The Sheik and the Bride Who Said No(Desert Rogues, Book 9)(19) by Susan Mallery
She stiffened her spine and drew in a breath. “Your Majesty, I mean no disrespect, but the problem isn’t finding the right staff. The problem is I am
not going to marry Murat, and there is nothing anyone can say to convince me otherwise.”
She’d thought the monarch might be surprised, but he only chuckled. “Ah, two stubborn people. So who will win this battle?”
“I will. It is the old story of the rabbit and the hound. The rabbit gets away because while the hound runs for its supper, the rabbit runs for its life.”
“An interesting point.” The king took her hand again and lightly squeezed her fingers. “I have often wondered how things would have been different if you had stayed and married Murat. Have you?”
“No.” Well, maybe a little, but she wasn’t interested in admitting it. “I wasn’t ready to be married. I was too young, as was your son. The position of his wife requires much, and I’m not sure I would have been up to the task.”
“Perhaps. There are many responsibilities in being queen, although your questions and self-doubts make me think you would have done well in the position. He never married.”
Daphne drew her hand from his and laced her fingers together on her lap. “Murat? I’m aware of that. Had he married I would not currently be a prisoner in the harem.”
“You know that is not my point,” Hassan said humorously. “You never married, either.”
“I’ve been busy with my studies and establishing my career.”
“It is not much of an excuse. Perhaps each of you were waiting for the other to make the first move.”
Daphne nearly sprang to her feet. At the last second she remembered that action would be a fairly serious breach of protocol. “I assure you that is not even close to true. Murat has enjoyed the company of so many beautiful women, I doubt he remembers them all, let alone a young woman from a decade ago.”
“And now?” the king asked.
“We barely know each other.”
“An excellent point. Perhaps this is a good time to change that.” The king rose.
“Murat wants this wedding, Daphne, as do your parents. As do I. Are you willing to take on the world?”
She stood and tried not to give in to the sudden rush of fear. “If I have to.”
“Perhaps it would be easier to give in graciously. Would marriage to Murat be so horrible?”
“Yes. I think it would be.” She bit her lower lip. “Your Majesty, would you really force me to marry your son against my will?”
His dark eyes never wavered as he spoke. “If I have to.”
Murat found Daphne in the garden. The sun had nearly slipped below the horizon, and the first whispers of the cool evening air whispered against his face.
She sat on a stone bench, her shoulders slumped, her chin nearly touching her chest. The only word that came to his mind at that moment was…broken.
He hurried forward and pulled her to her feet. She gasped in surprise, but didn’t resist until he tried to draw her close.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded, twisting free of his embrace.
She glared at him. “You’re the source of my troubles, not the relief from them.”
“I’m all you have.”
She took a step back. “What a sorry state of affairs. What on earth does that sentence say about my life?”
“That at least there is one person on your side.”
Little light spilled into the garden, but there was enough for him to see her beautiful features. Her wide eyes had darkened with pain and confusion. Her full lips trembled. It was as if the weight of the world pressed down upon her, and he ached for her.
“Come,” he said, holding out his arms. “You’ll feel better.”
“Maybe I don’t want to,” she said stubbornly, even as she moved forward and leaned against him.
He wrapped his arms around her. She was slight, so delicate and yet so strong.
She smelled of flowers and soap and of herself. That arousing fragrance he had never been able to forget.
Wanting filled him, but something else, as well. Something that made this moment feel right.
He felt her hands on his back, and she rested her forehead against his shoulder.
“No one will help me,” she said. “I’ve been making phone calls for nearly two hours. Not my family—which isn’t a big surprise—nor any of my friends. I even called my congressman. Everyone thinks us getting married is a fine idea. They refused to believe that I’m being held against my will, and they all hinted for an invitation to the wedding.”
“Then you may add them to the list.”
She raised her head. Tears glittered in her eyes. “That’s not what I wanted to hear.”
He knew what she wanted him to say, but he would not speak the words. To set her free…it would not happen.
“You will enjoy being queen,” he said. “There is much power in the position.”
“I’ve never been that interested in power.”
“You’ve never had it before.”
“Murat, you know this is wrong.”
“Why? You are to marry me, Crown Prince Murat. It is not as if you’re being asked to wed a used-camel dealer.”
She gave a half laugh, half sob and pushed away from him. The tears had trickled down her face. He wiped them away with his fingers.
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