The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(6) by Susan Mallery
“I’m pleased to learn one can disagree with a Crown Prince and live to tell the tale,” she said.
Heidi grinned. “Malik isn’t so bad. He talks tough, and he’s a fairly decent Crown Prince, but underneath all that, he’s basically a nice guy.”
Malik made a sound low in his throat. “You, woman, tread carefully around me.”
“Or you’ll have me beheaded. I’ve heard the threat before.” Heidi leaned close to Liana and lowered her voice. “Actually, he’s an excellent ruler and everyone respects him tremendously, but he can be a bit imperious on occasion.”
Liana had had first-hand experience with Malik’s imperiousness. “I’ve already seen him in action,” she said. “I don’t belong here. I’m a teacher with the American School.”
Malik shook his head. “She is my guest.”
Heidi looked from one to the other. “Interesting. What happened? You saw her at the airport and decided you liked the looks of her, so you brought her home?”
Malik looked faintly uncomfortable with the question. “I am the Crown Prince. I do not answer to you.”
Heidi glanced at Liana. “Let me guess. You don’t want to be here.”
“Well, Malik needs a willful woman in his life—even if he would never admit it. He’s a bit on the stuffy side, and being challenged by a woman would help make him more human.”
“I am not stuffy—”
“I’m not anyone’s woman—”
Liana and Malik spoke at the same time.
“This is all your fault,” she said, glaring at him. “Did you really bring me here because you liked the looks of me?” A voice in her head whispered it was actually a nice compliment, but she ignored the voice. She also ignored the steady thunder of her heart as she fought against her lingering attraction. “I’m not a puppy.”
“I never thought you were.”
Liana wanted to stamp her foot in annoyance. Nothing was going the way she wanted. She turned to Heidi. “Can you help me? I’m here to work and that’s all I want to do. If I could just get to the American School everything would be fine.”
Before Heidi could answer, Bethany stepped into the foyer. She walked over to her mother and leaned against her. “I’m tired, Mommy. Are we leaving soon?”
“You see,” Malik said. “The child needs to rest. While you stand here arguing, you’re wasting time. Heidi will show you to your rooms.”
Heidi raised her eyebrows at her brother-in-law, but otherwise didn’t protest. “Actually, Liana, it might be easier to give in to this tonight. You’ve got to be exhausted from the long trip. In the morning you can gird your loins and fight the battle anew.” She touched Liana’s arm. “Seriously, you are perfectly safe here. This is a royal palace and all guests are treated with the utmost respect.”
Liana didn’t know what to do. She had the feeling that if she gave in on this point, nothing in her life would ever be the same. The smart move would be to insist that she be taken to her condo immediately. But she was tired, as was Bethany. Then there was the tiny detail of spending the night in a real-life palace. That sort of thing had never happened to her before, nor was it likely to happen again. Was she going to turn down this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because of her pride?
“All right,” she murmured. “If you’re sure it won’t be any trouble.”
“None at all,” Malik said. He offered a low bow, then disappeared down a long hallway.
“Who was that masked man?” Liana murmured.
Heidi heard her and laughed. “The princes take some getting used to. Come on. Your room is through here. Don’t worry about the luggage, someone will bring it along.”
“You okay with this?” Liana asked her daughter. “Do you mind spending the night in the palace?”
Big blue eyes, so much like her own, stared up at her. Bethany smiled. “Mommy, if I stay in the palace, I get to pretend I’m a princess.”
“Oh, you’re right. Well, that makes this very special, huh?”
Bethany nodded, then looked at Heidi. “Are you really married to a prince?”
“I sure am,” Heidi said. “Which makes me a princess. We have a little boy who is also a prince.”
“Wow.” Bethany’s big eyes got bigger. “Do you have a crown and everything?”
Heidi led the way down a long hall. As they followed, Liana wondered about the woman who was being so kind. She dressed like a regular person—no robes or veils—and her voice had an American accent. Liana would bet that there was an interesting story in her past. If she was going to be here longer, she might want to ask about it. But Liana and Bethany would be leaving the palace in the morning, so there wasn’t going to be time to make friends.
“You’re here to teach?” Heidi asked as they passed through a carved archway.
Liana glanced around them, barely able to answer for all the wonders she saw. Open doors allowed her to see into great rooms with high ceilings and western-style furniture. She caught glimpses of gardens and fountains. Every few feet they walked by a small alcove that displayed some fabulous piece of art, be it a tapestry or glass-ware or a statue. The floor beneath their feet was marble, and much of the wall space was tiled. No doubt parts of the palace were hundreds of years old.
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