The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(3) by Susan Mallery
“Absolutely.With my two brothers and their wives. Lots of princes and princesses. Oh, and my father, King of El Bahar.”
Bethany’s blue eyes widened. “And you have your own horses and gold, and lots of people bow to you all the time?”
Malik grinned. “Not as much gold as we would like and people don’t bow all that much anymore. It makes it difficult for them to get their work done if they’re bowing all the time.”
Malik motioned to the customs official, who quickly stamped their passports, then ushered them through without so much as a glance at their luggage.
“Welcome to El Bahar,” Malik said.
Liana was still speechless at seeing him again, not to mention the effect of her misplaced physical reaction to his presence. She was too exhausted to figure out what was wrong with her, so she was determined to ignore it. Yes, the prince was tall—probably six foot two or three. She was five foot eight and he towered over her. Or maybe it was his headdress that gave him the illusion of height? She studied him and decided that his clothing might emphasize his power, but it didn’t add anything that wasn’t already there. Nope, Prince Malik was tall, strong and intimidating. But then maybe all princes were. She didn’t travel in royal circles much.
“Why did you do this?” she asked, jerking her head toward the long, slow-moving lines of people still waiting to go through customs.
Malik shrugged. “I wanted to apologize for scaring you and your daughter on the plane. I assure you, that was not our intention.”
His gaze was steady and direct. She tried to ignore the way he seemed to be seeing into her soul by looking at his individual features. Perhaps if she could find fault, he wouldn’t be so intimidating.
Unfortunately for her, Prince Malik was physically quite flawless. He had wide-set eyes and a straight nose. High cheekbones cut through tanned skin. His mouth was firm and a little stern, but there was the faintest hint of a smile tugging at the corners. He was the kind of man who would look good with his likeness on a stamp…or the side of a mountain.
“So, Liana Archer, why are you in my country?” he asked.
“I’m a new teacher at the American School.” She shifted slightly and saw that the customs official, the little man in the well-fitting suit and the security guard were all still within earshot. None of them were overtly listening to the conversation, but Liana didn’t doubt they were catching every word.
Malik frowned. “You are not.”
“You are not a teacher,” he said folding his arms over his chest. “Women teachers are old and unattractive. So why are you really here, and where is your husband?”
She’d been warned that while El Bahar was more forward thinking than most Middle Eastern countries, the nation still had particular ideas rooted in the past. Obviously this was one of them.
The combination of her lingering attraction, the odd welcome they’d received on the plane and the tiredness she saw in her daughter’s face made Liana speak without thinking.
“Look, Your Highness, I can’t see that it’s any of your business, but for what it’s worth, I’m not married anymore. I can’t do anything about my age, but if you’d like I’ll work on popping out a few warts to make me more unattractive. Would that be sufficient?”
Behind her, she heard a collective gasp from the three men. Belatedly, she thought that sarcasm would probably not be welcomed by the Crown Prince. A vision of years in a desert prison followed by a slow and painful death filled her mind. She took a step closer to Bethany.
But instead of getting angry, the prince simply smiled. “Would the warts be on your nose?”
“Is that where you’d like them?”
“I’m not sure. I’ll have to consider the matter.” Then he snapped his fingers—literally—and a porter appeared with a cart.
Minutes later, Liana and Bethany were in the back of a cab speeding away from the airport. Prince Malik had let them go without doing anything more than wishing them well.
“Remind me never to try to be witty in front of royalty again,” Liana murmured as she leaned her head back against the seat.
“He wasn’t mad,” Bethany said confidently, snuggling up to her mother. “Prince Malik liked you. I could tell.”
“How nice,” Liana said automatically, even though that wasn’t what she felt. She was not the least bit interested in the prince’s affections, thank you very much. She liked her life too much to mess it up with wishful thinking. She had plans and goals, and they did not include a dalliance with royalty—despite her body’s reaction to the man.
When the cab began to circle around toward the clearly marked exit, Liana realized she hadn’t told the driver where they were going.
“Do you know the American School?” she asked him. “That’s where we need to go. I understand there is a main office by the housing complex?”
The dark-skinned man met her gaze in the mirror and gave her a friendly nod. “Yes, ma’am. I know the place well.”
“Good. Although I have directions, if you need them.”
“No. I go there many times a week. Most of the teachers there don’t have cars.”
Liana had been told the same thing. Many of the teachers there were, like her, expatriates on two- or three-year contracts. While the generous salary meant that purchasing a car wouldn’t be a problem, most teachers didn’t bother. Apparently public transportation was reliable and inexpensive, and it saved the trouble of buying at the beginning of the stay, then selling at the end.
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