The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(49) by Susan Mallery
“He’s very handsome,” Liana said and realized she wasn’t the only one noticing the innocent flirtation. Several other guests were observing the young prince’s activity with the girl.
How horrible to grow up in such a limelight, she thought, wondering what it must have been like for Malik. Had he ever had a moment’s peace or privacy? For the first time she considered that his emotional reserve came from self-protection. How else could he have learned to shield himself while being constantly the center of so much attention?
She remembered her determination to get to know the man who was now her husband so that she could decide her future logically rather than emotionally. Yet her heart went out to the small boy who had been expected to act like a man. Who had hugged him when he was afraid? Who had held him close and whispered that he was special and loved? And if no one had been around to offer that kind of support, did he still carry that emptiness inside himself?
She looked at her handsome husband, taking in his confident air and closed expression. He held so much inside. What would happen if he felt safe enough to share his heart? How would he respond? Perhaps she should take the time to find out.
They danced in the light of a thousand candles. Malik held his wife in his arms and spun her across the floor, only to gather her close and fight the need to kiss her. He was vaguely aware of the other couples, of the music and the voice of reason in his head reminding him he had a responsibility to dance with other women and make polite conversation with the visiting royalty from Bahania. What he wanted instead was to take Liana to bed.
He desired her. Worse, he needed her. He needed to lose himself in her lushness, to allow himself to find refuge in her answering passion. Desperation added a sharp edge to his desire, making him long to ignore protocol and duty and simply disappear with her. Instead he held her against him as the song ended and told himself that one more dance with her wasn’t so great a sin.
“You’re looking fierce about something,” she said, gazing at him, her eyes bright and her smile welcoming. “Compared to you I’m a pretty horrible dancer, but I was hoping you wouldn’t notice.”
“You’re doing very well.”
“I’m counting frantically in my head,” she confessed. “I guess you took lessons. Probably from the Russian ballet when they were in town.”
“Something like that,” he admitted, beginning to move to the soft, romantic music. “When this dance is over, we’ll have to change partners.”
The humor fled her face and her eyes flashed with panic. “Oh, great. I’ve never stepped on the toes of a visiting monarch. At least I’ll have something to write home about.”
Malik shook his head. “He’ll be charmed, as I am. You didn’t have any trouble speaking with him at dinner.”
“That’s because we were talking about Bethany. I mentioned how much she adored all the horses in your stable and we were off and running, so to speak.”
“The king is a great cat lover. Ask him about his favorites. That should be enough to get you through a dance.”
Malik took in Liana’s pretty features and the way her tiara caught the light. Tonight she looked every inch the princess, and while she was quite beautiful, he found he preferred Liana dressed as a regular woman. Or in nothing at all.
He closed his mind against that image, because he didn’t want to have to deal with the natural result. His blood already flowed so hotly that it would take no more than a light touch for him to become aroused.
“Is there some sort of briefing for these kinds of functions?” she asked, oblivious to his thoughts. “If I have to attend another one of these, I’d like to be a little more prepared.”
“Yes. The staff gathers complete files on all the guests. Had I known you were interested in attending, I would have made sure you were prepared.”
“Next time,” she said, swaying in time with him.
“Next time,” he agreed, even as he wondered if there would be a next time. After all, days moved by quickly. If she kept true to her word and stayed only a month….
But he wouldn’t think about that. He didn’t want to believe she was leaving him. He had just over three weeks to convince her to stay with him for always. Three more weeks, as his grandmother and Bethany had pointed out, to make her fall in love with him. An easy enough plan…if only he knew how.
“I had a very nice time,” Liana said awkwardly as they approached the door to her quarters.
When Malik had offered to walk her back to her room, she’d had high hopes for more than idle chit chat. After all, his smoldering gaze had followed her all evening while she’d danced with dozens of visiting dignitaries. She’d found herself stumbling over polite conversation as she imagined herself making love with Malik. But since leaving the ballroom, he hadn’t touched her once; maybe she’d simply imagined his interest.
Which made life more confusing, she thought as they paused in the hallway. Hadn’t he been the one promising to share her bed after she’d had a chance to get settled? Well, she was about as settled as she was going to get, so what was he waiting for?
“I’m glad you enjoyed yourself,” Malik said formally.
Wasn’t he going to do anything? Didn’t he want her anymore?
A more mature, braver woman would have asked. But she felt neither. Instead she sidestepped the issue. “Would you like to come in for a drink?” she asked. “Bethany is spending the night in the nursery with Dora’s two, so we wouldn’t have to worry about waking her up.”
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