The Sheikh's Virgin(Desert Rogues, Book 13)(4) by Susan Mallery
“A pity about his engagement.”
“He seems very happy.”
“But you are not. All your plans…crushed.”
Her spine stiffened. She stared him in the eye. “That has nothing to do with my father.”
“Are you so sure? Perhaps you are eager to try to win me instead. What an excellent opportunity this must be for you. To present yourself dressed as you are? To beg?”
She folded her arms across her chest. “I’m dressed like this because your guards wouldn’t let me put on regular clothes.”
“And this is how you sleep each night? I think not.”
“Then you need to go check my closet.” Anger added force to her voice. “You think I’m trying to seduce you? That when I woke up and saw five guards standing around my bed I thought it was my lucky day? Oh, goody. Now I get a shot at Prince Kateb? And then they stood there while I flipped through my wardrobe and found something appropriate?”
She dropped her arms to her side. “No, wait. I know. I actually dress like this every night hoping my father, whom I haven’t seen in years, happens to come by where he gets in a card game with you so he can cheat and then you send for me. Thank goodness all my plans are finally working out.”
She had a point, he thought grudgingly. Not that he would admit that to her. And she had spirit, which appealed to him nearly as much as her body.
“Do you deny you wished to marry Nadim?” he demanded.
The fight seemed to go out of her. “I wouldn’t have said no,” she admitted, staring at the floor. “But it’s not what you think. It was about security. Princes don’t get divorced. At least not here.”
“But you have no feelings for him.”
“He’s very nice.”
She raised her head and glared at him. “What do you want from me? Am I to be punished because I fantasized about marrying a prince? Fine. Do what you want. You have all the power here. Right now I’m more concerned about my father.”
“Because he’s my father.”
“That isn’t the reason. I saw how you looked at him. You resent him for putting you in this position. You are angry with him.”
“He’s still my father.”
Kateb allowed the silence to weigh on her. She stood her ground, meeting his gaze, not speaking. Whatever else there was, she would not tell him. Interesting.
“Will you take his place?” he asked softly.
She swallowed. He could smell her fear.
“Life there is harsh. Unpleasant.”
“I made a promise.”
The words seemed forced out of her. He knew he had won something important but couldn’t say what.
A promise. What did a woman like her know about promises?
He stared into her eyes and saw a lifetime of weariness there. Her soul was old beyond her years. Or was he simply looking for a reason because that appealed to him more than the reality of a mercenary woman taking advantage of the situation?
If only Cantara were here, with him. She would know the truth. But if she were still here, he would not be in this situation. He would not need a night of cards to fill his hours. He would not have to face the darkness that surrounded him. The emptiness.
“Your father attempted to steal from me,” Kateb said coldly. “Had I not caught him cheating, he would have left this place with several hundred thousand dollars.”
Victoria’s breath caught.
“He cheated in the royal palace, with guards in the room. Now that there are consequences, he is content to let you take his place in prison.”
What kind of father did that? Why wasn’t the man willing to be responsible? Why was she enabling his cowardice?
He wanted to teach them both a lesson. The obvious solution was to put Dean McCallan in jail.
“Return to your room,” he told her. “You will be notified when he is sentenced. You will be able to visit with him before he begins serving his time, but not after. There are—”
“No!” She grabbed his arm with both hands. “No. You can’t. Please. I’ll do anything.” Tears filled her eyes. “My mother made me promise I would take care of him. That I wouldn’t let anything bad happen to him. She died loving him. Please, I beg you. Don’t lock him away. Take me instead. He offered me in the game. Did you tell him no or did you accept? Was I in play? Did you win me?”
Kateb narrowed his gaze. “I knew he didn’t mean it.”
“You’ve spoken with him. You know he did. You took the bet. You played the hand. You won me. So take me instead.”
Victoria drew herself up to her full height. “As whatever you want.”
Victoria sensed Kateb’s impatience with both her and the situation. She knew she was running out of options. Desperate times and all that, she thought grimly, then shrugged out of her robe.
The silk fell to the stone floor and puddled at her feet. Kateb’s gaze never left her face.
“Perhaps you’re not as tempting as you think,” he said coolly.
“Perhaps not, but I have to try.”
“You are offering yourself? For a night? Do you really think that could repay your father’s transgressions?”
“I only have myself to offer.” She felt cold and thought she might throw up. “You won’t take my money and I have no other skills you’d appreciate. I doubt my computer skills are of much use to you in the desert.” Her throat tightened and she fought fear. “It doesn’t have to be for a night.”
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