The Prince and the Pregnant Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 6)(9) by Susan Mallery
“I’m not calm,” Zara admitted, her large eyes dark and troubled. “I feel weird about it all the time. But if I gave in to those feelings, I’m afraid I would end up curled up in a closet, rocking and making weird noises.”
Cleo laughed. “Not an attractive visual.”
“Exactly.” Zara fingered her gold hoop earrings. “I didn’t set out to be a princess. I just wanted to find my father. He happens to be the king of Bahania.
Just between the two of us, I wish he’d been a normal guy, but he’s not. I’m here, so you have to be here, too.”
“The difference is, I get to run away when all this becomes too much.”
“I envy you that,” Zara said.
“No, you don’t. You want to be with Rafe.”
Her sister’s expression changed to complete happiness. “You’re right. I’ll put up with anything, even being a princess, just to be near him.”
“I envy you that,” Cleo said easily, knowing Zara would understand.
“You’ll find someone,” her sister told her.
Cleo wasn’t so sure.
“If it wasn’t for Rafe, I’d miss my old life a lot more,” Zara said after a couple of minutes of silence. “I still miss teaching at the university. Plus my friends. No one but you is coming to the wedding. I wanted to offer to pay for the plane tickets, but I knew people would take that wrong.” She stretched her hand across the back of the sofa and touched Cleo’s shoulder. “Thank you for coming.”
“I wouldn’t have missed it for anything,” Cleo told her truthfully.
Zara cleared her throat. “You know, there are a lot of opportunities in the city. The economy here is expanding and there’s always plenty of work.”
Cleo knew exactly where she was going. “Thanks for the suggestion, but I don’t think I’d fit in. I don’t exactly look like a local, plus, who’s going to hire the almost relative of the royal family?” She forced herself to laugh. “We’ll just have to do e-mail a lot.”
“I guess.” Zara’s answering smile faded. “Cleo, why did you run off so suddenly before? You still had a few days of vacation left, but you headed for home without warning.”
“I’m sorry about that. I just—” How to balance the truth with the need to keep her secret. “It was a lot of things. I could see that you needed time to bond with your new family. I wasn’t a part of that. Not only was I afraid of getting in the way, I didn’t exactly fit in.”
“You could never be in the way. I love you and I like having you around. I think the king has a soft spot for you, too.”
“He’s been very kind,” Cleo admitted, suddenly fighting tears. Pregnancy was the pits, she thought as she sniffed. “But I do have my own life back in Spokane.”
“Was Sadik part of your decision to leave?”
Cleo swallowed. “He was a lot of fun, but our relationship wasn’t anything important.” All lies, she thought, feeling guilty. Or maybe only half lies. She suspected their relationship hadn’t meant anything to Sadik. “We had a fling, and then it ended. It happens all the time, although probably more with him than with me.”
“He’s very good-looking.”
“I actually figured that out on my own. But come on. Me and a prince?” Cleo forced out a laugh. “Can you see that ever happening?”
Her heart hurt so much it was difficult to breathe. She desperately wanted Zara to protest, to say that of course everything would work out with Sadik, but that wasn’t going to happen. Zara didn’t have enough information to figure out what Cleo needed to hear, and even if she did, she wouldn’t lie.
Zara laughed, too. “I guess you’re right. He’s pretty arrogant.”
“I’m beginning to think that all princes are arrogant. It must be part of the training.”
Zara fingered her skirt. “Do you mind very much about Rafe? I mean that I’m marrying him?”
“No.” At least in this, Cleo could tell the truth. “You two are so in love. That makes me happy. You deserve someone wonderful in your life. I’m sorry we’re going to be living so far apart, but we can make that work. We’ll still be emotionally close, and you can tell me all about life with a sheik.”
Zara grinned. “I never thought I would be marrying a sheik. In his heart Rafe will always be American, which helps. He loves the desert, and the City of Thieves is amazing. He’s taken me there a couple of times. There’s so much history. I can’t wait to start exploring and studying.”
“That will keep you busy. Then you start having babies. You’re going to have a good life.”
“I hope so,” Zara admitted.
Cleo continued to smile, even though the tears threatened again. It’s not that she didn’t want Zara to be happy, but was it so wrong to want the same for herself?
She reminded herself that the best way to get through all this was to act normal and leave as quickly as possible after the wedding. Like the next day. The sooner she was back in the States, the safer she would feel.
Her stomach lurched slightly. Cleo gritted her teeth. Please, God, let her not throw up at that night’s dinner. Formal event or not, tossing her cookies would give everyone something to talk about and that’s exactly what she didn’t need.
Cleo stood at the entrance of the reception room. Her stomach was surprisingly calm, considering how nervous she felt. Nearly two hundred people were sipping cocktails and chatting with each other. The combined value of the clothing and jewelry was probably enough to match the gross national product of a small country. Cleo glanced down at her new finery, compliments of Zara, who had invited a couple of boutique owners to bring in their wares and then told Cleo to choose a new wardrobe.
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