‘Would you? You used to put together the briefings for the foundation and you were always good at...’ He waved his hand in the air, as if communicating with the press was a frippery he could do without.

‘Ouch, that must have hurt!’ she said.


‘What? Offering you a compliment?’

A smile teased the corners of her mouth. She held out her hand for the briefing and sank into one of the suite’s chairs. As far away from the lobster as she could get.

She scanned the prepared speech as Odir placed a call to remove the offending foodstuffs from their suite.

‘Are you hungry? I suppose someone could always call for a pizza.’

She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. ‘Of course someone could call for a pizza. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. Just give me a minute and I’ll have this read.’

* * *

Odir watched Eloise, her long shapely legs hanging over the arm of the chair, bouncing up and down as she held his pen—a pen that had cost more than he was willing to admit—not so delicately between her teeth. Occasionally she retrieved it from the lips he’d spent the previous hour plundering and scored a few marks on the paper, scribbled something in the margin, then returned the pen to her teeth and carried on her perusal.

As he looked on it struck him that the scene was oddly domestic. Rather than feeling invaded, as if she’d intruded on his duties as he’d once imagined she might, he felt...good. It was good to have a second opinion. He could trust her in that. She certainly would not hold back—she hadn’t once since she’d arrived. Until they had come to talk about Jarhan.

‘I did know that you were allergic to seafood. And I hadn’t actually looked at what they’d delivered.’

He didn’t know what had prompted him to say such an inane thing. He just wanted her to look at him. He wanted to see the intensity of her gaze turned on him rather than the briefing.

‘As you said, if you’d wanted me out of the picture... Okay. I’m done.’

‘Already?’

‘It wasn’t that bad, Odir. It got a little unnecessarily wordy in the middle, and I’ve removed some of the repetition. Whoever wrote it...’

He felt his eyes narrow fractionally. It must have been that that tipped her off.

‘You wrote it?’ she asked with a raised eyebrow.

‘Don’t. I don’t need to hear any more. I was the one who said it could be better.’

‘Well. Like I said, it wasn’t that bad.’

There was a glint in her eye. One that he almost didn’t want to see go. But he’d meant what he’d said when he’d interrupted her in the shower. He wanted to know what was going on with Jarhan. Beneath his gaze the glint disappeared as she realised that he wasn’t going to let the matter drop.

‘I need to know.’

‘You can’t force him to tell you, Odir. It would kill him,’ she said quietly, putting the papers aside on the table.

‘Again with the dramatics, Eloise. If he can’t tell me, then you will. Just tell me,’ he commanded.

* * *

‘If I tell you, then I need your promise that you will at least hear me out.’

It was on the tip of Odir’s tongue to say ‘no’. To refuse such a promise. But there was something in Eloise’s eyes—a resolution of sorts, a determination. She was suddenly more regal than he had ever seen her and he knew—knew—what kind of queen she would make.

He could see the protectiveness she was showing for his brother in every line of her body. She was like a lioness, protecting her cub, and that was more than he had ever received from anyone in his living memory.

He supressed the thin spike of jealousy that pierced his chest and nodded his assent.

‘I want to hear it from your lips, Odir. Say you promise or I will not say one more word.’

He bit back his frustration and the desire to let out a rather undignified growl. ‘I swear it. I will not speak until you are done.’

‘You were supposed to be away that night, visiting Kalaran.’

He remembered. A sandstorm had prevented them from being able to access the only road that went across the border.

‘We didn’t know that you had been forced to turn back. Only that you had left. After dinner, Jarhan started drinking.’

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