The Sheik and the Bride Who Said No(Desert Rogues, Book 9)(2) by Susan Mallery
None of which sounded all that tough to her, but she wasn’t the one signing up for a lifetime of queenhood.
“I never thought about having to stay in the palace a lot,” Brittany said slowly. “I just sort of figured I could fly back home whenever I wanted and hang with my friends.”
“Bahania will be your home now.”
Brittany’s eyes darkened. “I wouldn’t miss Mom and Dad so much, but Deanna and you.” She bit her lower lip. “I guess if I love the prince…”
“Do you?” Daphne asked. “You’ve never met him. You’re risking a whole lot on the off chance you two will get along.” She squeezed her niece’s fingers. “You’ve only had a couple of boyfriends, none of them serious. Do you really want to give all that up? Dating? College?”
Brittany frowned. “I can’t go to college?”
“Do you think any professor is going to want the future queen in his class? How could he or she give you a real grade? Even if you did get that worked out, you’d just be attending classes part-time. You couldn’t live on campus.”
“That’s right. Because I’d be in the palace.”
“Possibly pregnant,” Daphne added for good measure.
“No way. I’m not ready to have a baby now.”
“And if Prince Murat is?”
Her niece glared at her. “You’re trying to scare me.”
“You bet. I’m willing to do just about anything to keep you from throwing away your life. If you’d met someone and had fallen in love, then I wouldn’t care if he was a prince or an alien from planet Xeon. But you didn’t. I would have gotten involved with this sooner, but your mother did her best to keep the truth from me.”
Brittany sighed. “She’s pretty determined to have her way.”
“I’m not going to let that happen. Tell me honestly. Tell me you’re completely committed to this and I’ll back off. But if you have even one hint of a doubt, you need to give yourself time to think.”
Brittany swallowed. “I’m not sure,” she admitted in a tiny voice. “I want things to go great with the prince, but what if they don’t?” Tears filled her eyes.
“I’ve been trying to do what my parents want me to do and I’m scared.” She glanced around the luxury plane. “The pilot said we were landing in twenty minutes. That’s about up. I can’t meet the prince and tell him I’m not sure.”
Daphne vowed that when she returned to the States she was going to kill her oldest sister, Laurel. How dare she try to guilt her only daughter into something like this? Outrage mingled with relief. She held open her arms, and Brittany fell into her embrace.
“Is it too late?” the teenager asked.
“Of course not. You’re going to be fine.” She hugged her tight. “You had me
worried for a while. I thought you were really going through with this.”
Brittany sniffed. “Some parts of it sounded pretty fun. Having all that money and crowns and stuff, but I tried not to think about actually being married to someone that old.”
“I don’t blame you.” The age difference was impossible, Daphne thought. What on earth could Murat be thinking, considering an engagement to a teenager?
“I’ll take care of everything,” she promised. “You’ll stay on the plane and go directly home while I handle things at the palace.”
Brittany straightened. “Really? I don’t even have to meet him?”
“Nope. You go back and pretend this never happened.”
“What about Mom?”
Daphne’s eyes narrowed. “You can leave her to me, as well.”
Just over an hour later Daphne found herself in the back of a limo, heading to the fabled Pink Palace of Bahania. Because of the long plane trip, she expected to find the city in darkness, but with the time difference, it was late afternoon. She sat right by the window so she could take in everything—the ancient buildings that butted up against the new financial district. The amazing blue of the Arabian Sea just south of the city. The views were breathtaking and familiar. She’d grown to love this country when she’d visited ten years ago.
“Don’t go there,” she told herself. There was no time for a trip down memory lane. Instead she needed to focus and figure out what she was going to say to Murat.
She glanced at her watch. With every second that ticked by, finding the perfect words became less and less important. Once Brittany landed back in the States, she would be safe from Murat’s clutches. Still, she couldn’t help feeling a little nervous as the long, black car turned left and drove past elegant wrought-iron gates.
The car pulled to a stop in front of the main entrance. Daphne drew in a deep breath to calm herself as she waited for one of the guards to open the door. She stepped out into the warm afternoon and glanced around.
The gardens were as beautiful as she remembered. Sweet, lush scents competed for her attention. To the left was the gate that led to the private English-style garden she’d always loved. To the right was a path that led to the most perfect view of the sea. And in front of her…well, that was the way into the lion’s den.
She tried to tell herself she had no reason to be afraid, that she’d done nothing wrong. Murat was the one interested in marrying a teenager nearly half his age. If anyone should be feeling foolish and ashamed, it was he.
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