The Sheikh and the Virgin Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 5)(19) by Susan Mallery
“Maybe.” He shook his head. “Probably. The king needs to be sure, which means blood tests. But right now he’s too excited to think logically. You know how he gets.”
Kardal reached under his shirt cuff and touched the thick, gold slave bracelet there. “Yes, I know. Has Sabrina met with her?”
Rafe nodded. “She came by Zara’s room about an hour ago.”
“She cannot be happy about her father’s enthusiasm.”
“No.” Which brought Rafe to another awkward point. “He’s asked me to watch over Zara. Be a temporary bodyguard.”
Kardal didn’t say anything for a long time. Then the corners of his mouth turned up and he laughed.
Rafe shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Yeah, it’s a real knee-slapper. Thanks for the support.”
Kardal didn’t bother to apologize. He laughed a little longer, then finally spoke. “What is she like, this college professor?”
“Scared.” He thought of Zara’s pretty face and the questions in her eyes. “She’s overwhelmed by all that has happened. I don’t think she was expecting to be moved into the palace so quickly.”
Zara was as prepared to handle this as a rabbit was prepared to take on a pack of wolves. If she wasn’t careful she was going to be eaten alive. He couldn’t believe he was actually worried about her, but he was, dammit. What was wrong with him? He wasn’t a good person. He didn’t have altruistic feelings.
“Do you like her?” Kardal asked.
“I don’t know her.”
“You know what I mean.”
Rafe did know. His boss wanted to know what Rafe felt in his gut. Was she someone to be trusted?
“She’s all right,” he said grudgingly.
“Such high praise will turn her head,” Kardal teased. “So the king has requested you guard the treasure that is his daughter. We have at least three weeks until we return to the City of Thieves. I believe I can spare you, if you wish to honor the king’s request.”
“We both know it wasn’t a request,” Rafe grumbled.
“You are not his to command. You may certainly tell him no.”
“I don’t think so.”
“You tell me no constantly.”
“That’s different. You can be reasoned with. Hassan isn’t acting like a king, he’s acting like a father. I don’t want to annoy him just as we’re setting up the joint air force.”
The corners of Kardal’s mouth twitched again. “So the mighty hunter will be forced to guard a mere woman. However will your pride survive?”
Rafe wasn’t all that worried about his pride. He’d had worse duty in his life. What made him nervous was his attraction to Zara. She’d reminded him of what it was like to want a woman. Only this woman was completely off-limits. Not only was she under his protection, she was the king’s daughter and a virgin. He still couldn’t believe she’d blurted out that particular fact, but saw no reason why she would lie. Which meant she was telling the truth. Which also meant if he wanted to keep his head firmly on his shoulders, he was going to have to keep his pants zipped and his mind on business.
Zara awakened sometime after midnight. She was impressed that she’d been able to sleep at all what with all the strange thoughts and images zooming through her brain. As she opened her eyes, she half expected to find herself back in her modest hotel room—or even in her bedroom in Washington State. As if this entire experience had been a dream. But instead, she found herself staring at unfamiliar yet luxurious furnishings.
She was really here—really in the Bahanian royal palace after meeting the man who could be her father—probably was her father. A thousand questions filled her brain. Realizing that sleep was now impossible, she collected her robe and glasses, then climbed out of her bed. She crossed to the French doors leading out to the balcony and stepped into the darkness.
She was instantly assaulted by the scent of the garden and the faint fragrance of the sea. Brine added an edge to the sweetness of hundreds of flowers that were little more than blurs in the starlight. A soft, warm breeze made her pull her robe more tightly around her body.
She raised her head, staring at the sky. The stars seemed different. Her memories of her lone astronomy class had faded to the point where she couldn’t remember if being halfway around the world meant she really was seeing different stars. If she were in a different hemisphere, there were different stars. She recalled that much. But here in Bahania—
“You’re looking serious about something.”
Rafe’s voice came out of the darkness by his room. Zara supposed she should have been shocked, or even afraid. Instead she found herself eager for his company. She took a step toward where she guessed he was standing, then remembered it was the middle of the night and she wasn’t dressed to receive visitors.
“I was trying to figure out if these are the same stars I see when I’m home,” she said.
“Some would be, although they’d rise and set at different times.”
He stepped toward her, just close enough for a shaft of light from a nearby window to fall on him. She saw that he’d changed into jeans and a T-shirt. His short blond hair looked faintly mussed, as if he’d been asleep. His feet were bare. The realization made her own toes curl slightly at the implied intimacy. They’d both been asleep. She wore a nightgown and robe. Underneath, she had on panties and nothing else. Despite the layers of her clothing, she felt exposed and extremely aware of him as a man.
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