The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(44) by Susan Mallery
He didn’t know how to respond. He understood that Liana was annoyed with him for tricking her, but she’d overreacted to the situation. After all, he was a prince, and he’d married her. It wasn’t as if he’d taken advantage of her then cast her aside. He had willingly given her his name, then set her up as his country’s future queen.
Yet in return she insulted him by refusing to move into his quarters. Didn’t she understand that he wanted her there? Not only so they could be lovers again, but because he wanted to think about her living where he lived. He wanted her fitting into his life, using his belongings, appreciating the art, enjoying the views, just being a part of his world. Was that so wrong? Couldn’t she see that he had not wanted anyone else to do that? Did she know what it cost him to open up enough just for this?
He stared at the horizon where the sun was barely visible in the cool, clear dawn. Sometimes his life felt as empty and cold as the desert in winter. Liana could be his sun—offering both warmth and light. Yet she turned her back on him and rejected him. Then he reminded himself that he should expect little else from her. The price of his position was isolation.
“I don’t understand why Mommy is so upset,” Bethany said a few minutes later when they’d turned the horses and were heading back to the stables. “I think she likes you, but she doesn’t want to say that. And she’s so mad now that she keeps talking about you being just like my dad.” Bethany glanced at him, her expression confused.
“You’re not like Daddy at all,” she said confidently. “You never forget our plans to go riding, and you’re never too busy to talk to me. You’re always nice, and we have fun. I told her that, too, but she said I’m too young to understand.”
Malik didn’t understand either, but he wasn’t about to share that with Bethany.
“I’m sure we’ll come to some agreement,” he said.
“I hope so, because I don’t want to leave El Bahar. I want to live in the palace and be a real princess.”
“I’ll have to see what I can do about that.” Bethany grinned. “Then everyone in school will have to bow to me, and I won’t have to do what the teachers say.”
“Unfortunately, little one, it’s not that simple. Sometimes being royal means doing a lot of things you don’t want to do, even when all your friends are going out to play. There are many responsibilities.”
Bethany sighed. “I guess it couldn’t be as wonderful as I think.” She glanced at him. “Is that why you married Mommy? To have her help with your responsibilities?”
“Some,” he admitted. “Some of the reason is that I didn’t want her to go away.”
“But she says we’re going away anyway, and in a month, not in two years like we were at first.” She frowned. “You’re gonna have to do something, Prince Malik. Because if Mommy doesn’t stop being mad at you, she’s not going to stay here at the palace.”
“I know.” The problem was he didn’t know what to do to change Liana’s mind. “Do you have any suggestions?”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m only nine. I don’t know about grown-up stuff like that. Except in those books she reads, the men are always getting the ladies to fall in love. And then they get married and live happily ever after. I think you forgot the in-love part. You should have done that first. Then she wouldn’t want to leave.”
They were by the stables. Malik slid off his mount, then helped Bethany down. “I suspect you’re right. I did do things backwards.”
“So make Mommy fall in love with you. It can’t be too hard. Those women in her romance novels are always falling in love. You could read one, then do what they do.” She beamed. “If you get it right, we won’t have to leave.”
Malik was not the kind of man to take advice from a book, but he couldn’t quite explain that to a nine-year-old.
“I’ll think about it,” he said at last.
Bethany hugged him, her small arms going around his waist. “I’ll try to talk to Mommy more,” she said. “So we never have to leave.”
Malik removed her hat and then smoothed her sleek blond hair. “I don’t want either of you to leave,” he said.
What he didn’t dare tell her was that she was part of the reason he’d married her mother. Not only was Bethany proof that Liana would be a good mother for his sons, but he’d actually grown to care for the child. She was intelligent and spoke her mind with a frankness he found refreshing.
Sometimes when he was with her, he allowed himself to forget all the responsibilities waiting for him when he returned to his world. In Bethany he saw how life would have been had he not been the Crown Prince.
So different, he thought, remembering all the afternoons he’d spent watching from the window as his brothers left the schoolroom to go riding or out to the souk with their tutor. But his days lasted long after the hours of study. When he had finished with his tutor, he reported to his father. In the afternoons, the king and his ministers trained him in matters of government. After dinner, there had been more lessons, or state events he was expected to attend. While his brothers had been free to return to their mother’s side to be cuddled and read to or sung to sleep, Malik had lived alone. He’d been deemed a man at the age of four and had been expected to act like one at all times.
Malik didn’t want that for his children, but he knew no other way. So he needed Liana to be the loving force in their lives. She would fight for them, protect them, even from him. She would make sure they knew what it was to love and be loved. With her as their mother, he wouldn’t have to worry that they would grow up with a black soul and an empty heart.
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