SHEIKH FERRAN BASHAR, ruler of Khadra, would not survive the night. He didn’t know it yet, but it was true.
Killing a man was never going to be easy. But that was why she’d trained, why she’d practiced the moves over and over again. So that they became muscle memory. So that when the time came there would be no hesitation. No regret.
She waited by the door of the sheikh’s bedchamber, a cloth soaked in chloroform in one hand, a knife stowed securely in her robe. There could be no noise. And she would have to surprise him.
How could she have regret? When she knew what his legacy had brought onto hers. Tradition as old as their kingdoms demanded this. Demanded that his line end with him.
As hers had ended with her father. With one lone, surviving daughter who could never carry the name. With a kingdom that had lost its crown and suffered years of turmoil as a result.
But now was no time for emotion. No time for anything but action. She’d gotten herself hired on at the palace a month ago for this very purpose. And Ferran had been no wiser. Of course he hadn’t. Why would he ever look at her? Why would he ever recognize her?
But she recognized him. And now, she’d observed him. Learned him.
Sheikh Ferran was a large man, tall and lean with hard muscle and impressive strength. She’d watched him burn off energy in the courtyard, hitting a punching bag over and over again. She knew how he moved. She knew his endurance level.
She would be merciful. He would feel nothing.
He would not know it was coming. He would not beg for his life. He wouldn’t wait in a cell for his life to end, as her father had. It would simply end.
Yes, unlike him, she would show mercy in that way at least.
And she knew that tonight, she would win.
Or she would be the one who didn’t live to see morning. It was a risk she was willing to take. It was one she had to take.
She waited, her muscles tense, everything in her on high alert. She heard footsteps, heavy and even. It was Ferran, she was almost positive. As sure as she could be with footsteps alone.
She took a deep breath and waited for the door to open. It did, a sliver of light sliding across the high-gloss marble floor. She could see his reflection in it. Broad, tall. Alone.
She just needed to wait for him to close the door.
She held her breath and waited. He closed the door, and she knew she had to move immediately.
Samarah said a prayer just before she moved from the shadow. One for justice. One for forgiveness. And one for death, that it would come swiftly. For Ferran, or for her.
He turned as she was poised to overtake him, and her eyes met his. It stopped her, dead in her tracks, the glittering in those dark depths so alive. So vibrant. He was striking, beautiful even.
So very familiar.
In spite of all the years, she knew him. And in that moment, all she could do was stare, motionless. Breathless.
That moment was all it took.
Ferran stepped to the side, reaching out and grabbing her arm. She lifted and twisted her wrist, tugging it through the weak point of his hand where his fingers overlapped, as she crossed one leg behind the other and dipped toward the floor, lowering her profile and moving herself out of harm’s way.
She turned and sidestepped, grabbing his shoulder and using his thigh as a step up to his back. She swung herself around, her forearm around his neck, the chloroform soaked rag in her hand.
He grabbed her wrist, a growl on his lips, and she fought to tug out of his grasp, but this time, he held fast. This time, he was expecting her escape.
She growled in return, tightening her hold on his neck with her other arm. He backed them both up against the wall, the impact of the hard stone surface knocking the air from her.
She swore and held fast, her thighs tight around his waist, ankles locked together at his chest. His hand wrapped around her wrist, he took her arm and hit it against the wall. She dropped the rag and swore, fighting against him.
But her surprise was lost, and while she was a skilled fighter, she was outmatched in strength. She’d forfeited her advantage.
She closed her eyes and imagined her home. Not the streets of Jahar, but the palace. One she and her mother had been evicted from after the death of her father. After the sanctioned execution of her father. Sanctioned by Ferran.
Adrenaline shot through her and she twisted to the side, using her body weight to put more pressure on his neck. He stumbled across the room, flipped her over his shoulders. She landed on her back on the floor, the braided rug doing little to cushion her fall, the breath knocked from her body.
She had to get up. This would be the death of her, and she knew it. Ferran was ruthless, as was his father before him, and the evidence of that was the legacy of her entire life. He would think nothing of breaking her neck, and she well knew it.