The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(66) by Susan Mallery
He stood in the center of the path for several minutes, then stormed into the palace and headed for the harem. Once there, he pounded on the golden doors until his grandmother opened them.
“It’s just a word,” he growled. “They’re all insane, expecting me to talk of flowers and love. I’m a prince. I don’t have time for this. You must speak to them and explain the situation.”
Fatima regarded him thoughtfully. “I assume you’re speaking of Liana and Bethany?”
“Yes. Liana agreed to stay, then in the next breath demanded that I tell her I love her or I will lose her or some such nonsense. It’s been nearly a week, and no matter how I insist, she won’t let it go. You have to fix this.”
“Actually, I don’t.” She stepped into the hallway and closed the harem door behind her. “You see, Malik, for a long time I agreed with you. I counseled Liana to see your side and to give in. But now I’m not so sure.” She traced her pearl necklace with her thumb and forefinger. “I assume she has confessed her feelings.”
He thought about that night more than a week ago when she’d told him she loved him and that she would stay. All his fears had drained away as if they’d never been. He’d been relieved and happy and he’d wanted to lay the world at her feet. The emotions had threatened to overwhelm him. Rather than letting her see that, he’d kept his feelings to himself and had talked of their future. It was safer that way.
“She had indicated she cared for me and was willing to stay.”
Two perfect eyebrows raised slightly. “Cared? Was that her exact word?”
“No,” he said between gritted teeth. “She said she loved me.”
“Ah. But you don’t love her. I can see that might be a problem.”
Love? What did he know of the emotion? He knew that he needed Liana more than was safe or even sane. Without her, he was nothing—an empty shell living in an absolute void. Without her, he would go through the motions of living, but there would be no joy. Just endless gnawing pain and the promise of more of the same until death released him.
“I have honored her by making her my wife. That is enough.”
Fatima shook her head. “Your father and his ministers might have turned you into a leader, but as far as knowing how to make a woman happy, you’re a complete fool. Give in, grandson. The date palm that bends before the wind lives to bear fruit another season. The date palm kept straight with pride, breaks and dies alone.”
“I will never give in on this.”
Her eyes filled with sadness. “Then I am sorry for you, Malik. Because you can’t be a great king until you learn compassion, and you can’t experience compassion without first knowing how to love. She is everything you’ve ever wanted. She brings you the offer of peace and a wonderful little girl who thinks you are the sun and moon in one. Yet you would lose them because of your pride or your fear or maybe both.” She turned away. “I can’t fix this for you. I can only tell you to admit what you already feel in your heart. If you don’t, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”
The worst of it was that Liana continued to share his bed, Malik thought several days later as he stepped from his morning shower and grabbed a towel. Every night he expected her to order him to go away, even though she was in his room, and every night she held open her arms. It was too easy to lose himself inside her, and he had the feeling that when they made love he gave away a part of himself. In time, all that he was would have been given over to her, and then he would be empty inside. Yet he wasn’t so sure that being empty would be any worse than the darkness before her arrival.
He found himself thinking about her throughout the day. Not just sexually. Instead he found himself remembering conversations, smiling over shared humor, thinking about what he wanted to tell her that evening. Her intelligence allowed her to grasp things quickly and he found himself interested in her opinions.
She said nothing about loving him or expecting him to love her back, but her watchful gaze told him she had neither forgotten nor given in. The issue still loomed between them—a large, living creature whose hot breath burned against his neck.
Fatima was just as bad, only she didn’t keep her thoughts to herself. His grandmother expressed her opinion at every opportunity, telling him that he was a fool, and he would lose Liana if he didn’t mend his ways.
To make matters worse, Bethany no longer rode with him. Although he’d tried to explain the situation to her, all she could say was that he didn’t love her. When tears filled her eyes, he knew that if he still had a working heart, it would be breaking for her.
He hung the towel back on the rack and walked toward his dressing area. Liana was already up and sitting on the edge of the bed. She’d pulled on a nightgown after they’d made love the previous night. The low-cut silk garment exposed creamy cle**age that made him think about filling his hands with her br**sts and kissing them until she moaned and writhed, so close that it only took the lightest touch to send her over the edge.
Her hair was mussed, her face pale, but he still thought she was lovely. Just looking at her now as she poured herself a glass of water from the carafe on the nightstand made him want her again. He could feel himself hardening. No matter what, he always wanted her.
He was about to say something by way of an invitation when she pulled a small plastic container from her nightstand drawer and popped out a tiny pill. He frowned. Was she feeling ill? Was there a problem he didn’t know about or had she—
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