The Sheikh and the Virgin Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 5)(62) by Susan Mallery
Zara thought about Byron and Jean-Paul. It might be difficult to make a good match, but there would be many men willing to marry her.
“I will not allow it,” Hassan said.
“It’s not your decision to make,” Zara told him.
“He will take you away.” Hassan stepped forward and touched her cheek. “My daughter, you would be away from your family. You would have nothing. I could not protect you while you were with him.”
The light-headed sensation returned. Zara felt as if she were floating above the tableau, watching everyone. Thousands of thoughts swirled through her mind until one of them solidified into a moment of crystal clarity.
She raised herself on her toes and kissed her father’s cheek. “I am happy to have found you and I think I could have made peace with my life in Bahania, but this is something I must do.”
She turned and moved in front of Rafe. “I accept the honor of being your woman.”
Even the guards stiffened in surprise. Rafe, however, simply glared at her. “You can’t,” he told her. “You’re a royal princess. You should be married.”
“But that’s not what you’re offering,” she told him.
His glare deepened. “You don’t know what you’re getting into. I won’t stay in one place long. I’ll drag you around the world, living in hell holes. You’ll have to give up your family. What about your heart’s desire to have roots?”
And then she knew. She read it in the pain in his eyes, in the set of his shoulders. After a lifetime of people turning away from him, he wasn’t about to trust her with something as fragile as his heart. Not before he knew that she would be willing to stay forever. He needed to test her—and as Cleo had suggested, she, Zara, needed to prove herself.
She didn’t know how long it would take. How many months or even years she would have to stand by him until he knew that her love was endless and faithful.
“You’re asking me to choose,” she whispered. “All my life I’ve wanted roots—a real family with a history. A father. I have them all now. But I believe love can transcend location. They are my family and will always have a place inside of me. You are my heart’s desire. Therefore I will follow you to the ends of the earth if that is your wish. Again, I accept the honor of being your woman.”
Rafe stared at Zara, desperately wanting to believe her. He ached as if someone had reached inside and ripped out his heart. He could feel his life’s blood seeping away.
She was so beautiful he could barely look upon her. Yet he couldn’t turn away. When she smiled, he felt his heart crack.
“I love you,” she whispered. “I know I wasn’t supposed to. You kept warning me away. I know you’re afraid to settle down, so I’ll travel with you. We’ll create a future and a past that is ours alone. I’m not afraid.”
“Zara, you can’t.” He could barely speak the words.
“I have to. Without you, what’s the point? You’re all I’ve been waiting for.”
Pain ripped through him. The thick, angry barrier around his heart shattered and blew away. He gasped for breath, then pulled her to him. He touched her face, her hair, then ran his thumb across her mouth.
“Zara,” he breathed, and kissed her.
She kissed him back—with all her heart and soul. She clung to him as if she would never let go. He knew then that he had to believe her or lose her forever. That he was nothing without her. That he had finally found a safe place to belong.
“I love you,” he told her.
Tears spilled from her eyes. “I was kind of hoping you would say that.”
He brushed away the tears. “We don’t have to leave. I would never take you away from your family. You just found them.”
“I appreciate that, but if you need to be sure, I’ll go with you.”
“I’m sure,” he told her and, for the first time he could remember, he was. Light filled him. Love radiated from them both—he could feel it.
“This is all very nice,” Hassan said after clearing his throat. “However, now that you have declared yourselves, I must insist that you marry my daughter. You simply cannot make the Princess Zara your woman.”
The king had a point. Rafe took Zara’s hands in his. “I never thought I would love anyone, but I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Please do me the honor of marrying me.”
Zara’s entire being spilled over with happiness. While she would have done as she said and followed Rafe around the world if necessary, she would much prefer to marry him and make a home.
“Yes,” she said, kissing him. “I want to marry you and be with you for always. I love you, Rafe.”
Hassan pulled them apart. “All right, all right. Fine. So you want to marry my daughter. What makes you think I’ll say yes?”
Zara hugged her father. “Oh, Daddy, what else are you going to say?”
“Daddy,” he murmured. “Yes, it is better than father.” Hassan kissed her cheek. “I suppose you are right.” He glared at Rafe. “I’ll expect you to take care of her. She’s a member of the royal family.”
“I give you my word,” Rafe told him.
Hassan sighed. “This is not what I had planned,” he told his daughter. “You could have had a duke.”
“I’d rather have a sheik,” she said happily.
“I can see that. Then I must insist that you promise to wait a few months for the wedding. I want time to get to know you before this one whisks you away to the City of Thieves.”
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