I asked painfully, “Have I been so obvious?”
“It’s not your fault, my dear. My brother is an expert in seduction. You stood no chance.”
I bit my lip. “What about the king and queen?”
“Let me worry about them.” Lady Dezza gave me another kind smile. “So, would you like to go away?”
I PACKED LIGHTLY AND quickly, as Lady Dezza suggested. On my way out, I spied a package laid next to the door with my name on it. Not bothering to see what was inside, I simply picked it up and zipped the box with the rest of the contents inside my overnight bag.
A black car was waiting for me at the back of the palace, just as my stepsister promised. A pair of burly-looking men came out of the car the moment I appeared, and one of them opened the door for me.
“Thank you,” I mumbled, but the man only grunted.
A few moments later, and we were off, the car speeding down the driveway. As the distance between the palace and me grew, my heart felt heavier and heavier. To distract myself, I unzipped my bag, remembering the package I had yet to open.
Tearing the wrapper away, I took off the lid from the box—-
A pair of glass slippers rested on a bed of white silk.
Just like Cinderella, I thought dazedly.
The symbolic meaning wasn’t lost on me at all, and it wasn’t hard to guess who was the person behind the gift. Suddenly, memories of last night tumbled back into my mind, and this time I didn’t just remember the times we made love. This time, I also remembered the sheikh’s words.
Come to the ball, ukhayyah. I will be waiting to make you my bride.
I cried out to the driver, “Please stop!”
The driver and his companion exchanged glances.
“Please take me back! Or drive me straight to the ball!”
“A moment, milady,” the other man said gruffly.
I watched him make a call, and straining my ears, I managed to hear the voice on the other end of the line. It was Lady Dezza, and as the man told her about my request, her answer was explicitly clear.
“No matter what happens, don’t let her come to the ball.”
I didn’t bother listening to the rest of what she had to say. Seeing the doors still unlocked and knowing I only had one chance to escape, I took the opportunity. Even with the car cruising down at full speed, I opened the door and jumped out.
It was almost like a scene straight out from an action movie, only this time it was happening to her – in real life.
The men whom Lady Dezza had sent to drive her away from the palace now appeared equally intent to drive the life out of her body. They were shooting at her, and she wouldn’t have had any chance dodging their bullets if not for other men suddenly appearing and exchanging fire with them.
“Run, milady!” It was Charles and Jack, the soldiers frequently stationed outside the sheikh’s study, and Ella realized all at once that it was the sheikh’s men who had come to her rescue.
Without hesitation, she picked up her skirts and broke into a run, glass slippers clutched tightly to her chest. Her heartbeat raced as fast as her feet could carry her, and soon Ella found herself running straight into the woods. She knew a shortcut there, one that would lead her straight to the north wing, where the ball was taking place. Not even pausing for breath, she plodded on, ducking under thorny branches and skipping over roots that sought to trip her.
Somewhere along the way, she had kicked off her heels to run faster, and her feet started to bleed. But she didn’t stop, knowing that with the sounds of gunfire close behind, there was always a chance that Lady Dezza’s men would catch up with her.
She had almost reached then end of the woods when she heard the barks.
Oh God, they had set the dogs after her!
There was no way to lose those dogs, not when they could use her scent as their trail. She wanted to sob in terror, but she continued to run. The barking became louder, the gunfire closer, and she knew it was only a matter of time—-
And then she heard something else, the thunderous, galloping sounds of hooves stomping on the ground—-
She looked up just in time to see Sheikh Mik’hail tearing towards her way, riding a white steed like the proverbial knight in shining armor. “Come with me, milady!”
She hesitated, not knowing whether he was someone she could trust.
“You have nothing to worry about. Khal has sent me to help his ukhayyah become his bride.”
Ella bit back a sob. Those words…those words were something Sheikh Mik’hail could only have known if Khal himself had told him.