He couldn’t be with her. Not when she questioned the very fabric of who he was—who he’d turned himself into. A king. She regarded his crown with disdain. His riches—his power—she treated them as if they were nothing. As if he was nothing—an empty shell surrounded by opulence. Everything he’d wanted to prove to her that he was...meant nothing to her.
She wanted the past—a boy long forgotten. She did not want him. She did not want the man he’d become. She wanted to stay in her basic world of having to make do evenafter everything he’d shown her—rubbed in her face.
He would never make do again.
He wouldn’t be basic.
‘Then walk—I won’t stop you,’ he said, and his voice was not his own. ‘I cannot be this man you seek because I am not him. I will never be him again.’
She didn’t say a word. She turned her back on him and opened the gate. With her veil obscuring her face and her dress clenched around her midriff. She walked away.
She was a liar.
She hadn’t run with him. She’d run away. Like they all did. Because no one wanted angry Akeem. Hurt Akeem. Broken Akeem.
The rope snapped.
Untethered and alone, he sank to his knees.
Charlotte crashed into her room and leant against the door, drawing deep, long breaths into her tight lungs.
The truth was out. He didn’t want their past. He didn’t want her. Not the woman she was now. Not the woman he’d given her the choice to become. She couldn’t stay here. She couldn’t give herself to a man who only shared the physical side of himself.
She couldn’t. She couldn’t be part of a one-sided relationship ever again. Her relationship with her dad had taken everything from her and given nothing in return. He’d convinced her she had nothing to give to anyone else. Not even herself. She would not do it again. She would not open herself up to be shot down—to be shown she wasn’t worthy of respect.
Selma hurried towards her, her hands splayed, her eyes wide. ‘Charlotte!’ She came closer, gathering her against her. ‘What has happened? Why are you here? You are trembling.’
She was trembling—but not because she was cold. Because he’d broken her. Her heart.
She’d pushed too hard—too quickly.
‘Let’s clean you up,’ Selma said, and pulled her into step beside her.
She leant on her shoulder and walked to the bathroom with Selma holding her up. She was grateful for the support because she was ready to fall, to pull herself into a ball and weep. But that was the old Charlotte. This Charlotte would walk away with her head high. However much it hurt.
And it wasn’t a pitiful existence that she’d return to. For all his cruel words, he had fixed her. Wrapped her in the light of hope. And she would cling to it. She would continue to chase her dreams. Her diploma. She would be all the things she wanted to be—with or without him.
She stopped walking and took Selma’s hands in hers, grasped them tightly. ‘I need your help,’ she said, her stomach flipping upside down and inside out.
‘Of course.’ Selma squeezed her hands back, just as tightly. ‘Anything.’
She’d never had a friend other than Akeem, but now she had Selma, and she could cry for the girl who had never known this.
She’d thank her later.
Charlotte steeled herself to ask for what she needed to do next and then asked it, pulling the words out of her throat and spreading them into the air.
And it hurt.
‘I need you to help me leave the palace.’