The Sheikh and the Virgin Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 5)(42) by Susan Mallery
She pressed her lips together. “Don’t be cute. You know what I mean. I have an entire life. The king thinks I should just drop it and become his…his—” she exhaled “—I don’t know the right word. His something.”
“Daughter,” Rafe offered helpfully. “He wants you to be his daughter. You know, hang out with him, get to know him, live in his country.”
“I have a career. I worked hard to get my doctorate. I have friends, plans. Should I just turn my back on everything?”
“I don’t know. How great are things back in your world?”
She looked away from him, which Rafe guessed was her way of dealing with the situation in a mature fashion. He prodded the small of her back to get her moving again.
“I sort of understand,” he told her. “This whole royal situation takes getting used to.”
She sniffed. “A lot you know about it. You get to come and go as you please. You can quit your job anytime you want.”
She had a point. The thing was, he kind of liked her all fussy and crabby. She had a temper, but not an ugly one.
“Think of the possibilities,” he told her. “You might start to like it here. You’ll get to go shopping, wear jewelry, hang out in the best places.”
“I’m not even going to dignify that with a response,” she muttered. “You can’t possibly think I’m so incredibly shallow. It’s disgusting.”
“Well then, think about all the marriage possibilities. I’m sure Hassan would find you a terrific husband.”
She stopped again and glared at him. “Ha-ha. I’m nearly doubled over with laughter. Aren’t you the amusing one?”
He held back a smile. “Absolutely.”
She planted her hands on her hips. “You’re not taking this very seriously. I’m talking about the entire fabric of my life being ripped apart and sewn back together without my say-so. I do not want anyone picking my husband, thank you very much.”
Rafe didn’t want to think about her getting married, either, although he wasn’t about to explore that. As far as he was concerned it was hands off—regardless how much he wanted her.
“You never know what kind of prince the king might dig up. And I do mean prince.”
Her gaze narrowed. “You know that wouldn’t matter to me.”
“I thought all little girls dreamed of marrying a handsome prince.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, Mr. Bodyguard, I’m all grown up.”
He’d noticed. Her being all grown up kept him awake nights. “You’re still innocent in the ways of the world.”
She glanced around to make sure they were alone in the hallway, then lowered her voice. “This is about the whole virgin thing, isn’t it?” Her mouth tightened. “I can’t believe my being a virgin is becoming a bigger deal than it was. I didn’t think that was possible.”
“Things could be worse.”
“Or I could fix the problem. I’m having dinner with Jean-Paul tomorrow night. Maybe I’ll take care of my virginity then.”
Rafe suddenly found it hard to swallow. “Zara, don’t be rash.”
“I thought I was just crabby,” she told him. “Now I have to add rash to the list? Is there anything about me that you like?”
There was plenty, starting with how she stood her ground when she was annoyed.
She started walking down the hallway. “I can’t believe he expects me to simply move here permanently. I don’t know that I want to live in the palace. I don’t even know if I’m ready to pack everything up and move to Bahania. It’s too much, too soon. I need time.”
Rafe forced his jealousy aside and caught up with her. “Zara, be careful how you deal with this. The king assumes that you’re a new permanent resident of his country. He thinks of you as a member of his family. As such, he considers your place to be here, in the palace.”
“What if I don’t want to live in the palace?”
He didn’t have an answer for that. “Just don’t make any sudden decisions. You’ve spent your whole life looking for your family. Now that you’ve found one that wants you, wouldn’t it be kind of silly to turn your back on them?”
She slowed her pace and nodded. “I understand what you’re saying. I just have this horrible sensation of being trapped.”
Zara hoped Rafe had a few words of wisdom to offer, but when he was silent, she wasn’t surprised. He had no experience with her situation. Plus, according to him he’d never wanted to be tied down to anything. He wouldn’t understand the ambivalence she felt.
They parted company just outside the door to her suite. She stepped inside and heard movement in Cleo’s bedroom.
“Are you finally actually in residence?” she called, suddenly happy to have someone she trusted and understood to speak with. “I can only imagine what you’ve been up to these past few days.”
Zara walked into her sister’s room, then stopped just inside the doorway.
Cleo had indeed returned, but obviously wasn’t staying long. Several suitcases lay open on the bed. Clothes had been dumped inside, some folded, some not. Her sister moved quickly around the room, picking up toiletries and tossing them toward the open luggage.
“What’s going on?” Zara asked, fighting against the tightness in her chest.
Cleo glanced up at her, her large blue eyes dark with emotion. “You’re the smart one in the family—I would have thought it was obvious.”
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