The Sheik's Kidnapped Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 1)(22) by Susan Mallery
“It’s lonely,” she said bluntly. “Probably not for some kids, but it was for me. My mom worked a lot to support us, and my dad wasn’t one for regular visitation. Plus, I wasn’t really popular at school.” She shrugged, then rolled her head so that she could look at him. “Too smart. I wasn’t pretty enough to get in with the right girls, and I think I scared all the boys away. Plus I was shy, and I never knew what to say to anyone. It was easier to hide out in the library and read.”
She took another sip of champagne. It tasted tartly sweet and slipped down easily. The tingling in her belly had spread to her whole body, and her brain definitely felt thick, but in a nice way. Like she was protected from anything too scary.
“When did you stop being lonely?” he asked.
She angled toward him and pulled her knees up onto the sofa. “Yesterday, I think. I can’t really remember.”
Khalil’s features started to blur together. Had she had too much to drink? Or was it just the soft lighting in the suite? Her eyes fluttered closed, and she felt warm fingers brush against her cheek.
“College wasn’t too bad at first,” she said dreamily, getting lost in the past. “I had a scholarship that paid for most things. I liked being in a place where it was considered a good thing to be smart and to work hard. But living on campus cost more than I thought, and I had to get a job to supplement my expenses.”
She opened her eyes and looked at him. “My mom didn’t have any extra money to spare. I don’t suppose that’s ever been a problem for you.”
“No, it hasn’t.”
“Must be nice.”
“Sometimes, but we’ve had other problems.”
“I guess everyone does. Anyway, I started tutoring. I worked with athletes a lot. Mostly because they paid the most. But they weren’t interested in anything but getting by. They didn’t want to learn. Isn’t that horrible?” She blinked and found that her eyelids were extraordinarily heavy. She swallowed a little more champagne to help her stay awake.
“One day I found my study notes missing. I confronted a couple of the guys, and they wouldn’t admit they’d taken them.” She sighed remembering the hurtful things those boys had said. “I refused to tutor them anymore. About three weeks after that, a bunch of the guys were caught cheating. They were going to be expelled, but they weren’t content to go quietly. They said that they were using a cheating system I’d come up with and had charged them for.”
Her words caught in her throat. That had been so long ago, she would have thought it didn’t have the power to hurt her anymore, but it did. She remembered her time in the dean’s office, when it had been her word against theirs.
“Six of them told the same story. Six,” she repeated quietly. “No one believed me, not about the notes or that I refused to work with them, or that I hadn’t had any part of the cheating. So I was expelled along with them. I went home, got a job and saved my money. A year later I started at my local community college, then I received my associate’s degree.”
She pressed her lips together. “This probably isn’t what you wanted to know, is it?”
“I want to know whatever you want to tell me.”
She tried to smile, but her face felt numb. “I don’t think so. I doubt any part of my life is very interesting.”
“That’s not true.” He stroked her cheek again, and the contact felt lovely. “Why didn’t you go back to college and get your four-year degree?”
She shrugged. At least it felt like she was shrugging on the inside, even if she didn’t feel any movement on the outside. “I was afraid of what might happen. I didn’t want to go through that again. Except for when Gerald left me in that airport in Kansas, it was the most alone I’ve ever felt.”
Khalil leaned close and took her glass from her, which was a good thing. When had her fingers gotten so stiff? She could barely bend them.
“You, my desert rose, tell a very sad story,” he murmured. “But all that is about to change.”
She desperately wanted to believe him. “Do you promise?”
“Yes.” He moved next to her and took her in his arms. “Nothing is going to hurt you ever again.”
“Not even you?”
“Least of all me.”
Then he kissed her. Those wonderful warm, firm lips settled on hers. Her eyes drifted slowly closed as a lethargy filled her body. She was drifting, drifting, drifting…And then there was only darkness.
The redheaded model strolled down the center of the showroom, her lithe, insanely slender body barely making any movement under the burnt umber silk of her column dress. Dora stared at the garment and tried to ignore the skinny eighteen-year-old beneath. While she adored the color, the style would never work on her. She shifted uncomfortably on the gilded chair in the exclusive salon Khalil had brought her to this morning. He’d wanted to buy her a new wardrobe before they left for El Bahar later that afternoon.
She told herself to be happy with his generosity. She told herself that he was being kind and attentive, and she very nearly bought into her own story. The only thing holding her back was the fact that she’d awakened alone in her bed that morning, and there hadn’t been any evidence that Khalil had ever joined her. But she wasn’t sure she had the right to be upset, either, because most of the previous evening was a blur.
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