He didn’t like the growing feeling of desperation. People obeyed him. Especially women.
But she never did, whispered a jeering voice.
He ignored it and bit out, ‘I see this playing out by you coming back to Tabat with me, Charlotte.’
She shook her head. ‘No, this ends here—now. If you need professional advice I can recommend someone, and as for the other...’ She stopped and then said stiltedly, ‘Well I’m sure you won’t be alone for long.’
Salim was in uncharted territory. He knew if he touched Charlotte he could make her acquiesce in seconds, but something held him back. Some sense of self-preservation he’d never had to call on before.
‘I told you I don’t play games, Charlotte. If you leave here now I won’t come after you. You know I want you. And I know you want me. Come back with me and we’ll enjoy this for as long as it lasts.’
‘I’m happy for it to end now.’
For the first time in his life Salim felt an urge to plead, or beg... And then a cold weight settled in his gut. Not the first time. He’d pleaded and begged with Sara, but she hadn’t listened to him. She’d still left him.
The fact that he was thinking of Sara and Charlotte in the same vein was enough to make Salim take a step back.
She didn’t mean that much to him. She couldn’t.
It was lust. That was all. And the lust he felt for Charlotte would fade once she was out of sight and mind. Of course it would. Because that was all it was. No woman would ever make him beg again. Or feel the acute pain of grief or loss.
Salim felt cold as he said, ‘You have a choice, Charlotte. Either you come back with me to Tabat and we pursue our mutual attraction to its natural end—and it will end—or you will never see me again.’
Charlotte had been teetering on the edge, fearing she was too weak to walk away from what Salim was offering even if it was finite. The lure to return to Tabat one final time with him had almost broken her. But then he’d said what he just had, and his words were hitting her like a million tiny pointed barbs.
It wasn’t his voice she heard now—it was her father’s.
‘You have a choice here, Charlotte. Choose me and we leave together today. Choose your mother and you will never see me again.’
The toxic memory faded, but not the words.
She looked at Salim and felt her heart break into two pieces. She said quietly, ‘Thank you for making it easy for me to walk away from you, Salim. Goodbye.’
And then she turned and left.
‘WELL, WELL...APPARENTLY leopards can change their spots!’
Charlotte’s hand was clenched so tightly around her glass of champagne that she had to relax it for fear of cracking the delicate crystal. A TV screen on mute was showing the news in a corner of the private club where the Christmas party she’d been invited to was taking place.
She hadn’t wanted to come. It was Christmas Eve the following day, and she’d fully intended to be deep in hibernation mode by now. But knowing that the coronation was taking place today had driven her out in a kind of desperation to prove something to herself. That she was coping. That Christmas wasn’t her bête noir. That the fact that man she loved was getting on with his life wasn’t like a knife sliding between her ribs.
But every sparkling light, every Christmas tree and every group of carol singers she’d spotted on her way here had flayed her alive. It seemed to be particularly cruel that her heartbreak was coinciding with Christmas.
She watched now, helpless not to, as King Salim Al-Noury was crowned in the main ceremonial ballroom of the Tabat palace under the avid eyes of the world, eager to see this playboy prince brought to heel.
But, as Charlotte knew only too well, Salim would never be brought to heel. He would always retain that air of wild unpredictability and it would make him a great man.
He was almost unrecognisable. His hair had been cut militarily short and he was clean-shaven. His blue eyes stood out stark against his dark olive skin.
King Zafir was there, and Queen Kat. And Charlotte recognised some of the tribal leaders. And the young couple whose marriage she had witnessed in the tent. Then she saw Rafa and Assa in the crowd and she felt like crying.
The man next to her was blissfully oblivious to her turmoil. ‘Didn’t you just come back from Tabat?’
Charlotte forced a smile and tore her eyes away from the TV. She looked at the man and said, ‘I was there just briefly. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to be somewhere else.’
And that somewhere else was far away from here, where she could lick her wounds. Hopefully when she emerged again it would be spring and her heart might not still be weeping.