Page 16 of To Defy a Sheikh

She was undecided on both issues presently.

And he’d confused her. With his comfy mattresses, delicious food and offers of a life she’d never imagined she could have.

A chance to be a sheikha. To do good in the world. To remember what it was to be poor, starving and homeless, and to have a chance to make it better for those in this country who were currently suffering in poverty.

A chance to be a mother.

A chance to live in a palace with everything that had been stolen from her.

She would not feel guilty for wanting that. Not even a little. Not when she’d spent so many years as she had. She’d been spoiled once, and after all the deprivation, she felt she could use a return to spoiling.

It was all so tempting. Like a poisoned apple.

But she knew it was poisoned. Knew that while it looked sweet it would rot inside of her.

“I can’t discuss this just now,” she said.

“You’ve already agreed. It’s the only reason I’ve not had you arrested.”

Yes, she had agreed. But inside she didn’t feel as if it was a done deal yet. It didn’t feel real, this change in her fate. She’d done nothing but focus on her revenge for so many years. Revenge and survival. They’d kept her going. They were her passion. She had nothing else; she cared for nothing else. Food, shelter, safety, sleep, repeat. All in the aim of making it here, and from there? She’d had no plan. She’d imagined…well, she’d hardly imagined she would survive this.

He was offering her something she’d never once imagined for herself: a future. One that consisted of so much more than those basic things. One that gave her the chance to add something to the world instead of simply taking Ferran from it.

He wasn’t a monster. And that she’d known since she first came to live at the palace a month ago. It had been uncomfortable to face that. That it was a man she fought against, not a mythical being who was all terror and anguish. Not the specter of death himself, come to destroy her family.

She hated this. She hated it all. She hated how it tempted her.

“I suppose I have,” she said, “but I’m still processing what it means.”

It was the most honest thing she’d said to him in regards to the marriage. There were implications so far-reaching that it was hard for her to see them all from her room here in the palace.

“As am I. But one thing I do know is that marriage means heirs. I’m a royal, so there is no other aspect of marriage that’s more important.”

“Certainly not affection,” she said.

“Certainly not. I doubt my father had much if any for my mother. If he did, he would not have been with your mother.”

“Or perhaps they were simply greedy.” She looked down, unsure if she should say the words that were pounding through her head. Because why talk to him at all? Why discuss anything with him? “I think my mother loved them both.”

It was a strange thing to say. Especially when love had been utterly lacking in her life. But this was, in part, her theory why.

“What?”

“I think she loved my father and yours. She was devastated to lose them both. That her husband, whom she loved, was killed in the same few days that her lover was killed…I don’t think she ever recovered. I don’t know that she ever loved anything as much as she loved the two of them.” Certainly not her.

He paused for a long moment, his eyes on the back wall. “That’s where you’re wrong.”

“Is it?”

“Yes. I don’t think your mother ever loved anyone more than she loved herself.”

“You aren’t fit to comment on her,” she said, but there was something about his words that hit her in a strange way. Something that felt more real than she would like.

“Perhaps not.” The light in his eyes changed, and for a moment, she thought she almost saw something soft. “No child should have to see what you did.”

She looked away. “I hardly remember it.”

Except she had. She and her mother had been staying at the palace. Visiting. Of course, she figured out that meant they’d been sneaking time in for their affair. At the time it had all been so confusing. She’d been a child who hadn’t known anything about what had passed between the sheikh and sheikha and why it had caused the fallout that it had.

Honestly, at twenty-one, she was barely wiser about it than she’d been then.

In her mind, male desire wasn’t a positive thing. It was something she feared. Deeply. Living unprotected as she had, she’d had to respond with fierce, single-mindedness to any advances.

It didn’t take long for the men in the city to learn that she wasn’t worth hassling.

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