The Sheik's Kidnapped Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 1)(34) by Susan Mallery
“Point well taken,” Dora said, stirring in a drop of milk, then sipping the strong, hot brew.
Fatima patted her neatly coiled chignon. “You have learned much of our history in these past few days.”
“The books you loaned me were very interesting. I want to learn as much as I can about my new country.”
Shrewd dark eyes regarded her thoughtfully. “I have traveled all over the world, Dora. Some of that time was spent in your native country. I know a bit about American culture. You are bright, well-spoken, organized and a natural leader,” Fatima said. “There are many business opportunities available to women. So why were you working as Khalil’s secretary?”
Dora set her cup on the table and smoothed her hands over her skirt. “Why wasn’t I an executive in some company?” she asked.
“I don’t have a four-year degree. I had a scholarship, but things didn’t work out, so I earned a two-year degree, instead.” She paused, not sure she wanted to go into the mucky details of her past. Fatima was warm and friendly, but she was a woman of class and breeding. Dora doubted she would understand how Dora could have gotten herself in such a mess.
“You never went back to complete your education?”
Dora pressed her lips together. She’d meant to. Once the pain and the humiliation had faded, she’d thought she might apply to one of the many colleges in the Los Angeles area. If enough time had passed, perhaps no one would care about the scandal.
“Time slipped away from me,” was all she said.
Fatima continued to study her. Dora felt as if the older woman could read her thoughts. She wasn’t the least bit surprised when Fatima guessed the source of her problems.
“Men are odd creatures,” Khalil’s grandmother said at last. “The weak ones run away from their problems and blame the world. The strong ones accept responsibility, but they have other flaws. They resist admitting they need someone to be complete. They want what they can’t have. Sometimes they need to almost lose something to appreciate it.”
Dora smiled. “Is that why you have me living in the harem?”
“Perhaps. Does Khalil need to be tricked into seeing that he has married a jewel?”
She was charmed by the compliment and uncomfortable with the question in equal measures. “I hope not.”
Fatima nibbled on a watercress sandwich. When she’d finished she wiped her fingers on a linen napkin. “I have enjoyed having you with me in the harem.”
Dora glanced around at the luxurious quarters. “It’s even more lovely than I’d imagined.” She grinned. “And my education is quite different from what I’d thought it would be.”
Fatima made a dismissive gesture. “You were thinking we would discuss sexual arts. There is plenty of time for that. The first year or so of your marriage will be a time of great passion. It is all about quantity and emotional bonding. After the first child is born, we’ll talk of men and women, of lovemaking. Then you’ll be ready to learn the ancient secrets.”
Dora felt herself flushing at the other woman’s candor. Were there really secrets she could use to keep Khalil in her bed? She thought about their single night of lovemaking. It had been wild and amazing, and she couldn’t imagine anything better than when he’d held her in his arms. She’d spent many hours reliving their intimacy, remembering the touch of his fingers, his tongue as he’d—
“Why did you marry Khalil?” Fatima asked sharply, the question jerking Dora out of her reverie.
Dora stiffened and stared at her. Fatima’s expression was unreadable.
“He swept me off my feet,” she blurted without thinking. “I was deeply impressed by him, but I didn’t think he would ever notice me. I thought he assumed I was simply a very efficient robot. But that wasn’t true. When he told me he cared about me and wanted me, I couldn’t resist him.”
“I see.” Fatima’s eyes gave nothing away. “He is not an easy man. Of course, look at his brothers, or his father for that matter. They don’t understand the heart of a woman. You will have to be the slender reed, bending in the storm.” She sighed. “How I loathe to speak in clichés, but it’s true in this case. The men of the Khan family are great leaders, honorable and just, but they are also arrogant and unyielding. So stubborn I wanted to hit my husband with a frying pan more than once.”
Dora didn’t know how to respond to Fatima’s confession. She pictured the slender, well-dressed queen of El Bahar toting an oversize frying pan from room to room in search of her annoying husband.
“Khalil is a man worth having, but only if the woman is worthy and strong,” Fatima continued. “You must be those things, my dear. Even if you don’t yet feel them.”
Dora swallowed, but didn’t respond. Nor did she ask how this wise old woman had figured out the truth…that Dora didn’t feel the least bit worthy of Khalil or her new title. Nor did she know if she would be able to bend like a reed. While it wasn’t in her nature to fight for something, she wasn’t sure she could simply acquiesce, either.
Fatima changed the subject, mentioning a charity fashion show that they would attend together at the end of the month. Dora listened, grateful that Khalil’s grandmother hadn’t asked anything difficult…like why Khalil had wanted to marry her. Dora knew it had happened; she had the wedding license and the ring to prove it. She saw the passion in his eyes, a fire so bright she could almost believe it. But none of that answered the real question of why he’d chosen her.
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