No, it would not pay to underestimate his wife.
* * *
That kiss might have stolen her breath, and taunted her with memories of their wedding night—and it certainly was not the welcome that she’d expected from her husband—but that didn’t change a thing.
Eloise pushed down the betraying grip of desire that had dusted her body and forced it away before it could take hold. If her will hadn’t been enough, then the barely concealed warning in Odir’s eyes certainly was.
She had been here before. She had played many roles in her life and played them well. The perfect daughter, the doting wife... Just for one more night she could do it.
Eloise was skilled at recognising illusions and half-truths, but she could almost believe there had been a time when there was more to her husband’s glance than cold acceptance.
The French Ambassador claimed her attention with a bow.
‘Ma chère Eloise—I can’t tell you how sorry we were not to see you at the Hanley Cup in May. Matilde and I were just saying so, weren’t we?’ he asked of his wife.
Glancing at Matilde’s avaricious gaze, Eloise knew exactly what kind of speculation they had been involved in, and clearly they were greedily about to eat up the first juicy bit of gossip on Farrehed’s errant Princess.
Eloise was prepared to launch into the carefully constructed cover story of her actions over the last months when Odir cut in with an impossibly gentle chuckle. Chuckle? She didn’t think she’d ever heard such a sound from his lips in all the time she had known him.
‘You must forgive my wife. She’s been so preoccupied with her charitable works—’ the heavily laden words for her benefit alone ‘—that it feels as if I have hardly seen her once in the last six months.’
Matilde’s hungry gaze turned into one of reproach, and that only angered Eloise even more. The last words Odir had hurled at her across a room had been so full of fury they had driven her from Farrehed. He had forced her out of her country, her home, and he had the gall to blame her?
‘Odir, don’t exaggerate,’ she said playfully, putting a bit more weight than necessary behind a not-so-playful tap on his arm. ‘You know exactly where I have been.’ She turned to Matilde with the most ingratiating smile she had ever given and continued, ‘I have been overseeing a project to bring sovereign-funded, mental and medical health care to women of the tribes at the outer reaches of Farrehed.’
It was as close to the truth of what she had been helping to do in Zurich as it could be. As she well knew, the best lies were born from threads of truth. She had learnt that from her mother and father.
‘It’s no wonder you’re here, then,’ replied the smiling ambassador’s wife, and for a moment, Eloise was confused.
She had been so preoccupied with her husband’s summons she hadn’t even noticed which of Odir’s causes this event was for.
‘Eloise would never miss a charitable event that reaffirms the links between the World Health Organisation and the betterment of women in our country. But I hope that you will excuse us,’ he said, placing a reassuring hand on the ambassador’s shoulder. ‘It’s a little-known secret that it’s my wife’s birthday tomorrow, and I have a special present for her.’
Odir wrapped his strong arm around her waist like a steel clamp and started manoeuvring her from the room.
‘There’s only one birthday present I want from you, darling, and that’s a divorce.’
August 1st, 21.00-22.00, Heron Tower
‘KEEP YOUR VOICE DOWN,’ he commanded, pulling her tighter into his side as if he feared that she would try to escape.
Perhaps it wasn’t such a silly fear, as from the moment he had put his lips to hers, brushed the inside of her mouth with his tongue, all she’d wanted to do was run.
How galling it was to realise that within seconds of his kiss all she had wanted to do was give herself over to the feelings that she’d been wrong to think had died. Everything in her had surged up, almost bringing her arms to hang on to the lapels of his tux jacket.
People parted before them like the sea, and she knew that they would still have done the same even had he not been a prince, such was the power and authority he wore around him like a protective cloak.