“And do you think this will unite the countries again?”
Her brow creased. “It’s difficult to say. But I do think that the current government won’t perceive me as a threat now that I’m marrying into the Bashar family and making my home here. So that is helpful for me. As for everyone else? I think if nothing else it will help old wounds heal.”
Ferran nodded slowly. “If she can forgive me, then perhaps Jahar can forgive.”
“And,” she said, her words slow and steady, “if Ferran can lay aside the pain my family caused him, perhaps Khadra can forgive the pain, too.”
“It was a great loss, that of your mother and father,” the elder said to Ferran.
“Yes,” he said. “It was.”
“But you have done well. You’ve made them proud. You’ve made us all proud.”
Ferran watched Samarah’s face. He wondered if she thought he’d done well. Or if she still thought he was the worst sort of man.
The funny thing was, Samarah was more right about him than any of the leaders here. Yes, he’d done some good for his country. That was true. But in many ways he was no less than the murderer Samarah believed him to be.
“You do well in your choice of bride,” the man continued. “It is truly a wise choice for us all.”
“That,” Ferran said, “I will wholeheartedly agree with you on.”
And he did. Samarah was a choice he couldn’t have foreseen having the chance to make. And she was certainly the best one.
“Well,” she said. “Thank you.”
“It’s the truth,” Ferran said.
The other man turned his attention back to the man to his right and Ferran continued to keep his focus on Samarah.
“I’m pleased to be a handy political pawn.”
“Better than an instigator of war. You see what might have become of these people if you’d succeeded in executing me? Or if I’d imprisoned you. Marriage is preferable to either of those things.”
“Marriage is preferable to death or imprisonment? Someone should embroider than onto a pillow.”
“Poetic, I think.”
“Neither you or I are romantics,” he said, watching her very closely, trying to gauge her response. She was so very hard to read. Such a guarded creature. And he shouldn’t care about whether or not he was able to break that guard.
It had nothing to do with their arrangement. And neither did his fascination with her. Though, being able to read her might come in handy, just in case she ever got it in her mind to try and kill him again.
“Obviously not,” she said, her face remaining impassive.
“Do you ever smile, habibti?” he asked.
“That’s…an improvement over little viper, so I won’t push the issue. And no, I don’t often smile.
“I think that’s too bad.”
“Do you ever smile, Ferran?”
“Then don’t concern yourself with my smile. I thought you said you weren’t a romantic.”
“Is smiling a romantic notion now?”
“Maybe just a luxury you and I haven’t been able to afford?” she asked, cocking her head to the side.
“Perhaps that. Though, I am a sheikh,”
“As you’ve reminded me many times.”
“It is the most defining part of me.”
“Yes,” he said. “If I weren’t a sheikh…things would be very different. But I am. And as such I can afford a great many things. Perhaps I should invest in smiling.”
“Investing in frivolity? That seems like a recipe for disaster.”
“Or at the least a recipe for…shenanigans.”
The left side of her mouth twitched. “Shenanigans?”
“You said shenanigans.”
“I did,” he said.
“Have you ever said that word before in your life?”
“No. I haven’t had occasion to.”
“It’s a good word,” she said. “And you got up to a lot of them when you were a teenager. I…I remember.”
“I hope you don’t remember in very great detail,” he said. “I wasn’t the best version of myself then.”
She frowned. “So…this is the best version of you then?”
“Obviously.” Her shoulders shook, her lips turning upward, a choked noise escaping. “Did you just…laugh at me? Is that what that was?”
“I think so,” she said.
“You nearly smiled.”
“I…did.” She looked confused by that.
“I wish for you to do that again,” he said. And he meant it. Not because he was being emotional, but because it wasn’t fair that a woman like her, one so beautiful, one who should have been happy, had ended up with so few things to smile about.