Just saying the words sent a chill washing over him. He wasn’t certain if Emily trembled or if it was simply the strength of his emotions making him think so. She’d been a part of his life for long enough that he couldn’t quite imagine it without her. But he was resigned to his fate and he had to let her know what came next for her. For them.

He would miss her, but in time it would ease.

“Whatever you think best,” she said, her voice muffled against his robes.

“I’ll wire the money into your account. And I’ll give you references.”

Even as he said it, he knew he would give her enough money so she wouldn’t have to work again if she did not want to. She could take her father to Florida and live there with him if she chose. It hadn’t been a part of the plan, but he couldn’t bear to send her back to Chicago with only what they’d agreed upon. He didn’t want her to work for anyone else. He wanted her to do whatever she wanted in life.

“Thank you,” she said. He thought she sniffed. A moment later, she was pushing herself away from him. Her eyes were watery, though she did not let a single tear fall. “I think I have a headache. I should go inside and rest.”

He wanted to reach out and trace her cheek with his finger. And then he wanted to do so much more. He kept his hands to himself. “Yes, perhaps you should.”

She stood and smoothed the dress over her body and he found himself aching to span her hips with his hands, to press his mouth right against her belly. To drag it lower until she screamed his name with passion rather than frustration.

But he would do none of these things.

“I’m sorry, Kadir.”

He looked up into her soft green eyes and had the strangest sensation when he imagined those eyes gone from his life. It was as if a piece of his soul had withered and died.

“So am I, habibti.”

* * *

Two days later, the king of Kyr died in the middle of the night. His passing was peaceful and quiet, but the aftermath was not. Emily was shaken awake during the dark hours. She was disoriented, groggy, and her eyes felt gritty with the silent tears she’d spilled into her pillow.

“We must leave, Emily,” a deep voice said, and a current of alarm prickled inside her as she recognized the urgency in Kadir’s tone.

“What’s wrong?”

“My father has passed.”

She sat up immediately as the last veil of sleep fell away. “Oh, Kadir, I am so sorry.”

He stood there, tall and remote, already dressed in his desert robes, and she wondered if he’d even been to bed. The last she recalled, he’d been working on his computer when she’d gone to bed earlier. He’d had trouble sleeping lately and he often stayed up late to work.

She thought that he also spent time trying to track down his brother, hoping that he would get a last-minute reprieve. But now it was too late. Rashid had not come and their father was dead. Kadir was truly the next king of Kyr.

“It’s fine,” he said coolly. “I’m fine. But we have to journey to the King’s Oasis. It is required that I spend the next twenty-four hours there, isolated from the court. You are the only one permitted to go with me.”

“Of course,” she said, throwing back the covers and hurrying to get dressed. She didn’t think it mattered much now, so she donned jeans and tennis shoes. She grabbed a jacket and put it on over her T-shirt because it was cold in the desert at night.

Within half an hour, they were packed and in a Land Rover. When Kadir said they were going alone, he meant it. There were no servants with them, no caravan of vehicles as they began the journey into the dark desert.

She didn’t know what to say, so Emily leaned her head against the window and gazed up at the stars. They were so plentiful out here, away from the city lights. A shooting star blazed across her field of vision and she made a quick wish.

She wished that Kadir would not send her away. A stupid wish, but there it was. She’d realized over the last several days that she cared about him. She couldn’t imagine her life without him in it. And yet she had to do just that, because he would be a king and she was not needed. Or wanted.

She gritted her teeth against the fantasy that he might decide to keep her with him. Oh, for goodness’ sake, you’re just as bad as all those other women, wanting what he cannot give.

Not only that, but she knew she would not be welcomed in Kyr as a permanent part of his life—and certainly not as his queen. While there were people who seemed to like her, even welcome her, the governing council did not. They’d frowned at her and ignored her and clearly did not approve of her. Which was precisely as Kadir had wanted it.

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