The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(63) by Susan Mallery
“You seem to have settled in well,” Fatima said a few days later when she joined Liana for lunch.
They sat on the balcony at a small ebony table that had been a gift from a Chinese emperor nearly five hundred years ago. Liana traced the pattern of the flatware and tried to smile. Her mouth curved up on demand, but she had a feeling that she didn’t look all that happy.
The older woman leaned forward. “Are you still angry with me?” she asked bluntly. “I was a bit harsh with you before, and I’m sorry for that. I reacted out of disappointment. I thought that you were going to be so good for Malik, and then when I found out you were still thinking of leaving, I was surprised and hurt.”
Liana looked at Fatima. “Don’t be so quick to assume that everything has changed.”
“I don’t understand. You’re here, living in his rooms. When you two appear in public or with the family, you seem very happy.”
Liana shrugged. “We are. In a way. I mean…” She took a sip of her iced tea and sighed. “In a way everything is going very well between Malik and myself. He’s attentive, kind and wonderful with Bethany. He’s begun talking about some of his responsibilities with me. He’s brilliant about politics, and I’m learning a lot.”
“Givon says that Malik appreciates your opinions,” Fatima told her. “He respects you.”
“As I respect him.” She paused before going on. She and Malik were also making love every night, and that part of their life together was marvelous. Not that she was going to share the details with his grandmother. “I could very easily fall in love with him.”
“Then what is the problem?”
Liana drew in a deep breath. “Malik has told me that he will never love me. He believes that the best part of him must be saved for El Bahar, and he won’t let himself get tangled up in any serious emotions. So he will care for me and be faithful, but he won’t allow himself to love me. I’m assuming he intends that to also encompass our children, should we have any. So how can I stay with a man who vows never to give me the one thing I want?”
Fatima regarded her with dark, wise eyes. “Is love so very important?”
“Isn’t it? Chuck and I had infatuation, childish affection and lust. When that wore off, we weren’t left with very much.”
“All the more reason to be sensible the second time around.”
“Sensible,” Liana repeated softly. “It’s not exactly what every young girl dreams of for her marriage.”
“But you are not a young girl. You are a mature woman who has experienced some of life.” Fatima touched her glass, but didn’t pick it up. “Did it ever occur to you that Malik is deceiving himself? That he speaks the words because he wants them to be true, not because they are?”
Liana blinked. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Perhaps you should. How much has he told you of Iman?”
“I know that she’s not dead, and that she was unfaithful to him.” She shivered. “I can’t imagine how that must have humiliated him. Malik is a proud man.”
“I believe it was one of the darkest moments of his life. Not only because everyone knew what had happened and how his wife had tricked him right here in the palace, but because in his mind, he’d let down his people. He couldn’t see that her betrayal made him so much more human in their eyes. He was no longer a young god, but a real man who could make a mistake. He’d always been adored, but afterward he became truly loved.”
Liana considered Fatima’s words. “I don’t think Malik sees it that way.”
“He doesn’t. He sees only his mistake and he has vowed it will never happen again.” Fatima tilted her head. “Why did he choose you as his wife?”
“I haven’t got a clue. It’s a question I ask myself all the time.”
“Perhaps you should ask Malik instead. Perhaps you should think about Iman and of how he would make sure he never repeated that kind of mistake again. We are all products of our past. Malik’s history has had an influence on him.”
Liana thought she understood what the other woman was saying. “But it’s different with Malik. He never loved Iman.”
“How do you know?”
“He told me.”
“What else would he say?”
That had not occurred to Liana. If Malik had loved his wife, or if he’d been allowing himself to soften towards her and then she’d betrayed him, he would have been destroyed inside. He would have questioned his judgment and would have vowed to never be caught that way again.
He’d lived so much of his life emotionally alone. Oh, there were plenty of people around him, but no one special to hold him and look out for him. No one who didn’t demand but instead gave.
“Perhaps he needs to be shown that he’s found a safe place again,” Fatima said softly. “I believe it is in both you and your daughter to heal his bruised heart and allow him to open himself again. If he were to be loved, he might allow himself to love. Look at his actions, not his words. Then think about what you see there. Don’t be hasty, Liana. Be very sure on this. Isn’t he worth that at least?”
Once again the queen had given Liana plenty to think about. Later that afternoon she stood on one of the high balconies on the north end of the palace and looked out over the vast land that blended into the desert.
The sea was to the south of the palace and the city stretched out on both the east and west sides of the royal grounds. But behind the carefully cultivated gardens was only wilderness. Liana didn’t know how much land the Khan family owned, but she knew their property stretched for miles.
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