She spun to find Kadir behind her. The moonlight on his face revealed confusion and apprehension. Or maybe it was just a trick of the light. Maybe it was what she wanted instead of what was.
She backed away, hitting the lip of the fountain. Somehow she managed not to fall in, but what did it matter? Her dignity was already ruined. She’d burst into tears in front of him, in front of them all, and she’d failed in her performance as his wife when he’d needed it most.
“Why did you have to say that?” she demanded. “Why did you have to taunt me that way?”
Kadir came forward, holding out a hand as if trying to gentle a frightened animal. “Say what, Emily? What did I say that upset you so much?”
She couldn’t breathe. She pressed her hand to her stomach and tried to concentrate on pulling air into her lungs, but it hurt so badly. “You lied, Kadir. In front of them all. You lied so your brother would take the throne.”
“I did not lie.” His face was a thundercloud now and she marveled at how he could be so indignant when she was the one who’d been wronged.
“You said you love me.” It hurt to repeat the words, but she shook her head and continued. “You said it so the council would think you were a bad choice to rule this nation. I understand why you did it, but it’s wrong to say something like that.”
He came closer then, his eyes narrowed. “What if I meant it?”
She snorted. “You can’t mean it.”
“Why not? Because I am a player? Because I tend to pick women based on their bra size rather than their intellect?”
He somehow managed to prick her conscience. Last night he’d grown angry when she’d said something about his smooth talking. And she’d admitted to herself that he was not unfeeling. But that was before he’d used love to get what he wanted.
“I’m just your temporary wife, Kadir. And your former employee. You can’t love me after one night of sex.”
“No, I don’t love you after one night of sex.”
Her lungs deflated again. But at least he was being honest.
He grabbed her shoulders and forced her to look up at him. “I love you because I can’t live without you. Because you’re my best friend in the world, the one person who knows me for who I really am and who loves me in spite of myself.”
“I never said I loved you.” Her voice was a whisper and her pulse was a hot rush in her veins.
He smiled and there was a world of feeling in that smile. For her. “But you do. I know it, Emily. I know it because I feel exactly as you feel. As if my world would end when you walked out of it.”
“That’s not love. That’s infatuation.” She sniffed.
“I don’t believe that for a minute.”
Panic flooded her as old fears sprang to the fore. “But what if it’s true? What if one day one of us wakes up and decides this is no longer enough? What if we want more than the other can give?”
His brows drew down, his eyes searching hers. “Why are you saying these things?”
Emily trembled. “My mother left my father when he got sick. For another man. She claimed to love Dad, but when he needed her, she left.” Her throat ached. “If she hadn’t left us, she wouldn’t have been in the car with that man when he, when he—”
“He what, Emily?”
“He drove into an embankment. They were killed instantly.”
He yanked her into his arms and hugged her tight. “I’m sorry, so sorry. But please tell me what this has to do with us.”
She clutched his robes and hid her face among the folds. He smelled so good. When she was in his arms like this, she never wanted to leave. But what if she had no choice?
“What if I turn out like her in spite of my best intentions? What if I make a bad decision? What if, six months from now, you decide you’ve had enough of me? What will I do then? Something stupid?”
He squeezed her against him. “Other than falling in love with me, I am pretty certain you are incapable of stupid things.”
“I never said I loved you.”
He gently pushed her back and gazed down at her. “No, you didn’t. And I want to hear it.”
Panic twisted in her belly. “I’m afraid, Kadir.”
“So am I. I just gave up a throne for you and maybe it was all for nothing.”
She laughed, but it wasn’t precisely a happy sound. “You did not give it up for me. You never wanted it in the first place.”
“No, this is true. But I would have taken it to save Kyr. And I would have given it up to have you, even if having you meant ruining Kyr.”
“Don’t say that!” She glanced at the surrounding courtyard, worried that someone would overhear him. Surely he was committing treason to even think such a thing.