Ella’s lip started to tremble.
That was love blazing in his blue eyes, was it not?
The sheikh said quietly, “State what you have come here for, Lady Ella.”
She didn’t even think of refusing. How could she when he was looking at her like she was the most precious thing in the world for him?
Her voice ringing with sincerity, she said, “I came here to ask if you would take me as your bride, Your Highness. I know it may not seem proper for so many reasons, but I swear with all my heart, if you choose me, I shall work hard to become a most suitable bride…” A smile wobbled on her lips. “I have nothing to offer, Your Highness. Just myself and my love.”
Before the sheikh could answer, someone from the crowd of guests shouted, “Immoral slut!” It was a nobleman from another kingdom, and he had his sister with him. Like all men in the ball, he had hoped that his kin would be the sheikh’s bride. He started to say something else, but the words died in his throat when Khal’s gaze snapped towards him.
“Lady Ella and I are not related by blood, milord,” Khal said in a terrifyingly soft voice. “So if I were you, be very careful with your next words unless it is your express desire to face me in a duel.”
The nobleman’s courage wilted at the face of the sheikh’s threat, and lips tight with impotent anger, he could only grab his sister’s hand and drag her out of the ballroom with him.
In the wake of the nobleman’s departure, another voice called out to the sheikh, this time a waspish-looking lady who had also hoped to be Kivr’s future queen.
“You cannot fault us for being concerned, Your Highness. The kingdom has been rife with scandal ever since she came to live in the palace.”
A good point, the sheikh thought idly, and it was also exactly what he wanted to hear.
Restless resentment ran through the crowd as they waited for the sheikh to respond, and Ella wanted to shrink and disappear. It wasn’t as if the other woman had said anything untrue, and maybe the others right as well.
Glancing up at the sheikh, she whispered his name, but Khal only shook his head.
“I know what you wish to say,” he murmured under his breath, “and my answer is no. I will never let you go.”
Her eyes widened in shock, but before she could figure out what to think of the sheikh’s incredibly possessive claim, she heard someone else speaking. It was the sheikh’s right-hand man, Luke.
“If I may be permitted, Your Majesties, Your Highness, my lords and my ladies, I would like to have the opportunity to present compelling evidence that might shed light on Lady Ella’s character.”
The king nodded. “Proceed.”
A full-sized screen lit up on the wall behind the royal thrones, and Ella was rendered speechless when she saw herself, along with the rest of the family. This video was taken the day before the ball, when Lady Dezza had asked her if she wanted to become the sheikh’s bride.
The second clip that Luke showed was another surprise. It was that time when Lady Dezza had seemed to set out to ruin her dress, and even now, she couldn’t help but flinch as she watched her dress rip. The crowd was similarly affected as well, with the way everyone gasped in outrage.
The final clip revealed that moment before the ball, and the sheikh had acted callously towards Lady Ella. When angry glares on Ella’s behalf came his way afterwards, Khal was far from bothered. The tides had definitely turned, and it was exactly what he wished.
“Lastly,” Luke said, “I have a witness to present.” He stepped back, and that was when Ella saw Lord Barton, Sheikh Mik’hail’s aide.
The nobleman wasn’t quite able to meet anyone’s eyes as he said in a stilted fashion, “I previously worked as an envoy for His Highness, the Sheikh of Layla.” Taking his hand out of his pocket, he showed the crowd several letters, all bearing the sheikh’s seal.
But that wasn’t the only thing Ella noticed. This close to the former aide, she also noticed the man lacked one finger, an injury he hadn’t had the last time they had met.
She glanced at Khal, and seeing the question in her eyes, the sheikh said under his breath, “People who dare hurt the woman I love must be made to learn their lesson.” His voice was pleasant still, but coolly so, as if he wanted her to know that on this matter, he would not budge.
Meanwhile, Lord Barton was still confessing his wrongdoings.
“All of these are the letters I stole. I had hoped to blackmail Sheikh Mik’hail with it, knowing they would cause a scandal.”
White-faced the moment Lord Barton appeared, Lady Dezza was no longer able to bear being silent. “Why are we only questioning him?” she demanded shrilly. She had a feeling that it was only a matter of time before everyone started pointing fingers at her, and she was not going down without a fight. She pointed at Sheikh Mik’hail, demanding violently, “Why do we not question him? That man dares to enter our kingdom, committing violence against our soldiers—-”