“What is the meaning of this?” When he saw Ella flinch, he knew that she had mistaken his fury for condescension or even pity. He knew he should soften his tone, but he was unable to, his anger knowing no bounds at the realization of the lengths she had gone to repair her dress.
Ella furiously blinked back tears at the sheikh’s tone. “It’s none of your business!”
“It is my business when you’re clearly acting like an idiot,” he snapped, and his anger was unabated even when she suddenly burst into tears. “You are not to repair that dress—-”
“I’ll do whatever I damn want,” Ella managed to snarl despite her tears.
“Will you look at your fucking hands?”
“I don’t care!” Snapping her gaze away from the sheikh, she nearly jabbed herself as she forcefully pushed the needle into the fabric. “I’m going to the ball, and you’re not going to stop—-”
“I said, stop it!” This time, the sheikh’s words came out in a savage hiss.
It had Ella jerking, and her hold on the needle slipped, its sharp tip pricking her finger.
A cry escaped Ella, and she paled when she saw a drop of blood falling to her dress. Over her head, she heard the sheikh curse and knew he had seen the same thing.
“I’m sorry.” Self-loathing made the sheikh’s voice harsh.
In the corner of her eye, she saw the sheikh step towards her and she shook her head. “Don’t.” Her voice shook with emotion. “I don’t want you near me.”
The sheikh whitened. She had never talked to him like this before, and he found himself suddenly assailed by a mixture of doubt and terror. What if he had pushed her too far? What if she had truly given up on him? Would he be able to let her go? Could he be selfless enough to step aside and let a better man than him take his woman away?
The sheikh’s voice was as abrupt as ever, but there was something in it – a strange note that made her body tremble and apprehension skitter down her spine.
But before she could try to understand where her fears were coming from, the sheikh was speaking again, and this time what he had to say had Ella catching her breath.
“Be honest with me, ukhayyah. Do you truly mean to marry Mik’hail? Do you believe you will be happier with him? You only have to say ‘yes’ and I shall…” The sheikh drew a breath sharply. “I will never bother you again.”
She had imagined the sheikh saying so many things, mostly arrogant and taunting words, but she had never imagined he would say that.
Her head lowered.
The right answer should be ‘yes’. Khal was too cruel, and he had hurt her too many times. But…it was not the answer inside her heart. She only had to close her eyes and she could so easily remember the many times the sheikh had been tender with her, his possessiveness making her feel cherished and loved rather than imprisoned and abused.
As the silence between the sheikh and Ella grew, Khal slowly found himself losing hope. Despair and emptiness gnawed at him, and he told himself stoically that if Ella did end up choosing the other man, he would not stand in her way.
He saw her shoulders start shaking, and it was as if he already had his answer. She probably just couldn’t say it because she was too nice, he thought harshly.
Slowly, the sheikh started to turn away.
Behind him, he heard her say, “Yes.”
The sheikh closed his eyes in defeat.
Tears running down her cheeks, Ella said tremulously, “I know that’s what I should answer. You’re the king’s heir, and you’re everything I shouldn’t yearn for.” She looked up, gray eyes meeting blue. “I should say yes, if only because you’ve hurt me so many times, but…” Her voice broke. “My heart says no.”
For a moment, the sheikh was frozen with disbelief.
But when he heard Ella swallow back another sob, the sound mobilized him, and with a groan, the sheikh sank on one knee in front of her. “I don’t deserve you, ukhayyah.”
Releasing a teary laugh, she said, “I know.” Her defenses completely crumbled at the emotions swirling in the sheikh’s blue eyes, and fresh tears struck her eyes as she felt his hands cup her face.
“Let me comfort you. Please.”
It was almost as if the sheikh was begging, and that someone as proud as him could do so…
She closed her eyes.
There was no other thing to say, but…
There was no time to even breathe after that. The sheikh rose up, and in one swift motion had covered her mouth with a kiss even as his body pressed down against hers.
Her arms curled around the sheikh’s neck even as she fell back to the bed. Her tears added a salty taste to their kiss, prompting the sheikh to lift his head and lick her tears away. “No more tears, milady.”