His father was dying. The phone call tonight played again and again in his head, filling him with so many emotions that he could hardly sort them all. He remembered a lion of a man when he was a child, a man who had both frightened and awed him. He remembered wanting to be important to that man, wanting his attention and doing nearly anything to get it.

If his father had had a favorite son, he was it. Not that that was saying much, since he’d often felt his father’s belt against his skin. But Rashid had felt it more. And Kadir had been so convinced as a child that if his father was angry with Rashid, then he might be pleased with Kadir—not to mention, if his father’s attention were on Rashid, Kadir would escape the harsh punishments his father meted out. So he’d encouraged his father to be angry with Rashid in any way he could.

Kadir raked a hand through his hair and thought about ordering a glass of some type of strong liquor. But he did not drink when he was alone, so that was out of the question. It was a matter of self-discipline and he would not violate his own rule.

He picked up his phone from where he’d set it on the table and willed it to ring. He knew Rashid would call him. Because Rashid would know that Kadir had been told the news first.

When he and Rashid had been children, he’d taken shameless advantage of his father’s apparently strong dislike of Rashid. When Kadir let the horses out of the stables, his father blamed Rashid. When he released his father’s prized hawk, Rashid got blamed. When he accidentally poisoned his father’s favorite hound—who thankfully recovered—their father had blamed Rashid for that as well.

Rashid always took the punishment stoically and without complaint. He never cried during the beatings, but he would return to their shared quarters red faced and angry. Kadir shuddered with the memories of what he’d caused Rashid to endure.

It was a wonder Rashid did not hate him. He always felt such a dark and abiding shame in his brother’s presence, though Rashid did not ever speak about anything that had happened in their father’s palace. It was as if, for Rashid, it did not exist.

Kadir wished it were the same for him.

He stood there for another hour in the dark, waiting and brooding. And then his phone rang and an odd combination of regret and relief surged inside him.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” he said by way of greeting.

There was a long pause on the other end. “It is good to talk to you, too, brother.”

“Rashid.” He sighed. He could never say everything he wished to say to his brother. His throat closed up whenever he thought about it.

I’m sorry I caused you so much trouble. I’m sorry for everything. And then, Why don’t you hate me?

Instead, he said the one thing he could say. “You know I don’t want the throne. I’ve never wanted it.”

In Kyr, the throne usually passed to the eldest—but it didn’t have to. The king could choose his successor from among his sons, and that was precisely what their father was proposing to do. Kadir couldn’t begin to express how much this angered him.

Or worried him. He was not, in his opinion, suited to be a king. Because he did not want it. For one thing, to be king would mean being trapped for the rest of his life. For another, it would feel like the ultimate dirty trick to be played against Rashid.

“You are as qualified as I,” Rashid said with that icy-cool voice of his, his emotions wrapped tight as always. To talk to Rashid was to think you were talking to an iceberg. It was only when you saw him that you realized he blazed like the desert.

“Yes, but I have a business to run. Being king means living in Kyr year-round. I am not willing.”

That was the reason he could voice. The other reasons went deeper.

“And what makes you think I am?” There was a flash of heat that time. “I left Kyr years ago. And I, too, have a business.”

“Oil is your business. It is also the business of Kyr.”

Rashid made a noise. “He only wants the appearance of fairness, Kadir. We already know his choice.”

Kadir’s throat was tight. He feared the same. And yet he could not accept the throne without a fight for what he knew was right.

“He’s dying. Do you really plan not to go, not to see him one last time?”

If anger had substance, then Kadir could feel the weight of his brother’s anger across the distance separating them. “So he can express his disappointment in me yet again? So he can hold out the promise of Kyr and then have the satisfaction of giving it to you while I can do nothing?”

Kadir felt his brother’s words like a blow. He’d done nothing to deserve Kyr and everything to drive a wedge between his father and his brother while protecting his own skin, though he had not really known the gravity of his actions at the time. Still, being a child did not excuse him.

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