‘No one has ever shown you that you are worthy of their love and trust. Not your family, not your father, nor even your brother. I’m ready to place my trust and love in you. I know you love me. I know because you would never have sacrificed the future of your rule for me unless you loved me.’
He grasped her by the arm, pulling her closer to him, and in a rough, low voice he said, ‘I do love you, damn it! That’s why I let you go. I could never bind you to this life. A life where I will need to make sacrifices, where you will never be free from public scrutiny. There will be political manipulations for our whole lives, and I would not force that on anyone—especially not you. You’ve been so horribly used and manipulated by those who should have loved you unconditionally and I won’t do the same. I could never ask that of you.’
There was a pain and hopelessness in his eyes the like of which she’d never seen before. But through it she could see the truth in his words, the truth in his heart, and her own heart soared.
‘This is my sacrifice to make for the man I love. Because you have made me strong enough to bear it. I want this. I choose this. I choose you. I will stand by you and love you and be loved in return. All you have to do is say yes.’
Somewhere behind her a voice broke through the noise of the crowd.
‘We go live in five...’
‘Just say yes, Odir?’ she asked.
‘It’s as easy as breathing.’
His finger reached up to wipe away the trace of a tear that had appeared at the corner of her eye.
The doors swung open on the front steps of the embassy, where the international press was waiting and the flashbulbs of the paparazzi exploded in front of them.
‘Ladies and gentlemen of the press, Sheikh Odir Farouk Al Arkrin of Farrehed and his wife have an announcement to make...’
Three years later, the Farrehed Embassy, London
THE SHEIKH OF FARREHED and his wife chased down the rich red carpeted halls of the Farrehed Embassy after a giggling, determined two-year-old hell-bent on freedom.
‘Your child has inherited your waywardness, Wife,’ complained Odir.
‘And your stubbornness, Husband,’ Eloise replied with a smile, slightly out of breath. ‘I am too far gone for this, Odir,’ she replied, stopping to lean against the cool walls of the embassy.
Glancing down, she placed a comforting hand over her seven-month pregnancy bump.
Odir checked the end of the hallway, seeing Jarhan scoop up his nephew, grin knowingly at Odir and head off, leaving a trail of tiny hysterical giggles.
‘One day I fear that my brother will tickle our son to death.’
‘Don’t be silly. Besides, it’s good to have someone to help out. God knows we’ll need it when this one comes along.’
‘Are you sure you don’t want to reconsider hiring a full-time nanny?’ Odir asked.
He understood his wife’s reluctance, but still feared that two children would exhaust her.
‘Absolutely. Besides, Mum has offered to come and stay—and Natalia’s also on hand if we need her. Though I think she might have her own hands full soon enough.’
Shock registered in her husband’s features. ‘Really?’
‘Really. But my lips are firmly sealed,’ she replied playfully.
‘More secrets, Wife?’ he said, without a trace of the bite with which he had once spoken to her.
Eloise marvelled at how dramatically their lives had changed in three short years.
Despite her doubts, her mother had been telling her the truth that night almost three years ago to the day. Angelina Harris had sought the help she’d needed, but she had done it on her own terms, and Eloise wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Her father had been deeply shocked two years before, when Angelina had served him with divorce papers and simultaneously—and very publicly—ended his political career.
Eloise and Odir had weathered the storm of family revelations, and the press had quickly lost interest once some other international scandal had taken its place. Two years on, Eloise and her mother had managed to carve out the tentative foundations of what Eloise hoped would be a strong, loving and honest relationship. It wasn’t easy, but it was something that both women worked at each time they came together.