The Sheikh and the Virgin Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 5)(17) by Susan Mallery
The sight of his smile turned her heart’s cha-cha into a tango. A tiny quivering need took up residence in her stomach. For reasons she didn’t understand, something about this man got to her on a very primitive level. She would have to remember to try not to drool in front of him.
“What do you do here?” she asked. “You’re an American. How did you get to Bahania?”
“Same way as you. By plane.” He straightened and leaned one narrow hip against the railing. “Actually I work for Princess Sabrina’s husband—Prince Kardal. I’m a security and tactical expert.”
“That doesn’t tell me much.”
“You’d find my work very boring.”
She doubted that, but decided not to press. There might be a very good reason Rafe was being reticent. At this point she hardly needed more information. She was already too close to overload.
“I’ve met Princess Sabrina,” she said. “She’s inside making friends with Cleo.”
“Your sister is very friendly.”
That was hardly news. “I know. I’m the smart one. She’s the funny, sexy, adorable one. At least she can distract all the family members so they don’t notice me.”
“Oh, they’ll notice.”
She shook her head. “If you’re trying to make me feel better, you’re doing a lousy job. I hate meeting a lot of people at once. I can never get the names straight and I doubt the royal family will consent to wear name tags.”
“Probably not. But there are compensations. Look at the palace.”
“I’m not in it for the money.”
“I almost believe you.”
He spoke so lightly that at first she thought he was kidding, but when she glanced at him, she saw the truth in his blue eyes.
“I thought we’d covered this material,” she told him. “You all but accused me of wanting to blackmail the king. After you checked me out, I thought you’d changed your mind.”
“I’m 98 percent convinced.”
“Tell me when you are 100 percent.”
”She straightened and walked toward a bench between the doors to their rooms. “Is that what everyone is going to be thinking?” she asked as she sat down. “That I’m some horrible person out for what I can get?”
“The king doesn’t think that and his is the only opinion that matters.”
Zara wasn’t so sure about that. She found herself caring about Rafe’s good opinion. Of course that was more about her hormones than anything else.
“At least this situation puts the rest of my life in perspective,” she said.
“Just think about the excitement of being a princess.”
Princess? She hadn’t thought that part of it through. “No,” she said without thinking. “That’s not possible.”
Cleo would jump at the chance, but then, her sister had more of a princess personality. Zara rubbed her temples as she held in a groan. Cleo was the charming one. She could talk to anyone and men adored her. She, Zara, was painfully shy, awkward with strangers and had a horrible track record with men. In the past couple of years she’d begun to think there was something seriously wrong with her.
She looked up and saw that Rafe had settled on the far end of the bench. She angled toward him. “This will never work. I’m hardly princess material. I barely know anything about Bahania, either the country or the customs. I’m sure to put a foot wrong. I’m not sophisticated or pretty. I’m a college professor from a small town no one has heard of. My idea of an exciting Friday night is going to a basketball game by myself. I can’t even get a date. My God, if everyone thought I was a freak before because I was a virgin, what are they going to think now?”
Her words hung in the late-afternoon heat. Zara blinked several times, hoping she hadn’t actually said her thoughts aloud. Unfortunately, the stunned expression on Rafe’s face told her that she had.
Humiliation washed over her. She felt her cheeks flame and started to get to her feet.
“Forget I said that,” she mumbled, just as his hand settled on her forearm.
“Don’t even think about going anywhere.”
She sank back on her seat and ducked her head. “I didn’t mean it.”
“All of it.”
“There you are.”
Zara looked up, grateful for the interruption. Sabrina had stepped out onto the balcony. Rafe rose to his feet. Sabrina shot him a look.
“Oh, please,” she said with a laugh. “You’re going all formal on me now?”
“We’re in a different place.”
Sabrina sighed, her smile fading. “Tell me about it.” She turned her attention to Zara, who also stood. “I wanted to let you know that you and Cleo have been invited to a formal dinner tomorrow night. My father is entertaining several visiting dignitaries. My brothers will be there, as well. It’s a good opportunity for you to meet the family.”
The world began to spin. Zara tried to breathe but couldn’t. “A f-formal dinner?” she stuttered. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”
“Sorry. The king insists.” Sabrina didn’t look all that sorry. “Don’t worry. You won’t be expected to do much more than show up and chat with some of the guests.”
“But my presence isn’t appropriate. We don’t even know for sure that I’m his daughter.”
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