Kadir swallowed. All this time, he’d thought he was to blame for the rift between his father and Rashid. But how could his childish antics have created a fracture so deep? He’d always wondered, but then he’d reasoned it was not up to him to figure out why. It just was. And he’d felt guilty for it.
But now Rashid was telling him it was never his fault, and he didn’t quite know how to process it. “Why did you never tell me?”
“I should have.”
“Yes, you should have.” Anger bubbled up inside him, a well that was deep and strong and had been capped for far too long. “I’ve blamed myself for most of our lives. And now, when you should have been here to take your place, to make things right again, you would not come.”
Rashid shook his head. “It’s not my place, Kadir. It’s yours. He wanted you to rule, not me.”
Kadir’s body was on fire with fury. He’d sacrificed so much just to get to this moment. He’d let Emily go. He’d sent her away, and now when he might have her back again, when he might have his life back, Rashid was determined to play the martyr one more time.
“Yet our father is gone, and the council has the power to decide. We will tell them what we want, and you will take the throne.”
Rashid got to his feet. “No, Kadir. I came for the funeral. But you are the king of Kyr.”
Bitterness flooded Kadir then, hot and sharp and metallic. “You would deny your heritage simply to win some kind of fight with a dead man? Or are you frightened to take the throne? Scared that everything he thought about you was right? That you will be a poor king after all?”
Rashid’s eyes flashed. And then he growled. “If you were not my brother...”
Kadir laughed harshly. “Your brother? What does that matter? I am your king, Rashid al-Hassan. And I command you leave my presence immediately.”
Rashid’s face turned an interesting shade of red. His mouth worked. But he spun on his heel without saying a word and stalked from the courtyard.
Kadir stayed for a long time, thinking and raging inside while he paced back and forth. He was not to blame for his father and Rashid’s relationship. It was a revelation, and yet on some level he had always known he was not at fault. He just hadn’t known what else could be the problem, so he’d blamed himself.
He’d tried to bring them together at the end, but for selfish reasons. He did not want to be king of Kyr. He did not want his life to change so drastically, nor did he want the guilt of taking Rashid’s birthright.
But he was through feeling sorry for himself. Through thinking he was stealing something that did not belong to him. If Rashid wasn’t prepared to step up and do his duty, then Kadir would. Emily had told him he would be a good king.
Emily. Thinking her name sent a shard of longing deep into his soul. She made him feel like a normal man, not a prince, not a king, not a playboy. With her, he could be himself. He’d given her plenty of reasons to walk out on him in the past, but she never had. She’d stayed and done her job.
She’d finally left him, but only because he’d sent her away. He’d sent her away.
Cold fear washed over Kadir as he stood in the Kyrian heat. Emily was gone and he was truly alone. She was the only person who knew him. Without her, he would no longer be a man.
He would be a king. A ruler. A potentate.
He would have to close his feelings up and keep them locked away. He would have no one to share a laugh with, no one to tease him about his magic mattress or his giant ego. No one to chide him for his arrogance or gaze at him with disapproval when he needed it.
No one to love him.
Kadir’s chest hurt so much he had to sit down. He dropped onto the cushions and sat there with his head forward, breathing in against the pain that he thought must surely tear him in two.
It was a physical pain, yes, but it was more than that. It stemmed from the chaos in his head, his heart. His skin felt tight, his brain whirled and a wave of anguish formed into a ball in his gut, pressing hard upward. He held it back as long as he could.
And then it erupted from him in a harsh cry that rang through the courtyard and floated into the sky above.
He was a fool! Such a fool. She loved him and he’d sent her away.
Palace guards burst into the courtyard then and Kadir shot up from his seat.
“Your Majesty,” one man said as they all bowed low. “We feared for your safety.”
His safety? Kadir feared for his sanity if he did not act now. He snatched up his mobile phone and prayed he was not too late as he punched in the number that would connect him to his plane.
* * *
Emily was numb. She’d been numb since the moment the man in palace robes had told her that Kadir signed the divorce decree. And then she remained numb as she was ferried to the airport, as she climbed on board Kadir’s private jet and waited to depart. But they didn’t depart.