The Prince and the Pregnant Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 6)(28) by Susan Mallery
Annoyance clouded his face. He started to rise, but she put a restraining hand on his arm. “Hear me out, Sadik.”
“Women are always difficult,” he muttered.
“Perhaps, but I’m being difficult for a good reason.” She bit her lower lip. She tried to forget her past as much as possible. Her circumstances had nearly broken her many times, but she’d always found the courage to go on. She was going to have to do that again.
“I’m pretty sure my parents were married,” she began. “I never found a marriage license, but my mother said they were, and I have my dad’s name. I never knew him. He died before I was born. He overdosed on drugs.”
Sadik’s expression turned unreadable, but she guessed he hadn’t expected to hear this kind of story.
“My mother was also an addict. She was in and out of rehab or jail for as long as I can remember. She’d usually leave me with a neighbor. Sometimes the state stuck me in foster care. Sometimes she just disappeared and I did the best I could until she showed up again.”
Cleo spoke the words without considering their meaning. If she actually focused on what she was saying, the past overwhelmed her and she found herself drowning in the memories. It was far better to stay disconnected.
“There were times when we lived with her friends and times when we didn’t have anywhere to go. I remember spending nights on the streets or in shelters.”
“How old were you?” Sadik asked.
She didn’t look at him. Instead she stared at the blanket covering her, at the weave of the cotton and the smoothness of the fibers she rubbed between her fingers.
“I don’t know. Young. I remember being about four or five and hiding in a doorway. I didn’t go to school much. We were always moving around the city.” She smiled. “I was born in Los Angeles and lived there until I was about eleven.
I’ll bet you didn’t know I was from the land of movie stars.”
She risked glancing at him and saw she had his full attention. His dark eyes stared into hers. She looked away because she didn’t want him to see too far into her soul. He would find it a disappointing place.
She cleared her throat. “Anyway, things got pretty bad. Mom was sick and then one day she died. The state bounced me around in foster care. I was labeled a problem child. I did badly in school. Then I was placed with Fiona and Zara.”
She shrugged. “Fiona was a bit of a flake, but she had a big heart. The first thing she did was buy me all new clothes, along with a big stuffed bear. She told me I was pretty. I pretended not to care, but she was the first person in my life who ever saw me as a real person and not just an inconvenience.”
She had to pause for a second to swallow tears. “Zara was pretty cool. She was smart and cute, but a social retard. We made a good team. She helped me with my schoolwork and I helped her to fit in. When Fiona decided to move on, she simply took me with her. I guess the state lost my paperwork or something because no one ever came looking for me.” She shrugged. “So that’s how I came to be Zara’s foster sister.”
“You survived a great deal,” he said.
She raised her chin and glared at him. “I didn’t tell you all that to get the sympathy vote. My point is I’m hardly princess material. You have to see that.”
“What I see is someone strong enough to overcome humble beginnings. I am impressed by your ability to rise above your circumstances and become the charming, intelligent woman I see before me.”
She groaned. The man was as thick as a plank. “Sadik, get real. I’m not smart. I barely finished high school, and that wouldn’t have happened without Zara. I wanted to go to college, but I didn’t think I could make it.”
“Intelligence and education often have little in common,” he said. “Your spirit and drive bode well for our son.”
She leaned toward him. “Are you listening to even one word I’m saying? What happens when the press finds out about my past? I promise you, they will.
They’ll go digging, and that’s what they’ll find.”
“I do not care what they find. Their opinions are of no consequence to me.” He took her hand in his and laced their fingers together. “You may protest all you want. You may scream and cry and tell me more stories from your past, but make no mistake, we will be married.”
Sadik watched the battle rage in Cleo’s eyes. She was both grateful and furious. Grateful that he’d accepted her past without judging her and furious that he still insisted they marry. At times women could be annoying and complex, but at other times they were very simple.
“Did you think you could frighten me off so easily?” he asked, stroking her palm. Her skin was soft and warm. Just this simple touch aroused him. He fore-saw many long, glorious, passionate nights once they were married.
“You are so missing the point,” she grumbled.
“Then enlighten me.”
“I’m not princess material!” She practically shouted the words. “How can you want to marry me after knowing all this? It should change everything. I don’t have the breeding or the training.”
“You are not a prize mare for the horse stable. A documented bloodline is not required. Your breeding is apparent in how you conduct yourself. In what you think and say.”
“Oh, sure. And I climbed right into bed with you. Hardly a recommendation to the pedigree committee.”
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