The Last Prince of Dahaar(6)

By: Tara Pammi


“You were thrashing in the bed, crying out. I couldn’t just stand by and do nothing. Nor could I walk away and come back at a better time.”

“Are you deaf? Or just plain dense?” The words roared out of him on a wave of utter shame. He gritted his teeth, fighting for control over a temper that never flared. “Why are you here in the first place?”

The brown of her eyes expanded, her mouth dropping open on a soft huff. His uncivilized words chased away the one thing he couldn’t bear to see—her pity.

“If you think you can scare me into running away by behaving like a savage, it won’t work.”

He could have laughed if he wasn’t so wound up. Every inch of her—her head held high, the deprecation in her look, the stubborn jut of her chin—she was a princess no matter what she said. “If this were Dahaar, I would have—”

“But it’s not Dahaar. Nor am I your loyal subject dependent on your tender mercies,” she said, steel creeping into her words. “This is Siyaad. And even here, all those rules, they don’t apply to me.” Her eyes collided with his, daring him to challenge her claim. When Ayaan said nothing, her gaze swept over his features with a thoroughness that she couldn’t hide. Did she feel the same burn of awareness that arched into life suddenly? “I came to inform you that it’s not worth it.”

Ayaan had known only one woman in his life who had had the temerity and the confidence to speak to him like that—Amira, his older sister. A sliver of pain sliced through his gut. Amira had never let Azeez or him get by with anything. And it had been more because of her core of steel than because she had been born into an extremely powerful family.

He had a feeling the same was true of the woman who met his gaze unflinchingly.

“What is not worth it?”

“Marrying me.”

“Why are you telling me this instead of your father?”

She blinked but it didn’t hide the pain that filled her eyes. “I... He is not well. I could not...take the chance and risk making him worse.”

“Being here with me, persuading me why you are not worth it does not harm him?”

A shrug of those slender shoulders. “If you refuse me, he would be disappointed, yes. But not surprised.”

He frowned at her conclusion. “So you want me to do your dirty work for you?”

She took a deep breath and his curiosity mounted. “I’m not shy, willing, happy to be a man’s shadow—the kind of woman whose only mission in life would be to spew out your heirs every other year. I have never been and it’s not a role one grows into.”

Ayaan smiled, despite the irritation flickering through him.

The woman had gall. And even without her mission statement just now, it was clear she wasn’t a woman who could tolerate the traditional marriage their countries dictated.

Then why was King Salim pushing for this marriage? He had to know that Ayaan and his father would stand beside him without this marriage clause, and yet he had shown more enthusiasm for it.

“If you had attended the dinner and did your duty, I could have told you what I want in my wife.”

She shook her head, her breath quickening. “What is there to learn? The wives—they are nothing but bloodlines and broodmares. Even a harem girl probably has it better than the dutiful wife of the king. At least, she gets good sex out of the...”

He burst out laughing. His chest heaved with it, the sound barreling out of him. Even his throat felt raw in a strange way.

He couldn’t help taking a step toward her.

Pink stole into her cheeks, and she looked away from him, something unintelligible falling from her mouth.

Her long lashes cast shadows onto sharply fragile cheekbones, her mouth—unpainted and pink. The slow burn under his skin gathered momentum. He had never liked the scent of roses growing up, it had pervaded the palace, his own chamber and sometimes, even his clothes. Yet the scent of her skin danced beneath it, teasing, tempting, coated with her awareness of him.

“So you would prefer to be part of my harem instead of my wife?”

Her gaze widened, her mouth opening and closing. “This is my life we’re talking about.”

He came to a stop near her and leaned against the bed, enjoying the proximity of her presence. It didn’t fill him with the suffocating tension that everyone else’s did since his return. “You haven’t said a single word that would make me take you seriously, Princess.” She opened her mouth but he didn’t give her the chance. “All I see is a woman throwing a tantrum like a petulant teenager instead of doing her duty. What if someone had seen you come into my suite? You risk exposing yourself to ridicule and scandal, adding to your father’s burden.”

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