The Sheikh's Virgin(Desert Rogues, Book 13)(11) by Susan Mallery
He didn’t bother looking at her. “You think so?”
“You’re not going to leave me out here to die.”
“Do you want to test your certainty?”
He smiled then. A real lip-moving kind of smile. His eyes crinkled at the corners, his expression relaxed. His face was transformed from unreadable and stern to approachable and handsome.
Somewhere deep inside, her stomach tightened, but this time it had nothing to do with fear or apprehension and everything to do with the man. She felt a little tingly and light-headed. Those reactions were quickly followed by a different kind of panic.
No, no, no, she told herself. There was no way she could be attracted to Kateb. None at all. Talk about the danger zone. She knew better than to give her heart to a man. That road led only to ruin. And falling for a sheik who was going to toss her aside in six months was a whole new level of stupid.
She drew in a breath. She had to get a grip. Finding Kateb attractive didn’t mean anything. It was biology. Okay—there’d been a tingle, but a tingle was a long way from love. She was completely safe. All it meant was that when he finally wanted her in his bed, the experience might not be icky. That was a good thing.
“What?” Kateb demanded. “Are you sick?”
“You look odd.”
Which was probably prince-speak for “you have a strange look on your face.” At least that was her assumption. Not that she was going to answer the implied question of “what were you thinking?”
Diversion seemed like a good idea. “How long have you lived in the desert?”
“Since I graduated from university.”
“Why the desert?”
“When I was ten, my brothers and I spent the summer in the desert. It is a traditional for the king’s sons to learn the ways of the nomads. I had always found the palace and rules constricting. For me, being in the desert was like coming home. I came back every summer, living with different tribes. One year I lived in the village and knew that was to be my home.”
“You didn’t want to spend all your time visiting Paris and dating supermodels?”
“I have been to Paris. It is a beautiful city. Just not for me.”
“And the supermodels?”
He didn’t bother answering.
The sun was hot, but not oppressive. Victoria adjusted her hat and was grateful she’d used her five minutes to slather on sunscreen.
“What do you do in the village? I can’t see you selling used camels.”
“I am working with the elders and business owners to develop a more stable financial infrastructure. There is plenty of capital flowing through the area, but no one is capturing it and using it effectively.”
“Let me guess,” she said. “You have a degree in finance.”
He changed tactics. “How did you come to work for Nadim?”
“He was in Dallas for several weeks. His assistant had a medical emergency and had to fly back to El Deharia. I’d worked with his assistant and apparently got a good review. Nadim asked that I be assigned to him and when he went back, he offered me a job.”
“Was it love at first sight for you?”
While there wasn’t exactly a sneer in the question, there was definite tone.
“I never claimed to love him,” she said primly.
“Does that make it better or worse?”
“I did my job well. Nadim had no complaints about my performance. As to the rest, arranged marriages are still a tradition in this part of the world. I was just trying to arrange my own.”
“So you could be rich.”
He still didn’t get it.
“It’s not about money.”
“So you have said.” He sounded as if he didn’t believe her.
She looked out over the desert. She couldn’t see anything resembling a village, but she wished they would get there quickly. Suddenly riding with Kateb wasn’t that much fun anymore.
Annoyance bubbled inside of her until it spilled out. “You haven’t got a clue,” she told him. “You can’t know. You grew up a prince, in privilege. You never worried about having enough to eat. You don’t know what it’s like to see your mom crying because there’s no food for dinner because your dad took all the money. He would do that—come in and take every cent she had. Sometimes he would sell stuff, like our TV. One time he sold her car and she had to walk to work for nearly a year while she saved enough to get a down payment for a new one.”
Victoria drew in a breath. “I was poor. Dirt poor. My clothes came from the church ladies who brought them by. While I appreciate their intentions, it was humiliating to be given clothes their daughters had already worn at school. To have to walk into class the next day and listen to the laughter and whispers. You’ve never had to stand in a different line at lunch because your food was paid for by the state and everyone knew. You don’t understand what it’s like to be a charity case.”
She hadn’t been paying attention so she hadn’t noticed how big the past had grown until it overwhelmed her. The need to get away made her kick her horse, then lean forward in the saddle as the gelding raced toward the horizon.
Kateb watched her go. She was riding in the correct direction so he didn’t worry about her getting lost. If she gave her horse his head, he would find his way back to the stable.
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