The Sheikh's Ransomed Bride - Page 64
Belle stared into his arrogantly satisfied face. Saw the possessive light in his eyes and almost believed. How she wanted to believe.
`But the risk was too great,’ she protested. `Selim was organizing terrorist attacks.’ She shook her head, struggling to understand.
Ànd then last night you were so distant, as if you regretted being stuck with me.’ She couldn’t keep the hurt out of her voice.
He shook his head, as if despairing of her naivety. ‘I’m glad my arguments were so convincing, my sweet. But, believe me, I don’t need to hide behind my wife, no matter how brave and beautiful she is, in order to rule my kingdom.’
And there it was. Suddenly, undeniably. Convincing her as nothing else had. The arrogant cast of his features, the haughty tilt of his head, the proud, strong jut of his chin that bespoke generations of autocratic power. Rafiq al Akhtar was a man who could rule Q’aroum alone if he chose, following the traditions of his forebears, assured in his right as born leader. Of course his people would follow where he led. But he’d chosen the path of democracy.
And he’d chosen her.
The knowledge stole her breath. A slow, delicious sensation, like hope unfurling in her chest, sent warmth tingling through her. She gulped down a choking sob of unbelievable emotion.
Ànd as for being distant, little tigress, it was guilt at putting you at risk that made me hold back. To have the woman you love offer her life for you is a humbling experience. A shattering one to any man of feeling.’ His gaze held hers, so she read tension and, for the first time, vulnerability in his expression. There was agony in his eyes. Such as she’d never seen before.
`You’d gone through so much already, and all because of me,’ he continued, his voice hoarse with emotion. ‘I was afraid that this time it was too much, that even a woman of your spirit must finally call enough. That you would blame me, as you had every right to do, and turn your face from me.’
She gazed at him, almost fearing to believe her ears.
`Belle!’ His grip tightened and she saw a shadow cross his face, betraying a pain she’d never guessed at. `Say that you understand!
That you know how I feel.’
She’d never thought to hear him sound desperate. It ravaged her heart to recognize such pain in him. `Rafiq, I-‘
`You must, Belle. I cannot hear anything else from you. I’ve wrestled with my conscience, but I cannot give you up.’
His eyes blazed fire, his brows furrowed, and the pulse at the base of his throat betrayed the extremity of his emotions.
She slipped her hand from his death grip and lifted it, trembling, to his face. His jaw clenched hard under her touch, and his nostrils flared as she settled her palm on his warm skin.
`Just as well,’ she whispered brokenly. `Because I never want to leave you, Rafiq.’
For one long, glorious moment his gaze held hers, and she felt as if she really could do anything in the world-even fly. For nothing, ever, in the history of all the ages, could surpass this wondrous delight.
`You love me?’ His voice was raw.
Ì love you.’ To admit it out loud was bliss, almost as perfect as hearing him say it. She leaned towards him, but he was too quick.
It was his mouth swooping down on hers, his arms cradling her tenderly against him. And she fell into him gratefully, knowing she was coming home.
Time stood still as they found solace and peace in each other’s arms. They were one at last, and it was perfect.
Finally, reluctantly, Belle opened her eyes as he drew back a fraction. There was open adoration in Rafiq’s gaze. Her heart skipped a beat and she knew that, however many years they’d share, she’d always melt when he looked at her like that.
`Your shoulder,’ he murmured.
Ìt’s fine,’ she said. `What about your ribs?’
À scratch.’ He grinned. `Right now I feel as if I could take on the world and win.’
`Then you can help me face those crowds outside.’
`You’ve no need to worry, habibti. They’re halfway to adoring you already. I told you my people, our people, are romantics at heart.’
Belle hoped he was right. She had so much to learn about her new home. She wanted to make Rafiq proud of her.
Àfter all, they must know by now that I’m besotted with you. I’ve made my feelings all too obvious to everyone except, it seems, the woman I love.’
She smiled, secure now in the knowledge that her dream really had come true.
Èven Dawud knew,’ Rafiq said, as he lifted her hand to his lips and pressed a kiss against each finger.