The Sheik and the Bride Who Said No(Desert Rogues, Book 9)(15) by Susan Mallery
Murat left Daphne and returned to his office. But despite the meeting he was supposed to attend, he told his assistant not to bother him and closed his door.
The space was large and open, as befitted the crown prince of such a wealthy nation. The conversation area of three sofas sat by several tall windows and the conference table easily seated sixteen.
Murat ignored it all as he crossed to the balcony overlooking a private garden and stepped outside. The spring air hinted at the heat to come. He ignored it and the call of the birds. Instead he stared into the distance as he wrestled with the past.
How like a woman, he thought. She questioned why he had not gone after her when she had been the one to leave him. Why would he want to follow such a woman? Besides, even if the thought had occurred to him—which it had not—it wasn’t his
place. If she wished them to be in contact, then she should come crawling back, begging forgiveness for having left in the first place.
She should know all of this. She came from a family familiar with power and how the world worked. He had known that they favored the match, and he was willing to admit he had been surprised she would stand against them.
Murat turned his back on the view but did not enter his office. The past flashed before him—a tableau of what had been. His father had told him she left. The king had come to him full of plans of how they would go after her and bring her back, but Murat had refused. He would not chase her around the world. If Daphne wanted to be gone, then let her. She had been a mere woman. Easy to replace.
Now, with the wisdom of hindsight, he admitted to himself that she had been different from anyone he had ever known. As for replacing her…that had never occurred. He had met other women, bedded them, been interested and intrigued.
But he had never been willing to marry any of them.
He knew he should wonder why. What was it about her that had made her stand out? Not her great beauty. She was attractive and sensual, but he had known women who seemed more goddess than human. Not her intelligence. While hers was better than average, he had dated women whose comprehension of technical and scientific matters had left him speechless.
She was funny and charming, but he had known those with more of those qualities.
So what combination of traits had made him willing to marry her and not another?
As he walked back into his office, he remembered what it had been like after she had left. He hadn’t allowed himself to mourn her. No one had been permitted to speak her name. For him, it was as if she had never been.
And now she had returned and they would marry. In time she would see that was right. She might always argue with him, but she knew who was in charge.
He moved to his desk and took a seat. In a locked drawer sat a red leather box that contained the official seal of his office. He opened that box and removed the seal, then moved aside the silk lining. Tucked in the bottom, in between folds of protective padding, lay a diamond ring.
The stone had been given by a Bahanian king to his favorite mistress in 1685. He had been loyal to her for nearly thirty years and when his queen died, he married his mistress. Many told the story of how the ring had saved the mistress’s life more than once, as other jealous women in the harem sought to do her harm. The stone was said to possess magical powers to heal and evoke love.
Of all the diamonds in the royal family’s possession, this had been the one Murat had chosen for Daphne and the one she had left behind when she’d gone. He picked it up now and studied the carefully cut stone.
Such a small thing, he thought. Barely three carats. He’d been a fool to think it contained any magic at all.
He returned the ring to its hiding place, replaced the seal, then put the box back in the drawer and locked it. Later that afternoon the royal jeweler would offer a selection of rings for Murat’s consideration. He would choose another one for Daphne. A stone without history or meaning. Or magic.
Daphne spent the morning considering her options. Murat had left in a huff without saying much to make her feel any better. He refused to admit there wasn’t going to be a wedding, nor had he told her how her sister and the newspaper had found out so quickly. Obviously, he was to blame, but why wouldn’t he just say so?
As she walked through the garden she told herself that an unexpected engagement certainly put things in perspective. Twenty-four hours ago her biggest concern had been how long he would keep her trapped in the harem. She’d been sure he would want to make his point—that she’d defied him and had to be punished in some way—but she’d looked at it as an unexpected vacation in a place not of her choosing. Now everything was different.
She wanted to tell herself that he couldn’t possibly marry her without her permission, only she didn’t know if that was true. Murat was determined and obviously sneaky. Should anyone be able to pull that off—he was the guy. She was going to have to stay on her toes and prevent the wedding from happening.
Finding herself married to him would be a disaster of monumental proportions.
Getting out of this engagement was going to be difficult enough.
She needed a plan. Which meant she needed more information. But how to get it?
“Hello? Anybody home?”
Daphne turned toward the sound of the female voice. None of the servants would address her that way. Not after they knew about the engagement. To be honest, none of the servants had addressed her at all—it was as if they’d been told to avoid conversation.
She hurried back into the harem.
“Hello,” she said as she stepped into the large, cool main room.
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