The Sheikh's Virgin(Desert Rogues, Book 13)(16) by Susan Mallery
“Then you’re not doing a very good job.”
“Apparently not.” He picked up the second glass of wine and carried it over to her. “I have never had a mistress before, so I don’t have any set expectations.”
She took the wine without looking at him. “You have a harem.”
“It came with the property.”
“Sort of like a three-car garage when you only have two cars?”
“Something like that.” He returned to the table and sank onto several of the cushions. “I am tired as well, Victoria. I will not seek your company in my bed tonight.”
Another reprieve, she thought. But for how long? “What will you expect when you do?”
“There is more to being a mistress than simply sex. You are to provide me with companionship, to be entertaining.”
“Like a trained bear?” She narrowed her gaze. “I don’t know how to juggle, and if you’re expecting one of the veil dances, you can forget it.”
He sighed. “It is possible you’re not true mistress material.”
One corner of his mouth twitched. “Perhaps we will begin with you serving me dinner.”
She stayed where she was. “Are we talking about me putting food on your plate or stuffing it directly into your mouth?”
“On my plate is sufficient.”
“And no sex tonight. You swear?”
“You have my word as Prince Kateb of El Deharia.”
She wanted to press for more, but giving his word was a big deal for the royal set. “We’ll discuss the details later?”
“We will have full disclosure before anything happens.”
“Which is not the same as agreeing to a talk after dinner.”
“You just want the last word,” she grumbled as she approached the table. “It’s just so typical.”
She set her wineglass on the table and crossed to the cart. She removed the domed lids and found sliced roast, some kind of fancy potato dish she’d had at the palace and knew was delicious and made her hips spread just by looking at it, salad and vegetables.
She glanced over her shoulder. “Very Western. Do you always eat like this?”
“I enjoy a variety of food.”
Did he enjoy a variety of women?
The question surprised her, although she didn’t ask it. Maybe she didn’t want to know. Under other circumstances she would have liked Kateb. Maybe too much.
She dished up the meal and passed him a plate, then took a much smaller serving for herself. She was still nervous enough that she wasn’t sure how much she could eat.
Dining on cushions looked more romantic than it was, she thought as she tried to find a comfortable position. Kateb sprawled with a masculine grace that she found annoying, while she couldn’t figure out how to sit comfortably in the stupid dress.
She managed to prop herself up and reached for her fork. “So you’ve never had a mistress, but have you had other women in the harem?”
“Not personally. Bahjat had about fifteen women.” He smiled. “As they aged, he did not replace them. Perhaps out of affection or because it was not worth the effort. Regardless of the reason, by the time he was in his seventies, they were only a few years younger.”
She laughed despite her tensions. “Geriatric harem girls? Seriously?”
“Yes. It could be startling when one came to dinner and was served by scantily clad women in their sixties.”
“I can’t even imagine.” She speared a few green beans on her fork. “Will I be expected to serve at dinners?”
She nearly pointed out she’d already worked as a waitress so there wasn’t a big difference. Then she remembered what she was doing here. Did she really want to serve a roomful of men wearing what she had on?
“So what are the rules as far as where I can go?” she asked. “Is the palace okay? The grounds? The village? What am I supposed to do with my day? I’m used to working. Sex can only take so long. Six minutes. Eight, tops. That leaves a lot of free time.”
Kateb looked at Victoria, who was blithely eating her dinner. “You insult me so freely?”
“What?” Her eyes widened and she looked genuinely confused. “Oh, you mean the time thing? I wasn’t trying to be insulting.”
“I’m sure the outcome will be impressive when you do.”
She picked up her wine. “I’m sure it will take hours, but afterward, I still have a day to fill.”
He found he enjoyed her company, when she forgot to be afraid. She reminded him a little of Cantara, who had known him most of her life. But with his late wife, there was always an element of separation. She was aware of him as the man in the relationship, of him as a prince. They would never be equals. Victoria had been raised in the West, where women and men were supposed to be more alike than they were different.
“You may go anywhere in the palace or the village. No one will bother you. But you are not to travel past the beginning of the fields.”
“How will you know if I do?” she asked. “Will I be guarded? Have a collar with a bell?”
“If you leave the safety of the village, you will die,” he said simply, knowing it to be true. “You will get lost and perish. That is your best hope. Otherwise you will be found by a raiding party. You would not enjoy their treatment.”
She dropped her fork back to her plate and shivered. “Point taken,” she murmured. “I’ve heard about raiding parties. Do they attack the village?”
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