A Christmas Bride for the King

Page 53

Relief flooded Charlotte, and for a moment she couldn’t speak, she felt so overcome. Finally she managed to get out, ‘I’m glad you decided not to.’
‘But there is one thing that would make me consider it again.’
‘I can’t do this without the right queen by my side. I’ve always believed I didn’t need anyone, but recently I met someone and the truth is that I can’t live without her. I was stupid enough to think that it was a temporary thing...lust. That it would burn itself out... But I was wrong. Dead wrong.’
Charlotte wasn’t breathing.
Salim turned and went over to the tree, bent down to pick up the small wrapped present.
He came back and handed it to her. ‘Open your present.’
She took it, but her hands were numb with shock and she couldn’t work out how to take the paper off. Salim took it out of her hands and she noticed that they were shaking slightly. He ripped the paper and the bow off and handed it back to her.
It was a velvet box. Royal blue.
She opened it. It was a ring. A stunning emerald in an antique gold setting shone up at her from white silk.
She looked at Salim, hardly daring to ask the question even though he was looking at her in a way that set her insides alight with a very dangerous flame of hope.
‘What does this mean?’
He came close and cupped her face. ‘It means, my beautiful Charlotte McQuillan, of the silk shirts that drove me to distraction and still do, that I love you. I should never have let you walk away from me. I panicked. I was all but begging you to come back to Tabat with me and it reminded me of begging Sara...’ He stopped and swallowed.
Charlotte put a trembling hand to Salim’s jaw, scarcely able to believe what she was hearing.
He went on. ‘I couldn’t bear the thought of watching you walk away if I begged and you said no. I was a coward. It’s taken me a lifetime to learn to love again, and I tried not to love you because I’m terrified of losing you, but it’s too late... I know what you meant now, when you thanked me for making it easy for you to walk away. I was making you choose, just like your father made you choose.’ He shook his head. ‘I’m so sorry.’
Charlotte’s emotion overflowed and tears slipped down her cheeks.
She whispered, ‘I used it as an excuse not to tell you how I felt. I thought it would only last until you didn’t want me any more. I had to reject you first.’ Before she lost her nerve she said fervently, ‘I love you, Salim. Even if you only think you love me and realise later—’
He stopped her words with his mouth. His kiss was explicit and thorough and when they came up for air Charlotte was welded to Salim’s body, as close as she could get with several layers of clothing in the way.
As if realising this, he kicked the front door closed and started to take off their coats, dropping them where they stood. He took her in his arms again, the lines of strain on his face disappearing.
‘I love you, Charlotte McQuillan. For ever. Come back to Tabat with me and help me to make it our home. The first real home we’ve ever had...’
She wound her arms around his neck, emotion making her chest ache. She nodded. ‘Yes, I’d like that. I’d go to the ends of the world with you.’
They kissed again, with less desperate urgency this time, as if savouring this moment.
When Salim pulled back Charlotte said with a wobbly smile, ‘I saw your coronation. You looked very regal.’
He looked serious. ‘I needed you there. That’s when I knew I couldn’t do it without you.’
Charlotte’s heart flipped.
And then it flipped again when he grimaced and said, ‘I’m doing this all backwards...’
He went down on one knee and looked up at her. ‘Will you marry me, Charlotte McQuillan?’
Love flooded her whole body and heart, healing all the past hurts. She said fervently, ‘Yes, I will.’
‘Now? Here?’
Charlotte blinked. ‘But how?’