The Prince and the Pregnant Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 6)(38) by Susan Mallery
There were no windows in the chapel, no stained-glass saints to offer benediction. No visiting dignitaries, no murmuring crowd. She stared at the man she would marry, then started forward when the organ music changed to the wedding march. She walked alone.
King Hassan would have escorted her, had she asked. He didn’t come out and say so, but she knew it to be true. Cleo preferred to go to Sadik on her own. She wanted to remind herself that she was doing this of her own free will. She would not be dragged to the altar.
Her cascade of roses and starburst lilies shook slightly in her hands. Her taffeta dress rustled with each movement. She’d chosen the low-cut empire style from several gowns that had been sent over. The simple lines hid her growing belly. She wore the amazing and unexpected engagement ring Sadik had given her that morning on her right hand. They had picked out simple gold bands for wedding rings. After the ceremony she would switch the engagement ring back to her left hand. Then they would go to the reception.
Cleo didn’t actually mind that the reception would be small. There would be a dinner for those who attended. No crowd of several thousand, no orchestra, no endless pile of official gifts. Her wedding couldn’t be more different from Zara’s, but then, neither could her marriage.
Cleo was determined to make the best of it, for herself and for the baby. A life of unhappiness would surely hurt their child.
So she walked slowly toward the front of the church, prepared to marry a man who would not love her. His tenderness today gave her a small amount of hope. If only she could figure out a way to follow Sabrina’s very sensible advice. But Cleo didn’t have a clue as to how to bring a man like Sadik to his senses, let alone to his knees.
Pleading exhaustion, Cleo escaped from the party shortly after dinner. She couldn’t help contrasting her small, quickly arranged reception with Zara’s gala affair. Of course she had no one to blame but herself for the different circumstances. Zara had been smart enough to fall in love with someone who loved her. And she’d been smart enough not to get pregnant. Cleo tried to make a joke by telling herself she would do it better next time—except she knew there wouldn’t be a next time. No matter what his feelings were for her, or hers for him, she and Sadik were married, and it was going to be a union for life. She would not give up her children, and he would not want the scandal of divorce.
She paused in the hallway, unsure which way to turn. Then she remembered one of the servants telling her that her things would be moved into Sadik’s suite during the ceremony. She doubted that anyone would have unpacked her boxes from Spokane and wondered what Sadik would say when he saw her rather tattered teddy bear collection. It was not likely to go with his designer-perfect interior.
Cleo made a left at the next hallway, then stopped in front of Sadik’s door. Her door now, she reminded herself. Her world. Her life.
She stepped inside and closed the door behind her. She’d seen the living room of his suite at least a dozen times and yet it looked unfamiliar. She took in the dark furniture, the original paintings on the wall, the view that was similar to the one from her room. She knew that this suite was laid out differently, with three bedrooms instead of two. The master suite was larger, with two smaller bedrooms on the opposite side of the living room.
Cleo crossed in that direction. The bedroom on the left contained a home office setup. The lack of papers on the desk, along with the dust cover on the computer, told her that Sadik didn’t do work in here. As his actual office was less than a five-minute walk away, it made sense that he would go there when he needed to get things done.
The second bedroom had been tucked in a corner of the palace with views of both the ocean and the gardens. A good-size alcove jutted out toward the lush foliage below. A double closet held adjustable racks.
The space was completely empty, the walls bare. Cleo wasn’t sure she’d ever been in this room before, but she knew it had been emptied for the baby. She placed her hand on her stomach as she turned slowly, taking in the views and the space.
It was easy to picture a crib against the far wall and a changing table between the windows. Later, when their child was older, toys could be stored in the alcove. Eventually, when there were other children—she didn’t doubt that Sadik wanted many—they would have to move to one of the family suites. But for now this would be home.
Cleo crossed to the wall and touched the smooth surface. What color would be best? A pale yellow, perhaps. Or maybe she should keep them cream and put up a border print of wallpaper. Maybe something with bears to go with her collection.
She closed her eyes and imagined the sound of a baby’s soft sighs. She inhaled the scent of sweet skin and powder, felt the cuddly fabrics of sleepers. Her fingers pressed in slightly on her stomach, as if she could touch her child.
“I promise I’ll be here for you,” she whispered, and knew that was the most important thing she could do for her child—provide him or her with two loving parents.
While she doubted Sadik’s desire to care about her, she believed he would be a good and devoted father. If the price of giving her child the best start possible was her own happiness, then she would pay it.
“I wondered where you had run off to.”
She heard Sadik’s quiet words a heartbeat before he came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. He rested his hands over hers on her belly.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Tired,” she admitted. “Confused.”
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