The Sheik and the Bride Who Said No(Desert Rogues, Book 9)(8) by Susan Mallery
They touched glasses, then sipped their champagne. Murat motioned to one of the large sofas and waited until she was seated before joining her on the overstuffed furniture.
“You are comfortable here?” he asked.
“Aside from the whole idea of being kept against my will, pretty much.” She set down the glass and sighed. “Okay. Honestly, the harem is beautiful. I plan to do some serious exploring while I’m here.”
“My sister, Sabrina, is an expert on antiquities and our history. Would you like me to have her visit?”
Daphne laughed. “My own private lecture circuit? I’m sure your sister has better things to do with her life.”
“Than serve me?”
He spoke teasingly, but she knew there was truth behind the humor. Murat had been raised to believe he was the center of the universe. She supposed that came with being the future king.
He sat angled toward her, his hand-tailored suit emphasizing the strength in his powerful body. Ten years ago he’d been the most handsome man she’d ever met. And now…She sighed. Not that much had changed.
“Did you get a chance to see much of the city as you drove in?” he asked.
“Just the view from the highway. I was pretty intent on getting to the palace.”
“Ah, yes. So you could defy me at every turn. There are many new buildings in our financial district.”
“I noticed those. The city is growing.”
He nodded. “We seek success in the future without losing what is precious to us from our past. It is an act of balance.”
She picked up her glass of champagne and took a sip. The cool, bubbly liquid tickled her tongue. “There have been other changes since I was last here,” she said. “Your brothers have married.”
“That is true. All to American women. There have been many editorials in the papers about why that is, although the consensus among the people is new blood will improve the lineage of the royal family.”
“That must make the women in question feel really special.”
He leaned back against the sofa. “Why would they not be pleased to improve the gene pool of such a noble family?”
“Few women fantasize about being a good brood mare.”
He shook his head. “Why do you always want to twist things around to make me look bad? All my sisters-in-law are delightful women who are blissfully happy with their chosen mates. Cleo and Emma have given birth in the past year. Billie is newly pregnant. They are catered to by devoted husbands and do not want for anything.”
He painted a picture that made her feel funny inside. Not sad, exactly.
Just…envious. She’d always wanted a guy who would love her with his whole heart, but somehow she’d never seemed to find him.
“You’re right,” she said. “Everyone seems perfectly happy. You remain the last single prince.”
He grimaced. “A point pressed home to me on a daily basis.”
“Getting a little pressure to marry and produce heirs?”
“You have no idea.”
“Then we should talk about Brittany and why that would never work.”
His gaze lingered on her face. “You are a difficult and stubborn woman.”
“So you keep saying.”
“We will discuss your niece when I decide it is time.”
“You don’t get to choose,” she told him.
“Of course I do. And you do not wish to speak of her right now. You wish to tell me all about yourself. What you have been doing since we last met. You want to impress me.”
“I do not.”
He raised one eyebrow and waited. She shifted in her seat. Okay, yes, maybe she wouldn’t mind knocking his socks off with her accomplishments, but she didn’t like that he’d guessed.
“Come, Daphne,” he said, moving closer and focusing all of his considerable attention on her. “Tell me everything. Did you finish college? What have you been doing?” He picked up her left hand and examined the bare fingers. “I see you have not given your heart to anyone.”
She didn’t like the assessment, nor did she appreciate the tingles that rippled up from her hand to her arm. He’d always been able to do that—reduce her to pudding with a single touch. Why couldn’t that have changed? Why couldn’t time away have made her immune?
“I’m not engaged, if that’s what you mean,” she said. “I’m not willing to discuss the state of my heart with you. It’s none of your business.”
“As you wish. Tell me about college.”
She clutched her champagne in her right hand and thought about swallowing the whole thing in one big gulp. It might provide her with a false sense of courage, which was better than no courage at all.
“I completed my degree as planned, then went on to become a veterinarian.”
He looked two parts delighted, one part surprised. “Good for you. You enjoy the work?”
“Very much. Until recently I’ve been with a large practice in Chicago. My first two years with them I spent summers in Indiana, working on a dairy farm.”
She couldn’t remember ever really shocking Murat before, so now she allowed herself to enjoy his expression of astonishment. “Delivering calves?”
“It is not seemly.”
She laughed. “It was my job. I loved it. But lately I’ve been working with small animals. Dogs, cats, birds. The usual.” She took another sip and smiled. “If your father needs any help with the cats he should let me know.”
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