Hakim kept his silence until they had reached the privacy of their bedroom in the palace.

Then he turned to her, menace written in every line of his body. "What is happening?"


"I kidnapped you."

"So you said."

She clasped her hands together in front of her to stop their shaking. This was supposed to be easy. Tell him how she felt about living here, he would be pleased and everything would be fine. Only he was mad, really mad.

"Why are you so angry?"

"You usurp my authority among my people and you have to ask this?"

She hadn't considered that angle. "You have to stop taking yourself so seriously. Your consequence hasn't suddenly taken a nosedive, if that's what you're worried about. As far as everyone else knows, everything has been done according to the will and authority of King Asad. It's no big deal."

Hakim did not look particularly reassured. "And what exactly is this no big deal?"

She was getting a little frustrated with his anger. "You had no right to refuse to return to Jawhar without consulting me. I'm your wife, not a mindless bed warmer who, has no say in the decisions that affect me. And I'm definitely not that stupid woman you lived with. My thoughts and my feelings are my own. You should have found out what they were before refusing your duty to your family and your country."

She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him, a little of her own anger coming to the surface as she remembered how he'd made such a major decision without her input.

Hakim rubbed the back of his neck, his expression turning resigned. "My uncle convinced you to sacrifice yourself for me, for the good of my country." It wasn't a question, but she treated it like one anyway.

"No, he did not. He simply told me that you had refused to come home when the capture of the dissidents made it possible."

"We will not be staying." He spun as if to leave the room.

He made her so mad sometimes she wanted to spit. "Hakim! "

He stopped.

"I know you can ride a camel. Heck, you can order a-helicopter faster than I can order dinner."

His body tensed. "What is the point of this?"

"I can't hold you here against your will. I can't stop you from leaving by dropping you in a desert encampment from which you have no easy escape."

He turned to face her, his expression not so much unreadable as full of conflicting emotions. "So?"

"I have only one thing to hold you here." If he loved her, it would be enough.

"What?"

"Myself."

He shook his head and she squelched the tiny doubt that tried to intrude on her certainty that he loved her. He had to love her to have chosen her over his duty. A man with his strong sense of responsibility would only make such a decision under a powerful influence of emotion.

"This is not about you." He swung his arm out indicating the room, the palace, Kadar. "This is about my uncle manipulating you into sacrificing your happiness for my duty. I won't allow it."

"How do you know what would make me happy?" she demanded. "You never asked."

"I made a promise to you, to put you first from the point of our marriage forward. I will keep that promise."

"Are you saying it's a promise holding you here in this room with me?"

He stared at her, his expression that of a man trying very hard to hold onto his temper. "I did not say that."

"Good. Am I enough to hold you?" She wanted the words. She deserved the words.

"There is no binding that could be stronger." He started toward her, his intent very clear in the obsidian eyes she loved so much.

Her feet started moving of their own volition, taking her to him. They met in the middle of the room. He pulled her into his arms, his hold so tight she could barely breathe.

"I want to raise my children here," she said breathlessly, "I want them to know the tradition of their father's people, to know the warmth of the desert, the love of a family so big I'll probably never learn everybody's name."

He cupped the back of her nape under her hair. She'd left it down and it was wind-blown from the helicopter ride. "But your job..."

She smiled reassuringly. "I'll expand the library in the palace and make it available to the people."

His groan was that of a man who knew his peaceful existence was in danger of extinction. "There are no cities here, no malls, no movie cinemas-"

She interrupted his litany of Kadar's supposed shortcomings. "I told you I'm not that other woman. I don't like shopping. I don't care for city traffic. I was living in a small town by choice when we met. I love this place. I love the people. How could you not see that when we were here?"

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