The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(38) by Susan Mallery
“It can’t be true,” she said urgently. “I never agreed to any of it. Someone has made a mistake. I won’t be married to him. I can’t be. No one asked me if I wanted to marry him.”
The king patted the hand he held. “The ancient ways are different here than in the West,” he began. “A traditional desert wedding doesn’t require the permission of the bride, only that of her family.”
“But I don’t have any family here.”
Wise dark eyes so much like Malik’s stared into her face. “Without family to care for you—” he began, but Liana cut him off.
She pulled her hand free and rose to her feet. “I don’t need anyone to take care of me or my daughter. I do a fine job all on my own.” She pressed her fingertips together.
“That is true,” the king agreed. “However, the old ways don’t make allowances for a woman who can support herself. Instead, a woman without family will be married off to the first man willing to provide for her. Under those circumstances, her husband is held to a higher standard because the woman is without protection.” Givon smiled. “In our own way, we try to see that all are taken care of.”
Liana swallowed her frustration. Screaming at the king was only going to make him angry and what she really needed was the monarch on her side. Even so it was difficult to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. “So you’re saying that because I have no family, any man in El Bahar can marry me against my will?”
“Something like that. But, as I mentioned, these are the old ways. Things are different now.”
Relief flooded her. She sank back onto the sofa and for the first time that morning, smiled. “So we’re not married?”
King Givon glanced at his son, who still stood with his back to them. “Modern practices have taken the place of desert marriages for most people, however the desert arrangements can still be valid under certain circumstances.”
Liana swallowed. A knot formed in her stomach and she had a bad feeling about what the king was going to say. “What circumstances?”
“If you went through the desert ceremony last night and that was all, then the marriage can be annulled immediately. However, if the marriage was consummated, then I’m afraid it’s completely binding. At that point the couple is truly married for a month. After that time, they may consider a divorce, but not before.”
Liana couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t think, she couldn’t move. She could only stare at the king sitting next to her and press her lips together to keep from crying out in frustration.
“That can’t be it,” she whispered. “Anything but that.”
Givon’s bushy dark eyebrows raised slightly. “I see.”
Just two words, but there was a wealth of meaning behind them. Color and heat flooded her face. Liana sprang to her feet and mumbled an apology, then ran from the room. She pushed past the startled guards and ran until the king’s private office was far behind her, and she was again in a familiar part of the palace.
She stopped by a small fountain in an alcove. The splash of water sounded like tiny bells, but she barely heard the soft melody because of the harsh sobs clawing at her throat.
It couldn’t be true, she thought frantically. Someone was lying. In this day and age a man couldn’t really marry a woman without her permission, could he? Not even a Crown Prince. And even if it were so, why would Malik do it? And with her? Was he tricking her? Did he want to punish her for leaving the palace? But that didn’t make sense, she thought as she dashed away her tears. Of course, nothing made sense anymore.
She leaned against the cool wall and continued to sniff and smooth away her tears, all the while trying not to notice the henna staining her hands. What was she supposed to do now?
Liana slowly focused on her surroundings. She’d stopped in a little-used corner of one of the side corridors by the harem. She straightened and drew in a deep breath. She had more than herself to consider—there was also Bethany. This affected her as well. If it was true.
Liana knew only one other person she could ask about the marriage, so she walked around the corner and headed for the gold doors that marked the entrance to the harem.
Inside, she found both of Malik’s sisters-in-law as well as Fatima waiting for her. Bethany bounced to her feet and raced over to her mother.
“Fatima says that you’re really married to Prince Malik, which means you’re a princess,” her daughter said, beaming up at her. “Can I be a princess, too? Please, Mommy?”
Liana looked at the elegant queen. “So it’s true?”
Fatima rose to her feet and crossed the marble floor. When she was in front of Liana, she rested her hands on Liana’s shoulders, then leaned forward and kissed her on both cheeks. “Well, my daughter,” Fatima said. “I’m afraid you have married the Crown Prince.” A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “Of course, now that you have him, I can’t help thinking he will be the one to change, not you. You’re an excellent partner for my grandson.”
The queen was actually smiling at her, Liana thought in amazement. Both Dora and Heidi were nodding with approval. As for being partners, that wasn’t going to happen. Not if she could do anything about it.
“We’re not really married,” she said flatly, stepping back from Fatima.
“But the king called and said you are,” Bethany announced. “Just now. And Fatima was happy, and now Princess Dora and Princess Heidi are my aunts and Fatima is my grandma and I have a big family.” She clapped her hands together. “I’ve always wanted a big family, but till now it was mostly Mommy and me.” She looked at her mother. “What are you going to tell Grandma and Grandpa?”
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