The Sheik and the Princess Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 8)(25) by Susan Mallery
“Will this be acceptable?” the man asked.
“It’s fine—” Jefri started before Billie interrupted with a soft shriek.
She stared at the table next to the empty one where the maître d’ held out a chair.
“You’re not here,” she said, both furious and humiliated.
Doyle picked up his glass of wine in a salute. “Hey, kid. You should try the house salad. It’s really good and you know I’m not much of a salad guy.”
She couldn’t believe it. Her brother? Here?
“You have no right to do this,” she told him, careful to keep her voice low.
“Is there a problem?” Jefri asked.
“Yes. Him.” Billie pointed at Doyle and wished she could incinerate him with her gaze. “He’s spying on us.”
“She’s right,” Doyle said, sounding amazingly cheerful. “I called your assistant and asked where you two were having dinner.” He put down his wine. “Just so you don’t behead him or anything, I told him my sister had asked me to check because she has food allergies and wanted to make sure there was something she could eat.”
Fury filled her, making her mad enough to spit. “I do not have food allergies.”
“I know.” He grinned. “I was being creative.” He motioned to their table. “You two should have a seat. The food here is great and the wine list is impressive.”
He winked at Jefri. “You probably know all this, don’t you? You come here a lot.”
Billie glanced from her brother’s table to Jefri’s. They were barely two feet apart. Doyle would hear everything she said, which was probably his point. While intellectually she understood he was trying to protect her, emotionally, she was outraged.
“We could ask them for a different table,” Jefri said. “Or would you prefer to leave?”
Billie thought of how the patrons would be watching them through the entire meal and how she would be aware of Doyle sitting so close.
She sighed. “I’d rather go back to the palace.”
Doyle’s gaze narrowed. “Billie—”
She cut him off with a shake of her head. “Stay out of it. You’ve already done enough.”
“You know why.”
“That doesn’t excuse it. I’m all grown-up, Doyle. It’s time to let go.”
An hour later Billie and Jefri sat on the floor of her suite, leaning against the sofa and looking over the leftovers brought up from the king’s formal dinner the previous evening.
“Better?” he asked as he poured her a glass of wine.
Billie stretched out her bare legs and wiggled her toes. Okay, even though the dress had been great, she was far more comfortable in shorts and a T-shirt.
“Much. Although my hair and makeup is a little overdone for the setting.”
Jefri, who had also changed into more casual clothing, looked her over. “I would say you’re exactly right.”
She grinned. “You do have a way with words. Do princes have special classes in that sort of thing? Charming women and dealing with annoying photographers?”
“We are taught many skills. Being charming is one of them.”
“You’re not all that,” she said.
He leaned close and smiled. “Too late. You have already admitted to being impressed.”
“Maybe.” She grabbed a shrimp and dipped it in the sauce. “So does the press usually follow you around?”
“Not as much as they used to. I would guess that you were the attraction tonight.”
“Hardly. Why would they care about me?”
“They would be interested in my latest interest.”
“Ah.” Is that what she was? His interest? Was that like dating? She desperately wanted to know but was afraid to ask.
“When I was younger, the press trailed me everywhere,” he said. “My father was able to exert some control here, but when I was in Europe or America, things could be difficult. We were given peace only when we were at school.”
“Must be tough being so popular.”
“There are compensations.”
“Sure. Like access to any available female you want. Kind of makes you wish there was still a working harem in this place.”
He picked up his glass of wine. “You exaggerate my reputation.”
“I don’t think so. Are you telling me anyone has ever said no?”
She happened to be looking at him as she asked the question. For a split second something dark flashed through his eyes. Then he smiled.
“I would never tell you that,” he said.
Interesting, she thought. Something from his past. She might have to do some checking on the Internet and find out if there had been a woman Jefri had cared about. She couldn’t imagine anyone leaving him, though. Not just because he was a prince, but because he was a great guy and someone any woman would enjoy being with.
“What about you?” he asked. “What are your romantic secrets?”
Billie froze in the act of offering a piece of chicken to Muffin. Her Yorkie took matters into her own paws and jumped up to grab the morsel.
“Secrets?” Billie asked, hoping she sounded casual rather than nervous and faintly foolish. “I don’t have that many.”
Jefri’s dark eyes seemed to see into her soul. “You must have some. While I applaud your brother’s concern, I believe it stems from more than fraternal worry. I think there is a reason he keeps such close watch on you.”
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