The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(65) by Susan Mallery
She’d figured out the truth that afternoon when she’d watched him with her daughter. Now she reached up and kissed his mouth. “I can’t imagine a world without you, Malik. I love you, and if you want me to stay with you, I will.”
She waited expectantly for his excited reaction. A smile hovered at the corners of her mouth.
But instead of whooping or gathering her close and beginning to make love with her, he simply nodded.
“I’m pleased,” he told her. “You’ve made the right decision. Except for telling my immediate family, there shouldn’t be any changes in our lives. We will have to talk about when we’re going to start our family. I would like to begin that process as soon as possible.”
He continued talking about children and a belated honeymoon and a ceremony to give her a title in her own right. Liana listened, but none of the words made sense. Instead she felt icy claws sliding all over her, and she couldn’t help shivering in response.
Had she been wrong about Malik? While she hadn’t expected a heartfelt declaration in return, she’d thought he would at least seem happy.
“Don’t you care?” she blurted out. “Doesn’t any of this matter to you?”
He frowned. “Of course. I told you I’m pleased.”
“Gee. If you’re pleased about this, imagine how excited you’ll be when the dry cleaning returns on time.”
He sat up in bed and looked at her. “Why are you upset? I want you to stay and you’re staying. We have details to discuss. If you would prefer we can talk about them later.”
“I don’t care when we talk about them,” she said, her voice thick with disappointment and anger. “I want you to be happy that I told you I love you. I want you to say you’re thrilled and pleased, and that you were afraid I would leave and you would be alone. I want to know this matters, that I’m not some interchangeable part in your life.”
“We have been over this before,” he said patiently. “You are my wife. I am your husband. I have great respect for you, and I have honored you by taking you as my future queen.”
She scrambled to her knees and glared at him. “Not good enough. I have given in on every point, Malik. I’ll live on your land and be your wife. I’ll learn the customs and raise our children to be good and wise rulers. But you and I don’t have an arrangement, we have a marriage. It’s not about duty and position, it’s about loving each other. You’ve won every single battle, but you’re not winning this one. I matter to you. I know it and you know it, and by God, you’re going to tell me.”
His expression tightened and turned unreadable. “I will not love you.”
“You’re afraid to admit it. Maybe just to me, or maybe to yourself as well. I understand that you had a lot of horrible things happen to you. I’ll even give you time to heal and to learn to trust me more. But you will have to bend on this one eventually.”
This time she was the one to stand up and look down at him. She crossed her arms over her bare chest. “It’s very simple. If you love me back, I’ll change the world for you. If you don’t, you’ll lose me forever. I won’t go away, but I’ll die a little inside until the very heart of me is gone.”
“Women put too much stock in emotions,” he told her curtly. “I’ll be a good husband. Measure me by my actions, not my words.”
Fatima had said almost the same thing, and for a while Liana had believed it would be enough. But now she knew it wasn’t.
Malik’s foul mood lasted more than a week. He didn’t understand women or their constant need for reassurance.
“Why won’t she give in?” he asked Bethany as they walked to the stable.
But the nine-year-old refused to take his side. “Mommy says she needs to know that she can trust you to always be there for us.”
“Of course I’ll be here. Where else would I go?”
Bethany stopped in front of the stable door and looked up at him. Shadows darkened the skin under her big, blue eyes. She suddenly looked small and impossibly fragile.
“Malik, you gotta tell her you love her,” she insisted. Her rosebud-shaped mouth pressed into a thin line. “Mommies and daddies always say they love each other. That’s how they have babies together. If you don’t love Mommy, she can’t have a baby brother or sister for me. Don’t you want that?”
“Of course. But loving her or not isn’t relevant to that issue.”
Bethany shook her head mutinously. “You gotta love people, Malik.” She paused, then frowned. Her face paled. “I love you. Don’t you love me back?”
She’d stabbed him with a large sword, and there was nothing he could do to get out of the way. “Bethany,” he said, dropping to one knee and pulling her close. “You are very special to me. You know that. I enjoy our time together, and I’m very glad to have you in my life.”
For the first time since he’d met her, Bethany pushed him away. Tears spilled from her eyes and her mouth quivered. “You don’t,” she accused, her voice cracking with pain. “I thought you loved me. I thought you were different from my daddy, but you’re just like him. You don’t love me either.”
Before he could stop her, she turned and ran away. He heard her sobs and started to go after her, but then he stopped. What was he going to say?
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