The Sheik and the Princess Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 8)(50) by Susan Mallery
He walked out of her suite and headed for the business wing of the palace. He ached in a way he wouldn’t have thought possible, and knew the pain would never go away. When Billie left Bahania, she would take his heart with her. Such a thing could not be allowed.
The guards outside the large carved doors nodded as he approached. Jefri stopped in front of the desk inside.
“Is my father in?” he asked the forty-something male assistant.
“Of course. I’ll let him know you’re here.”
Jefri was announced and stepped into his father’s large office.
The king of Bahania sat on an old sofa by the window. Several cats lay around the room. Two curled up on different chairs, while one had stretched out in a spot of sun on a bookcase. Jefri picked up a gray short-haired cat and set it on the ground, then brushed off the cushion and took its place.
“This is a surprise,” the king said cheerfully. “I assume you have no crisis to report? The air force still flies?”
“Yes, Father. We have improved greatly. The Van Horns have done an excellent job.”
“Good. They have lived up to their reputation.” His father leaned back in the sofa and smiled. “What can I do for you, my son?”
Jefri drew in a deep breath. “I cannot marry Tahira, Father. I have tried. For the past month I have spent time with her, learning about her. We have taken walks, long drives, spent afternoons picnicking by the sea. She is a lovely young woman with all the qualities I requested.”
The king frowned. “Then what is the problem?”
“I cannot care about her. I am in love with someone else.”
His father patted the cat on his lap. “I see,” he said at last. “And that young woman would be?”
Jefri couldn’t tell what his father thought by his expression or the tone of his voice. Perhaps he should explain more.
“I do not believe it is within my power to make Tahira happy,” he said. “She needs someone who will see her for herself, and not for what she can never be. I will do whatever I must—settle money on her, send her to college. I want her happiness more than anything.”
“Have you discussed this with her?” the king asked.
“What if she decides her happiness lies with you?”
“Then she is mistaken.”
His father glanced at him. “She has lived in the palace for nearly six weeks.
People have noticed, speculated. If you were to cast her aside now…”
“She is not being cast aside,” Jefri insisted. “There has been no formal engagement.”
“Tahira has considered no life except that as your wife. Promises were made.
Will she not see this past month as courtship?”
Jefri stared out the window. Of course she would. How else could Tahira interpret events?
“She does not love me,” he said.
“How do you know? Have you asked? Are you going to break this girl’s heart and destroy her life? She is only here because you asked for her.”
Jefri felt sure his father wanted to tell him something, but that he would not speak outright. So what was the clue? Something about Tahira. Did the girl love him? She could not. Surely she saw how wrong they were for each other. Or did she expect so little that an unhappy arrangement was enough?
Too many questions, he thought in frustration.
“This cannot be,” he told his father.
“This must be,” the king said.
Jefri rose to his feet. “I will find another way.”
His father said nothing as he stalked out of the room.
The king watched his youngest son leave. When the door had closed, he smiled.
“It is safe. You can come out now.”
Something moved under the wing chair. Two small brown eyes glanced around cautiously.
“He is gone,” the king said, then patted the space next to him on the sofa.
Muffin jumped up and cuddled close. The king stroked her back.
“You see,” he said. “Everything is going according to plan. It is just a matter of time until we have exactly what we both want.”
Tahira sat in the garden, doing her best not to cry. But it seemed the harder she tried not to, the more her eyes burned.
Something was very wrong. Somehow she had displeased Prince Jefri. But what had she said or done? All she thought about was what she could do to make him happy.
She listened dutifully as he talked about flying and jets, even though all the technical information made her head ache. She did her best to enjoy all their visits to museums and parks. She had asked several times and he always said he didn’t mind that she was spending her free time designing clothes.
So why were things between them even more strained than they had been at the beginning? And why had he spent the past two days avoiding her?
“Beautiful women shouldn’t cry.”
Tahira jumped when she heard the words. She turned on the stone seat and saw Doyle walking toward her.
She hadn’t seen him in nearly two weeks, and that one encounter had been a brief conversation at a family dinner. Even knowing it was wrong, she couldn’t help being delighted to see him now and she hoped he would have time to talk with her.
“I’m not crying,” she said even as she wiped away the tears that had trickled down her cheek.
Doyle sat next to her on the bench. “What could possibly make you so sad?” he asked.
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