The Sheikh and the Virgin Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 5)(49) by Susan Mallery
“It’ll get worse before it gets better, but hold on to the thought that it will get better.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“Hey, don’t I know everything?”
She laughed. “Sometimes it seems that way.”
“What’s going on tonight?” he asked. “I passed Sabrina in the hall, and she said she’d released you for the day.”
“I’m just staying in. I have a bunch of stuff to read over before the press conference in the morning.”
Rafe nodded. “Want a little company before you get to work? We could order dinner in.”
She thought about spending a couple of quiet, uninterrupted hours with Rafe. Although her pulse rate increased, the rest of her relaxed. He was exactly what she needed.
“I’d like that,” she whispered.
“Whatever Princess Zara wishes,” he said formally, then gave a slight bow. “Mine is to serve.”
If only that were true, she thought longingly. If only she could convince him that he was wrong to walk away from relationships. But while the rest of the world might start to see her as Princess Zara of Bahania, she knew that on the inside, she was still Zara Paxton, virgin and unsuccessful graduate in the school of love. Men like Rafe were out of her league. Still, just for tonight, she could dream.
Dozens of flash bulbs exploded in her face. Zara tried not to wince as temporary blindness set in.
“Princess Zara, how do you like Bahania?”
“Princess Zara, has the king given you a fortune?”
“Is there anyone special in your life?”
“Where did you grow up?”
Nearly thirty reporters called out their questions, while Zara tried to keep from bolting. Sabrina had warned that her first press conference would be the most difficult of all. The format was unfamiliar and the members of the press were determined to find out as much about her as they could. Zara did her best to ignore the television cameras in the rear of the room.
She stood behind a podium. Sabrina had suggested the venue be set up that way, rather than with Zara sitting. “Easier to escape when you’ve had enough,” her sister had said, only half joking. “Plus, when it’s time to leave, no one will capture the awkward moment of standing and then put an unflattering photo on the cover of every magazine.”
King Hassan had been with her for the first twenty minutes, telling how Zara had come into his life and how happy he was to have her with him. Unfortunately a luncheon with the Spanish ambassador had called him away, leaving Zara at the mercy of the press.
There were too many things to remember, she thought as she frantically tried to decide which question to answer first. They continued to pelt her, like small stones. She grabbed the first one that seemed easy.
“I like Bahania very much,” she said in a clear voice. Sabrina had told her to take deep breaths and to project her voice, while avoiding speaking above a normal tone. “The countryside is beautiful and the people have been very gracious.”
Not that she’d met all that many people, but so far everyone had been really nice.
“What do you think of the king?”
“Have you met the princes?”
“Is the king going to arrange a marriage for you?”
“Right now I’m in the process of getting to know my new family,” Zara said. “The princes have been most welcoming and Princess Sabrina has been helping me with the transition. Without her assistance I would have run in terror the second I saw all of you waiting for me.”
Several people laughed, which eased some of Zara’s tension. Still, she would rather have had a root canal than face this crowd.
She answered questions for about ten more minutes before stepping back and glancing around for Rafe. He read her intentions and quickly moved toward her. After taking her by the arm, he led her out of the press room and back into the private section of the palace.
“That was horrible,” Zara said. She trembled and found it difficult to walk.
“You did great.”
“I felt like an idiot. Why did all those people show up just to get a picture of me? And some of the questions seemed really personal.”
Rafe didn’t answer. She glanced at him and saw the set of his jaw. Anger radiated out of him. She instantly felt small and foolish.
“You think I’m complaining for no good reason,” she murmured. “After all, I wanted to find my father and I did. This is the price of that connection.”
He frowned at her. “No, I was thinking about those jackals and how different your life is going to be now. You think it’s going to be easy to return to your old world, but you’re wrong. Nothing is ever going to be simple again.”
His words didn’t make her feel any better. While she appreciated his concern for her, she had a bad feeling he was telling the truth about all the changes she would have to endure. As for not going back to her old life—she couldn’t think about that now.
“I miss Cleo,” she said as they walked toward her rooms. “I wish she was still in Bahania.”
Rafe didn’t answer, and she didn’t expect him to. After all this was her problem. She’d created it, and now that it existed, she didn’t have anyone else to blame.
Zara had never thought about what went into shooting a magazine cover. Maybe the model would try on a few different dresses and use different poses. The photographer would snap a few dozen pictures and it would be done.
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