His Desert Bride By Demand - Page 62

Because he’d let her go. He’d believed the lies that seemed so brittle when he thought of them now. Her father’s words. The trickery. But he hadn’t been tricked. He’d allowed himself to believe those lies because he’d been afraid. Afraid of her. Her presence. Her stray bullets. Her kindness.

Her love.

He looked at her pictures again. She was everywhere in the studio. In the portraits lining the walls. On the sofa, where her shawl spread out haphazardly. In the lids left open. The drying paintbrush by the sink.

You’re still afraid, aren’t you? To show them who you are?

Instantly, he saw everything.

Everything she’d been trying to show him.

She’d drawn his story. The story he’d pushed down into that place where he’d hidden everything that mattered.

He’d forgotten to keep the parts that made him him.

He was both.

A boy in the body of a king.

That rope...it hurt. It always had. For nine years. But now... It had snapped. Irreparably. She’d gone because he’d pushed her away...because he’d refused her encouragement to be himself.

He loved her.

He’d sat here for a week. Sat here on the floor, in her studio, in sky-blue jeans ripped at the knees, and a T-shirt so thin and tight it defined every muscle beneath. Clumsy fingers had repaired the socks on his feet. His fingers. And the shoes he hadn’t been able to bring himself to slide his feet into had lasted him three winters in the coldest temperatures the British weather could offer. They were almost soleless now.

He jumped to his feet.

He could not drag her back to the palace and demand she listen to him. Forgive him. He needed to show her. He needed to show them all. But would she come? Would she come to see him named King before his people?

He didn’t know, but he needed to do it. Not just for her, but for himself. His father had never listened to his people, never given them the privilege of choice. But he would let them choose now.

He would let them choose him.

But first he would change. He was no longer this boy with ripped jeans—he was both a boy with a challenging past and the son of a king. And they both deserved finery. Top-of-the-range quality fabric...

They were both worthy of more.

It never lessened. The lurch in his gut as he looked down over the city below... But it was one face he looked for amongst the crowds gathering outside. Hers. And she was everywhere and nowhere.

Striding towards the door, he pulled it open, ignoring the bowing men and the curtsying women. He moved through the winding halls laden with pictures of ancestors he would never meet and stepped out into the day.

In the flower-adorned courtyard with its sound of cascading fountains Akeem didn’t stop. His face stony, he entered the royal gardens.

He shrugged off the staff, directing him back inside to the royal balcony. He wouldn’t be there. He would not stand up there and look down at them.

He would stand amongst them. His people.

He would tell them a story. His story.

He would give them the choice his father never had.

‘I came to you nine years ago with nothing...’

They’d taught him how to project his voice, to make it boom in the loudest arena. It boomed now. The people surrounding him moved away, creating a circle around him and giving him space.

‘I was a stranger to your ways...’ he continued, keeping his voice neutral.

He was not neutral. He was alive. Breathing. His royal guard infiltrated the crowd and discreetly made the space between him and his people wider. He continued and spoke to them too—to the royal guard, his inherited men—because they needed to hear his words too.

‘I was a stranger to the personal struggles of this Kingdom of Taliedaa. But I am not a stranger to struggle or to hunger. Not only for food, but for the warmth of stability. I was a man when I came to you—when I stood above you in fine silks and asked you to accept me. And you did. Because my father asked you to—he demanded it. I thought on that day I had left the boy I was behind. But my wife...your Queen-in-waiting...has reminded me that that boy’s struggles—his losses—are universal. I have lost much, and so have many of you.’

Pain sliced through him, but he would raise his mother’s memory up—the memory of who she had been, not who he had turned her into. The woman—the mother—he had forgotten.

‘My mother... She was a young mother. A single mother in a foreign land, who worked her fingers to the bone to raise me. Her son. In my early life she wrapped me in hope, in love, in warmth, and I did not hunger because of her. She was one of you. Born here, raised here. Loved here. Until she made a mistake and fell in love with a king. And I am that mistake. It shamed her. I shamed her. Forced her to leave all she’d known because of her love. Her warmth. Her desire to see her son flourish. Now I ask all of you—would you not do the same? For love? Would you not abandon everything you’d known to raise your child? She did. She did not allow me to live in shame. My mother, Yamina Ali, raised a king.’

Oh, how his heart thundered. Beat painfully against his ribs. No, it was not his heart. It was the boy. Charlotte had removed his gag.

Tags: Lela May Wight Billionaire Romance
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