* * *

Even with shock after shock raining down on her, it surprised Eloise to find out just how much that hurt. That it wasn’t because of her, and it wasn’t born of any feelings for her that he wanted her back.

Even though she had suspected some ulterior need beneath Odir’s proposal, it had never been this. And it was then that Eloise realised she had been cherishing a small hope that perhaps her husband had wanted her for more than just a means to an end.

Not that she should be focusing on that. Odir had lost his father—Farrehed had lost its King. Eloise realised just as much as her husband clearly did that there was no way the country would survive without its Queen.

Even if she was only a means to an end Eloise wasn’t sure that she could turn her back on the country where she had spent two years. When she’d worked for the medical foundation she had found something that had made sense to her. She had fallen in love with the people and had loved Farrehed as much as she did her birth country.

But was that enough? Could she really sacrifice her happiness for Farrehed?

Eloise wanted to sink down onto one of the small white squares that littered the balcony, feeling the weight of just half of what Odir must be feeling, but she didn’t. She couldn’t. She had been brought up better than that. She couldn’t crumble. Not if Odir had not.

‘Obviously you need some time to process this, Eloise,’ Odir said.

‘What? More time than you have allowed yourself?’

‘Stop fighting me. Please.’

It was the first time she’d ever heard that word fall from his lips. Please. There was something so resigned about the way he said it. So...so mournful, she realised.

* * *

Odir watched his wife’s shoulders begin to shake, as if tiny tremors were working their way through her body. He couldn’t tell whether it was from the cold or the shock. Though even he recognised the unseasonable English heat—if it could be called heat—that surrounded them in the midnight air.

He slipped off his jacket and placed it over her slight frame, pulling it tight around her. Whether it was this simple act of caring for his wife, or the proximity of her to his body, he couldn’t tell, but he felt an unwelcome curl of desire unfurl just beneath his skin. It started in his hands, where they had come to rest just beneath her breasts, and spread out like a fire lighting his skin and his lungs in the same moment.

But it wasn’t just desire. It was something much darker and more dangerous than that. It was anticipation. And Odir found himself wondering, not for the first time, what it would be like to lose himself completely in his wife’s body. What it would be like to plunge his tongue into deeper depths than his wife’s soft mouth. What it would be like to feel Eloise shiver beneath his touch with something other than cold.

Odir met his wife’s eyes and saw the compassion and the sympathy held there and he hated it. Hated it that his wife was looking at him in the one way that could undo him. Damn her—why wasn’t she feeling it too? The same madness that was so tempting to him...more tempting than anything he had felt since his wedding night.

And then, as if his thought had been spoken out loud, he saw the moment that she felt it too. Her eyes widened—just a fraction. Had they been in a crowded room he doubted very much that anyone else would have noticed, would have seen the subtle change that came over her features and sent a spark of satisfaction rampaging through his body. Here was something secret—just between his wife and him.

Her eyes, usually a bright shade of blue, grew dark, almost matching the night sky behind her. Her pupils widened and he saw the flicker of her pulse quicken beneath the soft indentation in her jaw. For a fanciful moment he believed that their hearts were beating in time, and cursed himself for the thought.

‘We need to leave,’ he said, shutting down the madness that—had he had more to drink—he would have blamed on alcohol.

He removed his hands away from where they rested and walked towards the glass door that separated them from the party within. Malik and one of the other guards were stationed either side of the door, and as they passed through Odir registered the soft tones of the party still in full swing with surprise. It seemed almost inconceivable that the world was continuing to turn despite the events of the last few hours.

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