The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(14) by Susan Mallery
“Why would she do that?”
“I don’t know. Moms can be difficult sometimes.” Her expression brightened. “But maybe because you’re a prince and all, she won’t mind so much.” Bethany smiled. “I asked about you at school today and everyone says you’re going to be king of El Bahar one day.”
“That does seem to be the way things are going.”
“I think it would be very romantic to be a princess, but my mom doesn’t agree. You don’t exactly fit into her plan.”
Of that Malik was sure. Liana’s plan included enough money for a house and her daughter’s college education. From what he could tell, the single mother had tried to think of everything. He doubted a royal prince had figured into her expectations.
“I would still be happy to teach you to ride,” he said. “If you would like.”
“Oh, I’d like that very much. I’ll ask her right away.”
“Fine. If it’s all right with your mother, we’ll start tomorrow when you return from school.”
Bethany shrieked and jumped, gave him a quick, unexpected hug, then tore out of the stable as if her shoes were on fire. Alexander snorted his displeasure, but Malik didn’t agree with the horse’s assessment. To his mind, Bethany was a most charming young lady who admired him. Now if only he could find a way to make her mother as much of a fan.
Liana paced around the living room, muttering under her breath. She could not believe this was happening to her. She felt as if she were trapped in some Victorian novel, perhaps as a governess newly arrived, only to find out that her employer had murdered his wife and was now raising the knife toward her. Ridiculous. Malik might be arrogant and annoying, but he wasn’t threatening her life, even if it did feel as if she was well and truly trapped.
She couldn’t get Carl Birmingham’s words out of her head—he’d said Prince Malik was a member of the board of directors at the American School. Not to mention the fact that she should be honored to be the prince’s guest.
“Honored,” she grumbled as she paused in front of the French doors to the balcony. “Yeah, right. Next he’ll be telling me not to worry my pretty little head about it.”
Her gaze settled on the view before her. The blue Arabian Sea stretched out to the horizon. It was dark and vivid and probably the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. Slowly, she turned in a circle, taking in the exquisite horse murals, the expensive furniture, the objets d’art. The bedrooms were just as lovely and spacious, and was she crazy to want her own place rather than accepting the hospitality of a royal prince?
She was a single mother from San Bernardino. Her dad was a retired postal worker, her mom, a homemaker. Liana’s sister worked as a hairdresser. Liana herself, the only one in the family to make it through college, taught high-school math. And here she was complaining because she’d caught the attention of the Crown Prince of a wealthy and respected nation.
“Maybe I am insane,” she said aloud. “Maybe I should just give in and stay here. It’s not so horrible. After all, the food is great, and there are hot and cold running servants.”
Liana sank onto the sofa and took a deep breath. As tempting as the palace might be, she couldn’t stay because nothing was going to be that easy. She didn’t know why Prince Malik had brought her here, but she doubted it was because he thought she would be a great ornament. Did he expect her to sleep with him? Was this all about sex?
Liana bristled at the thought. In this day and age women were not kidnapped to be placed into a harem. At least not women like her, with twenty extra pounds settling on her hips and thighs and a body with the still-visible marks of childbirth.
No, she told herself. A handsome prince like him would want perfection. And he’d have plenty of choices—what with women falling all over him everywhere he went. Liana had felt the powerful chemistry of his attraction. She, too, had been all a-twitter at the thought of being close to someone like Malik. He’d made her heart race and her blood boil and whatever other fabulous phrases filled the pages of those romances she so adored reading. At least between the covers of those books, the women always found a wonderful man and sexual fulfillment. If only life were that tidy.
But it wasn’t, and, regardless of her wayward hormones, she had no intention of falling for Malik, either in or out of bed. Not that he was going to ask her, which brought her right back to where she’d started…what on earth was she doing here?
The suite door opened and Bethany sailed inside. Her bright eyes and glowing skin told of a wondrous adventure. Liana smiled and patted the cushion next to her on the sofa. “Come tell me all about it,” she told her daughter.
Bethany plopped down next to her and gave an exaggerated sigh. “There are so many horses,” she said, leaning against Liana. “Rooms and stables of them. They’re all big and pretty and Prince Malik was there and he introduced me to his favorite. Alexander the Great is a very vain horse. He looks at himself in the water, admiring his reflection!”
She gave a giggle of delight, as if a vain horse were a wondrous thing indeed. Liana was less amused. “Prince Malik was with you?” What on earth had he been doing in the stable?
Bethany nodded. “He talked to me and everything.” She straightened and looked at her mother. “He’s very nice. He said that he would like to teach me to ride and I told him that I had to talk to you first and make sure it’s all right, but I know it is because he said he has a very special horse that is perfect for a girl like me and I wouldn’t get hurt and you really wouldn’t mind, would you, because you know I’ve wanted to ride forever.” She paused to draw in a much needed breath. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted in the whole wide world.”
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