The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(40) by Susan Mallery
No matter how many times she replayed the situation in her mind, it didn’t make sense. Why her? Men like Malik didn’t fall for women like her. She knew he wasn’t in love with her. And while the sex had been amazing, that had occurred after the so-called marriage ceremony. He was a prince. She was a schoolteacher. They did not belong together, so why had he done it? She glared at the phone, picked up the receiver, then slammed it down again. This couldn’t be happening, she thought frantically. She wouldn’t let it. When had she lost control of her life? Was El Bahar really so very different? Had she truly been trapped into marriage without her consent?
“Mommy, why are you mad?”
Liana hadn’t heard her daughter enter the room, but now she glanced up and saw her standing by the entrance to the suite. Familiar blue eyes stared at her in confusion.
Liana held open her arms and her daughter ran over to her. They hugged each other, then Liana settled the child on the sofa next to her and brushed her bangs out of her face.
“I’m not angry so much as frustrated,” Liana admitted.
“But Fatima says that now we get to live in the palace and I can ride horses every day.”
Liana pressed her lips together. When the situation was described like that and viewed from a nine-year-old’s perspective, what was there not to like? Bethany could live in a real castle, have a prince for a father and a bevy of aunts and uncles ready to spoil her at every turn.
If only life were that simple for adults, Liana thought sadly. “Prince Malik and I are married,” she admitted, although she hated giving in on that point. “But it’s not a permanent marriage. It’s like summer school. You know, shorter than a regular semester. Well this marriage is going to be shorter than most. Just a month. And when the month is over, you and I are going back to America.”
Bethany’s eyes filled with tears. “But I want to stay here forever. I want Prince Malik to be my daddy. He likes me and talks to me, and he’s never too busy or forgets to come get me. Please, Mommy. Can’t we please stay? I’ll be really good and Prince Malik will buy you flowers every day and you’ll never have to worry about having enough money to buy me school clothes and I’ll go to bed right on time every night, I promise.”
Her daughter’s pain cut through Liana like a knife. She knew that Chuck had let his daughter down, but until she heard Bethany glory in a man who picked her up when he said he would and took a few minutes to give her attention, she hadn’t realized how deep the wound went in her little girl. Tears flowed down Bethany’s cheeks and caused Liana’s eyes to burn as well.
How was she supposed to explain that what Malik had done was wrong? That no man, prince or not, could trap a woman against her will? But Bethany wouldn’t see marriage to Malik as a trap. For her it was a dream come true.
“I’m sorry,” Liana murmured, holding her daughter close. “I wish I could explain it better. We’re going to have to stay for a month, but that’s all. I want you to enjoy your time here, but don’t forget it’s just for a short time and then we must go home.”
Bethany pressed against her shoulder and sobbed as if her heart were breaking. Which it probably was, Liana thought grimly. Sometimes being a parent was the hardest job in the world.
“I’m going to pray every night that we get to stay,” Bethany said, her voice still thick with tears. “I’m going to ask God to change your mind and make you want to stay here.” She raised her head and sniffed. “Or maybe you could fall in love with Prince Malik and then you’ll never want to leave.”
And pigs could fly, Liana thought. In love with Malik? Yeah, right. In what lifetime? The man had bullied her from the moment she’d set foot in his country. He’d brought her to the palace against her will, he’d tricked her into marriage and now who knows what more he expected?
Liana swallowed against the sudden tightness in her throat. Bethany stared up at her with such hope that she couldn’t help wishing there was a way to give her daughter everything she wanted. Malik had been good to her daughter, she admitted grudgingly. He’d been consistent and patient. From what Liana could tell he actually liked spending time with her.
He was also incredible in bed, not that his skills there excused anything or made the slightest bit of difference to her. All right, so he was good-looking and intelligent. And maybe their talk on the way to the desert had given her some insight into the stress of his life. After all, where did a Crown Prince go at the end of the day? How did he relax and to whom did he talk? From what she’d been able to tell, Malik was very much alone. So she was the tiniest bit honored that he felt he could trust her enough to share some of his life with her. But that didn’t excuse one thing he’d done and there was no way in this lifetime that she was ever going to do something so incredibly stupid as to fall in love with the man.
Later that afternoon, Malik returned to his father’s office. They’d both had urgent business to take care of, but the conversation about Malik’s marriage to Liana Archer couldn’t be put off forever.
Malik knew the questions his father would have. Questions any sane person might ask. Why had he done it? Malik had asked himself the same question, but he wasn’t sure he was willing to share the answer with anyone. He could barely acknowledge it himself. Except for that one moment when he’d realized that Bilal had prepared for a wedding, not a welcoming, Malik had felt as if he could finally touch all he’d ever wanted. His decision had been impulsive. He might have to pay for it for the rest of his life, but he couldn’t regret it.
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