The Sheikh and the Virgin Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 5)(44) by Susan Mallery
He was off on another tale of his exploits. Zara surreptitiously glanced at her watch. They’d been at dinner more than two hours, and Jean-Paul had spent the entire time talking about himself. The only questions he’d asked had been those inquiring as to whether or not she agreed that his home sounded beautiful. She wondered if he even saw her as a person. Was she simply a single female possibly related to a king? Maybe she could have sent one of Hassan’s precious cats in her place. She wasn’t sure Jean-Paul would have noticed.
The endless dinner came to a close when the waiter cleared their plates and placed the bill on a small leather tray. Relief coursed through Zara. Rafe was on his third cup of coffee. No doubt he’d needed the caffeine to stay alert, what with being in earshot of Jean-Paul’s voice.
She was trying to decide if it would be all right to simply wait outside while Jean-Paul paid, when he startled her by reaching across the table and taking her hand in his.
“Zara, you are an exceptional woman.”
She really wanted to ask how he knew. After all, she’d barely said more than a couple of sentences. Instead of creating trouble, she smiled.
He stared at her, his dark eyes alive with promise. “I would very much like to make you mine. I think we would do well together.”
She felt her jaw drop. Make her his? Was he offering marriage or simply an affair—and did it matter which?
Annoyance bubbled up inside of her. Did the man really think she’d been charmed by his egotistical, self-centered, boring conversation? That she was available for the asking?
Zara pushed back her chair and rose to her feet. “I’m afraid you’ve misjudged the situation,” she said formally, her tone frosty.
Rafe moved to her side in an instant.
“I need to get out of here,” she told him, ignoring Jean-Paul’s protests.
“You’re the boss,” Rafe told her. He put his arm around her and led her from the restaurant.
Initially Zara was too shocked by Jean-Paul’s declaration to notice that they didn’t get into the limo that had brought them from the palace. She barely had time to register that they were walking along the streets of the city, before Rafe guided her into a small bar.
The main room held a dozen or so tables, with booths lining the back and side walls. A three-piece combo played on a corner stage. Rafe found a booth in a dark corner and slid onto the bench seat after her. He spoke to the waiter who appeared, then he leaned back in his seat.
“How was dinner?”
Zara frowned at him. Instead of answering, she glanced around the establishment, noting the rich red of the drapes behind the small stage and the inlaid wood that made up the tables. With lazily circling fans and the murmur of different languages, she felt as if she’d stumbled into a scene from Casablanca.
The waiter brought two snifters filled with an amber liquid, put them on the table and left.
“Cognac,” Rafe said. “You looked like you could use a drink.”
She took a sip and felt the burn all the way to her stomach.
“Want to talk about it?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe.” She leaned back against the seat and drew in a deep breath. “I’m assuming you could hear Jean-Paul’s scintillating conversation.”
“Even though I tried not to.”
“You’ll get no sympathy from me. I was forced to sit across from him and act interested.”
“So you decided against the great seduction scene.”
He was teasing her. She could hear it in the tone of his voice and the light in his blue eyes. She smiled in return.
“I don’t think I would have stayed awake for the event.” She touched the base of her glass. “This is so much harder than I thought it would be,” she admitted.
“All of it. I miss Cleo.”
“I’d heard that she returned to the States.”
Zara nodded. “She only had two weeks vacation. I’m off for the summer, so my schedule is less pressing. I just wish she’d been able to stay. I liked having her around. I felt more safe with her here.”
“Nothing bad is going to happen to you.”
She shook her head. “This isn’t about being kidnapped. We both know that’s unlikely. I mean everything else. When I was little and Fiona would move us every year, I used to dream about finding my father. I always imagined he had a big house with lots of pets and a garden, that he had never known about me and was so happy to see me he held me close and promised to never let go. He told me that I would never have to move again or be the new kid in school.”
“Isn’t that what happened?” Rafe asked quietly.
“Yes, and it’s terrifying.” She wondered if there was a way to explain the fear inside of her. “Tonight was a good example. What was that? Why on earth would Jean-Paul be so incredibly boring and then ask me to be his? I don’t even know if he was offering to make me his mistress or proposing. Not that it matters. Does he really think I would be so flattered that I would accept?”
“Maybe he was putting all his cards on the table.”
She raised her eyebrows. “You can’t actually believe that.”
“No, but it sounded good.”
She angled toward him. “How am I supposed to fit in with these people? I always wanted roots, but not ones that ran so deep. The king can trace his ancestors back nearly a thousand years. I was thinking more like a couple of generations.”
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