The Sheikh and the Virgin Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 5)(45) by Susan Mallery
“Is this where I remind you to be careful of what you wish for?”
His words danced across her skin like fire. Against her will, she found herself staring at his mouth, at the lips that had so tenderly kissed hers. While she couldn’t imagine having this conversation with any other man she’d ever met, with Rafe she felt perfectly comfortable.
Be careful what you wish for. He was smart to remind her of the danger, because what she wanted most was him. He drew her with a power she didn’t understand and could never explain.
“I guess you were right,” she said, more to herself than him. “I’m a wife-and-kids kind of woman. Which doesn’t bode well for my life as a princess, should that happen.”
“You’ll hear within the week.”
“I’m starting to regret pushing the king to have the blood test. Now that it’s done, I don’t want to know.”
He took a sip of his cognac. “With most people I’d be assuming they were afraid they wouldn’t be a relative, but you’re afraid of the opposite.”
She shrugged. “I never said I was brave.”
“Your concerns about dealing with an entire new way of life aren’t cowardly. You’re intelligent enough to be able to see the consequences of your actions.”
“Only it’s a tiny bit too late. After all, I’m here in Bahania, instead of safely back in my little life.”
“Sometimes a bigger life is better.”
She wasn’t convinced. A bigger life required a different kind of person. Zara had never considered herself very special. If she was Hassan’s daughter, she would be a royal princess. The reality of the situation made her palms sweat.
“I don’t want to talk about that anymore.” She studied him in the dim light. “How did a nice American guy like you become a sheik?”
He flashed her a smile. “Never tell a man he’s nice. We hate that word.”
“Then I take it back. So how did a mean, surly, very manly guy like you become a sheik?”
“I saved Prince Kardal’s life.”
He spoke casually, as if giving directions to the airport. She leaned forward. “How? No, wait. First tell me about Prince Kardal. Who is he?”
“Sabrina’s husband. He’s…” Rafe hesitated. “This is confidential, Zara. You can’t repeat this information to anyone.”
His blue eyes darkened with intensity. She felt as if she was about to get the secret code that would save the country from certain destruction. For a brief second she thought about saying she didn’t want to know, but then curiosity won.
He studied her as if gauging the value of her word, then he nodded.
“You may have heard of the legend of a secret city on the border between El Bahar and Bahania. The story goes that nomads call this place home. Those who wrote about the city claimed it was a walled wonder filled with treasures stolen from all over the world.”
She frowned as bits of history came back to her. “I remember reading something about that. I think I even saw part of a documentary. There are a lot of writings about the city, but no real proof it exists.”
“The City of Thieves is real and it’s still around today. Kardal is the Prince of Thieves, the next in a long line of men who rule the desert. Back when the silk roads were in use, travelers feared being attacked. The nomads offered protection, for a price. They also stole from those who would not pay. When oil production began, they quickly learned there was more money to be made from the earth than from stealing. Now the City of Thieves guards the oil fields. Using a combination of the old ways and modern technology, we keep the peace.”
Zara didn’t know what to say. “It’s real?”
She couldn’t begin to imagine such a place. A mythical city that still existed? “It would be like learning that Atlantis was alive and well.”
“As long as the world doesn’t find out.”
“I won’t say anything,” she told him earnestly. “I would never betray your trust.” Questions filled her mind. “How did you come to be there?”
“I told the truth before. I worked for a paramilitary organization. Prince Kardal hired us, and when the job was over I stayed on. About a year after that I worked my way up to the head of security. One day we were out in the desert when we were attacked. I saved Kardal’s life. In gratitude he made me a sheik.”
Rafe unbuttoned the cuff of his right shirtsleeve and pulled up the material. She saw a small mark on the inside of his wrist. Zara leaned closer to study the intricate design.
“What is it?”
“The seal of the City of Thieves. I carry the mark of the prince. As such I own land, livestock and have a fortune, which, while modest by royal prince standards, will keep me comfortable for a long time. They also offered me the woman of my choice, but I turned that down.”
Zara nearly choked. “A woman? They offered you a woman?”
He grinned. “Don’t you just love it here?”
She glared at him while he fastened his cuff. “That’s positively feudal.”
“I wasn’t all that comfortable with the idea, which is why I refused.”
She didn’t even know what to say. They’d offered a woman along with livestock? Typical.
“If you’re so wealthy with your land and camels and fortune, why do you still work?”
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