The Sheik's Kidnapped Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 1)(38) by Susan Mallery
Conversation and laughter filled the room, but she couldn’t participate. The wild desert music made her head pound. She ignored the food Khalil set on her plate and barely sipped her wine.
“You are quiet,” Khalil said, leaning close to be heard over the crowd. “Did the ceremony disappoint you?”
“Not at all.” She cleared her throat. This wasn’t the time to have a talk about what Amber had said. “I have a slight headache.”
His dark eyes flashed. “I hope it gets better soon. I have missed my desert cat and had hoped I would get to visit her again this night.” He put a hand on her thigh, then slipped it between her legs for a brief, erotic caress. “It’s been too long.”
She stared at him, not sure what to believe. Unfortunately it was impossible to think with his fingers rubbing against that magical center of her being. Shivers rippled through her, and her br**sts swelled. She wanted to let her legs fall open so that he could touch her again and again until she found her release. Even as she acknowledged that he could have been lying about everything, she sensed that he would always have sexual power over her. The situation was intolerable…worse, it was inescapable.
She suffered through the rest of the meal, trying to smile and pretend that all was well. When the dessert trays were brought out, Khalil leaned close again.
“Everyone will understand if we make our escape now. Rihana has packed your bag for the night.”
She blinked. “What bag? For what night?”
He gave her a slow, lazy smile. “You’ve spent two weeks in the harem. Didn’t my grandmother tell you about the traditional wedding night?”
Mutely Dora shook her head.
“Ah, then I suspect you will enjoy the surprise,” he told her. “I know I will enjoy sharing it with you.”
As he rose, the pace of the music changed. The beat increased, as did the volume. Instantly they became the center of attention.
“You sneak away so soon?” Malik called from his place at the far end of the table. “But then my little brother was always impatient.”
Khalil waved him off. “We have far to go. It’s late.”
“You need to go far so she won’t be able to run away in horror,” Jamal, Khalil’s middle brother joked. At least Dora assumed it was a joke. Everyone laughed out loud.
Khalil ignored that comment and the others that followed. He took Dora’s hand and started for the door. But dozens of people stopped them, the men offering congratulations, the women smiling at her with friendliness, or envy. Dora’s numbness crept down to her bones, and she found herself barely able to register what was going on.
Then, just as they were to make their escape, Amber appeared in front of them. If Dora had any doubts, they were dispelled when she felt her husband stiffen as if he’d slammed into a wall. He obviously felt some strong emotion for this woman.
Amber, as beautiful as the most perfect statue ever created by man, stared up mutely. Tears clung to her lower lashes, but did not fall. Her lips trembled. She was a vision of pain.
“Khalil,” she breathed softly. “I love you.”
For Dora, the confession was a knife to the heart. She had to force herself to stay silent, to not cry out. Why had this happened? Why had she been a fool for the second time in her life?
Khalil pushed past Amber without saying a word. In a matter of minutes, Dora found herself in the passenger seat of a four-wheel-drive vehicle, heading away from the palace.
He drove with easy confidence. “Relax. We aren’t going that far. Tradition states that we ride to our destination, but I didn’t think you’d be up to that.”
He shot her a grin. “Horses.”
Her brain refused to function. She turned the thought over in her mind a few times until she realized he meant that the usual tradition was for the bride and groom to ride away on horseback. “Where are we going?”
“You’ll see. It’s just over the rise.”
Buildings quickly fell away. To the left and right, the city rose around them, but in front was only wilderness.
“This is all royal land,” Khalil told her. He pulled off his traditional headdress and tossed it into the back seat. He still wore robes that were only a few shades darker than her own. They emphasized his height and strength, leaving her feeling slightly vulnerable, as well as confused and foolish.
“Much of the city sits on land that is owned by the royal family, although it is granted to the government in hundred-year blocks, and we don’t require any rent. But this section is kept private and undeveloped.”
Dora glanced around and tried to take an interest in her surroundings. There was a wild sort of beauty to the untamed vastness that was the desert. In less than ten minutes they’d left the city and palace behind, and now it seemed they were the only two people around for miles.
They reached the peak of the hill. Below lay a shallow valley with an oasis in the center. Dora had never seen such a thing before, except perhaps in books or movies, but she recognized the startlingly green island of life in the middle of brown emptiness. Slender palms formed a half circle around a deep blue pool. Lush plants and bushes grew everywhere. On the far side of the pool, animal tracks littered the muddy banks, and to the left stood a large beige tent.
“Your palace for the night, milady,” Khalil said, his voice teasing.
Dora could only stare. One of the flaps had been tied open, inviting them inside. As Khalil drew closer, she could see several Jeeps already parked behind the tent, and armed men patrolling the area.
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