The Sheik's Kidnapped Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 1)(27) by Susan Mallery
“There,” Khalil said, pointing straight ahead. “The entrance to the palace.”
They drove through huge gates that were open. Nearly a dozen guards stood on duty. Once inside the walled complex, the driveway circled lazily through lush gardens. Through the thick foliage she caught sight of buildings, ponds, tennis courts and an army of gardeners.
“The palace grounds are open to the public twice a week,” he said. “There is a small zoo, as well as gardens and walking paths. Different entertainments are provided during holidays and festival times. Residents are never charged, for the palace is as much theirs as ours, while visitors to our country pay a small fee.”
The sweet smell grew stronger. Dora inhaled it, then felt her breath catch in her throat when they rounded the last bend in the road and pulled up in front of a huge, cream-colored building.
The structure extended for what seemed like miles in both directions. It was at least three stories tall with a beautiful tile roof that shimmered in the midday sun. Balconies clustered together, their black wrought-iron railings contrasting with the clean lines of the palace.
A huge archway led inside. As Roger opened the rear door and held out his hand to assist her, she saw that the circular area in front was paved in tiny cobalt-blue tiles. They formed a pattern that looked like the ocean, with fish and boats existing in harmony. It was exquisite and made her feel instantly at home.
“Welcome, Princess Dora,” Roger said, then gave her a wink. “Ready to meet everyone?”
“I hope so.” She glanced at Khalil who stood beside her. Roger had been surprised to learn that the youngest prince had married. What about Khalil’s family—specifically his father? “Do they know about me?”
“My father does. He was delighted when I told him.”
It was a small lie, Khalil thought, but one that Dora needed to hear. He didn’t have to know her well to sense her nervousness, although he couldn’t blame her. It wasn’t every day that one met one’s in-laws. The situation would be worse for a woman marrying into a royal family. Especially as she wasn’t anyone the family would have picked.
He thought about his conversation with his father the previous day. King Givon Khan had roared out his displeasure, refusing to listen to anything his son had to say. Khalil doubted the old man had settled down since then.
They walked across the courtyard with its dozen or so fountains and the guards posted every few feet. El Bahar was a peaceful country, and the men were mostly there for show. The automatic weapons and ammunition draped across their chest were most impressive. Dora pressed close to his side.
Up ahead he saw that the entire family had turned out to greet him. His two brothers lounged against the large pillars in front of the open double doors leading into the palace itself. Malik, Jamal and himself all shared the Khan family characteristics of dark hair and eyes. The three men were more than six feet tall, with Malik topping the other two by about a half inch. They were handsome, although Khalil privately considered himself the best looking in the group.
His grandmother waited on the bottom step. Her slender, nearly frail body gave fools the impression she was weak and feeble, but Fatima Khan could still outwit them all. He found himself hoping his grandmother would take to his new wife. Fatima’s acceptance would make a great difference to Dora’s life in the palace.
Finally Khalil’s gaze settled on his father. Givon Khan was nearly sixty, yet he looked as straight and strong as a man twenty years younger. Despite his preference for Western-style dress, he was often an old-fashioned king. He ruled El Bahar with wisdom and patience…a patience he rarely showed to his sons. Khalil saw the disappointment and anger in his father’s eyes and knew there was going to be trouble.
Khalil and Dora paused in front of the group. No one spoke. His grandmother glared at her son, the king, which meant they’d already had words about Khalil’s marriage, but the old woman didn’t move toward him. Khalil placed his hands on Dora’s shoulders and felt her tremble. He squeezed slightly to give her courage.
“Father, I would like to introduce Princess Dora Khan. Dora, this is my father, King Givon of El Bahar.”
Dora surprised him by stepping forward and giving his father a very smooth curtsy. “Your Majesty, thank you for welcoming me to your most wonderful country.”
Givon glared at her, nodded briefly, then turned his attention on his son. “Khalil, I have been angry with you in the past, I have been frustrated, but this is the first time I have wished you were not my son.”
Dora turned and gave him a stunned, hurt look. Khalil wanted to reassure her, but this wasn’t the time. He thought about trying to explain the situation, but again, he had to wait. Eventually he would tell his father the truth about Amber and their engagement, but not right now. First he had to establish his place—and Dora’s—in the palace.
He drew his wife into the protective embrace of his arm, then faced the king. “You may say what you wish to me, Father, but you will treat my wife with the respect she deserves. I would ask that you welcome her as your new daughter.”
Young eyes glared into old. Tension cracked in the air. It was a battle of wills, something that Khalil had never won before. But then nothing had ever been this important. He waited. Dora trembled again.
The king took three steps forward until he stood in front of Khalil’s wife, then he put his hands on her shoulders, leaned forward and kissed both her cheeks. “Welcome daughter, to the house of your new family. May you be blessed with long life, many sons and peace in your old age.”
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