Ferran said it to her just because. Because he believed it. Because it was what he saw when he looked at her. And for some reason, just then, it meant the world to her.
“Thank you,” she said. “I think you’re beautiful, too.”
“I’m not often called beautiful,” he said, one corner of his mouth lifting.
“Well, neither am I.”
“That will change.”
“Have you accepted than I’m not leaving you?” she asked.
“I’m not sure,” he said, holding his arm out to her.
She took a step forward and curled her fingers around his forearm. “You have my word,” she said. “My word is good. I want you to know that, at first, I didn’t intend to marry you.”
“Is that so?”
“I intended to bide my time. And carry out my plan.”
He tightened his hold on her, his other hand crossing his body and settling over hers. “I had a feeling that might be the case.”
“But it’s not the case now. I will marry you,” she said. “I will be your wife. And I will not leave you. So don’t try to scare me away. You’ll only be disappointed.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes. Because I do not scare. And just because I don’t intend to kill you doesn’t mean I won’t punch you in the face.”
“I’ll endeavor to avoid that,” he said. “Are you ready to go in?”
“What are we supposed to do?”
He lifted a shoulder. “Wave. Eat some canapés. Dance.”
“I have never danced with anyone.”
“I’ll lead,” he said. “You have nothing to worry about. You are strong, Samarah, I do know that. But there’s no shame in letting someone else take control sometimes. It can even be helpful.”
“All right. In the bedroom and on the dance floor, you may lead,” she said, testing him. He had tried to prove his power over her earlier, and while he had done so, while he had left her quivering, aching and needing in a way she hadn’t thought possible, she rebelled against it. She wanted to push back.
Because if there was one thing in life Samarah didn’t understand, it was defeat. She had spent her life in a win or die battle, and as she was here, breathing, living, it was clear she had always won.
And that meant, in this moment, she was determined to keep fighting.
“We’ll discuss the bedroom later,” he said. “After our wedding.”
“What?” It was such a stark contrast to what he’d said earlier. To the implied promise in his words.
“We have to go in now.”
“Wait just a second. You said…”
“Did you think you were going to seize control back?” he said, dark eyes glittering. “You, and my body, no matter how it might ache for you, do not control me.”
His words, the intensity in his eyes, stopped her voice, stole her breath.
“You do not want me out of control,” he said, his face hard. “I remind you. Now, come with me.”
He led her into the ballroom, and as they drew farther in, nearer to the crowd of people, panic clawed at her. How was she supposed to smile now? How was she supposed to deal with all those eyes on her after what Ferran had just said?
They were formally announced, and Ferran lifted their joined hands, then bowed. She followed suit and dipped into a curtsy, shocked she remembered how, everything in her on an autopilot setting she hadn’t known she’d possessed. Her muscle memory seemed to be intact. Princess training obviously lurked in the back of her mind.
“Who are all these people?” she asked, still reeling from the change. From his uncivilized words in the hall to this venue that was all things tame and beautiful.
“Dignitaries, diplomats. From here and abroad. Anyone who feels they may have a political stake in our union .”
“Including the Jaharan rulers, I imagine?”
“Yes,” he said. “This is the first time they’ve been at a political event in Khadra since…”
“Already, we have done some good.”
“I guess that remains to be seen,” she said. “Just because they’re here doesn’t mean… Well, I guess I’m pessimistic when it comes to politics.”
“I can see how you would be.”
“But I can see that people are happy to be here. I feel like…I feel like this is good.”
They spent the next hour wandering through the party, making light conversation with everyone they came across. This wasn’t the time for any heavy-hitting, political negotiation, but everyone seemed very aware that it was the time to get on Ferran’s radar.