The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(68) by Susan Mallery
But despite all that happened, he could not regret his time with Liana. Given the chance, all that he would have changed was the fact that he had hurt Bethany.
He closed his eyes and wondered how it had all gone so wrong. She was a young child—he knew what it felt like to be abandoned and alone. Telling himself she had her mother wasn’t an excuse, so he didn’t allow himself to take comfort in the fact. He had thought he was a good ruler, a decent man of strong character. Ironic that it had taken a nine-year-old girl to show him that he was really nothing more than a selfish bastard.
“There you are, my son.”
Malik turned and saw that his father had joined him. The king walked over to the edge of the garden and stared at the view of the palace grounds.
“Liana is gone,” the older man said unnecessarily. “The women are up in arms. Fatima is raging and I suspect Dora and Heidi of plotting. Already Jamal and Khalil are concerned they will have no peace from their wives until this matter is settled.”
Malik shrugged. “They will get over it in time.”
“Perhaps. But their accusations weren’t all directed at you. Some of the sharpest barbs were thrown directly at me.”
Malik glanced at his father in surprise. The king was nearing sixty, but still stood tall and strong. Gray blended into the dark hair at his temples. His mind had never been quicker, his health was excellent and he could easily rule for another twenty years.
But that had never been his plan. He’d often talked about giving Malik time to get his personal life settled and grow comfortable with his responsibilities. Then Givon would step down while Malik was still relatively young. It had been that way in El Bahar for a thousand years.
“Why are they angry with you?”
The king shrugged. He touched the iron balcony railing. “Do you remember your mother much?”
The odd question surprised Malik, but he searched his mind for an answer. “She died when I was eight so I should, but I never saw her much after I turned four, so no. Not really.”
“She was a wonderful woman. Beautiful, intelligent, caring.” The king sighed. “Her greatest flaw, perhaps her only flaw, was that she adored me to the exclusion of all else. She denied me nothing. Not even my oldest son when I came to take you away.”
He looked at Malik. “I believe we have many wonderful customs in our country, but the practice of taking the Crown Prince away from his mother and siblings is wrong. I hated it when it happened to me, yet I did it to you. I’m sorry I didn’t change the old ways, but it’s not too late for your son.”
Malik grimaced. “I doubt I will have one.”
“Because Liana is gone?”
Givon studied him. “You could marry again. I can arrange it.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Malik said, staring into the distance. Was she at the airport yet? In a matter of hours she would be gone and he would never see her again.
“Would it matter if I told you that I am proud of you and I believe history will find you one of the greatest leaders of our country? That I’ve often wondered how I was so fortunate to be blessed with such an heir. I don’t worry about the people or the country. You will always do the right thing. But I do worry about your heart, my son. I have always loved you and I never told you before.”
Malik didn’t dare look at his father. He felt odd inside. His chest tightened, and yet he felt as if some heavy burden had lifted. He swallowed. “I, ah, thank you, Father.”
A strong hand settled on his shoulder. “I loved your mother, as well. Loving her made me strong, just as loving Liana will make you strong. Love is what holds us together in times of trouble. It heals us and gives us the courage to try to be better. I would have walked through the fires of hell for her if she’d but asked, and I have never regretted loving her.”
Malik finally faced the king. “Is that why you never remarried?”
Givon nodded. “My ministers pressured me for a time, but I already had you and your brothers. I didn’t need more heirs. I have had companions over the years, but I could not imagine taking another woman for my wife. My heart had been given away, and I didn’t have it to give to someone else. I suspect you would experience the same problem if you tried to marry again.”
His father’s words flew around him, stinging and buzzing until they finally started to make sense.
“I didn’t have a choice about losing the woman I loved,” his father said. “You do. Bend on this matter, Malik. Bend and speak the truth. Then you will know a strength and peace of mind you can’t begin to imagine.”
“I don’t want to go,” Bethany said, tears running down her cheeks. “I want to stay in El Bahar.”
It was all Liana could do to keep from crying as well. They were already seated in their plane and about to push back from the gate.
She hugged her child close and wished she had words of comfort to offer. What she’d told Malik was true. If it had just been her, she would have taken the chance of making him fall in love with her. But she couldn’t play with her daughter’s feelings. Ever since Bethany had figured out that Malik didn’t love her, she’d been like a broken doll. She refused to go riding, barely ate and wasn’t sleeping. Liana knew it would take time for her to recover, but the process would go a whole lot smoother when they’d left El Bahar.
“Mommy, don’t make us leave,” her daughter begged.
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