Nausea rolled through her as she realised that she was actually considering his offer. Never had she dreamed that there would be anything he could say to make her consider returning to that life—the life she had fled from.

She took a breath and closed her eyes. Count to ten. Always count to ten before making a decision.


* * *

It was as if the world had stopped turning. He could see it in her eyes. He could see that she was about to say the one word he needed to hear.

And then the tension was broken in an instant with three little knocks on the door. He could have kicked something. Hard.

‘Enter,’ he commanded in a tone that implied nothing of the sort.

His aide peered round the door.

‘Your speech, My—Sir,’ the aide hastily corrected himself. ‘It is time.’

Odir cursed out loud and his aide looked shocked. Odir had not realised they had spent so long in the suite. Once again his wife was distracting him from his duty. Just as she had done during their engagement. His preoccupation with her—his determination to forge a kind of relationship that wouldn’t replicate his parents’—had spectacularly backfired, and prevented him from seeing the damage his father was doing.

He was going to have to pay more attention. Because he didn’t have time for mistakes. He hadn’t expected Eloise to jump at his offer, but still... There had been something unsettling about her response. It hadn’t quite rung true. If she was just after money there would have been something like victory, like avarice in her eyes... Not what he had seen—what he didn’t want to put a name to.

Because if he did it might just undo all his carefully made plans.

Without waiting to see if she would follow, Odir strode from the room and entered the lift. He felt some small satisfaction when Eloise stepped in just behind him and took her place beside him.

The silence between them held all the way back to the function room and Odir used every second of it to curse his father for more things than one, and to curse his own youthful stupidity.

He had agreed to the convenient marriage laid out by both their fathers. A marriage that would benefit all concerned.

But that hadn’t been what he’d wanted once he’d met Eloise.

Perhaps it was because they had met before she’d known who he was. That day in the stables. Had she slipped under his defences then? The first woman not to treat him with calculating looks and speculation? She had turned her quick-witted tongue against him, mocked him as no one had done before. Perhaps it was then that his desire for her had flamed brightest—before he had discovered his father’s wishes and her identity.

Or perhaps it was when he’d thought he’d seen the relief in her eyes as he’d approached her with his offer. One that would welcome a relationship between them.

He’d wanted his future to be more than a cold arrangement but less of an intense obsession such as his father had felt for his mother. He’d thought the practicality of that would safeguard him.

But he’d been wrong.

The evening of his wedding the kiss they’d shared had been incendiary. One he’d so desperately wanted to explore that when his aide had approached him, panicked with the news that might throw Farrehed into war, Odir had paused.

For one moment he’d actually considered letting the world go to hell, because all he’d wanted was to lose himself in his new bride. To luxuriate in the sensual promise still heavy on his tongue from her lips.

And in that horrible moment he’d known the madness his father had felt for his mother.

The fact that his father had used his son’s wedding day to disguise his invasion into Terhren was unspeakable. But the greater betrayal was Odir’s, because he should have known better.

So he’d left his bride waiting for him in his palace suite and taken a helicopter with a handful of aides, leaving the rest to follow the next day. And he had embarked on three weeks of intense, secret negotiations with the Sheikh of Terhren.

And when he’d returned? He’d done everything in his power to shake the hold of their attraction. To ensure that he would never be tempted to disregard his duty again. He’d thrown himself into trade negotiations, soothing the effects of his father’s hurts and betrayals, and developed the infrastructure that would make Farrehed great again.

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