"So you told Hakim how to manage an accidental meeting."
He shrugged. "It seemed the best way to get you to give him a chance. Listen to me, Catherine. The laser treatment got rid of the scars on your face, but that wasn't enough. Your mom and I thought once the scars were gone, everything would be okay, you'd date like your sister, get married one day. Have a life."
She looked away, not wanting to see the years-old pity burning in his eyes.
"It didn't work that way, though. You don't trust people, especially men. Hell, maybe that's my fault. I ignored you because I couldn't fix your problem. And you felt rejected because of it. I was wrong, but I can't change it now. Maybe you were afraid of being rejected again. I don't know, but until Hakim, you kept your emotions locked up tighter than the Denver Mint."
"I trusted Hakim."
"You fell in love with him. Don't hold the arrangement against him, Catherine. The kind of deal we made is pretty common in his part of the world."
"I figured that out. The fact that I am a means to an end for him doesn't lessen my value in his eyes."
"Well, as to that, I'm sure you've heard there won't be any need for long-term living visas."
"Didn't Hakim tell you? His uncle's intelligence sprang a trap on the leaders for the dissidents. They're in jail awaiting trial for treason right now."
Why hadn't Hakim said something? "When did this happen?"
Looking relieved by the change in topic, her dad said, "I got word yesterday."
Yesterday. She remembered the desperation in Hakim's kiss, his mention of sacrifices and there was that initial flash of pain in his eyes when she told him she was pregnant.
She stumbled to her feet. She needed to think. "I've got to go." She walked quickly toward the door of his office.
"Are you okay?" She hadn't heard her dad get up from his chair, but his hand was on her shoulder.
"I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be?"
"I'm sorry, Catherine. If I could change the way things happened, I would."
She believed him.
Walking into the penthouse fifteen minutes later, she was still trying to make sense of what her father's revelations meant for her and Hakim. She couldn't forget that small flash of pain. What had it meant?
There was no longer any need for long-term living visas. Did he regret their marriage now that the personal benefit to him was gone?
The blinking light on the answering machine caught her attention as she tossed her purse on the table. She couldn't listen to the recording, not yet.
So many thoughts were crowding her mind, she didn't think she could take another one in. Not even a phone message.
She sat down and started dealing with the kaleidoscope of impressions one by one. The foremost was the very first time she and Hakim had shared passion. They hadn't made love, but he'd wanted to, had been aching with the need to have her.
The next image she examined was his reaction to her demand for a divorce. He hadn't just been angry. He'd been furious on a very personal level. And he'd done everything in his power to change her mind. The fact that he'd been successful considering how betrayed she had felt meant something.
Then she thought of her life together with him over the past weeks. Happy. Content. Pleased with one another's company. Sexually insatiable. In harmony.
They fit together.
She didn't know what that small flash of pain meant, but she was absolutely positive it had not resulted from his discovery he was stuck with her. The fact that he hadn't told her about the capture of the rebels yet indicated that in his mind, that aspect of their marriage was incidental to their relationship.
With that tantalizing thought swirling through her mind, she got up to push the play button on the answering machine.
Hearing the voice of the King of Jawhar was a little unsettling, but hearing his request that she, not Hakim, return his call was enough to make her knees go weak.
After taking several deep breaths, she picked up the phone to call the King. Her nervousness only increased when Abdul-Malik insisted on sending her call straight through even though the King was in a meeting.
Their greetings were a little stilted, but it didn't take King Asad long to come to the point. "You have heard the dissidents have been arrested?"
"Yes." She didn't bother to tell him her father, rather than Hakim, had told her the news.
"There is no longer a need for long-term visas."
"I gathered that, yes."
"Another could oversee our business interests abroad. Hakim could come home."
Catherine felt her mouth curve into a smile at the wonderful news and then the King's wording struck her and the smile slipped a little. "Why are you telling me rather than Hakim?"