The Sheik and the Bride Who Said No(Desert Rogues, Book 9)(41) by Susan Mallery
His gaze narrowed. “You mock my sincerity.”
“You ignore my deepest and most sincere wishes.”
“I have not tried to bribe you.”
She couldn’t help laughing. “And that’s a good thing?”
“I knew you would not approve. Nor would jewels and money influence your decision.”
“You’re right about that.” How could he know her so well on the one hand and be such a jerk on the other? “You’re very complicated.”
He smiled. “Thank you.”
“I’m not sure it’s a compliment.”
“Of course it is. You will not be bored with me.”
That was true. “We’d fight a lot.”
“Passion is healthy.”
“Too much anger can chip away at the foundation of a relationship.”
“I would not allow that to happen.”
“You don’t always get to choose.”
“Of course I do. I am—”
She cut him off with a wave of her hand. “Yeah, yeah. Crown prince. Blah, blah, blah. You need some new material.”
He stared at her with the shocked expression of a man hearing words from the mouth of a beetle. Both dark eyebrows raised, his mouth parted and she half expected him to stick his finger in his ear and jiggle it around.
“You dare to speak to me that way?”
“What’s the problem. I am, for the moment at least, your wife. If I don’t, who will?”
“No one. It is not permitted.”
“Murat, you seem to be a pretty decent ruler, but you really have to get over yourself.”
She half expected him to call down thunder onto her. Instead he stared at her for a long moment, then tossed his head back and began to laugh.
The sound delighted her, even as she realized she’d never heard it before. Oh, he’d laughed, but not like this—unrestrained, uncontrolled. He was not a man who allowed himself to be taken off guard very often.
In that moment she knew she could make a difference for him. She could be the person he trusted above all others, the person he depended upon. She could ease his burden, give him a safe place to rest.
Need filled her. All her life she had longed to be a part of something. She’d always felt out of step with her family, and since leaving home, she’d never found anyone to love that completely. With Murat…
He was a man who took what he wanted. She thought of all the dates she’d had with guys who didn’t bother to call when they said they would or who were too intimidated by her family to want a relationship with her. Men who hadn’t been strong.
Murat was too strong. They had been too weak. Was there any comfortable place in the middle? And if she had to choose one or the other, which was best?
Strength, she decided. Perhaps there was something to be said for a prince of the desert.
“What do you think?” Murat asked as he passed her a bowl filled with a spicy grain dish.
Daphne smiled. “It’s amazing. I feel as if I’m in the middle of a giant movie.”
A sea of tents surrounded them. Twilight approached, and in the growing dark, campfires stretched out toward the horizon. The last rays of the sun danced off the dozens of banners flying from tall poles.
Scents of a thousand meals prepared on open flames blended with perfumes and oils and the clean smell of fresh straw.
She and Murat dined alone. The guards were always there, ever-present shadows who watched for danger. Yet she felt comfortable and at peace. Should the unlikely occur and someone try to attack Murat, the intruder would be laid low long before he reached the center of the camp. The desert tribes were both fierce and loyal.
“While silence is often welcome in a woman,” he said, “in your case it troubles me. What are you plotting?”
“I’m thinking about your people. They have a long and proud history.”
“It is true. Many have sought to invade our land and none have succeeded. Now we have an air force to protect us from the skies.” He picked up his glass of wine.
“Why do I know you care more for the fate of my people than you care for me?”
“Because it’s true,” she said cheerfully before biting into a piece of chicken.
“You think you can say anything to me.”
“Pretty much.” She reached for her napkin. “What are you going to do to me? I’m the future queen. You can’t really lock me up.”
“There are other forms of punishment.”
He spoke the words in a low voice that grated against her skin like burned velvet.
“Cheap threats,” she told him. “I am the future queen. You must honor me.”
“I already do.”
“Not enough to admit you were sincerely wrong to hold me prisoner and marry me against my will.”
“Perhaps we could put that behind us and move forward.”
She glanced up toward the stars. “Oh, look. There’s a flying camel.”
He growled. “You mock me.”
“I’m telling you what it will take for me to forgive and forget. It won’t happen without you accepting your part in what you did.”
“We will speak of something else.”
“I had a feeling you’d say that.” She reached for another piece of chicken.
The night was cool but pleasant. Murat sat across from her, looking completely at home in the primitive surroundings.
“Did you come out here much when you were younger?” she asked.
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