“And is he well now?”

“Well enough, yes. But I really wasn’t trying to make this about me.” She sighed. “I feel like I’m doing everything wrong. I just wanted you to know I understand how difficult this must be for you. I’ve done a poor job of that so far.”

It was difficult, but not for the reasons she might imagine. Of course a part of him was upset that his father was dying. But their relationship had fractured so long ago that his father almost felt like a distant relative to him. He cared, but it wasn’t going to devastate him when the inevitable happened.

No, the most difficult part for him now was in making sure he righted the wrongs he’d done to Rashid. Which his father seemed determined not to allow. He could walk away, certainly. But he wanted his father to choose Rashid because it was right.

How could he explain any of that to her? She’d asked him earlier if he wanted to talk. But what would he say? How could he begin to talk about such deeply personal things with anyone?

“You are close to your father?” he asked.

She hesitated for a moment, as if trying to figure out what he wanted from her. Or maybe she was just confused by the randomness of the question. “Yes.”

Kadir let out a breath and rolled back until he was looking up at the ceiling again. There was something about lying in the dark with another person that made him want to confess his secrets. Not all of them, of course.

“I am not close to mine.” It was a relief to say it, and yet he also felt as if he was admitting what a terrible son he was. She didn’t say anything and he felt a coolness sweep over him. Followed by a needle of pain in his chest. This was why he did not engage in personal confessions with anyone. “You are shocked.”

“No,” she said in a rush. “Just sad for you.”

Now he was the one who was shocked. He couldn’t recall any of the women of his acquaintance feeling emotional for him. Over him, yes. But this was a novelty and he wasn’t quite sure how to respond. “I have made my peace with this long ago. Not all relationships are perfect.”

“No. In fact, I’d say none are. But some are better than others.”

He wondered at the note of sadness in her voice. He didn’t think it was all for him. Still, he felt the need to lighten things up between them. Before he began spilling things he was not willing to share with anyone. Things that would reveal how damaged he truly was. “This is true. Take us, for example.”

“Us?” She sounded surprised and he almost laughed.

“Yes, us. As my assistant, you are the perfect combination of competent and familiar.”

She huffed. “But as your wife, I suck.”

“I would not have put it quite that way. But no, you have not been very good at it thus far. Which I fail to understand. You are so good at being my assistant that I would have thought pretending to be my wife would come easy. Because you already know me.”

“Maybe that’s the problem,” she grumbled. “I know you too well.”

“And what does this mean?”

He heard the covers rustling and then she was sitting up, facing him. “Seriously?”

“Yes, seriously.”

She made a noise that might have been disbelief. Or frustration. “I’ve witnessed far too many mornings after with you. I’ve escorted women to the door while you turn over and go back to sleep. And let’s not forget Lenore and the scene with her—when was that? Just two days ago! It’s hard to pretend to be the woman besotted with you when I know how that works out for so many of them. You humiliate them, Kadir. And then you forget them as soon as they’re gone!”

Her words surprised him. No, he felt nothing for any of them. But he had not set out to hurt anyone. “You think I humiliate them?”

“Maybe you don’t mean to,” she said, her voice softer now. “But I think so.”

He thought he should be offended, but mostly he was just weary. “And I think they know what they’re getting with me. I make no secrets about what I want, Emily. I don’t pretend to feelings I do not have.”

“Then I think they don’t hear that part. Or they hope they’ll be the one to change your mind. Because they certainly seem shocked when it’s over.”

“And how is this my fault?”

She picked up one of the pillows and hugged it to her. “I don’t know. I just feel badly for them. Most of them,” she amended. He thought she might have punched the pillow. “Dammit, Kadir, I hate when you make sense. It’s because I’m tired. Tomorrow, I’ll think up the perfect answer to your question.”

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