‘Why would I laugh when I think that is the nicest thing you could do for me. You are disappointed it’s a girl though...’
‘I am beside myself with happiness that we’re having a girl,’ James said, and his voice had her again believing him. She felt his hand on her stomach, caressing her the way she had wanted him to at the scan. ‘I thought I’d lost you both. I thought you were on your way home...’
‘I would never keep you from your baby, James,’ Leila said, and he nodded as she finally excised that dread forever.
‘I’ve messed up, Leila. Manu was furious about the photo and told me off for touching you in public. She says it will offend not just your family but you. You were right—she wasn’t worth it. I should have spoken to you.’
‘You should have, for your touch has never offended me,’ Leila said. ‘Well, once, and I think you registered my displeasure.’
‘You haven’t made things worse with my family, James. It was terrible already,’ Leila said, and started to cry again. He saw the pain and agony and he knew he hadn’t caused all of it.
‘Maybe they’re grieving...’ James attempted, because he knew the school of thought about not criticising another’s family, but then Leila told him there was more.
‘I’m too ashamed to tell you.’
‘Never be ashamed with me,’ James said.
‘She’s never loved me...’ And he didn’t pat her on the shoulder and say of course she did. He just listened in silent horror as he found out that Leila’s mother wouldn’t even touch her. ‘The maids fed me,’ Leila said. ‘She hated me so much that she could not bring herself to give me her milk. Even the maids thought me greedy. The night I left she finally told me that she wished it had been me who had died instead of Jasmine. When I called she asked if you said you loved me before or while I parted my legs...’
‘I said that I loved you here, Leila.’ James pointed out. ‘I would never look you in the eye and say that I loved you if I didn’t.’
‘You would marry me, though, without loving me.’
‘I don’t know that now,’ James admitted. ‘I didn’t like what I saw at my parents’ home. Forcing anyone into anything is not the type of person I usually am. I overreacted when I found out you were pregnant. I was terrified that you’d go back to them.’
‘Never,’ Leila said. ‘She has told me that the palace is better off without me. That the maids are happier now. She says that my father has taken up walking again in the evening...’
‘I’d take up walking if I was married to that lunatic,’ James said. ‘I’d be walking morning, noon and night and playing golf too, if I was married to her.’
‘You think he does it to get away from her?’ Leila frowned.
‘Hello!’ James said. ‘I’ll bet the maids aren’t as happy as Muriel,’ James nudged, and now she properly smiled.
‘She’s a wicked queen,’ James said. ‘A wicked, wicked queen. And when our daughter is born I’m going to read the fairy tales. You never have to hear her voice or see her ever again unless you choose to.’
‘I promise,’ James said. ‘And I don’t make promises that I might not be able to keep.’
‘I believe you.’
He understood now why it had been so impossible for her to believe in his love.
She simply hadn’t known what it was.
He kissed her right there in the park and there could have been twenty photographers around them, snapping away—neither cared, neither would notice.
Leila felt his arms wrap around her and the feel of his lips on hers and the caress of his hands on her head and back. His touch was for her.
Love more than existed, it was hers.
* * *
James hated Farrah.
More than Leila would ever know. James learned to speak her language and he sat with Manu for hours, working out best how to work through the latest problem that had arisen.
It was early August and their baby was due in two days’ time and still James had not been able to marry her. Despite polite letters, despite Manu and Zayn’s best attempts, they were blocked at each turn as they tried to get the necessary documentation.