The Sheikh and the Virgin Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 5)(35) by Susan Mallery
She wasn’t sure how she felt about displacing a cat or two in his affections. No wonder Sabrina had been miffed at her arrival. Sabrina had probably come a distant third to Hassan’s sons and his cats.
“We have much to make up for,” Hassan said.
“I agree. Although I have to admit that all the times I stayed awake as a little girl and fantasized about finding my real father, I never pictured anything like this.”
His humor faded. “How I wish I’d known about you. I would have come and swept you away.” He paused. “Or perhaps I would have simply watched from afar. I do not think I could have hurt Fiona by taking away her child. But then I doubt I could have kept from wanting her to be mine forever, so I might have had you both eventually. We’ll never know.”
Zara didn’t know what to say to that. She was tired and fading fast. Late-night parties weren’t a part of her usual world.
“Speaking of true love,” her father said. “I saw you spent much of your time with two particular gentlemen. Both Byron and Jean-Paul would make fine matches.”
Zara suddenly felt as if she’d fallen into the pages of a Jane Austen novel. “I’m not really looking for a ‘fine match,”’ she told him honestly. “Right now I have plenty of changes to keep me occupied.”
“For a time, but eventually you will want more. A husband, perhaps? A family?”
They were all Zara had ever wanted. Roots, she thought longingly. “I’ve thought of those things,” she admitted.
“Then you should spend time with Byron and Jean-Paul. Get to know them. I know they will be charmed by you. Something may light a spark.”
She’d already been set on fire and it hadn’t been by either man in question. Unfortunately, the king wasn’t offering Rafe as a potential bridegroom. Too bad. That would have been a whole lot easier to take. Still, she couldn’t bring herself to dim the light of hope in his eyes.
“I promise to give them a chance, if they decide they would like to see me again.”
“Of course they will want to see you,” Hassan promised in a tone that warned her he would make sure it happened.
Zara had a moment of longing for her small, normal life back in Washington. Somehow she knew that things were never going to be the same again.
Rafe carried Zara’s shoes as he escorted her back to her room. She walked gingerly, wincing as she stepped on a bit of uneven tile.
“Remind me to pick low-heeled shoes next time,” she said, pausing to bend over and rub the ball of her left foot. “I think I broke something tonight.”
“You’ll feel better in the morning,” he promised.
“Only if someone carries me around so I don’t have to walk.”
He had an instant picture of himself carrying her. The image wasn’t unpleasant—in fact, he found himself warming to the idea. The only problem was carrying Zara anywhere would ultimately end up with him carrying her to bed. And as much as she might enjoy teasing him about kissing, she had no idea of the consequences of those actions. Which meant he was going to keep his mind firmly on business.
“Did you have a good time?” he asked as they reached a T intersection in the hallway. Zara turned right, forcing him to stop her and point to the left.
“It was interesting,” she said and stifled a yawn. “I have to tell you that I don’t think I’m the state dinner type. I tried not to say anything too awful or offend anyone, but saying or doing the wrong thing seems incredibly easy. With my ability to put my foot in my mouth, I should be kept away from sensitive situations.”
“You did fine.”
She looked at him and raised her eyebrows. “Do you really think the terrier twins were paying attention to what I was saying?”
Fatigue left dark shadows under her eyes. Her skin was pale, her mouth free of lipstick. He thought she looked lovely.
“I’m sure that Byron and Jean-Paul were charmed by you.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Yeah, right. The worst part is the king wants me to see them again. I think he’s hoping for a match.”
Rafe felt an instant tightness in his chest. He told himself that Zara seeing any man wasn’t his business. His responsibilities lay in keeping her safe, not escorting her around town. She was the kind of woman who needed to be married; he was the kind of man who did best on his own. End of story.
“What are you hoping for?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Answers, mostly. Is Hassan my father? Do I belong here? Actually I have the answer to the last question. I don’t belong here and I’m not sure I ever will.” She paused and glanced around to make sure they were alone. “Can you keep a secret?”
“Yes. Although if this is about something that involves your safety, I have to warn you that I may tell the king.”
She pressed her lips together. “Don’t you ever go off duty?”
She sighed. “This doesn’t affect my safety. I just wish—” She leaned against the tiled wall and closed her eyes. “Sometimes I wish I hadn’t come here. That I didn’t know the truth. Although the blood test might show that I’m not Hassan’s daughter.”
“Don’t count on it.”
Rafe studied her pale face. His fingers itched to trace her pretty features. He wanted to pull her close and kiss her, running his hands up and down her body. He wanted to feel her delicate curves, touch her bare skin and taste every inch of her.
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