But that was a line she could not cross. He was her boss, though she was having a very hard time remembering it just now.

“What is the matter, Your Highness?” The words were tight in her throat, but she forced them out anyway.

His brow furrowed. And then he lifted the glass and took a deep swallow of the golden liquid. Once more, his eyes were on hers. As if she were an anchor. As if it were her alone keeping him tethered to the earth, keeping the pain from engulfing him.

“My father is dying.” The words were simple, stark, and her heart squeezed into a tight ball in her chest. She knew the pain of those words, knew how they opened chasms in your soul. How they could change you.

But she also knew the bittersweet joy of finding out there was a way to save the person you loved. The worry over if there would be enough money to pay for the procedure—not that this last was a worry a king would have.

She reached for him automatically, gripped his forearm. She had never dared to touch him before, not deliberately. Not like this. The jolt of sensation buzzing through her should not have been so unexpected. But it was. Like touching a live wire and then being unable to let go.

She had to push past it, had to speak. Had to get beyond the awkwardness and confusion when he needed so much more from her than this giddy schoolgirl behavior.

“Is there nothing they can do?” Her voice came out a whisper, but he heard it. He’d been staring at her hand, at her pale fingers clasped over his golden skin, and he raised his gaze again.

Once more, the blow of those eyes threatened to steal her breath away. Her sense. For a moment, she wished she were someone else. Someone beautiful and dynamic. Someone who could interest a man like this.

But no, that was silly. She wasn’t a sensual creature. She was sensible. There was no room in her life for the kind of heat and exhilaration that went along with a man like Kadir. She’d seen how women burned for him, and how they burned out too soon. That kind of heat wasn’t worth the price.

She’d almost been that sort of woman once, but she’d learned that it was far better to be sensible and staid. And if she ever doubted it, she had only to think of her mother’s tragic example of what could happen to a woman who followed her hedonistic tendencies too far.

“No, it’s too late now. They’ve done everything.”

He sounded almost detached and cool, but she knew it must affect him deeply. She squeezed his arm. “I’m so sorry.”

He put his hand over hers and lightning sizzled into her deepest core. In four years’ time, their hands had brushed on occasion. It would have been impossible if they hadn’t.

But this. This was too much, like walking out into full sunlight after having spent a year in a cave. The feelings swirling through her were too hot, too bright.

Too confusing.

Kadir was an attractive man, but she was not attracted to him. She liked lean blond men who weren’t quite so tall. Quiet men. Men who didn’t make her feel jumpy and achy just by touching her.

She had to force herself to meet his eyes, because to continue to stare at his hand over hers would certainly be odd. The pain was still there, but there was something else, too. Something that flared bright for a moment and was extinguished.

She’d always known that Kadir was a complicated man. But this felt as if someone had lifted the curtain to show her the gears and pulleys that ran the show.

She’d seen beneath the veneer. Beneath the walls. But only for a moment.

A moment she was not likely to forget any time soon.

“I am angry, Emily.”

“I believe that is normal.” She remembered being angry herself when they’d first learned that her father needed a new heart if he were going to survive. It had seemed impossible at the time—and she’d been so furious with fate—but then a heart had become available and he’d gotten his second chance.

But every moment had been agonizing. The feelings, the fear. Not everyone in her family had handled it well. Her father had survived—but the family had not.

Kadir’s gaze was searching. She had to remind herself, strongly, that he was still her boss, that this breach of their usual formal relationship was a temporary thing. If she handled this wrongly, if she did what she wanted to do—which was put her arms around him and pull his head down to her shoulder while she stroked the thick softness of his hair—she would be crossing a line that could never be redrawn.

“I need something from you, Emily.”

His voice was soft and mesmerizing and her stomach tied itself into a knot as she imagined what he might ask for. But then she told herself he was simply hurting and this change in their usual relationship was a temporary by-product of that. He needed someone to talk to and there was no reason why she couldn’t be that someone.

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