‘Didn’t have a choice? In case it hasn’t escaped your notice, Eloise, this is the twenty-first century. Women have fought long and hard—burned their bras, even—so that you can have a choice. So unless you are willing to speak plainly, and stop talking in riddles, this will be a very long conversation indeed. One that, as you know, I really don’t have time for.’

He looked at his wife, glaring at him like a hell cat. God only knew what the expression on his own face was like. He was furious, and he knew that some of that fury was misplaced towards Eloise. He was angry with himself because he was missing something. Why would his wife direct his questions to his brother? Why couldn’t she just tell him?

‘Secrets or silence—these are the only things that you offer me,’ he bit out into the cold room.

‘And all you offered me was absence!’

‘Well, habibti,’ he said, barely reining in his fury, ‘I’m promising now that you will not be spending the rest of this marriage alone. A king needs heirs, and as we have finally proved that there is at least one area we are compatible in,’ he went on, feeling once more the heat of desire tighten his body in anticipation of times to come, ‘that shouldn’t be such a hardship.’

He could see small shivers beginning to ripple through his wife and hated it that he had put them there—not through the stirrings of a mutual desire, but at the thought of them spending their lives together.

When had he become such a bastard that he would bind a woman to him against her will?

When the country he loved had been put in such jeopardy, that was when.

The thought, sounding so much like his father, turned his blood to ice, cutting off any delicious threads of desire in their tracks.

‘I will get some food sent up. I haven’t seen you eat all night.’

‘You think I can eat at a time like this, Odir? Besides, it’s two a.m. You can’t ask the staff to bring you food now.’

‘I am a king, Eloise. I can do exactly what I like.’

She watched him with grim eyes. ‘Yes, and now you are sounding like one king we both once knew.’

‘Have a shower, Eloise. I will call for some food.’

And with that he left the room and disappeared.

* * *

On shaky legs and bare feet Eloise silently padded through the dark room, the soles of her feet sinking into lush carpet so unlike the hard wooden floor of her little flat in Zurich. She passed through to the bedroom, ignoring the panoramic view of London because now it simply reminded her of her husband, looking out on it as if he could own the world and her with it. She looked at the thick pile of bedding that she had thought would accompany her first time with her husband, and wondered if there would ever be anything as mundane as bedding in her future.

She went through to a bathroom that would have certainly fitted her little one-bedroom apartment within its marbled walls. Silver and white clashed with black marble, exploding before her as she turned on the lights.

On autopilot, giving no heed to the fact that she was already obeying her husband’s commands, she turned on the water in the shower area, stepped back, peeled the black silk dress from her body and stood there for just a moment, naked under the glare of the lighting. She presumed that somewhere there would be a dimmer switch that would transform the bathroom light into something less harsh, but Eloise welcomed the brightness. It felt as if it were burning away the darkness from her soul and her skin.

The moment the warm water touched her she sighed—an exhalation that took with it all the thoughts of the last few hours and sent them away from her spent body. As if the touch of the water had brought to life all the small aches and pains that were totally new to her body, she ran her fingers gently over the very places her husband had explored, wondering that his touch had elicited such different reactions from her.

Reactions that had revealed her naïve fantasies of what it would be like to sleep with Odir to be just that. Childish. Not in nature, but in fact. And with the reality of what had passed between them all those fantasies had melted away into nothing, like a passing mist covering the land and being burnt away by the sun.

She had truly been innocent of what passed between a man and a woman. Because, had she not been, she doubted very much that she would have let him touch her even once. And now that she had? Now that he had? She was absolutely, concretely certain that there was no going back. She might not go forward with him—she might still find a way out of this marriage—but there was no doubt that the events of tonight had changed her irrevocably.

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