And she’d done it for him.
For so long he’d pushed for change—to bring the best and be the best for his people—and now Charlotte had gone above and beyond to help him succeed.
He couldn’t have done it without her. Not so swiftly. The roars of applause had never been so genuine. His country needed a queen.
Heneeded a Charlotte.
He turned to his people once more and raised their hands.
And so the cheers rang again.
But her words from this morning clawed at him.
‘Did you ever think that maybe the past has caught up with me, too? That my dad, his betrayal, my past—our past—is something we should talk about? Something I need to talk about?’
She was right. He should have considered it. Her need to talk. He owed her for his. To listen. To treat her like a human being and be decent.
He gripped her elbow, and after a deep inclination of his head and chest he turned them away from the crowds still cheering.
He would listen now.
The enormous doors closed behind them on their iron hinges. Akeem gently removed his fingers from her elbow and walked further into the room, leaving her staring at the broad expanse of his back covered by a black outer cloak.
Adrenaline pumped through her. ‘What’s wrong?’ she asked. ‘Did I do something wrong?’
He turned. His dark eyes were luminous beneath the white scarf feathering his cheeks. He held a finger to his lips and the gold-tipped sleeve fell back to reveal a thick wrist. Her eyes followed the golden seam to his black inner robes. She bit her lip, waiting for the staff to leave as he dismissed them.
‘There is a problem,’ he confirmed when they were alone.
Tension gripped her. ‘Problem?’
He pointed a long, steady finger at her chest. ‘You made the crown fit,’ he continued, ‘and became a queen. You did everything right.’
‘Then what is it?’
He dropped his hand. ‘If this is going to work...’
His eyes travelled from the crown pinned in her hair, over her carefully made-up face, to the choker at her throat. She burned wherever his eyes lingered.
‘We need to be alone. Completely.’
She raised a brow. ‘What for?’
‘Who will talk?’ she asked, wrinkling her nose.
‘What do you want me to talk about?’
‘You said you wanted to talk this morning.’
‘You said I should have considered that you need to,’ he reminded her. ‘I have considered.’
‘And what did you decide?’
‘That if you need to talk, I will listen.’
‘Because you want to?’
‘Because we need to get to know each other again.’
‘What do you mean, “get to know each other”?’ she asked, wrinkling her nose. ‘I’m in a better dress...’ She fisted the fabric at her waist and pulled it out. ‘But underneath it’s me.’
‘And who is that?’ he asked, his face unreadable. ‘The girl I knew couldn’t have been like that out there.’
‘Been like what?’
She wrung her hands together in front of her. ‘Selma helped me,’ she explained, her throat clogged. ‘She helped me craft what I wanted to say. What I wanted to project to your people.’
His eyes narrowed. ‘And what did you want to project?’