Curled up in the corner of the wardrobe, her knees clutched to her chest, every time she had thought that this would be the time her mother would notice her hiding place. That this would be the time her mother would find her and kiss her goodnight, tell her that she loved her.
Every time until that last time. When through the reflection in the mirror they had locked eyes, and all the hope of her mother finally coming to kiss her goodnight had disappeared when the only thing her mother had offered her was a small smile before leaving the room.
Eloise had never hidden in her mother’s wardrobe again.
Her mother had not loved her. Not in the way that she had needed as a child. She couldn’t hold that against her—Angelina simply wasn’t capable of it. Even now. But Eloise was different. She was capable of love—she knew that now. She deserved love. She deserved someone who would put her before the parties, before the social engagements, before anything and anyone else.
The tug of her wedding ring being taken from her finger brought her back to the present with a shock, and she instinctively closed her hand in a fist.
‘What do you think you are doing?’ she demanded.
‘As I said, Your Majesty, we need to place a snuggy inside your ring.’
‘A snuggy?’ She realised her voice was high and loud but didn’t care.
‘Yes, ma’am. Your ring—it’s loose. This is a piece of plastic that will sit inside the ring to make it tighter around your finger, so that it won’t slip during the press conference.’
Even though the man sounded apologetic she didn’t care. He was holding up a ridiculously small, horribly grey plastic band as if it were the most important thing in the world. As if somehow it would make her wedding ring fit. As if it would cover the tiny gap between her being royal and her not being royal. Her being Odir’s wife and not being Odir’s wife.
Someone entered the bedroom behind her, and in the reflection of the mirror, through the open door, her eyes found her husband’s. All night she had felt the weight of her husband’s gaze and the power held there, whether it was in sexual attraction, arrogance or anger. But in that moment she clung to it desperately, as if they were two people in the eye of a storm not of their own making.
She made herself look away. She felt numb—or she felt too much. She couldn’t quite work which. It was as if she couldn’t feel any of it. Even the weight of the wedding ring as it was pushed back tightly onto her finger.
Suddenly she was that little girl again, hiding in the corner of the closet, waiting for someone to find her. Waiting for someone to love her.
And she couldn’t do it.
She couldn’t be that scared little girl any more.
* * *
‘Clear the room.’
Odir’s command stopped everyone in their tracks. Startled faces looked back at him. All but Eloise’s. The stylist looked as if she might disagree, but Odir had stared down armies of men, and he watched as the woman realised as much. All four people hastily scrambled from the room and disappeared through the door.
His wife had still not looked at him.
He prowled over to the chair. He knew that he towered over her, but he couldn’t help it. His wife looked incredible, but she also looked untouchable and he didn’t like it.
Her fingers reached up behind her neck and struggled with a string of pearls that didn’t suit her at all. There was something in the way that she fought with the necklace that sent a shiver of fear through him.
‘I think it’s caught in my—’
He brushed her fingers aside and undid the clasp. He smoothed away the few errant strands of hair that had become caught in the clasp and the moment the necklace was secured he felt peace settle around him.
‘You look magnificent,’ he said, settling his hands on her slim shoulders.
She was here. Beneath his fingers and his touch. And she would be standing beside him in an hour, when he made his announcement to the press. They would talk on the plane. They would figure it all out. He’d take her to bed and take away the fear he could see in her eyes.
He knew what she wanted, but in that moment he would do anything to make her stop.