Home > To Touch a Sheikh (Pride of Zohayd #3)

To Touch a Sheikh (Pride of Zohayd #3)
Author: Olivia Gates

Prologue

“Will you forgive, Amjad?”

Amjad Aal Shalaan could barely raise his gaze to the man whose voice boomed out the question.

His father and king loomed over him in full regalia, his responsibility-carved face frozen in a mask of control. His eyes blazed with an amalgam of regret and wrath, agony and outrage.

Amjad’s unfocused gaze panned to his brothers, who flanked his father, then to the sea of tribal representatives who crowded the expansive glory of Dar Al Adl—Zohayd’s Hall of Justice. Their faces blurred into a homogenous mass of anticipation as his father’s question reverberated off the arches and domes of the venerable place in a taunting echo.

Will you forgive?

But he’d already forgiven what no other man would have.

He’d forgiven his bride for not coming to their marriage bed a virgin. He’d soothed her fear, assured her he wouldn’t hold against her what he couldn’t provide himself. What mattered were her life choices after she became his wife.

Then he’d forgiven her when he’d discovered that she carried a baby. From her previous lover.

People made mistakes. No sense in destroying a life, or even a relationship, over one.

He couldn’t feel betrayed. She’d been a stranger he’d picked—or rather had had pointed out to him with a…strong recommendation—from a list of convenient brides a week before the wedding. As crown prince of a kingdom ruled by tribal pacts, his own considerations hadn’t come into play.

But she’d become his wife, was going to be his one woman. And because he couldn’t live the rest of his life for the cold convenience of everyone else, he’d determined to see only the best in her, to give her the best of himself. He’d focused on what he appreciated in her, dismissed what he didn’t.

And she’d repaid his clemency and compassion with deceit and destruction.

“Amjad?” His father’s gruff whisper prodded him to answer.

He’d had many answers. To his worries when loss of appetite had been followed by pins and needles in his palms and cramps in his calves. Overwork, stress, exhaustion.

When the burning in his gut, the gnawing in his throat and that terrible taste in his mouth joined in, he’d suspected another cause. Soul sickness.

His mind might have accepted his situation, but his spirit was seared that they were starting the marriage with a lie to protect his wife’s and her family’s honor, to maintain the peace their marriage had sealed. That he might not love her baby as every innocent child deserved to be loved.

It was only when the real sickness began, purging every bite of food and drop of water from his body, when restlessness started dismantling his psyche and crippling headaches his sanity, that he’d sought out the royal physicians in secret.

They’d been baffled. His symptoms defied their tests, their prescriptions did nothing to mitigate them. He’d felt relieved when apathy descended on him, sparing him the constant torment.

But when delirium followed dizziness and drowsiness, doubts became certainty.

Something malignant was eating through his body. Because tests could find nothing within, it had to be something from without.

He’d doubted everything, and almost everyone. But not her.

How could he doubt the wife who showered him with tokens of her gratitude and blossoming love?

His focus wavered on the hands lying limply on his knees. They bore the marks of her treachery. White crescent markings on the fingernails, dark mottling of the skin.

He shuddered with the blow of recollection. When realization had crushed him. Of how he’d been poisoned.

The poison had been slipped into the most solicitous of gestures and sweetest of gifts. Clothes, towels, delicacies, bath salts, scented oils and far more. All emerald green, the color she’d said she adored for being that of his eyes.

All laced with arsenic.

His wife had been killing him. Slowly. Almost untraceably.

She almost had. He’d barely gasped his conviction to his brothers before he’d descended into a coma. Finally knowing what to treat him for, the doctors had been able to drag him out of it. Their treatments had made him wish they hadn’t.

Now there stood his father, asking for what his attempted murderess’s family couldn’t ask themselves. His forgiveness.

His gaze blurred back to the crowd.

To one side, segregated, supplicant, stood Salmah. Beside her was her lover. Her accomplice.

Their eyes, beneath the dread and shame, were eloquent. With hope. No. More. With certainty. That he’d forgive. As he’d forgiven so many unforgivable things before.

If he forgave, rescinded his right to mete out punishment, the law would decide it, mitigating it. Enforcing his right meant he could demand satisfaction in any way he deemed sufficient, from not only those who’d perpetrated the crime, but also anyone who had the misfortune to be of their blood.

His gaze steadied on Salmah. Now that he wasn’t blinding himself to what disturbed him, her act of trembling repentance was as superficial as that of her budding love had been. She considered him a weak fool to be manipulated, then dispatched. She was sorry only that she hadn’t succeeded.

A shard of clarity traversed his being. She had.

He was dead, inside.

He closed his eyes, accepting the feeling, welcoming it.

“Amjad?”

The anxiety in his father’s voice made him open them.

Amjad imagined what raged inside his father at the sight of him. His brothers had had to help him into his clothes, had wheeled him in here. He’d seen the horror of his condition twisting every face in his path. The emaciated remains of the man he’d been before six months of accumulated poison had ravaged him in flesh and spirit.

But his father had to advocate peace even when he writhed for vengeance for his firstborn. His brothers seethed to avenge him, too, but had to abide by his verdict.

He pushed the deadweight of his body up on shaking arms, fought the weakness pulling at him, demanding his defeat. He gestured feebly, aborting his family’s dash to help him. They stood back, his father looking as if he’d already lost a son; Harres, Shaheen, Haidar and Jalal, a brother.

They still might.

But if he survived, he’d never again give compassion dominion over his decisions, never blind himself to disturbing truths.

He’d never think the best again.

He dredged reserves of power into his poisoned nerves, straightened on wasting legs, faced the crowd.

“I will not forgive.”

His gravelly whisper was met with stunned silence.

Everyone had expected him to play the chivalrous prince who’d waive his rights for everyone’s benefit.

 

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