Pursued by the Desert Prince(4)

By: Dani Collins

The cost of something like today wasn’t so high as to imperil his riches, of course. The groom’s family could equally afford it and given the extent of the Sauveterre wealth, and the rumors that the family corporation had underwritten this folly of an art project in the first place, he imagined Angelique wouldn’t be too far out of pocket, either.

“Had this afternoon been the only line item offered at no charge, I wouldn’t have batted an eye,” he said. “But the gown? I know my sister’s taste.” He imagined it had easily run to six figures. “And to throw in wedding costumes for the rest of the party? Including mothers of the bride and groom?”

“Sadiq’s parents and sisters are also friends of the family.”

“Plus a full wardrobe for Hasna to begin her married life,” he completed with disbelief. “All at no cost? This is more than a ‘gift’ from a ‘family friend.’ If I had learned of it sooner, I would have taken steps long before today.”

Hasna had been chattering nonstop about her big day, but what did he care about the finer details? He was glad she was marrying for love, he wanted everything to go well for her, but the minutia of decor and food and colors to be worn had meant nothing to him. It wasn’t until he had noted she was grossly under budget—not like her at all—that he had quizzed her on when to expect an invoice for the dress.

“If I’m Sadiq’s mistress, then I should want the fat commission off this! I would have told him to make his bride come to us as a payoff for losing his support—which I don’t need, by the way.” The hiss in her tone sliced the air like a blade. “That is not the way it went at all. Hasna didn’t even know Sadiq knew us. She said we were her dream designer and he arranged it secretly, to surprise her. We’re the ones who decided not to charge him.”

“Yes, funny that he would have kept this tremendously close ‘friendship’—” he let her hear his disdain “—such a secret from the woman he had been courting for a year and professed to love. I might have understood if he was paying you off.” He wouldn’t have condoned it, not when Hasna had fought so hard for a love match and had managed to convince him that Sadiq returned her feelings, but at least he would have seen the why of this ridiculous arrangement.

“Have you discussed this with Sadiq?” she demanded frostily, arms crossed. “Because I am as insulted on his behalf as I am on my own.”

“Sadiq is plainly not capable of doing what is needed. I will advise him after the fact.”

“I am not sleeping with Sadiq! I don’t sleep with married men, or engaged ones, either.”

“I’m fairly confident you stopped sleeping with him once the engagement was announced. I can account for his whereabouts since then.”

“He knows you’re watching him like that? With these awful suspicions about him?”

“I don’t judge him for having lovers prior to settling down. We all do it.”

Although it annoyed him that his brother-in-law had slept with this particular woman. Kasim didn’t examine too closely why that grated. Or wonder too much about how such a soft-spoken man had managed to seduce her. Sadiq had always struck Kasim as being more book-smart than street-smart, earnest and studious and almost as naive as Hasna.

This woman was surprisingly spirited. She would dominate someone like Sadiq.

Which more than explained why Sadiq hadn’t been able to end things as definitively as he should.

“And I’m...what?” she prodded. “Trying to coax him back by outfitting his wife? Your logic is flawed, Your Highness.”

Her impertinence took him aback, it was so uncommon in his life. The most sass he heard from anyone was from his sister and she typically confined it to light teasing, never anything with this much bite.

He found Angelique’s impudence both stimulating and trying. She obviously didn’t understand who she was dealing with.

“Why are you arguing? I’m offering to pay you for the work you’ve done. The more you resist admitting the truth and promising not to see him again, the more likely I am to lose patience and pull the plug on this entire arrangement, Hasna’s tears be damned.”

“You would do that?” Her jaw slacked with disbelief. “To your sister?”

She had no idea to what lengths he would go—had gone—to protect his family.

He wouldn’t allow himself to be drawn into yet another inner debate about his actions on that score. It still wrenched his heart, especially when Hasna still cried so often, but he had done what he had to. Ruthlessly.

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