The Sheikh and the Virgin Secretary(Desert Rogues, Book 10)(27) by Susan Mallery
She drew in a deep breath. “A woman called. Marcy Dumont. I guess I met her at the fund-raiser, although I don’t remember her specifically. There were so many introductions. Anyway, she wanted me to talk to you about sponsoring some event.
It’s for children.”
She picked up her fork, then set it down. “It was so strange. I didn’t know what to say to her and I felt really awkward. I mean, why come to me for money? She said I could influence you, which is crazy. I couldn’t. But even if I could, I think it’s wrong to impose on my personal life. She should have talked to you directly.”
He was quiet for a long time. She knew he was reasonable enough that he wouldn’t blame any of this on her, but she felt awkward about the whole thing.
“None of this is your fault,” he said at last. “You’re right. If the woman wanted me to sponsor an event, she should have contacted me. What did you tell her?”
“Nothing. She hung up before I could get my thoughts together. I’ve never had to deal with anything like this before. I didn’t know how to handle the situation.
Eric’s right about that. We are from different worlds.”
“Next time tell me,” he said gently. “I will take care of things.”
“I’m not helpless.”
“I agree. But you’re also not experienced in the nuances of my lifestyle. Your only responsibility is to me.”
She couldn’t help smiling. “That sounded very sheik-like and demanding. That my only responsibility is to you. As if you’re the center of my world.”
He raised his eyebrows. “I am Prince Rafiq of Lucia-Serrat. Of course I’m the center of your world.”
She laughed, and her worry faded away. “Not on this planet, but it’s a nice fantasy.”
“You do not respect me.”
“I respect you plenty, but I’m not a doormat. I’m an independent woman who chose you to be her lover.”
As soon as she spoke the words, she clapped her hand over her mouth. “I did not say that aloud.”
“You did.” He picked up his wine. “I like this independent side of you. Tell me more.”
“There’s not all that much to say.” Except for this one thing. She looked at him. “I have to go away this weekend.”
His gaze sharpened slightly. “To visit your family?”
She shouldn’t be surprised that he’d figured it out, but she was. “I want to see Heather and the new baby. It will just be for a couple of days. I’ll fly out tomorrow and be back Sunday.”
“You are welcome to be gone longer.”
Not exactly the “I’ll miss you” speech she’d been hoping for. “The weekend is plenty.”
“Fine. I hope you enjoy yourself.”
There was something about the way he said the words. Something that unsettled her.
“You’re not mad, are you?” she asked.
“That you wish to visit your family? No. This is a very special time. You will want to be there.”
Okay, that all sounded right, but it didn’t feel right. She studied him, trying to figure out what was wrong. Did he seem to be sitting more stiffly? Was there a flicker of emotion in his eyes.
“I just…” She pressed her lips together. “What’s wrong? Are you mad I’m leaving?”
“I assure you, I will survive without your company.”
Ouch. “I know you will. Of course you will. You don’t need me at all.”
She stared at her plate and wondered where the conversation had gone wrong.
The waiter arrived and served their salads. Kiley picked up her fork, then put it down again. Suddenly she wasn’t hungry.
“I’m sorry,” Rafiq said quietly.
She looked at him and did her best not to show her astonishment. It had never occurred to her a real, live prince would ever apologize. “For what?”
“For hurting you.” He shrugged. “I know your assumption is that I would not enjoy meeting your family. Perhaps you are uncomfortable with our relationship and who I am. It is better you go yourself. For my part, it has been a long time since I was reminded I am not like other men.”
His words swirled around in her brain. Maybe she was crazy. Maybe she was delusional, but if she understood what he was saying then somehow he’d been hurt by her not wanting to take him with her.
“I’m not ashamed of our relationship,” she told him.
“It is unconventional.”
“I wouldn’t exactly tell my mom about the terms of our agreement or that I was your mistress-in-training, but I would be comfortable introducing you. I thought you’d feel weird about going home with me. I thought you’d think it was dumb or boring. We’re just regular people. No palaces, no fancy pedigrees. You’re a prince.”
“I am aware of my title.”
She smiled. “I figured you were. Rafiq, you’re used to who and what you are, but the rest of us aren’t. My folks live in Sacramento in a tract home. We don’t even have a second story.”
“Are you concerned I’ll judge your family and find them wanting?”
Interesting question. “No, I’m not,” she said slowly, realizing it was true.
“Then what troubles you?”
When the truth came, it was both funny and sad. “I’m afraid you’ll realize I’m not that special. That I’m just like everyone else.”
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