The Sheikh and the Virgin Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 5)(46) by Susan Mallery
“Because I like what I do.”
Rafe picked up his snifter and swirled the cognac. He’d come a long way from his days at the orphanage, he thought. A long way from the scared kid who’d felt so damned alone.
“Do you have any family?” Zara asked.
“No. My folks died when I was four. There wasn’t anyone else. I became a ward of the state.”
He didn’t like to think about his past. He was different now, stronger. He’d learned to take care of himself and never need anyone.
“Why haven’t you ever married? There had to have been women in your past.”
“Plenty, but I’m not the kind of man who wants roots.”
She shook her head. “Everyone wants to belong.”
“I don’t need anyone else.”
“It’s a good line, but I don’t believe you.”
She smiled as she spoke. A pretty smile that made him think about kissing her. Tonight she wore a simple, loose fitting, sleeveless dress. The soft fabric moved with her, both emphasizing and concealing her curves. Her glasses had slipped down her nose, and when she absently pushed them into place, he found himself wanting to remove them and touch her face. He wanted to be close to her, stroke her, hold her. Not just for sex, but for something more.
He reminded himself that getting involved was dangerous. He needed to be free to move on when the time came. However, at that moment he couldn’t think of a single place he wanted to go.
“You were never adopted?” she asked.
He stiffened, then forced himself to relax. “I was too old and not cute enough.”
“I don’t believe that. I’ll bet you were an adorable kid.”
He’d been quiet and withdrawn. One family had shown interest when he’d been eight. He’d gone home with them for a long weekend. Determined to do everything right, he’d become so terrified of doing anything wrong that he’d frozen up. At the end of the three days, they’d returned him and he’d never seen them again. After that he’d stopped dreaming about things like family and belonging.
“Don’t try to make me what I’m not,” he told her. “Wishing isn’t going to make me different. I’m a coldhearted bastard who has no interest in anything like home and hearth. My home is wherever I sleep that night. I don’t need more.”
“I don’t believe you and I don’t think you believe yourself. You’ve found it easier to go your own way, but in your heart you want what everyone wants. The need to belong is universal.”
She was wrong, but he didn’t have the words to convince her. “Don’t make me into a hero, Zara. I like you, and I want you, but I’ll never be the man who can make you happy.”
Several days later the door to Zara’s suite burst open, and King Hassan walked in trailed by a secretary, a bodyguard and two of the princes.
Zara looked up from the book she was reading and felt a sudden sense of dread. The king’s happy expression, the welcoming light in his eyes and the way he pulled her to her feet, then hugged her close told her all she wanted to know.
“It is done,” he announced.
She swallowed against a sudden attack of nerves that sent her stomach through a cheerleading routine.
“The blood test results?” she asked in a small voice, even though she already knew.
Hassan released her, beamed, then pulled her close again. “Yes. They have confirmed what you and I have known all along. You are the daughter of my beloved Fiona and my daughter, as well. The joy of my life.” He put his arm around her and faced his entourage. “She is the Princess Zara, named for my mother and beloved to me. Let the word be spread.”
Zara felt the floor move beneath her feet. It took her a second to realize that the building wasn’t swaying; instead she was having trouble catching her breath and staying upright. Was it her imagination or had the light in the room just dimmed?
Princess Zara? Oh, sure, she’d realized that if she was really the daughter of a king then she was likely to be a princess. She’d turned the concept over in her mind but had never been able to make it real. Nor had she actually thought of herself as “Princess Zara.” Did she really have a title?
Instinctively she glanced around at the people in her suite and was relieved when she saw that Rafe had slipped in…probably to see what was going on. She looked at him and took comfort from his wink. He was the only one who could make her feel safe. She couldn’t help wishing his arm was around her instead of the king’s.
“There is much to be done,” the king said.
“A press conference,” one of the princes said. Zara told herself that she was really going to have to learn to tell them apart. If only they weren’t all so tall, dark-haired and amazingly handsome.
A third prince entered her room. She recognized Prince Sadik. He walked up and took her hand in his.
“Welcome, my sister,” he said. “Do not be too afraid. We will not torment you as we did Sabrina, when she was young.”
“I appreciate that.”
The king motioned his assistant to step forward. “We will arrange for a press conference,” Hassan said. “The world must know of our joy.”
Zara didn’t think the princes looked especially joyful. None of this was a surprise to them and they’d all been very kind. She suspected her status as a woman made her practically invisible to them, which was far better than having them outwardly hostile. She wondered how Sabrina would take the news. Although she and her half sister had discussed starting over, they hadn’t spent very much time together.
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