All evening he’d managed to lie to himself and convince himself that he needed her by his side. But if he was brutally honest it had nothing to do with ruling, or with Farrehed. He’d wanted her back because he’d never been able to get her out of his mind. Because he’d never been able to forget the young woman who had once captured his heart with her laugh.
What she’d achieved in the name of love—marrying him in order to protect her mother, turning her back on wealth and power and still being able to protect her friend—the transformation she had undergone, the independence she had thrived under for the last six months... And in just two hours he’d seen the damage he’d caused to that new fire within her. He’d seen her retreat behind a façade, and that had hurt him more than he could ever have imagined.
Because he did love her.
Everything in him rose up with love and the need to protect her.
He did love this incredible woman.
But his position as King, as ruler of his country, would mean that he couldn’t offer her the life she deserved, the love she deserved. He couldn’t keep her behind that façade she put on to combat the difficulty of life in the public eye.
Back in the limo, on their way to the embassy, the fire in her, the light, had been extinguished. He couldn’t tie her to a life of duty. He couldn’t—no, wouldn’t—make her live a life of sacrifice for a country that wasn’t even hers. He knew how heavy the bonds of those chains were, and the only thing he’d succeeded in doing tonight was looping them around her too.
So he would give her the only thing he could give her. He would give her freedom. Even if she hated him for it.
‘Get out,’ he commanded, unconsciously echoing the words he’d said to her six months ago. ‘Leave.’
He closed his eyes against the hurt he could see in her own.
‘You’re right,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘I don’t need you. I don’t need anyone. Our marriage will be annulled. We will be divorced. Whatever it takes. I’ll be free to make a marriage with someone who understands what it takes to be a queen. Someone who can bring something to Farrehed other than selfish demands of love.’
He hated himself more and more. Every word dripped poison into his veins and hers. Every word was designed to make her leave. Every word—as hateful as they were—was a way for him to love her. To protect her from a life that would surely be her undoing.
Her face drained of colour and her eyes glittered in the dim lighting of the room. But still she remained determined.
He couldn’t take another word falling from that lovely mouth of hers. He didn’t think he would survive it.
‘Get out!’ he roared.
August 2nd, 07.00-08.00, Farrehed Embassy
THE BEAT OF Odir’s pulse pounded within his head. Ripples shivered over his skin, through his body, over his mind and covered his heart. He was alone. Eloise had left. He didn’t remember seeing her go. She must have slipped out while he’d had his eyes closed.
The banging came again, and Odir wondered if it wasn’t his pulse after all. He didn’t want to see anyone. Not like this. The pain he was feeling was nothing like he’d ever felt before. If this was what love was then he’d been right to avoid it for so long. He felt it like a punch to his gut, stealing his breath and causing agony to radiate around his body. Shock. He thought he might actually be in shock.
The banging came once more and finally, without waiting for his approval, the door swung open into the room and Jarhan stormed in.
‘Where is Eloise?’ he demanded.
Odir almost laughed. His brother had not spoken to him in such a way since they were teenagers.
That one simple word finally put a name to the thing that had happened. That he’d made happen.
‘Gone?’ his brother queried.
‘Is that all you can say? What the hell happened?’ Jarhan asked, casting his gaze around the room.
He stalked towards Odir in one easy movement and grabbed him by the shirt.
‘What did you do to her?’ he demanded, but the fury in his eyes was nothing compared to what Odir was feeling at that moment.