The Sheik and the Princess Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 8)(34) by Susan Mallery
Just then Jefri came up and put his arm around her. “What seems to be the problem?”
Doyle’s gaze narrowed. “Why don’t you ask your father there? Or her?” He pointed accusingly at the young woman.
“Who’s she?” Billie asked.
Doyle’s expression darkened as his eyes narrowed. “Prince Jefri’s fiancée.”
Jefri stared at the small group of people all looking at him, but he only cared about the accusation in Billie’s gaze.
“It is not true,” he said quickly. “I have never seen this young woman before.”
But even as he spoke the words, an awful truth formed. What had his father done?
“On the contrary,” Doyle said, sounding furious. “Everyone seems very sure about this.”
Jefri wanted to take Billie away and explain. More than that he wanted to turn back time so he could prevent this moment or at least prepare for it. Neither seemed possible.
“Hello, my dear,” the king said to Billie as he took her hand in greeting.
“Welcome back. I hope you enjoyed your time in El Bahar.”
“What?” Billie looked stunned. “Ah, yes. Thank you. It was great.” Her expression said the emphasis was on the past tense. Things were great no longer.
She looked at him, then at the young woman.
“I have to go,” she said and bolted from the room.
Jefri took a step to follow her, but Doyle stepped in the way.
“Don’t even think about it,” Billie’s brother said with a growl.
Jefri was not the least bit concerned about Doyle. He had to get to Billie and explain. There was only one problem—he wasn’t sure what had occurred.
The king smiled. “My son, this is Tahira.” The king motioned to the young girl who hovered at the edge of the foyer.
Jefri studied her. She was young, perhaps sixteen or seventeen, and very petite.
She barely came to the center of his chest and her body appeared small and childlike. Dark hair had been pulled back into a simple braid. She wore no makeup, no jewelry and only a plain dark dress that covered her to well below the knees.
Jefri nodded at the girl, a pointless gesture as she did not look up from her careful study of the floor, then turned his attention to his father. “There has been a mistake.”
“I think not, but regardless, this is not the place to have that discussion.”
His father was right in that.
Jefri walked over to Doyle. “I never asked for her,” he said. “I do not know why she is here.”
Billie’s brother drew his blond eyebrows together. “Is she or is she not your fiancée?”
There were technicalities involved in that question, Jefri realized. Without speaking to his father, he didn’t know the truth. “I am not sure.”
Doyle swore, then moved close. “Don’t think this is finished, Your Highness. I don’t give a damn about who or what you are. You’ve hurt my sister and you’re going to pay for that.”
Doyle stalked off in the direction Billie had fled.
“A most interesting young man,” the king said and smiled at the girl. “Come, Tahira. We will adjourn to one of the small sitting rooms.
Jefri followed his father down the main corridor, then along a smaller hallway.
When they entered the aforementioned room, he carefully closed the door before turning on his father.
“What have you done?” he demanded.
“As you requested. I have found you a bride.”
Tahira stood by the window, her narrow shoulders hunched. Aware that she listened to every word, he lowered his voice.
“We discussed this matter recently,” Jefri said. “I requested you unmake whatever the arrangements might be.”
“I recall. However, things had progressed too far. When Tahira turned eighteen, she was required to leave the school.”
Eighteen? Jefri glanced at the young woman. Was it possible she was that old?
The king smiled in her direction. “Come, child. It is time to properly meet your husband-to-be.”
Tahira obediently walked to the king. When she raised her head, Jefri caught side of large brown eyes brilliant with terror. She swallowed and lowered her chin.
“Prince Jefri. I have no words to express my honor and joy at finally meeting you.”
If this was joy, he would hate to see her upset. “Tahira…” He hesitated. None of this was the girl’s fault. “The honor is mine,” he said, trying not to sound grim.
“She has been in the convent school on Lucia-Serrat,” the king said. “Her father was my finance minister until he was killed in a car accident when she was only seven. He was a dear friend and his wish was for me to provide for his only child.”
Jefri knew enough to read between the lines. Tahira had no one. There might or might not be any money from her family, but that did not matter. The king had sent her to the convent school where she would be well educated in the social graces, cooking and child-rearing, if not in the ways of the world. He doubted she had ever seen a man his age before.
Whether his father had originally planned for her to marry one of his sons or he had thought to offer Tahira in marriage to some highly placed official, obviously, she had not been prepared to make her way in the world on her own.
“She speaks several languages,” the king continued. “The sisters also said you were gifted in sketching and painting. Is that not so, child?”
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