The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(17) by Susan Mallery
“I can’t,” she whispered, not sure if she meant she couldn’t do that again, or if she couldn’t bear to stop.
Malik’s dark gaze was unreadable, his expression as hard as his body had been. He seemed to be caught up in his own private hell, and she wondered if she’d been the only one to feel the fire between them. What a cruel joke of fate that would be—that the first man to make her understand what all the fuss was about when it came to passion was also a man who was immune to her. Could that be possible? Had she been the only one to feel the intensity of their connection?
“I don’t need your daughter’s help to get your attention, Ms. Archer, and I’m disappointed you would think that of me,” Malik said in a low, steady voice. “I offered to teach Bethany to ride because I enjoy her company. For no other reason.” Then he turned on his heel and walked down the hallway of the suite.
Liana stared after him. Was that it? Had the bastard just been trying to prove a point? He’d certainly made an impression on her—and not one that she wanted to repeat. How dare he act so…so…She swore silently in frustration when she couldn’t complete her thought.
She took a single step, then another. Gradually her breathing returned to normal. That kiss. It hadn’t just exposed her to passion, it had redefined her world. It wasn’t supposed to be like that, she thought in confusion. She was thirty years old. She’d been married, had a child. Nothing about what went on between a man and a woman should be new to her.
And yet it was. It was a very different world than the one she was used to.
Still reeling from all that had happened, Liana managed to make her way back to her own suite. At least Malik had more than proved his point. He didn’t need Bethany to get Liana’s attention. Another couple of kisses like that and she would spend all her time rubbing against him like a cat. It was disgusting what she’d been reduced to. Here she’d been worried that all he would be interested in was sex. Now she found herself hoping that was the case. Just over twenty-four hours in a foreign country and already she was not herself.
She turned the doorknob and entered the room. All right, so maybe she’d over-reacted. She would simply put the incident behind her. It wasn’t going to be repeated; she would be on her guard to make sure of that. After all, the last thing she needed was to spend her day as some Middle Eastern Prince’s sex slave. In the meantime she would tell Bethany that riding lessons with Malik were fine and—
Liana realized there was a strange older woman sitting in her living room.
“Good evening,” the woman said, rising to her feet. “I hope you don’t mind that I made myself at home, but at my age, it’s difficult to stand for long periods of time without experiencing some discomfort.”
“What? Oh, of course, it’s fine,” Liana said, caught off-guard for the second time in a single night. “I’m Liana Archer.”
“I’m Queen Fatima, the king’s mother and Malik’s grandmother. Welcome to the great palace of El Bahar.”
The next few minutes passed in a blur. Somehow tea and biscuits appeared. Liana found herself acting as hostess in a room where she felt very much an out-of-place guest. Fatima—like her son, she had insisted her title be dropped—was a tall elegant woman of indeterminate age. Her silvering hair had been swept up into a chignon that was reminiscent of a different era, although her clothes were contemporary, flattering and obviously haute couture. Her pale blue dress looked to be silk and the pearls around her neck were large and perfectly matched.
By contrast, Liana still wore the dress she’d put on early that morning, and a day of teaching had done nothing to improve its bargain-store appearance. She tugged on the hem and smiled brightly.
“The palace is very beautiful,” she said as she held her tea in one hand and a biscuit in the other.
“I’m glad you think so,” Fatima told her. “There have been some modernizations, but all in all, it hasn’t changed that much since I was brought here as a young bride.” She smiled. “You must promise to come visit me in the harem. It’s very lovely and peaceful there.”
Liana had just taken a bite of her biscuit. Now she choked as it went down the wrong way and it was several minutes before she could speak again. “Harem?”
“Of course. I’ve kept all the original mosaics and much of the furniture. The gardens are as lovely, although most of the parrots are gone.” Fatima sipped her tea. “Parrots were always kept around the harem so that men could not hear the voices of the women and be tempted to climb the walls.”
“I see,” she said, even though she didn’t. Harem. “So there are women there? Women kept for the princes?” She deliberately kept her voice sounding mildly interested so that the queen would not guess her repugnance at the thought of females on demand for any group of men. She’d thought that El Bahar was a forward-looking country, but obviously she’d been—
“I’m the only resident of the harem now,” Fatima said blandly. Her calm expression gave Liana the uncomfortable feeling that the queen knew exactly what she’d been thinking. “The harem as you would define it was disbanded a year or so after I was married. King Givon, my son, never kept any women there for himself and none of the princes do either. So it can be a bit lonely for an old woman like myself.”
Despite her embarrassment at being caught out with such obvious questions, Liana couldn’t help laughing. “I doubt anyone thinks of you as an old woman, Fatima. You are too elegant.”
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