The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(50) by Susan Mallery
She felt like a brazen hussy. After all, she didn’t doubt he could read the desire in her eyes. Her skin was hot and her face felt flushed. She’d been partially aroused since their first dance. Being so close to him and unable to touch him had been torture, but Malik had been politeness itself. Maybe he’d forgotten how it had been between them. Should she remind him or just let it go?
“A drink would be nice,” he said, as she opened the door and stepped inside.
Ah, a neutral response, she thought as she made her way to the fully stocked wet bar in a corner of the living room. He wasn’t giving anything away.
“Have a seat,” she told him, then reached for a bottle of cognac and waved it in the air. “Is this all right?”
He sat on the striped sofa, not at one end, but not exactly in the middle either. Which meant she had to decide how close to sit to him when she gave him his glass. She poured a splash into each snifter and sighed. Getting to know a man had always been complex. The intricacies of new relationships were one of the reasons she generally avoided them. Being with Chuck had been easy. They’d been young and had thought they were in love. Passion had allowed them to gloss over the rough spots. While she and Malik had shared plenty of heat, it wasn’t enough to allow them to mesh their lives with ease. Perhaps if he’d been just a regular man that might have been possible, but he wasn’t.
As she walked over to the sofa, she paused to open the French door leading to the balcony. Scented night air drifted into the room.
“I think it’s getting cooler,” she said as she handed him his glass. She settled herself on the same sofa, about as far from the right corner as he was from the left.
“I agree. Winters are mild in El Bahar, but the summers can be difficult until one adjusts.”
So they were going for scintillating and witty conversation, she thought humorously. Perhaps next they could do a fashion recap on who wore what to the party.
“We have our own version of the changing seasons,” he continued, after taking a sip of his cognac. “There are different festivals in the winter. The English garden is at its best in the spring when all the plants are blooming. When the wind is right, their scents travel as far as the main roads around the palace grounds.”
She started to say she couldn’t wait to experience it all but then she remembered she probably wouldn’t still be in El Bahar in the spring. It was mid-October. If she only stayed for her required month, she and Bethany would be home for Thanksgiving. Oddly enough, the thought made her sad.
“What do you think of my country?” he asked.
She shrugged. “I haven’t seen enough to form an opinion. The palace and the grounds are lovely, of course.”
He reached up and loosened his formal black tie. The dangling ends contrasted with the snowy white of his shirt and looked amazingly sexy.
“I would be happy to put a driver at your disposal,” he said. “You could go wherever you like.”
Her mouth twisted. It’s not as if she didn’t have the time to see all of El Bahar. Her days were pretty empty. “While I appreciate the gesture, Malik, I don’t think that’s going to be enough.” She set her drink on the low table in front of them and folded her hands together in her lap.
She gazed at him. “I’ve always been a busy person, and I’m more comfortable going and doing all the time. Right now I spend my days wandering around these rooms. Bethany is in school, and everyone else is busy.”
“What do you want to do?”
She didn’t have an answer to that. As much as she would like to return to teaching, she knew it was out of the question. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “Dora is busy with her political work, forwarding the rights of women, and Heidi spends all her free time working on ancient texts.”
“You said that you always wanted to continue your education. Obtain your post-graduate degrees. El Bahar has several prestigious universities. Two of them are right here in the city.”
“Yes, there’s that,” she said quietly. Except she wasn’t going to be around long enough to take one class, let alone get a doctorate.
“You are thinking there isn’t much you can do toward that in a month,” he said, his voice faintly accusing.
She felt herself flush and had to bite back a defensive retort. She had no reason to feel guilty, she reminded herself, even if she didn’t believe it.
He leaned toward her, his expression intense. Darkness filled his eyes until the pupils and irises were the same color and impossible to tell apart. “Is it so horrible here?” he asked. “Is that why you don’t want to stay?”
“No. Of course not. It’s just…” How could she explain the distance between them if he refused to acknowledge its existence? “I’m not sure I can fit in. I wasn’t raised to be a royal princess. While I’ll agree there are wonderful advantages, it can be a difficult life. I saw a bit of that tonight. Everyone was staring, and I was terrified I would put a foot wrong.”
“You were fine. Everyone adored you.”
“This time. But what happens when I say the wrong thing or accidentally insult a visiting dignitary? I don’t want to be responsible for starting an international incident.” She rubbed her temple. “I can’t figure out if you really don’t understand or if you just don’t want to. Didn’t Iman have any doubts?”
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