The Sheik and the Princess Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 8)(8) by Susan Mallery
“The good life,” she said as she gathered Muffin in her arms. “Okay, what if we take a quick walk outside, then figure out what we’re doing about dinner? I mean does the palace have room service? I should have asked the prince about it.”
She would have, too, if he hadn’t been so tall and princely while he’d showed her around the suite.
“The man is a hunk,” she told her little dog as she carried her out into the corridor. “Wish he were my type.”
Not that Billie had an actual type. That would require a level of involvement she’d never had.
“In my next life I’ll be a guy magnet,” she told herself. “They’ll be tripping over each other to get to me.”
But until then, it was just her and her dog.
Billie walked to the end of the corridor and took the stairs down. She had a good sense of direction and was able to find her way to the garden in under five minutes.
The lush cultivated space seemed larger at ground level. The various gardens spilled into each other, more formal English garden hedges giving way to serene pools surrounded by tropical disarray. She set Muffin down, careful to keep an eye on her so she wasn’t cornered and attacked by marauding cats.
“Not bad,” Billie murmured as Muffin began to sniff. “Easy to understand why it’s good to be the prince.”
Her sandals clicked loudly on the stone path. She wove her way between plants and bushes and trees, stopping to smell a flower or finger a leaf. She didn’t know all that much about growing things. Her expertise required an engine and enough thrust and speed to break the sound barrier. Still, if one had to stay earthbound, this was the place.
She rounded a corner and saw a man sitting on a bench. He looked up as she approached, then stood.
“Good afternoon,” he said with a smile. “Who might you be?”
The man was tall and handsome, albeit older. Gray spread from his temples and there were lines by his dark, deep-set eyes. His well-tailored suit reminded her of a bank president or senator, not that she’d ever met either.
“Billie Van Horn,” she said, holding out her hand.
“Ah, the military expert. I recognize the name.” He shook hands with her, then motioned to the bench. “You are a member of the family?”
“The only girl. A giant pain, let me tell you.” She settled on one end of the stone bench while he took the other. “The good news is I’m a great pilot and if my brothers ever make me too crazy I challenge them to a dogfight.” She grinned.
“A fighter jet is a great equalizer.”
“I can imagine.”
Muffin trotted up and sniffed at the nice man’s shoes.
“My dog,” Billie said. “Muffin. I’d heard there were cats, but I didn’t expect so many. I’m trying to keep Muffin from being the chef’s special.”
“I doubt you have to worry. She looks capable of taking care of herself.”
“Not when she’s outnumbered. There was already a fight in my room.”
The older man raised his eyebrows. “You are staying at the palace?”
“Yes. Prince Jefri invited me and my brother Doyle.” She leaned close. “I confess I was seduced by the thought of a bathtub. Roughing it comes with the job, so how could I resist a few weeks in a palace? The place is amazing.”
“I’m glad you think so.”
A cat strolled up. Billie eyed it with distaste but her companion simply stroked its back.
“You fly jets?” he asked. “That is your job?”
“I do most of the in-air training. I also work with the pilots on the simulators. It’s fun.”
“You are good at this?”
She grinned. “The best. This morning I blew Prince Jefri out of the sky in less than two minutes. Not literally, of course.”
“How comforting. I am not yet ready to lose my youngest son.”
As the words sank in, Billie opened her mouth, then closed it. “S-son?” she repeated, hoping she’d misunderstood. “You’re his father?”
She looked into the dark eyes and realized the resemblance had been staring her in the face.
“But that would make you…”
She half rose, thought about The King and I and wondered if she was allowed to hold her head higher than his. Was that a real law or just humor for a musical?
“I can’t…” She swallowed. “I didn’t…” Giving in to the need to curl up and die, she covered her face with her hands and moaned. “How many laws have I broken?”
“No more than three or four.”
She spread her fingers and peeked at the king. He didn’t look angry. If the smile was anything to go by, he was amused.
She dropped her hands to her lap and straightened. “You could have told me.”
“I mean before. When I said, ‘Hi, I’m Billie.’ You could have said, ‘Hey, I’m the king.”‘
“This was more interesting. You would not have spoken so freely with me if you had known who I am.”
“No kidding. So do I bow or something?”
“You do neither. I am King Hassan of Bahania.” He nodded regally. “Welcome to my country.”
“Thank you. It’s great.” She sighed. “I guess I’d better apologize for not liking cats.”
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