The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(28) by Susan Mallery
Malik nodded. “We’re in your capable hands,” he said pleasantly.
“I shall endeavor not to disappoint, sir.”
The glass closed silently as the car began to move down the circular driveway.
“Sandy has been with the family for years,” Malik said, motioning at the man barely visible through the smoky glass. “He’s originally from England, but he moved to El Bahar when he was in his twenties. My father prefers him to all the drivers. In fact, Sandy is the one who taught my brothers and I to handle a car.”
She looked at the silhouette of the fifty-something chauffeur and grinned. “Then I’m surprised he doesn’t have more gray hair.”
“Actually, so am I.” He shrugged. “Strong genes, I suppose.”
“I suspect one would need that to deal with you three princes.” When Malik opened his mouth to protest her teasing, she quickly changed the subject. “Tell me what will happen tonight.”
He drew his eyebrows together. “Do you really think I’m that easily distracted?”
“No, but I think you’re that nice a host.”
“First you try to trick me into changing the subject and now you flatter me. Obviously you need a good lesson in respecting royalty.”
“Obviously,” she murmured, not quite able to believe she was actually flirting with the Crown Prince of El Bahar. But up close, Malik seemed almost like any other man…aside from the incredible good looks and the fact that they were riding in the back of a limo.
“I shall think of something appropriate,” Malik promised, then gave her a wink. “Now, about the welcoming ceremony. We’ll be led into a large tent. Generally the women sit apart from the men, although, as you are my guest, they’ll make an exception. We’ll be fed, there will be a few speeches and then Bilal, their chief, will present me with a prize goat or camel.”
Liana had been listening intently, right up until that moment. She burst out laughing. “A goat or a camel? Are you serious?”
“But what will you do with it? There’s hardly room for it to ride back with us.”
Malik shrugged. “I’ll insist on holding a competition of some kind. A race or a game of skill. The prize will be my gift. So the tribe gets to make me a present of something of value without actually losing the animal. Customs are observed and everyone is happy.” He paused. “Are you thirsty? Would you like something to drink?”
Liana smiled. “That would be lovely,” she told him.
Malik opened the small refrigerator on his right and pulled out a chilled bottle of champagne. He removed the foil covering and the wire netting, then expertly popped the cork without spilling a single drop.
Once he’d poured them each a glass and handed hers to her, he set the bottle back in the tiny refrigerator, then touched his glass to hers.
“To a night unlike any other.”
She wanted to believe he meant their being together, but she knew better. Malik was talking about all that she would experience in the nomad encampment. “To the night,” she agreed.
She took a sip of the bubbly liquid. It was smooth and faintly sweet, yet tasted as light as if it were moonbeams.
Liana chuckled, then glanced around the spacious passenger compartment. The wood trim wasn’t simply a polished strip of walnut, but was instead inlaid in various pieces that created a beautiful spiraling pattern. Underneath her feet was the softest carpet she’d ever felt. She took another sip of the bubbly liquid and sighed.
“The rich really are different,” she said. “If you’re trying to get me to regret moving out of the palace, you’re doing a good job.”
Malik didn’t return her smile. Instead he set his glass on the small inlaid table above the refrigerator. “Do you regret your decision?”
She noticed he asked the question without actually issuing an invitation to return. Not that she blamed him. No doubt he’d gotten over whatever minor attraction had caused him to take her there in the first place.
“Regret is a strong word,” she said truthfully as she looked at him. “I’ve had a twinge or two, but most of the time I know it’s the right decision. I mean there were dozens of compensations, but Bethany and I need to be grounded in the real world.”
“The palace is real.”
“For you, maybe. Not for us. For me it was like living in Disneyland. It’s a great vacation, but on Monday morning there are still those pesky bills to pay.”
He shifted on the seat, settling into the corner and angling toward her. “Do you think my life is so easy? That I don’t, as you put it, pay my own bills?”
“I don’t know.”
She drank more of the champagne and was surprised to find she’d finished the glass. Malik poured her another, then leaned back against the leather.
“I guess I shouldn’t make assumptions,” she said, suddenly intrigued by his question. “Tell me what it’s like to be the Crown Prince of El Bahar. Is it wonderful?”
“At times. I enjoy representing my country when I travel. I have the satisfaction of knowing I can influence hundreds of thousands of lives for the better. I work hard, but I am well compensated by my life-style.”
It all sounded very nice. “What was it you once told me? Money, prestige, power?”
“All of that,” he agreed.
The champagne went down so easily, she thought as she swallowed another mouthful. “But it can’t be perfect every moment,” she said. “What aren’t you telling me?”
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