The Sheik and the Bride Who Said No(Desert Rogues, Book 9)(33) by Susan Mallery
They sat across from each other. A pretty baby stood between them.
“You are so very clever,” the king said with obvious delight. “Come to Grandpa.
You can do it.”
The baby, dressed in pink from the bows in her fine hair down to the hearts on her tiny laces, laughed and toddled toward the king. He caught her and swept her up in the air.
“Ah, Calah, I had not thought to find love at this stage in my life, but you have truly stolen my heart.” He kissed her cheek.
Cleo grinned. “I’ll bet you say that to all the grandkids.”
“Of course. Because it is true.”
Daphne didn’t know what to do. While she had business with the king, she didn’t want to interrupt such a private family moment. She felt a twinge of longing for the connection the king had with his daughter-in-law. Cleo might have come from ordinary circumstances, but no one held that against her. Funny how a girl who grew up in foster care and worked in a copy shop could go on to marry a prince and be accepted by all involved, while Daphne had never been as welcome in her own family.
King Hassan looked up and saw her. “Daphne. You are looking well. Come.” He patted the bench. “Join us.”
She moved forward and greeted Cleo and her daughter. “She’s walking,” she said, touching Calah’s plump cheek and smiling.
The baby gurgled back.
“Barely,” Cleo said. “Which is okay with me. She’s a complete terror when she crawls. I can only imagine what will happen when she starts running everywhere.
I’m going to have to get one of those herding dogs to keep her out of trouble.”
The king shook his head. “You will dote on her as you always do. As will Sadik.”
“Probably.” Cleo bent down and collected Calah. “But right now we have to deal with a dirty diaper. See you later.”
Her exit was so quick and graceful, Daphne wondered if it had been planned in advance. Not that anyone would tell her. She seemed to be the last to know about almost everything.
“How are you?” the king asked as he turned toward Daphne and took one of her hands in his.
The right one, she noticed. Not the left one, now bare of the ring Murat had given her. She’d left that in her rooms.
“I’m feeling better physically,” she said. “Emotionally I’m still in a turmoil.”
She stared directly at the king. “Is he telling the truth? Did Murat really marry me while I was unconscious?”
“Yes, he did.”
It was as if all the air rushed out of her lungs. For a second she thought she might pass out.
“Are you all right?” King Hassan asked.
“Yes. I just…” Her last hope died. “I don’t understand why you allowed this to happen. What Murat did was wrong.”
“The crown prince cannot be wrong.”
Ah, so they were going to close ranks around her. “I don’t believe that, and I don’t think you believe it, either. He had no right to trap me into a marriage I don’t want. Neither of us will ever be happy. Surely you want more for your son.”
“I am confident you can work things out.”
She stared in the king’s handsome face. He was so much like his son—stubborn, determined to get his own way, and he held all the cards.
“I want an annulment,” she said quietly.
He patted the back of her hand. “Let us not speak of that. Instead, we will talk of the beauty of Bahania. If I remember correctly you enjoyed your time here.
Now you will be able to explore the wonders of our country. You can meet the people. I understand you have become a veterinarian. Practicing your chosen profession outside of the palace could present a problem, but we can work on that. Perhaps you could do some teaching. Also, I have enough cats to keep you busy.”
She felt as if she were sitting next to a wall. Nothing was getting through.
“Your Majesty, please. You have to help me.”
He smiled. “Daphne, I believe there is a reason you never married. It has been ten years since you left Bahania. Why, in all that time, did no other man claim your heart?”
“I never met the right man. I’ve been busy with my career and—” She stared at him. “It’s not because I’ve been pining for Murat.”
“So you say. He tells me much the same. But he never found anyone, either. Now you are together, as it was always meant to be.”
This wasn’t happening. “He trapped me. Tricked me. How can you approve of that?”
“Give it time. Get to know him. I think you’ll be happy with what you find.”
The hopelessness of the situation propelled her to her feet. “If you’ll excuse me,” she mumbled before turning and hurrying back toward the side door into the palace.
She felt broken from the inside out. No one would listen; no one would help. The tangled web of her circumstances would tug at her until she gave in and surrendered.
“Never,” she breathed. “I’ll be strong.”
She turned a corner and nearly ran into a young woman in a maid’s uniform.
“Oh, Your Highness. I was sent to look for you.” The woman smiled. “Your parents have called and wish to speak with you. If you will please follow me.”
No doubt her parents had learned about the marriage. They wouldn’t care about the circumstances, she thought glumly.
Sure enough, when she picked up the phone, her mother couldn’t stop gushing.
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