His Desert Bride By Demand - Page 64

She closed her eyes. Her heart was pumping too loudly. He was sorry? She waited for the excuses, for him to turn his wrongs into hers... Because where there was pain, wasn’t it always her fault? Hadn’t life taught her that not everyone could own their mistakes without hurting others with their reluctant apologies?

She waited until she couldn’t wait any more. She opened her eyes.

‘Say it again.’

He didn’t hesitate. He dropped to his knees. ‘I’m sorry, Charlotte. I’m sorry I hurt you. I’m sorry I was too stupid to see that those moments in the cave, in the palace and in my bed—’ he swallowed, jutting out his lower lip ‘—were the only moments where I revealed the true me to anyone. You saw me even when I didn’t want you to.’

He knelt motionless, still but for the heavy rise and fall of his chest.

‘I couldn’t tell you my name because underneath it all—the opulence and the power I’d longed to rub in your face—I was no one. An empty vessel of nothing. A mass of broken flesh and bone. I’d swapped one life for another without claiming either for myself. Neither of those lives—the boy’s or the King’s—belonged to me. I was a puppet of the system until my eighteenth birthday, and then I was my father’s puppet. Thank you, Charlotte,’ he finished, and every line on his face was taut. Pained. ‘Thank you for setting me free.’

She so badly wanted to jump into his arms, to tell him she was right here, with him, and she was going nowhere. But words were cheap. His words outside had been for himself, for his people. But now she wanted words for her. Proof that he could embrace the past—because it was the only way they could move on together.

So she didn’t raise him up. And she didn’t feel victorious, and neither did her sixteen-year-old self. She felt...abandoned.

He might not have abandoned her on purpose nine years ago, but he’d abandoned her on their wedding night.

Would he abandon her again?

‘What will you do with your newfound freedom, Akeem?’ she asked. ‘What will you do with me?’

Her heart was beating so hard because he didn’t need her any more. Not to be his Queen. His wife. But did he want her? Did he need her as she needed him? As a lover? A friend? Family?

‘I want to love you hard...’

His eyes flashed and her stomach pulled. That night he’d loved her fiercely with his body but abandoned her with his mind.

‘So hard,’ he continued, ‘that you are breathless with my love.’

‘I’m not talking about sex.’

‘And neither am I.’ He swallowed, searching her face as she searched his. ‘I thought my riches, my power, would make you want me.’ He held up his huge hand, the slender digits halting her rebuke. ‘I was wrong. You cared for none of it. Not even for a diploma.’ He smiled, oh, so weakly. So tentatively. ‘In the cave you asked if I was worthy.’

‘Are you?’

‘The man before you is worthy. I am worthy of love. I am worthy of the happiness I find in your arms, in bed, against the wall or on the floor, or simply by being in your presence while you sleep...watching you draw.’ He hushed her again when she tried to speak. ‘But more than that we are worthy of happiness, Charlotte. Of love.’

‘Love?’ she repeated. She wanted—no, she needed to touch him. But she didn’t.

‘Love,’ he agreed. ‘All week I have wanted to drag you out of Selma’s house in the city. Drag you into my bed and love you so hard you wouldn’t be able to leave my bed for days. Because sex is what we do—how we talk.’

His Adam’s apple moved up and down his taut throat.

‘I wanted to keep you in bed for weeks,’ he went on. ‘For however long it took you to forgive me. Instead...’ he said, and then he exhaled heavily, a shudder escaping his lips. ‘Instead I sat in your studio. I sat there on the floor and stared at your drawings—your portraits. Of me. In the cave. On the balcony. In the children’s home... And the double portrait.’ He exhaled heavily. ‘You were the only one to ever see me when I was standing in plain sight. I want to be the man you see. I can’t make you forgive me, but I can promise I will talk with my mouth, as well as with my body. I will use my words and my actions to show you how much I love you. How sorry I am for not listening. For making you pack a box with your feelings.’

‘I never really packed it,’ she confessed wryly, and her heart was so light—so full—she could burst.

‘I want to unpack mine, and then I want us to fill a fresh box—without a lid. I want us to fill it with the intensity between us. I’ve tried to deny that I feel it, but it has never diminished. It has only grown. Grown into an all-consuming need to be in your presence. To touch you. Be with you. Love you. And I don’t want to deny it any more. I want to keep it in a place where we can both see it, feel it, embrace it. Use it to drive each other to be better. Stronger. Because it was never a weakness. You are my strength, Charlotte. You make me a better and stronger man.’

She rushed to him. Fell to the floor with him and landed in his arms. She scrambled with the too-long light cotton sleeve and unbuckled the watch. Her heart pumping. Her eyes too wide. She grabbed his wrist, pushed up his sleeve and attempted to wrap the delicate watch around his wrist. It was too tight. It looked ridiculous. She pushed the fine silver pin through the last hole.

Perfect.

‘She’s been here today with you...your mum.’

‘I know,’ he whispered.

‘Your dad too, watching his people. And my dad—’ She choked. ‘He was here as well.’ She grabbed his hand and placed it on her chest. ‘In here.

‘There were two sides to your father,’ she told him, because she got it now. Understood it for what it was, right or wrong. ‘There was the man who abandoned you, and there was the King. Your father the King moulded every sentence you spoke today.’

‘How do you know that?’

‘My dad had two sides as well. The side social services saw, so he could get me back home, and the side he showed to me. Maybe getting me back was in his eyes doing the right thing. Standing by his duty. The way your father stood by his in the end. He was cruel, but he came for you. Turned you into a king. I hate him for how he treated you, but he was still your dad.’

‘Determined as ever to compare our lives, Charlotte?’ said Akeem.

‘We walked the same streets in the same shoes once, didn’t we? I can see your path as clearly as I can see my own. Your father made you a king, and your mother made you emphatic and compassionate.’

‘And your father made you strong. Invincible against all odds.’

‘For all his faults, I am his daughter. And I loved him.’

‘I cannot say I loved my father, but I loved my mother. I loved her so much—’ His voice broke, and she finished for him.

‘It was easier to blame yourself, to be angry, than to let yourself grieve.’

‘Yes,’ he said, his eyes heavy with unshed tears. ‘I see that now.’

‘Love is not the enemy. Life can be hard sometimes, and then at other times it can be...magical.’ She smiled. ‘As magical as fire when your eyes aren’t accustomed to the dark.’

‘I want to be your light in the darkness, qalbi. I want to be your oasis when all around you is sand.’

Together, they said, ‘Sanctuary,’ and laughed.

Tags: Lela May Wight Billionaire Romance
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