The Sheik and the Bride Who Said No(Desert Rogues, Book 9)(28) by Susan Mallery
“You are not a virgin.”
The unexpected statement nearly didn’t register. Daphne pushed herself up on one elbow and stared at him.
“You are not a virgin.”
She laughed. “Murat, I’m thirty. What did you think?”
“That you would not give yourself away so easily.”
Her warm, fuzzy feelings began to fade. “You’re judging me?”
He put his free hand behind his head and regarded her thoughtfully. “Even though we were engaged ten years ago, I never touched you. You left here as innocent as you arrived.”
“So tell me the name of the man who has defiled you, and I will have him tortured and beheaded.”
She started to laugh, then realized he wasn’t kidding. There was some definite rage bubbling under the surface.
She sat up and stared at him. “Wait a minute. You’re serious.”
“That’s crazy. You can’t kill every man I’ve slept with.”
He frowned. “How many have there been?”
“How many women have you slept with in the past ten years?”
“That is not your concern.”
“My answer exactly.”
“Your situation is completely different. You are a woman. Men took advantage of you. Tell me who they are.”
“You belong in the DarkAges,” she said as she scrambled to her feet and grabbed for her panties. She pulled them on, then found her bra and put that on as well.
“You’re also making me crazy,” she continued as she glared down at him. “I am a modern woman and have lived a relatively quiet life. Yes, there have been a few men, but I was careful about whom I chose, and no one ever took advantage of me.” She threw up her hands. “Why am I explaining myself to you?”
“Because you feel bad about what happened.”
“I didn’t before, but I’m starting to now.”
“I don’t mean here,” he said as he sat up. “Those other men…”
“Are none of your business.” She stepped into her jeans. “You’re acting like an idiot. Worse, you’re acting like a sexist pig and that’s even more unforgivable.”
“I care about you. I want to look after you.”
She picked up her shirt and slipped into it. “I don’t need looking after. I’ve been fine for years. As for the men I slept with, I will never tell you their names. I don’t want or need your protection.”
Murat stood. She hated how good he looked naked and the way her body responded.
Get a grip, she told herself. He was nothing but trouble. Stupid, sexist trouble. To think she’d actually been attracted to him!
While he collected his clothes, she pulled on her socks and boots.
“You’re even worse than I thought,” she said when she’d finished. “I don’t care how good the sex is, I wouldn’t marry you if the entire fate of the human race depended on it. There is nothing you can ever say or do to get me to change my mind.”
He paused in the act of shrugging into his shirt. “I am Crown Prince Murat of—”
“You know what? I’ve heard the speech dozens of times and I’m not impressed. Not by it or you.” She glared at him. “You want to know why I left you ten years ago? It’s because you couldn’t see past who you were enough to notice me. You didn’t love me. You barely cared about me. I was just one more item on your royal to-do list. ‘Get married and produce heirs.’ Here’s a news flash, Your Highness. A woman needs to matter to the man she marries. She needs to be with someone who needs her. I wasn’t interested in marrying a man who thought of me as a mere woman.”
She spied her hat and quickly scooped it up. “I left because you’re just not good enough for me.”
Murat could not believe what Daphne had just said. How dare she say such things to him? But before he could voice his outrage, she walked away toward the horses, collected her mount and quickly swung into the saddle. When he realized she intended to ride off without him, he grabbed his boots.
“Stop. You don’t know the way.”
She didn’t bother answering or even looking back. Instead she gave the animal its head and took off at a canter.
“Damn her stubbornness,” he muttered as he quickly pulled on his boots.
Still buttoning his shirt, he hurried to his horse and went after her.
But her head start and her mount’s speed meant it would be several minutes before Murat could catch up with her. By then she had already turned toward the east and the rocky part of the desert.
“Do not go there,” Murat yelled into the wind. “Stay on the path.”
But Daphne either could not hear or chose not to listen. Instead of staying on the marked dirt road cut into the desert, she headed directly toward the stables in what she most likely thought would be a quicker route back.
His heart rate increased, and it had nothing to do with the speed of his horse.
Instead he watched and worried until fear turned to horror as Daphne’s horse came to a sudden stop and she went flying over its head and landed heavily on the hard, stony ground.
Murat lived an eternity in hell, with time crawling as he raced toward Daphne.
He fumbled for his security beacon and pressed it in rapid, frantic movements, signaling an emergency. It seemed that days passed, weeks, until he could vault off his horse and crouch down beside her.
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