The Sheik and the Bride Who Said No(Desert Rogues, Book 9)(25) by Susan Mallery
Next time, she promised herself. When her future and her freedom weren’t on the line.
“Those marriages you mentioned may have started in violence, but they all ended happily.”
She glanced at him. “You know this how?”
“There are letters and diaries.”
“I’d like to read them sometime,” she said. “Not that I don’t trust you to tell me the truth…” She smiled. “Well, I don’t, actually.”
“You think I would lie?”
“I think you would stretch the truth if it suited your purpose.”
He muttered something she couldn’t hear. “How do you explain a relationship that lasts thirty or forty years and produces so many children?”
“Women don’t have to be happy to get pregnant.”
“I will give you the diaries,” he said. “You will see for yourself that you misjudge my ancestors as much as you misjudge me. Are you ready to go faster?”
The quick change in subject caught her unaware, but she immediately nodded her agreement.
“I’m fine,” she said. “Lead the way.”
He nodded then urged his horse forward. The powerful stallion leaped from walking to a gallop. Her horse followed.
Daphne leaned forward into the powerful gait. The ground seemed to blur as they raced across the open area. She wanted to laugh from the pleasure of the moment.
Pure freedom, she thought, wishing there was more of this in her regular life.
But her rides were sedate, on trails in well-known areas. There was little left to discover outside of Chicago.
Unlike here, where the desert kept secrets for thousands of years. While she could trace her family history back to the early 1700s, Murat could trace his for a millennium.
His name would be carved in the walls of the palace. His likeness stored, his life remembered. He had offered all that to her, as well. The privilege of being a part of Bahanian history. Her body could have been the safe haven of future kings yet to be born.
They sped across the desert for several miles. At last Murat slowed his mount and hers followed suit.
“We will walk them now,” he said. “Allow them to cool down. We are close to the oasis.”
She nodded, still caught up in her thoughts. What would it be like to be a part of something this amazing? Ten years ago she’d never considered all that he offered. Lately it seemed she could think of nothing else.
“The light is gone from your eyes,” he said. “What troubles you?”
“I’m not troubled, just thoughtful.”
“Tell me what you have on your mind.”
She looked at him, at his handsome, chiseled face, at the power in his body and the authority he wore like a second skin.
“You are Crown Prince Murat of Bahania,” she said. “You will one day rule all that we see and miles beyond. You come from a history that stretches back through the ages to a time when my ancestors lived in huts and shivered through the winter. Why on earth would you choose me to share all this? Why me? Why not someone else?”
Murat didn’t look at her. Instead he stared straight ahead. There was no way to tell what he was thinking.
“The oasis is just up there,” he said, pointing to the right. “Over that dune.”
“You’re not going to answer my question?”
She wanted to push him for the truth, but at the same time, felt a reluctance to do so. There were many things she didn’t want to discuss, including the fact—which he’d already pointed out—that when she’d burst free of the harem, instead of heading out of the palace, she’d run directly to the man holding her prisoner. Talk about a mixed message.
They rode in silence until they reached the oasis. Daphne stared at the small refuge in the desert, taking in the cluster of palm and date trees, the clear blue water gently lapping against the grass-covered shore and the bushes that seemed to provide a screen of privacy.
“Lovely,” she said as she dismounted and pulled off her hat.
“I am glad you are pleased.”
“Oh, yeah, because my pleasure makes your day.”
She meant the comment as flip and teasing, but Murat didn’t smile.
“Perhaps it does,” he said. “Perhaps that is what you don’t understand.”
Before she could absorb what he’d just said, let alone think up a response, he led his horse over to a patch of shade. “We will rest here before heading back.”
She followed. When he stopped, she turned to her horse and began stroking the animal’s neck.
“Good, strong boy,” she murmured as she examined the shoulder muscles, then bent down to run her hands along the well-formed front legs.
“I assure you I have a most capable staff in my stable,” Murat said.
She straightened. “Oh. Sorry. Occupational hazard. I can’t help checking.” She patted the horse’s side. “He’s in great shape. Just like the cats back at the palace.”
“I will be sure to pass along your compliments,” Murat said dryly.
She loosely tied the horse to a tree, then joined Murat as he walked toward the water.
“It’s quiet,” she said.
“Yes. That is why I enjoy coming here.”
She glanced around. “No guards?”
“This area is patrolled regularly, but at the moment we are alone.” He glanced at her. “If you wish to kill me, now is the time.”
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