But if he was wrong...if he had misjudged her...
He had coerced her into coming here, demanded without explanation, without consideration of any feeling on Eloise’s part, that she resume her wifely duties, bear his heirs, just so he could be King, just so he could get what he needed to secure his country’s future...
What did that make him? If he could so badly mistreat his wife, what would he do to his country?
The ground shifted beneath his feet and his stomach lurched. But it wasn’t the ground. It was his wife. She was beginning to stir in his arms. Arms that were still circled around her slim frame as if his life depended on it.
He slowly disentangled himself from her—and he hated the small part of him that wanted to do more than just put physical distance between them. That was a coward’s way out, and he was not a coward.
* * *
Eloise glanced up at her husband, the light from a pale moon revealing his features under its touch. Thoughts were crossing his mind—hundreds of them, showing little glimpses of how he felt. She could see doubt mar the skin over his high cheekbones. She could tell that he was beginning to question his belief of her betrayal and knew that she should feel in some way vindicated.
She waited for it—the slow spread of satisfaction that she had wanted so desperately in the past six months.
But it didn’t come.
The flavour of victory was absent, because the only thing she could taste was Odir—a heady mix of spice and salt that turned bitter the moment she saw what lay in his eyes.
‘Why didn’t you tell me? What the hell was that kiss with Jarhan about?’ he demanded, stepping back and thrusting his legs into the trousers he had so carelessly ripped off before.
And in an instant her heart was no longer beating with euphoria. The pressure she felt in her chest was not the same as the feel of his palm pressing between her breasts, and the confusion of the two feelings mixed within the same thought was too much to bear.
Secrets. Years of keeping so many secrets welled within her and a familiar anxiety spread out into her lungs. She turned her head aside, unable to bear the weight of his scrutiny, slowly drawing her dress about her, covering her nakedness.
‘Have you not spoken to Jarhan about it?’
‘Never. The only way—the only way he and I could move on from that...that night, was to agree never to speak your name between us.’
‘That is a shame,’ Eloise replied, feeling the bitter sting of his familiar anger. ‘It is not something that I am able to discuss.’
She pulled herself up to sit on the table and watched him pace the room.
‘It is not my secret to tell, Odir,’ replied Eloise, hating herself for the beseeching tone that had crept into her voice. For it was the truth. It was really not her secret to tell.
‘And just what exactly is that supposed to mean?’
She arched an eyebrow, retreating behind the practised façade that took longer for her to assume than before. ‘I am not in the habit of repeating myself, Odir.’
‘I can’t believe this. Even if you didn’t sleep with Jarhan, you still have more loyalty to him than to your own husband!’
‘Jarhan earned my loyalty. He spent time with me—came to see me, talked to me. He was the only person in that palace who even seemed to know or care that I was there. Your father locked himself away in his rooms, and your staff were—’
‘Locked away with me,’ he finished.
‘Jarhan also needed someone to talk to. Together we worked on the very same outreach programme you have spent this evening lauding as if it were your own. My father and mother left Farrehed as quickly as you did after our wedding. Jarhan was my only companion.’
‘This is getting us nowhere. I’ve explained why those two months were so difficult.’
‘Yes, today you have. Today we’ve spoken more than in all the time we were married. Does that not strike you as odd? That it takes talk of divorce and a death to bring us together?’
The words were out of her mouth before she could recall them. But her husband didn’t seem to notice.
‘You can hardly claim to be innocent of what was expected of us when we married.’
‘You think I had a choice? That I could have denied my father’s demand? Did you think that it was the height of my ambitions to marry a prince?’