The Sheikh and the Virgin Secretary(Desert Rogues, Book 10)(43) by Susan Mallery
He walked into the large, airy condo. The windows faced north, giving him a view of west Los Angeles, Brentwood and Hollywood in the distance.
She sat down and picked up a tumbler filled with clear liquid and ice. “Would you like something to drink?”
“No, thank you.”
He crossed the pale carpeting and sat across from the woman who had given birth to him. From the time he could remember until he graduated from university in England, he’d seen her fewer than a half-dozen times. Once he’d grown and, as she had put it on his twenty-third birthday when she’d thrown a party for him, gotten interesting, she wanted to be a part of his life.
By then it had been too late for him. He was willing to treat her with some measure of respect—she was his mother—but that was all.
He suspected she used her connection to him when it was convenient, although that came with a price. To claim to be the mother of a prince meant admitting her age—something he knew she hated to do.
She was attractive, he acknowledged. Doctors had worked their magic to keep her skin tight and unlined. She dressed well, could converse on many subjects and knew the value of any antique, piece of jewelry or fine art. In many ways, she reminded him of a snake: cold-blooded, keeping to the shadows and intent only on survival.
“It’s about the girl, isn’t it?” Carnie said with a sigh. “I knew right away she was going to be tiresome.”
“Leave her alone,” Rafiq said. “You are to have no further contact with her. I don’t know what game you’re playing but I won’t be a part of it.”
His mother sipped her drink. She wore a pale shirt tucked into tailored slacks.
Her small feet were bare, her toes painted. She was the epitome of at-home elegance.
“My, my. I don’t recall you being so protective about one of your women before,”
she said with a smile. “How touching.” She set down her drink. “But honestly, Rafiq, is she all that different? At night, when you reach for her, couldn’t she be one of a hundred different bodies?”
“I meant what I said. Leave her alone.”
“Are you threatening me?”
His mother seemed unfazed by the statement, but he suspected it was posturing on her part. They both knew there was damage to be done. Should it come out that she had been snubbed by her own son, invitations would not flow so freely. The rich and famous would be less inclined to frequent her exclusive gallery.
“Interesting.” His mother gazed at him. “And this one matters why?”
“I’m not going to discuss that with you.”
“Of course not. You wouldn’t want to risk me offering advice. What if it made sense? You couldn’t possibly take it, because it came from me, and then where would you be?”
“I’m not a child who feels the need to rebel against you,” he told her.
“That’s true. You’re a man. A prince. Your father’s heir. Are you aware that Kiley is in love with you?”
The question slammed into him with the subtlety of a California earthquake. He felt the floor shift, shake, then settle back into place.
In love with him? Kiley? It wasn’t possible. She could not be.
“Unlikely,” he said, keeping his turmoil safely inside.
His mother laughed. “Oh, my dear. You may be all grown-up but you’re still a man and blind where women are concerned. Of course she’s in love with you. What did you expect? She’s your secretary.” She paused and nodded slowly. “Yes, I know that. I know more than you think. I know that before you, she was engaged and he was quite the jerk. So she came to you, all sad and broken and you offered to fix her. How kind.”
That wasn’t what had happened, but he wasn’t about to correct her.
“Did you honestly think she was like your other women?” Carnie asked mockingly.
“Did you think she would understand the rules and play by them? If so, you were mistaken. She’s the kind of woman who leads with her heart, the poor fool. I’m sure she’s saying all the right things, but trust me, she is desperately in love with you.”
He didn’t want to know that. Part of him started to dismiss his mother’s words out of hand. Kiley had known him for a long time. She’d seen the other women in his life, was clear on how the process worked. She wouldn’t break the rules.
And yet…He couldn’t ignore what Carnie said simply because he didn’t like the messenger.
“What happens when you walk away?” his mother asked. “For you, she is simply one more conquest, but for her you are her prince. I mean that in the literal sense as well as the figurative. I can’t blame her and you shouldn’t, either. Look at her life, Rafiq. Look at what you have shown her, done with her. How could she resist? It’s not her fault. But it’s very sad. Imagine how her life will be when you tire of her. Who will pick up the pieces of her shattered heart then?”
He didn’t believe in love, not for himself. He couldn’t imagine ever trusting that much. But he knew it existed. He’d seen tiny lights in the darkness, places where people truly gave all they had for another. He’d seen signs of love at Kiley’s family’s house. In the laughter, the hugs, the memories.
“What is your point?” he asked his mother.
“I just wanted to warn you that you were treading on dangerous territory with Kiley. She’s such a sweet girl.”
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