The Sheikh and the Virgin Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 5)(36) by Susan Mallery
The erotic fantasy produced predictable results. Rafe swore silently as blood rushed to his groin, hardening him in an instant.
“Come on,” he said, taking Zara by the hand and gently tugging her down the hall. “It’s time for princesses to be in bed.”
“Are you tucking me in?” she asked playfully.
“Not in this lifetime.”
They stopped in front of her door. She looked at him. “You know, it’s strange. In my regular life I would never come on to any guy, and if I did, any hint of rejection would leave me devastated for the rest of my life. Yet here I’m very comfortable begging you for the smallest of favors and despite your constant refusal, I survive.”
She shook her head. “I think it’s because every time I mention something illicit, your eyes darken with fire. I like the heat.”
Desire poured through him. Rafe would have sold his soul that second if he could have hauled Zara up against him and taken her. He ached to fill her with his arousal, to teach her exactly what kind of magic went on between men and women.
“You’re imagining it,” he said instead.
“Nope. Not even for a second. Oh, I almost forgot to tell you that Byron invited me to go horseback riding with him in two days. Apparently, it gets really hot in the afternoon so we’ll be heading out early. I hope that’s all right with you.”
It was as if she’d slapped him. Rafe felt the sting, but didn’t allow himself to show any kind of reaction. Her personal affairs didn’t matter, he reminded himself. This assignment was temporary. Soon he would be back in the City of Thieves, and Zara Paxton would be little more than a memory.
“Just let me know when and where,” he told her. “I’ll be there.”
“Armed?” she asked teasingly.
Her smile faded. “Tell me you want to kiss me good-night, Rafe. I think I’ve earned that.”
Involuntarily he dropped his gaze to her mouth. He remembered her taste, the sweet intake of her breath when he’d stroked her tongue. Oh, yeah, he wanted to kiss her.
“You’re making my life hell, Zara. Is that good enough?”
She raised herself up on tiptoes and lightly kissed his cheek. “Almost,” she told him, before taking her shoes from him and slipping into her room.
This was so not what she’d planned, Zara thought two days later as she rode across the desert. Somehow in her mind the experience had become a cross between a scene in a movie and a perfume commercial. She’d imagined dew glistening on the lush foliage, the sun rising in the east, herself riding elegantly next to a handsome man as their horses galloped across the rolling hills of the desert.
To begin with it was darned hot, even a few minutes before sunrise. Second, lush foliage didn’t fit into the desert and any dew had long been sucked up by the dry, heated air. Last but certainly not least, her half a dozen experiences on tired rental horses at a local stable had not prepared her for the reality of trying to stay on a purebred Arabian gelding.
“How are you doing?” Byron asked.
“Great,” she lied, flopping more out than in the saddle.
At least Byron looked the part…sort of, she thought. He rode well and appeared halfway decent in his riding clothes. It wasn’t his fault that she found Rafe far more compelling. Even though the men had similar coloring, there was no comparing their builds or faces. Rafe was the hands-down winner.
“It’s a beautiful morning,” Byron called out as her horse drifted to the left.
She tried to ease her mount back into line. The horse didn’t want to cooperate. Obviously, the stable guy had been having a laugh at her expense when he’d promised a gentle horse. That or there weren’t any gentle, easy, slow horses in Bahania. Thank goodness they’d stopped trotting and were now walking. At least her butt wasn’t forever slapping against the hard leather of the saddle. While she knew she was going to be sore later, she couldn’t help feeling sorry for the horse. She doubted the creature appreciated being pounded by her bony butt.
The rest of Byron’s sentence was drowned out by the powerful engines behind him. Zara tried to glance over her shoulder, but the movement made her slip more than she could handle and she had to grab on to the horse’s mane to stay in the saddle. Still, she didn’t have to see the three Hummers and two Jeeps, all filled with armed guards to know they were there.
Instead she turned to glare at Rafe, who rode easily, just a few paces behind them. The man was making her crazy. A bodyguard she could accept. A bodyguard who obviously enjoyed tormenting her was a pain, but also doable. But when he insisted on mocking her, that was too much to stand.
The amount of security he’d arranged for the ride was insane. Every time she and Byron tried to speak, the vehicles drew closer, making it impossible to hear what the other person was saying.
Zara reined in her horse. The animal stopped, which surprised her. Byron slowed his horse. Behind him the motorcade drew to a halt.
“What is it?” Byron asked.
Nothing about the man appealed to her, yet she had told the king she would give Byron a chance. So here she was—keeping her word.
“I thought if we stopped moving, they might stop getting so close,” she told him. “I’m sorry this all turned out so badly.”
He moved his horse closer. “Your father wants to keep you safe.”
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