“You see now,” he said, “who I am. And why I cannot permit myself to be led by my emotions? I am no better than they are, Samarah. I am no better. I am not stronger.”
And neither was she. Not really. Because she’d been prepared to act as he had, but not in the heat of rage. Not in the midst of the fight. With years to gain perspective, she’d been ready to behave as her father had done.
As she looked at Ferran, at the blank, emotionless void behind his eyes, she felt she could see the scars that he’d been left with that day. It had been so easy for her to imagine him as the one who’d come out of it whole. He’d had his country. He’d had his palace. Hadn’t that meant in some way, that he had won? That she had lost and therefore was owed something?
But when she looked at him now, she didn’t just understand, she felt, deep down in her soul, that he’d lost, too. That there had been nothing gained for him that day. Yes, he’d ascended the throne, a boy forced to become a man. Yes, he had a palace, and he had power. But he had lost all of himself.
That was why he looked so different than the boy she’d known. It wasn’t simply age.
She struggled against him, and he held her tight, his eyes burning into hers. “How dare you make me understand you?” she asked, the words coming out a choked sob. “How dare you make me feel sorry for you?” Tears rolled down her cheeks, anger and pain warring for equal place in her chest. And with it, desire. Darker now, more desperate than what she’d felt at the oasis.
And she knew it now. There was no question. It was what she’d felt that first moment, in his bedchamber when their eyes had met. What she’d felt watching him shirtless in the gym, fighting him, getting bitten by him.
It was what she’d felt every time she’d looked at him since returning to the palace. It had just been so expertly mixed with a cocktail of anger and shame that it had been impossible to identify.
But now that she’d tasted him, she knew. Now that she’d gone to heaven and back in his arms, she knew.
Now that she understood how you could long for a man’s teeth to dig into your flesh, she knew.
“How dare you?” she asked again, the words broken. “How dare you make me want you? I should hate you. I should kill you.”
She leaned in and claimed his lips with hers, even as he tried to hold her back. He released one arm and reached around to cup the back of her head, digging his fingers deep into her hair, squeezing tight and tugging back, wrenching her mouth from his.
“Why are you doing this, Samarah?” he growled.
“Because I don’t know what else to do,” she said. “What else am I supposed to do?”
“You’re supposed to run from me, little girl,” he said, his expression fierce. He was not disconnected now—that was certain. He wasn’t hollow. Her kiss had changed that. It had called up something else in him.
Passion that he thought she should fear, and yet she didn’t. She found she didn’t fear him at all.
“I don’t run,” she said, her eyes steady on his. “I stand and meet every challenge I face. I thought you knew that about me.”
“You should run from this challenge,” he said. “You should protect yourself from me.”
She pushed against him, and he pushed in return, propelling her backward until she butted up against the wall. “You don’t scare me, Ferran Bashar,” she said.
“As far as your family is concerned,” he said, “I am death himself. If you had any sense at all, you would run from this room. From this palace. And you would not wear my ring.”
Her heart was raging, each beat tearing off a piece and leaving searing pain in its place. And she couldn’t turn from him. It would be easy to get out of his hold if she really wanted to. A well-placed blow would have him at her feet. But she didn’t want to break free of him. Even now.
“You need me to run, coward?” she asked. “Because you fear me so? Because I am such a temptation?”
That was the moment she crossed the line.
His lips crashed down on hers, his hold on her wrists and hair tightening. It wasn’t a nice kiss. It was a kiss that was meant to frighten her. A show of his dangerous passion, and yet, she found it didn’t frighten her at all.
She kissed him back. Fueled by all of the emotions that were rioting through her, fueled by the desire that had been building in her from the first moment she’d seen him again. From the moment she’d walked into the palace, with vengeance on her mind.
She had wanted him then, but she’d been too innocent to know it. And desire had been too deeply tangled in other things. But she knew now. The veil had been ripped from her eyes. And all the protection that surrounded her heart seemed to have crumbled.