He bit back a curse that felt heavy on his tongue. For that was so close—too close—to the truth of what had nearly happened that night.

‘No, but you could have said something. You could have explained.’

‘There was no time. I couldn’t have returned to you even if I’d wanted to.’

But that wasn’t the truth was it? his mind whispered accusingly. He could have gone to her. Explained. But he’d been overcome by their shared passion. He’d nearly taken her there in the hallway, where anyone might have seen.

The desire between them had always been powerful. It had been there at their first meeting in the stables. It had been there during those stolen moments he’d found with her during their engagement. Pulsing between them.

And it had been there when his aide had come to find him the night of their wedding. The aide who had interrupted that kiss...the kiss he’d never been able to forget. Even the news that his father had invaded Terhren had only just been enough to douse the need he’d had for Eloise that night.

The need that spoke volumes as to how quickly and how much she had come to mean to him in such a short space of time. A need that he’d promised himself he would never succumb to. Not after he had seen the consequences of such need through the grief-stricken madness that had descended over his father when he’d lost his wife. When he and Jarhan had lost their mother.

‘Okay, Odir,’ she said, in mock appeasement. ‘Fine—you didn’t have time to tell me what was going on. You didn’t have time to ask an aide to send me word as I sat there that night, waiting for you to come back, in a dress I couldn’t undo by myself. I had to cut it off with scissors, Odir! But I’ll give you that night. What of the next? And the next? And the one after that?’

‘It took three weeks, Eloise—three weeks to talk the Sheikh of Terhren down from a war that would have ruined both our countries.’

‘And which war were you preventing after those three weeks? What was it that stopped you from explaining to me what was going on then? From telling me what you were dealing with? You lied to me, Odir. Before our marriage you told me it would be a partnership. You told me we would share the royal burden together.’

And he had meant it. He had meant his promise to her then. But he had underestimated just how far his father’s destruction had spread. Abbas had used Odir’s preoccupation with Eloise, with the wedding, with building the kind of relationship he wanted—the one she now taunted him with—against him, and had laid plans that Odir had spent the last six months ruthlessly undoing.

His conscience poked at him again. She was right. He should have informed her of the extent to which Farrehed had been in trouble. He could have even taken her with him on diplomatic missions. Had he been able to trust himself—had he been able to control the desire that whipped up a storm between them every time she came near...

At the heart of it, Odir was genuinely afraid that if he’d allowed himself to dive into the desire that burned between them he would have become his father.

But he couldn’t admit that to his wife now. He couldn’t afford to show such weakness. Not at a time when she, unknowingly, held so much power.

* * *

‘I couldn’t have returned to you even if I’d wanted to.’

She hated how those words had made her feel. Hated it that he still had the power to hurt her with callously delivered words.

‘I did what I had to, Eloise. As I am doing now.’

‘And I am doing what I have to. There is no way I would bring a child into this...marriage. You clearly think so little of me you still believe I am a woman who slept with your own brother—’

His arm came up between them and slashed through the night air.

‘Don’t speak of it. The past is the past. It’s dead to me. It doesn’t matter. All that matters now is tomorrow and that you are by my side for it.’

‘I won’t let you shut me up—not this time. Nothing happened between me and Jarhan. Nothing.’

For the first time Odir acknowledged that something wasn’t quite ringing true. If she really wanted a divorce from him she’d admit to having an affair with Jarhan, wouldn’t she? But she was defending herself against the accusation—defending herself in a way that he’d never given her the chance to do that night. Was it possible that he’d been wrong? That he’d misinterpreted the situation?

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