She knew Farrehed—she knew the people, their traditions and customs. They wouldn’t be so easily accepting of a second marriage. And she knew Odir. He wouldn’t risk causing upset—especially so soon after his father’s death. His every action in the last twelve hours had been about ensuring the secure future of his country. So why would he risk that? Why would he do that now?
He had not said that he didn’t love her. Only that he wasn’t capable of it. And she understood why he thought that. Understood the damage done by his mother’s death and his father’s horrifying grief-stricken behaviour. But she knew it wasn’t true. She had seen his ability to love in his every action towards Farrehed, had seen it shine from him when he had taken Jarhan into that hug when they had first come to the embassy. And she had seen it in his eyes when he had told her she looked magnificent.
Was it possible that he had let her go to protect her? Was it possible that this proud, sometimes arrogant and always powerful man had let her go for her own sake? Had he put her above the people that he loved so much?
‘Running away again?’
Odir’s voice from the balcony at Heron Tower only hours before echoed in her mind.
Perhaps she had been running. Yes, she had demanded love. But she had run at the first sign of trouble. Yes, she had been selfish—as he’d accused her. But that selfishness didn’t make her feel ashamed. She had a right to demand love. But she hadn’t stayed and fought for it. This time, rather than being scared, wanting to run away, she wanted to stand and fight.
This time she wasn’t running away from something. She was running to it.
* * *
Eloise ran back through hallways that should have been full of people and activity but were strangely silent. She threw open the door to the royal suites but they too were empty. She flew down the steps towards the reception rooms, down the impressive circular stairway, and turned the corner to find...
Forty people staring back at her.
In the centre of the crowd were Jarhan and Odir, locked in conversation. It was only the ragged sound of her breathing that drew their attention—that and the sudden silence of the crowd around them.
Eloise saw shock register in Odir’s face just before the royal mask came down and shut away his reaction. Hope. It left her with hope.
She took the next few steps down into the reception hall and barely registered the sound of forty voices resuming their chatter. People were shouting to each other across the room, and she could hear the buzz from the paparazzi outside the front doors to the embassy.
Jarhan broke away from the centre of the crowd, stalking towards her, and took her into his strong embrace.
‘You’ve got three minutes—make them count,’ he whispered into her ear.
And with that he disappeared into the crowd.
If she had expected people to part like the waves before their Queen she’d been wrong. She pushed through the crowd—against the tightly packed bodies that had formed a wall around her husband. Seeing her struggle against the press of people, Odir started making his way towards her, something like grim exasperation painting his features.
‘No,’ she said, the moment he stood before her. ‘You don’t get to talk now. You don’t get to issue commands or demand my removal from your presence. It’s my time now, Odir. It’s my time to talk.’
He pursed his lips together, wariness in his eyes now. Perhaps he was shocked by this new Eloise, she thought. Well, he’d better get used to it.
‘This whole time I’ve been reacting to other people’s demands—doing what was asked of me or doing what was needed of me. But I’ve never really done something for me. Not until tonight. Not until I wanted you to say that you love me. But you’re right, Odir. I ran. I ran away from everything. You, my father, my mother. I spent six months hiding. And when I did come to fight for what I wanted—you—I stumbled at the first hurdle. I wanted you to tell me that you loved me. I wanted you to prove that you loved me. But I never proved that I love you.’
His eyes widened, and she knew that she’d hit close to home. It gave her the strength to continue.