The Prince and the Pregnant Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 6)(15) by Susan Mallery
“I have to say that I would recommend Bahania. You do not strike me as the medieval city type.”
Cleo tried to laugh but found herself crying instead. Hassan pulled her close.
“Such sadness,” he murmured. “Tell me what I can do to ease your pain.”
His kindness only made her cry harder. Part of her couldn’t believe this was happening. Hassan wasn’t just Zara’s father, he was the king of Bahania. What was wrong with this picture?
Still, Cleo found comfort in his embrace. Her father had died before she was born, and she hadn’t had the chance to know him at all. She’d never had a substitute father while she was growing up.
“My daughter,” he said, stroking her hair. “Your troubles bring me discomfort, as well. If you do not explain what is wrong, I can not fix it.”
She raised her head to gaze at him. After blinking back the tears, she managed to speak. “You said ‘my daughter.”‘
“You are the beloved sister of my Zara. That makes you beloved to me, as well.”
He cupped her face. “You cry as if all is lost, but I know it cannot be so.”
Cleo wasn’t sure what weakened her resolve. Hassan’s gentleness, of course, but also his willingness to claim her. She doubted he actually thought of her as a daughter, but just saying the word was enough to shatter her reticence.
“You wouldn’t be nice if you knew the truth about my past,” she said, in a last-ditch effort to gather some control.
“I know all I need to. You are a part of my family. As such, I want only your happiness.”
She desperately wanted to believe him. Ducking her head, she grabbed back the handkerchief and sobbed into it. “I’m p-pregnant.”
Hassan continued to stroke her hair. “I see. Would you like me to have the unworthy dog flogged?”
Despite her desperate situation, the visual image of Sadik hanging in chains while being beaten cheered her immensely. She risked a quick glance.
“How disappointed are you?”
The king frowned. “Why would your pregnancy disappoint me?”
Cleo flushed. “I’m not exactly a virgin.”
“My claim on you as family is not conditional, my daughter. To me, you and Zara will always be perfection itself.” He dropped his hand to hers. “Now tell me of the man who has left you so. I do not see an engagement ring, so he has not done the honorable thing.”
Propose? The idea was laughable. As if that would happen. Cleo sniffed. “He doesn’t know. I’m going to have to tell him eventually, but first I want to figure out what I want.” She smiled. “I mean, I know I want the baby, but where do I want to live and what’s the best way for us to share in his or her
Hassan smiled. “I’m glad you want your child.”
She stiffened. “Why wouldn’t I? Obviously, this wasn’t planned, but I will never abandon my baby. I’ll do whatever I have to in order to keep us both safe.” She thought of how she’d been abandoned over and over again in her life. Long ago she’d vowed that when she had children, they would know she loved them more than anything in the world.
“I see the flash of a tiger in your eyes. That bodes wells. A strong mother has strong sons.”
Typical, she thought, starting to feel a little better. “I could be having a daughter.”
Hassan dismissed her with a flick of his fingers. “Regardless. You must come to terms with this jackal of the desert, Cleo. I will stand beside you in whatever way I can.”
While she appreciated his words, they brought her back to earth with a thump.
What had she been thinking, telling Sadik’s father that she was pregnant? She doubted the king would be so accommodating if he knew the truth.
“You must not mention this,” she pleaded. “If people found out…” She bit her lower lip. How to convince him? “I don’t want Zara’s wedding spoiled by people speculating about me. She is so looking forward to the event. Please don’t say anything.”
“I agree.” He smiled. “Your secret is safe with me, Cleo.” He patted her hand, then rose. “Come. You need to be in your room and resting. I will have the kitchen send you some tea to settle your stomach. You must be strong for your son.”
“Or daughter,” she muttered as she rose, but had the feeling the king wasn’t listening. She also had a very bad feeling about spilling her guts. Somehow she knew it was all going to come back and bite her in the butt. As if she didn’t already have enough problems.
Twenty minutes later Cleo lay stretched out on her bed, sipping tea. The odd-smelling concoction actually made her feel better. She put the cup back on the saucer, then set both on her nightstand. Maybe a nap would make her feel better.
But before she could even close her eyes, her bedroom door burst open. Zara stormed into the room.
“You’re pregnant and you didn’t even tell me?”
“Shouldn’t you still be opening presents?” Cleo asked, knowing it was a feeble attempt at distracting Zara.
“Shouldn’t you be telling me something this important?” Zara stalked to the edge of the bed and crossed her arms over her chest. “How could you keep this from me?”
Cleo could have gone head-to-head with Zara in a snit, but the hurt in her sister’s eyes made her feel like slime.
“I’m sorry.” She sat up and leaned against the headboard. “I guess you ran into the king.”
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