The Sheik's Kidnapped Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 1)(63) by Susan Mallery
The thought ended, and a new one began. It was most disquieting, so he started walking to distract himself. He hurried down the familiar corridors until he came to his own rooms. But instead of entering, he stood there thinking.
Dora had been a person, he thought at last. Someone with rights and feelings, and there was the smallest possibility he’d been wrong to take advantage of her. Even if she was just a woman.
But to admit that he loved her? Preposterous. He opened the door to his suite and stepped inside. The darkness seemed to surround him. He still ached for her. They’d begun to build the fire but had not had time to quench the hunger with flames. His body was ready to take her to that place of perfect paradise. His arms needed to hold her close, his lips longed to utter her name.
She wanted words of love and foolish apologies. He offered a kingdom—money and power. They battled to be the victor. His grandmother had told him to woo her; his pride said that Dora must surrender first. One of them would have to bend, he thought sadly. If they didn’t, they were destined to fail.
The party was going strong when Dora arrived. She stood in a side entrance to the ballroom and admired the beautiful decorations and the glittering crowd. King Givon hosted a “small, intimate” birthday celebration for his good friend and prime minister, Aleser. However, small and intimate in the royal world was different from small and intimate in Dora’s experience. There were more than a hundred people in the room.
Dora drew in a deep breath and tried to relax. She felt fine, and she looked good. At least that’s what she’d told herself as she’d dressed an hour before.
Since arriving in El Bahar, she’d started letting her hair grow. Now she wore it swept up in an elegant French twist. A few weeks before she and Khalil had gone to Paris for business meetings. Fatima had given Dora the name of an exclusive salon, which had pampered her with a manicure and facial. Afterward, a gifted artist had taught her the best way to apply makeup. All the horseback riding and the long distances between rooms in the palace had helped Dora drop ten pounds since arriving. While she would never be model perfect, she was an attractive, vital woman. Unfortunately she cowered in the shadowed doorway like a frightened schoolchild. If only she’d been able to walk in with Khalil.
Dora sighed. While her husband had been greeting guests, she’d been throwing up in her bathroom. So much for morning sickness occurring in the morning. Her attacks were infrequent, but they generally came in waves, striking every few hours, then disappearing for a day or two. Still not sure how to tell Khalil the truth about her pregnancy, she’d sent him away, telling him that she’d found a stain on her dress and had to change. The price of her lie was that she would be forced to enter the party on her own.
She took a step into the well-dressed crowd and moved toward the bar. There she ordered sparkling water poured into a wineglass, then plastered a smile on her face and prepared to plunge into the insanity.
“Your Highness,” a familiar voice said from behind her.
Dora turned and saw Martin Wingbird hurrying toward her. A tall, stately man walked briskly behind him. She paused.
“Good evening, Martin.”
“Your Highness.” Martin bowed, then glanced at his companion. “Princess Dora Khan, may I please present Lord Andrew Hall. He’s heard about your plans to increase opportunities for young women to attend college and would like to speak to you about that.”
Lord Hall took her offered hand and bowed low over her fingers. “Your Highness, I hesitated to disrupt a party to discuss business, but I’m only in El Bahar for a short visit.” He straightened. “My late wife was a great advocate of female education, as she called it.” He smiled, but his deep blue eyes remained sad. “In honor of her, I have dedicated my life to that cause. After hearing about your campaign and your success in convincing the king of the need to educate women, I would like to talk about offering scholarships to worthy female students so that they could attend British universities.”
Dora studied the thin man. His white hair was thick and wavy, his skin permanently tanned. “How on earth did you hear about my program?”
“News travels quickly, Your Highness. You are a highly visible and respected member of the royal family. People watch and talk.”
Dora laughed. “I suppose I have to believe you, but I’m still having trouble adjusting to all this.” She waved to take in both the party and the palace. “Lord Hall, I would be most delighted to discuss the scholarships with you. Will you still be in El Bahar tomorrow?”
“Business keeps me here for three days.”
“Good.” She looked at Martin. “Make an appointment for Lord Hall.” She returned her attention to the older man. “I look forward to our discussion.”
“As do I.” He nodded and moved away.
Dora sipped at her sparkling water. Life was certainly different these days. Just six months ago, she couldn’t have imagined a world such as this.
She circled the room, greeting people she knew, introducing herself to others. Small talk wasn’t her favorite, but practice made her better. She kept looking for Khalil, wondering where he was and what he was doing. Finally she caught a glimpse of something familiar, and she stopped in her tracks.
Dora stood near a small alcove, one of many that lined the ballroom. Behind her music played and people laughed and talked, but in front of her was relative silence. She waited, then caught the movement again. It was no more than a swirl of fabric from a woman’s dress and the gesture of one slender arm. Yet she sensed something familiar…something dangerous.
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