The Sheik and the Princess Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 8)(57) by Susan Mallery
“Tahira is missing, and so is Doyle Van Horn.”
Jefri followed his father into a private room off the entrance. It wasn’t until he saw the king glance down that he realized he and Billie were still holding hands.
“When was Tahira last seen?” he asked, not concerned with what anyone might think, including the king.
Billie touched his arm. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but I know Doyle won’t hurt her.”
“Do not be concerned. I trust your brother as well.” He turned his attention back to his father. “Are you sure they are together? Did they leave a note?”
“Tahira did.” The king handed over a scrap of paper. “I cannot believe she has done this. Run away. Of all the ungrateful, disloyal actions…”
The king continued to rant, but Jefri ignored him. Instead he read the few lines Tahira had scrawled.
“I can’t do this,” she had written. “Prince Jefri, I apologize for dishonoring you in this way, but I must escape. Please try not to hate me.”
Hate her? He shook his head. Hatred would require a depth of emotion he did not possess.
“She doesn’t say anything about Doyle,” Billie murmured. “Maybe he’s not with her.”
“They are together,” the king said. “She has shown a particular attachment to him. I did not mention anything because I thought it was a friendship, nothing more.” He glowered. “Young women cannot be trusted.”
Billie released Jefri’s fingers and tucked her arm—the one with the bracelet—behind her.
“Are you saying they had a romance?” Billie asked, sounding surprised.
“I am not sure how far things have gone. If he has defiled her…”
Billie paled. Jefri touched her arm.
“Nothing has happened yet.”
They watched as the king stalked to the other side of the room, picked up a phone and barked out orders for more guards to be sent into the city.
“He doesn’t look happy,” she whispered. “I don’t want to know the punishment for defiling a future princess.”
“The old laws have changed.”
“Great. But what if the new laws aren’t any more forgiving?” She stared at him.
“Are you angry?”
“That Tahira and Doyle may have run off together? No. I want her back and safe because she is my responsibility, but I have no emotional attachment past concern for her well-being.”
“If she and Doyle did, um, well, you know, what would happen?”
He understood the question. Would there still be an engagement?
“Let us first find out what has happened,” he said, not wanting to wish for too much. If Tahira had fallen in love with Doyle, all of Jefri’s problems were solved. But he had a feeling life wasn’t going to be that simple.
He urged Billie to go up to her room and promised to notify her when he had word. Then he closed the door and faced his father.
“I am furious,” the king said.
“Yes. You appear most upset. I am surprised.”
His father glared at him. “Why? Tahira is like a daughter to me. To think she would be so disobedient injures me greatly. Plus there is the shame she visits on our family.”
“Yes. A wayward bride is fodder for the media.” Jefri narrowed his gaze. “You said you have seen them together?”
“What?” His father paced to the window and stared out. “A few times. In the garden. I thought nothing of it.”
Jefri found that difficult to believe. “Tahira might be eighteen chronologically, but in experience, she is still very much a child. Did you not consider that Doyle Van Horn could easily seduce her?”
“I trusted him! I allowed him to live in my palace and in return I expected him to respect his place.”
“But to put temptation in his path like that.”
His father turned on him. “What are you saying?”
“That you could have stopped this some time ago, and yet did not. I wonder why.”
The king turned back to the window without speaking. An idea formed in Jefri’s mind and he could not seem to shake it.
Was this all part of a plan on his father’s part? Not Tahira’s arrival—Jefri himself had set that disaster in motion—but the rest of it? Under normal circumstances the king would never allow a future bride to one of his sons to spend afternoons alone with another man, let alone enough time for them to plan an escape. Then there was his father’s insistence that Jefri marry Tahira. That she would be destroyed if he broke off the engagement. Had that been a ploy to make him realize the depth of his feelings about Billie?
“You are a wily old man,” Jefri said with a shake of his head.
His father stared at him. “What are you talking about?”
“You have too much time on your hands. First you played Reyhan with Emma, insisting they spend time with each other before you would grant them their divorce. You suspected they were still in love and forced them into each other’s company until they could not deny what they felt.”
His father smiled. “What makes you think Reyhan was the first?” he asked before walking out of the room.
Jefri stared after him. Had his father played a hand in Sadik’s marriage to Cleo? Had he been toying with Jefri as well?
He was torn between fury at the old man’s meddling and pity for Murat—the last single brother.
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