“Oh. And you would…bring me?”
“You’re to be my wife. This will be a part of your duties. You will be part of this country.”
“It’s hard to imagine being a part of Khadra,” she said. “Being somehow a part of you.”
“And yet, that is to be our future,” he said.
“So it appears.”
“So it is.”
“So let it be written, et cetera.”
He smiled. “Yes. I think you just bantered with me.”
She frowned in return, the golden skin on her forehead creasing. “I did not banter with you.”
“You did. For a moment there, you thought of me as a human being and not a target you’d like to put an arrow through.”
“Lies. I am imagining breaking your nose as we speak.”
“I don’t think you are, princess.”
“Don’t let my naturally sweet demeanor fool you.”
“There is no chance of that,” he said.
He didn’t know why, but he wanted to tease her. He wanted to make her smile. Because she never did. It was less perturbing than wanting to feel how soft her skin was beneath his fingers, anyway. So perhaps for now he would just focus on the smile.
“How will we get there?” she asked.
* * *
An air-conditioned, luxury four-wheel drive SUV was hardly a camel. She realized, the moment the vehicle pulled up to the front of the palace, that Ferran had been…teasing her.
He probably wasn’t afraid of her anymore, since he seemed content to poke at her with a stick. Which, all things considered, wasn’t the worst thing. That he wasn’t afraid of her, not that he felt at liberty to stick-poke her.
Though, she couldn’t remember the last time someone had teased her. Maybe no one ever had. Dimly, she recalled a nanny who had been very happy. Smiling and singing a lot. But Samarah couldn’t even remember the woman’s name. And she was more a misty dream than an actual memory.
Master Ahn had been kind. But he hadn’t had much in the way of a sense of humor. He’d been quiet, though, almost serene and it had made a nice counterweight for Samarah’s anger. He’d helped her channel it. He’d helped her find some measure of peace. Had helped her put things in their proper compartments.
But he hadn’t teased her.
Ferran held the door for her and she got inside, the rush of cold air a nice change from the arid heat. She wasn’t used to being able to find this kind of reprieve from the midday sun. It was…luxury.
“This is not a camel,” she said.
“Disappointed?” he asked, as he took his place in the driver’s seat and turned the engine over.
He maneuvered the car out of the gates and toward and around back behind the palace, where the city thinned out, and there was a gap in the walls. Walls that were left over from medieval times. More of the old mixed with the new.
“I’m not particularly disappointed by the lack of camel, no.”
“They aren’t so bad once you learn to lean into the gait.”
“They are so bad, Ferran. I remember.”
She leaned back against the seat and closed her eyes. “Vaguely. We did a…caravan once. We rode camels. And picnicked out in the sand beneath canopies. It seems like…like maybe it was a dream. Or another person told me this story. It hardly seems like me. But I remember the rocking motion of the camel so…if I know that, then it had to have been real, right?”
He nodded. “It was real. Your father hosted a picnic like that for visiting dignitaries every year.”
“Oh, is that it? I couldn’t remember. Weird how you know more about my past than I do. I was so young and my mother never talked about it.”
Weird was…too light of a word. It was…everything. Horribly sad. Happy, in a strange way, to hear about her past finally instead of just having vague memories seen through the lens of a child.
But so odd that she was dependent on the man she saw as her enemy to learn the information.
“We used to go to the palace by the seaside,” she said.
“My parents’ home. Mine now. Ours. Or it will be.”
Her stomach tightened. “I’m not sure if I want to go there.”
“I was so happy there,” she said, closing her eyes. “It almost hurts to think about it. Like someone scooped out my stomach.” She opened her eyes again and looked out at the desert. “I don’t think I want to go,” she said again.
They were silent for the rest of the drive. Samarah trying to focus on the view and the air-conditioning, rather than the heat the man beside her seemed to radiate. It was stupid. His body temperature should be ninety-eight point six, just like hers. So why did he always feel so damn hot? It was irritating beyond measure.