The Sheik and the Princess Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 8)(46) by Susan Mallery
“Your goodness only convinces me that marriage is the right choice.”
He held in a groan. “As you wish,” he said, releasing her and rising to his feet.
She stood as well and clasped her hands together in front of her chest. “Prince Jefri, I will do all I can to make you happy. I will be the most dutiful wife ever. I swear.”
“Of course you will, child. I have no doubt.”
He nodded, then walked to the door. With Tahira, he would get exactly what he had asked for. That was the hell of it.
Billie figured it was a good news, bad news situation. On the plus side, she was attending her first ever formal state dinner as a special invited guest of the king. She had on a killer dress and looked fabulous. Her date looked nearly as good in a carefully tailored tuxedo. The downside was that her date was her brother Doyle and that she would have to spend the evening watching Jefri pay attention to Tahira.
She reminded herself that the option was staying in her room with Muffin and watching movies. As she figured she could deal with the emotional angst of her situation on her own time and that this evening was a once-in-a-lifetime event, she’d put on her brand-new fancy dress and prepared to dance the night away.
She and Doyle followed the sound of conversation down the long corridor on the first floor and entered the massive ballroom. Dozens of chandeliers hung from a thirty-foot ceiling and illuminated the vast space and chatting guests. An orchestra sat at one end of the room. There were small tables and chairs, several strategically placed bars and waiters circulating with food and champagne.
Doyle gave a low whistle. “This is just the meet and greet, right? There’s a dinner that follows, then dancing?”
“That’s what the invitation said.”
“All right.” He scanned the room. “Lots of beautiful women. I think I’d like to be the king.”
Billie gave his arm a warning squeeze. “Do your best not to embarrass me.”
“Cross my heart.” He kissed her cheek. “Stay away from royalty.”
“You got that right.”
He grinned and sauntered off, only to be immediately claimed by a dark-haired woman in a very low-cut dress.
“The boy always seems to fall on his feet,” Billie murmured as she turned in a slow circle.
She spotted a waiter with a tray of what looked like champagne glasses, but before she could flag him down, she sensed something hot and tempting trickle down her spine. She clenched her muscles in anticipation. Seconds later, she heard Jefri’s voice.
“Good evening,” he said, coming up behind her and offering her a full glass of bubbling champagne. “You look exceptionally beautiful.”
“Thank you.” She clutched the glass with both hands because the alternative was reaching for him and that wasn’t allowed. Instead, she let her gaze roam over him, taking in the tuxedo, the dark and smoldering gaze.
“Where’s Tahira?” she asked.
“Speaking with a friend. Someone she knew from school is here and they are catching up. And Doyle?”
Billie motioned to the crowd. “I’m sure he’s either being seduced or is seducing someone even as we speak. He looks good in a tux and women always appreciate that.”
Jefri took her arm and led her to the side of the room. She told herself not to go, to plant herself in one very public place and refuse to have anything to do with him, but she couldn’t seem to resist. Not when he looked at her as if she were the answer to all his prayers.
“What are you thinking?” he asked when they stopped in a shallow alcove.
“That we have to stop running into each other.”
He left his hand on her arm and began to rub his thumb against her bare skin.
“That is not what I was thinking. I want to thank you for helping Tahira with the shopping.”
“She’s very nice.”
“Yes. She is all that I asked for. I could not be more miserable.”
She flinched. “Jefri, don’t. She’s—”
“A child and no more interested in me than I am in her. This is a matter of circumstances. A twist of fate that must be untwisted.”
“Are you going to break off the engagement? Let her go?”
Instead of answering her, he moved close. So close that she could feel the heat of him. His body brushed against hers in a gesture that claimed as well as enticed.
“I want you,” he breathed into her ear. “Every moment, with every heartbeat. I think of you in my bed. Naked. I want to touch you and hold you. I want to taste you and excite you. I want you wet, aroused, screaming.”
His hand moved from her arm to her stomach where he pressed his palm against her. “Do you remember what it was like?” he asked softly.
She couldn’t speak or move. It was all she could do to keep standing. “Of course,” she whispered. “I can’t forget, but that doesn’t mean anything.”
“It means the world.”
She met his gaze and allowed herself to get lost there. For a moment or two, she imagined the possibilities, what could have been if things were different.
“I can’t,” she said and stepped away from him. “You can’t either.”
His gaze sharpened. “I am Prince Jefri of Bahania.”
“Exactly. If you were someone else, this never would have happened. Tahira would be engaged to someone else and we…” She wasn’t sure what they would be, but it wouldn’t be this.
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