“Sunset? What is this, some bad version of Arabian Nights?”
“You’re the one who turned back the clock. Pursuing vengeance in order to end my bloodline. Don’t get angry with me for playing along.” He turned away from her, heading back out of the dungeon. “If you want to do it like this, we will. If you want to play with antiquated rules, I am all for that. But I intend for it to go my way. I intend to make you my wife, and I doubt, in the end, you will refuse.”
FERRAN PACED THE length of his room. He hated himself in this moment, with Samarah behind the secret passage doors, down in the dungeon.
She did not deserve such treatment. At least, the little girl he’d known had not.
Of course, if they were all paying for the sins of their fathers, she deserved the dungeon and then some. But he didn’t believe in that. Every man paved his own road to hell. And he’d secured his sixteen years ago.
And if he hadn’t then, surely now he had.
Marriage. He had no idea what he’d been thinking. On a personal level, anyway. On a political level he’d been thinking quite clearly.
But Samarah Al-Azem, in his life, in his bed, was the last thing he’d been looking for. In part because he’d thought she was dead.
Though he needed a wife, and he knew it. He was long past due. And yet…and yet he’d never even started his search. Because he was too busy. Because he had no time to focus on such matters.
Much easier to marry Samarah. Heal the rift between the countries, ensure she was cared for. His pound of flesh. Because it wasn’t as though he wanted this for himself.
But then, it was better that way. He didn’t allow himself to want.
This was about atonement. About making things right.
Want didn’t come into it. For Ferran, it never had. And it never would.
* * *
Samarah woke up. She had no idea what time it was. There was no natural light in the dungeon. If there had been a torch on the wall, she wouldn’t have been terribly surprised.
But then, that might have been a kindness too many. Not that Ferran owed her a kindness at this point.
Not all things considered.
But she hadn’t been looking to repair bridges. She’d been looking to finish it all.
You can’t finish it from in here…
“No,” she said out loud. “Fair enough.”
But the alternative was to agree to marry him. Or to give the appearance of an alliance.
Anger, revulsion, burned in her blood.
She could not ally herself with him. But…
But every predator knew that in order to catch prey successfully, there was a certain amount of lying in wait involved.
She squeezed her hands into fists, her nails digging into her palms, the manacle heavy on her ankle. Diplomacy was, perhaps not her strongest point. But she knew about lying in wait. As she’d done in his room last night.
This would be an extended version of that. She would have to make him trust her. She would have to play along. And then…then she could have her revenge before the world if she chose.
The idea had appeal. Though, putting herself in proximity with Ferran, pretending to be his fiancée, did not.
She lay back down on the bench, one knee curled into her chest, the chained leg held out straight. She closed her eyes again, and when she opened them, it was to the sound of a door swinging open.
“Have you made up your mind?”
She knew who the voice belonged to. She didn’t even have to look.
She sat up, trying to shake out the chill that had settled into her bones. She looked at Ferran’s outline in the darkness. “I will marry you,” she said.
* * *
The room Ferran showed her to after her acceptance was a far cry from the dungeon. But Samarah was very aware of the fact that it was only a sparkling version of a cell. A fact Ferran underlined as he left her.
“You will not escape,” he said. “There are guards around the perimeter. And there will be no border crossing possible for you as my patrol will be put on alert. You will be trapped in the country should you decide to try and leave, and from there, I will find you. And you will have lost your reprieve.”
He was foolish for worrying, though. She had nothing to go back to. No one waiting for her. And she had arrived at her goal point. Why would she go back to Jahar with nothing accomplished?
It was true that Jahar was not as dangerous for her as it had once been. In the past five years there had been something of an uneasy transition from a totalitarian rule established by the revolutionaries, who had truly only wanted power for themselves, into a democracy. Though it was a young democracy, and as such, there were still many lingering issues.
Still, the deposition of the other leaders had meant that she no longer had a target on her back, at least. But she had no place, either.