“That is two questions,” he said. “But I will indulge you. Here is your prize. I have to keep control. At all costs. Because that day taught me not just what manner of man your father was. But what manner of man I was. Do you know why I keep the tiger pacing the bars?” he asked, moving to her, resting his hand on her throat. “Because if I ever let him free, he will destroy everything in his path.”
“Ferran you won’t…”
“You can’t say that, Samarah.”
“Yes,” she said, feeling desperate to combat the bleakness in his eyes.
“No, because it happened before. And you can never guarantee if won’t again. Unless I keep control.”
He lowered his hand and turned, leaving her there, bleeding inside, bleeding for him. For wounds that hadn’t healed. For wounds in both of them she wasn’t sure would ever heal.
Maybe that was the problem. Maybe when she’d looked ahead and saw a life she’d never thought possible she’d only been dreaming. Maybe a life like that could never really belong to her and Ferran.
Maybe they were simply too broken to be fixed.
* * *
The day of the wedding was bright and clear, like most other days in this part of the country. Ferran didn’t believe in abstracts and signs, so he considered it neither a particularly good or bad omen.
He had kept himself from Samarah’s bed as a necessity ever since they’d spoken in the gym. Ever since she’d forced him to confess the one thing he wanted most to erase from his past.
The wedding was to be small out of concession for Samarah’s issues with crowds. And frankly, it suited him, as well. There would be dignitaries and approved members of the press.
It suited him because he still felt far too exposed, as if his defenses had been torn down. He’d confessed his deepest sin to her, his biggest weakness. And now he felt desperate to build everything back up so no one else could see.
So that he was strong again.
So that nothing could touch him.
He strode out of his room and walked down the corridor, toward the room where the marriage would take place. It was far too hot to marry outside. They could have done so if they were by the oasis, or the ocean, but he hadn’t seen the point in taking the trip out to the oasis.
He walked inside the room and looked at the guests, seated and ready. He strode down the aisle, completely deaf to the music, the faces of everyone present blurring. He had no family, so there was no one of real importance.
He took his position, his hands clasped in front of his body and waited. Only a few moments later, Samarah appeared in the doorway. She had an ornate gold band over her head, a veil of white and embroidered gold covering her head. Her gown was white, a mix of Western and Eastern traditions.
She looked like a bride. She looked like a woman who deserved to have a man waiting for her who wasn’t so terribly broken.
But she did not have that. She had him. And he wondered if he’d truly spared her anything when he’d offered her marriage to him instead of prison.
She approached the raised platform and took his hand, dark eyes never wavering. He was shaking to pieces inside, and she looked as smooth and steady as ever.
The ceremony passed in a blur. He had no memory of what he said. Of what she said. Only that they were married in the end. Only that Samarah was his wife, till death ended it, and he could feel nothing but guilt.
He could give her nothing. He wouldn’t. Opening himself up like that could only end in destruction.
They walked through the crowd of guests together, and he didn’t know if people clapped for them or not.
“I need to talk to you,” Samarah said, as soon as they were in the hall.
And he knew there was no denying her when she’d set her mind to something. Not really. She was far too determined.
“We have a wedding feast to get to.”
“It can wait.”
“People are hungry,” he said.
“It can start without us. I have a question for you.”
“I didn’t agree to more questions.”
Samarah tugged him down the corridor and into a private sitting room, closing the doors behind them. “I don’t care if you’ve agreed. Here is my question. Do you know why I married you?”
“To avoid prison. To secretly plot my death? To gain your position back as sheikha.”
“The first moment I agreed, yes, it was to avoid prison. And after that? To plot your doom. Then when I let that go, to become a sheikha and have a future that wasn’t so bleak. But that was all why I was planning on marrying you weeks ago. Do you know why I married you today?” she asked.
“I’m damn certain I don’t,” he said.
“I didn’t, either. I thought…well, I used all of those reasons. Until this morning. I was getting ready and I realized how much I missed you. Not just the pleasure, and you do give me that, but you. You’re…grumpy, and you’re hard to talk to. But you also tried to make me smile. No one else ever has. I dance for you. For you and no one else, because you make me feel like I want to dance. You’ve given my life layers, a richness it never had before. And I figured out, as I was going to make vows to you, what that richness is.”