‘We have company,’ he said, in response to her raised eyebrow.
‘So I gathered.’
‘And by “company” I mean about twenty people crammed into what should be considered a luxurious and sizeable living room. They seem to be going to war using technology and documents.’
‘We’ll handle it,’ she said.
There was something different about her. Something he didn’t want to question. He knew they would handle it. They had to.
‘I have to get dressed.’
‘That’s a shame,’ she replied.
And, again, he couldn’t quite fathom the almost flirtatious nature of her tone.
‘Shame or not, it has to be done. Hair and Make-Up need the room.’
‘You’re having your hair and make-up done?’
‘No, Eloise, you are.’
He regretted his words the instant that warm smile disappeared from her features.
He went to the wardrobe and pulled out the suit that had been waiting for him there since yesterday afternoon. Right next to the hanger that contained her dress. It had been hastily vetted by the PR team and now he wondered whether it might be a bit loose, considering the weight Eloise had lost in the last few months.
He ruthlessly pushed that thought from his mind. Right now he needed to focus on what was going on next door.
He stepped into his boxers and pulled on the suit trousers, aware that Eloise’s eyes never once left his body. He felt a strange heat enter his bones, lying thick in his veins, and forced back the desire that began to throb within him.
‘I won’t...’ He struggled to find words, strangely tongue-tied before his wife. ‘I won’t have much time for you today. After the press conference we’ll be moving to the airfield from where we’ll fly to Farrehed.’
* * *
If anything could cut through the fog of desire building between them, Eloise thought, that was it.
She knew it was time to put on the mask. That she would wear the dress that she had noticed hanging in the wardrobe next to the suit her husband would be wearing. A dress that had been picked out for her most probably before she’d even left Zurich.
But where once she had thought that this was the part she hated, Eloise now steeled herself. She wanted to be there, standing beside her husband when he made his announcement to the world’s press. Wanted to support him in this. So she would wear that dress the same way she would continue to wear his ring. As his bride and as his Queen.
She walked over to the closet and took out the dress covered by a protective zipped bag. Hanging on the same hanger was underwear and hosiery, and she felt a flush of embarrassment knowing that it hadn’t been Odir who had picked them out for her in a passion-fuelled desire to see her in them. It would have been some faceless member of staff—possibly someone sitting now on the other side of that door—who had picked out suitable clothes for Odir’s press conference.
The dress would have been weighed up, possibly even polled, to see what people’s reactions would be. It wouldn’t be overtly sexy. It would probably cover her arms to her wrists, with no hint of cleavage, but nor would she look like a prim Victorian matron.
The irony wasn’t lost on her. She couldn’t look too appealing, but nor could she look cold and aloof. It would be the Goldilocks of dresses and she would have to be the Goldilocks of queens.
‘I’ll get changed in the bathroom.’
‘I’ll be next door when you come out. Should I tell Hair and Make-Up—?’
‘Send them in. I’ll not be long.’
Her name sounded strange on his tongue this time, almost regretful, and the sound tugged on her heart and turned her around.
‘It’s okay. I understand.’
She couldn’t work out why that didn’t seem to settle him. She smiled before stepping into the bathroom with the dress, hoping that might reassure him. Reassure them both, even.
In the bathroom, she slipped the towel from around her and let it fall to the floor. Oddly, it felt as if she had lost some form of protection. As if the barrier between her and the world outside was gone.
She unwrapped the brand-new underwear from its cellophane. It felt expensive and new against her skin.