Charlotte couldn’t help the tears filling her eyes. She went to Salim and took his hands. They were cold.
Her voice was thick. ‘You know it wasn’t your fault...’
Salim let out a curt sound and took his hands out of hers. ‘Wasn’t it?’
‘You were her brother—not her parent.’
Salim shook his head, as if determined not to let her absolve him. ‘We were twins...we had a natural affinity... But somehow I didn’t pick up on what was happening.’
‘You didn’t tell your parents? Your brother?’
A muscle in Salim’s jaw ticked. ‘I couldn’t speak to Zafir. Sara and I...we’d all but blocked him out as soon as we could communicate with each other. We didn’t need him. We didn’t need anyone. Zafir seemed very remote to us. He was older. Serious. I did try to tell my father, but he just slapped me across the face and told me never to repeat such lies again. He said that Sara was dead and nothing could be done.’
‘So you’ve kept that awful knowledge inside you for all these years...?’
He looked at her, and she shivered at the bleakness in his eyes.
‘I made it my life’s mission to get away from this place that never valued Sara and go after her abuser. I did. And now he’s dead.’
Charlotte said faintly, ‘He’s the man you mentioned before?’
She sat down again, her legs feeling weak. ‘Why didn’t you bring him up on child abuse charges?’
p; ‘Because too much time had passed. There was no evidence. He actually laughed in my face when I mentioned my sister. So I got him the only way I could—by ruining him. Ruining him to the point where he took his own life.’
Charlotte’s heart ached. ‘He took his life, Salim. Not you—no matter what you did.’
He looked at her, and opened his mouth as if he was going to argue with her, but at that moment there was a sound of movement nearby.
Salim tensed. ‘Who’s there?’
Zafir, his brother, stepped onto the path from around the corner. He looked as if he’d just been punched in the gut. Evidently he’d heard everything.
He looked at Salim—haunted, stricken. ‘Why didn’t you tell me, Salim? I would have done anything for you... She was my sister too...’
Emotion thickened between the two men, who stood facing each other, and Charlotte discreetly stepped back and away, sensing that this was a conversation that had been a long time coming and that they didn’t require an audience.
* * *
Charlotte stole back along the path, her throat tight with emotion at the thought of Salim carrying the burden of his sister’s trauma on his shoulders for all this time.
She found Kat pacing a little further along the path, clearly anxious.
When she saw Charlotte she hurried to meet her. ‘What’s happening? Zafir went storming after Salim, even though I told him I wasn’t upset. I never should have meddled in Sara’s garden...’
Charlotte took her hands. ‘I think you did a beautiful thing, and I think Salim will recognise that when he’s calmed down. He’s talking to Zafir now... Your husband should be the one to explain things to you.’
Kat looked torn, but eventually she sighed and said, ‘Fine. I should go and see how preparations are going for the banquet anyway. I just hope they’re not tearing lumps out of each other.’
‘I don’t think they are,’ Charlotte said weakly, mentally crossing her fingers and already feeling for Kat when she would learn the full story later.
When they reached the palace entrance Charlotte offered to help Kat, but the woman said an emphatic no and got a staff member to show Charlotte to her room, so she could rest before the banquet.
When Charlotte got to her room, Assa was laying out something gold and shimmery on the bed.