The Prince and the Pregnant Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 6)(10) by Susan Mallery
The designer dress she wore wasn’t anyone’s idea of a castoff, yet Cleo couldn’t escape the sensation of once again being a charity case. Funny how she thought she’d left that behind her years ago. Since she’d moved out at eighteen, she’d been making her own way and paying her bills on time. She even had a nest egg, although by royal family standards, it was amazingly pitiful. But it was enough for her. The problem was, she couldn’t afford to keep up with the elite social circles in Bahania, and Zara knew it.
Four months ago Zara had been the one feeling weird about accepting gifts of clothing from her newly found father. Cleo had seen their time here as an adventure. Now she shared Zara’s reluctance. Did carrying Sadik’s baby make all that much difference?
Dumb question, she told herself as she headed for the bar. Her midnight-blue beaded dress swished as she walked. High-heeled gold pumps gave her a couple of inches of height, but what she liked best about her outfit was the loose style.
It hinted at curves without actually hugging them. So far no one had noticed her bulging belly and she planned to keep it that way.
“Club soda,” she said when the bartender looked up.
She took the glass he offered and turned to survey the room. So these were the beautiful people, she thought as she sipped on her drink. They were certainly out of her league. If she had to make idle chitchat she would—
“I fear you grow more beautiful each time I see you.”
The wrapped-in-velvet voice made her tremble. She didn’t have to turn around to know who stood there.
“I didn’t think royal princes feared anything.” She glanced to her left and saw that Sadik had joined her. He looked fabulous in a tailored black tuxedo. It reminded her of the first time they’d met—when she’d taken one look at him and lost most of her common sense, not to mention a good part of her heart.
He took her free hand in his, brought it to his mouth and kissed her knuckles.
It was a courtly gesture that belonged to another time and place. Darn the man—it worked, anyway. She felt herself melting.
“So what’s new, Sadik?” she asked, determined to act completely normal. “How’s the stock market?”
“We do well.”
She didn’t bother asking how many billions he’d made that day. Sadik had a relationship with numbers that was completely foreign to her. She knew he had tripled the personal fortune of the family in fewer than six years. Given the uncertain world-economic situation, that bordered on a miracle.
“Are you excited about the wedding?” she asked, mostly because she couldn’t think of anything brilliant to say.
“My new sister seems happy with her choice in groom. Rafe is a good man. They are well matched.”
“She must be relieved to know she has your blessing. I know the uncertainty of getting it was keeping her up nights.”
His gaze narrowed. “Even now you defy me. Why do you play a game you can’t win?”
“I’m not interested enough to play with you anymore. As for winning—it wasn’t very interesting when I won last time.”
He sucked in a breath. “I was the victor.”
He had been, too. He’d seduced her in a heartbeat and had left her begging for more. Not that she was going to admit that to him. “Whatever. I really don’t remember.”
He put his hand on her shoulder and stroked the side of her neck. Had she been one of the king’s pet cats, she would have purred.
“Your mouth tells lies, but I see the truth in your eyes. The passion is as it always was between us. Your attempts to resist me will only make us both more hungry.”
“You managed to forget about me for the four months I was gone, Sadik. The fact that you’re paying attention to me now simply means that I’ve turned up on your radar. It’s a knee-jerk reaction that isn’t the least bit flattering—nor am I interested.”
She had more to say, but at that moment she was saved by the bell…literally. The head butler rang a gong that announced it was time for dinner. Cleo took the opportunity to duck away from Sadik before he could trap her with him.
How could she have blurted that out to him? If he had a single, functioning brain cell—and she happened to know he had more than the average working guy—he would figure out that her feelings were hurt by the fact that he’d let her go and hadn’t once bothered to get in touch with her. She didn’t want him thinking that he mattered. She didn’t want him thinking about her at all. He already had too much power over her sexually. The last thing she needed was him using her fragile emotions against her, too.
She walked into the main dining room and had a moment of panic at the thought that they might be seated next to each other. Several long tables filled the smaller of the formal dining rooms in the palace. Cleo found her name on the seating chart, then drew in a relieved breath when she saw the seats next to her were already taken. Rafe sat on her right, which meant Zara was next to him. A least she would be close to a semi-family member. On her left was a man she didn’t know, but he seemed friendly enough when he greeted her and held out her chair.
“Jonathan Grant,” he said easily, holding out his hand.
“Cleo Wilson,” she said, and settled in her chair. Rafe turned and gave her a wink before returning his attention to Zara.
Cleo took a moment to glance around the room. During her first stay in the palace, she’d explored several of the public rooms. She’d even almost begun to understand the floor plan. This particular dining room was used for smaller formal events. The wall tapestries dated back to the fifteenth century and showed the various explorers who had made their way to Bahania. Four marble statues stood in the corners. At the far end of the room was a raised dais for a small orchestra. Several crystal chandeliers provided light.
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