The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(36) by Susan Mallery
A young woman stuck her head into the tent. Liana dove under the covers while Malik rose. “Good morning,” he said. “Have you brought coffee?”
“Yes, Your Highness,” the woman said in slow, careful English. She nodded at Malik, then moved toward the low table and set down a tray.
She looked to be in her late teens or early twenties. The shapeless robe and veil over her face made it difficult to tell.
“Don’t worry,” Malik told Liana. “This is simply desert hospitality at its finest. It’s a great honor for her to serve us coffee.”
“Yeah, and she caught me in your bed. What on earth are the tribespeople going to say about that? Aren’t they fairly traditional in their beliefs about sex?”
Malik didn’t meet her gaze. “It’s not a problem.”
She opened her mouth to question him more, but the young woman claimed her attention by approaching the side of the bed. She stopped and knelt on the thick rugs, then, with a glance back at Malik as if confirming he would stay where he was, she dropped her veil and smiled.
“Good morning, Princess Liana,” she said, speaking slowly, as if reciting a prepared speech in a language that was difficult for her. “Best wishes to you on the event of your marriage to the lion of the desert.”
“Married? Married?” Liana knew she’d been repeating the word over and over, but she didn’t know what else to say.
“It’s not what you think.”
She glared at Malik from her corner in the rear of the limo. She’d been silent for the first hour or so of their trip, but she couldn’t contain herself anymore. “Are we or are we not married?”
“Then it’s exactly what I think.”
This was not happening, she thought frantically as she stared out the window at the desert stretching to the horizon. It was a horrible dream brought on by lack of sleep, or too much sex or something, because she refused to believe it was real. She and Malik could not be married because there hadn’t been a ceremony. She was sure she would have remembered participating in one and reciting her vows, but she didn’t.
Of course she didn’t remember much of anything from the last hour except getting close to hysteria and insisting they return to the palace immediately. She wanted everything settled as soon as possible, and she had a feeling that wasn’t going to happen while they were out in the desert. She wanted to get back to the safety of the city. Once there, all this would make sense. She would find out there had been some kind of a mistake. That was it. A mistake. And soon everything would be put to right.
“Liana, you have to let me explain,” Malik said.
She spun to face him. “Explain away. I would love to hear how you and I got married, because I sure don’t remember it happening. And let me assure you, I’m not going to sit idly by while you attempt to run my life again. I don’t know what this game is, but I’m not playing.”
Malik reached for her hand, but she pulled her arm out of reach. “Don’t touch me,” she said. “I’m not doing that again, either. You might be a wizard in bed, but I won’t let myself be caught in that trap a second time. I can be seduced, but I’m not stupid.”
He stiffened and glared at her. “I didn’t seduce you. I made it very clear that whether or not we made love was completely up to you.”
She pressed her lips together. Damn the man, he was telling the truth. “All right. I’ll give you that one. I did agree.” She’d more than agreed, she thought grimly, remembering their second time. She’d been the initiator. And it had been amazing. “But I never said I would marry you. This whole thing is probably a joke to you, but it’s serious to me. We’re talking about my life. I don’t appreciate being made a pawn in some twisted game.”
Malik started to reach for her hand again, then stopped. “I didn’t trick you,” he said, then paused. “At least, I didn’t start out that way.”
“How kind of you,” she said sarcastically. “So it was an accident?”
“Do you want me to explain or not?”
She pressed her lips together. “Fine. I’m listening.”
“I invited you to join me for a welcoming ceremony,” he began. “That’s what I expected to happen. But when we arrived I saw right away that Bilal had arranged a desert wedding instead.”
He stopped talking. She waited, but after a couple of minutes of extended silence she knew he’d finished. “That’s it? That’s all you have to say. Oops, there was a mistake? Did it ever occur to you to explain it to me? To let me in on what was happening?”
“I knew you wouldn’t go through with it.”
“No kidding!” She was so frustrated she wanted to toss him out of the moving car. “Of course I wouldn’t have gone through with it. I don’t want to marry anyone. I certainly don’t want to marry you! I can’t believe you just blindly led me into this situation. Who do you think you are?”
Malik straightened in his seat. Even though she knew it wasn’t possible, she would have sworn he grew taller and more powerful as he spoke. “I am Malik Khan, Crown Prince of El Bahar. I am the future ruler of this nation, and I have done you a great honor by taking you as my wife.”
She opened her mouth, but no words came. What on earth was she supposed to say to that? “Well, la de da,” she managed at last, although saying it didn’t make her feel any better. Fortunately, the limo had arrived back at the palace.
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