The Sheik and the Bride Who Said No(Desert Rogues, Book 9)(55) by Susan Mallery
He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. “And I played right into my father’s hands by losing my temper and locking you in the harem.”
Not to mention marrying her against her will, but she didn’t say that.
“I’m pretty mad,” Daphne admitted. “But I also feel kind of stupid. I can’t believe those two were able to trick us like that.”
Murat looked sheepish. “It does not say much about our powers of reasoning. I kept telling my father I was not interested in a teenage bride, but he insisted she be brought over for my inspection.”
“I got all maternal and demanding,” she said. “I was terrified Brittany was throwing away her life.” She glanced at him. “Not that life as your wife is so terrible, but it wasn’t right for her.”
“Believe me, I did not want her, either.”
Daphne felt as if she’d shown up for a big party only to find out the celebration had been the previous night. She felt both awkward and let down.
“So, um, now what?” she asked.
He straightened. “I should not have yelled at you before,” he said, “when I found you in the garden. As I told you, I thought you had moved out of our rooms.”
Had Crown Prince Murat of Bahania just apologized? “I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to give that impression. I just wanted to work with my clay.”
“As you should. I enjoy the things you create.” He smiled. “Even when they mock me.”
Something tightened her heart. She felt happy and nervous at the same time. She cleared her throat.
“I didn’t really want to leave. Before. Our trip into the desert. All this is so confusing and I reacted to that and what happened with Aisha. I don’t always know what I’m feeling. Then we were fighting, and you said I could go and I said I wanted to and then I was here.”
He stood and crossed to the sofa, where he sat next to her. He took both her hands in his.
“I missed you, Daphne. So much so that the tribal elders came to offer me advice.”
She liked him touching her, but even more than that, she liked the sincerity in his gaze and that he’d missed her.
“What did they say?”
“One suggested I beat you. I sent him away.”
“Thank you. I wouldn’t respond well to a beating.”
“I am many things, but I am not a bully.”
“I know.” He would never use his position of strength to take advantage of someone physically.
“One thought I should take a mistress.”
Her stomach clenched. The sharp pain made her gasp. “What did you decide?”
He pulled one hand free and touched her cheek. “I want no other woman. Even if I chose not to be bound by my vows, I would still be true.”
The pain eased.
“Finally, the oldest of the elders told me you were like a flower and that I should tend you in your garden.”
She frowned. “What does that mean?”
“I was hoping you could tell me.”
“I haven’t a clue.”
He stared deeply into her eyes as he slid his hand from her cheek to her mouth.
He brushed his fingers against her lips. “Stay with me.”
She didn’t know if he meant that night or for always. Her heart told her to give in, that in time Murat would learn to yield, while her head reminded her that to stay based on an expected change in behavior was foolish.
Could she accept Murat as he was? Could she be with him knowing he would overrule her at will and never let her be an equal in their relationship? It wouldn’t take much for her to fall in love with him again, but would he return those feelings? Could a man who thought of her as a mere woman ever give his heart?
“Stay,” he repeated, then saved her from answering by kissing her.
She surrendered to his touch, still not sure how far to hold her heart out of reach.
“You can’t be serious,” Daphne said over dinner, several days later.
“It will never happen. The Americans are not ready to elect a woman president.”
“But if they did…”
Murat shrugged. “You expect me to meet with a woman as an equal?”
“Of course. Didn’t your father meet with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher?”
“Perhaps. I am too young to recall.” He cut into his meat. “You seem agitated.”
“I’m trying to figure out what I should throw at you.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Such threats of violence over a simple discussion. You see why women are not good in politics. There is too much emotion.”
She narrowed her gaze, just as she caught the twitch at the corner of his mouth.
“You’re toying with me,” she said, both relieved and determined to get him back.
“I should have known. You would meet with a woman president.”
“Of course, but I doubt it will happen during my lifetime. Perhaps our son will have to deal with the situation.”
She was about to say that any son of hers would respect women and their rights, only to stop herself at the last minute. Perhaps that wasn’t the best conversational tack to take. Not when the truce between them was so fragile.
It had been three days since Murat had returned from the desert. Three days in which she’d slept in his bed, made love with him and toyed with the idea of simply accepting her marriage as permanent.
Her feelings grew, and she knew that the point of no return was at hand. If she fell in love with him, she wouldn’t want to go, regardless of their past.
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