Looking back into Ferran’s blank, flat black eyes she knew it.
He had chosen to hold on to the past. He had chosen to stay behind his walls. And as long as that was what he wanted, there would be no reaching him.
“I can’t go to the wedding feast alone,” he said, his voice raw.
“And I can’t sit next to a man who’s just rejected my love. I won’t. Don’t worry—I’m not going to kill you,” she said, turning away from him and heading to the door. “I’ll just leave you to wallow in your misery. And I do believe that eventually you’ll feel misery, even if it’s not now. We could have had something. We could have had a life. As it is, I’m going to try and have one. I’m not sure what you’re going to do.”
She turned away from him, not wanting him to see her break. Loving always involved loss, and right now was no exception.
She’d just spoken vows to stay with Ferran forever, and in almost the same moment, she’d lost any hope she had of forging a real bond with him.
She was a married woman now, in a palace. With servants and beautiful gowns and a man who would share her bed. And she felt more alone than she ever had in her life.
* * *
Ferran hadn’t realized she’d meant she was leaving. Samarah wasn’t anywhere in the palace. She wasn’t in his chamber, she wasn’t in hers.
Panic raged through him. Had she gone? She was his wife. She had nowhere else to go. He tore at the collar on his tunic, hardly able to breathe.
He’d gone to the feast and made excuses for her being sick, and when everyone had gone, he’d discovered this.
If she had gone, he should be pleased. He should not hold her to him. To a man who might destroy her. Not knowing she was here because of coercion, whatever she said now.
And yet the thought of losing her…
“Lydia!” He entered the servants’ quarters, shouting.
Lydia appeared from the dining area, her eyes wide. “Yes, Your Highness?”
“Where is my wife?”
“You do not know?”
“I don’t know or I would not have asked, obviously. Do not insult me,” he growled. He was being cruel, and he knew it. But he was desperate. Panicked. For a woman he did not love.
Because of course he didn’t love her. He couldn’t love her.
He didn’t deserve her.
It was his life. No matter what he thought, no matter how controlled he was, he hurt the people in it. He saw that now. With blinding clarity.
With all his prized control, he had held a woman captive. He had forced her into marriage.
“Where is my wife?” he repeated.
“She went to your oasis. I helped her pack. She said she needed some time away.” Lydia’s eyes were serious and slightly judging.
He gritted his teeth. Damn that woman. “Thank you,” he bit out, turning and walking away.
He paused in the doorway, his hand on his chest. He thought he might be dying. Or maybe that was just what it felt like when your heart tried to beat against a brick wall.
He wasn’t sure what scared him more. That the wall would hold…or that it might finally break for good.
* * *
After two days away, Samarah’s head didn’t feel any clearer. She was just wandering through the tent, such as it was, thinking about Ferran. All he’d been through. The way her father had twisted his caring. The way he’d been made to feel responsible for an insane man’s secrets.
She paused at the doorway of the bedroom, her fingers tracing the woodgrain on the door as she stared out the window at the water beyond.
Had she ever offered to make Ferran smile?
She didn’t think she had. He’d given her so much, and in the end, he’d been too afraid to give it all, but she could understand why. She turned into the doorway and rested her face in her hand, stifling the sob that rose in her throat.
She hadn’t cried in so long before Ferran. But he made her want more. The wanting was complicated. It wasn’t all blind determination and a will to live. It was a deep, emotional need that she was sure at this point was overrated.
She wanted him so much.
She wanted him to love her.
She wanted to make him smile.
Samarah lifted her head. She shouldn’t be here, hiding from him. Seeking refuge from reality. From him.
And she’d accused him of being a coward.
She’d held on to her anger toward him for years. With no contribution from him. With no action from him. No confirmation that he even deserved it, and yet she’d been willing to commit the ultimate sin for that anger.
Shouldn’t she love him just as much? Shouldn’t she love him no matter what he gave back? No matter if he loved her? Wasn’t that real love?
Pain lanced her chest. Yes, she wanted him to love her back. But if she truly loved him—and she did—it didn’t matter what he said. She was no prisoner. He was behaving as though she was weak, and she was not weak.