The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(43) by Susan Mallery
“Isn’t that nice. Well, guess what? She cares about you, too, and living here is only going to make that worse. She’s going to start to have expectations.”
“I will be a good father to her.”
“Will you visit her when we’re back in California? Do you plan to fly in every other weekend? Don’t you realize that a month is plenty of time for her to get her heart broken?”
“I don’t want it to be just for a month. I want you both to stay.”
“Oh, that’s so nice,” she said sarcastically. “But this may be one of those times when you don’t get what you want.”
He refused to think about that. Liana was here and she was going to stay. Somehow he would convince her.
“You and Bethany will move into my suite today,” he said. “Someone has already been sent to pick up your things. I will give you a few days to settle in, and then I’ll be joining you in our bed.”
She bristled. “I don’t think so, Prince Malik. I might be stuck in El Bahar, but I’m not staying in the palace.”
“You are my wife. Your place is at my side. Besides, you don’t have a choice. The housing at the American School is no longer available to you.”
She blinked. “Because I don’t work there anymore,” she said slowly, as if it was all just sinking in. “Let me guess the rest of it. No one will rent a room to me if you tell them not to.”
“You are my wife,” he repeated stubbornly. “Your place is here.”
“I’ll go to the American consulate,” she said. “They’ll have to help.”
He wasn’t sure if she didn’t see that she had no choice or if she was determined to fight him to the end, regardless of her lack of options. He suspected the latter. Liana could be most stubborn. While that trait made things difficult now, he knew it would be a great help later in their life together. She would fight for what she believed, and when they had sons together her strength would help them to rule El Bahar with wisdom and courage.
Liana continued to stare defiantly. He touched her shoulder. “They will not help you.”
Her whole body stiffened, then she seemed to collapse upon herself. She walked over to the sofa and sank onto a cushion. “It’s not fair,” she whispered.
“Perhaps not, but we must live with the situation as it exists. We are married. Nothing can change that. Would it be so difficult to make the best of things?”
She raised her head. Fire glowed in her eyes. “You haven’t won, Malik. I might be here for the next thirty days, but when the time is up, Bethany and I are leaving.”
“No. You will fall in love with me and you will stay.”
Her lips curved into a smile, but there was no humor in her expression. “Want to bet?”
Now it was his turn to smile. She couldn’t know that he was betting his very life on her staying. She was his last hope. Only with Liana did he have a chance of surviving, of being a man rather than a machine. She had the key to his heart and if she walked away from him, it would stay locked forever.
But he didn’t tell her any of that. For one thing, she would never believe him. For another, he couldn’t imagine allowing himself ever to be that vulnerable to another person. He’d been raised to be autonomous. He was Crown Prince Malik and he needed no one.
“You will love me,” he repeated. “And you will stay.”
“You will rue the day you tricked me into marriage,” she retorted.
He met her angry gaze and knew that only one of them was going to be right. But which one?
“Mommy is really mad at you,” Bethany confided the following day as their horses picked their way across the open desert.
Malik glanced at the child riding next to him. “I’m not surprised. She was angry last night when we spoke.” While Liana had conceded that it was necessary to stay in the palace, she’d not given in easily, nor had she moved into his suite. Instead, she and her daughter were back in their original guest quarters.
He tried not to think about the humiliation of being rejected by his wife less than twenty-four hours after their wedding. He knew there was talk in the palace, and soon it would drift out to the city. Still, he would survive this; nothing Liana could do would ever compare to Iman’s transgressions.
“You’re gonna have to do something,” Bethany informed him. “Otherwise she’s gonna stay mad forever.”
Malik stiffened in the saddle. “I’m Prince Malik Khan. I do not compromise.”
The nine-year-old looked at him. She wore her blond hair pulled back in a braid under her riding hat. The combination of light-colored hair and the black cap made her eyes appear even more blue than usual.
“If compromising means you’ve made a mistake, and you have to admit it, I think that’s what Mommy wants.” Bethany flashed him a smile. “She says she wants a lot of other things, too, but I don’t think she really means them. Especially not the part about cutting off your head and leaving it on a stick in the center of town.”
“How very visual,” he said dryly.
“Mommy has a great imagination. She can make really boring stuff interesting. That’s why she’s such a good teacher. Oh!” His riding companion brightened. “She’s mad about losing her job, too, and she’s even more mad about her getting all her money, even though she didn’t finish teaching.” Her voice lowered confidentially. “You’re kinda in trouble, Prince Malik. I didn’t know grown-ups could be in trouble like kids, but they sure can.”
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