On the alert, she moved slowly toward the front of the house, and when the oak door came into view, she pulled up short. A man wearing sunglasses sat on the stairs.
Her heart stopped, and she swallowed the sudden tightness in her throat.
Since she saw him last, his face had haunted her dreams, and his presence evoked mixed feelings—excitement, regret, anger. He removed the sunglasses and tucked them into the pocket of his guayabera shirt. He looked like a man on vacation—relaxed, refreshed.
“Hello.” His low, raspy voice reverberated through her like an echo.
“What are you doing here?” Alissa asked, in a tone as frigid as an icicle.
“You would not speak to me in Paris, and since then you have not accepted any of my calls or returned my messages.” Despite living in France half his life, his accent leaned closer to his native Morocco.
Alissa squared her shoulders. “For the average person, that would be a hint.”
“I am not very good at taking hints.” He smiled, white teeth contrasting against olive-toned skin. The expression softened his features and annoyed her.
“No kidding,” she muttered, eyeing him warily. “It’s been a year.”
“I had some things to take care of first. Then I checked in with one of our mutual friends, who took pity on me and told me you had returned to St. Thomas a few days ago.”
She knew exactly who told him her business. Had to be Hunter since he and Hossam were friends, and she’d give him a piece of her mind the next time they spoke. She would never divulge to either man how many times she’d been tempted to call Hossam and bridge the divide between them.
Six feet tall with his black curly hair adorably too long, he had a wiry build and bore a striking resemblance to the Dutch actor of Tunisian descent, Marwan Kenzari. His unassuming smile and low-key appearance in light-colored linen clothing were nothing but camouflage. Hossam meant “sharp sword” or “cutting blade” or “sword of justice” in some traditions. Very apt, considering he killed for a living. He specialized in making the deaths look like accidents, but he was also a fighting machine, skilled in Muay Thai and Judo.
“You look beautiful,” he said softly.
Her chest tightened at the words, but she knew for a fact that she did not look beautiful. She smelled like outside—salt, sea, and air—and was therefore in desperate need of a shower. Her braided hair probably looked like a frizzy hot mess, and she wore no makeup.
“You wasted a trip. I’m not talking to you.”
“I can be very persuasive.”
She responded by putting one foot in front of the other to move past him, but his fingers curled around her wrist and brought her footsteps to a halt. His touch bled through her skin and into her bones. She gave her arm a sharp twist to free herself, but he held fast and pushed her against the outer wall in the alcove, crowding her with his imposing height.
He was too close now. She could see the irises of his sharp, dark eyes and smell the alluring scent of black currant and bergamot in the cologne he often wore.
“You know I can get out of this hold if I want to.”
“Go ahead and try,” he said with a soft smile. His fingers tightened fractionally, and they had a stare-off.
Most men were no match for her, but not someone with Hossam’s skill, whose strength and agility meant he could pin and hold her in place, no matter how hard she fought.
“Let me go, Hossam.” She let the hardness in her voice be a warning.
He sobered. “I cannot do that, habibti.”
Alissa stiffened. “Don’t start with that habibti nonsense. I’m not your darling or your beloved,” she said, shoving him off her.
As if to dispute her assertion, his gaze ran over her in an overtly possessive way that made her skin tingle and put her on edge.
“I did not come here to fight.”
“Then why are you here?” Alissa demanded.
His eyes softened. “I came for you.”
She smelled like heaven. She preferred handmade soaps, and the scent of one of her favorites—coconut and hibiscus—followed her out of the bathroom and clung to her skin. She owned the same fragrance in a body lotion, and the smell brought back memories of the scent of coconut and hibiscus left in his sheets whenever they had met up over the years.
“Are you hungry? There isn’t much here besides chips, cookies, and chocolate.” Hossam held a few of the options in his open palm.
“I’d just like to go to sleep.”
“As you can see, there is only one bed.”
The comment hung in the air between them for several seconds before he replaced the snacks in the small fridge.
“Yes, I see,” she finally said. “I know we have history, but I want to be clear—I’m not going to sleep with you. Let me rephrase that. I’m not going to have sex with you.”
Hossam walked slowly toward Alissa and noted how her body tensed. “As much as I would love to spread your lovely legs and bury myself inside you”—he heard her sharp intake of breath—“I did not invite you here to have sex. I invited you because you need a place to stay.”
She swallowed. “Okay,” she said throatily.
“Now, if things change and you decide you want to do more than sleep…” He let the suggestion dangle between them as he looked down at her, certain the desire curling in his belly reflected in his eyes.
“That won’t happen.”
He shrugged. “I had to try.”
Alissa rolled her eyes but smiled a little, and it was amazing how something so small could create a burst of happiness inside him. He had missed her smile. There was a time when he could make her smile and laugh with ease, and he hoped that could happen again.