‘Get out! Get out of my sight and don’t you dare come back!’
The words rang through her mind and she felt her heart break twice over—once for the past and once for the present. Odir had made an assumption. The wrong one. And he had never looked back, using it instead as an excuse to avoid his bought bride.
The night Odir had found his brother trying to kiss her had been one of the worst of her life. He hadn’t given either her or his brother the chance to explain. And clearly Jarhan had never put him right. Then again, she hadn’t really expected him to.
She tried to shake off the memory of Jarhan’s drunken attempts to kiss her but its hold was too great and it dragged her under.
She was in a different room...in a different country. She had been keeping Jarhan company ever since Sheikh Abbas had unveiled his plans for his younger son to wed the Princess of a nearby principality—Kalaran. She had been trying to comfort him, trying to convince him to explain, to tell the truth. But the fear in Jarhan’s eyes had been very real.
Stains from the red wine he’d been drinking all night had scored red grooves into the corners of his mouth, and the second his thin lips had crashed painfully against hers the young Prince had gone from being someone she had considered a friend and confidant to becoming the weapon of her undoing.
It was a kiss that had broken a marriage, a brotherhood, and the tentative future she had hoped one day to have.
‘So you still won’t believe me.’
‘Believe what? More lies from that delicious mouth of yours?’
The scorn in his words was completely at odds with the compliment he had given away so easily. He turned away and she let out a breath so heavy with grief it surprised even herself.
There had been a time, she acknowledged, when she’d cherished the idea of marrying Odir. Back then, barely two years ago, she had thought even the sun couldn’t shine brighter than Odir. He’d charmed her with a self-deprecation and a quick, warm wit she hadn’t expected. For a year during their engagement she had watched him, studied the care with which he spoke to palace attendants, seen his love of his people enter every decision he made, every act he chose.
He had been her childhood fantasy come to life. What had started out as their fathers’ business agreement had been moulded—so she had thought—by them. Together they had made something of their advantageous union . A friendship, she had once thought. A relationship, she had once hoped.
Here was the Prince who would whisk her away from the pains of her childhood—the Prince who would break the hold her father had over her. She had thought that perhaps he might even be her confidant—that finally she would have someone on her side.
But that had been before the reality of her marriage had struck, and all of Odir’s words and promises had disappeared into lonely nights as he’d found excuse after excuse to avoid her at every turn, leaving her cold and alone.
Now Eloise sought Odir amongst the shadows and could see determination painted across those features she had once longed to see soften and show something close to the love that they were reported to feel for each other. Looking at him now, she realised that she had been a child, with childish dreams.
She knew then that there was nothing she could say—no defence she could make of that night or any of the nights from then to now. Nothing would make any difference.
‘The past isn’t going to change. But the future can.’
His grim smile infuriated her.
‘You can say it as many times as you like, Eloise. It’s not going to happen.’
‘Odir, please. See reason. There was once a time when we could talk openly...’ She hated the longing that had crept into her voice. ‘Don’t you want to move on? Don’t you want to find a suitable princess? One who will be the right person to rule by your side one day and provide you with...with the heirs you need?’
She hoped that he would be swayed by the practicality of her argument—the same kind of practicality that had always defined their relationship.
Until she met his eyes. And then she knew that she was just as foolish as that girl who had once hoped this man would rescue her like one of the knights of old and whisk her away to a magical kingdom...