‘He cared for nothing but himself,’ he repeated.
‘What about you? Do you care?’
‘I will not be the man or the King my father was,’ he answered, each word measured and truthful, despite his need to rub his position in her pretty little face. ‘I will claim his title and make it mine. I will not be a king,’ he summarised for her. ‘I will be the King, and my people will come first as they never did under my father’s rule.’
And he would do it as he had been doing things for nine years. Small steps. Small choices. Small changes. His people first. His needs... Never.
Until today?a voice mocked.
He pushed it aside. One day was all he wanted. Twenty-four hours to claim his revenge as a man, to take what he needed and close the door on the past for ever. Only then could he be the King his people needed.
‘We are the mirror image of each other,’ she said.
His brows pulled together. ‘How?’
‘You lost a mother you loved,’ she continued, ‘and I lost a father.’
‘Do you compare what I felt for my mother with what you felt for your father?’
‘Yes,’ she answered simply. ‘You loved your mother unconditionally. I know you were young when she died, but you spoke about her with pure idolisation. I know if you could’ve stopped her getting into that carcass of a car you would have. You would have kept her safe. I never idolised my dad, but I loved him. I tried to keep him safe, too.’
His eyes widened. ‘And my father?’
‘Absent—like my mum. She left me with my dad, as your father left you with your mother.’
‘We are not the same.’
‘I said mirror images—reverse. Opposites.’
She was right. They belonged to different worlds. But they had started out from a similar place. A point of reference they could both identify with.
He’d even dared to love her once.
His face contorted, his mouth twisting into a snarl, and he turned away from her. He knew better now—much better.
Love was an absurd ideology for the weak. It was a basic emotion and he would never let himself be primitive again. He wanted her. He acknowledged that. But it was physical closure he needed. No feelings. No emotion. Just sex and her recognition that he was no longer the boy she’d rejected.
Akeem sat on the sofa facing her, clipped himself in, and watched. He observed her as the man he’d taught himself to be. As a king would—with open appreciation.
‘Are you just going to sit there and gawk at me?’ she asked.
Golden flecks burned in a sea of green as, back straight, knees together, she looked straight ahead and over his head, as if nothing could faze her. He smiled. He’d ruffle more than her inhibitions. He’d crush them to dust.
His legs spread, he lounged back. Here she was, within reach—not a photograph put on his desk with a breakdown of her yearly routines. She was tangible, with an energy he could taste.
‘Charlotte?’ he said, when she closed her eyes as the plane reached a furious speed.
She didn’t respond as the plane climbed higher, nose-first, but held tighter to her knees and drew his attention to her ripped tights and exposed skin.
His world now was far removed from hers, with inexpensive stockings and shoes, with barely any soles on the shoes cradling her small feet. But he’d known that world with mended clothes, and he hated the reminder of who he’d been with her.
His jaw clenched, because it wasn’t her clothes that were making him uncomfortable but the memories hurtling towards him, too fast to catch them. Because with her he’d been everything his father had told him he wasn’t.
He’d been... Calm. She’d soothed him. Stroked the unnourished ego of a boy who hadn’t known such arresting tranquillity before. Not since his mother. Not with the temporary families they’d placed him with, who’d all sent him back with a note to say he was too quiet, too tearful, too loud, too angry—too broken. The behavioural mentors who’d tried to draw him out of himself—out of his head—had given up when he’d made little progress and had still spoken louder with his fists than with his words.
The palace guards had held his wrists as his father had called out with every punch that the boy he was, was unwanted. With her, it hadn’t taken vile words or clenched fists to stop his rage. It had only taken her. Her presence to soothe the anger in his gut. The anger he’d taught himself to hide, to replace with the determination to succeed.
But he wasn’t calm now.
The temptation to rip the fabric from her legs rocketed through him, heating his blood.
But he would never be part of that world again.
A tightness he hadn’t realised was clinging to his muscles was released.
They were airborne.
He clenched his jaw. The shoes. The tights. The clothes. She’d stayed in the world of make do, and yet she sat on his throne as regally as a queen.
He shifted, clamping his lips into a thin slit. Did he know this Charlotte? It didn’t matter. For twenty-four hours she would forget her world of minding the pennies. And he would enjoy exposing her to every delight of the flesh and then send her back with only regret on her lips.