“And I remember you as a girl, but I think we’re both rather far removed from those days, are we not?”
“I think we’re a whole regime change, an execution and a revenge plot away from who we were.”
“And a marriage proposal,” she said.
“Yes, there is that. Though you seem to object to all mentions of marital related activities.”
“I’m not ready to think about it,” she said.
“I see.” Heat burned through him, reckless and strange. Nothing like he’d experienced in his memory. Arousal was familiar. But there was a way he handled it now. And that was: alone.
He didn’t act on reckless impulse. He didn’t try to make the heat burn brighter. He extinguished it as quickly as possible. By working out until he dropped from exhaustion. By submerging himself in cold water.
He’d managed to diminish the desire for release until it was simply a physical need. Like hunger for food, thirst for water. There was no need for fanfare or flirtation. He had successfully managed without another person for years.
But there was a reality before him now. A woman he would marry. A woman who he would share his body with. And he was fascinated by her, by the thought. Now that sex was on the horizon he was finding it a difficult desire to ignore.
Especially with all the questions he had about her hair. How long it was. How it would feel sifting through his fingers.
Yes, he was curious about many things. He looked at her, at the exquisite line of her neck, the curve of her lips. His heart rate sped up. His fingers itching with the need to touch her.
“Tell me, Samarah,” he said, ignoring his reservations and chasing the fire, “in all of your time spent on vengeance training and nurturing your rage, did you make time for men?”
She blinked. “No.”
She blinked again. “No.”
“Have you ever been kissed, Samarah?”
She stepped back as if she’d been shocked, her eyes wide. And he should be thankful she had. Or years of restraint would have been undone. “We’re going to be late.”
“The press will wait. We’re what they’re there for.”
“I don’t like to be late.” She strode past him and out the door. “Are you coming?” she asked, out of view.
“Yes,” he said, trying to calm the heat that was rioting through him.
They had to present a united front for the nation. He only hoped she didn’t decide to attempt to give him a public execution.
* * *
Samarah looked out at the sea of reporters and felt the strong desire to scurry off the podium and escape so she could indeed do what Ferran had already accused her of doing. Nesting in the palace. Hiding away from everyone and everything.
She wasn’t used to being visible like this. It felt wrong. It felt like an affront to survival.
But then, this pounding, wild fear she was experiencing was much better than the strange, heated fear she’d felt in her bedroom.
Have you ever been kissed, Samarah?
What kind of question was that? And why did it make her feel like this? Edgy and restless, a bit tingly. If this was rage, it was a new kind. One she was unfamiliar with. And she didn’t like it one bit.
“It is with great happiness,” Ferran said, his tone serious and grave and not reflecting happiness in the least, “that I announce my upcoming marriage. It is happy, not only because marriage is a blessed union —” Samarah nearly choked “—but because I am to marry my childhood friend—” she mentally rolled her eyes at his exaggeration “—who was long thought dead. Sheikha Samarah Al-Azen.”
The room erupted into a frenzy, a volley of questions hitting like arrows. Samarah hadn’t been the focus of so much attention in her memory. As a child, she’d been shielded from the press, and as an adult, she’d spent her life in hiding.
This wasn’t anything she was prepared for. Fear had a limited place in her life. It acted only as a survival aid. To be heeded when she needed to heed it, and ignored when something larger than survival commanded she ignore it.
She never felt as if she was a slave to it.
Until now. Until she found herself doing something that went beyond explanation.
She put her hand on Ferran’s arm, her fingers curling into his firm, warm flesh, and she drew nearer to him, concealing part of herself behind his body.
She felt him tense beneath her touch, saw a near-imperceptible shift in the muscles on his face. “I will take no questions now,” he said. “I will add only this. I am regretful of the history that has passed between Khadra and Jahar. As are we all. I hope that this ushers in a new time. A new era. We are neighbors. And when children come from this union , blood. And while things will never be as they were, perhaps we can at least forge a truce, if not an alliance.”