Truly, if she’d been swathed head to toe in black robes, she still didn’t think they would have liked her. She was too foreign in their eyes, and certainly not good enough for a prince of Kyr. That was the true measure of her unsuitability, not her clothing or her actions or anything else she did or did not do.
Emily closed her eyes and somehow managed to fall asleep against the bouncing of the vehicle. When Kadir awoke her later, the first rays of dawn were beginning to peek over the horizon. They drove into the oasis and she was surprised to find it wasn’t empty, as she’d thought it might be, but filled with tents and animals. A couple of dark bodies moved between the animals, feeding them.
Kadir exited the Land Rover and stood beside it. Emily climbed out, her feet landing with a squish in the sand. She walked around to Kadir’s side and stood there as a tall, dignified man in dark robes made his way to them. He was worn and weathered, his face brown and wrinkled with sun and wind. His eyes, however, were dark and glittering as he looked at them both.
Kadir spoke to the man, and his old eyes drifted closed. Then he sank to his knees and intoned something in Arabic. Kadir reached out and touched his shoulder and the man stood again. Soon, other men appeared and the contents of the Land Rover were whisked into a tent set aside from the rest.
Kadir turned to her and held out his hand. Emily slipped her hand into his and let him lead her inside the tent. It was opulent, with colorful carpets blanketing the floor and walls. Copper and gold gleamed on tables and in low cabinets. There were cushions spread liberally across the floor for seating, and a separate area that contained a large bed covered in furs.
The oil lamps were lit and the soft scent of incense wafted to her nose. Someone brought a tray with food and coffee and then disappeared. The man who had greeted them was the last to go and Emily found herself blinking at Kadir and wondering what would happen now. Twenty-four hours in the oasis. For what?
She wanted to go to him, wrap her arms around him and hold him tight, but she didn’t dare. Because she didn’t know if she could stop once she did.
“How are you feeling?” she asked softly.
Kadir spun toward her, his eyes sparking with emotion. “How am I feeling? Trapped.”
It wasn’t quite what she’d expected. “I don’t know what to say to you, other than I’m sorry.”
Kadir closed his eyes and tilted his head back. And then he said something she didn’t understand. When he shook his fist at the top of the tent, she assumed it was probably something she didn’t want to hear anyway. He was angry and emotional and she understood that he needed to vent.
“Do you want to know what the worst part is?” he said suddenly, his gaze hard on hers again. Daring her, maybe.
“I think I got what I deserved.”
Emily’s heart squeezed at the raw pain in his voice. “I’m not sure I understand you.”
He shook his head. She didn’t think he would speak, but then suddenly the words tumbled from him. “I am a rotten brother, Emily. And when I tried to make it right again, Rashid did not come. I tried to make sure the throne was his, as it should be, but it no longer matters. My father is dead, Rashid is not here and the council will formally choose me before the world—if my father did not leave a will already proclaiming me heir. He claimed he had not chosen, but I believe he did. I think the old bastard was just manipulating us one last time.”
Emily tried not to be shocked, but she knew she hadn’t succeeded when one corner of his mouth curled in a hard smile.
“I failed to tell you what kind of dysfunctional family I have, didn’t I? Well, here it is—my father is dead, and I don’t feel much of anything at the moment but anger. And not for the reasons you would suppose.” He clenched his hands into fists as his side. “He wasn’t a kind man, or a loving man. He was exacting and proud, and though I loved him when I was a child, I grew to fear him. And then I despised him.”
She couldn’t imagine feeling that way about her father, but her mother was a different story. She’d been angry with her mother for years now.
“If you mean to shock me, you are doing so. But not for the reasons you suppose.”
“You aren’t horrified to your sweet little core that I couldn’t stand the man who left me a crown? That his death doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the situation I now find myself in?”
“I didn’t live your life, Kadir. It’s not my place to decide how you should be feeling right now.”
He laughed. It was a bitter, angry sound. And then he ripped his headdress off and tossed it on the cushions. “Damn, Emily, I wish we’d been more honest with each other a long time ago.”