The Sheik and the Princess Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 8)(43) by Susan Mallery
Tahira trailed after them, obviously unaware of the undercurrents swirling around. When they reached the limo, she went first, stepping in and settling on the side bench rather than the rear one. Billie followed, with Jefri sliding in after her. Which meant the two of them were sitting next to each other.
“I love your little dog,” Tahira said as the car pulled away from the palace.
She leaned forward and patted Muffin. “The cats are nice, too. There are so many.”
“Billie is not fond of the cats,” Jefri said. “They made her nervous.”
Tahira looked concerned. “They won’t hurt you,” she said earnestly. “Most of them are very gentle. I like how they purr when I pet them.”
As the girl spoke, she looked at Billie and Muffin, but never at Jefri.
Apparently she hadn’t been kidding when she’d said she was afraid of him. Billie wanted to tell her not to sweat it—that while he might act all high and mighty, Jefri was simply a guy. Okay, a guy with a lot of money and an incredible history, but still, he was human.
She thought about how they’d argued and laughed and how he’d never seemed to mind that she was the better pilot. If only, she thought, then shook her head.
There would be no “if onlys.” Not in this situation.
The boutique stood on a wide street at the edge of a large bazaar. Tahira gazed longingly at the gaudy silver bangles and lengths of embroidered cloth, but Jefri steered her into the elegant clothing shop. Billie and Muffin followed.
The store smelled of flowers, spices and money. It was just the sort of place where Billie loved to spend an afternoon and do some serious damage on her credit card. She had a feeling that today was going to be different. With Jefri around, she would need to stay on her toes and not allow herself to slip into the shopping zone.
The owner waited just inside. Tea and coffee were offered while Jefri explained their purpose. Tahira was to be provided with a new wardrobe. Billie would offer guidance.
Billie glanced down at her high-heeled sandals, skintight jeans and red leather wrap shirt. Her style leaned toward gaudy and fun. Tahira was destined to be an actual princess. Maybe it would be better to keep her advice-giving to a minimum.
“You must allow me to thank you for your kindness in this matter,” Jefri said when Tahira had been led away to the dressing rooms.
Billie set down Muffin. When she straightened, she was careful to keep her distance from Jefri. “No thanks are necessary.”
She plucked a black lace blouse off a rack and winced when she saw the twelve hundred dollar price tag. Talk about pricey.
“I want you to pick out whatever you would like,” he said.
She put the blouse back and drew in a deep breath. “I don’t need your money. I can afford my own clothes.”
“I know you can. I am trying to…”
She looked at him. “Yes? Trying to what?”
He glared at her. “You make a difficult situation impossible.”
“Me? What did I do?”
“You stand there, taunting me.”
Billie glanced over her shoulder to make sure he wasn’t talking to anyone else.
“I’m not taunting you.”
“You tempt me with every breath. And now, when I try to offer something insignificant and make a gesture, you throw it back in my face.”
What? Were they having separate conversations here?
“What gesture? The clothes?”
“Yes. I cannot say how I feel. I cannot offer you gifts, except like this.”
A dilemma fit for a prince, Billie thought, not sure how to react. “Look, I’m okay with all this.” Not really, but what else could she say? “I don’t need—”
He touched her arm. The light contact barely grazed her leather shirt, but she felt it down to her bones. The world around them seemed to disappear. There was only the moment and the man and what could have been.
“Please,” he breathed.
“It’s just clothes,” she told him.
She didn’t understand the question, but in the end it was easier to simply shrug and say, “If it means that much to you.”
The owner returned then. She was a tall, white-haired woman who had the elegant European bone structure.
“Tahira will begin with casual clothing. Come, child.”
Tahira appeared in an elegant pantsuit. The tailored jacket emphasized modest curves, while the cut of the pants made her legs look longer.
“Very nice,” Billie said with a genuine smile. “Do you like it?”
The girl hesitated, then glanced at Jefri. “What do you think?”
Tahira beamed. “Then I like it, too.” She walked back to the dressing room.
Billie managed to keep from rolling her eyes. “She is far too worshipful. You must really like that.”
He frowned at her. “I do not need my ego stroked by a child.”
“Too bad, because that’s what you signed up for. Next time you’re ordering a bride, you might want to specify an age range.”
His eyes narrowed. “There will be no ‘next time.’ Requesting an arranged marriage was madness.”
Too bad he’d figured that out too late, she thought glumly.
“She’s a baby,” she reminded him. “You can’t hurt her.”
“So now you take her side?”
“Someone has to. I mean it, Jefri. You are her entire world.”
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