The Sheik and the Princess Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 8)(24) by Susan Mallery
She shifted slightly on the leather seat and her hair caught the light. Soft curls cascaded down her back. A few tendrils teased her ears and her neck, although she’d piled most of her hair up on her head. Her dark blue eyes seemed to glow with feminine secrets. And that dress. He swallowed hard and did his best not to notice the transparent fabric and the way only a few brushstrokes of color and paint concealed her curves from view.
He would not be able to eat, he thought grimly. How on earth could he sit across from her in a public place and act as if nothing was wrong? He was Prince Jefri of Bahania, yet with Billie he was little more than a man humbled by a woman.
“What are you thinking?” she asked. “If you were some kind of wild animal I would swear you were stalking dinner.”
“You are not far wrong,” he said and lightly touched her bare arm. “You are most desirable prey.”
She shivered, but didn’t look away. Long lashes shielded her eyes. Earrings glittered and dangled.
“Have I told you how beautiful you are?” he asked in an attempt to keep from claiming her right there in the car.
“You mentioned it a couple of times, but it’s not a topic of conversation that’s going to bore me.” She smiled. “It’s not the sort of thing I hear that often.”
“Then the men you know are blind fools.”
“You got that right.” She laughed. “And I appreciate how kind you’re being. I’m just part of the staff and you’re going out of your way to make me feel like a princess. I know you usually date movie stars and heiresses.”
Kind? She thought he was being kind?
Before he could tell her that he had no kindness in mind, they pulled up in front of the restaurant. Billie leaned toward his side, the curbside.
“Wow. Look at all those people. Is there something going on here?”
Jefri followed her gaze, then swore.
“What?” she asked. “Is there a problem?”
“Not one that can be fixed. I am sorry. I did not think to tell my assistant to make reservations in another name. I am sure he did not think of it either.”
She was close enough that he could feel the heat of her body and inhale the sweetness of her perfume. Both were a temptation.
“I don’t understand,” she said, apparently oblivious of her amazing charms.
“These people are with the press.”
“Really?” She leaned past him to look at them through the window. Several had crowded around the limo. “Who are they waiting for?”
She straightened and stared at him. “What? Oh. Right. You’re the prince.” She clutched her impossibly small purse to her chest. “I’m going to be something of a disappointment.”
He shook his head. “Somehow I doubt that.”
Billie’s lack of awareness delighted him. Not only had she been unaware of why the press were there, she seemed blind to her own appeal. So many women he took out were secretly thrilled to be photographed for tabloids.
“So what happens?” Billie asked. “Do you go on ahead and then I sneak in through the back?”
He stiffened. “You are with me. We will walk in together.”
She eyed the jostling crowd. “This really isn’t my kind of thing. I hope I don’t trip.”
“Would you prefer to return to the palace?”
She hesitated, then glanced down at her dress. “I did sort of go to a lot of trouble to get all fancy. Will it be crazy inside?”
“No. The photographers won’t be allowed in the restaurant. We’ll be shown to a private table where we will dine just like any other patron.”
He could see her weighing the possibilities.
“You decide,” she said. “Let’s do what you want.”
Not a possibility, he thought, as his wants and desires had very little to do with dining in a restaurant.
“The food here is excellent,” he said, as he nodded at the driver. “You will enjoy it. We will even order a special entrée for Muffin.”
Billie tried to focus on food and her dog as the rear door of the limo opened and Jefri stepped out. The explosion of flashbulbs caught her unaware and temporarily blinded her. She slid along the leather seat until she could step out in front of the restaurant. A second barrage of bright lights left her totally unable to see.
Someone took her hand. She knew instantly it was Jefri and she allowed him to lead her toward the restaurant. She had a sense of the crowd pressing close.
People called out questions, but she couldn’t discern one voice from another.
Stay calm, she told herself. Think happy thoughts. She didn’t want to see herself with a “deer in the headlights” expression on the front of some supermarket tabloid.
They made their way into the restaurant with only a few more flashes in her face. Once inside, the elegant and quiet atmosphere instantly calmed her.
“Prince Jefri,” the maître d’ said with a smile. “Thank you for dining with us this evening. We have your table ready.”
Jefri nodded for her to follow the man. She leaned close and whispered, “What? They’re not going to put our names on a sheet of paper and then call out when our table is ready?”
He raised his eyebrows. “Restaurants do that?”
She grinned. “You need to get out more.”
He chuckled and took her hand.
Billie liked the way he laced his fingers with hers as they walked into the dining room. They wove through the well-dressed patrons seated at beautifully set tables. The smell of the food made her mouth water.
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