The Sheikh and the Virgin Secretary(Desert Rogues, Book 10)(41) by Susan Mallery
Kiley was torn. She’d been raised to respect her elders, and she didn’t want to insult Rafiq’s mother. But she wasn’t willing to be a doormat, either.
“I haven’t had a chance to look at the menu,” she said, picking up one of the leather-bound pages the waiter had left. “What would you recommend?”
“I really don’t care what you eat. You’re not going to answer me?”
“Was there a question?”
“I suppose not.” Carnie glanced toward the bar. “Where is that man with my martini?” She sighed heavily, then turned back to Kiley. “You’re living with him.”
Kiley hadn’t known what to make of the invitation to join Rafiq’s mother for lunch. She’d thought maybe the other woman had wanted to get involved in her son’s life in some way. Obviously not. Either Carnie saw Kiley as a threat, which was flattering but not true, or she resented anyone her son was involved with. Kiley didn’t want to add to her distress, but she refused to be walked on.
“Yes,” Kiley said calmly. “It’s been a couple of weeks now.”
“He doesn’t usually invite his women to stay at his house. Did yours burn down?”
Kiley laughed. “No. I believe it’s still a perfectly sound structure.”
“You do realize this isn’t going anywhere, don’t you? There’s been talk. I may not visit Lucia-Serrat on a regular basis, but I still keep up with the news.
His father is displeased that he hasn’t taken a wife. It’s time for him to marry, and you’re getting in the way of that.”
Kiley didn’t know how much of what she said was true. Rafiq was expected to marry and she wasn’t going to be considered a likely candidate. The topic made her uncomfortable, but she refused to let this woman know that.
“I am in Rafiq’s life because he has asked me to be,” she said carefully. Okay, it was a partial truth. She’d asked to be his mistress and he’d said yes. It was almost the same thing. “As for me being in the way, I’m sorry, but that’s not possible. He is a man who does as he pleases. If he wanted me gone so that he could go find a wife, he would simply ask me to leave.”
“Perhaps he has and you weren’t paying attention.”
Kiley thought of the previous night, when he had made love with her for hours.
She thought of how they had slept, so closely entwined, their hearts had beat in unison.
“Was there anything else?” she asked. “Another topic, perhaps. Because if your sole purpose for asking me to lunch was to try and bully me into leaving your son, then I must leave.”
Carnie’s eyes narrowed. “You can’t just walk out on me,” she snapped. “Who do you think you are?”
“Kiley Hendrick,” she said as she rose. “I wish I could say it had been nice to meet you.”
Kiley returned to the house and phoned Rafiq to tell him she wasn’t coming back to the office that afternoon.
“I’m fine,” she said when he asked why. “I’m just feeling a little tired. I’ll go in early to clear up whatever I missed today.”
“Not necessary,” he said. “Are you sure I don’t need to call a doctor?”
“Positive. I’m fine. I just need a little time.”
“I’ll be home later. Perhaps you should rest.”
Good idea, she thought as she hung up the phone. But after changing out of her designer clothes and into shorts and a T-shirt, she gave in to the call of the ocean and went out onto the beach.
It was midafternoon, midweek. While there were mothers with children, some teenagers and a few surfers scattered on the sand, for the most part, she had the beach to herself. She walked halfway to the water and settled down, digging her toes deep enough to feel the coolness a few inches down.
The sun was high, the afternoon warm, the waves rhythmic. If she closed her eyes she could smell salt and suntan lotion. The cry of seagulls competed with laughter and an oldies rock station on someone’s portable radio.
Her brief encounter with Carnie had carried with it one spark of good news. If she, Kiley, wasn’t marrying Rafiq, then she didn’t have to worry about Carnie as a mother-in-law. Talk about a miserable person. Kiley still wasn’t sure of the point of the meeting. To get rid of her? But how could she be a threat to anyone? Maybe Carnie checked out all Rafiq’s women. She would have to ask.
As she stretched out her legs and stared at the ocean, she wondered what her life would have been like if she hadn’t found out the truth about Eric. How long would it have taken for her to discover he was pretty much a weasel? And then what? She would have left him. No, this way was better. A quick, clean break that turned out to be much less painful than she would have guessed.
And what about when she left Rafiq? How easy would that be?
She found herself not wanting to think about it, which meant she had to force herself to consider the reality. Their affair would end. She could either handle that time gracefully, or she could beg and plead.
Graceful sounded mature, but pleading had its place. She supposed the real question was whether or not she would tell him she loved him. It wasn’t as much about him wanting to know as her not wanting regrets. Years from now would she want to have told him?
“Still time to decide,” she thought.
She closed her eyes and listened to the ocean. The tension eased out of her body as she relaxed. Eventually she leaned back in the sand and let the minutes drift by.
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