“What is it?” he asked, his throat tight, his body tense.
“I love you,” she said. “I do. I am…in love with you.”
“Yes. I am. And you can’t tell me no because it doesn’t make it less true.”
“You don’t know what you’re saying,” he said.
“I do. I married you today because you’re the man I want to be with. Because if you opened the palace doors and told me I could go anywhere, I would stay with you.”
“And I married you not knowing you were going to say such a ridiculous thing. Did you not hear what I told you? I could end you, Samarah. What if I did? What if I lose control…”
“My father is responsible for it. I’m not listening to this nonsense.”
“You’re wrong, Samarah.”
“Why are you so desperate to believe this?”
“Because it is truth,” he said. “And I will never…I will never take the chance on failing like that again.”
“Well, what does that have to do with me loving you?”
“I don’t want your love. I can’t have it—do you understand?”
“This was a mistake,” he said.
“And it is also too late for you to have those concerns. We are married. And you know there is every possibility I could have a child. We’ve never taken precautions in all of our time together.”
“I’m not divorcing you. Don’t be so dramatic.”
“You’re rejecting my love and I haven’t threatened to kill you. Considering our past history I’m not being overdramatic. I’m not even being…dramatic.”
He gritted his teeth, pain burning in his chest, a low, painful smolder. “I don’t want your love. I don’t love you, Samarah, and I won’t.”
“I’m not loving anyone. Never again.”
“But everything that we’ve… You wanted to see me smile.”
“That’s not love, habibti. That’s a guilty conscience. I don’t have love, but I do have guilt in spades.”
“What about our children?”
Pain lanced at him, the smoldering ember catching fire and bursting into flame in his chest. “I don’t have it in me. What could I offer them? A father whose hands have stolen a life? A father who loses all humanity with his rage.”
“Coward,” she said. “You’re right. You are weak, but not for the reasons you mean. You’re just hiding. You’re still just hiding.”
“I stopped hiding. I took revenge, remember?”
She shook her head. “No. Part of you stayed back there. Hidden. You’ve been out here fighting ever since, but you left your soul behind.”
“For good reason. It’s too late for me. I’m sorry you want more than I can give.” He stepped forward, cupping her cheek. He swept his thumb over her silken skin, pain shooting through him. He had a feeling this would be the last time he touched her for a very long time. “This is never going to be a real marriage.”
Samarah stumbled back. “Say it again,” she said.
“I don’t love you.”
A sob worked through her body, her hands shaking. “No. Of course not. No one ever has… Why should you be the first?”
“Samarah…you do not love me. You’re a prisoner. You’ve had no one in your life, so you think you love me, but you’ve been fooled. I did put you in jail today. A life sentence. And because of the nature of things, going back now would be foolish.”
“Do not tell me what I feel!”
“You need to be told. If you think you can love a man like me? If you think this is what love is, offering you a life of captivity behind bars or captivity in my bed, then you need to be told!”
“That isn’t what you’ve done. You’re just afraid. You’re afraid of—”
“I do not fear you. I would have to care first.”
She reeled back, her hands shaking. “I’m going to go,” she said.
“We have a feast to get to.”
“I don’t care. I’m going to…I need to go.”
She needed some space. She needed to catch her breath. She’d been right the other day. She and Ferran could never have normal. They could never have happy.
The blinding flash of joy she’d felt today when she’d realized she loved him was gone now. In that moment she’d believed that loving him would be enough. That if she loved him, regardless of what he thought about himself, it could work.
But she’d been naive. She’d never loved anyone before, and she’d felt so powerful in the moment that she’d been convinced it could conquer everything. But it hadn’t. It wouldn’t.