The Sheik's Arranged Marriage(9)

By: Susan Mallery

There was a moment of silence, then everyone laughed. Heidi tried to join in, but her heart had nestled firmly in her throat. It made it difficult to breathe, let alone laugh. She found it easier to simply be quiet and hope the conversation returned to a more normal topic.

To distract herself, she studied the room in which they were dining. The family dining room was an open area tucked into an alcove by the main garden. One wall was glass, opening out onto a fountain and the blooming flowers beyond. Extra chairs lined the back wall. Flowers decorated the white tablecloth. Silver gleamed, and crystal reflected the light of the brilliant chandelier overhead.

She wanted to say this was one of her favorite places in the palace, but the truth was, she enjoyed the entire structure. There was so much beauty here…so much history. Parts of the palace predated the Crusades. There were entire rooms filled with antique weapons, and the library contained dozens of books written and illustrated by hand.

“What are you thinking?” Jamal asked.

She looked up and found the prince’s dark eyes focused on her face. His attention made her nervous. She pushed her glasses into place and cleared her throat.

“Just that the palace is a very beautiful place. I’m pleased to be back. Did I mention that I was interested in restoring the ancient texts?”

“Jamal is interested in history,” the king said, interrupting. “He reads about it all the time.”

Jamal’s well-shaped mouth tightened in annoyance. “I live for history,” he said. “They call me History. It’s a nickname.” He tossed his napkin onto the table. “Come on, Heidi. I think you and I should leave these good people to finish their dinner.”

She rose gratefully to her feet. While she wasn’t all that excited about being alone with Jamal, she didn’t want to stay here and be tortured, either.

“Where are you going?” the king asked. “Into town? You could take her to a club. Or dancing. Dancing is nice.” He smiled at Heidi. “Don’t you like to dance?”

“Or a walk in the garden,” Fatima added quickly. “It’s very beautiful out tonight.”

“Hey, we could clear the table, and you two could get to it right—” Khalil stopped abruptly.

“You kicked me,” he accused, glaring at Dora. “What did I say?”

Dora ignored him. “Go,” she told Heidi. “I’ll hold them back while you two make your escape.”

Jamal held out his hand. Heidi took it and allowed him to lead her from the room. They raced to the end of the hallway, then made a series of quick turns, finally ending up in an alcove that led to one of the small gardens on the side of the palace.

Jamal leaned against the wall and dropped his chin to his chest. “That was horrible.”

“I tried to warn you,” Heidi told him. “But you wouldn’t listen.” She shuddered. “Dancing is nice. I can’t believe the king said that.”

Jamal looked at her. “You missed your line on that one.”

She thought for a minute, then laughed. “You’re right.” She pressed her free hand to her chest. “I live to dance. They call me Dan.”

Jamal chuckled, then jerked his head toward the glass doors. “If I promise not to discuss anything of significance, do you want to take a walk for a couple of minutes? Just until it’s safe to go our separate ways.”

“Sure.”

He pulled open one of the glass doors, and they stepped out into the night.

Heidi inhaled the scent of oranges and plants and turned earth and even the sweetness left by the lingering heat. She closed her eyes and sighed. “This is El Bahar,” she breathed. “I always try to remember how it smells in the gardens, but no matter how I promise myself I’ll remember, I always seem to forget. After a couple of months I can’t recall the exact sweetness, or the way the earth adds a darker tone to the fragrance. I lose the sounds of the night here. The chirpings and stirrings. The gentle splash of the fountains.”

“You love it here, don’t you?”

Heidi opened her eyes and found Jamal staring at her. She started to take a step back from him, only to discover that they still held hands. She looked at their entwined fingers in amazement. How had that happened?

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