“‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown’,” she quoted.
“Henry the Fourth, Part Two,” Malik said without pause.
“I didn’t know you liked Shakespeare.” They’d gone to the opera a couple of times, to the ballet once—but never to a play. Why had they never discussed Shakespeare? She’d wanted to study literature and art in college, but her parents wouldn’t hear of it. It was a business degree or no degree.
Liberal arts majors worked in the food service industry, according to her father. Business majors made the world go around.
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, habibti.”
But before she could ask him anything else, they reached a door with two guards stationed on either side. One of the guards opened the door, and then they were entering what looked to be a private area that was infinitely homier than the palace they’d passed through.
A very attractive, but otherwise normal-looking couple came to greet them. It took Sydney a few moments to realize this was the king and queen of Jahfar. The pregnant queen, with her long tawny hair streaked with sun-kissed highlights, looked more like a California girl than Sydney did.
“Call me Isabella,” the queen said when Malik introduced them. Sydney instantly liked Isabella. King Adan, on the other hand, was imposing. He and Malik were the same height and breadth, but Adan looked harder, harsher, more serious. The weight of that crown, no doubt.
And possibly the weight of his disapproval of her. Sydney dropped her gaze as he studied her. He was no doubt remembering that phone call. Hearing Malik tell him again that he’d made a mistake when he’d wed an American girl with no money or connections.
“Welcome to Jahfar, sister,” the king said, kissing her on both cheeks. “You are long overdue for a visit.”
“I—thank you, Your Majesty.” She could feel the color rising, creating twin spots of flame in her cheeks.
Malik took her hand, pulled her to his side and anchored an arm around her. She was grateful for it, if only for the way it diverted Adan from studying her so intently. His gaze swept over them both, and then he was turning and leading the way to the dining room.
He was so like Malik. Intense, dark, handsome. They were clearly brothers, both with the same bronzed skin, chiseled bone structure and rich voices. And yet there seemed to be a coolness between them, a reserve.
Sydney thought she must be wrong at first, but all throughout the dinner she noticed how formal they were with one another. Like business associates rather than family.
It was Isabella who was the social butterfly, who smoothed the conversation when it reached a rough patch, who kept them talking when it seemed there was nothing else to say. She was warm and witty and full of personality.
For the first time, Sydney didn’t feel so intimidated by what she thought life as a sheikh’s wife must entail. Isabella was nothing like Sydney had expected—and that was a good thing.
When dinner was over, Isabella suggested they take coffee on the terrace—but not before she asked Sydney to accompany her to the nursery to check on her son.
“The truth is that I wanted to talk to you alone,” Isabella said as she closed the nursery door behind them after their visit.
“Oh,” Sydney said. “All right.” She was still feeling entranced by Rafiq’s dark curls, with the way he’d been lying on his back, his head to one side and his little leg kicked up. She’d not actually thought much about children with Malik, though she’d expected they would have had them after they’d been married for a while.
Now the thought made her heart squeeze tight.
Isabella took her hand and led her to a sitting area tucked away in an alcove. “I know it’s probably difficult for you,” Isabella said once they’d sat down facing each other. “It’s not easy to put a marriage back together after so much time away. But I want you to know it’s possible. Al Dhakir men are worth the trouble, even when you think you’d cheerfully strangle them and leave them for dead.”
Sydney made herself smile. “Did the king give you trouble?”
Isabella laughed. “Far more than you’d like to hear about, though I think I was probably the one who caused the most trouble. But we survived it. And you can, too. Give Malik a chance. He’s a good man—they all are— but they don’t always know how to reach out to the ones they love.”
Love. Now that was definitely not an issue with Malik since he did not love her. But Sydney wasn’t about to say so, especially when she could see how much the king absolutely adored his wife. His eyes smoldered when he looked at her. His expression lit up. He touched her often, even if it was just a light touch of his hand on hers.