Lost to the Desert Warrior(65)

By: Sarah Morgan

 Layla swallowed. ‘I didn’t think I would. I didn’t grow up with expectations of love and happy endings. It just wasn’t what I thought about. When I came to you in the desert that night I wasn’t thinking about love. All I wanted from this marriage was your respect. I used you as an escape from the life I had and because I knew that without me Hassan could not rule, and he is not a man who should be in a position of power. I didn’t expect anything else. I didn’t expect you to notice so much about me and be so caring. You think you were hard on me, but there were so many times when you tried to make life easier for me. You noticed I was scared of the dogs and tried to keep them away from me—’ She choked slightly. ‘No one has ever done anything like that for me before. No one has ever wanted to protect me.’

 ‘I never cease to be impressed by your determination to confront everything you fear. Particularly riding my stallion!’

 ‘He was remarkably tolerant. I wonder if he somehow knew he was part of our escape.’ Layla gave a half smile. ‘And Isis and Horus came too.’

 ‘All your nightmares in one evening,’ Raz said dryly, but his hand was gentle as he stroked her cheek. ‘You are an example to all of us, habibti.

 ‘My biggest nightmare was that something might happen to Zahra. I love her, too. She is so confident and trusting, and I hated the thought of that confidence and trust being crushed.’

 ‘She told me you turned the whole thing into a game so that she wouldn’t be scared.’ He hesitated. ‘When I saw her a moment ago she asked me if she is allowed to call you Mummy.’

 ‘Oh—’ Emotion wedged itself in her throat. ‘But you—’

 ‘One of the biggest sources of my guilt—and believe me there are many—is the fact that I told you not to think of yourself as my daughter’s mother.’ His handsome face was paler than usual. ‘It was a terrible thing to say. I hope you will forgive me.’

 ‘There’s nothing to forgive. You were in the most awful situation, being forced to marry me and—’ Layla broke off, her vision blurred by tears. ‘Do you know what I think? I think I like what you said just now, about separating the past and the future. Can we do that? And if Zahra is thinking of me as her mother then the future is looking better all the time.’

 He hauled her close. ‘I didn’t think I would ever feel this happy. I didn’t think it was possible.’

 ‘Me neither.’ She hugged him tightly, feeling happier than she ever had in her life before. ‘I love you. I love you so much.’

 Raz slid his hand into her hair, his mouth close to hers. ‘I will never tire of hearing you say that.’

 ‘It was Avery who noticed the way I felt about you.’

 The corners of his mouth flickered into a smile. ‘Avery is a master at interfering in the lives of others.’

 ‘But in a good way. She was the one who encouraged me to just be myself. I was very confused. I knew I loved you and I didn’t know how to live with those feelings without sharing them with you. I didn’t know how to be with you. She was the one who pointed out that I should be myself. Just me. That you deserved to know the real me.’

 ‘And I fell in love with the real you.’

 Raz lowered his forehead to hers and she slid her arms around his neck, dizzy with the feelings inside her.

 ‘Could you say that again? Just one more time? I need to keep hearing it.’

 ‘I will be saying it many times. I love you. I will love you forever and always,’ he breathed, gathering her against him. ‘Enti hayati. You are my life, habibti.’