A Christmas Bride for the King

Page 40

Kat’s smile was knowing. ‘What you were getting up to on the plane? Yes. But as for anything deeper—it’s only obvious to me because your expression reminds me of how I feel when I look at my own husband.’
Someone was opening Charlotte’s door now, and she took the opportunity to escape from Kat’s sympathetic golden gaze.
When she was out of the car, the awe-inspiring golden magnificence of the Jahor palace distracted her from what had just transpired.
The place was a hive of activity as Kat walked her through the ornate entrance, saying, ‘I know Zafir wants to talk business with Salim, so I thought we could take refreshments in the garden?’
‘Please don’t feel you have to entertain me,’ Charlotte said quickly, acutely aware that Kat must be busy with the banquet that evening. And more acutely feeling a need to go somewhere private and quiet, where she could assimilate what had just happened.
But the queen said, with her soft American twang, ‘Honestly, you’ll be doing me a favour. I’m shamelessly using you as a decoy to get them to talk while they can. And I won’t bring up what we just spoke of unless you do.’
Charlotte admitted defeat in the face of Kat’s easy warmth and charm. She’d never been a girly girl, but for the first time she could imagine that she would like a woman like Kat as a friend.
She smiled. ‘If you’re sure I’m not putting you out?’
Kat took her arm again and shepherded her through the palace, past vast corridors and beautiful courtyard gardens. ‘I’m sure. Now, I want to hear all about what it is exactly that you do, because it sounds totally fascinating...’
About an hour later Charlotte was even more impressed with Kat. She knew the woman was an amputee, but apart from a small but definite limp it was impossible to tell—especially when her cream and gold kaftan effectively hid any sign of a prosthetic leg.
Kat was showing her the gardens after a delicious tea, and Charlotte stopped when she saw the entrance into a walled garden where a fountain of water burbled into an exquisite pool and wild exotic flowers bloomed in every corner.
Unable to stop herself, she walked to the entrance and looked in. Kat came alongside her and Charlotte said, ‘It’s beautiful...so peaceful.’
Kat grimaced and stepped into the garden. Charlotte followed.
‘It wasn’t always like this. It was an abandoned ruin for many years...’
But before Kat could respond another voice, unmistakably male and familiar, cut in harshly.
‘Because it shouldn’t have been touched, that’s why. Who the hell is responsible for this?’
Charlotte whirled around at the sudden arrival of Salim. ‘Where did you come from?’
He flicked a glance at Charlotte, and she was shocked at the depth of cold anger in his eyes.
‘I was looking for you.’
Queen Kat was contrite. ‘Salim, I thought I was doing a good thing. I know this is where—’
He cut her off. ‘You know nothing. You shouldn’t have done this. You had no right.’
He’d turned and strode out of the garden again before Charlotte could take in what had just happened, his long robe billowing after him. She looked at Kat, who was obviously upset, and anger swelled at his unforgivable treatment of his sister-in-law.
Charlotte said, ‘I’m so sorry, Kat, you didn’t deserve that at all. I’ll go after him.’
The other woman caught her hand and said, ‘Please tell him I’m sorry. I thought I was doing a good thing in her memory...’
* * *
Salim knew that he had just behaved unforgivably. Charlotte’s look of shock was etched into his brain. As was Kat’s contrite response. His sister-in-law didn’t deserve his opprobrium—but seeing what she’d done to that place had cracked something open inside him. Something raw.
Being back here was fraught enough with painful memories and reminders of how he’d turned his back on so much...on his brother—