Perhaps they were not so different from each other after all.
August 2nd, 05.00-06.00, Farrehed Embassy
ELOISE PEERED THROUGH the blacked-out windows of the luxurious limo that glided through the quiet streets. The last time she had been out in London had been years ago, when she and Natalia had celebrated the end of university. Then the city had been packed full of drunk revellers, pouring out of nightclubs, but now bulletproof tinted glass protected her from roads empty save for cleaners and refuse collectors.
London felt a million miles away from Farrehed. The dark stone slabs of Fleet Street rose up about them—so different from the bright sandstone of Hathren, Farrehed’s main city. And equally different from the neat, structured streets of Zurich.
Eloise felt a strange, unworldly nostalgia rise within her. Something that spoke of home. Or was it simply because beside her in the limo was the solid, silent presence of her husband? She couldn’t tell any more. She was so very tired. They both were.
The silence between them filled up all the space in the elegant car, all the space in her heart.
* * *
Odir watched Eloise, her face pressed up against the glass like a child taking in new sights. There was something different about her now. That evening she had not been the woman he’d married. He wondered once again that he had ever thought her to be made of porcelain, made of a shell that held nothing beneath it other than cold calculation.
When she had first entered the room at Heron Tower she had been filled with energy, determination. It had vibrated under her skin, lending it a rosy colour that alluded to life, to fire and passion. But now... Now she was somewhere in between. The cool pallor of her skin was nothing like the fine white marble that filled the halls of the palace in Farrehed, but it was also something very different from the soft and smooth warm silk he knew she could feel like.
It was as if she had lost something—withdrawn from him somehow—and he didn’t like it. Odir hated silence at the best of times, but right now it reminded him of the shroud that had descended over the palace after his mother’s death. As if all the life and the energy of the country had died with her.
‘The press conference will happen at eight a.m.,’ he said, even though they both knew when it was. He would have said almost anything to break the silence between them.
‘Then we will travel back to Farrehed for the state funeral.’
She nodded again.
‘I’ll be incredibly busy over the next few months, and I want you to know that it’s not because of you. It is because of what my country needs.’
Her quiet acceptance only frustrated him more. Especially as it was delivered in such a way that made it sound as if he were delivering a punishment rather than an order of events.
‘When all this settles down I promise you we will find a way to bring your friend to Farrehed and we will find peace...between us.’
‘I understand,’ she repeated, still looking out of the window at the streets of London as they twisted and turned down the roads that would lead them to the embassy.
Something like panic gripped him—concern that maybe she wasn’t well.
‘Are you okay?’
‘You must be tired. You’ve been awake since seven a.m. yesterday.’
‘Has it been that long?’
The detached tone of her voice, so very different from the sounds made by the woman who had cried his name only two hours before, pierced him somewhere within his chest.
‘Time waits for no woman,’ she said, turning to him with a small smile. ‘Not even a queen.’
Odir released his hold on the overhead handrail before he broke it. He considered kissing her again. He was desperate to do something—anything—to bring back the heat, the fire that had been there earlier that evening.
It had reminded him of when he had first met Eloise. She’d been so full of light... But on reflection he could see now that that light had been reserved for the times when her father hadn’t been there.
Odir had taken her acceptance of his proposal for granted—as a side effect of their fathers’ close relationship. He’d somehow managed to convince himself it was what she wanted. But now, in his mind, he ran over their conversations during their engagement—what he’d taken for shared confidences—and saw only polite exchanges, not really digging deeper into the woman he had desired with a need that had almost undone him, undone his country.