‘I didn’t think he’d do it. Ruin his own reputation just to get what he wanted. But he insisted that he’d ride the tidal wave of public opinion as the poor, put-upon husband who had tried to protect his wife’s shame. He would be seen as a man who had done all he could to help his wife, but who couldn’t take the heartbreak of it any more. He was convincing. I’ll give him that.

‘I still said no. I went to see my mother. To beg her to leave my father. To come with me, away from it all. I knew that I could provide for us when I got my trust fund, that we just had a few years before then. But she wouldn’t leave him.

‘She begged me. Begged me to keep her secret. Begged me to marry you.’

Her mother’s hysteria that day had been terrible. She had been wailing, begging, pleading, all of it edged with a very real fear of being cut off from the one thing she loved more than herself, more than her daughter. Drugs.

‘So I agreed. And I agreed to the gagging order that would prevent me from talking about my mother’s dirty little secret. To keep my mother happy. To get my father what he wanted.’

Odir took it all in, repositioning this new information over the family who had attended state dinners, shared private meals with his own family. This background information was filling in questions he hadn’t realised he’d asked himself about the tension, the slightly odd behaviour of his mother-in-law. Her father had been relocated to Kuwait after their marriage, and Odir realised that the wedding was the last time he’d seen her father and mother.

‘So you wanted to use your trust fund...?’

‘Not for my mother. No, she’s still with my father. After I left Farrehed I went to stay with a university friend. She had always been so understanding about my mother. About my family. I hadn’t realised why at the time, but when I arrived in Switzerland I saw she had her own addiction troubles. Her family had cut her off, and to be honest she was in a much worse place than I was.

‘I wanted to get her help—the kind of help that my mother had refused—but to do so I needed money. Zurich has an amazing medical centre, specialising in addiction. But by the time Natalia was admitted the damage was done. She needs a kidney transplant, but because of her addictions she’s very low down on the transplant list. In the time I spent at the facility I got to know the staff, and when they were looking for an assistant to the Chief Financial Officer I applied and got the job.’

Eloise smiled ruefully.

‘Yes, your very royal wife has been working as a secretary for the last six months.’ A small laugh escaped her as she shared the oddity of the situation. ‘But tomorrow,’ she continued, and he almost flinched as her hand reached out to touch his arm, ‘tomorrow, when I have access to my trust fund, I can use it to help Natalia. To help the medical centre in Zurich that will most likely close within the year if it doesn’t have a large injection of capital. I was never after money or social standing, Odir...’ Her voice was almost painfully earnest. ‘I just wanted to...’

‘Help your mother? Help your friend? After helping my brother?’

He bit back the curse that came so easily to his tongue. A tongue laced with the taste of bitterness and fury.

‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ he demanded.

He thought of all the things he could have done to help—all of the ways he could have made it easier for Eloise.

‘Because you had a country to run.’

It hurt that she was right.

‘Because I didn’t know if you would even care. In spite of the closeness we had before our wedding, and the tentative relationship we built, I didn’t know if it was strong enough for the truth. And all the while I could never know what my father would do if he found out. If he had made good on the threat of the gagging order then my trust fund would have been gone and I wouldn’t have been able to help anyone. If the truth had come out the promise I made to my mother to protect her, to keep my family’s secret, would have burnt away to nothing. As sad as it sounds, Odir, I never had my father’s love. But to lose my mother’s would have been—’

He hadn’t realised it, but he’d put his hands up to ward off her words. To prevent them from coming out of her mouth and hitting him like the bullets they were. Because, of all people, he knew what it was to lose a mother’s love. He knew the deep, searing pain that, once felt, changed a heart irrevocably.

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