Still, she was Emily, his PA. Not some woman he could take to his bed and discard. He needed her in his life, and at this moment he very much needed her to agree to his plan.
“I don’t know what to say.” The words tumbled out of her in a breathless rush. Her green eyes, usually the color of polished jade, had darkened in what he supposed was confusion. Or horror. There was always that possibility, he decided.
She did the one thing he did not expect. She took a step backward, out of his space, and wrapped her arms around her body. The wineglass was still clutched in one hand and tilted precariously to the side.
Her chin dropped and he got the distinct impression she was meditating. When she looked at him again, her gaze was clear.
“Why are you asking me this? Do you need to be married for a business deal? Is there some piece of property you cannot do without and a wife would ease the way with the owner?”
He could only stare at her. She was so close to the truth it astounded him. And yet not quite.
“I need to take a wife home to Kyr.”
Her brows drew down. “I don’t understand.”
He blew out a breath. “It is very complicated. But suffice it to say that a wife is necessary. Think of this as a promotion.”
She blinked. And then she laughed. He was almost insulted.
“This is the strangest promotion I have ever heard of.” She drew in air, straightened her spine. “And it’s impossible, Your Highness. I cannot do what you ask.”
He felt the sting of her rejection as if it were a blow. It stunned him, if he was truthful with himself. Women did not typically refuse him.
“And why is that? This is a job, Emily. The same as always.”
“You will forgive me, Your Highness—”
“Kadir.” He spoke sharply, but he could not seem to help it. For once, he wanted her to call him by his name. For once, he needed to know that he was more to her than a paycheck. It was beyond insane, and yet he’d not felt quite right since he’d spoken with his father earlier.
It was as if everything he’d known had flipped upside down. As if his life had started out one way this morning—a lifetime ago now—and ended up in a completely different place. He was at the bottom of a pit, trying to find a handhold to pull himself back up again before the walls caved in and crushed him.
She swallowed. He didn’t think she would say it, but then she did. “Kadir.” Her voice was so small, so quiet, as if she feared that saying his name would call down a bolt of lightning.
“Was that so difficult then?”
Her eyes glinted in the dimly lit room. “No.”
“Good.” He retreated a few steps, gave her space. He sank onto her couch, ignoring the scattered papers. “Do I pay you well, Emily?”
She moved to one of the chairs set around a small table several feet away and sank down on it as if she feared she would break it. “Yes.”
“Then you can hardly object if I give you an extra year’s salary once you complete the task. All you need do is pretend to be my wife.”
Her eyes were wide. “Pretend? We wouldn’t actually be married?”
“We would, but it won’t be a real marriage. I don’t want you to think I expect anything other than the pretense of devotion.” Because they would need to appear ridiculously besotted with each other for this to work.
She looked doubtful. “Won’t someone figure it out?”
“How? We will act our parts.”
She shook her head. “No one will believe it. Just yesterday, you were with Lenore Bradford. You were probably photographed with her. And now you are marrying me—when, tonight? After you were with Lenore at her party last night?”
He felt the noose tightening around his neck. “I did not say it was a perfect plan. But we will sell it, Emily.” He twisted the stem of the wineglass in his fingers. “Besides, Kyr isn’t precisely connected to the outside world. Not in the way you would think. It is modern, certainly. But gossip and tabloids are hardly my father’s daily reading material. If I arrive with a wife, a wife who I am clearly crazy about, that will suffice for him.”
He could see her throat work. “You want to deceive your family?”
“I don’t understand.”
He sighed and leaned his head back, staring up at the ceiling. She would never understand. And yet he had to make her do so if this were to work. It went against his nature to explain himself, but he had to acknowledge that she could just as easily turn him down if he did not. “It’s about the throne, Emily. I don’t want it.”
She blinked. “Why not?”