It hit her, as the force of it threatened to consume her, that of all the emotions she’d felt since her attack, she’d never been angry. Sad. Depressed. Lonely. She’d hit rock-bottom with those. Then she’d found a sort of steady tranquility in her existence at the convent.
But she’d never been angry.
Just now she was so furious she thought she might break apart with it. “Look at me,” she said, “really look. Can you imagine me on newspapers and magazines? The face for our country? Can you imagine me trying to go to parties as if nothing had happened? Trying to continue on as if I was the same Layna as before? That’s why I went to the convent. Because there it didn’t matter if my face was different. There it’s practically a virtue and here...here it’s just not. I’m ugly, Xander, and whether or not I accept myself there will always be people who want to point it out. I’ve never seen a reason for putting myself through it.”
He shoved his hands into his pockets, his eyes hard. “It will be commented on. I won’t lie about that. But do you think people will resent your scars or my abandonment more?”
“Don’t tell me you’re honestly still considering me as queen material.”
“I was very interested by the fact that you haven’t yet taken your vows.”
“My intent remains the same, whether or not I’ve taken final vows.”
He reached out, took a piece of her hair between his thumb and forefinger. She froze. She hadn’t been touched by a man in longer than she could remember. Male doctors were the last ones, she was certain. And then she hadn’t registered the touch in any significant way.
But Xander had never been easy to ignore. Now, with his hand on her hair, just her hair, a flood of memories assaulted her. The catalog of moments when Xander had touched her in the past opened, forcing her to remember.
His hand over hers, or low on her back. An arm around her waist. His warm palm on her cheek as his lips nearly brushed hers.
If they had married then, they would have kissed thousands of times by now. But as it was, they had never kissed once.
“But nothing is final,” he said.
He lowered his hand, releasing her hair, and sanity flooded in a wave. She stepped back, blinking, that fresh and newfound anger coming to her rescue.
“Yes, Xander, everything is final. I have made my decision, like you made yours. I’ll help you in any way I can, but don’t insult me by pretending, even for a second, that you would consider making me your wife. Don’t consider that I might allow it.”
She turned and walked out of the room and when she hit the halls she suddenly realized that she was gasping for breath. She put a hand on her chest and blinked hard, fighting tears, fighting panic.
Xander was reaching into places inside of her no one had touched in so long, she’d forgotten they were there. Longings and regrets she’d buried beneath a mountain of all that lovely contentment she’d learned to cultivate from the sisters at the convent.
Xander made her restless. This palace made her remember. It made her want things....
She shook her head. No. She wouldn’t let this happen. She wouldn’t be shaken. She would help him. If only to help her country, her people.
But she wouldn’t forget who she’d become. Who Xander’s actions had forced her to become.
XANDER UNBUTTONED HIS shirt and threw it onto the bed. He hadn’t intended to bring up the marriage proposal like that. Hell, he hadn’t meant to bring it up at all. She was a nun. Well, close enough to being one, anyway.
And then there were the scars. He couldn’t pretend they didn’t matter. She was right on that score. He needed a wife that would help improve his image in the public, and before he’d seen her, he’d imagined that she could do that. That their reunion would be seen as a true romance in the eyes of the media.
But how would they respond to a scarred princess? A princess who had been scarred during the turmoil caused by his leaving? A constant reminder of dark times for all of them. It had to be considered.
As for him, it didn’t much matter. He would marry someone, he had to. But just because he had to marry didn’t mean he had to be monogamous. He would be honest on that score with whomever he married, of course. But marriage was a necessity because he had to produce heirs, and preferably sooner rather than later. At thirty-six he was hardly getting any younger, and added to that, the people needed assurance that he could provide what was needed.
His plans were officially screwed.
Tomorrow, he was taking Layna to Kyonos’s largest hospital, where he would make his first public appearance. And where he would be giving a sizable donation of his personal fortune, and making his intentions of ruling Kyonos known.