The answer had the new queen beaming. “Oh, thank God you’ve changed your mind. It’s very important we present a united front on this occasion.”
“I think so, too,” the king said heartily. “It’s unfortunate that the media made so much out of a harmful exchange of letters but do not let yourself be troubled by it.” He sent his stepdaughter a kind look. “You have not been raised according to our ways. We know there is no malice behind the exchange. We will weather this storm, and the ball will be our first step. We shall put an end to all the rumors.” He shared a look of determination with his wife. “Not just those involving Ella and the Sheikh of Layla, but also those nonsensical ones that imply there is something going on between my children.”
The words presented Dezza another opportunity to create trouble, and she seized it eagerly, a triumphant smile on her face as she pointed out, “But the ball is for my dear brother to hunt for a bride. If she’s going, doesn’t it mean people will think she desires to marry Khalas well?” Dezza slung a challenging look at the girl. “Do you, Lady Ella?”
The words seemed to catch Ella off guard, and when she appeared at a loss for words, Khal interjected smoothly, “You must be joking, dear sister.”
Dezza’s teeth gnashed at the taunting note in the sheikh’s words, but there was nothing she could do about it. She had always known she was no match for the sheikh, and that to go against him in a straightforward fashion would be suicidal.
Letting out a shrill laugh, she backtracked, saying, “I apologize if I’ve caused any offense. I am only repeating what everyone says. It seems the whole world misunderstands our sweet little sister—-”
The sheikh only shrugged. “They misunderstand for they do not know the truth.”
“The truth?” Dezza echoed skeptically.
The sheikh bared his teeth in a dangerous smile. “Have you not heard? Lady Ella is planning to accept Sheikh Mik’hail’s marriage proposal.” Khal managed to keep his voice level despite the way his heart clenched at the mere thought of Ella marrying another man. The sheikh slanted a glance towards his stepsister. “Correct, ukhayyah?”
A stricken look crossed Ella’s face, and Khal’s chest tightened with pain at how vulnerable and frail she looked right now.
His fists clenched under the table, his every instinct urging him to protect her…but he couldn’t. His hands were tied, fate decreeing that Ella face her battles alone.
As they continued to stare at each other, the tension between them became evident. When she still didn’t answer, the sheikh’s jaw clenched, knowing that he was about to hurt her again.
“Do not keep us in suspense,” the sheikh said lightly, “lest you want everyone to think you are foolish enough to believe I will marry you.”
His words had her sucking her breath in, as if his words were a punch to her guts. After a moment, she said tightly, “No, Your Highness. I would never be so foolish as to want to marry someone like you.”
The subtle dig had the queen gasping while the king cast a frowning glance at both Khal and Ella.
Ella burst to her feet, as if only realizing how much she had given herself away. “Excuse me,” she choked before running out of the dining hall.
Her departure left an awkward, edgy silence in her wake, which was only broken when Dezza asked ever so innocently, “Are you not going after her, Your Highness?”
The sheikh shrugged. “Should I?”
Her half-brother’s tone was entirely casual, but the sudden pallor on his face was unmistakable, and triumph filled Dezza. While she wasn’t completely sure if it was all love or lust on the sheikh’s side, the truth was immaterial.
Ella loved the sheikh, and that was all she needed to know. Now, the only thing left to do was for the world to see how this American nobody was such a good whore she had two royal sheikhs hankering after her.
Once that happened, Ella would be exiled, the king’s heir dishonored, and Dezza’s son would become next in line to inherit the throne.
“Thank you so much,” I told the courier as he handed my package. I waited until he was gone and left alone with my lady’s maid before I hurriedly unwrapped it.
“You’re opening it here, milady?” Jane asked in surprise.
“Yes.” I understood her concern. We were at the palace’s servants’ entrance, and it was definitely not a place I should be seen at. “Please keep this a secret. I don’t want anyone to know about it before I see it for myself.” I finally managed to tear off the last piece of wrapping paper from the box.
Jane gasped when I opened the box and revealed its content.
“Oh, milady, that’s so beautiful!”
I didn’t let up my breath, asking nervously, “You mean it?” As part of the royal family, I was required to buy only locally designed gowns. Unfortunately, the rumors had made all fashion designers in the kingdom unwilling to work for me.