‘You once said that we could be more than our fathers—that we didn’t have to follow the manipulative paths they once had. But you, of them all, are the worst. Because they didn’t lie about their intentions. So, no,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘No, I won’t return to your side. So you’ve told the world, Odir, that I am pregnant with your child? I don’t care. I don’t care what they say about me.’
And she realised that was the truth. She hadn’t lied to him when she’d told him she’d changed. She had found herself in Zurich and that had endowed her with a sense of self and a strength that even the Prince of Farrehed couldn’t take away.
‘You can take your lies, your money, and stick it up your...your royally wiped arse.’
‘My royally wiped...? Are you kidding me right now?’
‘No, Odir. I’m serious. Very serious. I will have that divorce. No matter what you do or say.’
* * *
Out across the river Big Ben began its peal, chiming the twelve strikes of midnight. Each tone crashed through him like an embodiment of impending doom.
‘No, habibti. You won’t. Because you can’t.’
Each chime prevented him from taking a breath. Each chime punctuated the air between them just as her words had.
‘Why do you need this so badly, Odir? Why can’t you let me go?’
She was always going to ask him the question, and he was always going to have to answer it.
There was an innocence, a wealth of curiosity in her words, because she knew nothing of what she was asking. But he would answer her. Just as he would answer the questions of the rabid press in eight hours’ time.
‘Because, Eloise, at seven this morning, Swiss time, my father died. I am now King of Farrehed.’
August 2nd, 00.00-01.00, Heron Tower
FOR THE SECOND time in as many hours Eloise felt as if the world had turned on its axis and everything she’d thought she knew, thought she could trust in, was gone.
‘Dead? How can that be?’ she asked.
Despite her feelings for him, it seemed utterly impossible to her that Abbas, King of Farrehed, was gone. He had been so full of grit and determination. Even if that determination had often pointed in the wrong direction.
Odir’s father had seemed like an indestructible force of nature—not one who would ever leave this world. She knew that Odir and his father had had a difficult relationship. One that had been fraught with undercurrents she had barely been privy to. Odir had never discussed his father with her. Not once. Even before their marriage.
‘Three weeks ago he suffered a stroke and fell into a coma. The doctors tried everything they could,’ Odir said, blocking the painful memories of the last time he had spoken with his father and instead focusing on the words the doctor had shared with him over the phone only eighteen hours before.
He looked at his wife and suddenly wanted to reach out to her. Offer comfort at her obvious distress. And then he realised how ridiculous that was. Because surely it was he who should need comfort? He who should be in distress? But he searched his soul and all he felt was numb. A numbness that had descended long before his argument with his father three weeks before.
‘Why have we not heard about this? What are you doing in England? You should be in Farrehed.’
Her voice peppered him with the questions and accusations he had aimed at himself over and over again that day. But discussions with his brother, with his closest advisors, had all reached the same conclusion. For him to return to Farrehed and assume the throne—without contention from the tribes on the outskirts of Farrehed, from the neighbouring countries who were still trying to cash in on the secret deals his father had done—he would very much need Eloise by his side. To present a traditional, perfect royal family picture.
After all these years and everything he had done to prove himself—everything he had done in the name of bettering his country—it was still absolutely nothing, almost insignificant, without this woman on his arm.
‘I will return to Farrehed later today. With my Queen beside me.’
And finally he could see, dawning on his wife’s beautiful face, the true implications of this news. The true need he had for her to be by his side.