His Defiant Desert Queen(75)

By: Jane Porter

He leaned over, kissed her gently on the cheek. “Day eleven, or twelve. I forget. It’s been a blur.”

“Oh.” And then her expression changed, her brows knitting, tightening. “You’re sending me home. You don’t want me.”

“Let’s not talk about that right now.”

“You don’t love me.”

“Jemma. Laeela,” he said roughly, sounding agonized.

She turned her face away from him, closed her eyes. “It’s fine. I want to go home. I want to go now.”

A knot filled his throat. His chest ached with bottled emotion. “You can’t go anywhere until you’re better.”

She tried to sit up. She winced at the effort.

“Lie down, be still—”

“I won’t have you making decisions for me,” she interrupted hoarsely. “I won’t have you commanding me or dictating to me, because you’re just like the others. You’re just the same, making promises you never intended to keep—”

“That’s not true,” he interrupted fiercely, before lowering his voice. “I love you. I do. I don’t know how it happened, but it happened. I didn’t want a love match, but love found me anyway in you, and the only reason I was sending you home was to give you your freedom and future back.”

“But my future is with you! My home is with you. And you, you—” She broke off and squeezed her eyes closed even as tears seeped beneath her lashes. “You don’t even care.”

“I care,” he said, leaning over her, and kissing her carefully on the forehead, between bandages. “I care so much that I only want what’s best for you, and I am not sure Saidia is best for you. It wasn’t good for my mother. She was lonely here.”

“But I’m not your mother,” Jemma answered, opening her eyes. “And you’re not your father. We can have our own marriage, and we can do it all differently. We can do it right. But you have to believe that, too. You have to fight for us, too.”

“I’m fighting,” he murmured, stroking her cheek gently, tenderly. She was all bruises, scrapes and stitches and more beautiful than any woman in the world. “I’m fighting for us, fighting for you. I haven’t been able to leave your side, afraid that if I left, you’d disappear.”

She struggled to smile even as tears fell, slipping from the corners of her eyes. “I’m here.”

He smiled down at her, and caught a tear before it slid into her hair. “Yes, you are, my wife, my heart, my queen.”

Jemma’s lower lip trembled. “You can’t ever threaten to send me away again.”

“I won’t. Not ever. We are going to make this work, and we will have hard days and arguments and hurt feelings, but I promise you, I am here for you and with you. You and I are meant to be together.”

“Not because it’s your duty,” she whispered.

He smiled. “No, it’s not because of duty. We are together because you are my love, and the queen of my heart.”