“Oh that’s…that’s perfect,” she said, banishing images of them kissing, of the heat she’d felt in his arms, and bringing to the front pictures of their country. Of their people. Of all that could be built between the nations if they followed through with this union .
“I am prepared to ask you to wear it.”
“Of course,” she said.
She waited for him to do something. To get on one knee or put the ring on her finger. She wasn’t sure if she wanted him to do that.
He did neither. He simply stood there with the box held out in front of him until she reached inside and took the ring, putting it on her own finger.
“You may not want to do that just yet, princess,” he said.
“I am prepared to ask you to wear it. But only after this. I want to talk to you about what happened at the oasis.”
“Oh,” she said, looking down, heat bleeding into her face. “You know what? I’d rather not.”
He took her chin between his thumb and forefinger and tilted her face up so that she met his gaze. “Did I hurt you?”
“What? No.” She shook her head and took a step back. “No, you didn’t hurt me.”
“Did I frighten you?”
“I…I…no.” It wasn’t him that scared her. It was herself. The way he’d made her feel. The fact that he’d commanded a response from her, with such ease that she hadn’t even realized she was capable of feeling.
“Then why did you run?”
“I didn’t…run. I was cold and I went back in the house.”
“You were right to be afraid,” he said.
“I wasn’t afraid.”
“Then you should have been.”
“I’m sorry—I should be afraid of you? I beat you in hand-to-hand combat, lest we forget.”
“I believe I beat you,” he said. “Both times.”
She scowled. “You cheated. You bit me.”
“It was not cheating. But that’s beside the point. I have something to tell you about that day. And you won’t like it. But I have to tell you before you concede to marrying me. Because it will change things. I owe you this explanation. Though I’m certain I will regret giving it.”
“Then why give it?” she asked. She suddenly felt afraid. Because she was starting to feel at ease with this man. With this situation. With the fact that she was to be his wife.
More than finding ease…she was starting to want things. From him. From life. And she was afraid that whatever he said next might take it all away.
“Because you have to know. Because if you aren’t afraid, then you need to understand that you should be. You need to understand why I can never be allowed to lose control. Why I have spent sixteen years doing nothing more than ruling my country. Why I despise passion so very much.”
“The same reason we both have to distrust it,” she said. “Because it led our parents to a horrible end. The only innocent party involved was your mother, and yet, she suffered just as badly for having been there as any of them.”
“It is true,” he said. “She was the only innocent party. She was true to her marriage vows. She didn’t attack anyone. She was simply there when your father and his band of men decided to make my father pay for what he’d done.”
“It was wrong, Ferran. All of it. And I’m willing to put it behind us.” And she meant it. This time, she meant it for real. “Because…it has to be. It can’t keep being my present and my future. I can’t allow it. Not anymore. I want something different. For the first time I just want to move on from it and please…please don’t take that from me.”
“It is not my intent to take anything from you. But to inform you of the manner of man you’re to marry.”
“Does it matter what manner of man?” she asked. “If I have to marry you either way, does it matter?”
“You spoke to me of honor when we first met, Samarah. You were willing to die for it, so yes, I think it matters. I feel I have to tell you. For my honor at least. What little there is.”
“And I have no choice?”
“This is giving you a choice. So that you know who you let into your body at night once you’re my wife. I owe you that. Or I at least owe it to my sense of honor.”
Her face heated. “That was unnecessary.”
“It hardly was. I nearly took you this morning at the oasis. I nearly took your virginity on the ground. Do you understand that? Do you understand that I am capable of letting things go much too far when…when I am not in control.”