The Sheik and the Bride Who Said No(Desert Rogues, Book 9)(51) by Susan Mallery
Billie nodded. “Jefri and Sadik have gotten used to never getting a word in edgewise when the four of us have dinner.”
“Shopping is a complete nightmare for the guys,” Cleo said. “We have credit cards and we know how to use them.” She disentangled her arm. “How can you not want to be a part of this?”
“You’re tempting me.”
“More than being queen?”
Daphne curled up in the chair and leaned her head against the back. “I remember when I was here before. I was so young, just twenty, and engaged to Murat. The thought of being queen really terrified me. I was sort of a serious kid, and I knew there would be huge responsibilities. I didn’t think I could ever manage.”
“And now?” Billie asked.
“I don’t know. There’s a part of me that thinks I could really help Murat. He doesn’t have anyone he can confide in. Not to say anything against his brothers.”
Cleo and Billie looked at each other, then at her. “I know what you mean,” Cleo said. “Sadik is in meetings with Murat and that kind of thing, but he only has to worry about his own area of expertise. Murat has all the responsibility. King Hassan is handing over more and more of the day-to-day ruling. So a wife he trusted could help lighten the load.”
“Maybe. I think I could make a difference. As much as I don’t get along with my family, I have to admit I’ve been raised to be married to a powerful man.”
“How nice not to have to learn what fork goes where,” Billie grumbled.
Daphne grinned. “It’s a skill that has served me well.”
“So you’re okay with the office of queen, which means the problem lies with Murat himself,” Cleo said. “I think you’re going to have to solve that one on your own.”
Daphne knew she was right. “I appreciate the support.”
Billie slipped to the edge of the sofa and leaned close. “I’m about to say something I shouldn’t, but I have to because I feel bad about what happened.
Cleo, you can’t tell anyone. Not Zara or Sadik or anyone.”
“I won’t. I promise.”
Billie nodded and stared at Daphne. “If you want to leave, just tell me. I can get you on a plane and back to the States in five hours.”
Daphne thought of the long flight over. “How is that possible?”
Billie grinned. “We’d take a jet. No luggage room, but plenty of speed. I need an hour’s notice. That’s all. If it gets bad and you need to run, I’ll take you.”
Daphne felt her eyes start to burn. These women didn’t even know her and yet they were willing to offer so much support.
“I appreciate the offer. I doubt things will come to that, but if they do, I know where to find you.”
The women left after lunch. Daphne walked into the gardens and admired the bronze artwork there. Her favorite piece stood in the center of a large, shallow pool. A life-size statue of a desert warrior on the back of a stallion. As she studied the power in the horse’s flanks and the fierce expression on the warrior’s face, her fingers itched to be back in clay. She wanted to make something as wonderful as this.
“If only I had that much talent,” she said ruefully. But she still enjoyed the process. She had time for that here. Time for many things she enjoyed.
She sat on a bench and raised her face to the sun. Now that she was alone, she could admit the truth. She missed Murat.
Despite his imperious ways and how he made her crazy, she missed him. She wanted to hear his voice and laughter. She wanted to watch him work and know that his strength would one day be their children’s. She wanted his touch on her body and her hands on his.
So when exactly had she stopped hating enough to start caring about him? Or had she ever hated him? What did she do now? Accept what had happened and move on?
Her heart told her no. That giving in would mean a lifetime of never being more than an object in his life. She wanted more than his rules and wishes. She wanted him to care. To woo her. To love her.
She dropped her chin to her chest as the truth washed over her. She wanted him to love her enough to come after her, instead of always letting her go so easily. She wanted to know it was safe to fall in love with him.
But how? How did she convince a man who believed he was invincible that it was all right to be vulnerable once in a while? How did she get him to open up to her? How did she get him to give her his heart?
She touched her stomach. If she was pregnant, she had her lifetime to figure it out. If she wasn’t, then time might be very, very short.
Which did she want? If she had to choose right now, which would it be?
Murat couldn’t remember the last time he’d been drunk. He usually didn’t allow himself to indulge. As crown prince it was his responsibility to be alert at all times. But tonight he couldn’t bring himself to care.
He’d waited all day for Daphne to return, but she had not. Even as he and his people rode deeper into the desert, he watched the sky for a helicopter that did not come.
He should never have ordered the helicopter. He knew that now. If he’d ignored her outburst, she would still be with him. But her reluctance to accept their marriage as something that could not be changed made him furious. How dare she question his authority? He had honored her by marrying her. It was done, and they needed to simply move forward.
But did Daphne see it that way? Was she logical and grateful? No. She constantly fought him, making life difficult, looking at him with accusations in her eyes.
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