The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(22) by Susan Mallery
Malik half turned toward her as they walked. “Bethany is doing very well with her riding,” he said.
“So I’ve heard.” She smiled. “She likes to relive the lesson in exquisite detail.” Her smile faded. “You’re being very kind to her. Thank you. I’m sorry I jumped to conclusions before. About why you were doing it, I mean.”
Despite the lamplight illuminating the paths through the garden, Malik was more in shadow and she couldn’t read his expression. He gave a slight nod of his head.
“I like your daughter. I’m enjoying our time together.”
Liana believed him, although she was a little surprised. She wouldn’t have thought that a Crown Prince would have a good time with a nine-year-old girl. But then, what did she actually know about the royal set and their entertainment requirements?
“She talked a little about her father today,” Malik said.
Liana wasn’t surprised. “What did she say?”
“That she didn’t see him much when you were in California. That she’s sure he loves her, but he’s not practical enough to do things like send child support or visit regularly.”
Liana stopped in the middle of the path and folded her arms over her chest. “It’s bad enough that I made a mistake with my life, but I really hate that Bethany has to pay for it, too.”
“You mean your ex-husband?”
“Yes. While I have a lot of regrets about the marriage, I can’t regret her at all. Bethany is my life. But it’s horrible that Chuck is such a jerk about seeing her. I’ve reached the point where I don’t even care about the money, but in addition to not sending child support, he would set up weekends with her, then not show up.”
Liana sighed. “That was the worst,” she murmured. “Sitting with her by the window while we both waited. As it got later and later, she would try not to cry. Her effort to be brave nearly broke my heart. She didn’t make excuses for him, but I could see she wanted to. Finally I had to ask him to stop contacting her at all. The disappointments were horrible for her.”
She stopped talking and pressed her lips together. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to dump all that on you.” She wasn’t sure where the confession had come from. She wanted to blame it on the wine with dinner, but she’d barely had half a glass. Maybe the rich chocolate dessert had loosened her lips.
“Not at all. I’m glad I could listen,” he said. “Bethany is a special girl. It’s her father’s loss that he doesn’t want to spend time with her.”
She looked at him and smiled. “Thank you for saying that.” She glanced away and said, “Chuck and I were too young. Plus we weren’t really compatible, although I didn’t know that at the time. Still, my marriage gave me Bethany, plus I learned a lot. I learned that I want my next marriage to be a partnership between equals. With Chuck I was always the grown-up and he was the kid. I hated that.”
“I can see why. It would be difficult to be romantic while scolding your husband about some transgression.”
“Exactly.” She tilted her head and thought about the mystery surrounding Malik’s wife’s death. “So what did you learn from your marriage?”
Even in the shadows she saw his expression harden. “Not to marry an ugly, barren woman.”
She blinked. “That wasn’t exactly what I meant.”
“It remains the truth.” He motioned toward the path. “Shall we continue walking?”
“Sure.” She fell into step beside him.
“It doesn’t matter what I think about my first marriage,” Malik said. “The time is coming when I must take another wife.”
He spoke so matter-of-factly that Liana didn’t know what to do with the information. Especially given the way he’d kissed her a few nights ago. “Are you…um…seeing anyone special?”
“No. Nor does that matter. Like my first marriage, this match will most likely be arranged.”
That stopped her in her tracks. “You’re kidding?”
“I don’t see the situation as humorous,” he said, pausing beside her. “I am the Crown Prince of El Bahar. There are political ramifications to any marriage I make. When the time comes, I’ll do my duty.”
“I can’t believe we’re talking about this,” she said honestly. “An arranged marriage? What if you don’t like her or you don’t get along?”
“I have a duty to my country.”
She saw that he was completely serious. He would marry a stranger for the sake of El Bahar. While she admired his dedication, she wanted no part of it. “Your life is so different from mine. I can’t imagine living that way.” She waved her hand in a dismissing gesture. “You can keep your title and crown and whatever else you have. I’d rather have my privacy.”
“Don’t be so quick to judge, my prim friend. There are compensations for the lack of privacy.”
“Don’t call me prim. I’m not some dried up old virgin schoolteacher.”
“Agreed, but you are smug and convinced you know what is right.”
She didn’t know how to respond to that. She was pretty sure he was wrong. She wasn’t smug. At least she didn’t think so. But instead of entering into a debate, she asked, “What compensations?”
“Travel, wealth, power.”
“None of those really work for me. Anything else?”
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