The Sheikh and the Virgin Secretary(Desert Rogues, Book 10)(57) by Susan Mallery
Man and dog stared at each other. Fari twisted her head and licked his arm as she waited for him to pull her to safety. It never occurred to her he wouldn’t.
He could drop her and she would fall nearly twenty feet. She could be injured or killed and it never crossed her tiny puppy mind.
It was because she didn’t know better, he told himself, even as he acknowledged her instinctive faith in him. She had never fallen before and he had never rescued her, but it didn’t occur to her that he wouldn’t.
He pulled her up to safety and set her on his lap.
“Just as well,” he muttered to the dog. “Kiley adores you. She wouldn’t want anything to happen to you.”
He thought about how she fussed over the dog, talking to her, playing with her, caring for her. How much more would she love their child? How much more would she care and fuss and worry?
There were so many people in her life and yet she managed to love them all. How big was her heart? Big enough to hold him?
He set Fari down and she scampered out of the room, yipping for Kiley as she went. He stood and faced the same doorway. A single step of faith. That was all she wanted from him.
In his past were too many people who had let down a child desperately in need of affection. In his future…who could say? But he knew what was offered.
He walked after Fari, following the sound of her barking. But instead of settling in one place, she circled through the rooms, her barks growing more frantic as she was unable to find Kiley.
Rafiq searched, as well. He collected the little dog and did his best to reassure her, but she wasn’t comforted. When he couldn’t find Kiley anywhere, neither was he.
She was gone along with Phoebe and his father. Had they taken her away? Was she even now being whisked to a location he would never find?
“Kiley!” he yelled as he hurried toward the garage and jerked open the door. Her car was still there, but what did that symbolize? She’d never been overly impressed by what his money could buy.
He raced to their bedroom and threw open the closet doors. All her clothes were still there. He stopped and breathed in the scent of her perfume. If her clothes were still here, then—
The front door slammed. He ran toward the sound, then came to a stop when he saw her walking through the living room.
“Where have you been?” he asked more harshly than he would have liked.
“Watering the plants on the front porch. They were looking a little dry. Your parents have gone out to a movie. Your father said it’s been years since he’s been in a real movie theater. He’s looking forward to the popcorn.”
She smiled as she spoke, but her eyes were still sad. He wanted to go to her and offer comfort, but he was the problem.
Fari squirmed. He set her down and she raced over to Kiley who picked her up.
“What have you been getting yourself into?” Kiley asked. “Something bad. I can tell.”
“You didn’t leave.”
Kiley looked at him. “What?”
“I thought you’d left. I couldn’t find you and I thought…”
She sighed heavily. “I wish I could crawl into your brain and do a little work there. I’m not leaving. I don’t know how many times I have to tell you that. I’m angry. I think you’re a clueless jerk, but I’m not going anywhere.”
She cuddled the dog as she looked at him. “I think you love me and that’s what keeps me hanging on. I think somewhere deep in the cloudy brain of yours is a seed of faith, and I’m going to figure out how to get to it.”
“Are you going to marry me?”
“Eventually. When you stop being stupid.”
He narrowed his gaze. “You toss your insults around very freely.”
She actually smiled. “So what are you going to do about it? Punish me? I’m the mother of your child and the woman you want to marry. You’re going to fall all over yourself to treat me with reverence and respect. You’re going to cater to my every wish, even the silly ones.” Her smile faded. “So I’m not scared of you and I’m not leaving. Somehow we’re going to become a family.”
“But you won’t marry me.”
She stared at him. “Earth to Rafiq. Could we get some new material here?”
“So you’re willing to give up being my wife and a princess. You’ll have my child outside of marriage, return to Lucia-Serrat with me and live in the palace as the mother of my child, but you won’t be my wife.”
She considered for a moment, then nodded. “That about sums it up.”
She spoke the truth. He could feel it in her words and the steadiness of her gaze. Not once in all the time he’d known her had she ever lied. She’d never even stretched the truth. She acted with integrity and honored her commitments.
He moved closer but didn’t touch her. “I learned to write very early,” he told her. “My tutors marveled at my ability to grasp the concept. What they didn’t know is that I had been waiting since I realized what writing was. I knew that if I could get a letter to my mother, if I could explain that I was alone, that I loved and needed her, she would come and be with me.”
Kiley felt her heart crumble. As Rafiq spoke, she pictured the lonely little boy, abandoned by his parents, growing up in the company of the palace staff.
Somehow this proud, strong man had survived, had thrived.
“What happened?” she asked, already suspecting the answer.
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