The sound of the outdoor heaters came from behind her as Odir’s guards lit them one by one. She hated that he was so comfortable with their presence that he was ready and willing to have such a personal conversation with them present. The kind of personal conversation they should have had before she had left for Switzerland—before he had busied himself with his country’s needs.
Before they were married.
She heard the sounds of the glass door sliding shut behind them and knew that they were alone.
‘I want to know what you mean. About sacrifice.’
She smiled ruefully into the night air.
‘I can’t tell you.’
‘More secrets?’ he said, but this time without the sting of his previous statements.
‘No. I literally can’t tell you.’
He seemed amused by this, and somewhere deep down within her a small sense of humour—ironic humour, admittedly—rose within her. It tainted in a tone that sounded strange even to her own ears.
She shrugged. ‘There’s a non-disclosure agreement binding my access to my grandfather’s trust fund.’ She watched as her quick-minded husband absorbed this. ‘My father put it on the trust the day I agreed to marry you. If I break the agreement then everything I have worked for these last six months will be for nothing. Everything.’
‘I am your husband. I am your King.’
‘You’re above the law?’ she asked.
‘Yes,’ he said arrogantly, as if she should have known that. ‘Here, I am. And as my wife so are you. Members of the royal household are immune from arrest in civil proceedings. Of course if you really do want that divorce then you will not be part of the royal household any more...’
He was taunting her, but not with malice. If she had not known her husband so well she might have thought there was a trace of that humour she had seen glimpses of earlier—traces of the humour that she remembered from the period of their engagement.
But still, she wondered if Odir was right. Perhaps, once again, she had simply taken her father’s words as the truth, as gospel. Perhaps her father had known that she wouldn’t question it. Had it only been a piece of paper that she had signed, she might more easily have given in. But it wasn’t. It was the promise she had made to her mother.
‘I don’t like to break my promises,’ she said.
‘But what of the promise you made to me?’
‘It’s not that easy, Odir.’
She had not once spoken about her family. To anyone. But the choice not to speak now wasn’t out of habit—it was about so much more than that.
‘How do I know you won’t use this against me to get what you want? To keep me by your side?’
‘Is that not sacrifice? To give up something for someone else?’
‘No,’ she argued. ‘It’s not about sacrifice. It’s about giving away a piece of my soul to a man who views love as something to be feared, something to be avoided at all costs.’
‘Love makes you weak, Eloise. Perhaps you know something of that?’
‘I know that it’s a sentiment you hold about you as if it were your very last defence. But I’m not so sure that you are right about it.’
She looked at her husband through the veil of secrets that had built up between them—some her fault, some his—and even though they disagreed she began to feel as if there was something between them. Something woven in the darkness of this night. Something that had been missing from their interaction even during their engagement.
Odir might be slightly misguided—zealous even—in his pursuit of ensuring the success of his country, but she knew, despite her accusations, that he was an honourable man. And, despite what he thought, he did love his people, he did love his country. He loved his brother, too, or he would have turned his back on Jarhan the moment he’d thought him guilty of pursuing his wife, or the moment he’d discovered his brother’s secret.
He was bound by love in every decision he made, in every act he did for his country. What would it be like to have that turned on her? Turned in her favour, for once?
Without realising it, Eloise had conjured up another image of what their marriage might have been like—could be like now.