The Sheik's Kidnapped Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 1)(64) by Susan Mallery
Quietly Dora moved forward until she could see the two people standing in shadow. She recognized the man immediately—despite looking somewhat like his brothers, she would never mistake Khalil for anyone else. It took her a minute to place the woman. Not because she didn’t remember her, but because of the way the light and shadows played on her face.
Amber. The stunningly beautiful woman who had been engaged to Khalil. The woman who was a temptress in clinging red silk that outlined a perfect body. Thick, black hair piled high on her head, leaving her neck looking slender and delicate.
Dora stood just outside of their sight and fought against the waves of pain and hurt that crashed through her. Despite the pretty dress, the jewelry, the makeup, she was a pathetic parody of that beautiful young woman. Amber wore red silk, Dora blue. But the styles were similar enough to cause comment—ribbed column styles that accentuated bosom, exposed shoulders. Amber’s dress clung all the way to her knees, emphasizing her amazing curves, while Dora’s gown had been softened with folds of fabric so that her still-heavy hips would not be highlighted.
Amber was all things more, Dora thought miserably, wanting to back up but frozen in place. Her own hair had been put up, but she didn’t have the thick length to add height and volume. Her own earrings were lovely diamonds, but they paled in comparison to the jewels glittering on Amber’s ears and around her neck. She felt like an ugly parody of the younger woman’s beauty.
All her confidence, all her happiness, evaporated like a bowl of water left out in the desert sun. Khalil had been right, she was nothing.
Defeat weighed heavily on her. She forced herself to turn so that she could leave and escape to her room to lick her wounds. At that moment, the music ended and relative quiet settled over the ballroom. While others were too far away to hear what was said in the private alcove, Dora was not.
“I want you, Khalil,” Amber purred in her sultry tones. “I am your destiny, not that cow of a wife. What were you thinking, taking her when you could have had me? I know you don’t love her. I’m willing to admit I was wrong. I want to be with you. I want to have your sons.”
It was too much, Dora thought as tears blinded her. She hurried away before she made a sound and betrayed her presence to the lovers.
Up ahead she spotted a side door and made for it. Pain ripped through her. Pain and disappointment—for all that should have been but never would be. She’d lost before she’d begun. How on earth was she supposed to compete with a woman like Amber? No wonder her husband wouldn’t admit to caring about her—he didn’t. He loved another and she, Dora, was only in the way. She’d been fooling herself to think Khalil would ever love her.
A sob ripped through her. She opened the door and stepped into the night. But instead of soothing her, the faintly sweet scented air turned her stomach. She rushed to the edge of the balcony and threw up into a potted plant. She’d thought she’d hit rock bottom before when Gerald had rejected her, but this was far worse.
“It can’t be all that bad,” a soft voice murmured as a delicate handkerchief was pressed into her hand.
Dora took it gratefully, then wiped her mouth. She looked up and saw Fatima standing next to her.
“If you would stop hiding from the truth, child, so much would be better.”
Dora tried to force a smile, but she couldn’t. “It’s not what you think.”
Fatima, beautiful as always in her favorite Chanel, leaned close and patted Dora’s hand. “I know more than you suspect. I see many things that others do not, and what I don’t see, my spies tell me.”
Dora opened her mouth, then closed it. Fatima had spies? Then she did smile. Why not? The world was completely mad, and she was trapped in El Bahar.
“I can’t leave him,” she said, not completely aware she was speaking aloud. “Not just because I love him. If it was only that, I could probably tear myself away.”
“I doubt you could, but we can pretend, for the sake of discussion,” Fatima said kindly. She leaned against the railing and stared up at the sky. “Look at the lovely stars. So many and so bright.” She sighed. “Of course now that you’re pregnant, you’re trapped. You know that El Baharian law forbids a woman to leave her husband while she’s pregnant.”
Dora knew all too well. “Unless the husband had been abusing her or their other children. Yes, I’ve become most familiar with El Baharian law in the past few months.”
Dora touched her stomach. Life grew within. Soon that life would be visible to all. Then what?
“How many people know I’m pregnant?” she asked.
Fatima laughed. “We’re dealing with men, my dear. They’ll know when you tell them, not before.”
That was something. She had time. But for what? “Nothing is going to change.”
The night air surrounded them in soft darkness. The sounds of the party were faint beyond the glass doors. Out here, on a small balcony off to the side, they were alone. Dora wished they could stay here forever, that she might never have to go back and face her husband.
“What do you want to be different?” Fatima asked.
“Everything,” Dora sighed. “Loving Khalil is difficult enough, but having his child will tie me to him forever.” El Baharian law would allow her to leave once the child was born, but to what end? The royal family would not allow her to take her baby with her, and she doubted if Khalil would agree to joint custody. Besides, she didn’t want to leave. What she wanted was her husband to love her.
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