The Sheik and the Bride Who Said No(Desert Rogues, Book 9)(47) by Susan Mallery
She shrugged. “He has offered me in marriage to a man in our tribe. The man is very honorable and wealthy. Instead of my father having to provide me with a dowry, the man will pay him the price of five camels.”
This would be the part of the old-fashioned desert world Daphne didn’t like so much. “Is your potential fiancé much older?”
Aisha nodded. “He is nearly fifty and has many children older than me. He swears he loves me and I am to be his last wife, but…”
“You don’t love him.”
“I…” The girl swallowed. “I have given my heart to another,” she said in a whisper. “I know it’s wrong,” she added in a rush. “I have defied my father and dishonored my family. I know I should be punished. But marriage to someone so old seems harsh. Please, Princess Daphne, as the wife of the crown prince you are entitled to plead on my behalf. The prince will listen to you.”
Daphne thought about her own recent marriage and the circumstances involved.
“I’m not the right person to take this to the prince. You have to believe me.”
“You are my only hope.” Tears filled Aisha’s eyes. “I beg you.”
The girl reached for the gold bangles on her wrists. “Take my jewelry. Take everything I have.”
“No.” Daphne shook her head. “You don’t need to pay for my support. I…”
Now what? She felt bad for the girl, but would Murat give his new wife a fair hearing in these circumstances? He had said he took his responsibility very seriously. She would have to trust that…and him.
“I’ll do it,” she said. “Tell me what you want from the prince.”
Murat listened as the woman explained why she was entitled to have her dowry returned to her. Her case was strong and in the end, he agreed. The husband, who had only married her for her dowry, sputtered and complained, but Murat stared him down and he retreated. Murat spoke with the leaders of the woman’s tribe to make sure there would be no retribution and gave her permission to contact his office directly if his wishes weren’t followed out.
Next two men argued over the use of a small spring deep in the desert. Murat gave his ruling, then watched as a veiled woman approached. By the time she’d taken a second step, he knew it was Daphne.
Why did she seek him so publicly? To petition for her own freedom?
For a moment he considered the possibility. That she would seek to hold him to the fairness he claimed to offer all. A protest rose within him. There were no words, just the sense that she couldn’t leave. Then he remembered their night of lovemaking and the one that had occurred nearly three weeks before. She could not go until they were sure she was not with child. More than anyone, she understood the law of the land.
Relief quickly followed, allowing him to relax as she walked toward him. As she reached the dais, she bowed low, then flipped back her head covering to reveal her features. Many in the waiting crowd gasped.
“I seek justice at the hand of Crown Prince Murat,” she said, then frowned slightly. “You’re not surprised it’s me.”
“I recognized your walk.”
“I was covered.”
“A husband knows such things.”
Several of the women watching smiled.
He leaned forward. “Why do you seek my justice? For yourself?”
“No. For another. I call forward Aisha.”
A young woman no more than sixteen or seventeen moved next to Daphne. Murat held in a groan. He had a bad feeling he knew what had happened. The girl had approached Daphne and had told a sad story about being forced to marry someone she didn’t love. Daphne had agreed to petition on her behalf.
Murat looked at the teenager. “Why do you not petition for yourself?” he asked.
The girl, a beauty, with honey-colored skin and hair that hung to her waist, dropped her chin and stared at the ground. “My father forbade me to do so.”
Murat shifted back in his chair and waited. Sure enough, someone started pushing through the waiting throng. A man stepped forward and bowed low.
“Prince Murat, a thousand blessings on you and your family.”
Murat didn’t speak.
The man twisted his hands together, bowed again, then cleared his throat. “She is but a child. A foolish young girl who dreams of the stars.”
Murat didn’t doubt that, but the law was the law. “Everyone is entitled to petition the prince. Even a foolish young girl.”
“Yes. Of course you are correct. I never dreamed she would seek out your most perfect and radiant wife. May you have a hundred sons. May they be long-lived and fruitful. May—”
Murat raised his hand to cut off the frantic praise. No doubt the thought of a hundred sons had sent Daphne into a panic. He looked at her and raised his eyebrows.
“You see what you have started?”
“I seek only what is right.”
Murat sighed and turned his attention to the girl. “All right. Aisha. You have the attention of the prince, and your father is not going to stop you from stating your case. What do you want from me?”
It was as he expected. Her father wished her to marry an old man with many children.
“I am the wife he expects to care for him in his waning years,” she said in outrage.
“And the man in question?” Murat asked.
There was more movement in the crowd, and a tall, bearded man stepped forward.
He had to be in his late fifties. He bore himself well and had the appearance of prosperity about him.
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