The Last Prince of Dahaar(7)

By: Tara Pammi

She didn’t like that. He could see it in her eyes. “Of course, you wouldn’t want someone petulant like me to be the future queen of Dahaar, would you?”

“So, this is all to prove a point?”

“I don’t have any duty toward Siyaad. And nothing will make me feel anything more for Dahaar either.” She took a deep breath, as though bracing herself. “Marrying me will only bring shame to you and the royal house of Dahaar.”

He covered the distance between them, knowing that she was baiting him yet unable to resist. “Why does that sound more like a threat and less like a warning?” he whispered.

“I’m simply telling you the truth. Whatever expectations you have of your bride, I will fail them.”

Ayaan frowned, regretting not learning more about her before he had given his word. “If this is about your expectations of this marriage, state them.”

Zohra tamped down the scream building inside her chest looking for an outlet. He wasn’t supposed to ask her what she wanted out of this marriage. He was supposed to sputter in outrage, call her disobedient, scandalous...

Any other man in his place would have called her behavior an insult. He would have gone straight to her father and broken the alliance.

“The only expectation I have of you,” she said, feeling as though she was stepping over an unknown threshold, “is that you use the power you have to refuse this marriage.”

A neat little frown appeared between his brows. “Unless I have a strong reason for it, it would be termed as an insult to your father, to you and to Siyaad.”

“Isn’t it enough that you have zero interest in marrying me?”

“I have zero interest in marrying anyone. But I will do it for—”

“For your country, yes, I know that,” she spat the words out, feeling that sense of isolation that had been her constant companion for eleven years. She had never belonged in Siyaad, never felt as if she was a part of it. “But I’m not duty bound as you are. All I want is the freedom to live my life away from the shackles of this kind. And if it is a crystal clear reason that you want, then I will give you one.”

“You have my full attention, Princess.” There was a dangerous inflection in his voice where it had been void of anything else before.

She wet her lips, praying her voice would hold steady when she was shaking inside. “I’m not future queen material. I don’t give a fig about duty and all that it entails. I’m educated and I’m smart enough to have my own opinions, which, I have been informed, are enough to drive a man up the wall. I’m a...bastard.” She had to breathe through the lump growing in her throat. “My father lived with my mother until I was seven but he...never married her. He became my guardian when she died.”

Not even by the flicker of an eyelid did he betray his reaction. “Is that all?”

Curse the man to hell and back. Desperation tied her insides into painful knots. “No, there’s one last reason—the most important of all.”

“Don’t stop now,” he said, his voice laced with mockery.

“I’m not a chaste virgin with an unblemished reputation.” Her chest was so tight she wondered if she was getting any air. “I would rather you refuse me now than claim that you’ve been cheated when you...find out.”

He ran his forefinger over his temple, his expression betraying nothing. Her heartbeat ratcheted up. “When I find out that you’re not a virgin?”

Fierce heat blanketed her, even as shock stung her. Why wasn’t the man throwing a royal fit even now? “When you find out that I was in love with another man, when you find out that I have spent four summers with him in a desert encampment...” She swallowed painfully, just the thought of Faisal slashing pain through her.

“That is...a valid reason for me to refuse you,” he finally said.

Zohra felt the most perverse disappointment. He had been unlike anything she had imagined until now.

“So are you prepared for your father’s reaction when I present him with this...reason?”

Her gut dropped to her feet. “What do you mean?”

“I told you. I have no wish to insult your father after everything he has done to stand by mine. You might not feel any duty to your country. But are you so selfish that you would put your father through this? He will not only be shamed by his daughter’s behavior but he will be so in front of an audience.”

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