The Sheikh and the Virgin Secretary(Desert Rogues, Book 10)(50) by Susan Mallery
Kiley concentrated on her breathing and did her best not to throw up. Telling herself she shouldn’t worry, that this was exactly like the big fund-raiser she’d attended with Rafiq only a month ago, was a big fat lie. It wasn’t the same at all. Then she’d been one of a hundred guests. Today she was one of two guests of honor, as the party was to celebrate her official engagement to Rafiq.
There was too much to think about. What she was supposed to say when she greeted people. How could she remember the words to the national anthem of Lucia-Serrat? Or to make sure to keep smiling because everyone would be watching? She also had to worry about what she was going to wear for her official portrait, and the wedding planner, who was arriving in a matter of days, and the fact that they were leaving Fari alone for the whole evening and who knew what trouble she would get into.
“I should stay here with the puppy,” she said.
Rafiq stepped out of the bathroom. He wore a tailored tuxedo and looked so handsome, he took her breath away. He crossed to her, took her hands in his and kissed her fingers.
“I’m afraid I can’t allow that. People would not understand why my fiancée wasn’t at my side. It would cause a scandal.”
“You will do well,” he told her.
“Do you promise?”
If only she could be as sure. “You’re used to this sort of thing. For me it’s all very nerve-racking. I think I need to lie down.”
He chuckled and pulled her close. “You make me very happy.”
“You say that now, but after I say something inappropriate you’re going to be giving me a stern talking-to.”
“Relax, Kiley. There is nothing to worry about.”
She drew in a breath, then released it. Staring up into his dark eyes she said, “You know I’m only doing this for you, right? You believe that I have no interest in the actual princess thing.”
“You’ve made that very clear.”
“And you know that I love you.”
His smile never wavered. “I know you give with your whole heart and that you mean what you say with all that you are.”
Some of her tension eased away. “Okay. Good. Sometimes I worry that you can’t really bring yourself to trust me or anyone.” She shrugged. “I talked to Phoebe a little about your father. I think he wants to improve the relationship he has with you.”
Rafiq released her instantly. “Did she say that? Did you listen and agree to discuss this with me?”
“No. It wasn’t like that. I didn’t take her side. Actually, I didn’t say much of anything. But I couldn’t stop thinking about what she said, and it makes me sad that the two of you aren’t close. He’s your father, your family. We’ll be moving back to Lucia-Serrat in a few years and you’re going to be working with him.
Wouldn’t that be easier if you got along?”
Rafiq turned his back to her. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I don’t know the details, but I understand the circumstances. He was wrong.
Very wrong, but he was also young. Just seventeen. How smart were you at that age?”
“Do not involve yourself in things that are not your concern,” he said, his voice a low growl.
“This is my concern because I love you. I hate to see you hurt by this.”
He spun to face her. “I am not hurt. None of this touches me. You are wrong if you think I mourn a relationship we never had.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Then you are a fool. We will not speak of this any longer.”
He stated the command as if he fully expected her obedience. He had never been angry with her, and while she didn’t like it, she wasn’t going to let him dictate to her.
“You don’t get to decide that,” she said softly.
His gaze narrowed. “What did you say?”
“You don’t get to say what we will or will not talk about. That’s a joint decision and I think this is an important conversation.”
“Then it is one you will have with yourself because we will not speak of it again.”
He turned to leave, but before he got more than halfway across the room, Sana appeared.
“The car is here,” she said, “and your parents are waiting.”
Rafiq nodded his thanks, then turned to Kiley. “Are you ready?”
Just like that? They weren’t going to finish their conversation?
She collected her purse and followed him through the house. A part of her wanted to insist they continue talking, but she knew this wasn’t the time. Not with his parents waiting and an official state party to attend. But it made her uncomfortable to have unfinished business with him.
The drive to the hotel was uncomfortable for her, mostly because she was aware of how much Rafiq wasn’t speaking. But Phoebe and Prince Nasri chatted and Kiley did her best to relax.
When they arrived, she was unprepared for the number of photographers lined up outside of the hotel. There had to be close to a hundred. Panic seized her, making it impossible to breathe.
“We’ll wait for the bodyguards,” Prince Nasri said.
Phoebe shook her head. “I don’t understand the fascination. On a day-to-day basis, my life is very normal.”
Kiley gave a strangled laugh. Normal? Phoebe was a princess. They were royalty.
And she was so not ready to be a part of that.
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