The Sheik and the Princess Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 8)(41) by Susan Mallery
That was because Muffin was neatly curled up in Tahira’s lap.
Billie stared at her uninvited guest. The young woman sat on the floor by the sofa. Several fashion magazines lay scattered around her. The one she held dropped from her hands as she quickly pushed Muffin off her, then scrambled to her feet.
“I’m so sorry,” Tahira said, panic filling her eyes. “I did not mean to intrude.
I waited outside, but the maid said I should come in and then your dog was so friendly and these magazines…” Tahira ducked her head and twisted her fingers together in a picture of abject misery and contrition.
Billie dropped her purse on a table and kicked off her shoes. She felt both old and weary. If she’d been a drinker, this would have been the moment to indulge.
Instead she found herself wishing for a really big bowl of chocolate chip ice cream.
“It’s okay,” she said as she walked over to the club chair and sat down. Muffin instantly jumped on her lap.
“I intruded,” Tahira said, still not looking up.
“You sat on the floor and read a few magazines. That’s not exactly the same as identity theft. Really. It’s fine. Have a seat.”
The girl sank onto the sofa. “You are very kind.”
What Billie felt the most at the moment was crabby and out of sorts. Nothing in her world was right and most of that had been caused by the teenager sitting across from her. Hard to believe that someone so quiet and shy could be the reason, yet there it was.
Tahira’s long dark hair hung nearly to her waist. The heavy weight overpowered her delicate features and petite body. Billie wasn’t all that tall but next to the teenager, she was practically a giant.
Jefri’s fiancée had dressed in another shapeless, ugly dress. Obviously princess preparation with the nuns hadn’t included classes on being a snappy dresser. Her gaze drifted down to the magazines scattered on the floor. They were all about clothes and makeup and relationships. Not exactly favorites in diplomatic circles. Had Tahira even seen a fashion magazine before?
“What did you think of those?” Billie asked, pointing at one glossy cover.
Tahira glanced at her and smiled. “They’re wonderful!” she breathed. “The clothes are so amazing and the women…I could never look like that.”
“Most of us couldn’t,” Billie said with a laugh. “We shouldn’t even try. But it’s fun to get ideas about clothes and that sort of thing.”
Tahira fingered her moss-green dress. “I have no fashionable clothes. Not yet.
At the school we dressed modestly. The sisters didn’t approve of anything else.”
“You’re not at the school anymore.”
“I know.” Tahira sighed. “This palace is so different from what I grew up with.
There are so many men.”
“I guess they weren’t allowed at the school?”
“Not at all.” Tahira looked shocked at the idea. “There were priests, of course.
And one of the doctors was a man, but he was very old. I met the king a few times. He was kind enough to visit me every year or so.”
Billie found it difficult to imagine such a life. “What about trips? Didn’t you go anywhere on vacation?”
“No.” The girl shook her head. “We traveled a little on the island, but only in groups and never in the tourist season.”
Sounded like prison to her, Billie thought.
She put Muffin on the floor, then collected the magazines. “I’ve read all of these,” she said, thrusting the stack at Tahira. “You may take them if you’d like.”
“Really?” Tahira’s eyes brightened. “You are very kind.”
Less than you might think. Billie shrugged as she resumed her seat. “It’s no big deal.”
The teenager hugged the magazines close. “You fly jets.”
Billie laughed. “Are you asking or telling?”
“Both, I suppose. Prince Jefri mentioned it. He said you are very talented. Your work, it sounds exciting and dangerous.”
“It’s all I know.”
“I’m afraid to fly,” Tahira said in a small voice. “The plane goes so quickly and then the ground is far away. It doesn’t seem right.”
“It gets easier with practice.”
The girl scooted to the edge of her seat. “It’s not just flying,” she admitted softly. “Many things frighten me. Prince Jefri, for one. He is so tall and commanding. When he speaks I think about running and hiding behind the sofa.”
Billie resisted the urge to run screaming from the room. This was not a conversation she wanted to be having. Certainly not with Jefri’s fiancée. But it seemed as if the girl had no one else to help her.
“There’s no need to be frightened of the man you’re going to marry,” Billie said with a smile. “He’s not that scary. Actually, he’s very nice and kind.”
Tahira’s mouth thinned. “I never know what to say when I’m with him. Most of the time I don’t say anything. He’s nothing like the sisters.”
Billie grinned. “I would have to agree with that. But it’s a good thing.”
“Maybe.” She glanced around as if making sure they were alone. “I don’t think he likes me very much.”
Billie bit back a groan. This wasn’t fair. Why her? There were other women in the palace. Cleo, Prince Sadik’s wife. Or secretaries and female staff.
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