The Prince and the Pregnant Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 6)(14) by Susan Mallery
“Sadik’s fiancée.” Sabrina sat back in the chair and picked up the clipboard.
“They were engaged. It was an arranged match, but they seemed to get along well.
She was killed in a car accident about three weeks before the wedding. Sadik took it pretty hard.”
“Cleo, are you all right?” Zara asked.
Cleo forced herself to keep breathing. “Fine. So you want to keep the necklace or is it going in the discard pile?”
Her question had the desired effect. Zara was distracted. When the next box turned out to be a half-dozen camel bridles from one of the nomadic tribes, Sabrina explained that there were actual camels to go in them. That sent the two women off into a discussion as to whether camels were a better or worse gift than elephants.
Cleo tried to participate. She nodded and occasionally added a word or two. She even managed to smile. But inside, she felt numb, and just beyond the numbness was a gaping pit of intense pain and betrayal.
Sadik had loved another woman. That woman had died and now he mourned her. No wonder he only wanted Cleo in his bed. He’d already given his heart to someone else.
She’d always known there couldn’t be anything serious between them, but somehow finding out that he had never been available made the situation worse. All her life she’d dreamed of being the most important person in someone’s life. It was her private fantasy. And now she knew it was never going to happen with Sadik.
Until that moment she hadn’t realized she had secretly hoped he would fall in love with her.
She pressed her hand to her stomach and felt hopelessness well up inside. As much as she’d thought about keeping the baby from him, she knew it wasn’t possible. Not only was he likely to find out, keeping him from his child was wrong. Which meant at some point she was going to have to come clean. And then what? Would he try to take her child away from her? How could she possibly come to terms with the royal family? How could she stay in Bahania and share in the upbringing?
Everything was going wrong. She should never have come back here. Then she looked at Zara and saw the happiness on her face. This was Zara’s time. Cleo couldn’t ruin it. Not by refusing to show up or by running off. Somehow she would have to get through the next week. Once the wedding was over, she would have time to think and figure out what she was going to do.
Cleo escaped into the gardens. When she was outside, she finally felt as if she could breathe again. She ached inside. She supposed that a sensible person might have figured out that Sadik had loved someone else, but then a sensible person wouldn’t have gotten involved with him in the first place. She felt well and truly trapped.
Worse, she still wanted him. Not just in bed, either. Even as her heart was ripped apart by the knowledge that he would never love her, she wanted to feel his arms around her.
“You need therapy,” she said aloud as she crossed the garden and sank onto a bench. She breathed in the scent of the flowers and tried to find peace in the beauty all around her.
The sky was a brilliant shade of blue. The scent of the sea blended with the sweet scent of hundreds of blossoms. She touched the edge of a late-blooming rose. Her finger caught on a thorn, and she yelped as a single drop of blood formed.
“Figures,” she muttered.
If only, she thought sadly. If only there was a way to change her feelings or change Sadik. But even if she was princess material, which she knew she was not, she couldn’t compete with a deceased fiancée. Kamra would be ever perfect in his mind—never growing old or looking tired or snapping back. No woman could compete with a ghost.
Cleo swallowed, then suddenly surged to her feet. Her stomach rebelled against all the emotion—or maybe just against her overly large breakfast. She barely had time to bend over one of the bushes before she vomited.
In an unfortunate quirk of timing, King Hassan chose that moment to take a stroll in his garden.
She didn’t know he was there until she straightened and he pressed a handkerchief in her hand.
Cleo didn’t know what to do. She wanted to run but realized she was crying too hard to see. Tripping would not be a good idea. Not only would it lack a certain grace, she didn’t want any harm to come to the baby.
“Come, child,” the king said kindly, putting an arm around her and helping her back to the bench. “Sit and catch your breath.”
Cleo allowed him to help her because her brain was too busy figuring out how she was supposed to explain throwing up in the royal garden. The king didn’t look angry, but she suspected he would want an explanation.
He sat next to her and took her hand in his. “There is a royal physician on call,” he said. “I will summon him.”
“No!” That was the last thing she needed. “I’m fine. It’s just all the excitement.”
A pretty pitiful excuse but the best she could come up with under the circumstances.
Hassan studied her. He took the handkerchief and wiped her cheeks. “I see tears.
I doubt they are from excitement. Tell me, Cleo. What makes you so sad?”
No way she could confess that, she thought glumly. Talking about Sadik’s former fiancée would only get her in trouble.
“Is it Zara?” he asked.
“No. I mean I really miss her a lot, but she’s so happy here. Plus you’re her family—this is where she belongs.”
The king continued to hold her hand. “Cleo, I repeat what I told you before. You are welcome to make this your home, as well. I would be delighted if you would stay in the palace. Or if you would prefer, you could live in the City of Thieves. Either way you would be close to your sister.” He paused, then smiled.
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