The Sheik's Kidnapped Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 1)(35) by Susan Mallery
Dora stared at the henna staining her hands. The intricate pattern worked its way across her palm, then circled each finger, like dark lace.
Fatima brushed the back of her hand. “Tradition has it that a bride does not do work in the household until the last of the henna has faded. It marks the end of the honeymoon. You can imagine how for centuries young brides avoided water, or anything else that might hasten the fading process.” Fatima smiled fondly. “That is not for you to worry about, however. You’re a princess in this great house, and we’re unlikely to set you to work in the kitchen.”
“I don’t know,” Dora teased. “I peel a pretty mean potato.”
Fatima didn’t return her smile. “I would imagine you can do anything you set your mind to. Don’t forget that, child. Don’t give up too easily.” She rose to her feet. “Listen to me, prattling on like the old woman I am. Stand up, and let me look at you.”
Dora did as she requested. Like Fatima, she dressed traditionally for the ceremony. A simple silk chemise served as her only undergarment. Over that she wore a long-sleeved lace dress, fitted to the waist, then falling loose to the floor. Heavily embroidered robes went over the dress and covered her completely. Rihana had worked wonders with her hair, pulling it up and securing it with a diamond headdress. Except for the gold thread from the embroidery, she was dressed entirely in white.
Fatima, whose slender body was draped in exquisite robes of blue and green, circled her. “Just lovely. This wedding robe is more than a hundred years old. I was married in it myself.”
Dora glanced over her shoulder so that she could see the expanse of fabric in the mirror. El Baharian tradition prescribed that each bride add something to the marriage robe, a small picture of something symbolic to her alone. In the royal family, the picture was chosen by the groom and sewn by a female relative in his household. Fatima had stayed up late several nights completing her contribution to the robe.
The older woman touched a small design of a tree with many branches, just over Dora’s right hip. “That is the symbol of my homeland of Bahania. There was much discussion about what symbol would be added for you.” Fatima laughed. “Jamal suggested a portrait of Elvis, while Malik favored the American flag.”
She couldn’t imagine the king agreeing to either. “What did Khalil pick?”
“This.” Fatima touched a small flower near the hem. “Khalil said he wanted a symbol of the desert rose.” She smiled. “But he specified that one of the leaves was to be made to look like the paw print of the desert cat. As we have no such creature in our country, I thought it was a most unusual request.”
Dora could feel herself blushing. She remembered their night of lovemaking, when he’d first compared her to a desert rose, then afterward had called her his desert wildcat.
“Very interesting,” she said without meeting Fatima’s gaze.
The older woman moved in front of her and kissed her cheek. “Don’t be afraid. I have cast your fortune upon the water, and the future has been revealed to me. You will need to be strong, but if you trust your heart and stay on the true course, you will achieve your soul’s desire.”
Then she secured the sheer white veil across the lower half of Dora’s face and left the room.
Dora stood alone within the protective walls of the harem. She couldn’t believe all that had happened to her in the past month. Her life had changed so dramatically, she couldn’t seem to catch her breath. Ironically her wedding ceremony today, to Khalil, would occur the day after she’d been scheduled to marry Gerald.
She turned slowly so that she could see herself in the large mirror across the room. Instead of a thirty-year-old woman in a traditional wedding gown, she stared into the dark eyes of a stranger. Heavy garments covered her from her shoulders to her toes, and the sheer veil concealed the details of her features. She looked exotic and otherworldly, not at all the timid woman she’d been a month before.
Fatima had promised that she could achieve her soul’s desire, if she was strong and trusted her heart. Dora squeezed her hennaed fingers so tightly together that her nails dug into her skin. Her soul’s desire was to find her one true love. To be cared for, and to care in return; to have children, to raise those children, and then to grow old next to a wonderful man. Not riches, not titles, not power—just the joy of being part of a warm, loving marriage.
As heart’s desires went, it was fairly standard. Surely she wasn’t asking for too much.
“Are you nervous?”
Dora glanced up and saw a beautiful young woman standing behind her. She hadn’t heard her enter the harem.
She turned and looked at the petite, dark-haired goddess dressed in a shimmering gold-and-white dress that emphasized the incredible shape of her body. Her face was exquisite with perfect features that looked amazingly familiar. Dora stared and tried to remember—then it came back to her. This was the woman Khalil had argued with in the clothing store in New York.
“We haven’t met,” the young woman said, moving toward Dora, but not holding out her hand in greeting. “My name is Amber. I’m Khalil’s fiancée.” She paused, then touched perfectly manicured, long red fingernails to her pouty mouth. “Oh, dear. That was a slip of the tongue. I should say Khalil’s former fiancée.”
The heavy silk robes might conceal Dora’s body from view, but she knew that her own pear shape was no competition for the young beauty in front of her. Amber was everything she’d ever wanted to be—everything she’d ever admired. How could Khalil have turned his back on this vision to marry her?
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