‘I wanted you so much that I nearly turned my back on my country. Do you know how hard it was for me to walk away that night? I nearly didn’t!’
* * *
Shock marked her features, but he couldn’t stop, the words seemingly ripped from the past and falling unrestrained from his lips.
‘From the moment of my birth I was brought up to protect this country. My father educated me in leadership, and I was sent to university to gain an understanding of politics and economics for the betterment of my country. Everything was about protecting the people of Farrehed, even when I had to protect it against my own father. But I never thought that I might have to protect it against me. Against the desire I felt for you. In that moment just before I left the palace for Terhren I would have let it burn for just one more taste of you. Just like my father would have done.’
His breath was unaccountably tight within his chest.
‘Every single thing I have done or not done has been for Ferrehed. I can never become the selfish man my father was. I will never be that man. And I will never make the same mistakes he did.’
‘And if you weren’t?’
‘If I weren’t what?’
‘A ruler. If you weren’t bound by rules and duty and convention what would you be? What would you want?’
You. The word came unbidden to his mind. Even before their marriage—even before she had been presented to him as the perfect wife—he had been intrigued by the pale, silky-skinned woman before him.
He saw her as she had been then, standing in the summer sun in the dusty stable yard, taunting him with her words, teasing him with her smiles. She had brought brightness back to the palace that had been like a dark kingdom, holding its breath under the weight of a year’s long grief. If he were honest with himself he knew he had held her at a distance because she had truly been the only threat to the barriers around his heart.
It was as if his thoughts had reached out into the air around them and changed something. Something that had passed between them. He could see now that Eloise understood why he needed this marriage. All bribery and pretence was done. She had accepted that, he could tell.
But beyond that he could see his own desire reflected in her eyes, and the temptation to sink into it, to give in and stop fighting, was so great. How bad would it be if just for once he could simply take what he wanted and damn the consequences?
His mind flew back to earlier in the evening, when he had greeted her with a kiss that had been intended to humiliate, to punish, but had done nothing of the sort. The kick of adrenaline—purer than any daredevil ride, any hit of alcohol—had flooded his system, blocking all thoughts completely.
And for once Odir was desperate to feel something other than all the swirling emotions brought about by his father’s death, this conversation, all his doubts about his wife. He wanted to feel something else. Her skin beneath his hands...her lips beneath his...her body beneath his body. Perhaps if he gave in—if he allowed himself to have her, even just once—it would resolve his need. Perhaps he would finally be free of the chains his desire for her had wound around him.
And for the first time since he had placed that ring on his wife’s finger he couldn’t think of a reason not to.
He closed the distance between them in two powerful strides, and before his beautiful, treacherous wife could do anything to stop him he slid his hand into the hair at the base of her neck, glided his palm against her cheek, pulled her lips close to his and sank into a heaven he had no business entering.
August 2nd, 01.00-02.00, Heron Tower
FOR A MOMENT—just a moment—Eloise was completely taken aback. This was nothing like the kiss he had punished her with when he had first seen her downstairs at the party. Nor the kiss from their wedding night.
She wondered whether she had somehow conjured it from her deepest fantasies. For in a sense it was the way she had always wanted him to kiss her. There was a rawness, an urgency about it that called to something deep within her. She could feel the recklessness in his touch—could feel it in the depths of her mouth, plundered by his tongue with an onslaught so sensual, so incredible, that it simply could not be real.