Jasmine has been everything that Leila wasn’t. Jasmine was pretty and funny and charming too.
Leila was serious and diligent—and as she looked at a portrait that had all three children in it, Leila’s heart ached for that child with confusion in her eyes.
Leila’s hair was cut short and, unlike Jasmine, she had been chubby and plain, but far more unforgivable than that she had been born a girl.
A long and difficult birth had assured that there would be no more babies for the queen. Oh, how Leila had tried to be everything that her parents wanted—she had tried so hard to be as brave and fearless as Zayn and had begged to go out hunting with their father, only to have the queen mock her.
Leila stood there remembering the morning that she had taken scissors from the palace kitchen and smuggled them up to her bathroom. She had cut her long black hair, hoping that if she looked like a boy, then maybe she would be loved.
‘You were such a good girl,’ Leila said to the image, recalling her tears when her mother had found her in the bathroom with her hair beside her on the floor and how badly she had been spanked and shamed.
Her hair had grown back, the puppy fat had long since faded and a serious beauty had emerged.
Rather than cry, she walked to her suite.
‘Dismissed,’ she said to the maid who sat outside but did not move to Leila’s command, and so she reiterated. ‘You are dismissed for the night.’
‘But you might need me.’
‘I don’t need anyone,’ Leila said. She knew the maids thought her arrogant—her mother did too—but arrogance was her shield and she wore it well now.
‘Dismissed!’ Leila hissed, and she waited till the confused woman had left before going into her suite.
Leila headed straight for her dressing room. It was filled with the most exquisite robes that had been handmade by the skilled palace seamstresses, then beaded and embroidered by Surhaadi women. It was not the gowns that held her interest though. Leila dropped to her knees and crawled behind them, reaching into the dark corner and dragging out a huge jewelled chest.
She found the key that was hidden in the pocket of one of her robes, but as she knelt to open the chest, Leila’s hands were shaking and it was as if Jasmine was here with her again, for she could hear her voice.
‘You have to hide these things for me. If anybody found them I would get into so much trouble.’
‘But what if they find them in my room?’ Leila had asked.
‘As if they would ever think to look through your things.’ Jasmine had laughed at the very thought. ‘The only thing that they’d expect to find are books and more books. Just hide these for me, Leila, please.’
Jasmine had smiled that smile and given Leila a small cuddle, a little bit of contact that Leila craved. ‘Please, Leila, do it for me?’
Leila had agreed.
Here was the proof that Jasmine had been far from perfect, Leila thought as she opened the trunk that had stayed locked for years. She wanted to run back to her parents, to hold the contraband up at them, to tell them once and for all that their memory of Jasmine was wrong.
Jasmine wasn’t, nor ever had been, perfect. Even Zayn, who carried so much guilt over the death of his younger sister, didn’t know the full extent of Jasmine’s wild ways.
Yes, she had been far from perfect, Leila thought, looking at a short black dress that was scooped low at the front. There were high black heeled shoes too amongst other things and Leila examined them all now. She opened a bottle of vodka and sniffed it.
She would tell her parents; she would show them. Yet, even now, Leila knew that she couldn’t do that to her sister.
Even when she had died, still Leila had played her part in protecting Jasmine’s reputation—a day after the funeral a package from overseas had arrived at the palace addressed to Jasmine and Leila had smuggled it back up to her suite and had thrown it in the trunk unopened.
She picked up the package and Leila’s slender fingers tore at the paper, wondering what might be inside. There was a small cellophane packet and she pulled out the contents. There was a velvet bra in the deepest red and as she opened it up a tiny pair of panties fell out. Leila ran the soft fabric through her fingers. It was decadent, it was provocative and it was sexy. It was everything that a young princess should not be.