The Sheik's Kidnapped Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 1)(33) by Susan Mallery
“I wouldn’t be happy, either,” a familiar voice said.
Khalil looked up and saw Malik, his oldest brother, standing by the balcony.
“You’ve been married, what, three days, and you’ve already lost your bride.”
“I know. I’ll speak to Father.”
“Save your breath,” Malik told him. “He’s not going against Grandmother. Not in this matter.”
Khalil knew that Malik was right, but he didn’t have to like it.
Malik moved close and rested his hand on his brother’s shoulder. Dark, wide eyes, similar to his own, stared into his face. “For what it’s worth, I think you’ve made a good choice. Amber was not suited for the life of a princess.”
And then Malik was gone, leaving Khalil to wonder if his brother recalled more about his night with Amber than she had realized.
Dora studied the chart in front of her. It listed positions in the El Baharian government, but not the names of the officials currently in office. She went across the chart from left to right and supplied the name for each position.
Fatima beamed. “You learn quickly. I had hoped my grandsons would marry intelligent women, but with princes, one never knows.”
Dora looked at Khalil’s grandmother. As always, the elderly woman was beautifully coiffured, with perfect hair and makeup. Today she wore a tailored blouse and skirt with pumps that showed off her slender ankles. While there were subtle, telltale signs of her age, for the most part she could pass for a woman in her early fifties.
They sat on one of the low sofas in the palace harem. Dora had been living behind the sheltered walls for eleven days. Just three more days until her wedding. Everything around her was new and strange, yet in some ways it was as if she’d always lived here. She had the oddest sensation of having been thrust back in time.
“Now I want to talk about history,” Fatima told her. “Do you remember—” She broke off as Rihana, the young servant, came in carrying a large tray with tea and tiny sandwiches.
“Is it four already?” Fatima asked, glancing at her elegant gold watch. “The afternoon has flown.”
Rihana paused. “Would you like me to come back later, Your Highness?”
“No. Of course not.” Fatima sniffed. “Ah, there’s cinnamon sticks for the tea. My favorite.” Her beautiful face softened into a smile. “You do spoil me, child.”
Rihana set the tray down and began to place the contents on the table in front of the sofa. Dora had already seen the ritual acted out every afternoon. She rose to her feet and crossed to the balcony on the far side of the room.
Unlike the regular living quarters and main offices of the palace, the harem didn’t face the sea. Instead the rooms had a view of the gardens. On her first evening, Fatima had taken her on a tour of the complex suite, which had been designed to please women, as well as hold them captive. There were dozens of sleeping chambers, some large, some small. The size of the room was a statement of the occupant’s status with the king. The communal baths were works of art, with mosaics depicting erotic couplings between mermaids and sailors. Water poured from gold faucets, and the jewels studding the back of the hand mirrors were large and genuine.
The common rooms had arched doorways, but few doors, giving the area an open feel. Fatima had taken her up the hidden staircase to the small, closed room where the chief eunuch had once watched over the women in his care and the king had viewed his beauties before deciding his choice for the night.
The harem had its own private gardens, lush with tropical plants and a small formal English garden. A few elderly parrots survived in the trees inside the lattice-covered grounds. Fatima had told her at one time dozens of parrots had been kept by the harem to cover the sounds of the women’s voices so that no man would be tempted to enter. She’d also whispered that the parrots had served to cover the women’s screams when they were beaten for a transgression.
Now, Dora stood in that same garden, a woman of the twenty-first century. So different from those long-ago women whose only purpose in life had been to bring pleasure to a king…and yet very much the same. While she was in El Bahar, most of her world revolved around the whim of the prince. The man she’d married impulsively and had not seen except at dinner for the past eleven days. The evening meal, taken in the company of the family, was her only contact with Khalil, and they had never once been left alone.
She shivered as she remembered his heated gaze the night before. How he’d looked at her with such desire that she’d lost her ability to eat or drink. She could only stare back at him, captured by his dark eyes, wondering how she could ever have doubted his desire.
Every look, every word, every touch told her he wanted her desperately. Whether or not he loved her remained in question, but for now, the wanting would have to be enough. Only three more days until they were married in a traditional ceremony. A ceremony with rituals and meanings as old as time.
She heard the soft click of the harem’s outer door closing and returned to the central chamber. Fatima had already poured tea for them both and divided the plate of sandwiches.
“You were never occupied by the British,” Dora said as she resumed her seat on the sofa. “So why English tea?”
Fatima smiled as she handed her a delicate bone china cup. “It’s very civilized. We were never occupied by the Americans, yet we use electricity—which I believe your Thomas Edison first invented.”
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