The Sheikh and the Virgin Secretary(Desert Rogues, Book 10)(39) by Susan Mallery
She felt tears forming and willed them away. He could never know how she had fallen for him. She could stand everything but his pity.
Forcing herself to smile, she said, “I’m here for the sex.”
As she expected, he laughed, but he didn’t put the box away. “You’re going to make me beg, aren’t you.”
“It’s something I’ve never seen, so probably.”
He opened the box. Inside was a diamond pendant. The simple design, three stones, each larger than the one above, took her breath away.
He produced matching earrings from his other pocket. “You know I will win this argument,” he told her, even as he handed her the earrings. When she would have refused them, he closed her fingers around them.
“I usually prefer much more obvious pieces,” he said. “But I knew those would not suit your delicate beauty. You must admit they’re modest by my standards.”
The pendant gleamed in the vee of her shirt. She winced as the perfectly cut stones caught the light.
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
“Then put on the earrings.”
She looked at him in the mirror. “I’m not here for jewelry.”
“I know. But that reality only makes me want to buy you more.”
Rather than argue further, she put on the earrings and admired them. One more item on her list of things she was leaving behind when it was time to go. The car, most of the clothes, any jewelry he bought her—and her heart.
“I was substantially younger than I am now,” Margaret Redding, Ambassador to Lucia-Serrat, said with a laugh. “It was my first overseas posting. I’d gotten lucky and been assigned to Rome. There was a fabulous party and there he was, Prince Rafiq.”
Kiley smiled at the attractive older woman. “He does clean up well.”
“I’ll say. We danced, he was charming. It was lust at first sight, for me anyway. At the end of the evening, he was gracious and took my number. I waited weeks for him to call. He never did.” She laughed again, then tucked her long auburn hair behind her ears. “I was crushed for at least two days. Then I found out the very handsome prince was at least nine years younger than me. It was hard to tell with him in his tux.”
Margaret glanced at Rafiq. “He’s grown into quite a man. I envy you.” She turned her attention to her husband. “In the purely intellectual sense, of course.”
Kiley laughed. “Of course.” She’d seen the Reddings come in together and didn’t doubt that they were very much in love.
“So how, exactly, did you get to be an ambassador?”
Margaret shifted on the sofa. “I rose through the ranks in the State Department.
I was very fortunate in my postings, and I managed to make a good impression on the right people. This is my first time as ambassador and I’m delighted.
Lucia-Serrat is a wonderful place to live. I enjoy the people so much and Prince Nasri, Rafiq’s father, is very determined to maintain a cordial relationship with the United States.” She leaned forward and lowered her voice. “Some days I don’t actually feel as if I’m working.”
“What does your husband do?”
“He’s a writer, which allows him to travel with me. He teases me that it’s far more interesting for him to be the dependent spouse than it would be for me. He gets to hang out with all the wives. At my previous post, his team won the embassy golf tournament.”
“Do you have children?”
Margaret’s smile faded. “No. We talked about it, but with my career, it would have been a challenge. Robert was willing, of course. He would have made an excellent stay-at-home father. But the year we were going to try, I was sent to three different posts in nine months. All that moving around isn’t conducive to pregnancy. At least it wasn’t for me. And then…”
Margaret stopped and shrugged. “Sorry. I’m rambling. I suppose I’m still thinking about what could have been. I always wanted a career more than a family.”
Kiley had trouble believing this attractive, incredibly successful woman could ever doubt her choices. Yet it was clear that Margaret was ambivalent about the road she’d chosen.
“If it makes you feel any better,” Kiley said in a lower voice, “I’ve only ever wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I’ve always felt guilty about that, as if I should have big career aspirations.”
“I think the fact that I want my career and you want to be a stay-at-home mom
and both of us can do that is a wonderful thing. As for feeling guilty—” she touched Kiley’s hand “—don’t. Isn’t it a blessing that you know what you want and have the freedom to pursue it? Isn’t that the point?”
Kiley thought about her plans for the future—to find another job, to buy a condo, to live her life fully. If a man came along in the next few years, that would be wonderful. If he didn’t, she wasn’t going to give up her dream of being a mother. She would find another way.
Margaret glanced over her shoulder to where Rafiq spoke with Robert and another couple.
“He adores you,” Margaret told her. “I can see it in his eyes.”
“Thank you. I adore him.”
Margaret waited expectantly.
Kiley laughed. “You’re not going to get me to say any more. We’re good friends.
We have fun together. That’s all.” Unfortunately, when the time was up, he would let her go, just as he’d let every other woman go.
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