The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(26) by Susan Mallery
She kept coming back to the thought that if she’d liked him so much before, why on earth had she left the palace? Liana came to a stop in the center of the living room and for the first time admitted to herself that given the chance to do it all over again, she would probably stay. Even if princes did not fall for schoolteachers. Even if she allowed herself to slip into his bed she would only end up losing her heart to him and getting hurt.
The doorbell rang. Liana nervously smoothed her palms over her thighs, wondering if a silk shirt and tailored slacks was too dressy. Should she have put on jeans? she wondered as she reached for the handle and turned it. Or left her work dress on, even though it wasn’t one of her favorites and—
The tall-dark-and-handsome cliché didn’t come close to describing Malik. His brown-black eyes mesmerized her until she was sure he could see clean through her. His broad shoulders looked strong enough to support the weight of the world and what single mother hadn’t at one time or another wanted someone with whom to share the load?
He wore a plain white shirt and riding jodhpurs. She didn’t even want to think about the boots, or how well they worked for her. She could feel her throat tightening as her mouth went dry. What was it about this man?
His sensual mouth turned up in a smile. “May I come in?”
“Hmm?” She realized she was leaning against the door like a mooning teenager and blushed. “Sure. Of course. Please, won’t you come in, Malik?” She stepped back to let him move inside, then closed the door and motioned to the living room. “Have a seat. Bethany will be right out.”
He settled on the plaid sofa and she was again forced to acknowledge that while this condo was serviceable, it wasn’t even close to a decent substitute for living at the palace. In truth, living there those few days had spoiled her. She’d decided the best way to handle the transition back to real life was to think of her stay at the palace as a lovely, once-in-a-lifetime, never-to-be-repeated vacation. Of course seeing Malik again brought all the longing back.
“You are enjoying yourself here?” he asked, looking surprisingly at ease as he leaned back in the sofa.
“Yes. Thank you. The privacy is very nice.” She gave him a quick smile as she took a seat on the loveseat opposite. “I’m willing to admit it’s not nearly as lovely as your home, but this is better for us.”
He raised dark eyebrows. “Why is it better?”
Because she very much wanted to slide next to him on the cushions and have him take her in his arms and kiss her soundly. Maybe even do more than kiss. Liana shook her head. She didn’t understand her reaction to this man. The instant heat and desire had never happened to her before, and she found it confusing. Although quite life-affirming. Still, she had to remember their respective positions and her goals for her and Bethany’s lives.
“Malik, you were very kind to both me and my daughter, but we don’t belong in your world. This is us.” She glanced around the room. “Simple, serviceable, but not the least bit royal. I found living at the palace confusing.”
“You should not have been confused. You were my guest.”
“I never meant to be ungracious,” she told him, forcing herself to meet his dark gaze. “That last night when I accused you of, well, of taking advantage of the situation. I know it wasn’t that, exactly.”
He looked at her with a steadiness that made it difficult to breathe. He hadn’t moved and neither had she, yet she felt as if they were physically closer. It was as if she could feel his heat and hear the sound of his heartbeat.
“What was it exactly?” he asked. “Do you know why I brought you to the palace? Why I wanted you to stay?”
“I don’t have a clue,” she whispered and had to swallow against a suddenly dry throat.
He smiled then. The slow, masculine smile that made her bones melt and her most feminine place swell and dampen in readiness for an act of pure possession.
“One day you will understand, Liana. And then we’ll talk about it.”
They were playing some kind of game, and she didn’t understand the rules. “Yes, well, I’m sure it will be great fun,” she said, feeling incredibly lame as she spoke. Talk about inane conversation.
Maybe she was bewitched. Maybe she’d fallen under the effects of an ancient El Baharian love potion or something. She leaned back and tried to relax. She was a grown-up; she could handle the situation.
Malik studied her. “Next weekend I’ve been invited out to dine with one of our nomad tribes. They make their homes in the desert, but once every year or so, they find their way into El Bahar and settle relatively close to the city for a few weeks. Their way of life hasn’t changed for hundreds of years and I enjoy the chance to spend a few hours living a more traditional life. I thought you might like to join me for the evening. The camp is three or four hours away, so we wouldn’t get back until very late. However, Fatima has already offered to have Bethany as her guest in the harem until the next day so you would not have to worry on her account.”
A thousand thoughts whirled through Liana’s head. Was it a date? Was he asking her out because he wanted to spend time with her? Elation filled her. But he was a prince. Why would he date her? Not that she was ugly, but she wasn’t young and thin and beautiful. Not a model or an actress or a princess. She was just a single-mom schoolteacher. So Malik couldn’t be interested in her in any romantic way. So why the invitation? Was he apologizing for keeping her at the palace? Was it—
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