The Sheikh and the Virgin Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 5)(6) by Susan Mallery
Cleo spoke cheerfully enough, but there was a hint of darkness in her eyes. Rafe studied her pretty round face, taking in the wide eyes, blond hair and full, pouty mouth. She didn’t look anything like Zara.
Zara glared at her sister. “It wasn’t quite like that. Cleo came to us as a foster child, but quickly became a member of the family.”
This was more information than Rafe had wanted. “So you’re not blood relatives.”
Zara returned her attention to him. “No.” She opened her mouth as if she was about to speak, then shook her head and rose. “I can’t do this,” she said, and headed for the balcony.
Cleo sighed. “Zara’s been like this since we left Spokane,” she confided. “It’s one thing to say you want to meet your real father, but it’s another to have it happen. At least, that’s what she says. I think being related to royalty is pretty cool, but then, Zara’s always been the sensitive one.”
Sensitive? Rafe didn’t do sensitive. Why the hell had he been the one standing in the room when the guard had brought in Zara? Couldn’t someone else have attacked her and been responsible for this mess?
Muttering under his breath, he rose and stalked out to the small balcony that overlooked the tourist portion of the city. The late-May heat was a tangible creature, sucking air from his lungs and moisture from his body. Zara didn’t seem to notice as she leaned against the railing and stared off into the distance.
“I don’t want you to say anything to the king,” she said without looking at him.
“I don’t have a choice.”
That got her attention. She spun toward him. “Why? It doesn’t matter. He already has one daughter…he doesn’t need another one. Besides, I don’t think I’d be a very good princess.”
“You’d be fine.”
Rafe shifted uneasily. He didn’t like emotional confrontations with women who looked as if they might start to cry.
She swallowed. “You think maybe he’s really…” Her voice trailed off as she gestured to the letters he still held in his hand.
He knew what she was asking. “Yes, Zara. I think he could be your father.”
She turned her attention back to the city. “I didn’t think it would be like this,” she said quietly. “All my life I’ve wanted to belong to a real family. To have relatives and roots. But not here—with royalty. I wanted some normal, American family. You know the kind with a bunch of kids and maybe one or two eccentric relatives.”
She had a perfect profile. His gaze lingered on the gentle curve of her mouth and the length of her neck. Something flickered inside. Something that had nothing to do with his gut instincts and everything to do with being a man.
A faint breeze stirred, bringing with it the scent of her. A scent he remembered from when he’d attacked her. Even as he’d pulled a gun and prepared to defend the royal house of Bahania, he’d been aware of her feminine fragrance, not to mention her body beneath his.
She looked at him. “What if I can’t do this?”
There were questions in her brown eyes. Questions and pain.
“I could act as intermediary,” he found himself saying. “I could take the letters and the ring to the king privately. You wouldn’t have to be there, and no one else would have to know.”
She bit her lower lip. “Once you begin, there’s no turning back. I don’t like that.”
“You wouldn’t have come here if you hadn’t wanted this,” he reminded her. “You’re the one who started this in motion by going to the palace.”
“But wanting and getting are too different things. Maybe Cleo and I should just disappear.”
“If you do, you’ll spend the rest of your life wondering what would have happened.”
“Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad.” Zara hesitated, then nodded. “You’re right. I’m here. I want to know the truth. If you wouldn’t mind taking the letters to the king, that would be great. I’m not feeling brave enough to be rejected in person. Not that I could get in to see the king.”
Rafe didn’t know how the king was going to react, but he was fairly certain Hassan was Zara’s father. Which could create many complications.
She headed toward the room. “You should probably take the ring, too.”
She was so damn trusting. “How do you know I’ll return it?”
She stopped to stare at him. “Why would you keep it?”
He groaned. “You have no business traveling on your own.”
“I’m not. I’m with my sister.”
“The blind leading the blind.”
She drew herself up to her full height and glared at him. As he was six foot three, the top of her head barely grazed his chin. He wasn’t impressed by her erect posture or the fire spitting from her eyes.
“Cleo and I have done perfectly well without your help.”
“I can see that. Getting attacked at the palace was part of your plan all along, right?”
“That was your fault, not mine.”
“In a situation like this you have to be prepared for the unexpected.” Although she’d certainly caught him off guard.
Zara’s temper faded. “Do I really look like her?”
“Enough to fool a new guard.”
“But not you.”
“No.” He shifted from foot to foot. “I’m sorry I attacked you.”
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