And now, to ensure that all that work, all his sacrifice, wouldn’t crumble to dust come eight tomorrow morning, he needed his wife’s agreement to return to his side.

He would have her answer before he gave the speech. And if she still said no? Well, then he had his next weapon at hand—one that she wouldn’t be able to shake off.

* * *

The noise that greeted them as they exited the lift was deafening and disorientating.

The events of the last hour had gone to her head. Odir’s offer, delivered in the form of an uncompromising command, still pounded in Eloise’s head, mixing with the painful cacophony of hundreds of inebriated conversations.

It was a shock to the system for a woman who had been living such a quiet, modest and almost unrecognisable life for the last six months.

Each and every one of them would stop and stare if they knew that the future Sheikha of Farrehed had been working as a personal assistant to the CFO of a private medical facility, tucked away in the heart of Zurich.

Eloise’s heart ached. She missed the calm practicality and sensible comfort of her life there. It hurt to step back into this world of deceitful smiles, barbed compliments and cutting remarks, all hidden beneath a light tone as if laughter would make such inherent rudeness socially acceptable.

She looked about her and saw it all dressed up in diamonds as if they would hide the dirt. And she wondered for perhaps the first time what would happen if she let her poised façade drop and allowed her true self out...

* * *

Odir nearly groaned out loud as the young Prince of Kalaran marched towards them with a sneer painted across his fleshy features.

‘Odir,’ he said, barely veiling his contempt, and then turned to Eloise. ‘Oh, I don’t think we’ve met?’

Fury ignited in Odir and protective instincts danced across his hackles. It was one thing for him to take issue with his wife, but something completely other for the Prince of Kalaran to be so openly disrespectful to the future Queen of Farrehed. The man’s audacity made him furious.

He was about to say something when he felt the soft hand of his wife on his arm.

‘Oh, we have,’ Eloise assured him. ‘In fact, wasn’t it Prince Imin who threw up on the sixteenth-century hand-woven tapestry at our engagement party, darling?’ she asked of Odir.

‘I had thought that was a cousin of the Duke of Cambridge, but now you mention it...’ he replied with the affected haughty disdain she had once mocked him for.

‘I believe it cost nearly two thousand pounds to get it cleaned,’ she continued.

‘It was more in the region of four, if I remember rightly.’ Odir frowned, as if giving it deep thought.

‘Two thousand pounds is nothing compared to what your father and brother cost Kalaran,’ Imin spat angrily.

‘You will address my husband by his proper title, Prince Imin,’ Eloise commanded, and the ice in her voice was enough to cover the desert in frost.

Shockingly, a look of contrition passed over the man’s features.

‘Prince Imin, whatever deals my father made with yours I will take up directly with him,’ Odir said.

‘Oh, good. I had been concerned by recent news of his ill health. I do so hope that everything is okay, Sheikh Odir.’

Odir balled his hands into fists, only Eloise’s grip on his arm anchoring him to the moment.

‘Prince Imin, whilst it has been...interesting to see you again, I’m afraid there is someone over there with whom we have important things to discuss.’

With that snub, expertly delivered, Odir allowed himself to be led away by his wife.

This was what he had wanted from their union  . A partnership—someone to stand beside him as he navigated the furious waters of the treacherous political sea wrought by his father’s grief-stricken madness. That was what he had once seen in Eloise, and the glimpse of what might have been struck him dumb for just a moment.

And, then, he could scarcely believe that Eloise was giggling.

‘Did you see the look on his face? I thought... I thought he was going to explode,’ she said awkwardly in between bursts of laughter.

Odir felt an answering smile tugging at his lips. ‘Would that he had...’

The mirth left her eyes, and something sober passed across her features.

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