“Have you ever seen exotic animals that were caged?” he asked. She shook her head. “The way they pace back and forth against the bars. It’s disturbing. To see all that power, all that wildness, locked away. To see every instinct stolen from them. I do not seek to tame you. For those very reasons. But I do hope we might at least come to exist beside one another.”
“We might,” she said, the words strangled.
“I will take that as an enthusiastic agreement coming from you. I know this is not ideal but can’t you simply…”
“Endure for the greater good?” she asked.
“Is that what you will be doing?”
“It’s what I’ve always done,” he said. “It’s what I must do. This is the burden of a crown, Samarah. If you do it right, you’re under the power of the people, not the other way around.”
“Let me ask you this, Ferran,” she said. And she didn’t know why she was keeping the conversation going. Didn’t know why she was standing in the hall with him, backed against a wall, allowing him to keep his hand on her cheek. But she was.
She knew she was extending the moment, extending the contact, but as confused as she was by her motivations, she didn’t feel ashamed.
“Ask away,” he said.
“You consider me feral.”
“Does this mean you’re domesticated? As you’ve been brought up in captivity?”
“Of course I am,” he said. “I’m the ruler of this country, and I have to be a diplomat. A leader. I have to be a man who acts rationally. With his mind, with his knowledge of right and wrong.”
She narrowed her eyes and tilted her head, the motion causing his fingers to drift downward to her jawline. He traced the bone there. Slowly. It felt like the long slow draw of a match. Burning. Sparking.
“That’s not what I see,” she said.
“Oh no?” he asked. “What is it you see?”
“A tiger pacing the bars.”
SAMARAH WAS IN the garden doing martial arts forms when Ferran found her.
“I’m pleased to see you’re out enjoying the scorching heat,” he said.
She wiped the sweat from her forehead. “It’s the desert. There is no other sort of weather to enjoy. It’s this or monsoons.”
“You don’t get so much of the torrential rains here. But if you go west, toward the bedouin camps…there you find your monsoons.”
“Then I suppose here at the palace, heat is my only option.”
He watched her for a moment longer. Every graceful movement. Precise and deadly. She was a thing of beauty. A thing of poisoned beauty.
He was much more attracted to her than he’d anticipated. Because he hadn’t anticipated it at all. This strange, slow burn that hit him in the gut whenever she was near. He’d never experienced anything like it. He wasn’t the kind of man who burned for one woman. For any woman.
He scarcely remembered his past lovers. He’d had one year of his life devoted to the discovery of women. At fifteen, he hadn’t been able to get enough. Such a spoiled, stupid boy he’d been. He’d been granted almost his full height then, and he’d had more money and power than a boy his age knew how to wield. That had meant he’d discovered sex earlier than he might have otherwise.
But women had only been a means to him finding release, and nothing more. He’d never wanted one much more than any other.
But here and now, he burned.
It was not at all what he wanted.
Then there was her bit of insight.
A tiger pacing the bars.
When she’d said that, he’d wanted to show her—while he kept himself leashed, he was not in a cage. He could slip it at will, and he’d had the strong desire to make sure she realized that.
To press her head against the wall and let her feel just what he was feeling. To tilt her head back and take her lips with his.
To show her just what manner of man he was.
But that was passion driving that desire. And he didn’t bow down to passion. It was too exposing. And he would not open himself up in that way again.
This deadly, encroaching feeling had fueled his plan for the day, too. It was time for both of them to get out of this palace, this mausoleum that held so many of their dead.
He would get them both out into an open space for a while.
“I had thought you might like a chance to go out in it for a while.”
“Out in it?”
“The heat,” he said.
“Oh.” She stopped her exercise. “For what purpose?”
“There is a large bedouin tribe that camps a few hours east of the palace at this time of year, and I always like to pay them a visit. See that their needs are being met, what has changed. They have an ambassador, but I like to keep personal touch, as well.”