The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(7) by Susan Mallery
“I, ah, teach math,” Liana said absently as she took in the beauty of the El Baharian palace. The air was cool and faintly scented with flowers. “High-school-level algebra and geometry. Sometimes, if I have a bright group, I start them on calculus.”
Heidi smiled at Bethany. “I guess with a mom who’s a math teacher, you don’t get to say you don’t understand it, do you?”
Bethany giggled shyly and clung to her mother’s hand. “No, I like math.”
“Good for you.” Heidi stopped in front of a single door carved with a relief of a gazelle. She pushed it open and stepped into a suite of rooms. “These will be yours,” she said, motioning to the airy space.
Liana and Bethany followed her, then came to a stop in the center of the main room. In front of them were floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over the Arabian Sea, light-colored furniture collected in two separate conversation areas, and double French doors leading out to a balcony that was almost as large as the living room. Nearly as amazing as the view was a mural on both the left and the right wall of the room. Tiny tiles had been cut and pieced together to create a herd of Arabian horses racing across the desert. The horses were depicted nearly life-size, with manes and tails flying out as fast hooves thundered across the sand.
“Oh, Mommy, look!” Bethany cried as she raced over to stand in front of the right mural. She reverently touched the tiny tiles. “Horses! Beautiful horses.”
Just then two servants appeared with their luggage. Heidi pointed down a short hallway and the men disappeared. Seconds later they reappeared, without their burden of suitcases, then bowed and left as quietly as they’d come.
“You’ll find the horse motif continues throughout the suite,” Heidi explained. “It’s one of the features of the palace. All the guest quarters have a theme. I thought with your daughter being at that horse-loving age, you two would enjoy this suite.”
Liana felt stunned, as if she’d been drinking, or hadn’t eaten in a couple of days. “This is a regular guest room here at the palace?” she asked. “There are more suites like this, just standing empty, waiting for company?”
Heidi nodded. Her hazel eyes filled with compassion. “I know it’s a lot to take in, but you’ll get used to it. There are frequent guests at the palace. Some visiting dignitaries prefer to stay at the beachfront hotels, but others like the warmth and history of the palace.”
“I see why,” Liana murmured. This was the most magnificent room she’d ever seen. She could only imagine what the bedrooms and bathrooms would be like.
“The balcony is a common one,” Heidi went on to explain. “There aren’t any other guests staying here at the moment, so you shouldn’t see anyone, but don’t be alarmed if someone walks by. Actually, on this level you can make a complete circuit of the palace via the balcony. I recommend the walk in the evening. It’s very lovely.”
“Thank you, I will.”
Heidi started to leave, then paused. “I know it’s terribly rude to ask, but how well do you know the prince?”
“I don’t know him at all.” Liana recounted the events on the plane and at the airport. “Instead of taking us to the American School, the cab brought us here. I don’t understand what happened.”
“Obviously you caught Malik’s eye,” Heidi said.
Then he can have it back, Liana thought to herself, although she didn’t say it aloud. “I can’t believe that,” Liana said. “I’m just a teacher.” Didn’t sheik princes fall for movie stars and models?
“You’re very attractive,” Heidi said. “Tall, blonde, blue eyes.”
Yes, she was those things, Liana admitted, but she was also about twenty pounds overweight and not the least bit interested in being fashionable. She preferred comfort to style. She’d been described as passably pretty, which she believed to be true. No, she was many things, but not someone to garner the attention of a prince.
“There has to be something else going on,” she insisted.
“Why do you find it so hard to believe that Malik could want you? Aren’t you interested?”
“Not really,” Liana said honestly. “I’ve reached the point where I don’t want another man in my life, and even if I did, I wouldn’t want someone like Malik. I would never be very good in the position of wife number three or four.”
Heidi smiled. “Ah, but this is El Bahar. The tradition of four wives is not allowed. Men have only one wife, and Prince Malik isn’t married.”
Liana told herself she wasn’t the least bit tempted. Sexual attraction was one thing—marriage quite another. “If I ever marry again, I want my husband to be interested in an equal partnership. Not likely with a Crown Prince.”
Heidi nodded. “You’re right there.” She looked around the room. “I’ll leave you to unpack, then. If you need anything, simply pick up the phone and ask for it. Someone will be by later to take your order for dinner.” She walked to the door and paused there. “It was very nice to meet you both. I hope you enjoy your stay in El Bahar.”
With that, she was gone.
“She’s very pretty,” Bethany said, staring after Heidi. “I never thought I’d meet a princess or stay in a palace. This is like an adventure in a book, isn’t it, Mommy?”
“Sort of,” Liana agreed, somewhat cautiously. “Let’s explore the rest of the suite and see what sort of arrangements the palace makes for its visitors.”
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