“What men?!” I cry out.

I honestly have no clue what he’s talking about.

His face twists into an ugly expression of rage and his fingers squeeze harder, cutting my air off. “No more lies! The two men who were following you.”

I cough and cough, unable to breathe, and my heels scrape against the deck as I struggle not to fall over the rail.

Realizing I can’t answer him, his grip lets up just enough for me to draw in some much needed air. I gulp at it, swallowing up as much of it as I can.

When I don’t immediately answer him, he shakes me hard. “Who are they?!”

“I don’t know!” I scream honestly and clutch at his forearm with both hands as I feel my heels slipping on the decking.

I have no clue why two men would be following me. It’s a little concerning, but not as concerning as falling to my watery death.

Ahmed’s nostrils flare as he huffs and puffs and his face is flushed an angry red.

“I swear, Ahmed, I swear on everything, I had no idea people were following me,” I plead.

I don’t want to die, especially when for once in my life I’m telling the truth.

Grip tightening around my neck again, he pulls me closer, until we’re almost nose to nose. His hot breath hits my face and it takes every ounce of my self-control to keep from recoiling in revulsion.

“If you are lying to me, Meredith…” he threatens.

“I’m not!” I insist. “I swear.”

Ahmed closes his eyes and I pray that I’ve been convincing enough.

His eyes slowly open and he yanks me upright. I stumble, getting my feet under me, and almost fall into him. Before I can push away from him, his hand releases my neck and his other arm wraps around me, pulling me into his chest.

“I believe you, habibti,” he says, suddenly tender again. Reaching up, he brushes my hair back, out of my face. I feel so much relief tears fill my eyes. That was too damn close for comfort. “But I fear you are in danger.”

I nod my head as I lean into him as if I need his strength right now. What I really want to do is slap him across his face for doing what he did to me. Instead, I give into my tears so that he believes I’m weak and stupid.

Ahmed frowns at the tears that roll down my cheeks. “Don’t cry. I will protect you.”

Oh, that’s just rich. After almost killing me himself now he wants to ‘protect me’.

I nod my head and look down so he doesn’t catch the anger in my eyes.

“We will marry. I will take you as my third wife, and we will return to my home. You will be safe in my compound.”

Wait… what? He wants to take me to Saudi Arabia and marry me? And I’ll be his third wife?

I shudder at the thought of being trapped in a country where I’ll be essentially owned by him and forced to completely cover myself from head to ankle in public.

I can’t live like that, I can’t. But I also can’t risk angering him again…

“You would do that for me?” I sniffle and lift my gaze, turning the full force of my glistening eyes on him.

“For you, habibti, I will do anything,” he says with so much emotion I almost believe him.

But I know he’s not offering this out of love, despite his little pet name. He’s doing this because he wants to possess me like I’m a trophy. He doesn’t know me, the real me. He hasn’t even tried to get to know the fake me. I’m just a beautiful toy in his eyes, something to claim so no one else can play with it.

I do the only thing I can do at this moment. I lean into him and give him a kiss that shows how much I appreciate his declaration.

He seems surprised at first, but quickly throws himself into it. His lips greedily push into my lips and then his tongue is trying to thrust its way past them. I open for him even though I feel sick to my stomach kissing a man that almost killed me.

His tongue sloppily swipes at my tongue and I want to throw up, but somehow I muscle my way through it. I manage to work him around, turning him just a bit here and there until his back is facing the railing.

Finally, when I can bear no more, I push away from him and break the kiss.

Panting heavily, he immediately reaches for me and tries to pull me back.

“No… no… darling,” I say, shaking my head at him. “I want to show you how much I love you…”

I slowly begin to sink to my knees so he draws his own conclusions.

He stares at me for a moment, and I’m not sure if it’s because he’s offended or if he can’t believe his good fortune.

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