He put his hand on her back, the touch firm, burning her through her dress. He propelled her from the podium and away from the crowd, who were being managed now by his staff. “I have briefed them on what to say,” he said when they were back in the corridor. “They have a nice story about how we reconnected at a small event we both attended in Morocco six months ago.”
“That’s quite the tale,” she said, feeling shivery now, though she wasn’t sure why.
“You have not been in front of people in that way before, have you?”
“I’m used to being anonymous,” she said. “Actually, I’m used to needing anonymity for survival. This runs…counter to everything that I’ve learned.”
That was a truer statement than she’d realized it was going to be. A far deeper-reaching statement.
Everything she’d been experiencing here this past week countered everything she knew about life. Everything she’d known about Ferran.
And about herself.
It was a lot to take in.
“This is my world,” he said. “Everything I do needs a press conference.”
“I’m not sure how I feel about that. Well, no, that’s not true. I’m certain I don’t like it.” Because if she was really doing this sheikha thing, she wasn’t sure how she would survive something like that all the time. “I feel too exposed.”
“You’re perfectly safe,” he said.
“I’m standing there being useless in formal attire and I’m not at all ready to defend myself if something should happen.”
He frowned and took a step toward her, and she took a step back, her bottom hitting the wall behind her. “It’s something you’ll have to get used to. This is only the beginning. We’ll be planning a formal ball after this, to celebrate our upcoming marriage. And then the wedding. I am not going to hurt you,” he said. “Stop preparing to collapse my windpipe.”
“Should the need arise, I must be prepared.”
One dark brow shot up. “The need will not arise.”
He planted a hand by her head, leaning in. “I am here to protect you. I swear upon my life. In that room, where the conference is being held, there are always guards. They are ready to defend us should anything happen. And if they should fail, I am there. And I will guard you. I failed you once, Samarah. I let you die, and now that you’ve come back from the grave I will not allow you to return to it.”
She felt the vow coming from his soul, from that place of honor he prized so dearly, and she knew he spoke the truth. So strange to hear this vow when part of her had still been ready to exact the revenge she’d come to deliver from the first.
She looked up and met his gaze. It was granite. And she felt caught there, between the marble wall and the hardness in his eyes. Between the honor he had shown since her return, and the growing respect she felt for that honor, and the years-long desire for a way to repay the devastation he’d been part of wreaking on her life. She couldn’t look away, and she didn’t know why. She was sent right back to the moment in his room, when she’d been poised, ready to take his life, and she’d seen his eyes.
There was just something about his eyes.
“I have never been able to trust my safety to another person,” she said. Even when she’d had her mother with her, she’d often felt like the one doing the protecting. The parenting.
“Entrust it to me,” he said. “I’ve already entrusted mine to you.”
She turned that over for a moment. “I suppose that’s true. But then, I am a prisoner of sorts.”
“Instead of a leg shackle you’ll have a ring.”
“Sparklier anyway,” she said, flexing her fingers, trying hard not to picture what it might feel like to wear a man’s ring.
“You don’t sound thrilled.”
“Jewelry was never an aspiration of mine.”
“I dare say it wasn’t.”
“So you can hardly expect for me to get all girlish over it, now can you?”
“Oh, Samarah, I don’t expect that. No matter how much you make yourself glitter, I’m not fooled.”
“Good,” she said.
“You are a feral creature,” he said, leaning in slightly, the motion pulling the breath from her lungs.
“And you think you’ll tame me?”
He put his hand on her cheek, his thumb tracing the line of her lower lip. She could do nothing. Nothing but simply let him touch her. Nothing but see what he might do. She was fascinated, in the way one might be of something utterly terrifying. Something hideous and dark that all decent people would turn away from. Her stomach twisted tight, her lungs crushed, unable to expand.