The Sheik and the Bride Who Said No(Desert Rogues, Book 9)(52) by Susan Mallery
He reached for the bottle of cognac and poured more into his glass. The smooth liquid burned its way down his throat.
Time, he told himself. He had time. Unless she wasn’t pregnant. Then she would leave as she had before.
Do not think about that, he told himself. She would not leave again. He wouldn’t permit it. Nor would the king.
The sound of muted footsteps forced his gaze from the fire. He watched as several of the tribal elders approached, bowed, then joined him by the fire.
“Will you be attending the camel races tomorrow, Your Highness?” one of the men asked.
Murat shrugged. He had wanted Daphne to see them, but now…”Perhaps. After the morning petitions.”
“The council sessions went well today,” another said. “Your justice, as always, provides a safe haven for your people.”
Murat knew the compliments were just a way to ease into the conversation the old men really wanted to have with him. He thought of how Daphne would listen attentively, all the while secretly urging them to get to the point.
She played the games of his office well. She understood the importance of ritual and tradition, even when she didn’t agree with it. Unlike many women he had met, she would have patience for tribal councils and diplomatic sessions and negotiations.
“You made an interesting choice with Aisha,” the first man said. “To give her to Barak.”
He decided to help them cut to the chase. “The decision was a gift to my bride.
It was her request that the young lovers be allowed to start a new life.”
“Ah.” The elders nodded to each other.
“Of course,” one of them said, “a woman sees with her heart. It has always been the way. Their tender emotions make them stewards of our households and our children. But when it comes to matters of importance, they know to defer to the man.”
Not all of them, Murat thought as he took another drink. He wondered what Daphne would make of being called the steward of his household. The title implied employment and a distance between the parties far greater than in a marriage.
One of the elders cleared his throat. “We could not help but notice the princess has left us. We hope she was not taken ill.”
“No. Her health continues to be excellent.”
“Good. That is good.”
Silence descended. Murat stared into the flames and wished the old men would get to the point, then leave him alone.
“She is American.”
“I had noticed that,” Murat said dryly.
“Of course, Your Highness. It is just that American women can be strong-willed and stubborn. They do not always understand the subtleties of our ways.” The man speaking held up both hands in a gesture of surrender. “Princess Daphne is an angel among women.”
“An angel,” the others echoed.
“Not the word I would have chosen,” Murat muttered. She was more like the devil—always prodding at him. If he wasn’t careful, she would soon be leading him around by the nose.
“Have you tried beating her?” one of the men asked.
Murat straightened and glared. The old man shrank back.
“A thousand pardons, Your Highness.”
Murat rose and pointed into the darkness. “Go,” he commanded. “Go and never darken my path again.”
The man gasped. To be an elder and told to never show his face to the prince was unheard of. The old man stood, trembling, then crept away into the night.
Murat sank down by the fire and looked at each of the six remaining men. “Does anyone else wish to suggest I beat my wife?”
No one spoke.
“I know you are here to offer aid and advice,” he said. “In the absence of the king, you are my surrogate family. But make no mistake—Princess Daphne is my wife. She is the one I have chosen to be the mother of my children. Her blood will join with mine and our heirs will rule Bahania for a thousand more years.
Remember that when you speak of her.”
The men nodded.
Murat turned his attention to the fire. As much as Daphne frustrated him, he had never thought to hit her. What would that accomplish? He already knew he was physically stronger. Old fools.
“Do you know why the princess left us?” one of the men asked in a soft, timid voice.
Interesting question. Murat realized he did not know. One minute they had been fighting and the next she was gone.
“She angered me. I spoke in haste,” he admitted.
“You could demand her return,” a man said.
Murat knew that he could. But to what end? To have her staring at him with anger in her eyes? That was not how he wished to spend his days. Yet to spend them without her was equally unpleasant.
“The prince wishes her to return on her own,” another man said.
Murat squinted at him through the flames. He was small and very old. Wizened.
“The elder speaks wisely,” he said. “I wish her to return to me of her own accord.”
The tiny man nodded. “But she will not. Women are like the night jasmine. They offer sweetness in the shadows, when most of the world slumbers. Other flowers give their scent in the day, when all can enjoy them. A very stubborn flower.”
“So now what?” Murat asked.
“Ignore her,” one man said. “Give her time to get lonely. She will be so grateful to see you when you do return that she will bend to your will.”
An interesting possibility, Murat thought. Although Daphne wasn’t the bending type.
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