“And I would do it again in a heartbeat if it means protecting a woman from harm,” the Sheikh of Layla answered her coldly. “And besides, let us not forget that it was your men that had gone after Lady Ella—-”
“And I have the means to prove it. They are waiting outside the palace as we speak. If you insist on denying the truth, I can have them presented here.”
Knowing there was no way out of that one, Dezza desperately changed tacks. “You would say anything just to protect her. After all, she’s the one you’ve been writing sappy love letters to—-”
“Those were sappy love letters,” Sheikh Mik’hail acknowledged, “but they were not from me.”
Ella tried to control her shock at the other man’s words.
Mik’hail slanted a look towards Khal. “Rather, those letters had been entrusted to my care, being the bridge between Khal and Lady Ella.”
The crowd’s shock was palpable, and one duchess even made a fuss as she swayed in her feet, saying that all these scandals were close to having her faint.
Amidst the chaos, however, Khal only nodded, saying simply, “Sheikh Mik’hail speaks the truth.”
This time, even Dezza was stunned speechless.
“Not many know that Sheikh Mik’hail is a close friend to both Ella and me, and it was why we trusted him with our secret.” His voice became grim. “However, we must now speak the truth. Too many lies had been spoken, and all of them had only succeeded at hurting the only innocent one involved—-”
Dezza charged violently, “You lie! Sheikh Mik’hail wrote the letters himself—-”
Khal only raised a brow. “And you would know this how, milady?” His voice turned mocking as he asked, “Perhaps you have read the letters we’ve exchanged? Perhaps you were even the person who had paid Lord Barton to steal the letters?”
At the mention of Lord Barton’s name the second time, Dezza knew that her game was up. She knew her half-brother well enough to the subtle warning in his tone, and those last words of his were definitely a threat. If she uttered another word against the American nobody, she knew the sheikh would reveal all her crimes in its entirety. But if she played nice, she just might escape being exiled from the kingdom.
Self-preservation had Dezza forcing herself to bow deeply, a symbol of abject apology in their kingdom. “My greatest apologies, my brother. Everything I did was only to make sure you have an ideal bride.”
“I understand.” As she straightened, the sheikh continued, “However, it is not me whom you should ask forgiveness from.”
Dezza’s teeth gnashed at the answer, but she knew she had no choice. Facing Ella, she bowed again and forced her next words out. “My humblest apologies, Lady Ella. It would be my greatest honor if you were to be my…future queen.”
“You are forgiven.” Ella didn’t even think twice about her answer. Lady Dezza was an evil bitch, but she hadn’t forgotten that the woman had a young son, and the child did not deserve to suffer because of his mother’s mistakes.
Ella turned at the sheikh’s voice and was stunned to see him down on one knee.
“It is my turn,” Khal said gravely, “to beg for your forgiveness.” His tone was humbler than anything the crowd – the entire world – had heard from the sheikh. “All my life, I was devoted to doing the right thing and perform my duty to the crown. It was all I thought of and cared about…until you came to the palace. I fell in love with you at first sight, but I chose to be cruel and aloof in hopes of driving you away. And yet, despite everything, you never gave up. While I tried to hide my feelings, you had the courage and strength to wear your heart on your sleeve.”
Tears were again running down Ella’s cheeks when she saw the way the sheikh breathed hard to control his own emotions, and judging by the sniffs from the crowd, she was not the only one who was affected by Khal’s moving words.
“I am done running, milady,” the sheikh said tautly. “If you will have me, I shall be yours to command forever, and it shall be my greatest pride to have you as my bride.”
Luke stepped forward, and in his hand was a small velvet box. The sheikh took this and opened it, and Ella along with the rest of the crowd gasped at the dazzling sight of the heirloom engagement ring that the sheikh now offered to her.
“Will you be my bride, milady?”
“Yes,” she said tremulously, and tears rushed down her cheeks as the sheikh slid the ring down her finger.
The sheikh rose to his feet. “I love you, Ella.”
“I love you, Khal.”
And then the sheikh was finally kissing her, in full view of everyone, their love no longer a shameful secret but one that the whole world celebrated.