The Sheikh and the Virgin Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 5)(18) by Susan Mallery
“The king specifically said he wants you and Cleo there. If you plan not to attend, I suggest you take it up with him.”
“Not a good idea,” Rafe said quickly, as if he really thought she might complain to King Hassan that she didn’t want to accept his invitation. Not that she did, but she wasn’t about to share the fact publicly.
Even though she was standing outdoors, she felt walls closing in around her. “I, ah, don’t have anything to wear.” Or the ability to pay for a dress that nice. Still, that was why they’d invented credit cards. She’d have to deal with the blow to her budget later. “Is there a store nearby where Cleo and I can shop?”
Sabrina sighed. “I could loan you something.” She looked Zara up and down. “You’re taller and thinner, which is a little annoying, but I think I can recover. I’ll see what I can find.”
Zara couldn’t tell if the princess was kidding or not. She had a bad feeling that Sabrina didn’t like her, although she didn’t know why. She wouldn’t have thought she’d been in town long enough to annoy anyone.
“You’re very kind,” Zara said, trying to sound gracious.
“Whatever.” Sabrina turned to leave, then paused. “Although there won’t be an official announcement about who you are, people are bound to notice the likeness. So be prepared to be the center of attention. No one will be rude enough to ask outright, but they will hint.”
With that, she gave a smile and headed back into Zara’s room. Zara sank back on the bench.
“Why does she hate me?”
She expected Rafe to deny any such emotion. When he didn’t say anything right away, she glanced at him. He’d shoved his hands into his pockets and looked almost uncomfortable with the question.
“She doesn’t hate you…exactly.”
Zara closed her eyes. “What does that mean?”
“It’s a long story.”
“I don’t seem to have any formal engagements until tomorrow.”
Rafe settled next to her again. “Sabrina’s parents married in haste, as they say. By the time she came along, there was already trouble in the relationship. They divorced fairly quickly, and when her mother asked permission for her to be taken out of Bahania, the king agreed. Sabrina was raised spending the school year with her mother in California and her summers here.”
Zara shook her head. “Wait a minute. What do you mean ‘her mother asked permission to take her out of the country’?”
“Bahanian law requires that royal children be raised within the borders of the country. It’s not that uncommon. El Bahar has similar requirements. While royal couples can divorce, they can’t take their children away. That way the monarchy ensures that the heirs are raised knowing about their country and their people.”
Zara thought that made sense, although it was difficult to relate to. “So Sabrina was a child of both countries. Why is that bad?”
“No prince or princess had been allowed to leave before. In essence, Hassan didn’t care enough about his daughter to keep her around.”
Zara didn’t like the sound of that. “Maybe he did care. Maybe her mother loved her so much that—”
Rafe cut her off with a shake of his head. “Neither of Sabrina’s parents were very interested in her. She was shuttled back and forth all her life, left in the care of nannies and maids. Sabrina’s an intelligent woman. She was an excellent student, but neither of her parents noticed. Because her mother lived something of a wild life, the press assumed the same about Sabrina, even though it wasn’t true. Then her father arranged a marriage for her without consulting her. For her it was the last straw.”
He hesitated. “She ran away. It turned out well in the end. She married Prince Kardal and they’re very happy together. However she and her father have only recently reconciled.”
Zara got it right away. “So after twenty-plus years, they’re finally starting to connect, but she’s still bitter about all the years before. I show up out of nowhere and he welcomes me with open arms.”
Zara leaned back into the bench and groaned. “I’ve been in the palace less than three hours and I already have an enemy. What’s going to be next?”
Rafe found Prince Kardal in the security briefing room going over plans.
“Do you know how expensive the planes are going to be?” the prince asked when he entered.
“Yes.” Rafe slid into the seat across from his boss.
Like most modern rulers, Prince Kardal wore a suit rather than traditional garments. When he was home with his own people, he frequently returned to the old ways, but not while visiting a head of state—and his father-in-law.
Kardal, a tall, dark-haired man, tossed the plans to the table. “Technology isn’t cheap. I miss the old days, when we could patrol our country on camels.”
Rafe laughed. “Kardal, you’re barely in your thirties. You’re too young to remember those days.”
The prince grinned. “Perhaps.” He stretched. “I know why you have come to see me.”
“I bet. You heard about Zara?”
“Is that her name?”
“Yes. Zara Paxton. She’s a college professor from the Pacific Northwest. Some small town near Idaho.”
Kardal raised his eyebrows. “Is it true? Is she Hassan’s daughter?”
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