He leaned over her and she put her feet up, bracing them on his chest and pushing back, before planting her feet on the floor and leveraging herself into a standing position, her center low, her hands up, ready to block or attack.
He moved and she sidestepped, sweeping her foot across his face. He stumbled and she used the opportunity to her advantage, pushing him to the ground and straddling him, her knees planted on his shoulders, one hand at his throat.
Still, she could see his eyes, glittering in the dark.
She would have to do it while she faced him now. And without the benefit of chloroform either putting him out cold or deadening his senses. She pushed back at the one last stab of doubt as she reached into her robe for her knife.
There was no time to doubt. No time to hesitate. He certainly hadn’t done either when he’d passed that judgment on her father. There was no time for humanity when your enemy had none.
She whipped the knife out of her robe and held it up. Ferran grabbed both of her wrists and on a low, intense growl pushed her backward and propelled them both up against the side of the bed. He pushed her hand back, the knife blade flicking her cheek, parting the flesh there. A stream of blood trickled into her mouth.
She fisted his hair and his head fell back. She tried to bring the blade forward, but he grabbed her arm again, reversing their positions. He had her trapped against the bed, her hands flat over the mattress, bent a near-impossible direction. The tendons in her shoulders screamed, the cut on her face burning hot.
“Who sent you?” he asked, his voice a low rasp.
“I sent myself,” she said, spitting out the blood that had pooled in her mouth onto the floor beside them.
“And what is it you’re here to do?”
“Kill you, obviously.”
He growled again and twisted her arm, forcing her to drop the knife. And still he held her fast. “You’ve failed,” he said.
“And forever,” he said, his tone dripping with disdain. “What I want to know is why a woman is hiding in my bedchamber ready to end my life.”
“I would have thought this happened to you quite often.”
“Not in my memory.”
“A life for a life,” she said. “And as you only have the one, I will take it. Though you owe more.”
“Is that so?”
“I’m not here to debate with you.”
“No, you’re here to kill me. But as that isn’t going to happen—tonight or any other night—you may perhaps begin to make the case as to why I should not have you executed. For an attempt at assassinating a world leader. For treason. I could. At the very least I can have you thrown in jail right this moment. All it takes is a call.”
“Then why haven’t you made it?”
“Because I have not stayed sheikh, through changes in the world, civil unrest and assassination attempts, without learning that all things, no matter how bad, can be exploited to my advantage if I know where to look.”
“I will not be used to your advantage.”
“Then enjoy prison.”
Samarah hesitated. Because she wouldn’t forge an alliance with Ferran. It was an impossible ask. He had destroyed her life. He had toppled the government in her country. Left the remainder of her family on the run like dogs.
Left her and her mother on the streets to fend for themselves until her mother had died.
He had taken everything. And she had spent her life with one goal in mind. To ensure that he didn’t get away with it. To ensure his line wouldn’t continue while hers withered.
And she was failing.
Unless she stopped. Unless she listened. Unless she did what Ferran claimed to do. Turn every situation to her advantage.
“And what do I need to give in exchange for my freedom?”
“I haven’t decided yet,” he said. “I haven’t decided if, in fact, your freedom is on the table. But the power is with me, is it not?”
“Isn’t it always?” she asked. “You’re the sheikh.”
“This is true.”
“Will you release me?”
He reached behind her, and when he drew his hand back into her line of vision, she saw he was now holding the knife. “I don’t trust you, little desert viper.”
“So well you shouldn’t, Your Highness, as I would cut your throat if given the chance.”
“Yet I have your knife. And you’re the only one who bled. I will release you for the moment, only if you agree to follow my instructions.”
“That depends on what they are.”
“I want you to get on the bed, in the center, and stay there.”
She stiffened, a new kind of fear entering her body. Death she’d been prepared for. But she had not, even for a moment, given adequate thought and concern to the idea of him putting his hands on her body.