The Sheikh and the Virgin Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 5)(48) by Susan Mallery
As warm air blew over her head, she thought about Cleo. Her sister would have loved the attention and made the situation a whole lot more bearable. But Cleo was back in Spokane, and the couple of times Zara had called to talk to her, Cleo had been distracted.
Three hours later she and Sabrina ate small sandwiches and tea cakes in Zara’s palace suite. Dozens of bags and boxes filled the rooms. Stacks of cosmetics and hair products filled her bathroom. Zara figured it would take her half the night to get everything put away.
“The thing is,” Sabrina was saying, “you’re the princess. You can’t forget that. You might have been raised in a relatively normal family, but everything is different. Wherever you go, you represent Bahania. An insult or slight to you reflects on the people.”
“I haven’t gotten used to having people,” Zara said wryly. “I’m not sure they’re going to be real keen on me, either.”
“They’ll adore you,” Sabrina assured her. “Just be yourself.”
Zara didn’t think the people wanted to hear about her rising panic or her urge to throw up.
“You’ll need a social secretary,” Sabrina said. “I thought I would loan you mine for a few months, just until you learn the ropes. Then you can hire your own. Depending on how much traveling you’re going to be doing, you might also want to think about an assistant. Someone to help with the details of getting your luggage to where it needs to go, packing, unpacking.”
Zara clutched her cup of tea. Sabrina was acting like her staying here was a sure thing. What about her teaching job back in Washington? She’d worked hard to get her doctorate. Was she just going to give it all up?
Her head began to pound. Zara set her cup on the saucer and rubbed her temples. “I think I’d rather just be the quiet daughter no one knows anything about.”
“I’m afraid it’s too late for that,” Sabrina said kindly. “My father has told the world about you.”
Zara nodded. She’d seen the press conference on television. At her request she hadn’t been there. Her trial would come in the morning. Sabrina had already helped her pick out a dress and accessories. The king was sending over a string of pearls with matching earrings that had belonged to his mother.
Sabrina glanced at her watch and groaned. “I’m late. Kardal is going to kill me.”
“I doubt that,” Zara told her, rising to her feet. “He adores you.”
Sabrina smiled happily. “The feeling is mutual. Are you going to be all right? I’d stay with you this evening, but Kardal committed us to this dinner, and I can’t get out of it.”
“I wouldn’t want you to try. You’ve been so kind already. Go have fun with your husband.”
Sabrina rose, waved and hurried out of the room. Zara sank back onto the sofa and stifled the urge to rub her eyes. Until she removed her contacts, she wasn’t allowed to touch them. The last thing she wanted was her new contacts getting lost.
Someone knocked at her door. Zara straightened as her heart began to beat faster. Her first thought was that it was Rafe. As Sabrina’s bodyguard had done the shopping—makeover-thing with them, she hadn’t seen Rafe all day. She rose quickly and smoothed the front of her slacks. Would he notice the change? She sighed as soon as she thought the question. Of course he would notice—the more important query was would he care?
She opened the door and nearly melted in a puddle on the floor. Rafe stood in the hallway, dressed in a suit and looking good enough to be dessert. No matter how many times she reminded herself that they couldn’t possibly have a future and that he’d made his reluctance to get involved incredibly clear, she couldn’t help wanting him in her life.
“Hey, Zara, I—”
He broke off in midsentence to stare at her. She self-consciously stepped back. Rafe followed her, then motioned for her to turn around. She spun slowly. As she moved she reached up and fingered her hair. The stylist had cut off about four inches, which had released more waves. Layering and thinning allowed her shorter hair to fall just below her shoulders. He’d blown it out in a soft, sleek style that made her feel glamorous. More intense makeup than she usually wore emphasized her eyes, which were more clearly visible without her glasses.
Between the new hair and makeup and the new clothes, she felt almost pretty. But it was the approval she saw in Rafe’s eyes that convinced her she just might be attractive for the first time in her life.
He gave a soft whistle. “Impressive,” he said. “You were something before, but now you’re serious princess material.” He held up his hands. “Now, the last time a man tried to pay you a compliment, you went ballistic. Are you going to take a swing at me?”
She laughed, remembering her temper over Byron’s insincere praise. “No. I know you mean it.”
He took a step toward her. The pleasure in his eyes turned to fire. Zara’s breath caught in anticipation. Rafe might promise that nothing was going to happen between them, but she knew he wanted her. His desire—so thrilling coming from a man like him—made her weak with her own need. She longed to be in his arms, kissing him, touching him and having him make love with her. If that wasn’t possible, she simply wanted to spend time with him. He was still her favorite person in Bahania.
“How are you holding up?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Everything is so strange. I feel as if I’m caught in the middle of a tornado.”
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