Her mind flew ahead through the years to see a marriage that was born of truth, honesty and love. Half torn between the present and an impossible future, she felt her heart leap and plummet at the same time, seesawing within her until she felt completely lost.
Her husband—the one in the present, not the one of her momentary fantasy—shifted in the night before her, and Eloise knew that if she didn’t take this first step—if she didn’t reach out for the future that she could see within her heart—then it would never happen. She would never have the love and the security she had spent a lifetime searching for.
But to share her greatest secret—one that was almost a part of her, as if she had been born with it, rather than before it—was a risk. If her father found out she would never get her inheritance and be able to help Natalia and all those the medical centre helped. And if her husband turned his back on her then she would be left with nothing.
‘Is that not sacrifice? To give up something for someone else?’
* * *
Odir watched as Eloise seemed to sag under the weight of a decision made, and he felt a stirring of satisfaction settle over his body as he knew one more secret was about to dissolve between them. Knew they were taking one more step together towards an agreement, towards the press conference. Towards everything he had wanted at the beginning of this day.
‘I can see how many people would think that I had lived a charmed life. My ambassador father... stationed in exotic places all over the world. Living a life full of money, security. I suppose some would even consider it glamorous. The first place I remember living was Bahrain. My memories are full of sunlight and white walls. I had a British nanny who came with us when my father was next stationed in Oman.’
Odir frowned, wondering if the controlling man he had first met had been indiscreet with one of his staff. That would account for the ridiculous legal binding he’d placed on his daughter’s trust fund. None of the countries surrounding Farrehed would put up with an ambassador so indiscreet.
Eloise had picked up on his thoughts.
‘No, it wasn’t a taste for young British nannies that defined my father. More a taste for oil-rich countries. I’m pretty sure that it still eats at him that he was never sent to the UAE.’
A small smile spread across her dark features, and Odir realised that Eloise was perversely happy about that.
‘He has the temperament for it, you see. Negotiation, confidence, a winning personality... And he’s able to exert his influence and will over others. He’s good at that. He consumes information at a rate of knots and excels at reading between the lines. A British ambassador once said you need “a quick mind, a hard head, a strong stomach, a warm smile and a cold eye” to deal in such countries. He has all that in spades.’
‘You don’t sound as if you admire those qualities.’
‘How can I when they were used against his own family? Used solely to get what he wanted and damn the consequences for anyone else.’
Eloise had never been a selfish person, and with hindsight Odir could see the holes in his belief that she had been unfaithful, that she was motivated purely by money. And he began to think that she wasn’t talking only about herself.
‘And your mother?’ he asked, putting his quick thinking to the test.
‘Yes. It was particularly hard for her.’
The tenor of her voice changed, began to unravel, as did the wall of secrecy around her family.
‘She was—is still—a beautiful woman. According to my father, they met at university, fell in love. It was a full Cinderella story, only in reverse. My mother was the youngest daughter in a crumbling old aristocratic family. And, whilst the hereditary peerage would go to her brother, my father had still married into minor British aristocracy. Not too bad for a boy from Coventry.’
At Odir’s apparent shock, she continued.
‘Oh, yes—as the son of a civil servant, he made it good.’
Her voice was cold and cynical, with no trace of pride whatsoever.
‘I believe my mother fell hard for him. He’s a very charming man when he wants to be.’
‘And when he doesn’t?’
‘He’s cold, ruthless, manipulative, and he will do absolutely anything it takes to get his hands on what he wants. ’