The Sheikh and the Virgin Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 5)(5) by Susan Mallery
The limo pulled up in front of their hotel. Zara remembered neither she nor Cleo had told Rafe where they were staying. The realization that he could get that information so easily made her shiver and reinforced her decision to leave. She wanted to go home where she felt safe. In Bahania she would only ever be out of place.
Rafe climbed out first, then held the door open for them. Zara forced herself to be gracious as she thanked him for the ride.
“You’ve been very kind,” she said. “We won’t be troubling you again.”
But he didn’t climb back into the car. Instead he took her arm and led her into the modest hotel. “I think we have more to discuss,” he said, not giving her an opportunity to protest. Cleo trailed along behind.
Zara made one attempt to pull free of his grip, but as she’d suspected, he didn’t let her go. No doubt he wanted to scare them into leaving. As soon as they were in private, she would tell him that he didn’t have to worry. She and Cleo would be heading back to the States as soon as possible.
They moved through the lobby toward the elevator. Zara tried not to notice the clean but slightly shabby furniture. Prints added color to the white walls. There were a few plants scattered around, but little else in the way of decorations.
She knew what he was thinking. She could read his thoughts as clearly as if they were her own.
“Just because we’re on a budget doesn’t mean we’re in it for the money,” she said in a low, angry voice when they stopped for the elevator. “You have no right to judge me or find me wanting.”
Those amazing blue eyes turned toward her. She met his gaze, despite the powerful force he exuded. Pride stiffened her spine and made her strong.
The elevator doors opened, breaking the spell.
“So do you know the king?” Cleo asked, oblivious to the tension between them.
She laughed. “You’re not real chatty, are you? It doesn’t matter how mad you want to be. The truth is Zara is his daughter. She has letters and a ring. I think you should do your darnedest to prove them to be fakes. When you can’t, you’ll have no choice but to accept her for who she says she is.”
For the first time since they were led away from the tour group, Zara felt herself relax. Maybe it was a little too soon to think about running away.
“You have an excellent point,” she told her sister.
“I am more than a pretty face,” Cleo reminded her, as the elevator came to a stop on the fourth floor.
Zara turned to the man who still had a death grip on her arm. “Are you willing to look at the evidence? Despite already reaching a conclusion?”
“And when you find out you’re wrong?”
“Let’s discuss that if it happens.”
Thirty minutes later Rafe was less convinced this was a hoax. He fingered the dozen or so letters Zara had shown him. The subject matter—especially the comments about the cats—made him suspicious. All the information could have been gathered by careful research. However the handwriting looked like Hassan’s, and the syntax was pure royal-speak. But what convinced him the most was the feeling in his gut.
Long years of experience had taught him to listen to his instincts—instincts that had saved his life on more than one occasion. He fingered the yellowing linen paper, then glanced at the stack of letters on the small desk in the hotel room. Despite his assumptions that Zara and her sister were looking to make an easy couple of million, there was a good chance he’d been wrong.
“Anything else?” he asked, turning his attention to the woman sitting on the bed next to the desk.
Zara reached into her carry-on bag and drew out a pad of paper. “Here’s a list of the jewelry I can remember my mother selling. It’s not a complete list because I’m sure she sold some before I was born or while I was too young to know what was happening. There’s also this.”
The “this” turned out to be a diamond band inscribed with the word forever on the inside. The tightening in Rafe’s gut got worse.
Zara sat facing him, her hands carefully folded on her lap. She wore a light cotton, peach sundress and sandals. Her long hair tumbled down her back. With her dark eyes and honeyed complexion, she looked a lot like Princess Sabra—Sabrina—the king’s only daughter.
Yeah, there were differences. Sabrina didn’t wear glasses and she had an air of confidence that Zara lacked. Still, the combination of the physical similarities and the evidence made him fairly sure Zara was exactly who she claimed to be. He couldn’t begin to imagine what was going to happen when the king found out.
“What stories did your mother tell you about your father?” he asked.
“She rarely said anything.” Zara shrugged. “When I would ask questions, she would just say that they couldn’t be together. He didn’t know about me and she wasn’t in a position to tell me about him. I used to ask if he would want me if he found out he had a daughter. She always said he would, but I never knew if that was her interpretation of events or if it was true.”
The information hardly helped. He glanced over at Cleo who had stretched out on the far bed, reading a fashion magazine.
“Do you remember your mother telling any stories about your father?”
Cleo smiled. “I’m not lucky enough to be related to royalty. Sorry.”
“Cleo is my foster sister,” Zara said.
“That’s right. Fiona brought me home when I was ten, just like picking up a puppy in a pound. I was housebroken, so she decided to keep me.”
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