The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(64) by Susan Mallery
From where she stood she had a clear view of the riding trails and the stable. Two specks appeared in the distance. In time they would show themselves to be her daughter and Malik, out for their afternoon ride.
Despite his busy schedule, he always made time for Bethany. Sometimes they rode in the morning and sometimes after she returned from school, but at least six days out of seven found them together on horseback.
She’d been wrong about him, Liana thought to herself. She’d accused him of using her daughter to get to her, but that hadn’t been his plan at all. For reasons that didn’t make sense, his devotion to her child seemed easy and natural. Why did he do it? Liana loved her daughter with all her heart and believed her to be bright and charming, but she was still only nine. Hardly a sophisticated companion for someone like Malik. Yet he sought Bethany out, and seemed to find pleasure in the relationship for its own sake.
Fatima’s words—that she and Bethany had the power to heal Malik’s heart—came to her. Was that true? And if it was, how on earth was she going to walk away from him? No woman in the world could resist such a challenge. To heal a man such as Malik would be the most extraordinary work of her life.
She glanced around at the seldom-used balcony garden. She’d found it last week and had begun to rearrange the potted plants and trees until they created a secluded private sanctuary just as she’d done on the rooftop garden. Her latent interest in gardening and decorating had begun to assert itself, and she’d found herself wondering if there was a detailed inventory of the treasures in the palace. If not, it was a job she would enjoy. She’d seen the storerooms and knew that there were hundreds of wonders there. Different antiques needed to be rotated in and out of the public rooms so that all could enjoy them. And what about preservation and restoration? Had anyone seen to that?
She knew what was happening to her. She was slowly making a life for herself here at the palace. It was a dangerous thing to do, because she still didn’t know how to handle her future. Was she staying?
She turned back to the view and saw that Bethany and Malik were already at the stables. Malik dismounted, then helped Bethany down. Her daughter surprised her by throwing her arms around the prince. Malik surprised her even more by hugging her daughter back. There was something comfortable and familiar about their actions, as if they’d been performed dozens of times before. Actions not words, she thought, as Fatima had instructed her.
Her chest tightened as hope filled her. Was Fatima right? Could she and Bethany heal Malik to the point where he would admit he loved them?
She sighed. Who was this man who had tricked her into marriage? For a long time she’d assumed he was so arrogant that he’d just assumed he would get his way. But perhaps it was something else entirely. Was it possible that he’d acted to hide a fear of losing something he wanted or needed?
Liana sensed she was on the verge of discovering a very important truth. She thought about Malik’s childhood and how desperately alone he’d been. She thought about Iman and her betrayal. Both had taught Malik not to depend on anyone but himself. He couldn’t risk making a mistake about relationships, so he no longer invested in them.
But didn’t he still have the same needs as other men?
Her fingers laced together in front of her waist and she drew in a deep breath. He was afraid of being rejected again. Of being offered something he needed to survive, then having it taken away. She would have to show him that she really was a safe haven for him, and that he never had to worry about being alone again.
“Why did you choose me?” she asked later that night when they were alone in bed. They’d just finished making love, and she lay in Malik’s arms, safe and content.
“You are my wife. It would be inappropriate for me to make love with anyone else.”
She smiled and touched his lower lip. “That’s not what I mean and you know it. Why did you marry me? You could have picked someone entirely different. Someone more appropriate.”
He settled back on the pillow and tucked his hand under his head. “You were the one I wanted,” he said. “At first there was just an attraction I hadn’t felt before, and I responded to that. Later, as I got to know you and your daughter, I realized you had all the characteristics necessary to make both a good queen and a good mother.”
He looked at her. “Bethany is a wonderful child. You love her deeply and would do anything to protect her. I wanted that for my children.”
She nodded. His words made sense. After all, look what had happened to him.
“Also,” he continued, “you weren’t impressed with the fact that I was a prince. I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my life with someone in awe of me.”
“Instead you find yourself with someone who will always tell you exactly what she’s thinking.”
“I don’t mind. If I don’t agree with you, I simply won’t listen.”
She wanted to laugh, but she knew he was telling the truth. She thought about what he’d said about why he’d picked her. Was her being a good mother to Bethany also about her capacity to love? Had he chosen a woman with a big heart so that he could find a place for himself there?
She wanted to ask, but knew he wouldn’t answer. At least not honestly. Malik kept his emotions firmly in check. However, she wasn’t like that. Her feelings spilled over, even when she didn’t want them to. Right now, she knew that while Malik might be arrogant and annoying at times, he’d somehow found that place he’d been looking for in her heart.
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