The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(4) by Susan Mallery
“So what do you think of El Bahar?” she asked her daughter as the clean, air-conditioned cab moved onto the main highway.
The city was stretched out in front of them, with the Arabian Sea to the left. It was a darker blue than the sky—nearly the color of cobalt. Lush plants came right down to the edge of the highway, although in the distance she could see the barren land that was the beginning of the desert.
“I like it,” Bethany announced. She sniffed. “The air smells sweet, like flowers or perfume. Do you know what it is?”
“No.” Liana inhaled the scent. “A flower of some kind, I would guess. We’ll look it up on the computer.”
Along with a furnished two-bedroom condo, her contract had stipulated that she would be given a laptop computer, with Internet access, for use at home as well as in the classroom. All utilities, except for the phone, were included. The American School had made her a very generous offer, and Liana was pleased to be in El Bahar at last.
“Just think,” she told her daughter. “You can tell all your classmates that you’ve already met the Crown Prince.”
Bethany grinned. “You think they’ll believe me?”
“If they don’t, I’ll be a witness.”
The cab moved past a group of high-rise buildings between the highway and the sea. Liana remembered her research on the country and suspected this was the financial district. El Bahar had a stable economy that encouraged outside investors.
Up ahead the highway split and the driver took the road leading into the city. In a matter of minutes they were driving through a unique world that was equal parts modern buildings and ancient stone structures. Up ahead stood the last remnants of the wall that had once guarded the city, and beyond that a white glittering building jutted out toward the sea.
“It’s the palace,” Bethany said, pointing toward the large building. “I recognize it from the pictures.”
“Lovely,” Liana agreed. “I wonder if our condo is close to it? I remember reading that there are tours of the gardens. We’ll want to do that right away.”
Bethany glanced at her. “Maybe we’ll see Prince Malik again.”
“Sure,” Liana agreed, even though she doubted the truth of that statement. Would a Crown Prince bother with a tour group on his grounds? There was no way he would have time. No, their lone encounter with royalty was over and, for her, it had been more than enough.
The driver wove through streets that narrowed, then drove through impressive open gates. A long curved driveway circled through trees and blooming plants she couldn’t identify.
Liana straightened and glanced around. Okay, so maybe the condo used by the staff of the American School had really impressive grounds. Or maybe this was part of the school itself. Or maybe a park. That was it. They were driving through a park and…
They rounded a curve in the drive. In front of them was the white building they’d admired just a few minutes before. Up close it was even more impressive, with several stories and wide balconies. A dozen or so guards stood at attention by a huge double door.
“Mommy? Where are we?” Bethany asked.
Liana didn’t have an answer. Either the condo was much nicer than anything she was used to, or their driver had just brought them to the royal palace.
She looked at the man behind the wheel. “There’s been a mistake.”
He shook his head and grinned. “No mistake. His Highness said to bring you home, so here you are. Welcome to the royal palace of El Bahar.”
Before Liana could decide what to do next, a tall man in a gray suit strode out to the cab and opened the door.
“Good,” Prince Malik said. “You’re here. Come, we’ll get you settled.”
Liana couldn’t tell if they were in a really big foyer or a smallish living room. She decided it was probably the former, because this was, after all, a palace, and she doubted it had smallish anythings.
A bubble of hysteria threatened to choke her, even as she told herself it would be best for everyone if she stayed calm. Screaming like a crazy woman wouldn’t do anything except upset her daughter.
Without her even being aware of leaving the cab, she and Bethany had been ushered out of the car and into this mystery room just past the main double doors. She could hear conversation behind her and had the bad feeling that their luggage had been removed from the cab and taken who knows where.
This isn’t happening, she told herself firmly. Really. We’re not being kidnapped, nor is this anything more than a simple misunderstanding.
Liana followed Bethany’s gaze as her daughter stared up at an oval ceiling depicting the night sky. Glittering stars twinkled down at them, and, on what she assumed was the east side of the room, the first hint of sunrise glowed faint pink against the inky darkness. The entire picture was edged in gold paint. Or maybe real gold…she couldn’t tell. The walls were the same dark color as the ceiling, but the color came from hundreds of tiny tiles. More tiles covered the floor in a pattern showing a dragon guarding a kingdom she suspected was El Bahar.
“You think the ceiling is something,” Liana murmured, “look at what you’re standing on.”
Bethany did so, then jumped back to study the large, dangerous-looking creature.
“I stepped on his tail,” her daughter whispered. “Do you think he’s mad?”
“People have stepped on more than that,” Prince Malik said as he walked into the room. “Welcome. I trust your cab ride was pleasant enough?”
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