The Sheik and the Bride Who Said No(Desert Rogues, Book 9)(14) by Susan Mallery
“I know. She got it in her head that Brittany would be the one for Murat.
Honestly, the girl is lovely and will make a fine marriage in time, but she’s just too young. There are responsibilities that come with being queen, and she simply wasn’t ready.” Her mother laughed. “Queen. I like the sound of that. My daughter, the queen. My sweet baby girl. All right, I’m going to run, but I’ll call soon. You must be so very happy. This is wonderful, Daphne. Truly wonderful.”
With that her mother hung up. Daphne replaced the receiver and did her best not to react in any way. Sure, her eyes burned and her body felt tense and sore, but she would get over it. She always did.
“Your parents?” Murat asked from his place at the table behind her.
She nodded. “My mother. My sister called and spoke with her. She’s d-delighted.”
The crack in her voice made her stiffen. No way was she going to give in to the emotion pulsing through her.
“She wants details about the wedding as soon as possible. So she can rearrange their travel schedule.”
“You did not tell her there wouldn’t be a wedding.”
Because it had been too hard to speak. Because if she tried, she would give in to the pain and once that dam broke, there was no putting it together.
“Don’t think that means I’ve accepted the engagement,” she whispered.
“Not for a second.”
She heard footsteps, then Murat’s hands clasped her arms and he turned her toward him. Understanding darkened his eyes.
She was so unused to seeing any readable emotion in his gaze that she couldn’t seem to react. Which meant she didn’t protest when he pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her. Suddenly she was pressing against him, her head on his shoulder and the protective warmth of his body surrounding her.
“You can’t do this,” she said, her voice muffled against his suit jacket. “I hate you.”
“I know you do, but right now there isn’t anyone else.” He stroked her hair.
“Come now. Tell me what troubles you.”
She shook her head. To speak of it would hurt too much.
“It’s your mother,” he murmured. “She said she was happy about the engagement.
Your family has always been ambitious. In some ways a king for a son-in-law is even better than a president.”
“I know.” She wrapped her arms around his waist and hung on as hard as she could. “It’s horrible. She’s horrible. She said she was proud of me. That’s the first time she’s ever said that. Because I’ve always been a disappointment.”
The hurt of a decade of indifference from her family swept through her. “Nobody came to my college graduation. Did you know that? They were all still angry because I’d refused to marry you. And they hated that I became a vet. No one even acknowledged my finishing school and going to work. My mother didn’t say a word in the Christmas newsletter. She didn’t mention me at all. It’s as if by not marrying well, I’d ceased to exist.”
She felt the light brush of his lips on her head. “I am sorry.”
She sniffed. “I’m only their child when I do what they want. I was afraid it would be the same for Brittany. I wanted her to be happy and strong so I tried to let her know that I loved her no matter what. That my love wasn’t conditional on her marrying the right man.”
“I’m sure she knows how much you care.”
“I hope so. Laurel said she would be heartbroken.”
Murat chuckled. “Not to marry a man twice her age whom she has never met? I suspect you raised her better than that.”
“What?” She lifted her head and stared at him. They were far closer than she’d realized, which was really stupid—what with her being in his arms and all.
“I didn’t raise her,” she said. “She’s not my daughter.”
It was what she’d always believed in her heart but never spoken of. Not to anyone. How could Murat grasp that personal truth so easily?
“I know all about expectations,” he said, lightly tracing the curve of her cheek. “There was not a single day I was allowed to forget my responsibilities.”
Which made sense. “I guess when you’re going to grow up and be king, you aren’t supposed to make as many mistakes as the rest of us.”
“Exactly. So I understand about having to do what others want, even when that means not doing what is in your heart.”
“Except I wasn’t willing to do that,” she reminded him. “I did what I wanted and they punished me. Not just my parents, but my sisters, too. I ceased to exist.”
His dark gaze held her captive. She liked being held by him, which was crazy, because he was the enemy. Only, right this second, he didn’t seem so bad.
“You exist to me,” he said.
If only that were true. Reluctantly she pushed away and stood on her own.
“I don’t,” she said. “I have no idea what your engagement game is about, but I know it’s not about me.”
“How can you say that? You’re the one I’ve chosen.”
“Why?” she asked. “I think you’re being stubborn and difficult. You don’t care about me. You never did.”
He frowned. “How can you say that? Ten years ago I asked you to marry me.”
“What does that have to do with anything? If you’d really loved me, you wouldn’t have let me go. But you didn’t care when I left. I walked away and you never once came after me to find out why.”
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