Charlotte frowned. The name was somehow familiar.
Salim’s face was stark. ‘She’s the eldest daughter of the man who abused Sara. The man I ruined in revenge.’
Charlotte went cold in spite of the heat from the fire. ‘What did she want?’
‘She asked if she could speak to me and I said yes, of course.’ His eyes pinned Charlotte to the spot. ‘Do you know I tried to absolve myself after he died by making sure that the family were taken care of financially?’ He emitted a curt laugh.
Charlotte’s heart turned over. Of course he had. ‘No, you never mentioned that. Why did she want to see you?’
Salim sighed. ‘She wanted to thank me for what I’d done... She told me that he’d been an abusive father—’ He must have seen something on Charlotte’s face, because he put out a hand and said, ‘No, not that. Not with his children, at least. But he was violent to them—and their mother. It finally stopped when I went after him. But not completely. He beat their mother the day before he took his own life. She ended up in hospital. Giovanna revealed that they’d finally told him they were going to press charges against him. It was that more than anything else that made him take his own life—the thought of the shame if it got out...’
Salim looked at Charlotte and his face was leached of colour.
‘She’s effectively absolved me of guilt, but all I can think of now is that if I’d done something sooner then I might have spared them all—’
Charlotte stepped forward and put her hand to Salim’s mouth, cutting off his words. She shook her head. ‘It wasn’t your responsibility, Salim. You can’t blame yourself for his sick violence, just like you can’t blame yourself for what happened to Sara.’
She took her hand down and stepped back, terrified that her heightened emotions might give her away. She had to be strong. Especially now.
But she couldn’t help saying, ‘You’re free now, Salim. Free to live out your destiny.’
‘Free to live out your destiny.’
Charlotte’s words impacted Salim deeply. As was becoming dismayingly familiar with this woman, she had somehow managed to slide right into the heart of him and bear witness to the darkest parts of his soul without turning from him in horror.
But then she turned and walked away, to pick up her bag from a chair.
Something icy skated down Salim’s spine.
When she turned around to face him again her face was a smooth mask. He might have imagined the emotion he’d seen shimmering in her eyes just now.
‘I’m going to my room to pack.’
‘But we’re not leaving for Tabat till tomorrow afternoon—there’s plenty of time.’
She looked straight at him. As if she was making herself do it. ‘I’m not staying here.’
Salim moved towar
ds her, ignoring the ominous feeling in his gut. ‘If you hate being here this much we can leave tonight.’
She shook her head. ‘It’s not that. I’m not coming back to Tabat with you, Salim. Tonight or tomorrow.’
She turned to walk to the door and for a second Salim was incredulous. He wasn’t even aware of moving until he was standing between her and the door, every muscle in his body taut. He didn’t trust himself to touch her.
‘What are you talking about, not coming back? You’re working for me—or have you forgotten that pertinent detail?’
Charlotte let out a curt laugh that didn’t sound like her. ‘Working for you? Now I work for you? You know very well how to navigate in this milieu, Salim.’ She waved a hand towards the noises coming from the other room. ‘You really don’t need my expertise. Your brother hired me, and he’s released me from the contract so I’m choosing to go.’
Salim wanted to throttle his brother. ‘He had no right to do that. But it doesn’t matter because we’ve gone way beyond anything professional now. It’s personal, Charlotte. ‘
She stepped back. Her face was flushed. She gestured between them. ‘This was improbable from the start.’
Salim frowned. ‘What are you talking about? We have amazing chemistry.’
‘Chemistry, but that’s all. How do you see this playing out, Salim?’