He didn’t let me go throughout it, and I held him to me just as tightly. When it was over for both of us, our bodies humming with sated pleasure, I expected him to roll away, but instead, I felt the sheikh press his lips to my forehead.
I squeezed my eyes shut as my heart slammed against my chest. I tried to deny it, but the molten heat spreading all over my body couldn’t be denied.
I was still irrevocably in love with the sheikh.
“Did I hurt you?”
I shook my head at the gruffly voiced question. If only he had, I thought. If he had hurt me, I might have a better shot at forgetting. But instead making love to him was never painful, never terrible or ugly. Twice we had made love now, and each instance seemed to be more heartbreakingly beautiful than the last.
“I missed you.”
Oh. I bit my lip hard. Dear God, but how could he say that so easily? I truly wanted to know. I wanted this to be over, wanted to stop the yearning and start moving on.
When I still didn’t answer, the sheikh’s voice turned brooding. “Where have you been? It’s almost midnight, and I’ve been waiting for you for hours.”
The words broke the spell between us, the answer to his question reminding me of the painful truth between us.
The sheikh was going to a ball to look for a bride, and he didn’t want me to come. Humiliation washing over me, I tried pulling away from him, but the sheikh was too swift, his arms turning into immovable chains as he hauled me back to him.
“Let me go.” My voice was muffled against his chest, and I was torn between screaming and crying. God, how could I have let this happen? Why did I still find him irresistible after what he had done to me?
I tried getting away again, but it was no use. Over my head, the sheikh spoke again, his voice calm. “Tell me where you’ve been first.”
Resentment hit me, and I lifted my head to gaze at him wrathfully. “You really want to know?”
His gaze narrowing at my raised tone, the sheikh grated out, “Will you keep it down—-”
Even knowing he was right, I was too mad, too hurt to listen to reason and I found myself bursting out even more shrilly, “I was with Mik’hail.”
Silence detonated between us.
Something flickered in his eyes – something like pain – but it was gone in a flash, and I told myself I had just imagined it.
“I see.” The sheikh released me as he spoke, and the abrupt absence of his touch left me feeling inexplicably and mortifyingly empty.
God, I was so helpless.
In a fit of hurt anger, I grabbed the covers and, wrapping it around me, I climbed out of my bed and stalked to where my dress laid discarded on the floor. Bending down, I picked it up and, dipping into its pocket, I pulled out a still-sealed letter.
Whirling around to face the sheikh, I threw the letter at him.
Raising himself up to a sitting position and looking entirely unconcerned of his nudity, the sheikh caught the letter handily. His lips tightening at the sight of the royal seal of Layla, he demanded, “What is this?”
“My invitation,” I said coldly.
In response, the sheikh locked his gaze with mine just before ripping the letter into half with slow deliberation.
I gasped. “What are you doing?” I lunged towards him, trying to get the letter out of his hand, but the sheikh moved too fast for me.
He was gone from the bed in a flash and managed to rip the letter into smaller pieces. “You’re not going.”
Seeing him release the pieces of paper into the air was like watching my own heart crumble anew, pieces of me that I wasn’t sure I’d ever get back because only the sheikh could stitch them together again.
“How?” I whispered. I had lost all sense of pride and shame. “How can you be so cruel to let us get this far only to throw me away?”
“I didn’t throw you away.” The sheikh’s handsome face became shuttered. “I only said you are not to go to the ball—-”
“But it’s a ball for you to find a bride,” I cried out. “A bride, Your Highness! Not anyone’s bride but yours! How can I not want to come?” I nearly wept when the sheikh only looked at me, a stoic, noble figure that almost made me feel like I was talking to a cold and unfeeling statue. “Is it because I’m not a p-princess?” I stumbled over the last word but I forced myself to say it, needing to know the truth, if only to find a way to move on. “Is that why you don’t think I c-could be your bride?” I fought hard not to cry, but tears had clogged my voice in the end.