The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(12) by Susan Mallery
Carl Birmingham was unfailingly polite and sympathetic, but so unhelpful that Liana wished she could throw a chair through the window. At least then her frustration would have an outlet. As it was, she had to sit quietly in her seat across the desk from the American School administrator and grit her teeth to keep from screaming.
“It seems to me,” he was saying in a calm voice, “everything would be so much easier if you would simply accept the Crown Prince’s invitation. You said you were told this morning the Prince wished you to remain as his guest. Is that so terrible?”
Carl Birmingham, a portly man in his mid fifties, leaned toward her and smiled. “Have you considered the great honor? You are a visiting American teacher being invited to reside in one of the greatest palaces in the world. You have the opportunity of becoming a close friend of the royal family.”
Liana wondered why she’d thought anyone would understand. Apparently the situation was strange only to her. Everyone else thought she should be grateful that Malik intended her to continue to live at the palace.
“I do appreciate the honor,” she said, careful to keep her tone level. “However, I never asked to live at the palace. All I want for my daughter and myself is the housing we were promised in my contract. A two-bedroom condo. Just something of our own.”
Mr. Birmingham straightened the papers on his desk, then glanced at her. “Of course if you feel you and your daughter are in physical danger, the situation must be rectified at once. I did not realize you felt threatened.”
Liana sighed. “It’s not that. I’m not worried about being attacked in the night, it’s just…”
How could she explain the sensation of being overwhelmed by a force larger than life? Malik Khan was a man used to getting his way, and for reasons that made no sense to her, he’d plucked her from obscurity to be the focus of his considerable attention. While she was flattered, she was also very nervous. Her own attraction to the man made her vulnerable. Not to mention the fact that no one looked forward to being used then discarded.
“Ms. Archer, the American School exists because of the support of the royal family,” Mr. Birmingham explained. “Prince Malik sits on the board of directors. He was instrumental in changing our policy so that teachers could be chosen based on skill rather than gender or marital status. Not many years ago, a single woman would not have been invited to join the staff.”
“Why should that matter? I’m good at what I do, with or without a husband.”
“I agree. But we are both Americans. Life is different here in El Bahar. The country is very progressive, but it is still foreign, with different laws and a different culture.”
She was beginning to get a message, and she didn’t like what it said. “You think I should live in the palace.”
“Ms. Archer, I would never presume to tell you what to do. However, we are talking about the Crown Prince. He is a powerful individual, while you are simply one teacher.”
Liana leaned back in her chair and bit back a scream. Basically she was trapped. Her generous contract had a clause that allowed the school to dismiss her for almost any reason. In return, they had to provide a return ticket and three months salary. While that would keep her and Bethany from starving while she looked for a job back in California, it wouldn’t do anything about funding her daughter’s college education, or providing them with a down payment on a house.
“Look at it this way,” Mr. Birmingham said with a smile. “Prince Malik hasn’t shown much interest in a woman for years. Not since…” His voice trailed off.
“Not since what?”
He shifted on the seat. “Yes, well, not since the unfortunate incident with his wife.”
“His wife? But Princess Heidi said he wasn’t married.”
“He’s not. He was, but Princess Iman is no longer with us.”
Liana thought about asking how the woman had died, then figured it wasn’t her business. Nor did she care. What was important was where she was going to live.
“You want me to stay at the palace,” she said flatly.
Mr. Birmingham shrugged. “You are welcome to move into your provided housing. The unit will be kept available. I cannot tell you what to do, Ms. Archer. It’s your decision.”
Liana nodded. “Thank you, Mr. Birmingham. I won’t take up any more of your time.”
With that she rose to her feet and left the room. Once she was in the hall, she swore softly under her breath. She was trapped. Well and truly trapped. If she made too much of a fuss about living at the palace, she could lose her job. Not something she wanted before she’d even had a chance to start.
Malik glanced out the window of his office and told himself he was simply checking the weather. He wasn’t actually keeping watch to see if Liana had returned from her first day teaching at the American School.
He knew that she’d already spoken with the administrator about her living arrangements at the palace. Carl Birmingham had phoned earlier to relay the details of his talk with Liana and had emphasized the fact that he’d informed Ms. Archer of the great honor the Crown Prince had bestowed upon her. If this were a hundred and fifty years ago, Carl Birmingham would be one of those annoying personal assistants to the crown who spent his entire day parroting back the monarch’s words and bowing as he walked.
Malik frowned. He would have had a whole lot more respect for the man if he’d challenged Malik’s actions. Who was the prince to keep this woman in the palace? Malik leaned back in his chair and stared mindlessly out the window. He was playing a dangerous game, and it couldn’t go on much longer. He would have to allow Liana to move into the American School’s housing.
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