that. The last man she’d ever want to see under normal circumstances, which these were not. Still hideously, horrifyingly real and right there besides.
And because he was Zair, he was far more beautiful than the rest of the assembled punters no matter how much money or fame they had at their disposal. He was dangerously magnetic and impossible to look away from, as though he’d created his own vortex simply by entering the room. He wore one of his exquisitely crafted bespoke dark suits with his shirt collar open at the neck, exposing the strong column of his throat and the suggestion of his sculpted chest below. He took the drink one of the stewards handed him with a hint of his usual athletic, martially trained grace. He laughed that same velvet scrape of a laugh that had always made Nora’s stomach flip no matter how many times she told herself she disliked him, and tonight was no exception, despite the circumstances.
This really is a nightmare, Nora thought in deepening horror as one moment became a handful, because he didn’t appear to know she was there. And that meant he was in this place of his own volition. It meant he was a guest, come to sample the women assembled for the taking and pick out his favorite, just like all the rest of them.
He’s one of them.
And that meant Nora didn’t know Zair at all no matter how many years he’d been in and around her life, because no matter how much she’d claimed to hate him since that humiliating night after her eighteenth birthday party, she would have said it was impossible he could be involved in something like this.
She had said exactly that.
Gorgeous, mysterious, impossibly sexy Zair of the cool green eyes, jet black hair, and that body Nora knew was all lean muscle and fighting fit because he’d learned how to defend his country with his hands before he’d left it when he was eighteen. He couldn’t be one of these disgusting men, she thought then with no little desperation. He couldn’t, because he was one of her older brother Hunter’s best friends from college. He was the ambassador to the United States from the very wealthy sultanate in the Middle East his own much older half brother had ruled for the last decade. More than that, Nora had adored him. Right up until the night he’d rejected her so emphatically.