The Sheik and the Princess Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 8)(45) by Susan Mallery
She held in a sigh of frustration. If only the sisters had spent a little bit of time helping her learn how to dress instead of insisting she learn so much about geology or physics, she would be better able to handle her new position as Jefri’s fiancée. So far the prince hadn’t asked her a single question about rock formations.
Billie said something to the prince and he laughed. Tahira liked the sound of his laughter, even if she couldn’t think of anything funny to say. But Billie always knew exactly what to say and how to act. She was perfect.
Tahira eyed her friend and the blue dress she wore. It was stunning. Jefri moved behind them both and placed a hand on each of their shoulders. While Billie smiled, Tahira stood there, frozen, the hand a lead weight on her skin.
She told herself to relax—that this was the man she would marry. But somehow she couldn’t ever picture herself and the prince being together as a couple. When he talked to her, she didn’t know how to answer. When they were alone, she felt only awkward and afraid. None of that seemed like love to her.
But he had honored her with his desire to claim her as his wife and she knew she had no choice but to go through with the union.
“Everything is so beautiful,” Tahira said enthusiastically as she opened box after box of clothing. “You have been more than generous.” She turned around. “I am not worthy.”
Jefri stood in the center of the suite and watched concern tighten the girl’s expression. He forced himself to smile.
“You are more than worthy. These clothes are necessary. The sisters have many wonderful qualities, but they did not provide you an excessive wardrobe.”
Tahira flashed a smile. “I was thinking the same thing at the store. How helpful is it that I can discuss quantum mechanics when I don’t know what shoes to wear with what dress?”
She raced to the rack containing her formal gowns and reached for the first garment bag.
“What shall I wear Friday, Prince Jefri?” she asked as she pulled down the zipper. “It will be my first state dinner. I want to dress correctly.”
He appreciated her enthusiasm, even as it made him feel old and out of place.
“The black one?” she asked. “Not the red. That is too sophisticated, I think.
There is that lovely green one…”
She continued to chatter, but he didn’t listen. Instead he prowled the confines of the living room and wished he could be somewhere else.
He crossed to the French doors and stared out at the gardens below. A woman walked along a path and for a moment, he thought it was Billie. His heart jumped until he recognized his sister-in-law. No. Not Billie.
“I’ve never had my nails done before,” Tahira was saying. “Billie mentioned my hair. That I need to get it cut. What do you think?”
He looked at the young woman standing by the pile of white and gold boxes.
“Would you prefer it shorter?”
“I don’t know.” She fingered her long braid. “Shouldn’t you decide?”
She asked the question like a child and he did not want to be her father.
“No, Tahira,” he said gently. “The choice is yours.”
She looked confused, as if such freedom had not occurred to her.
“You are no longer at the school,” he told her. “You are free to do as you wish with your life. You may be as you choose.”
Free to walk away from him, he thought, knowing she would not.
“You mean like a career?” she asked. “But we are to be married.”
“The wedding could wait a while.” Forever?
“Oh.” She sat down on the sofa as if the thought was too much for her. “I have no idea what I would want to do. Not flying, like Billie. The thought terrifies me.” She smiled. “I have trouble imagining her in a jet. She’s so feminine and pretty all the time. I love her hair. The curls are perfect and I like the way she does her makeup. I wonder why she never married.”
“Perhaps she never met the right man.”
“I suppose. Or maybe she doesn’t need to be taken care of all the time. She’s independent. I wish I could be like that.”
As soon as Tahira spoke the words, she covered her mouth with her hand and stared at him. Panic made her tremble.
“Prince Jefri,” she began in a hushed tone.
He stopped her with a shake of his head. “You do not need to apologize, child.
There is nothing wrong in wanting to be independent.”
She swallowed and dropped her hand back to her lap. “But you have honored me by wanting to marry me. I can’t forget that. Not ever. I swear, I will do my best to be a good and dutiful wife. You have my word.”
Not exactly what he wanted to hear.
He crossed to the sofa and pushed aside several boxes so he could sit next to her. For the first time since meeting her, he took her hands in his.
“Tahira, you must listen to me. You have been raised believing you have only one destiny and that is to marry me. But the choice is completely yours. You are free to choose another life. Should you decide you do not want to marry me, I will understand and support your decision in any way I can. You are young and it is a difficult and permanent choice.”
Her fingers moved against him. Her skin was warm and she smelled of flowers. Yet he felt nothing. Her youthful beauty left him unmoved.
Her dark gaze settled on his face. “You are kindness itself,” she said fiercely.
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