The Sheik's Kidnapped Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 1)(31) by Susan Mallery
“The blue will look lovely,” Fatima said, holding up Dora’s favorite dress. “It’s light enough in color so we won’t look as if we’re trying to dress alike.” She gave an impish smile. “Or would you like to greet your new husband by wearing traditional dress?”
“I don’t think either of us are ready for that.”
“I would guess you’re correct on that account.” Fatima handed her the dress, then touched her arm. “Don’t be frightened of us, Dora. Or if you are, don’t let us see. We respect strength and determination in El Bahar, even in our women. My son is angry and disappointed right now, but it’s directed at Khalil, not you. So if he appears curt, don’t let him know that he’s hurt you. You must be strong. If you let any of the Khan men dominate you, you are setting yourself up for a life of servitude. Do you understand?”
“I think so,” Dora said, wondering if she ever would understand.
Fatima gave her a little push toward the bathroom. “Go dress. I’ll wait, then I’ll take you down to dinner. I received a not-so-subtle message from my son that the meal was to be for the men only, so we’ll be catching them off guard. Always a good thing. Now hurry.”
Thirty minutes later Dora followed Fatima down endless hallways. She caught glimpses of large rooms, filled with both Eastern- and Western-style furniture. There were fountains tucked into alcoves and beautifully lit gardens. While she was still confused and nervous, she couldn’t help being excited at the thought of exploring this beautiful palace and its grounds.
They rounded a corner and found themselves in an intimate dining room. The long table could seat ten or twelve, but there were only four place settings that evening. The king sat at the head of the table, with two of his sons on his right and Khalil on his left. All four men looked up as they entered.
“Are we late?” Fatima asked, ignoring the king’s expression of displeasure. “I was just telling Dora that tonight there would be a family dinner where we’ll discuss how to handle the crisis. The timing is unfortunate. After all, this is her first night in El Bahar. However, I thought that having her here with us all was certainly better than leaving her alone in her room.”
Khalil nearly grinned as his grandmother’s frosty glare caught the king’s gaze and held it. Givon Khan might be one of the five or six most wealthy men in the world, and a beloved and powerful monarch, but he was still a man who had to deal with a formidable mother. Fatima was in her seventies, but she wasn’t someone to be taken lightly.
Khalil waited for his father to draw his battle lines. Not unexpectedly, the king decided this wasn’t the time or place for a confrontation. He nodded toward one of the servants waiting patiently at the rear of the room. Two more place settings appeared.
“Mother, your willingness to think of others is what has made you the woman you are,” Givon said, rising and holding open his arms. “As always, you are wise beyond your years.”
Fatima walked toward him and let herself be folded into his embrace. She touched his cheek. “I’m seventy-three, Givon. It’s time to stop saying I’m wise beyond my years, don’t you think?” She turned her attention toward the table. “Dora, sit next to your husband. Jamal, move over. I’ll sit between you and your brother.”
In a matter of seconds Fatima had the table arranged to her liking. She settled between her two oldest grandsons, but shot Khalil a look that warned him he would have much to answer for later. Khalil found himself looking forward to the exchange. He’d avoided marrying Amber. Nothing else mattered.
He glanced at his bride. Dora tried to give him a smile, but it quivered at the corners, then failed completely. He knew that his father had settled her in a suite on the far side of the palace. More proof that the monarch did not approve. Khalil braced himself for the next round of tirades against his thoughtless, irresponsible behavior. He told himself it didn’t matter what his father said; the marriage was binding.
“I am still not sure what I’m supposed to tell Aleser,” Givon said as a servant served a salad of fresh greens and goat cheese. “He has been my most loyal adviser for more than thirty years. We grew up together. We always agreed that his oldest daughter would marry one of the princes from Bahania, cementing the relationship between our two countries.”
“Whose fault is that?” Fatima asked blandly. “You’re the one who didn’t have any daughters. Besides, his oldest daughter did marry one of the princes.”
Givon ignored his mother and continued to focus his attention on Khalil. “In return, his youngest daughter would marry into our royal family. She was engaged to you, Khalil. We had all agreed.”
“Apparently not all of us,” Fatima said. She speared a piece of arugula. “I quite like Dora, and I think she’ll be a far better match than Amber. The girl’s smart, and she’s got backbone. My grandsons are too stubborn. They need women with backbone.”
Khalil forced himself not to laugh or look at his father, although he could imagine the older man’s outrage at his mother’s comments. But there was little Givon could do. He couldn’t force Khalil to divorce his wife. Fatima’s approval was not easily given and not something the king could ignore.
Khalil glanced at his grandmother. Why had the old woman sided with him on this matter? Did she know something of Amber’s antics?
He noticed that Dora hadn’t touched her food. He wanted to tell her to relax, that everything was going to work out, but he didn’t want to speak in front of his family. Instead he slipped his hand under the table and found hers, then squeezed her fingers. She gave him a grateful smile.
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