The Sheik and the Bride Who Said No(Desert Rogues, Book 9)(57) by Susan Mallery
“Daphne, why did you refuse the interview?”
“It’s not important.”
Which meant that it was. “I will not rest until you tell me.”
She set down her fork. “If you must know, I didn’t know what to say. This was for a big bridal issue they’re doing in a few months. They’re collecting romantic stories from different couples and they wanted to talk about how we met and fell in love. I didn’t think it was a good idea to tell them the truth. That you locked me in the harem then married me against my will while I was unconscious. Rather than having to make up something, I declined the interview.”
She continued speaking, changing the subject to the upcoming trip to the City of Thieves, but he could not hear her. The impact of what she had said—a bald statement of a truth he knew well—seemed to render him immobile.
For the first time he understood what she had been trying to tell him all along.
That he had held her captive, like a common criminal. Of course the quarters were luxurious and she had not been mistreated in the least, but he had locked her away. Then, knowing she wanted nothing to do with him, he had taken advantage of a medical condition to force her into marriage.
Had he given her the choice, she would have refused him. She would have left.
She was not with him because she wanted to be.
The truth sliced through him like a knife. He had always known that she complained about his treatment, but he had told himself it was all simply the meaningless chatter of a woman with too much time on her hands. He had not considered she had cause for her complaints. Had she been a stranger and appeared with her petition while he had been in the desert, he would have freed her from her marriage and locked away the man in question.
The phone rang in the suite. Daphne excused herself to answer it. Murat took advantage of her distraction to leave the table. He indicated he was going back to his office and she nodded. On his way out, he noticed a new clay sculpture on a table.
Two lovers, he thought. Bodies entwined, arms reaching. The sheer passion of the piece took his breath away. It gave him hope. But as he moved closer, he saw the lovers were faceless.
Did she not see him in the role, or did she wish for another man? He knew he pleased her in bed—her body told the tale all too well for him to think otherwise. But was that enough? Did claiming a woman’s body mean anything when a man could not lay claim to her mind or her heart?
Daphne sat alone in the suite and stared out at the perfect view. The light wind had cleared the air enough for her to see all the way to Lucia-Serrat. Two cats dozed next to her on the sofa, their small, warm bodies providing a comforting presence. But it wasn’t enough to heal the ache in her heart.
She wasn’t pregnant. Proof had arrived an hour before.
She’d suspected, of course. That was why she’d resisted taking a pregnancy test.
She hadn’t wanted to know. She hadn’t wanted to have to choose.
Funny how a month ago she would have been delighted with the chance to escape.
She would have already had it out with Murat and been busy packing her bags. But now everything was different.
Instead of relief, she felt a bone-crushing disappointment, which told her a truth she’d tried to deny for a long time—she didn’t want to go.
Murat wasn’t perfect—he would never understand that what he’d done to her was wrong. He would never see her as a partner, but that didn’t stop her from loving him. She wanted to be with him, regardless of his faults. She wanted their children to have his strength and stubbornness. She wanted to be a part of his world and his history. She loved Bahania nearly as much as she loved its heir and she didn’t want to go.
Since he’d returned from the desert they hadn’t discussed their future. No doubt he assumed her silence meant agreement, but that wasn’t her way. She wanted to tell him what she’d decided, even if that meant listening to him say how he’d known what was best all along. She wanted to feel his arms around her as he pulled her close and kissed her. She wanted to take him to bed and get started on making their firstborn.
She stood and walked out of the suite with the intent of finding him in his office. But he wasn’t there. His assistant said that he had gone for a walk.
Daphne went to the main garden and saw him sitting on one of the stone benches.
His shoulders were slumped as he stared at the ground. An air of profound sadness surrounded him.
He looked toward her and smiled. His expression brightened and the sadness disappeared as if it had never been. In response, her heart fluttered and she wondered how she had ever fooled herself into thinking she didn’t love this man with every fiber of her being.
“I’ve been looking for you,” she said as she walked closer.
“You have found me.” He shifted to make room for her, then studied her as she sat next to him. He tucked her long hair behind her ear. “As always, your beauty astounds me.”
“I’m not all that.”
“Yes, you are.”
He sounded so serious, she thought, wondering what was going on.
“Unlike many who shine only for a short time,” he continued, “you will be beautiful for decades. Even as time steals the luster of your youth, you will gleam like a diamond in the desert.”
“That’s very poetic and very unlike you.” She frowned. “What’s going on?”
“I have been sitting here thinking about us. Our marriage.”
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