The Sheik and the Princess Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 8)(58) by Susan Mallery
Two hours later a shamefaced Tahira and a pale but defiant Doyle were returned to the palace. The king chose to meet them in the royal chamber where the large throne and formally dressed guards were designed to shake the confidence of the strongest of men.
Jefri stood at his father’s right hand and glared down at Doyle. Whether or not Jefri wanted to marry Tahira, she was his responsibility and he did not take the situation lightly.
“You were a guest in this house,” Jefri told Doyle. “You were treated with honor and expected to act in kind. Instead you have taken one of our greatest treasures for your own personal pleasures.”
Doyle frowned. “She’s not a vase or a picture. She’s a woman.”
“Exactly. A special young woman with great potential. She is not yours, Doyle Van Horn. You had no right.”
Tahira choked on a breath and threw herself in front of Doyle.
“Don’t hurt him. Please, Prince Jefri. I know what I did was wrong and unforgivable, but don’t hurt him.”
Doyle put his arm around her. “Don’t apologize. You did nothing wrong.”
“In that you are correct,” Jefri said. “You are the one charged here.”
Tahira blanched. “No! You can’t. Please. I beg you.”
Doyle stood straight and strong. “I’m not afraid of you.”
“You should be,” the king said sternly. “We have kept the peace here for over a thousand years and we have done that through the use of fair laws that apply to all. No one has the right to kidnap an innocent young woman for his own debased pleasures.”
“I didn’t kidnap her,” Doyle ground out through clenched teeth. “I was trying to help her escape.” He looked at Jefri. “You don’t want her. You can barely stand her and you’ll never love her. So why the hell are you insisting on marrying her?”
He turned to Tahira. “You’re just as bad. Tell him the truth.”
She ducked her head. “I am here to do Prince Jefri’s bidding.”
Doyle swore. “Tahira, for once would you just say what you want? Nothing horrible will happen. I promise.”
Tears filled her eyes. “They’re going to kill you.”
“We’re not that savage,” the king said. “But there must be a reckoning.”
Jefri had heard enough. He stepped down and took Tahira’s hand. “Come, child,” he said kindly. “We will speak in private.”
As he led her out of the room, he glanced back at the guards. “Hold him until I return.”
He showed Tahira to a small antechamber behind the throne. There he settled her on a chair and got her a glass of water. When she had the tears under control, he pulled up a chair next to her and sat down.
“Are you all right?” he asked, careful to keep his voice calm and gentle.
She nodded, clutching the glass in both hands. “Doyle didn’t hurt me. You have to believe me.”
“I do. I know he didn’t carry you off against your will. You wanted to go with him, didn’t you?”
Her eyes widened as she nodded.
“Over the past few weeks, you have become friends.”
Good. His father had been telling the truth about that. Now to get the rest of the information.
“Do you love him?”
She shrank back in her seat. “No, Prince Jefri. No. I would never…We haven’t…”
“I believe you, but you do care for him?”
She blushed and stared at the glass. “Doyle is very kind to me. When we talk, he makes me laugh. We talk about different things. The world. There is so much I haven’t seen.”
“And you want to see it?”
Her breath caught and she raised her face. “You are so wonderful. You have honored me in so many ways and I am grateful.”
“Tahira, I am not interested in your gratitude. I want your happiness. I was led to believe that you desired this marriage above all things, yet I now think that is not true. Would it not be better to simply tell me what is in your heart rather than risk a life of unhappiness because you are momentarily afraid?”
“You sound like Doyle.”
“Apparently he has occasions of true wisdom.”
That made her smile. She sucked in a deep breath. “I do not want to be married,”
she said, speaking quickly as she tightened her grip on the glass.
He took it from her before she snapped it and cut herself. Relief swept through him. He thought he might drown in the sensation. His future suddenly lay before him, a bright road of promise. But he had to be sure.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“I would like to study fashion design. In Paris. That’s where Doyle and I were going. We weren’t running away to be together.” She blushed again. “Not exactly.
He was going to help me find a place to stay and look into school.”
“You speak French?” he asked.
“Yes. And Italian. They make lovely shoes there.”
He smiled. “So I have heard.” He took her hand in his. “Tahira, you have honored me with your loyalty. I am sorry you felt you had to sneak away to achieve your heart’s desire. That was never my intent. I would very much like to help you get settled and find a school.”
He would take care of her financially, as well, but there was no need to discuss that now.
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