THEBOYWAS still alive.
The illegitimate child of Yamina Ali was still breathing. Charlotte had pressed her lips to the lifeless body of a boy who belonged in the history books. She’d pressed her hand to his heart and pumped. Again and again. Until she’d seen a glimmer of life. And in his bed he’d been born again.
And now the boy was beating his fists against his chest. Demanding he recognise the fact that the woman who would walk through those doors towards him was more than a woman prepared to meet her King.
She was his.
He swallowed and fixed his gaze on nothing in particular. Not on the walls billowing with white drapes, drawn back to showcase the carved and intricate high arched windows, and not on the treacherous thump of his heart as the scent of foliage and flowers from every corner teased his nostrils.
He’d indulged her little game of playing in the past when he’d gifted her the studio. That night he’d let her draw him, with and without his clothes. He’d let her touch him without restraint, as he’d touched her. She’d whispered in his ear again and again about who they’d been, about family. She’d slept deeply. Contentedly. And for the first time in a long time so had Akeem—because he’d been home. The only home he’d ever really known.
The studio, making love and giving in to passion, confessing how his past had shaped him—still shaped him—had all been too much. It had made him weak. Put him in a position he’d vowed never to put himself in again.
So he’d returned her to her own bed. Because there were always choices. And he had made his. He’d left her alone after that afternoon which had turned into night and then to dawn. He’d buried his head in the duties of the King, and caged whatever man it was she’d released that afternoon.
His wedding day.
The boy inside him howled like the feral beast he was—calling for her. Her presence. Her touch. Her soothing calm. But the boy could beat against his ribcage as much as he liked, because it was not his time.
It was time for the King to claim his bride.
He turned, ignoring the fact that his body—the howl inside his chest—knew she was behind him before his eyes did.
And there she was.
In her wedding dress.
Gold feathered the cream veil covering her hair and shadowing her eyes. It ran over her shoulders and met in a high collar at her throat, tied at the neck by a string of gold between the notch of her clavicles. It trailed down her back in a short train. He could not see her face. Only the tip of her button nose and the shine of her full lips.
Her throat was bare, but panels of cream fabric embellished with sequins sewn in lines and swirls of silver hid every other inch of flesh. The embroidery at her midriff was a triangle, directing his gaze downwards. It ran the length of her torso and pulled in at her waist to mould over her hips, where more fabric flared out.
The dress sat against her body like a second skin, and every time she took a step towards him it moved tightly against the sway of her shoulders, flattened across the breadth of her thighs.
His eyes moved over the obvious lines of her thighs, her hip bones. He had gripped those—thrust inside her again and again until he’d forgotten his name. But he remembered it now: Crown Prince Akeem Abd al-Uzza, son of the late King Saleem Abd al-Uzza and soon to be King of Taliedaa.
Her promise pulled at his groin, but there was no escaping the cameras live-streaming their nuptials, or the princes, princesses and other dignitaries who surrounded them, who had travelled from the four corners of the earth to see the Crown Prince of an up-and-coming small desert kingdom take a bride.
After the ceremony there would be introductions, politics, food...
But after that...
One more night,the boy inside him urged. Our wedding night.
Yes. This would be his night. The night he’d promised himself in London. He would sleep with her one more time as a king with his queen. Seal their new pact. And then finally he would be rid of him. The boy she’d brought back to the surface—the boy who, after today, he couldn’t risk remembering. He would put him back in his box and bury him deep. And then he would become the man he was destined to be.
The King that Taliedaa deserved.
What about her?
He’d give her the space to grow into the woman she was destined to be, too—a queen by day and an artist by night.
But his bed? He could not have her in it. He could not let himself feel the way he did when she was there.
He dragged his eyes away from her—tore himself free from the lust threatening to undo him. The world and its eyes were on him—on them. He would do his people and his country proud.
And your mother?
An image of his mother’s dark hair falling forward, obscuring her eyes, flashed in his mind. He could remember her scent. Her warmth. Her love. But he could not see her face. With every day that had passed since her death, she’d faded a little more.
Guilt. It passed through him in waves. As it always did.
He could not remember her now.
He moved his eyes over the crowds assembled in neat rows on either side of the aisle as Charlotte descended. Their eyes were not on their King, because they could not yank their eyes away from the display he’d gifted to them.
Their future Queen.
She stood before him and his heart jack-knifed as she pushed back her veil to reveal her eyes.
Her voice broke the bubble in the most delicate of whispers. ‘I’ve missed you,’ she said.
His mouth flattened as he took her elbow and turned them both to the man who would bind them together.
Eyes forward, he said, ‘I’ve missed you too.’
God, help him. He had. So much.
She was born again as Crown Princess Charlotte Abd al-Uzza. Future Queen of Taliedaa.
She was married.
Excitement feathered over her skin, raising every fine hair under her wedding dress.
Tonight was the night.