A Christmas Bride for the King

Page 34

Colour flared along her cheeks. ‘Because you’re the first man I’ve ever wanted like that. It was sex, pure and simple, Salim. Nothing more.’
He looked at her for a long moment, as if he could convince himself of the veracity of her words. They should be making him feel better, but if anything they only compounded his conflicting emotions because he doubted it was that pure and simple at all.
He felt compelled to goad her. ‘When I lost my virginity I believed myself in love... For about a week, until I found my lover in bed with one of my security detail.’
Her eyes sparked at that, and she stepped forward. ‘So that’s why you weren’t there when I woke this morning—to make sure I didn’t get any ideas.’
Salim’s conscience pricked hard. ‘I don’t do cosy mornings after.’
Charlotte folded her arms and it pushed the swells of her breasts up beneath the flimsy material of her shirt. Salim gritted his jaw.
‘Believe me, I didn’t imagine for a second that you did. I’m not in love with you, Salim, and I wasn’t looking to wake up in your arms. But a little acknowledgement of what we’d shared might have been nice.’
Honesty forced him to admit, ‘You deserved for your first time to be with a better man than me.’
Charlotte was stunned. The very thought of not having had that experience with this man made her go cold inside. No man would ever make her feel like that again. She knew that with fatal certainty.
She let her arms drop to her sides. ‘But I wanted you.’
Salim’s hand tightened on the glass he held. ‘Because I gave you little choice. I suspected your innocence but I seduced you anyway.’
Charlotte shook her head. ‘I know my own mind, Salim. I made the choice—you asked me if I was sure, don’t you remember?’
‘Did I?’
She nodded. ‘Why would you think you’re not worthy?’
His mouth tightened. He was looking at her, but not seeing her. He’d gone somewhere else.
‘I’ve gone after what I want for so long that it’s second nature for me to disregard others’ opinions. That’s why I won’t remain as King of Tabat. If anything, this past week has proved to me even more that they deserve someone better.’
Charlotte struggled to process this. ‘What are you talking about?’
Salim’s gaze narrowed on hers, and for the first time she saw something raw and unguarded in those blue depths. Raw enough to make her suck in a breath.
He said, ‘I’ve lived my life with two main objectives: to distance myself from my inheritance and family and to avenge my sister’
s death.’
Charlotte’s chest tightened. ‘Why did you have to avenge it?’
Salim made a curt gesture with his hand. ‘That’s not important now. What is important is that I know my limitations, and I am not prepared to be king. I haven’t spent hours studying, like my brother. I’ve lived my life in a way that should convince people that I’m not remotely suitable. And yet they don’t seem to want to accept that.’
‘Because,’ Charlotte said quietly, ‘they see what I saw this week—a man prepared to sit down and learn about his country. You didn’t need me there at all. Your destiny—whether you like to admit it or not—is in your DNA. You’re a king, Salim, and your people can see that.’
There was no disguising the bleakness she saw in his eyes now. This was no playboy. This was a tortured man.
‘Would you say the same if you knew I’d driven a man to his death in the name of vengeance?’
Her breath stopped. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I took a life for a life.’
Charlotte knew he must be talking about his sister. ‘But you didn’t actually...kill someone?’
He let out a short harsh laugh. ‘Not with my hands, but as good as.’
Charlotte knew instinctively that whatever had happened Salim wasn’t responsible in the way he obviously believed. But she guessed he wouldn’t elaborate, or appreciate hearing her thoughts.