Anger warred with confusion at the threat he had left her with, and she couldn’t quite shake the feeling that she had been backed into an invisible corner. Eloise knew—just knew—that Odir was about to do or say something that she would never be free from.
Slowly her addled mind began to make out more and more of the words her husband was saying in his powerful but enticing voice.
‘And it is because of you that healthcare in the outer reaches of Farrehed will be able to continue. My country, my people and my family give thanks every day that you are willing to do business with my country, and for how important those relationships are not only for the present but also for the future. For the future generations of my people and my family.’
He paused, and found Eloise within the crowd.
Why was he talking so much about his family? she wondered. Why had his tone grown so soft, almost conspiratorial?
‘A family,’ he continued, ‘that I am pleased to say will be increasing in number very soon.’
He held out an arm, gesturing towards her, and Eloise suddenly felt the weight of a thousand eyes, heavily and happily on her. The crowd erupted into a thunderous burst of applause. Words of congratulation and good wishes littered the air that had burst to life in the last few seconds.
And for the first time in her life Eloise forgot her practised smile, forgot how to play the game.
Because her husband had just told the world that she was pregnant.
August 1st, 23.00-00.00, Heron Tower
IT WAS ALL Eloise could do not to burst into hysterical laughter. In fact there were tears pressing against the back of her eyes—she could feel them—and she thought...hoped...they were from laughter rather than anything deeper.
Noticing curiosity begin to enter the faces of the people surrounding her, she slipped a smile over the shock she felt and turned to thank them for their good wishes.
Eloise prayed that they would take the flush of anger painting her cheeks as one of happiness. She was going to kill him. Literally. The moment he came within two feet of her—which, she judged, was just about all the space she would need to ensure that he would never be able to have children and not just imaginary ones.
She would do considerable damage to his Crown Jewels. And not the ones he wore on his head.
She turned her gaze back to the podium, where Odir had been standing only moments before, to see him slowly making his way through the crowds of people reaching out to slap him on the back, to shake his hand, congratulating him and his Princess on their good fortune.
The words he’d once said to her in anger, after incorrectly assuming she’d had an affair with his brother, now proved her salvation. She caught one glance from him and turned and fled—just as she had all those months before.
Knowing that there was no way he could get to her quickly without causing a scene, she stepped into the quiet corridor. Greeted with a silence that was more deafening than the noise the guests had created, she paused, not knowing where to go. One of Odir’s guards appeared at the end of the hallway and she felt another one behind her.
Eloise took one step forward and then two back. She felt utterly trapped. She had been on the brink of freedom. She had been on the brink of getting everything she had ever wanted. And now it had been cruelly ripped away by her husband with just one sentence.
Looking ahead of her at Malik, she knew she would not be able to find help from that quarter. Not this time. Odir had claimed his bride without even having a wedding night.
And wasn’t that the greatest irony of all? That he had declared his virgin bride pregnant with his child?
She saw a sliding door to the balcony that wrapped its way around the tall building and walked through it, instantly buffeted by a stiff breeze that cut through the confusion of the last few minutes and drenched her in night air.
Carefully designed heaters were placed near low-slung beige cotton-covered seats and sofas. Discreetly hidden canopies had been pulled back, out of the way of the strong wind that failed to take the heat out of the air. She walked to the furthest end of the balcony, gripping the metal railing, allowing the bite of cool metal to penetrate the numbness surrounding her.