And yet, instead of being moved to pity, the sound seemed to enrage the sheikh. “Stop crying.” His savage voice was like a lash against my heart, and my body shook at the greater effort it took not to cry.
How can this be the same man who had loved me so tenderly a while ago, I wondered despairingly. How can be so tender one moment then so nasty the next?
Telling myself it was a waste of tears to cry over him, I wiped my eyes dry and, lifting my chin, I said flatly, “You won’t stop me from coming to the ball.” I shook my head when he tried to speak. “But don’t worry, it’s not to be your bride.” Tightening my hold on the covers around me, I said in a brittle voice, “You can tear all of Mik’hail’s letters, but it won’t change a thing. I’m going to accept his proposal of marriage.” I smiled as my heart broke and I kept smiling even as I sealed my unwanted fate, saying, “And who knows? The king may even ask you to give me away on my wedding day.”
THE SHEIKH WAS IN A cold rage.
Even now, with dawn breaking outside his windows, he was unable to sleep, his mind tormented by recurring memories of Ella’s last words.
I’ve decided to accept his proposal of marriage.
Snarling out a curse, the sheikh threw his glass against the wall. It shattered into pieces, the small amount of wine in it leaving behind a purplish stain.
Damn Dezza and her machinations, he thought furiously. Because they shared the same blood, the sheikh had always turned a blind eye to his half-sister’s greedy ways.
But this – this goddamn mess she had created by bringing his Ella and the Sheikh of Layla together – was the last straw. She had forced him to show his hand too early, forced him to hurt his beloved out of necessity, and for that he would make her pay endlessly.
Once all this was done, her misguided ambitions about the throne of Kivr would be put to a definite end, and she would be made to learn her place.
His decision made, the sheikh called for Luke. “Has the traitor confessed?” They had found the culprit behind the stolen letters, a low-ranking palace servant that his half-sister had bribed into doing her bidding.
“No, Your Highness.”
“That’s a pity then.”
And yet, Luke thought with a shiver, the sheikh’s murmured words were the opposite of his merciless tone. It was a frightening reminder that the sheikh had not always led a charmed life, and there had been a time the perils of war had turned him into the fiercest killer.
The sheikh’s next words seemed design to affirm this as Luke’s master informed him, “My former sergeant will take over later today. It should take him only three days at most to break the man down.”
“I understand, Your Highness.”
“Once the traitor’s returned to your care, you can be sure he’ll be most cooperative.” The sheikh paused. “However, you may notice a few changes about him.”
“Changes?” Luke echoed, puzzled.
“A missing finger or two,” the sheikh answered casually. “Nothing that worrying, but I thought I should warn you beforehand.”
Luke swallowed. “I a-appreciate the warning, Your Highness.”
“It is nothing.” The sheikh’s voice turned hard. “Just be sure everything is ready come the day of the ball. I want it to be clear in everyone’s minds the lengths she had taken to prove her love to me.”
“The first course shall be served,” the butler announced as attendants filed past him, each one tasked to serve a member of the royal family. The king was seated at the head of the table, the queen and the king’s daughter on his right and Khal and Ella on his left.
No one spoke as the plates were served, but Lady Dezza wasn’t fooled. While the king and queen appeared oblivious to the tension emanating between Khal and Ella, she had seen the way her younger half-brother had looked at the nobody.
Khal wanted to fuck the piece of trash next to him.
She would bet her share of the kingdom on it, but because she was the type who liked to be sure, she decided to put it to test.
“So, Lady Ella…” Dezza waited until the girl’s eyes met hers. “Are you going to the ball?”
The sheikh slowly leaned back against his seat at his half-sister’s words. And so it began, Khal thought. He had once hoped it would not come down to this, that he would be able to spare his woman from all the pain, but it wasn’t to be.
The sheikh pretended not to notice the way Ella’s gaze slid towards him.
He could almost hear her begging, but the sheikh remained steadfast.
Finally, he saw her square her shoulders, as if willing herself to be strong. He watched Ella lift her chin up as she said, “Yes, I’m going.”