The Sheik and the Bride Who Said No(Desert Rogues, Book 9)(58) by Susan Mallery
Her pulse rate increased. “Me, too. I have to tell you something.” She paused, not sure how to say it all—that she loved him, that she wanted to stay and make their marriage work. But the words that came out were, “I’m not pregnant.”
He didn’t react. His gaze never wavered, his hand on her remained still.
“You are sure?” he asked quietly.
“Very.” She waited for him to say something else, and when he didn’t, she leaned closer. “What’s wrong? Shouldn’t you tell me you’re disappointed? That we’ll be trying again soon?”
He drew in a breath. “I would have. Before. Now I know that this is for the best.”
She jerked back as if he’d slapped her. “What?”
“It is for the best,” he repeated. “A child would complicate things between us.”
“How can they be complicated? We’re married.”
“In law, but not in spirit. I am sorry, Daphne. I did so much without thinking of you, and there is only one way to make that right. I will set you free.”
She couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe. Confused and sure she must be hearing things, she pushed to her feet and walked across the path.
“I don’t understand,” she whispered.
He stood. “I was wrong to keep you here against your will, and I was wrong to marry you without your consent. I thought you did not mean your protests, but you did. We cannot have a marriage where you are little more than a prisoner in a gilded cage. I cannot take back what I have done in the past, but I can set it right.” He nodded at the ring on her left hand. “You need not wear that reminder any longer. I will speak to the king and arrange for our divorce. You are free to leave whenever you like.”
He turned and walked a few feet, then paused. With his back still to her he said, “Take what you like. Clothing, jewels. Any artwork. Consider it compensation for the wrong done to you. There will be a settlement, of course. I will be generous.”
Then he was gone.
She made her way back to the bench where she collapsed. Tears poured down her cheeks. She wanted to scream out her pain to the world, but she couldn’t seem to catch her breath.
This wasn’t happening, she told herself. It couldn’t be that Murat had finally figured it all out, only to let her go.
“I love you,” she said to the quiet garden. “I want to stay and be with you.”
But he’d never offered that. Was it because he didn’t think she would be interested, or was it because he didn’t care enough about her? Had she been little more than a convenient bride, one easily forgotten?
She wasn’t sure how long she sat there grieving for what could have been. An hour. Perhaps two. Then she straightened and brushed away her tears. All along she’d allowed circumstances to choose her path for her. It was time for her to act. She would find Murat and talk to him. If after she explained her feelings for him and her thoughts about staying in the marriage he still wasn’t interested, then she would leave. But she wasn’t going to give up without a fight.
Once again she went to his office, but he was not there. Fouad, his assistant, shook his head when she asked what time he would return.
“Prince Murat has left the country,” he said. “On an extended trip. He is not expected to return for several weeks.”
She couldn’t believe it. “He’s gone? Where?”
“I have his itinerary here, if you would like it.”
She took the offered sheet of paper and tried to read the various entries, but the print blurred.
“Wh-when was this planned?” she asked.
Fouad looked sympathetic. “He has been working on it for a few days now, Your Highness. I’m terribly sorry to be the one to tell you about it.”
The paper fluttered from her fingers, but she didn’t try to pick it up.
He couldn’t have left. Not so quickly. She’d just spoken to him a few minutes ago.
“I don’t understand. When did he pack? He can’t have just left.”
“I’m sorry,” Fouad repeated.
Daphne forced herself to smile. “You’ve been very kind. Thank you.”
She left and made her way to the elevator, then to the suite she was supposed to share with Murat. Only, he was gone and she was no longer his wife.
She stepped inside to find the king waiting for her.
“My child,” he said as he walked toward her. “I have spoken with Murat.”
“He’s gone,” she said, still unable to believe the words. “He left. For several weeks. I had a list of where he was going, but I…” She glanced around for the paper, only to remember she’d dropped it in his office. “He said I could leave.
Did he tell you that?”
King Hassan nodded. “The divorce will be finalized as quickly as possible. You are free to return to your life in America.”
“Right.” Her life. The practice she no longer had, the family who would never forgive her, the friends who couldn’t possibly understand what she’d been through.
“He is very sorry for what he has done,” the king said. “He sees now that he should never have held you against your will.”
She drew in a breath. “Perhaps you shouldn’t have meddled, either.”
“I agree.” Murat’s father suddenly looked much older than his years. “I thought the two of you were right for each other. That you only needed time together to realize how right you were. I was an old fool and I hurt you both. I am deeply sorry.”
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