The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(18) by Susan Mallery
“Thank you, my dear. One tries one’s best. Now, enough about my life. Tell me about your relationship with my grandson. I’ve heard several different rumors, and I’m not sure which one to believe.”
“There’s nothing to tell,” Liana said, refusing to think about the kiss they’d just shared. While it had been amazing, it didn’t mean anything. She quickly recounted her meeting with Malik and how she’d come to be at the palace rather than the teacher residences at the American School.
“Most intriguing,” Fatima mused. “Not like Malik at all.” She regarded Liana thoughtfully. “Malik is a great many good things, but he’s not what you Americans refer to as a people person. He’s generally reserved. Heidi, his sister-in-law, can get through to him. She always has. I believe it’s her irreverence for his authority, and the fact that she treats Malik like a regular person.”
“He is a regular person,” Liana reminded the queen. “He has exceptional responsibilities, but that doesn’t make him any less human.”
“Really…” Fatima took another sip of tea. “How interesting you should think so. Most of Malik’s acquaintances would not agree with you. They would say he was quite removed from the rest of us.”
Probably because they hadn’t been kissed by him, Liana thought humorously. There was nothing like a passionate embrace from a handsome prince to remind a woman that he was very much a mortal man.
“So how are you adjusting to life in El Bahar?” the queen asked.
As far as smooth transitions went, it left much to be desired, but Liana was determined to play along. She found herself liking the grandmother of the Crown Prince.
“I’ve never lived in a palace before,” she admitted. “It has its benefits, as well as its drawbacks.”
“The palace is very beautiful,” Fatima said. “You and your daughter must visit me in the harem for tea. Perhaps on Saturday.”
“That would be nice.” Liana answered politely even as she wondered if they would still be here on Saturday. Just because she’d had a moment of mind-stealing passion didn’t mean that she’d changed her views on having her own place. If Malik thought he could seduce her into staying at the palace, he was going to find himself very startled when she left.
Fatima smiled at her. “I hope you’re going to be very good for my grandson. He needs that.”
“Because he misses his late wife?”
Fatima’s friendly expression faded as if it had never been. Her expression hardened just as Liana had seen Malik’s do. Fatima stiffened, then set her teacup on the table.
“I will not speak of that woman,” the queen announced as she rose to her feet. “She might have been of royal blood, but she was not worthy of the house of Khan.”
“I’m sorry,” Liana said quickly. “I didn’t mean to say anything offensive about Malik’s late wife.”
“You did not. You could not, as you are unaware of what happened.” Fatima smiled tightly. “Do not trouble yourself, child. While Iman will never be dead enough to suit me, she is out of our lives and we are the better for having her gone. I have trespassed on your hospitality long enough. I bid you goodnight.”
With that, Fatima departed, leaving a very bemused Liana staring after her. The rich and royal truly were different, she thought, feeling slightly bemused and very confused by all that had happened.
The girl caught on quickly, Malik thought with some pleasure. After three days, Bethany was fearless on horseback, which meant their riding lessons had been successful. He wanted her to learn the mechanics of a good seat and a combination of gentle firmness with which to guide her mount rather than have to overcome any terror at being on top of such a large animal. She was a natural, taking to the saddle with the balance of someone born to the sport.
“I want to gallop across the desert,” she said with a small pout as they circled the large training ring. “This is boring.”
“This is practice,” he told her patiently. “You would not like falling and breaking a bone. Casts are uncomfortable and itchy.”
The pout turned into a grin. “What did you break?”
Blue eyes gazed at him. “Mommy says that to make a mistake once is good. It means we’re stretching ourselves and learning something new. But to make the same mistake again is really…” Bethany pressed her lips together and didn’t finish her sentence.
Malik wondered if her reticence was good manners on her part, or a sudden realization that he was a prince and it didn’t do to call him stupid. He hoped it was the former because he liked being with Bethany. The majority of her charm came from her intelligence and her artlessness. She didn’t know the first thing about having a conversation with a member of the royal family. To her, he was just an adult who had agreed to grant her wish of learning to ride.
“My father told me the same thing,” he said solemnly. “He also forbade me to jump my horse again.”
She frowned at him. “But if you broke your arm twice, that means you didn’t listen to him.”
“You’re right. And I paid the price.”
She mulled that over. “I think I’ll listen to my mom and to you. I don’t want to break anything.” She eyed the gate of the training corral, then sighed. “If we can’t go out, can we at least go faster?”
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