The Sheikh and the Virgin Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 5)(61) by Susan Mallery
“What?” Zara asked. She glanced at Sabrina who mouthed she would explain it all later. Zara didn’t want to wait for an explanation. “What do you mean, banished?” She was going to ignore the “killed” part because she couldn’t stand to think about it.
Hassan glared at her. It was the first time he’d ever looked at her with anything but love and devotion. “You have done enough here. I trusted you both and this is how I am repaid. You are new to our ways, so I forgive you, but Rafe has been made one with the desert. He knew what he was doing. He is to be banished for all time. He will not be allowed to set foot in the kingdom of Bahania or the City of Thieves. For the rest of his life he will never see you again, and you will not see him.”
Zara turned to Rafe. Not see him? Not ever? She’d resigned herself to being unhappy, to watching him from afar, to dreaming about what might have been, but she’d never thought he would be out of her life forever.
His gaze locked with hers. In that single heartbeat she read a similar anguish in his blue eyes. A need and something more—something wonderful that gave her courage. He cared. She didn’t know how much or for how long, but he cared.
“I will not be banished,” he said unexpectedly.
He faced the king and pulled back the sleeve of his shirt. She stared at the small tattoo there—the seal of the City of Thieves.
Hassan turned away, Kardal swore, Sabrina gasped. Only the guards didn’t react, and Zara had a feeling they were as clueless as she was.
“I carry the mark of the prince,” Rafe continued. “At the time I was rewarded and made a sheik, I was offered a woman. I claimed none. I claim one now—Princess Zara.”
He’d never used the title before and it startled her, as did Hassan’s sudden expression of rage.
“You will not!” the king roared.
Kardal shifted uncomfortably. “Must it be this woman?”
“Yes,” Rafe said, still glaring at the king.
Zara felt lightheaded. Rafe was claiming her as his woman? Did that mean he cared about her? Her heart flew back into her chest and began to tap dance. Hope filled her.
Hassan turned his attention to Kardal. “This is your fault. You allowed him to claim the mark of the prince.”
Kardal shrugged. “He saved my life. I wished to thank him. May I remind you that you are the one who left them alone on an island for two weeks. Obviously, you are no better a father to Zara than you were to Sabrina.”
The king’s face darkened. Sabrina stepped between them. “Fighting with each other doesn’t solve the problem.”
Zara pressed her lips together. “At the risk of being stupid, what is the problem?”
“Yes, explain it to her,” Hassan said harshly. “Maybe then she won’t look at this one with so many stars in her eyes.”
Sabrina sighed. “Zara, when Rafe saved Kardal’s life, he was allowed to wear the mark of the prince. It’s a great honor.”
“I know about this,” Zara said impatiently, wanting to get to the “I claim her as my woman” part. “He was made a sheik, given a fortune, along with land and camels.”
Her half sister patted her arm. “Exactly. Tradition states that the one who wears the mark of the prince is also allowed a woman. He may take any unmarried woman he likes. Any unmarried woman—even the daughter of a king.”
Zara was beginning to see the problem. “As what?” she asked Sabrina, although she was looking at Rafe. He continued to glare at Hassan.
“As whatever he wants her to be,” Sabrina said softly.
“You see?” Hassan asked. “He is not proposing marriage. He is insulting you, Bahania and even the Prince of Thieves.”
Zara took a step toward Rafe. She wasn’t so sure insult was his motivation. Maybe it was something else entirely.
“Can you stop him?” she asked her father.
Hassan hesitated. “I am the king. I can do as I like.”
“No,” Rafe said, turning to her. “He can’t. Not without defiling the laws of the desert. He is torn between his relationship with Kardal, his responsibility to the laws of the land and his desire to kill me with his bare hands.” He shrugged. “You’re the one who was willing to risk having your sex life in the tabloids. I told you we couldn’t keep it a secret.”
“My mistake.” She studied his handsome face, the mouth that had pleased her in so many ways, the eyes that allowed her to stare down into the lonely darkness that was his soul.
“What do you want, Rafe?” she asked. “Is your purpose here really just to tweak the tiger’s tail?”
“Then you really want to claim me as your woman?”
“It cannot be!” Hassan roared. “She is Princess Zara of Bahania. My daughter, a member of the royal family. You insult us all with your thoughtless words and deeds. You were trusted and you turned your back on that trust. You have betrayed us all, especially Zara.”
Except Zara didn’t feel all that betrayed. She was a little embarrassed to be discussing this in front of everyone and confused as to why Rafe had claimed her, but she didn’t feel that he’d let her down. Thank goodness no one knew she had been a virgin. It would all hit the fan then.
“What if I accept?” she asked.
Everyone stared at her. Even Sabrina looked shocked.
“You can’t,” her half sister said hastily. “You would have no status, no claim. You wouldn’t be his wife, Zara. You would be his mistress. As a member of the royal family, you would be dishonored. He could keep you as long as he wanted, then toss you aside with no repercussions. It would be difficult for you to make a good match after that.”
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