The Sheik and the Bride Who Said No(Desert Rogues, Book 9)(48) by Susan Mallery
The man bowed. “I am Farid,” he said in a low voice.
“You wish to marry this girl?” Murat asked.
Farid nodded. “She is a good girl and will serve me well.”
“Instead of asking for a dowry, he offers me five camels,” the father said eagerly. “He has been married before and has lost each wife to illness. Very sad. But all in the village agree the women were well treated.”
Murat felt the beginnings of a headache coming on. He looked at the girl.
“There is one more player missing, is there not?”
Aisha nodded slowly. “Barak. The man I love.”
Her father gasped in outrage, the fiancé looked patiently indulgent and a steady rumble rose from the crowd.
At last Barak appeared. He was all of twenty-two or twenty-three. Defiant and terrified at the same time. He bowed low before Murat.
“You love Aisha, as well?” Murat asked.
The young man glanced at her, then nodded. “With all my heart. I have been saving money, buying camels. With her dowry, we can buy three more and have a good-size herd. I can provide for her.”
“I will not give her a dowry,” her father said. “Not for you. Farid is a good man. A better match.”
“Especially for you,” Murat said. “To be given camels for your daughter instead of having to pay them makes it a fine match.”
The father did not speak.
Murat studied Farid. There was something about the color of the skin around his eyes. A grayness.
“You have sons?” Murat asked the older man.
“Six, Your Highness.”
“Two are not.”
Murat saw the picture more clearly now. “How long do you have?” he asked Farid.
The man looked surprised by the question, but he recovered quickly. “At most a year.”
“What?” the girl’s father asked. “What are you talking about?”
Murat shook his head. “It is of no matter.” He rose and nodded at his wife. “If you will come with me.”
He led her to the rear of the tent.
“What’s going on?” Daphne wanted to know. “Can you do this? Stop the hearing or whatever it is in midsentence? What about Aisha? Are you going to force her to marry that horrible old man?”
Murat touched her long, blond hair. “That horrible old man is dying. He has less than a year to live.”
“Oh. Well, I’m sorry to hear that, but the information means Aisha was right.
He’s buying her to take care of him in his old age. If he’s so rich, why doesn’t he just hire a nurse?”
“Because this isn’t about his health. It’s about his wealth. Farid has six sons.
Two are not married. Per our laws, he must leave everything to them equally, which divides his fortune into small pieces. But that is not the best way to maintain wealth in the family. What if the sons do not get along? What if their wives want them to take the inheritance to their own families? If Farid dies married, he can leave forty percent of what he has to his wife. The rest is split among his children. I believe his plan is for one of his unmarried sons to then marry Aisha and together they will run the family business.”
Daphne looked outraged. “Great. So she’s to be sold, not once but twice? That’s pleasant.”
“You are missing the point. Farid doesn’t want her for himself.”
“I get the point exactly. Either way she’s been given in marriage to someone she doesn’t know or care about. And she’s in love with someone else. What about that?”
Why did Daphne refuse to see the sense of the union? “She could be a wealthy widow in her own right in just a few months,” he said. “She wouldn’t have to marry one of the sons if she didn’t want to.”
“Are you saying she should agree to this? That in a few months, she could bring in what’s his name—”
“Right. She could bring in Barak? That’s terrible, too.”
Murat shook his head. “Marriage isn’t just about love, Daphne. It is about political and financial gain.”
“I see that now. What are you going to do?”
“What do you want me to do?”
She raised her eyebrows. “It’s my choice?”
“Yes. Consider it a wedding gift.”
“I want Aisha to have the choice to follow her heart. I want her to be free to marry Barak.”
“Despite what I have told you?”
She stared at him. “Not despite it, but because of it.”
“And years from now, when she and Barak are struggling to feed their many children, do you not think she will look back on what she could have had and feel regret?”
“Not if she loves him.”
“Love does not put food on the table.” Love was not practical. Why did women consider it so very important?
“I want her to be with Barak,” Daphne insisted.
“As you wish.”
He led her back to the dais and took his seat. Aisha had been crying, and her father looked furious. Farid seemed resigned, while the young lover, Barak, attempted to appear confident even as his shaking knees gave him away.
Murat looked at Aisha. “You chose your petitioner well. Daphne is my bride and, as such, I can refuse her nothing. I grant your request, but listen to me well.
You are angry that your father would sell you to a man so many years older. You see only today and tomorrow. There is all of your future to consider. Farid is a man of great honor. Will you not consider him?”
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