The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(31) by Susan Mallery
“At first, yes. But later I received a message from the palace asking for the change. Is it not so?”
“It is not,” Malik told him.
“But Your Highness, you must,” Bilal insisted. “Your most faithful people have seen it written in the stars. She is your destiny. The foreign woman might come from far away, but she has the desert in her heart.” Bilal, a normally wise and conservative man, spat and muttered a curse. “She is nothing like the evil one.”
“No argument there,” Malik said, knowing that Bilal would have his tongue ripped out before he actually spoke Iman’s name. “But I can’t agree to this other thing.”
Bilal shrugged. “Perhaps you don’t have a choice. Perhaps this is already written. There can be delay, but not escape.” The older man placed a strong hand on Malik’s shoulder. “Come, let us continue as we have begun.”
Malik stared at the man who had been a second father to him. He didn’t want to disappoint Bilal or his people, but he also knew this was wrong. He had no right to play with Liana’s life this way. Who had requested the change? Was it his father? Fatima?
He shook his head and decided it didn’t really matter. He had to call it all off. If he’d thought Liana was annoyed with him for keeping her at the palace against her will, he couldn’t imagine her reaction to this if he let them go through with it.
“We can’t do this,” he said firmly.
Bilal shook his head. “We must. I told you. It’s in the stars. She is the one.”
Malik started to tell him no. He had to. It was wrong to make any other decision. Except…If the truth were told, he wanted Liana to be the one. He wanted this. Knowing how she would react and the price he would pay later, he was still willing to risk it all. Which made him a fool and a liar. For, by not telling her the truth, he was going to make her hate him. But at least he would have had her as his own…if only for a short time.
This was the oddest dinner Liana had ever attended. She and Malik seemed to be the center of attention as dish after dish of food was brought to them. They each tasted from the same plate, then the food was taken away and another brought in its place.
She found it hard to concentrate on her surroundings. When she’d first entered the tent, she’d had an impression of a bigger space than she’d expected. Tapestries covered the walls, and there were thick rugs underfoot. She and Malik had been led to large cushions where they’d knelt together in front of a low table. Bilal, the leader of the tribe had spoken, then touched each of them on the head.
She leaned over to Malik as yet another plate was set before them. “So, welcoming really means feeding to these people?”
“We’re nearly done. After the sweets are brought to us, we’ll be allowed to go.”
Just then a pretty young woman set a tray of dates in front of them. She motioned for Liana to take one and bite into it, then hand the other half to Malik. Liana did so.
“It’s very different than I expected,” Liana said as Malik chewed. “I thought it would be more of a party.”
“That comes later,” he said, avoiding her gaze. “But we aren’t expected to stay for it.”
That didn’t make sense. Weren’t guests supposed to be made welcome? “Because we’re outsiders?”
“Something like that.” Malik shifted on the cushion. “Bilal’s people are gracious, and they’ve offered us the use of a tent for the night. Or we can have Sandy drive us back to the palace.” Finally his dark gaze settled on her face. Fire leapt between them. “It’s up to you.”
Liana swallowed and was suddenly grateful her meal had been measured in single mouthfuls. A knot settled in her stomach and her thighs trembled. She glanced up at the people milling around, watching them, smiling encouragingly. She didn’t know all that much about El Bahar and even less about their nomadic tribes, but she wasn’t afraid. In fact, she’d felt very much at home with all the women earlier, even if she hadn’t been able to speak their language.
But that’s not what Malik was asking. He was, instead, asking her where she wanted to spend the night. At home alone…or with him. A shiver of anticipation rippled through her, but she held back and told herself to be sensible.
“Bethany—” she began.
“—is with my grandmother, probably staying up late and hearing wonderful stories about the harem. I doubt she’ll worry.”
Liana knew he was right. Bethany was staying with Fatima and didn’t expect her mother to pick her up until close to lunchtime tomorrow. Which meant she wasn’t going to know where Liana spent the night.
She looked at Malik. “What do you want to do?”
“I think you know that.”
She nodded. She did know. He had told her everything with his passionate kisses.
It had been so very long for her, she thought, as physical longing swept through her. While it was probably a mistake for her first affair since her divorce seven years ago to be with a royal sheik, she knew if she told him no she would regret it for the rest of her life.
She offered him a shaky smile and held out her hand. “I’ve never spent the night in a tent. Is it fun?”
Liana’s courage lasted right up until they left the large tent and entered a smaller one on the far side of camp. Once again there were tapestries on the walls and dozens of thick rugs underfoot, but instead of cushions and low tables and people, there was only a bed. A really big bed, obviously designed for much more than sleeping.
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