The Sheik and the Princess Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 8)(5) by Susan Mallery
They passed room after room. Some were decorated with elegant Western-style furniture while others had low sofas and cushions, more suited to a nomadic tent. There were paintings and frescos and statues and…
Muffin squirmed in her arms.
“What is it sweetie?” she asked.
The dog yipped and squirmed some more. Seconds later a large white cat strolled out of a meeting room large enough to hold the entire Congress.
Billie yelped and clutched her dog more tightly to her chest. “What is that?” she asked as she took a step back.
The prince stared at her. “A cat,” he said with the obvious patience of one speaking to a mentally challenged person.
Annoyance overcame hormones and she glared at him. “I know it’s a cat. What’s it doing here?”
“My father has an affection for cats.”
She eyed the fluffy white demon. “I read that but I thought more in the lines of a painting on velvet or some carvings. Are you telling me there are actual cats in the palace?”
“Dozens. Is that a problem?”
She saw the corner of the prince’s mouth twitch, as if he was amused by her reaction.
“I’m not a cat person.”
“They will not hurt you.”
She wasn’t all that sure. If there were dozens, they could gang up on her and take her down. “What about Muffin?”
“I’m sure your…dog will be safe.”
She didn’t like how he said “dog” and she didn’t like the cats.
“Do you have an allergy?” he asked.
“Then what, exactly?”
“I had a bad experience when I was young.”
“With a small lion?”
She narrowed her gaze. Suddenly he wasn’t nearly as handsome and not the least bit intelligent. “Would you like to show me to my room?”
“More than life itself.”
Jefri could tell his guest was annoyed and unhappy about the cats. While he didn’t appreciate them as his father did, especially when they shed on all the furniture and covered his clothes in cat hair, they were little more than a mild inconvenience. But watching Billie Van Horn skitter around them, jump away and generally act as if she was in mortal danger every time one of them crossed her path, he wondered what possible trauma in her past could have caused such an overreaction.
At least wondering about her cat phobia gave him something to think about other than the perfection of her body. She was all lush curves and earthy appeal. Her scent—soap, something floral and a hint of the woman herself—made his blood heat. He wouldn’t have minded his reaction if she’d been trying to get his attention, but she seemed to be far more concerned about protecting herself from marauding felines.
He led the way to an elevator that took them to the third floor. When the doors opened, a tabby sat in the middle of the hallway. Billie jumped which, considering her high-heeled sandals, made him worry for the state of her slender ankles.
“Were you attacked?” he asked as she sidled around the twelve-pound feline.
“What?” She glanced at him, her blue eyes wide with worry. “Not me, but a close friend.” She pressed her lips together. “Muffin is only seven pounds. They could slice her to ribbons and serve her for breakfast.”
Jefri thought of how much time his father’s cats spent sleeping. “I doubt they are that ambitious.”
Billie’s sniff told him she wasn’t impressed by his logic.
As much as he wanted her in the palace, he hadn’t intended his invitation to distress her.
“Would you prefer to stay at the barracks?”
She shook her head. “We’ll manage.”
“The room is just up there.”
He motioned to a door, then stepped ahead of her to open it. Billie stepped inside and her breath caught in an audible gasp. Jefri followed her gaze, taking in the large living area, the floor-to-ceiling windows offering a view of the Arabian Sea and the wide double doors that led to the sleeping quarters.
“Will you be comfortable here?” he asked politely.
“Yes. And should I feel the need to take in boarders to supplement my income, there will be plenty of room.” She grinned. “This I could get used to.”
“You may consider the palace your home while you’re in Bahania.”
“You might want to be careful with an invitation like that. What if I never want to leave?”
Then she would be available to him whenever he wanted. Jefri turned the thought over in his mind and found it gave him pleasure. Too bad his father had done away with the harem. She would have been a wonderful addition.
“Please let any of the staff know if you have any needs,” he said instead of telling her what he was really thinking.
“Sure thing. I can’t imagine needing anything else, though. This room is amazing.”
She bent over and set her dog on the floor. The fur ball trotted to the sofa and began sniffing at the furniture.
“Do you always travel with your pet?” Jefri asked.
“Yup. Muffin and I are a package deal. I’ve even taken her up flying with me.”
He couldn’t imagine why. “Does she enjoy it?”
“Hard to tell,” Billie admitted. “She doesn’t throw up, so that’s something.”
Wanting to talk about something other than the creature touring the room, he crossed to the French doors and pointed toward the sea.
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