The Sheik's Kidnapped Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 1)(37) by Susan Mallery
“Does he have a choice?” Amber asked, bitterness sharpening her words. “Did you give him the out he needed? Did you ever once think of anyone but yourself? Of course not. He was married before he had time to consider the alternatives, and you took advantage of him. You’re greedy and selfish.”
Dora took another step back. “It wasn’t like that,” she said softy. “I never—”
Amber dismissed her with a wave of her hand. “You think we don’t know the truth? The very day after your wedding, you went shopping and spent thousands of dollars on clothes. What about that wedding ring and the jewels?”
“There aren’t any jewels,” she protested weakly. “The hair ornament is Fatima’s. And I didn’t ask for any clothes.”
“No, but you took them, didn’t you. You refused nothing.”
Amber made her sound so horrible. Dora held on to the last thread of her dignity and refused to cry. Khalil had insisted on the clothes. She hadn’t wanted to go shopping at all. Amber could say what she liked about that, but Dora knew what had happened.
“You’re wrong,” she said.
Amber glared at her. “Am I? We’ll just see. You’ve trapped Khalil into marriage, but that’s just for now. In time his passion for me will overcome his duty, and he’ll leave you. El Bahar has made much progress in the past fifty years, and it’s surprisingly easy for a man to divorce his wife…even a prince. I wouldn’t get too used to living in the palace if I were you.”
“He wouldn’t,” Dora whispered, even as she knew he very well could.
“Don’t count on it. I know Khalil. I know him down to his soul. I know that I am in possession of his heart. Can you say the same?”
With that she turned and left as quietly as she’d come. Dora stared after her. Pain swept through her, agonizing waves that left her broken and disillusioned. All she’d wanted, all she’d hoped for, it had all been a lie. Khalil didn’t want her—he’d never wanted her. She’d been an impulse and then a mistake. He hadn’t wanted to marry her. Why hadn’t she seen that?
Dora looked up and saw Rihana standing in the doorway to the harem.
The pretty, young servant smiled at her. “Come, it is time for you to be married.”
The old man in front of them spoke ancient words. Around them, dozens of people sat on fat pillows, while candles lit the vastness of the room. But for Dora, the world had been reduced to a sharp pain, a futile quest for forgetfulness, and the death of a dream.
Even as Khalil took one of her hands in his and spoke, she couldn’t think about anything but what that woman had said. The lies, dear God, they had to be lies. She couldn’t have been speaking the truth. That wasn’t possible. Khalil had said he wasn’t sure he could leave New York without her, hadn’t he? She pressed her fingertips to her temple and tried to remember what, exactly, had happened the night they’d made love…and the next morning. Had she misunderstood? Was that possible? Had his proposal been a courtesy, nothing more?
No, she thought frantically. He’d insisted. She’d thought it was all a joke, but he’d pursued her, hadn’t he? Just as he’d really convinced her that he wanted her. She remembered him taking off his clothes so that he could show her the proof of his desire. She hadn’t imagined that—after all, she’d never seen a naked man before. So that part had really happened. Surely he couldn’t have been able to pretend to want her if he hadn’t felt that way. Except she didn’t know enough about men to figure out any of this. Could he have been aroused for other reasons? Had he been thinking about Amber instead? But if he’d been thinking about his fiancée, why had he come to Dora’s bed?
The holy man spoke more words. Incense filled the large hall. The room seemed to tilt and spin, and then Khalil removed her veil and pressed his mouth to hers.
The intimate contact caught her off guard. She flinched in surprise, then tried not to feel the familiar heat of his mouth. Despite her pain and confusion, just the lightest brush of his lips against hers sent liquid heat pouring through her body. If he had continued kissing her, or if he’d touched her anywhere else, she would have found herself unable to resist him.
The reality of her need for this man terrified her. They’d only been together once. How could she have changed so much in such a short period of time, and how could she go back to what she’d been before? She didn’t want to be vulnerable to him; she needed to be strong.
When Khalil raised his head, the crowd around them cheered. He grinned as he tucked the veil back in place. “Now you are officially my wife, little desert rose. What do you say to that?”
She searched his face, desperate to find a clue, a hint that he was happy and that this was what he wanted. But she didn’t know him well enough to read his expression. She could only guess, and the new questions in her mind made her question everything she found.
But he was torn from her before he could say anything. A group of men spirited him away, while dozens of women led her in the opposite direction. In a matter of minutes she and Khalil had been led across the hall into an even larger room set with dozens of huge tables. They were seated next to each other at the center of the largest banquet table. A feast lay before them, but the thought of eating churned Dora’s stomach.
She tried to concentrate on her surroundings. The beauty of the room, ancient tapestries hanging from an arched ceiling nearly three dozen feet overhead, the open windows and doorways leading to balconies overlooking the sea, the lush displays of tropical flowers filling corners and overflowing the tables, caught her eye if not her attention.
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