The Sheik and the Princess Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 8)(38) by Susan Mallery
“You do not approve of Tahira.”
Billie glanced at him. “I don’t know her, but I’m sure she’s a lovely young woman.”
“Then you do not understand why Jefri would enter into an arranged union.”
“I’ll admit that practice is a little mind-boggling.”
“He was married before. Did he tell you?”
She nodded. “He said she wasn’t what he thought. That she was more interested in money and position than being his wife.”
“That is correct. When Jefri learned of this, he came to me to ask for a divorce, which I granted. He was sad to see his marriage end, but not heartbroken. I realized then he had never loved her.” The king looked into the distance. “I have married for duty and for love, and I have learned that marrying for love is better. I tried to tell him that, but he would not listen.
When it was time for him to produce heirs, he asked me to find him the proper bride.”
Billie bristled as she remembered Jefri’s list. “Docile, reasonably attractive and good with children.”
The king raised his eyebrows. “He told you that?”
“Sometimes the prince only looks intelligent.”
He laughed. “Perhaps you are correct. I waited for him to find his own bride, but he did not seem to be interested in looking, so I agreed to conduct the search myself.”
“Yes. She is a good girl, raised by the sisters, instructed on how to be the right kind of wife.”
Billy couldn’t help thinking of the trained animals in a circus.
“How lucky for her,” she said, hoping the words didn’t sound too sarcastic.
“You do not approve.”
“I doubt my opinion matters.”
“There are other circumstances,” the king said. “Her father was a close friend of mine and I promised to look after her. The school sheltered her from the world and now she has to leave.”
Billie turned to him. “You chose the school specifically. You wanted Tahira to be innocent, raised in a manner to make her worthy of being a princess. You thought she should marry one of your sons.”
“Why not Crown Prince Murat?” she asked in a moment of desperation.
“Tahira would not survive the rigors of being queen. She isn’t strong enough.”
“Which leaves only Jefri,” Billie said dully.
“It is a matter of honor. To break the engagement now would be to dishonor the memory of my friend and Tahira’s good name.”
Of course, Billie thought. Why would anything be easy?
“Tahira could break things off,” the king added. “If she wanted to.”
“Right.” Because she had so many other choices. No doubt she’d been raised expecting to marry Jefri from the time she could grasp the concept. What young woman in Tahira’s place would want to say no?
“Still, I will not force my son into a marriage he does not want,” the king said. “Should Jefri come to me…”
He let the words trail away, but she had already figured out what he meant.
Should Jefri go to his father and demand the engagement be broken, the king would agree. But there would be a scandal and Jefri would be seen as selfish and willful. Tahira would be dishonored and while Billie wasn’t sure what went along with that, she knew it couldn’t be good.
It was a lot to ask, based on one night of great sex.
“Jefri won’t come to you,” she said with a sureness that made the ache inside worse. “He and I…” She swallowed. “We never had a relationship. There’s nothing for either of us to get over.”
“As you wish, my dear.”
It wasn’t as she wished, but it was exactly as it was. Billie excused herself and called for Muffin. Most of the time she really liked her life, but sometimes, like now, it sucked.
Billie and Muffin walked back to their room. Billie figured she was due a long soak in the massive tub. She would use her most expensive bath salts and do her best to float away her troubles. She would stay in until she got all wrinkly, then she would put on the fluffy robe provided by the palace, curl up in bed and watch chick flicks from the DVD collection. She’d more than earned the time to lick her wounds.
But as she walked toward her door, she saw someone leaning against the wall. As her heart didn’t even flicker, she knew it wasn’t Jefri. Muffin gave a little bark of excitement and ran down the hallway. Her dog only ever got that happy when Doyle was around.
“What do you want?” Billie asked as she approached. “Just so you know—I’m not in the mood for a lecture.”
“I wasn’t planning to give one,” he said as he held her dog and fondled Muffin’s ears. “I’m just checking on you.”
“I’m still alive, still breathing. Is that information enough?”
One look in Doyle’s blue eyes told her the answer was no. She sighed, then pushed opened the door and stood back to let him in.
“You have ten minutes,” she said. “Then I want to take a bath.”
Her brother set down the dog. “How bad are you hurt?” he asked.
The unexpected question, not to mention the concern in his voice, nearly did her in. Tears burned in her eyes and she had to blink them back.
“You never were much of a liar,” he said, his expression grim. “Dammit, Billie, I tried to warn you.”
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