The Sheikh and the Virgin Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 5)(20) by Susan Mallery
A sensible woman would have ducked back into her room. Zara knew that she was naturally sensible, that her sister was not, and most of the time Cleo had way more fun. Maybe it was time to see how the other half lived.
She took a single step toward Rafe. “I couldn’t sleep. I guess it’s all the excitement.”
“That makes sense. It’s been less than twenty-four hours and your entire world is different.”
Had it only been a single day? She felt that she’d known him much longer.
He motioned to the bench they’d shared before. “Come on. I’ll tell you a bedtime story.”
The low intimacy of his voice sent shivers up her spine. Rafe wasn’t like anyone she’d ever met. He was strong and took charge: very different from the academic sort she was used to.
She moved to the bench and sat. Rafe settled next to her, not crowding her, but sitting close enough for her to be incredibly aware of him. He breathed deeply, each inhale filling his chest. In the semidarkness, his blue eyes looked more black…and bottomless. She studied the shape of his strong jaw and the way the stubble growing there emphasized the hollows and planes of his features.
He shifted slightly, causing muscles to ripple. She thought about the feel of his body on hers when he’d attacked her and the way he’d held a gun to her head.
“Who are you?” she asked. “Earlier today you were dressed in traditional garments, yet you had a gun and were in the palace. You know the king well enough to get in to see him just by asking. You’re an American, yet you’re obviously comfortable in this foreign country.”
He shrugged. “I’m just a guy doing his job. Currently that means keeping you safe.”
“You know what I mean, Rafe.”
“Yeah, I know, but I’m not going to tell you.”
“I’m a good security risk.”
He turned to face her, his dark eyes lasering into hers. “I don’t know that yet. Until I’m sure, I won’t be spilling any state secrets.”
His intensity made her squirm. “Do you know any?” she asked lightly.
His teeth flashed as he smiled. “Just the one about turning straw into gold.”
“That’s an important one.”
He briefly touched her shoulder. “Don’t take it personally,” he said. “If you stick around long enough, you’ll find out who I am and what I do. For now it’s enough that you know that I usually work for Sabrina’s husband.”
She’d felt the pressure of his fingertips all the way down to her fingers. A distinct tingling there made her want to make a fist.
“Can you talk about what you did before that?”
He leaned back into the bench. “I spent a few years with a private paramilitary organization. They contracted with the government, taking care of things that couldn’t be legally sanctioned.”
She blinked. “Things like what?”
His smile faded. “Let your imagination run wild. Small wars, finding terrorists, preventing kidnappings.”
He spoke matter-of-factly. As if he’d simply helped a group of kids to cross the street. Zara knew it was much more than that. Whatever he’d done had been dangerous and scary—a far cry from her quiet, academic life.
“And before that?” she asked.
“I was in the army. I went to college on an ROTC scholarship, then I spent ten years serving my country.”
She glanced at his short hair and his straight posture. She could imagine him in uniform, leading troops into battle. No doubt he’d been cool under fire.
“It’s a long way from the military to the wilds of Bahania,” she murmured. “Do you miss it?”
“The States or the army?”
“Sometimes. I was too much of a rebel to advance much more in my career. I got out while everyone thought I was a hero. As for missing the States, there are places I’d like to see again. I don’t have an actual home I long for. I’ve always been one to move around.”
That sounded familiar. She’d lost track of the number of times Fiona had made them move. “What about family?” she asked.
Nothing about Rafe changed, yet she would have sworn that an invisible wall came down between them.
“No family,” he said easily.
He had to have some kind of family somewhere. He hadn’t just hatched under a rock. But her years with Cleo had taught her that there were some things people didn’t want to talk about.
Was he married?
The question appeared in her brain, but she couldn’t force the words out. They implied an interest, which, while it might be true, made her uncomfortable.
“Any kids?” she asked instead.
Rafe shifted so that he angled toward her, placing one arm along the back of the bench. His fingers were millimeters from her shoulder. She almost couldn’t breathe.
“I’m not married, Zara.”
The statement danced against her spine like hot water sizzling on a stove. She felt herself blushing, then figured it was dark enough that it didn’t matter. He wouldn’t be able to tell. Or maybe he would, she thought, glancing at him and quickly looking away when she caught him staring. He was the kind of man who just might notice everything about a woman.
“I didn’t ask about a wife,” she clarified, as if he would be fooled.
“Of course not.” He flashed her another smile. “So tell me about your life before becoming a princess.”
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