The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(62) by Susan Mallery
“How well do we know anyone?” he asked.
He was being elusive again. She turned so that she lay on her belly, and rested her chin on his chest. He picked up a strand of her hair and rubbed it between his fingers.
“You have lovely hair.”
She smiled. “Aren’t you going to comment on my ankles?”
“I’ve decided to let that go.”
“Thank you. It was starting to scare me. I was afraid you had a secret foot fetish or something.”
“Nothing like that.”
She looked at his face. In time, if she stayed, she would get to know every inch of him. She would trace his scars and bumps and curves and muscles until they were as familiar as her own. Together they would create a history that would give them strength through the difficult times. If she stayed.
And if she left? What would happen then?
Liana found she didn’t want to think about that. It was too frightening and sad.
“I’m still not sure I know how to be a princess,” she said.
“You will learn. Just as I will learn to be a good father to Bethany.”
“Doesn’t being a father frighten you?”
“Sometimes. I have no experience.”
“I get scared, too,” she admitted. “When that happens, I just hang on and love her. It’s amazing what a full heart can accomplish in a relationship.” She pressed her lips together, then decided she might as well take the chance.
“What happens if I fall in love with you?” she asked.
“Then you will stay in El Bahar and be happy as my wife.”
She poked him. “Wrong answer, Malik. You’re supposed to say that you’ll love me back. Then I can stay in El Bahar and be happy as your wife.”
She thought he might tease, as a way to distract her from talking more about the l-word, or change the subject. Instead he grew serious.
“I am your husband, Liana. I will be faithful to you and take care of you and any children we may have together. But you must understand I am first and foremost the Crown Prince of El Bahar. My very best is for my people. As such I cannot allow myself to be weakened by emotions such as love. I live for the greater good.”
She stared at him. “I can’t figure out if this is a bad joke, or if you actually believe what you’re saying.”
“I mean what I say. I will be all things to you, but I will not love you.”
His words slapped against her, and she found herself scrambling into a sitting position. After pulling up the sheet to cover her nakedness, she stared at him. “You really mean that?”
Something inside her cried out in pain. She didn’t want it to be like this. She didn’t want him to reject her before they’d even had a chance to make things work.
“And yet you expect me to stay here and love you?”
He looked uncomfortable and would not meet her gaze. “Loving is not required. A successful marriage is based on many things, including mutual respect and an honest desire for the other’s happiness. I believe we can build on that.”
She couldn’t take it all in. Did he really think he could hold himself apart from his feelings so completely? “You might be a Crown Prince, Malik, but you’re also a man. You can’t command your heart not to love.”
“I have so far, and without much effort.”
She didn’t doubt that. His life hadn’t exactly made him the poster child for happiness.
“You mentioned an honest desire for the other’s happiness. What if the only way I can be happy is for you to love me?”
He rose from the bed. “You are speaking about events that may not occur. I don’t wish to discuss all the unlikely possibilities at this time.”
She still hurt, and if she let herself think about all he’d said, she knew she would start to cry. “Every time I start to believe we can make this work, you tell me something that makes it impossible.”
He stiffened. He stood naked in front of her, and she was able to see all his muscles tense at her words. He moved close and touched her bare shoulder.
“You don’t understand,” he told her. “I can give you everything. You say you don’t want money, position or power, but that’s because you haven’t experienced them. Your life will be the envy of millions all over the world. You will want for nothing. Bethany will have every opportunity. We can have children of our own. Children who we will help grow to be great leaders. We can begin a dynasty that lasts for a thousand years.” His gaze narrowed. “Will you throw all that away because of a few words?”
“They’re not just words. They imply a commitment.”
“I have committed myself to you. I take you as my future queen. I lay El Bahar at your feet. How can you ask for more?”
When he put it like that, she felt selfish and greedy. Once again he’d completely confused her.
“What about children?” she asked. “I would never agree to raise them the way you were. I wouldn’t let you take our oldest son from me when he is four and force him to be a man. A child remains a child until he is ready to be man. No one should interfere with that.”
He sank onto the bed and pulled her close. He was warm and strong and she could feel the steady sound of his heart. “That is why you must stay,” he told her. “Because I don’t want that for my children either. I need you, Liana. Stay with me.”
How was she supposed to refuse him when he was like this? She wrapped her arms around him and held him close. But in the back of her mind she heard the faint ticking of the clock. Her month continued to speed by, and she was no closer to knowing what to do than she’d been the first day she’d found out she was married.
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