He needed her to help him once more. To get him out of a predicament. So why did he have to carry the game too far and tell her he loved her? Her soul was already broken and battered because of the last few days with this man. She didn’t need to heap a false promise of love on top of the pile of rubble her life had become.
Kadir took his seat again. She tried not to look at him, but she couldn’t drag her gaze from his profile. But then the door opened and another man came in. This man looked so much like Kadir that she might have sworn they were twins. Tall, handsome, yet somehow colder and far more remote than Kadir had ever been.
Rashid looked angry, haunted, and yet he also looked as if no man in this room could defeat him. No matter what anyone did to him, his eyes said, he would always win. Because, she realized, he didn’t care what happened to him. She could see it in the set of his shoulders, the defiant look in his sharp gaze. He looked like someone who had lost everything and therefore couldn’t care about anyone. This was the Lion of Kyr, a fierce, hard, brooding man who would as soon chew his own leg off than be trapped and tamed.
“Welcome, brother,” Kadir said in English. The council swung their gazes to him, no doubt surprised that he wasn’t speaking Arabic. Kadir stood and walked down the steps to the floor. Then he turned around, his arms wide, and faced the entire council. He said something in Arabic and a man hurried over to the foot of the dais.
“Omar will translate what I say, but I will be speaking in English so that my wife can understand.”
Emily’s jaw dropped, but Kadir kept speaking. “Yes, you are still my wife, Emily. I have rescinded the divorce decree. We are married, unless you tell me you want it otherwise.”
He bowed his head a moment, and then he shook it, muttering to himself. A second later, he was bounding up the stairs and pulling her to her feet. They stood facing one another while the council, Rashid and the translator looked on.
“I will not divorce you, Emily. I love you too much. And if I am to be king of Kyr, you will be queen.”
Emily’s heart pounded. The words coming from his lips were so beautiful, so amazing, but she told herself not to believe them. It was a performance, and a good one. But oh, how it hurt. How much she wanted it to be real, for this amazing man to truly want her as his wife.
The interpreter finished speaking and the council started to murmur. She couldn’t tell if it was an angry murmur or what because her blood hummed too loudly in her ears. She couldn’t drag her gaze away from Kadir, though she desperately wanted to. She was just like all those other women, wanting him so much, wanting to believe everything he said, reading more into it than there was.
“There is another solution,” Kadir continued, this time turning to face the room. He held her hand tightly in his. “My brother, Rashid, can take the throne. He is the eldest. He has no wife. His business is oil, whereas mine is building skyscrapers. A good skill, but not quite the one Kyr needs.”
Rashid stood, tight-lipped and furious, but he did not speak. His arms were folded over his chest and he glared at them both. Emily knew then that this performance was as much for Rashid as for the council.
Kadir led her down the stairs and over to Rashid. His gaze flickered over her but stayed on Kadir.
“I have seen his last decrees, Rashid. He did not name his successor. He was stubborn to the last.”
“He wanted us to fight over it, then.” Rashid sounded bitter.
“Or maybe he decided to let us choose.”
Rashid’s snort said he didn’t believe it for a moment. “If that gives you comfort, brother.”
“It does not. But I know in my heart that you are Kyr’s king. And I am your faithful servant.”
Rashid’s eyes blazed with fresh agony. “Kadir—”
“Take your place, Rashid. Take your nation and be the king you were meant to be.”
The two men stared at each other for a long moment. And then Rashid looked over at her and Emily’s belly churned.
“You truly love this woman?”
“With every atom of my being.”
Emily couldn’t stop the sob that choked out of her then. Both men were looking at her. Kadir seemed alarmed.
“Sorry,” she said, yanking her hand from his. “I can’t—I can’t...”
She rushed toward the door and yanked it open and then she was running blindly down the hall in her too-tall shoes. She tripped and stumbled, catching herself against the wall. Then she reached down and ripped off the shoes, tossing them so she could run barefoot through the palace.
Kadir’s voice behind her sounded frantic, but she didn’t stop. She couldn’t. She kept running, past people who stopped and stared, past servants and deliverymen, past the dignitaries who were gathering in Kyr for the old king’s funeral. Tears streaked down her cheeks, blurred her vision, but she kept running until she burst into an outdoor gallery that flanked a giant grassy courtyard ringed by palm trees. Water tinkled in a fountain at the center of the courtyard, an extravagance in the desert.