Woman in a Sheikh's World(10)

By: Sarah Morgan

‘It is far more than “inconvenient”. This wedding must go ahead.’

‘Because it is what her father wants?’

‘Because it is what I want. I need to reassure her that our marriage can work. I need her to know I am nothing like her father. I can protect her.’

Avery stared at him numbly.

Had he ever been this protective of her? No. Of course not. And she wouldn’t have wanted him to be. She didn’t need protecting, did she? She never had. What hurt was the fact that he could move from one woman to another with such ease. ‘So you’re about to leap onto horseback wielding your sword to protect her. Good. That’s … good. I’m sure she’ll appreciate the gesture.’ All this time she’d been telling herself that this marriage was no more than a political union    . That he didn’t have feelings for Kalila.

Clearly she’d been wrong about that, too.

He had strong feelings. Why else would he be so determined to go through with this?

Her throat felt thick. There was a burning sensation behind her eyes.

Fortunately he didn’t notice. ‘She is extremely vulnerable. Not that I’d expect you to understand that. You don’t do “vulnerable”, do you?’

He had no idea. ‘I understand that you want to slay her dragons.’

‘Whereas you would rather a man gave you a dragon so that you could slay it yourself.’

‘I’m an animal lover. If you’d bought me a dragon I would have kept it as a pet.’

Once, an exchange like that would have ended in laughter. He would have challenged her. She would have challenged him right back and eventually the clash would have led where it always led—to the bedroom, or any other place that could afford them the privacy they craved.

‘I simply think it would be wiser if she learned to protect herself.’

‘Not every woman is like you.’ There was a dark bitterness in his tone that stung wounds still not healed. She’d started to despair they ever would be.

Her stress levels soared skyward. Her jaw ached from clenching her teeth. Her insides were churning and suddenly she wished she hadn’t drunk the coffee on an empty stomach. ‘I do see your problem. It’s hard to get married without a bride. However, while I sympathise with your dilemma and applaud your macho protective streak, which I’m sure your bride will find extremely touching, I really don’t understand my role in this. I carry spares of most things, but not brides I’m afraid.’

‘Kalila liked you. She admired you. She considered you her friend. Or as close to a friend as someone with her life could ever have.’ His wide shoulders shifted slightly as if he were trying to ease tension and she realised that he was every bit as stressed as she was. There was a glint in those eyes, a simmering tension in that powerful frame that told her he was feeling what she was feeling. ‘I’m asking for your help.’

‘My help?’ She wondered why he made her feel vulnerable. She was tall, but his height and build overpowered her. ‘I don’t understand how I can possibly help.’ Looking at him now, she wondered how they’d ever sustained their relationship for so long. He was so autocratic. Very much the Crown Prince, a man of breathtaking power and influence. There was no sign of the man who had laughed with her and enjoyed philosophical arguments long into the night. This man was austere and, yes, intimidating. Those eyes looked straight through to her mind, seeing things she didn’t want him to see. He’d once told her that he could judge a person’s reaction more accurately from what they did than what they said. It was a skill that had stood him in good stead in handling diplomatic tensions between neighbouring countries.

Remembering that, she stood still and did nothing. She didn’t allow her gaze to slide from his. If her body language wasn’t silent, then at least it was muted. ‘I cannot imagine what help I can possibly offer. I organize parties. I have it on good authority that I lead a life of unimpeded frivolity.’

The glance he sent her told her that he remembered that bitter exchange as well as she did. Her business had been just one more point of contention between them.

‘You are a resourceful and independent woman and you knew her. She talked to you—’ he ignored her reference to their past ‘—I wondered if you had any idea where she might have gone. Think back to your conversations. Did she ever say anything that might be of use? Anything at all.’

She’d been trying to forget those conversations. She’d been trying to forget Kalila altogether because whenever she imagined her, she imagined her entwined with Mal and the image was so painful to view she wanted to close her eyes and scream.

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