His question nearly made her laugh. But she was afraid that if she started to laugh, she wouldn’t stop and then she would start crying. Hysterics would lead to a lot of questions she didn’t want to answer.
“Everything is lovely,” she said, doing her best to keep her emotions in check. “The palace is beautiful. I’ve been studying the history of the building and of your people. There is a long tradition of bravery in battle.”
“The desert runs in our blood. We were warriors long before we were rulers.”
“It must be difficult to leave the desert,” she told him. “The beauty, the wildness, the tradition. The nomads live as they always have.”
“With few modern conveniences,” he said with a smile. “Much can be endured if one has excellent plumbing.”
She gave a little giggle, which seemed to take a sharp turn at the end. She swallowed the sound. “But to walk in the steps of those who have gone before would be a fair compensation.”
“So says the woman who has not experienced desert life. Spend a week with my people and then we will have this conversation again.”
She nodded. “I would like that.”
She spoke the truth. There was something appealing about simplicity right now. About having the rules of one’s life spelled out. Too many choices could be complicated.
If she had never left the convent school in the first place, she wouldn’t have met As’ad and none of this would have happened. Yet was it equally wrong to hide from the world? To take the safe and, therefore, easy road? To never test herself? Is that what she’d been supposed to learn?
“I just don’t know,” she said.
The king looked quizzical. “What troubles you, child?”
“Nothing.” She felt tears burning in her eyes. “I…I’m sorry. I don’t feel well. Please excuse me.”
She gave a little bow, then hurried away. When she’d taken a turn in the path and knew she was out of sight, she began to run. The only problem was there was nowhere else to go.
As’ad walked to Kayleen’s suite, knocked, then entered. He found her in her room, curled up on the bed, sobbing as if her heart was broken.
He stared at her for a moment, feeling both compassion and a sense of certainty that his good news would erase her tears. He allowed himself to anticipate her sweet kisses when he proposed. How she would be so excited and grateful. Perhaps they would make love again. He was more than ready, although he would have to be careful so that he did not hurt her. She was new to the sensual world and too much attention in too short a time would leave her sore.
He walked to the side of the bed. “Kayleen.”
“I will not. Sit up. I wish to speak to you.”
“No. I don’t want to talk. This isn’t your problem.”
“Of course it is. I caused it.”
She continued to cry, which surprised him. She’d seemed fine when he’d left her last night. A woman should not be left alone with her thoughts. It only created trouble.
He considered the situation, then sat on the edge of the bed and pulled her upright. She ducked her head, refusing to look at him. He drew her against him.
“It is not as bad as all that.”
“Of course it is.” Her body shook with the force of her sobs. “I have betrayed everything I believe in. I’m not the person I thought. I gave myself to you without thinking it through. I barely know you. I don’t love you. You’re just some guy. What does that say about me?”
Some guy? He was Prince As’ad of El Deharia. He was royal and a sheik. Women begged him to claim them for just a single night.
“I honored you,” he told her curtly.
“It wasn’t an honor to me.”
What? He pushed away his annoyance. She was emotional, he told himself. She wasn’t thinking clearly.
“Kayleen, we share a connection with the girls. You see me as a friend and someone you can trust. It is natural you would turn to me easily.”
She looked at him, her eyes swollen and red. “It’s not natural to me. I’m supposed to wait until I’m in love and married.”
“Sometimes it is difficult to resist the pull of sensual need.”
She hiccuped. “You’re saying I gave in because I wanted to do it and you just happened to be there? That’s supposed to make me feel better?”
Why was she deliberately misunderstanding him? “Not at all,” he said through gritted teeth. “I’m saying that I am an experienced man. I know what to do to awaken that part of a woman.”
“So you tricked me? While I appreciate the effort, it’s not working. I have a responsibility in this. I have to deal with what happened, what I did and what it says about me.”