The Sheik and the Princess in Waiting(Desert Rogues, Book 7)(24) by Susan Mallery
Emma wanted to protest, saying they would be fine on their own, but who was she to judge? Besides, Reyhan had explained that the accompanying men were as much for crowd control as protection.
She’d been surprised when Reyhan had offered to take her to the local market.
After their last encounter she’d been sure he would want to avoid her, what with how he’d stalked away without saying anything. Yet two days later he’d shown up at her door with the invitation.
She’d been delighted to accept.
“Local dates,” Reyhan said, stopping by one of the stands. “Try some.”
The merchant, a tiny wizened man with a huge smile, held out a tray of plump dates. When he nodded encouragingly at her, she took one and tasted.
“They’re good,” she said.
The merchant beamed. Reyhan reached into his pocket and pulled out a few coins.
“No, no.” The old man backed up and shook his head. “It is my honor. My pleasure.”
Reyhan smiled. “Such is the power of a beautiful woman.”
Emma was so startled by the offhand compliment, she laughed. “Oh, sure. He’s overwhelmed by my beauty, not by the fact that you’re a prince and traveling with enough muscle to start your own wrestling federation.”
His dark gaze settled on her face. “You don’t think you’re attractive?”
“I’m okay.” Passably pretty, she thought. No one had ever looked at her and then run shrieking in the opposite direction. “But I’ve never overwhelmed anyone.”
He continued to study her, then looked away without saying anything. The merchant pressed a bag in her hands. She could feel the soft fruit inside.
“Thank you,” she said. “You’re very kind.”
As they walked away, Reyhan said something in a language she couldn’t understand. One of the bodyguards made a note on a small pad he’d pulled from his jacket pocket.
“What was that about?” she asked when they’d drifted down another aisle in the market.
“Someone from the palace will visit the old man’s stall later in the week,”
Reyhan said in a low voice. “A large quantity of dates will be purchased at a premium price.” He jerked his head back the way they’d come. “The old man offered a gift he can scarcely afford to give. Respect from my people shouldn’t come at the price of starving.”
“It was just a few dates.”
“He has nothing else to sell.”
An interesting point, she thought, studying Reyhan from the corner of her eye.
She would have said he was firm and intelligent. Remote and stern with a hidden well of passion. But she would never have guessed he had a compassionate heart for those in need. One more item on the long list of things she didn’t know about her soon-to-be ex prince-husband.
Two young boys ran past them, laughing and yelling as they went. Emma turned to watch them go.
“Did you come play in the market when you were a child?” she asked. “Were you allowed out and about?”
“Sometimes,” Reyhan said. “With my brother Jefri.” He shrugged. “Once we were playing with more abandon than usual and knocked a cooking pot off an open fire.
In our hasty effort to retrieve it before the large and mean-looking owner noticed, we bumped a burning log into the corner of a stall. It was old, dry wood and went up in seconds.”
She covered her mouth with her fingers. “Was anyone hurt?”
He shook his head. “No, but three stalls were completely destroyed before the fire was brought under control. Jefri and I were in trouble for a long time. Our father refused to let us simply pay for the damage out of our pocket money.
Instead we had to rebuild the stalls and then work in them for several weekends.
In the end, the owners came out ahead as people shopped to see the young princes up close.”
“So it was a fitting punishment?” she asked, even as she thought it sounded a bit harsh. Not the rebuilding. That made sense, but the working in public where the boys would be stared at like zoo animals.
“My father wanted us to learn,” Reyhan told her, not really answering the question. “Jefri and I were more careful on our next trip to the marketplace.”
They stopped in front of a stall displaying silver jewelry. The merchant nodded exuberantly and held out dozens of silver bangles. They were large and beautifully carved.
“Something to remember the day by,” Reyhan said, selecting several and offering them to her.
She wouldn’t need a reminder. Everything about this time with him was burned onto her brain. But the bracelets were pretty. She reached for one made of linked hearts and slid it on.
He took the bag of dates from her and passed them to one of the bodyguards, then held her hand out in front of her. When he turned her wrist, the light caught the shiny bangle.
“Very nice,” he said, and gave the jeweler several folded bills.
“Is it terribly expensive?” she asked, feeling a little guilty. “I can pay you back. I have my checkbook in my purse.”
Reyhan didn’t speak, nor did he turn away. His dark gaze did the talking for him as she remembered who he was and all the money he’d left in her account. No doubt a silver bracelet wasn’t going to be a blip on his financial radar.
“Thank you,” she said softly. “It’s very beautiful.”
“You are a woman who deserves beautiful things.”
That compliment nearly made her stumble, but she managed to stay upright. Fake it until you believe it, she told herself. Even if the faking lasted right up until the moment she walked into her apartment back in Dallas.
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