The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(9) by Susan Mallery
She shook her head. “Stop fantasizing about a guy you don’t even know,” she told herself. “You’re leaving in the morning and you’ll never see him again.”
There was another knock on the door. Liana sighed and pulled it open. A tall, thin man with a white beard stood in front of her. He wore a suit with an odd pin on the lapel.
“Let me guess,” she said before she could stop herself. “You’re the king of El Bahar, and you’re here to congratulate me on my pending engagement.”
“No, ma’am. I’m the butler and I’m here to see what you and your daughter would like for dinner.”
By the time they’d finished unpacking, had eaten the wonderful meal delivered to their suite, and Bethany had taken her bath, it was after nine. Jet lag had hit them both and Bethany barely made it between the sheets before falling fast asleep.
Liana stood at the foot of her daughter’s bed and watched the sleeping girl. Her head might be spinning with confusion and exhaustion, but her heart was true and on course, as it had been from the second she’d found out she was pregnant. From that moment to this, everything she’d ever done had been with her daughter’s best interests in mind.
Bethany was her entire world. She’d come to El Bahar because of her daughter, and she would gladly travel greater distances if it was the right thing for Bethany.
“I love you,” she murmured, even though her child couldn’t hear her. Then she walked into the hallway and shut the door.
Liana couldn’t remember ever being so tired in her life, yet she didn’t want to go to bed. An odd restlessness gripped her. She walked into her bedroom and thought about taking a bath. Deciding that a shower would be quicker, she first crossed to the French doors that led to the wide balcony. They unlocked easily, and she found herself moving out into the evening.
Instantly she was assaulted by the wonderful scents of the desert. The ocean, the sand and the hundreds of plants on the palace grounds combined to create a unique aroma that energized her. Even with her eyes closed she would know she was in a foreign land.
El Bahar. For years she’d heard about the country but hadn’t given it any more thought than the North Pole. She’d never planned to visit. Her budget didn’t allow for much in the way of world travel, and she and Bethany had contented themselves with the occasional weekend trip down to Sea World and the famous zoo in San Diego. Then she’d found out about an opportunity to teach here, and she’d seen the job as the answer to so many problems.
So here they were, in El Bahar. Living in the royal palace, if only for the night. Thinking of the palace made her think of Malik and his odd behavior. Why had he brought her here? And why had he told his sister-in-law that they’d been dating? Or had that come from Heidi? She felt as if she’d stepped into the middle of a play, but no one had told her the story or bothered to give her a script.
Who was this man, this Crown Prince who meddled in people’s lives with all the impunity of a child rearranging blocks?
She crossed the width of the balcony and leaned against the broad stone railing. Floodlights illuminated the gardens below. She could make out a large fountain and several paths. Even though the afternoon had been warm, the evening air was cool and carried with it a lovely sea breeze.
Very exotic, she thought, closing her eyes to inhale the sweet scents from the garden. Magical El Bahar. Just like in her romance novels. Now all she needed was the handsome prince to appear.
“Good evening,” a male voice said.
Liana spun toward the sound and found herself staring up at Malik. Be careful what you wish for, she thought, not sure if she should laugh or run for safety.
“Are you enjoying the night?” Malik asked.
“Sure,” Liana told him, trying not to notice that her body had begun to melt with each step of his approach. If he moved any closer, she was going to be little more than a puddle on the tiled floor of the balcony. “It’s very pretty. What are you doing out here?”
“I willed you to join me.”
He spoke with such seriousness that Liana couldn’t help laughing. “I thought only vampires willed women to do their bidding. Crown Princes can too?”
He stopped next to her and leaned casually against the railing. He still wore his gray suit and it still fit perfectly. The fabric seemed to emphasize the breadth of his shoulders and his white shirt gleamed in the night. His features blended together in the shadows until it was difficult to make out the firm shape of his mouth or the high cut of his cheekbones. Nonetheless, his good looks made him far too lethal for her safety.
“I’m not going to be easily persuaded,” she told him honestly. “I doubt you’ll get what you want from me.”
“Don’t be so sure. I can be very patient.”
They were teasing, right? This was El Baharian flirtation? Liana wasn’t so sure that Malik knew this was a game.
“Patient?” she repeated, questioning his choice of word. “Whisking me off to the palace before asking my permission is hardly the action of a patient man.”
“Agreed, but it was effective. I’m interested in results, as well.”
“Look, Your Highness, I’m not sure what you’re expecting from me, but let’s clear up a few things. I’m not interested in a fling of any kind. It’s not my style.”
His dark eyes regarded her steadily. He stood close enough for her to inhale the masculine scent of him—and darned if it wasn’t plenty appealing.
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