The Sheik and the Bride Who Said No(Desert Rogues, Book 9)(24) by Susan Mallery
He looked at her. “Do you?”
She remembered those long-ago desert rides. The scent of the fresh air, the movement of the horse, and the beauty all around her.
“I do, but I hate that you assume you know best.”
“I do know best. Now return to the harem and change your clothes. I’ll meet you downstairs in thirty minutes.”
“Does this mean I’m allowed to roam freely about the palace?”
He grinned. “Not even on a bet.”
Daphne settled into the saddle and breathed in the fresh air. She’d been spending plenty of time outdoors in the harem garden but for some reason, everything seemed better, brighter now that she was sitting on a horse about to ride into the desert on a great adventure. Or to the nearest oasis, whichever came first.
There were a thousand reasons to still be angry with Murat—not the least was the man continued to hold her prisoner and insist they were to be married. Somehow none of that mattered anymore. At least not right now. She wanted to ride fast and feel the wind in her hair. She wanted to spin in circles on the sand, her arms outstretched, until she was too dizzy to stand. She wanted to drink cool, clear water from an underground spring and taste life. Then she would be mad at him again.
“Ready?” he asked.
She nodded as she pulled her hat lower over her forehead. All the sunscreen in the world couldn’t completely protect her fair skin. So to keep herself from reaching the crone years too early, she’d worn a loose fitting, long-sleeved white shirt and a hat. Beside her, Murat looked handsome and timeless in his black riding pants and tailored white shirt. His black stallion was so large and difficult to manage as to be a cliché. Her own mount, a gray gelding of particularly fine build, also danced impatiently but with a little more restraint.
“When did you last ride?” Murat asked, as he urged his horse forward. The stallion leaped ahead several feet before agreeing to a more sedate walk.
“A couple of months ago. I usually go regularly, but I’ve been caught up with work.”
“Then we will take things easily. This is unfamiliar country.”
She glanced at him from under her lashes. “I don’t mind if we go fast.”
He grinned. “Of course you don’t. But we will wait until you find your seat again.”
She wanted to point out that she hadn’t lost it in the first place—it was where it had always been. But she knew what he meant. That she had to get comfortable on her horse. So she contented herself with enjoying the scenery.
The royal stable sat on the edge of the desert, about a forty-minute drive from the PinkPalace. Daphne knew she could happily spend her life there, studying blood-lines and planning future generations of amazing Arabian horses. Not that she wanted Murat to know. He had too much power already—he didn’t need to discover more of her weaknesses.
She glanced around as the last bits of civilization gave way to the wildness of the desert. When their horses stepped onto sand, she couldn’t help laughing out loud.
“Whatever you thought about me,” Murat said. “You always loved Bahania.”
“You should have returned for a visit.”
“Somehow that didn’t seem exactly wise.”
“Did you think I would make things difficult?”
She wasn’t sure how to answer that. If she said yes, it implied that he had cared for her after she left and she didn’t think that was true. If she said no, she risked going in the opposite direction and she didn’t think Murat would like that. As a rule, she didn’t much care about what he liked, but this afternoon was different. For once, she didn’t want to fight.
“I thought it might make things awkward,” she admitted.
“That is a possibility,” he said, surprising her. “But it is sad that you could not see this for so long.”
She glanced around at the beauty of the desert and had to agree. She loved the rolling hills that gave way to vast stretches of emptiness. She loved the tiny creatures who managed to thrive in such harsh surroundings. Most of all she loved coming upon an oasis—a gift from God plopped down in the middle of nothing.
“You can taste the history out here,” she said, thinking of all the generations who had walked this exact path and seen these same sights.
“We are closer to the past in the desert. I can feel my heritage all around me.”
She grinned. “You come from a long line of men compelled to steal or kidnap their brides. Why is that? Are you all genetically unable to woo women in a normal way?”
He made a noise low in his throat. Daphne grinned.
“I’m serious,” she said.
“No, you are tweaking the tiger’s tail. Take care that he doesn’t turn on you and gobble you up.”
As Murat wasn’t an actual tiger, she didn’t have to worry about being eaten.
Instead his words painted a picture of a different kind of devouring…one that involved bodies and touching and exquisite feelings of passion and surrender.
A dull ache settled in her stomach, making her shift on the saddle. Probably best not to think about that sort of thing, she told herself. Under the circumstances, sleeping with Murat would be a disaster. He would take her sexual surrender as a resounding “yes” on the marriage front.
But she couldn’t help wondering what he would be like in bed. So far his kisses had reduced her to a quivering mass. Ten years ago she’d been too innocent and out of her element to be much more than intimidated by the obvious sexual experience of the man. Now she found herself wanting to sign up for a weekend seminar on the subject.
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