Turning away from the muffled noise, he stalked towards the lift, and once again Eloise stepped in beside him. In the mirror, she looked dishevelled. As if it had been he rather than the wind who had run his hands through her hair, who had pushed aside her skirts.

He clenched his fists and ordered himself back under control as the lift arrived at its destination.

In the hallway another guard held the door to his suite open, and once again Odir marched straight into the darkened rooms and, control be damned, headed straight for the whisky.

He listened for the sounds of Eloise behind him and realised that she was the first person that he’d told about his father’s death.

Jarhan had been with him when the doctor had conveyed the news that had set his every action today in motion. Odir had been able to tell, when he’d seen his aide, that he had already been informed by the medical staff—in the event that the Princes would need further support. And now, between his aide and his bodyguards, who had been sworn to secrecy, it left the number of people who knew about his father’s death at a total of twelve—including the doctor and nurse.

It felt so strange. The man he’d spent years hating, the man who had almost obliterated any happy childhood memories—memories of when his father had not been the monster he had become the day his wife tragically died—was now gone from this world. He wondered, not for the first time, if it would have been easier had he not had those happy memories. If Abbas’s later actions had truly killed any knowledge of the man he had once been. The father he had once been.

‘It’s okay to mourn him, Odir.’

A bitter laugh erupted, unbidden, from his lips, searing his flesh with its intensity.

‘Thank you for your permission, but I mourned the loss of my father years ago—the moment he stopped being a father and a husband and became a widowed king.’

He crossed the room in two strides and went to the drinks cabinet, with a determination to wash the taste of grief and anger from his palate with whisky. Unthinking, he put ice into two crystal-cut glasses, poured a generous amount of amber liquid into both, and passed one to Eloise. The weight of the glass was oddly satisfying, and he was left oddly bereft when she took it from him.

He looked up and found Eloise watching him through narrowed eyes.

‘You think that a cruel thing to say? You think me cruel?’ he asked.

He was genuinely curious. For although once he might have claimed to know her thoughts, with the changes the last six months had brought to her he honestly couldn’t tell.

‘No. On the contrary,’ Eloise said, so quietly he had to strain to hear her. ‘I think it an eminently practical thing to mourn the loss of a person who has changed irrevocably.’

Odir was surprised. He’d thought that she would try to comfort him with gentle words and reassuring sympathy, which would have been utterly false to his own feelings, and he was thankful she hadn’t. Thankful that she hadn’t tried to contradict him. Thankful that she hadn’t tried to reassure him that ‘grief was a natural part of life’.

His mind replayed the words of his father’s nurse as she had tried to offer some comfort to her new Sheikh. Perhaps, he realised with a silent laugh, she had been vying for a position within the royal household and he had been too numb to realise it.

‘What was he like?’

Her words drew him back.

‘The father you mourned, not the King you lost.’

Part of him didn’t want to go there. Didn’t want to revisit memories he would find painful. But, even though his heart avoided it, he scanned his memory for a time when his father hadn’t been so stricken with grief that it had rotted every good thing about him. And there, just as it had always been, was a memory waiting to be found. It led him to the next memory, and the next, as if a string of lights were being turned on, one after the other.

‘He laughed,’ Odir said, sounding almost as surprised as he felt. ‘It was the sound of his laugh—I’ll never forget it. It was deep. Deep and joyful. Perhaps not two words that you would associate with the man you met. And he smiled. It was never going to be a perfect smile. As a child he’d been kicked by a horse—a vicious kick that broke his jaw. Not that that stopped him from riding—or smiling. Though according to my mother it stopped him talking for a good while.’

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