He kissed her and she melted into him. Somehow they ended up on the bed amidst a pile of tasseled pillows.
He leaned above her and brushed the hair from her temple. "I want you to be happy, aziz."
Her heart constricted with hope and then certainty. "Because you love me."
"Of course I love you. Have I not said this a hundred times?"
She could not recall him saying it once. "No."
"When?" she challenged him.
"Do you not know the meaning of aziz? I would have thought you would ask my sister or Lila. You had their confidence in every other matter."
She licked her lips, her heart thrilling when his gaze zeroed in on the movement with feral intent. "What does it mean?"
"Beloved. Cherished. How could I not love you? You are all that a woman should be, the jewel of my heart."
Joy suffused her until she was almost sick with it. She grinned. "When did you realize it?"
Hakim hugged her to him. "I was pretty stupid. I did not realize these feelings I have for you were love until the day I gave you the telescope and I thought you were still thinking of leaving me. Before that l knew I did not want to let you go, but in that moment, I realized that if you did go, you would take my heart, my soul, with you."
She started unbuttoning his shirt, wanting to get to the man beneath. "Why didn't you tell me you loved me then?"
"I was afraid you would not believe me, that my avowal would cause you more pain than pleasure."
She stared at him in disbelief. "How could you think telling me you loved me would hurt me? I was dying inside thinking I was nothing more than a means to an end."
"Forgive me, aziz, for my many mistakes, but you are and will always be the ultimate means to my end, for I need you to be happy and without you my life would be as arid as the desert and as empty as a dry well."
The words brought tears to her eyes and finally she knew what to do when he said stuff like that.
Later, their naked limbs entwined on the bed, she smiled at him, her heart a melted puddle of feeling from the many words of love he'd spoken during their lovemaking. "I love you, Hakim."
He kissed her softly. "I love you, Catherine. It will always be so until the stars fall from the heavens and even beyond."
After a lifetime of not fitting in, she had finally found her place. In his arms. Next to his heart.
It would always be.