The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(42) by Susan Mallery
“I’ve been standing here trying to make sense of it all,” she said, raising her gaze to his face. “The truth is, I can’t. Why did you do this, Malik? Why did you trick me into marriage?”
“I didn’t know the ceremony had been changed until we arrived in the camp. Once I realized what they were doing, I went along with them.”
“I needed a wife.”
She stared at him. “As simple as that? No explanations, or excuses?”
“Do you want to hear any?”
“I thought as much. So why bother? I’ve told you the truth.”
“You needed a wife?” She shook her head in disbelief. “Okay, say I buy that. Why me? There must be hundreds, no, thousands of women more suited to the task. I don’t know the first thing about your world. I don’t have family connections or the training. My idea of high fashion is buying a cotton blouse that’s not on sale. I don’t know how to make political small talk with visiting dignitaries, and I’m sure not beautiful enough to grace a magazine cover.”
Malik studied her critically. Technically, she might not have the classic features of a beauty, but when he looked at her, he saw pure loveliness. The face of the woman with whom he could almost be himself. Someone worth bothering about.
“No man could be dissatisfied with your appearance,” he said.
“There’s a compliment.” She shoved her hands into her back pockets. “I don’t know what to say to you, or even what to think. My entire life is out of control.”
“Your life is very much in control.”
“Oh, yeah, and you’re the one doing the controlling. I hate that. Who gives you the right?”
“Ancient tradition allows—”
“Screw ancient traditions,” she said, interrupting him. She pulled her hands free of her pockets and approached him. “Who gave you the right to mess with my life and why on earth did you pick me?” She stopped a couple of feet in front of him and rubbed her temples. “Is that what the sex was all about? Did you do it just to keep me?”
How was he supposed to answer that? If they hadn’t made love, she would be free to leave him now. But that hadn’t been the reason he’d wanted to be with her. He weighed his options, then decided to speak the truth.
“If we hadn’t made love last night, I knew I would die.” Perhaps not on the outside, but certainly in his soul where the last vestiges of his humanity clung by a thread. Being with Liana had given him new life…if only for a short time.
She glared at him. “Great line. Did you think it up yourself?”
“It’s the truth.”
“Sure. And I’m the queen of…” Her voice trailed off. “Never mind. I might just be queen of something, after all.” She turned toward the window, then spun back to face him. “I don’t want this,” she told him. “I can’t believe I came half-way around the world only to end up with someone exactly like my ex-husband.”
Malik stiffened. “Do not compare me with him. We are nothing alike.”
“Aren’t you? Chuck made all kinds of decisions without consulting me. He took our savings, which we had in theory agreed was for a down payment on a house, and bought a new race car and an engine and tires. He never asked, he just did what he wanted. Frankly, I can’t see that you’re any different.”
“I have taken nothing from you,” Malik reminded her. “You have only gained from knowing me.”
“If we’re talking about the money you had placed in my account, you can forget it. I’ll be giving that all back. While it’s a generous payment for one night of sex, I refuse to be your whore for any price.”
He grabbed her upper arms. “Is that what you think? That I paid you to service me?”
Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. “What else could it be?”
“Perhaps it was my way of making sure your dreams were not affected by all that has happened. It is not my intention to have you go when the month is up, but if I can’t stop you I don’t want you to leave El Bahar without what you came for. The divorce would have provided you with a generous settlement, but I thought you might be stubborn about that. I thought you would at least take what you expected to have earned from teaching. If you return to your country with that money, then both you and Bethany will be taken care of. You will have your house, and she will have her money for college.”
He shook her slightly, but didn’t give in to the rage boiling inside of him. “How dare you imply I treated you as anything but a precious part of my life? I didn’t take you last night without regard for your feelings. I asked you. I had you choose what you wanted. If you had refused me, I would have walked away. I have honored you by marrying you and yet you accuse me of treating you in such a despicable way.” He thrust her from him. “You know nothing of me.”
“You’re right,” she said, her breathing coming in hard pants. “I don’t know you and I don’t want to. I had my whole life planned. Everything was fine. I do a damn good job taking care of my daughter and myself, and we don’t need you.” A single tear slipped down one cheek. “But we’re stuck with you now. So tell me what’s going to happen? What about Bethany and how this is going to affect her? She’s going to be destroyed.”
“Why? I care for her.”
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