The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(51) by Susan Mallery
He stiffened. “I will not discuss her with you.”
“Of course not. Everything always goes your way, or it doesn’t go. Isn’t that right? You wanted to marry me and we’re married. You want me to stay and you expect that to happen as well. You don’t want to discuss Iman or how she died, or what was so horrible about your relationship, so we don’t.” She glared at him. “You can’t have it both ways. Either I’m your wife or I’m not. If you want me to take this seriously, you have to do the same. Circumstances do not bend to your will, however much you might wish them to.”
Malik put his glass on the table and stared at her. She half expected him to leave, but instead he rose to his feet and crossed to the French doors. Once there, he stared out into the darkness.
Tension radiated from him. Tension and something that might have been pain. For a moment she thought about going to him and wrapping her arms around him. Not because her body ached for his touch, but because he looked so alone standing there, as if once again the burden was his to bear, and no one was going to share the load.
But before she could decide if that was a sensible idea, he spoke, and his words immobilized her.
“Iman isn’t dead.”
Her lips parted. She tried to speak, failed, then tried again. “But everyone said…” She paused and recalled what had been said to her. They hadn’t actually said she was dead. “They implied she was dead.”
“A subtle difference, but there all the same. She has left El Bahar and will never return. That is what matters. While it would have been better for all of us if she had died, she did not.”
“I don’t even know what to say to that,” she admitted. “You’re sorry your ex-wife didn’t die.” A thought occurred to her and she gasped. “You are divorced, aren’t you?”
He glanced at her over his shoulder. “I assure you, my marriage to you was completely legal. Iman and I have been divorced for years.”
“Oh. Good.” Although if they hadn’t divorced, her problem would have been solved. Odd how she felt relieved to hear otherwise. She pressed her lips together. “Why are you so angry with her?”
He shrugged and returned his attention to the darkness beyond the balcony. “Anger doesn’t describe how I feel.” He paused. “Ours was an arranged marriage, as most are for those in my position. It was a disaster from the start. We had nothing in common. Despite that, I attempted to get to know her. I thought we could at least be friends. And perhaps with friendship would come caring.”
He hadn’t said love. Liana had the brief thought that he hadn’t experienced very much of that in his life, so he was unlikely to expect it in an arranged marriage.
“But that didn’t happen?”
“No. Iman was beautiful, but her heart was cold and ugly. She had been forced into our marriage against her will and she made no attempt to conceal her hatred both of me and the situation. When we finally consummated our union, I discovered that she’d already been with another man.”
A virgin bride might be an old-fashioned concept back home, but Liana suspected it was expected for the bride of a soon-to-be ruling monarch. “You couldn’t forgive that?” she asked.
He turned to face her. “I couldn’t forgive her lover following her here and continuing to claim her favors. I couldn’t forgive her for making a fool of me and, by association, my country. I couldn’t forgive the fact that many of the servants knew of her infidelities but were afraid to tell me the truth, and that rumors abounded in the souk where the street sellers told stories about the new princess. And I couldn’t forgive her stupidity and carelessness in allowing me and my father to walk in on her while she entertained her lover in our marriage bed.”
All the blood seemed to leave Liana’s head. She felt dizzy and confused. Malik’s stark words painted a clear picture of a faithless wife making a fool of her husband.
“The name Iman means faithful, but in her case it was a lie,” he continued. “When I realized the extent of her transgressions, I banished her and divorced her. Everything she had ever touched was destroyed and her name was no longer spoken here. She betrayed us all, for what is done to the Crown Prince is done to each citizen. I care not about what she did to me, but it is unforgivable that she so defiled the glory of El Bahar.”
Lines of tension stiffened his body, but his face was expressionless. Except for the clipped harshness of his words, he might have been discussing a current movie.
But Liana knew him well enough now to sense what the truth cost him. While she didn’t understand what it must have been like for him to have his wife’s infidelities spoken of throughout the country, she felt his pain now as clearly as if it was her own. Her heart ached for the proud man standing in front of her. He wanted only what was good and right for his country. He’d sacrificed himself in ways no one could ever truly appreciate. He was El Bahar, and he would give his all for the betterment of his people. His last thought, his last breath, would be for them.
His words echoed in her brain. “What is done to the Crown Prince is done to each citizen.” Which meant Malik’s humiliation was also theirs. Would he be humiliated if she left him? Would her legacy be as brief and painful as Iman’s?
She didn’t want to think about that. She didn’t want to know that she had the power to hurt him. But she couldn’t escape the reality of what telling her about his past had cost him. Malik was a proud man and he’d laid open his shame at her request.
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