The Prince and the Pregnant Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 6)(20) by Susan Mallery
Organ music soared to the arched ceiling of the fourteenth-century church.
Saints watched from stained-glass windows, their hands outstretched.
Cleo found herself shaking with unexpected nerves. The only thing that kept her going was watching Sabrina ahead of her. Zara’s half sister moved slowly, in time with the music. Cleo kept her pace even as she struggled to not turn and run.
She could hear the faint murmurings of the guests as they watched her. At least her bouquet of flowers cascaded down to her knees, hiding her bulging belly. She didn’t want there to be any speculation—not on Zara’s day.
As she approached the front of the church, she saw Rafe. He grinned at her, then looked past her as the organ music shifted to the wedding march. Everyone stood.
Cleo wanted to turn around and watch her sister, but she still had about ten feet to go. Her gaze lingered on Rafe, and she watched his expression change to one of love and wonder. He looked as if he’d been waiting for Zara all his life.
Perhaps he had, Cleo thought as she stepped into place next to Sabrina. Perhaps she was his one true love.
Cleo casually glanced at Sadik, who stood behind Prince Kardal, who was Sabrina’s husband. Sadik didn’t seem to care that the bride had entered the church. He stared at Cleo as if he could claim her with a look.
She fought against a feeling of sadness. Possession was not love, and whatever feelings he had for her were just about the baby. Intense longing filled her—longing for what Zara had. A family, a man who loved her more than anyone in the world, a place to belong. Was it so wrong to want to be a part of something? She’d spent her whole life on the fringes, always on the outside looking in. She had a bad feeling that wasn’t going to change.
Cleo shook off her unhappy thoughts and turned her attention to her sister. Zara looked like a princess as she walked up the aisle, her father escorting her.
Everything about the moment was perfect, and no more than Zara deserved.
Kissing the bride was not a part of the Bahania ceremony, but Rafe did it, anyway. Cleo joined in the spontaneous applause as the couple clung to each other before turning and facing their happy guests. Bells rang, the vibrant sound echoing in the church.
The bride and groom started down the aisle. Cleo went next, expecting to link arms with Kardal, but he had shifted positions with Sadik, and she found herself close to the one man who could—despite everything—still take her breath away.
“You are radiance itself,” he murmured as they strolled down the aisle. He nodded at several guests. No doubt rulers of distant lands and personal friends of the family.
As they had on the way up, the crowd continued to overwhelm her. This was for real, she thought, stunned and amazed. Her foster sister, the same person she’d fought with about bathroom time and who had once tried to pierce her ears with a sewing needle was an honest-to-goodness princess married to a sheik.
Even more shattering she, Cleo, was walking down the aisle of an eight-hundred-year-old church, next to a prince who could trace his bloodline back a thousand years. Oh, and she was pregnant by him.
Her head spun when they stepped outside and she saw that thousands had gathered around the church. In a special area set up to the left of the church, several dozen television crews reported on the event for the international news. Still cameras flashed, taking pictures everywhere.
The horse-drawn carriages stood waiting. After Rafe and Zara moved off in theirs, Sadik helped her into the next one. Thank goodness Kardal and Sabrina sat with them. Cleo didn’t think she was capable of forming words let alone dealing with Sadik right now.
“You look shell-shocked,” Sabrina said kindly as their carriage started forward.
“I’m not surprised. This is a little overwhelming for me and I’ve been through it before.”
Cleo nodded, afraid that if she tried to speak she would either scream or cry.
Neither would be especially helpful.
They returned to the palace. Pictures were taken, then the royal family joined the reception already in progress.
The largest palace ballroom had been transformed into fairyland, Cleo thought, still dazed. Thousands of yards of beaded tulle decorated the walls and pillars.
Lights twinkled beside a cascading waterfall that hadn’t been there just a few days before. Buffets had been set up against three walls, and there seemed to be enough food to take care of several nations at once. A large orchestra played continuously. Champagne fountains flowed at both ends of the head table where Cleo found she had been seated next to Sadik. His doing, no doubt.
She managed to go through the motions, toasting her sister, offering best wishes, meeting people. Sadik stayed at her side for much of the afternoon. When Rafe and Zara disappeared to change for their honeymoon, he swept her into his arms and danced with her.
“I think they will enjoy their time away,” he said, speaking quietly into her ear.
“Yes. They will.” Her mouth felt numb. She knew she was talking, but she couldn’t feel her lips moving.
The king had arranged for the newlyweds to spend several weeks on his private yacht. They would cruise through the Mediterranean, then up the coast of Spain to France and England.
Her gaze swept over the room and something inside of her snapped. This wasn’t her world; she didn’t belong here. Nothing about the situation felt right.
But even as she prepared to run, she felt a fluttering sensation in her belly.
Her baby turned or kicked, or maybe just waved. It was enough to remind her that there was more at stake than her own desire to belong. If she left, she would have to abandon her child, and Cleo was willing to walk through hell before ever doing that.
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