‘You wanted escape, qalbi. Not me. You wanted a new life away from your father. We are both grown enough now to recognise the truth.’
‘You can’t presume to know that.’
‘I presume nothing. It is a truth I recognise. A truth that, if you wanted to, you would also recognise.’
‘Tell me more about the boy who became a king,’ she asked, moving on.
Or moving back.
He’d said enough in the cave. He did not want to go back.
‘Tell me,’ she urged, her voice soft. Tempting.
And there it was. The flare of kindness in her eyes, softening the green to a moss-like effect. Kindness. The reason he’d become besotted with her in their shared time in care.
His hands sought her out before he could tell them not to. They went to her hips, feeling the hard bones there as he tugged her into the length of him.
‘All my life I wanted this “more” you talk of. And now I have it. I have it here—power,’ he breathed between clenched teeth. ‘The past is irrelevant.’
‘You want power?’ she asked, and leaned into the pressure of his palms. ‘Control?’
‘I have it already,’ he said, and loosened his grip. Because that was not the power he wanted. He did not want power over her.
She already has it over you.
He dismissed the voice and hammered his kingliness home. ‘Power I imagined impossible is now mine. I have respect. Control.’ He moved back, away from her. ‘My mother’s name was as unwanted as mine before I was King. They called her a whore. And me a bastard. Only when I’d worked hard to be the perfect image of a crown prince did they call her by her name, and me by mine.’
‘Your new name?’
He didn’t answer.
‘Whatever title you have, you’ll always be him. You know that, don’t you? Not the illegitimate legacy of your dad, or the result of whatever relationship your mum had with your father—’
‘I just don’t understand how you think hiding away from who you once were makes you a better king.’
‘No!’ She dismissed his warning. ‘Your past isn’t the enemy. Your dad lied to you. Like mine lied to me. Your feelings are valid. They make you strong.’
‘You said your dad was a terrible king. That he did not cater to the troubles of your people and followed his pleasure-seeking lifestyle and destroyed others in the process. You know the troubles of real people. Powerless people. First-hand. Why not tell them—show them—that because of your past you will be the King they need, if not the King they think they want.’
‘They do not know what they want.’
‘Then tell them—because they need you. Not this shell of a king, fighting against anything that might bring him joy—fighting against me.’
She lies. Feelings are not strength. Your past makes you vulnerable.
‘My mother’s name will always be in the gutter if I do not prove I am neither my father’s son nor hers, but something else. Something stronger. Better.’
‘You are strong,’ she corrected him. ‘You always were.’
He swallowed and closed his eyes.
‘You can roar now, Akeem.’
He opened his eyes, his breathing coming faster and faster. ‘Yes, I’ll roar.’ He jerked her forward with a snap of his wrists. Moved his hand up to caress the sensitive flesh at the base of her throat, swiping his thumbs against the erratic drum of her heart. ‘And so will you.’
He pulled her with him, through one of the doors in the studio and then another adjoining door. He kicked it shut behind him. Everything in the room was a shadowed blur. All he could see was the bed. A huge, imposing four-poster of extraordinary wooden proportions.
Silently they walked towards the bed and he wasn’t sure who was leading who. Only that they were here.
A moan escaped her as he laid her down in the middle of the bed. Her hands moved on him, seeking an edge. She found it—the hem of his tunic—and lifted it up.
‘I want to see you,’ she said.
‘I’m right in front of you.’