The Sheik and the Princess Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 8)(40) by Susan Mallery
The pilots rose and followed her out of the classroom. Jefri hung back, biding his time. Even if she avoided him during the day, she still came home to the palace in the evening.
She led the first pilots through the simulation of flying together in formation.
In less than three minutes he heard the sound of an explosion followed by swearing.
Billie looked up from her seat at the master control console.
“You know, this whole flying thing means we can do more than go back and forth.
We can also go up and down.”
The pilot who’d messed up stepped out of the simulator and grinned sheepishly.
“I wasn’t looking down.”
“Which explains why you crashed into the plane below yours. This is not a good thing. Okay, who’s next?”
The team worked through the program until they had finished. Finally only Jefri was left.
He stepped toward the simulator. Billie pushed the buttons to set the controls, then stepped aside to let him enter. Before he took his seat, he glanced at her.
“How long do you plan to avoid me?” he asked, his voice low even though they were the last two people left in the simulation room.
“Indefinitely,” she said. “The computer will act as the other pilots. The program is simple—don’t try to get fancy.”
He’d heard the lecture before. “I know what I’m doing.”
“Really?” She stared at him. “I’d have to say I don’t agree with that statement.”
She moved back to the main controls. “Push the start button when you’re ready.”
He settled himself into the seat and focused on the cockpit. The detailed simulation made it seem as if he were actually flying. After familiarizing himself with what was expected, he reached for the controls, then started the program.
He immediately found himself in the middle of an attack. There were three other planes with him and one of the enemy. One of the planes on his side signaled tone-lock.
Jefri instinctively banked left. The second the sensation of movement washed over him, he knew he’d made a mistake. He wasn’t alone in the skies and—
The windshield cracked and the controls shuddered in a poor imitation of a crash.
Billie jumped out of her chair and raced over to the simulator.
“What the hell are you playing at?” she demanded in obvious fury. “How dare you fly so badly? That was barely ten seconds.”
He knew she was right. Unfortunately his attention was not on his job.
“This is damned expensive equipment and my time is valuable. If you’re not willing to take this seriously, then get out of here and free up some time for someone who is.”
Fire flashed in her eyes. Her breath came quickly. Even in anger, she was beautiful and passionate. Need flooded him. Not just to have her with him in bed, but to simply talk and touch. There were so many things he hadn’t been able to find out. They’d had too little time together.
“Well?” she asked. “Do you think this is a game?”
“Not at all.”
“You lasted less than ten seconds,” she pointed out again. “We both know you’re better than that.”
“I am sorry,” he told her.
He meant for more than the simulation. She pressed her lips together.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Yes, it does,” he said. He reached for her hand.
She pulled back. “Don’t do that. You’re engaged.”
“It’s official enough for me. Besides, there’s no way you could want someone like Tahira and someone like me. We couldn’t be more different.”
“Who said I wanted Tahira?”
She tucked her hands behind her back. “You asked for someone like her.”
“Maybe I made a mistake.”
Something flickered in her eyes. Hope, he wondered. But then the emotion faded.
“You’re going to have to live with that mistake,” she said. “It’s a matter of honor.”
His mouth twisted. “You have been speaking with my father.”
“He didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. You made your decision long before you met me. There’s nothing either of us can do about it.”
“If I could change things, would you want me to?” he asked.
She stared at him for a long time. He tried to read her thoughts, but he couldn’t. Her blue eyes gave nothing away. Heat flared between them, as did wanting. He refused to believe that was only on his side. Billie had to feel it, too.
“No,” she said at last, then turned to walk away.
Billie felt as if she’d joined the cast of a popular but intense daytime drama.
There was intrigue, royalty, steamy sex and a bright, young ingenue with a broken heart.
“So this is sweeps week,” she murmured as she walked toward her room in the palace. She could only hope that her life would calm down over time. She didn’t think she could stand this emotional pace much longer.
Her suite door beckoned. After an afternoon of simulation training, ending with that heated discussion with Jefri, all she wanted was to be left alone for the rest of the day. No more outbursts from her brother, no meetings with the king, no sensual, smoldering close encounters with Jefri. Just peace and quiet.
She opened the suite door. “It’s me,” she called to let Muffin know she was home.
As usual her small dog yapped in greeting, but she didn’t bound over to see her.
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