The Sheik's Kidnapped Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 1)(39) by Susan Mallery
“Who are they?” she asked stiffly.
“They are the unfortunate reminder of reality. Tradition dictates that we spend our first night as man and wife out in the desert. It’s something my family has been doing for generations. However, times have changed, and it’s no longer a simple matter for a prince to take his bride away for the night. So we have a few guards with us.” He gave her a reassuring pat on the hand. “Don’t worry. They’ll stay well back—we’ll have our privacy.”
A tent, the desert, guards? Where would this madness end? What had she been thinking when she’d accepted his proposal? Or perhaps she hadn’t been thinking. Maybe that was her problem. She’d wanted to believe so very much that she’d ignored the obvious…that a man like him could never want a woman like her.
Khalil parked next to the tent, then walked around and opened her door. She stepped out because she couldn’t think of anything to say, and for now it was easier to go with him.
One of the guards moved close as they approached and held open the loose tent flap. His expression was closed and forbidding, and when they entered, he secured the flap behind them.
“Don’t they make you nervous?” Dora asked.
“On the contrary. They make me feel very safe.”
She supposed that he was right—better to be protected than not. Then she turned and faced the interior of the tent and thankfully, she didn’t have to think about anything at all for a few minutes. It was far better to lose herself in the magic that had been created at the edge of a small oasis.
A smaller inner tent filled the larger one. Dora stepped into a cream-and-gold wonderland of thick rugs and wall hangings, dozens and dozens of deep red pillows. A bed stood in the corner on a dais, the covers pulled back, the soft white linens offering welcome.
To the right sat a table laden with covered dishes. Champagne—for the Khan family was not Muslim—chilled in an ice bucket. The rugs deceived her feet and the tapestries deceived her eyes. Had she not seen the tent for herself, she would have thought she were in some luxurious home in an exotic town.
“It’s lovely,” she told Khalil.
“We know how to travel in style,” he said lightly. “Something we learned more than a thousand years ago.”
He came up behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders. She told herself not to react, or at the very least, not to overreact. But it was impossible. Before she could stop herself, she flinched violently, then tore herself away and spun to face him.
“Don’t!” she ordered. “Don’t touch me.”
Khalil stepped back in surprise. “What’s wrong?” He stared at her, his dark eyes searching her face. “This is more than wedding nerves, isn’t it? Something has happened.”
“How perceptive,” she said sarcastically. “What was your first clue?”
He frowned. “What is it, Dora? Why are you acting like this? It’s not in your nature to be a petty female. You are usually so reasonable. Tell me?”
She stared at him, at this man to whom she had been bound in separate ceremonies nearly half a world apart. “You don’t know me at all,” she said softly. “But that’s only fair, because I don’t know you, either.”
He gestured impatiently. In his traditional robes, he looked very much the part of the prince of a desert kingdom. A prince who would never have willingly chosen her for his wife.
“You haven’t answered the question,” he said. “What’s wrong?”
“Amber came to see me,” she told him. “Today, just before the ceremony.”
His expression didn’t change at all. She might as well have told him about the weather for all he seemed to care. “She is not to be trusted,” he said. “Ignore everything she said.”
“It’s not that easy. Don’t you want to know what she said to me?”
She wanted to laugh, but it hurt too much. Pressure tightened in her throat. “I wish I could forget, but I can’t. The words are burned into my brain.”
She drew in a deep breath. “Khalil, she said that you had a fight with her while you were in New York. She said that was the reason you came to—” She paused. “The reason you were intimate with me was to get back at her. That it was never about me at all.”
As she spoke she stared at him, desperately hoping for a sign that it was all false. She wanted him to get angry and frustrated, to pull her close and say that Amber had the heart of a worm and that of course he loved her, Dora. She wanted reassurance and kind words and patience, and then she wanted him to make gentle love to her.
Instead Khalil stalked to the doorway and clutched the thick fabric. “I see.”
It was not what she wanted to hear. The pressure in her chest increased, and she was suddenly cold. If she’d eaten anything that day she would have thrown up, but mercifully her stomach was empty.
The silence grew around them. She found herself filling the space with ugly words.
“She said that you were shocked to find out I was a virgin. Shocked and h-horrified.” She could feel the tears burning in her eyes, and she blinked them back. “She said you proposed out of a sense of duty and that neither of you expected me to say yes.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “She said you would divorce me so you could marry her.”
“Enough!” he growled. “She tells you lies. All lies. We will not speak of this again.”
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