The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(41) by Susan Mallery
He walked into his father’s private office and found the older man waiting there, along with Fatima. He greeted them both, then stood in front of the sofa and braced his feet. An American expression came to mind—the best defense was a good offense. He glared at his father.
“You contacted Bilal and changed the ceremony,” Malik said.
King Givon shrugged. “I might have suggested something of the sort, but I never thought you’d go through with it.”
“Of course you did. Otherwise why bother?”
Fatima leaned forward. Elegant as always, the Queen Mother looked much younger than her nearly eighty years. “Malik, it’s been so long since you’ve showed any interest in a woman. We thought we would plant the seed in your mind that she might be someone worth pursuing.” She waved a slender hand. “If you’d married her and not bedded her, or if you’d at least told her the truth, the marriage could have been annulled.”
Malik drew his eyebrows together. “You meddled in my life and now you’re concerned because you got what you wanted?”
Fatima sighed. “It seems we might have misjudged the situation. Liana is not one to take kindly to being tricked into marriage.”
“I can’t blame her for that,” he said blandly.
“But you’re the one who tricked her,” Givon said forcefully. “Why did you do it?”
Malik shrugged. “I was surprised when I realized what Bilal was doing. I thought about taking Liana and leaving, or even telling her the truth and letting her decide.” He paused. “But she would have said no. There was also the matter of offending Bilal and his people. So I married her without her knowledge because I wanted her for my wife.”
“But she’s not going to simply allow this to happen,” Fatima said. “She’s furious, and I’m not sure I blame her. Our ways are not her ways.” She stared at her grandson. “Why this one? Why do you want this woman?”
He didn’t know how to answer that. “She intrigues me.”
“Heidi intrigued you,” the queen pointed out. “She saw past the title and duties to the man inside. Why is Liana different?”
Malik considered her statement. He’d known Heidi for years. As a teenager, she’d been a frequent visitor to the palace. Somehow his position had never impressed her. Even now she took great pleasure in teasing him unmercifully.
Malik smiled at the memory. “Heidi was always for Jamal,” he said. “Even when we were younger, I knew they belonged together. And even if they hadn’t, she and I would not have been right together. My feelings for her are purely brotherly. Nothing more.”
“You care for her very much,” Fatima reminded him.
“I know.” With Heidi he could feel almost human. It was an immeasurable gift.
“So, you have a month in which to win your new bride,” his grandmother said. “A month in which to make her fall in love with you and a month for you to learn to love her back.”
Malik nodded, agreeing with all but the last. He would do his best to win Liana—to make her fall in love with him. But he would never love her, or anyone. He could not. Love was a weakness he could not allow himself. That was a lesson he’d learned at a young age and one that had never left him.
Knowing he couldn’t put it off any longer, Malik went in search of Liana. They had to talk about all that had happened. By now she knew that she was no longer employed by the American School. She might have even called the American consulate. He wasn’t sure what they would have told her. Perhaps the truth—that in El Bahar, a desert marriage was still valid, and that for the next month she was his wife.
Wife. He turned the word over in his mind. He’d been married before. But Iman had taken that simple word—wife—and had made it into something evil. She had defiled their marriage bed and had humiliated him a thousand times over. Worse, she had weakened him in front of his countrymen. There could be no greater sin.
But Liana was not Iman, he reminded himself. He had seen the truth of Liana’s character reflected in the artless conversation of her charming daughter. A child repeats what it hears and learns, and Bethany spoke of a warm, loving woman with a generous heart. She confessed to times of loneliness and poverty, but only casually. Liana had given her child all she had. She could not be more different from Iman.
He paused outside the guest-room door. After knocking once, he entered and found her alone, standing by the French doors overlooking the Arabian Sea.
Sometime since he’d seen her last she’d changed her clothes, exchanging her traditional blue gown for jeans and a T-shirt. Her long blond hair hung loose about her shoulders and he couldn’t help remembering how it had felt brushing against his thighs the previous night when she’d knelt in front of him and taken him in her—
“What do you want?” she asked, continuing to stare out at the view. She hadn’t turned to face him, nor was there any anger in her voice. She sounded tired and resigned.
“She ran to tell the horses the good news. That she was going to be living in the palace and could see them every day. I’ve informed her that we’re only here until the month is up, but she’s hoping for a miracle.”
Liana slowly turned to face him. She wasn’t wearing any makeup and her skin was pale. Except for the henna staining her hands, she looked like a typical American woman ready for a casual Saturday of housework and errands.
Copyright © 2015 by Read Best Books Free Online