Shockingly powerful and utterly protective, the feeling nearly knocked Odir off his feet.
He crossed the expanse of the foyer between them in five long strides and took his brother in his arms in an embrace that he hoped would convey even just an ounce of what he was feeling. Grief, love, loss, pain and regret all swirled within him. And it felt...good. Good to embrace all these feelings without secrets and lies, without shame and anger.
His brother’s body—at first held as stiff as the tin soldiers they had once played with—relaxed into his hold, and Odir felt wet heat press against his closed eyes. Jarhan stirred and tried to say something. But Odir cut him off.
‘Can you ever forgive me?’ Odir whispered into his brother’s ear.
‘Can you forgive me?’
‘Already done, Jar.’ Using the childhood nickname brought a broken smile to his brother’s features. ‘Already done.’
There would be a time for words. That time would be soon, but it wasn’t now.
‘You’ll fly back with us after the press conference and we’ll talk. We’ll talk properly.’
‘Us?’ Jarhan queried.
Odir glanced over to Eloise who, unlike the two men, had failed to prevent the tears in her eyes from finding a trail down her cheeks. She brushed them aside and the smile that almost reached her eyes poked at the sensitive heart learning to beat again beneath his chest.
‘You will be by our side at the press conference.’
‘I’m not sure—’
‘I am,’ he interrupted.
He would begin his rule properly—united with his brother and his wife—no matter what might come in the future. Odir wanted this. Not for his country, not for his people, but for himself. And by God he would make it happen.
* * *
Jarhan left them to get ready for the press conference and Odir dismissed his guards. He directed Eloise to the central staircase at the back of the embassy that led to the private suites on the fourth floor. This was the lowest building in the possession of the Farrehed royal family, and in comparison to Heron Tower it was almost laughable, but he had always liked this embassy.
It wasn’t a palace, but he and Jarhan had looked forward to holidays here as children. Odir’s feet carved a pathway over the rich burgundy carpet that had intricate patterns he could still strangely remember from his childhood.
Somewhere in the distance of his memory he heard the laughter of children disappearing around one of the corners of the embassy, followed by his mother’s light call for both her children. He would never hear the sound of her voice again, nor that of his father’s. Both his parents were gone.
He wasn’t fool enough to think that he didn’t need to grieve. He was a prince—a king—not a madman. He just couldn’t allow himself the time—not yet. Maybe not even for some months.
Eloise shifted beside him, drawing him out of his thoughts and eyeing him with something suspiciously like compassion. He wondered how it was that she seemed to see right through him to his deepest thoughts. This woman he had not even seen in six months, to whom he had not made love until tonight—a woman who might be pregnant with his child.
For a moment it all felt too much. His father, Eloise, her father, his brother... It was all swirling around in his exhausted mind.
He felt Eloise take the card that had been given to him by Malik and saw her type the passcode written on the back into the electronic pad beside the door. She turned to him and smiled and the breath left his lungs—she looked...naughty, cheeky, impish. Not a look he remembered seeing.
‘I feel like I’m in a spy film.’
‘Well, I do know how to kill someone with my little finger,’ he replied, the response rolling off his tongue before he could censor it.
Her laughter was glorious. Uninhibited. And it was something that he wanted to hear again.
She pushed open the door and continued talking to him over her shoulder. There was something incredibly and oddly domestic about it, and he couldn’t tell if he’d walked into a dream or a nightmare.
‘It was good what you did with Jarhan,’ she said, disappearing into the room.
‘Kindness has nothing to do with it. He’s my brother.’