The Sheik and the Princess Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 8)(48) by Susan Mallery
“But you will be.”
For once she didn’t want to think about that. “In time. But for now I am simply a girl.”
“Not a woman?”
She blushed again and ducked her head.
He touched her chin. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. Come on.
Dance with me.”
Before she could answer, he pulled her into his embrace. His arms came around her and then they were moving to the music.
Tahira didn’t know what to think, what to feel. No man had ever held her quite so close. Well, except for Prince Jefri. But he’d held her stiffly, while Doyle pulled her against him. They touched everywhere. One hand rested low on her back while the other claimed her fingers.
He was tall, but not too tall. She liked how strong he was and how she felt tiny by comparison.
“You’re thinking too much,” Doyle complained with a smile. “I can hear your brain working. Which is disappointing. You’re supposed to be so swept away by my charms that you can’t think of anything but me.”
“How do you know I wasn’t thinking of you?” she asked and was delighted when he laughed.
“Miss Tahira, no one told me you were a flirt. Did they teach you that at your convent school?”
Her? Flirting? Was it possible?
“Not at all,” she admitted. “The sisters would not have approved.”
He lowered his head until his lips were very close to her ear. “They don’t need to know.”
His breath made her shiver. Deep inside her chest, a funny little feeling began to grow.
This was nice, she thought. More than nice.
Doyle pulled her even closer. “You smell good. What’s the name of your perfume?”
She looked at him. “I’m not wearing any.”
In less than a heartbeat, his expression changed. Something dark flashed through his eyes.
“Don’t tell me that, Princess,” he said, his voice low and almost angry.
“I don’t understand. What’s wrong with me not wearing perfume?”
“No woman should smell that good on her own.”
She had no idea what he was talking about. Was he angry? Talking to men was more confusing than she had ever imagined. When she was with Jefri she had to search her mind for something to say. With Doyle, she didn’t worry so much, but she was still confused about the outcome.
They danced together in silence for a few minutes before he said, “So you’re really going to marry him.”
She looked up and saw Prince Jefri dance by. She turned her head so she couldn’t see him.
“Of course. He does me a great honor by requesting my hand in marriage.”
“Uh-huh. Has he?”
She glanced at Doyle. “Has he what?”
“Proposed. You know, down on one knee, vowing to love and honor ‘til death do you part.”
“Oh. No. Not like that.”
He hadn’t said anything, really. One morning the sisters had come in and told her it was time to leave. So she’d packed her things and had been brought to the palace.
“The king told me,” she said.
“Ours is a marriage of arrangement. I had hoped, of course, that I would be offered to one of the princes, but I didn’t dare dream it would really happen.”
Doyle stared at her. “Tahira, you’re not a commodity. You don’t have to wait around to be offered to someone.”
“Why are you angry?”
“I’m not. I just don’t understand how someone like you can sell herself so short.”
“Someone like me?”
“You’re sweet and funny. Pretty as hell. It’s annoying that you’re so damned honored to be given to someone like him. You could have a whole lot more.”
Several things distracted her. First, Doyle’s energy. He obviously cared, which surprised her and pleased her. Also, he’d sworn. She wasn’t sure she’d ever heard anyone use actual swear words before. Last, but certainly not least, were his words themselves.
“He’s a prince,” she said. “How could I do better?”
“You could marry someone you love.”
Love? “But I will love him. In time.”
“How do you know?”
No one had ever asked her that before. “I just do.”
It had always been that way. All her life she had known there was a chance she would marry one of the king’s sons. To that end she had studied and prepared, always hoping. Yes, at first she and her husband would be strangers, but in time, they would fall in love.
“It’s the way things are,” she insisted.
The music slowed and Doyle led her off the floor. “Life isn’t that tidy. You’re banking your whole life on something that may or may not happen. Wouldn’t you rather fall in love with someone first and then marry him? Or maybe you don’t have to get married at all. What about that? You could explore the world. Get a job. Live.”
He made it all sound possible, when she knew it wasn’t. “I’m going to marry Prince Jefri.”
“Because I have to.”
As soon as the words were out, she wanted to call them back. She covered her mouth with her hands and stared at him.
“No, you don’t,” he said quietly.
Her eyes began to burn. “You don’t understand,” she said as she lowered her hand to her side.
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