Though, when one tried to kill him in his own bedchamber, he felt exceptions could be made. And when one was possibly the girl who had never left his mind, not ever, in sixteen years…
He truly had exceptions to make.
He was torn between rage and a vicious kind of amusement. That reckoning had come, and it had come in this form. Lithe, soft and vulnerable. The most innocent victim of all, come to claim his life. It was a testament, in many ways, to just how badly justice had been miscarried on that day.
Though he was not the one to answer for it. His justice had been the key to her demise. And yet, there was nothing he could do to change it. How could he spare the man who had robbed his country of a leader, installed a boy in place of the man.
The man who had killed his family for revenge.
They were two sides to the same coin. And depending upon which side you looked at, you had a different picture entirely.
Also, depending on which version of events you heard…
He shook off the thoughts, focused back on the present. On the woman. Samarah. “No?” he asked.
“You heard me. I will not ally myself with you.”
“Then you will ally yourself with whomever you share a cell with. I firmly hope you find it enjoyable.”
“You say that like you believe I’m frightened.”
“Are you not?”
She raised her head, dark eyes meeting his. “I was prepared for whatever came.”
“Obviously not, as you have rejected my offer. You do realize that I am aware you didn’t act on your own. And that I will find who put you up to this, one way or the other. Whether you agree to this or not. However, if you do…things could go better for you.”
“An alliance with you? That’s better?”
“You do remember,” he said, speaking the words slowly, softly, and hating himself with each syllable, “how I handle those who threaten the crown.”
“I remember well. I remember how you flew the Khadran flag high and celebrated after the execution of my father,” she said, her tone ice.
“Necessary,” he bit out. “For I could not allow what happened in Jahar to happen here.”
“But you see, what happened in Jahar had not happened yet. It wasn’t until the sheikh was gone, the army scattered and all of us left without protection that we were taken. That we were slaughtered by revolutionaries who thought nothing of their perceived freedom coming at the price of our lives.”
“Thus is war,” he said. “And history. Individuals are rarely taken into account. Only result.”
“A shame then that we must live our lives as individuals and not causes.”
“Do we?” he asked. “It doesn’t appear to me that you have. And I certainly don’t. That is why I’m proposing marriage to you.”
“That’s like telling me two plus two equals camel. I have no idea what you’re saying.”
He laughed, though he still found nothing about the situation overly amusing. “The division between Khadra and Jahar has long been a source of unrest here. Violence at the borders is an issue, as I’m sure you well know. This could change that. Erase it. It’s black-and-white. That’s how I live my life. In a world of absolutes. There is no room for gray areas.”
“To what end for me, Sheikh Ferran? I will never have my rightful position back, not in a meaningful way. The royal family of Jahar will never be restored, not in my lifetime.”
“How have you lived since you left the palace?”
“Poorly,” she said, dark eyes meeting his.
“This would get you back on the throne.”
“I will not marry you.”
“Then you will enjoy prison.”
The look on her face nearly destroyed what little was left of his humanity. A foolish thing, to pity the woman who’d just tried to kill him. And she could have succeeded. She was not a novice fighter. He had no illusion of her being a joke just because he was a man and she a woman. He had no doubt that the only thing that had kept him from a slit throat was her bare moment of hesitation. Seconds had made the difference between his life and death.
He should not pity her. He should not care that he’d known her since she was a baby. That he could clearly picture her as a bubbly, spoiled little princess who had been beautiful beyond measure. A treasure to her country.
That was not who she was now. As he was not the haughty teenage boy he’d been. Not the entitled prince who thought only of women and what party he might sneak into, what trouble he might find on his father’s yachts.
Life had hit them both, harsh and real, at too young an age. He had learned a hard lesson about human weakness. About his own weaknesses. Secrets revealed that had sent her father into the palace in a murderous rage…one that had, in the end, dissolved a lineage, destroyed a nation that was still rebuilding.