The Sheik and the Bride Who Said No(Desert Rogues, Book 9)(3) by Susan Mallery
But despite being in the right, and determined to stand strong against any and all who might try to get in her way, she couldn’t help a tiny shiver of apprehension. After all, ten years ago she’d been a guest in this very palace.
She’d been young and in love and engaged to be married.
Then three weeks before the wedding, she’d bolted, leaving him without even a whisper of an explanation.
Daphne saw a well-dressed young man walking toward her. “Yes?”
“The prince is waiting. If you will follow me?”
As Daphne trailed after the man, she wondered if he had any idea she wasn’t Brittany. She doubted Murat had bothered to brief his staff on the arrival of a potential bride. He’d rarely concerned himself with details like that. So she would guess that his staff member had simply been told to escort the woman who arrived to an appropriate meeting area.
“Someone is in for a surprise,” she murmured under her breath as she walked down a wide corridor lined with stunning mosaics and elegant antiques.
Just being back in the palace made her feel better. She wanted to ask her guide to wait a few minutes while she stopped to enjoy an especially beautiful view from a window or a spectacular piece of artwork. Instead she trailed along dutifully, concentrating on tapestries and carvings instead of what she was going to say when she saw Murat.
They turned a corner. Up ahead Daphne saw a large tabby cat sitting in a patch of sun and washing her face. She smiled as she recalled the dozens and dozens of cats the king kept in the palace.
“In here, Ms. Snowden,” the man said as he paused in front of an open door. “The prince will be with you shortly.”
She nodded, then walked past him into a small sitting room. The furniture was Western, complete with a sofa, three chairs, a coffee table and a buffet along the far wall. A carafe of ice water and several glasses sat next to a phone on the buffet. She walked over and helped herself to the refreshment.
As she drank she looked around the room and shook her head. How like Murat to have a stranger bring his prospective bride to a room and then drop her off. If Brittany had been here, the teenager would have been terrified by now. The least he could have done was to have sent a woman and then have her keep Brittany company.
But she wasn’t Brittany, Daphne reminded herself. Nor was she afraid. Ten years had given her a lot of experience and perspective. Murat might be expecting a young, malleable bride who would bow to his every wish and quiver with fear at the thought of displeasing him, but what he was getting instead was a very different matter.
Footsteps sounded in the hallway. She set down the glass and squared her shoulders. Seconds later the prince from her past strolled into the room.
He still moved with an easy grace of one “to the manor born,” she thought as she took in his powerful body and elegant suit. And he was still a formidable opponent, she reminded herself as he stopped and stared at her.
Not by a flicker of a lash did he indicate he was the least bit surprised.
“Daphne,” the crown prince said with a slight smile. “You have returned at last.”
“I know you weren’t expecting me,” she said. “But Brittany couldn’t make it.”
He raised one dark eyebrow. “Has she been taken ill?”
“No. She simply came to her senses. Even as we speak, she’s on a plane back to the United States. There isn’t going to be a wedding.” She thought maybe she’d been a bit abrupt, so she added a somewhat insincere, “I’m sorry.”
“Yes, I can feel your compassion from here,” Murat said as he crossed to the buffet and picked up the phone. He dialed four numbers, then spoke. “The airport. Flight control.”
He waited a few seconds, then spoke again. “My plane?”
She watched while he listened. It was possible a muscle tightened in his jaw, but she couldn’t be sure. He had to be feeling something, she told herself. Or maybe not. Ten years ago he’d let her go without a word. Why should this runaway bride matter?
He hung up the phone and turned back to her. “I assume you had something to do with Brittany’s decision.”
He wasn’t asking a question, but she answered it all the same. “Of course. It was madness. I can’t imagine what you were thinking. She’s barely eighteen, Murat. Still a child. If you’re so desperate for a bride, at least pick someone who is close to being an equal.”
For the first time since he walked into the room, he showed emotion, and it wasn’t a happy one. Temper drew his eyebrows together.
“You insult me with both your familiarity and your assumption.”
She winced silently. Of course. She’d called him by his first name. “I apologize for not using the proper title.”
“And the other?”
“I’ll do whatever is necessary to keep Brittany safe from you.”
“Just because you were not interested in being my wife doesn’t mean that others feel the same way.”
“I agree completely. There is a world filled with willing young women. Have them all—I don’t care. But you’re not marrying my niece.”
Instead of answering her, he pulled a small device out of his pocket. It was about the size of a key fob. Seconds later a half dozen armed guards burst into the room and surrounded Daphne. Two of them grabbed her by the arms.
She was too stunned to protest.
“What are you doing?” she demanded.
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