The Last Prince of Dahaar(3)

By: Tara Pammi

“You need to wake up,” she whispered again.

Suddenly his thrashing body stilled. His gaze flew open, and Zohra was looking into the most beautiful golden bronze gaze she had ever seen.

Her heart kicked against her ribs. With his hands still gripping her, she stared at him as he did her.

He had the most beautiful eyes—golden pupils with specks of copper and bronze, with lashes that curled toward angular cheekbones. But it wasn’t the arresting colors of his gaze that made her chest tighten, that made it a chore to pull air in.

It was the unhidden pain that haunted those depths. His fingers caressed her wrists, as though to make sure she was there.

He closed his eyes, his breathing going from harsh to a softer rhythm and opened his eyes again.

It was as though she was looking into a different man’s eyes.

His gaze was cautious at first, openly curious, next sweeping over her eyes, nose, lingering on her mouth, until a shadow cycled it to sheer fury.

It lit his gaze up like the blazing fire of a thousand suns.

He released her, pushed her back and she fell against the headboard with a soft gasp. He pulled himself up to his knees, his movements in no way reminiscent of the nightmare he had been fighting just moments ago. “Who are you?”

His words sounded rough, gravelly, which meant he had been screaming for a while before she had arrived.

Her chest tightened. “Are you okay?” she whispered, taking in the sheen of sweat on his forehead, the infinitesimal tremble in the set of his lean shoulders.

“How is that any of your business?” he roared. “I dismissed the guards hours ago. I was informed no one would be allowed into this wing per my orders. So what the hell are you doing here?”

That’s why no one had stopped her. And he had the volume on the TV set to that earsplitting level as if he had known...

Zohra frowned. “I saw you thrashing on the sheets. I had to help.”

“I could have hurt you.”

She instantly tugged the sleeves of her tunic over her wrists.

His face could have been poured from concrete for the tightness that crept into it. Only the slight flare of his nostrils and the incandescent rage in his gaze said he was still a man and not one of the concrete busts of long-gone emperors and warriors scattered around the palace. “Turn on the lamp.”

She leaned over and turned it on, her entire body feeling strangely awkward. The lamp was on her side and cast just enough glow to illuminate his face.

Ayaan bin Riyaaz Al-Sharif, the new crown prince of Dahaar was not what she had been expecting. The Mad Prince, that’s what she had heard the Siyaadi palace staff whisper about him. Yet there was nothing remotely mad about the man staring at her with incisive intelligence in his eyes.

There had been only a single picture of him, a grainy one, eight months ago when Dahaar had jubilantly celebrated his return. He had been pronounced dead five years ago along with his older brother and sister—victims of a brutal terrorist attack.

But nothing more about him had been revealed, nor had he appeared anywhere in public. Even the ceremony where he had been declared crown prince had been private, which had only fueled the media and the public’s hunger for information about him.

He had remained a shapeless, mindless figure at the back of her mind.

Until she had visited her father this afternoon. Weakened by a heart attack, the king had sounded feeble and yet his words had rung with pride and joy.

Prince Ayaan has agreed to marry you, Zohra. You will be the queen of Dahaar one day.

Suddenly, the Mad Prince had become the man who could bind her forever to the very world that had taken everything from her.

The reminder, however, did nothing to stem the quiet, relentless assault his very presence wreaked on her. She could no more stop her gaze from drifting over him than she could stop breathing.

He had a gaunt, chiseled look that added to the rumors swirling about him.

His face was long with a severe nose, a pointed chin, with cheekbones that were sharp enough to cut. His wavy, black hair curled onto his high forehead in an unkempt way. As if he had threaded his fingers through it and tugged at it viciously. The moment the thought crossed her mind, she knew it was true.

The tendons in his neck stood out. He was lean, bordering on thin and yet what flesh there was to him looked as if it had been carved out of rock.

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