The Sheikh's Virgin(Desert Rogues, Book 13)(27) by Susan Mallery
“You are not expected to wear that to the nominating ceremony,” he said, thinking no one would pay attention to the elders if she did. “Regular clothes are fine. In fact you don’t have to attend at all.”
“I thought it might be interesting. I’ve never been to one. But if you don’t want me there, that’s fine. I heard the camel is in and I’m hoping he brought my new issue of People magazine.”
There was something about the way she spoke, as if she were protecting herself from something. “Do you want to attend?” he asked.
She sighed. “Look, I’m lonely, okay? No one talks to me but you and Yusra. I know Rasha and she’s really nice, but she has a job. I’m working on the business plan, which is harder to do in real life than in a college class, and I’m making great progress, but that only fills eight or ten hours a day. I have nothing to do. Everything is done for me. It’s boring.”
“I thought you wanted a life of leisure.”
“Do not go there again,” she said, and put her hands on her hips.
The action wasn’t the least bit intimidating. Not only because she was more kitten than tiger, but because it would be difficult to take anyone seriously in that costume.
“I wanted security, not days of lying around eating bonbons. I’ve worked my whole life. I’m used to doing things. Seeing people. I need to be useful.”
She raised her chin as she spoke, as if daring him to dismiss her words.
“What would you like to do?” he asked instead.
“Well, it depends. Assuming I’m not pregnant, I’ll be gone in a couple of weeks. Getting the proposal together for Rasha should be enough. But if I have to stay here longer, I was thinking about maybe trying to catalogue the art in the palace. There are plenty of books in the library to help and we could call in an expert if I got stuck.”
She continued to surprise him. Perhaps a case could be made that was a good thing. “We will discuss it when the time comes,” he told her. “Now if you wish to attend the ceremony, you will need to change.”
She glanced down at herself and smiled. “Only if you’re sure.”
He would prefer her in nothing, but that wasn’t possible. He’d vowed he would not take her again. But right now, the reasons for that promise didn’t seem at all clear.
“Go change,” he told her. “You have an hour. If you are late…”
She’d already started for the door. “I know, I know. Insert royal threat here. I’ll be ready.”
She waved and was gone, so she wasn’t in the room to see him smile.
Victoria scanned her wardrobe, not sure what was appropriate for a formal ceremony. She went with a simple dress that was very classically elegant. Pale blue fabric, wide belt, boat neck, matching heels that had taken her weeks to find and a white leather clutch.
She put her hair up, added nearly real pearl earrings and a thin gold chain bracelet. She walked into the foyer of the palace with five minutes to spare.
Kateb stood talking to several old men. The elders, she would guess. He looked good—very princelike, despite his simple clothes. It didn’t seem to matter what he was doing—he always appeared royal. Was it in the blood or the result of years of training?
She studied his profile. The side with the scar was to her, but the slight twisting of his face no longer bothered her. The scar was a part of him, a reminder of a difficult time. Nothing more.
She waited off to the side, watching him. She hadn’t meant to admit she was lonely—the words had just slipped out. Yusra was friendly enough, but even she kept her distance. There was no one to just hang with and the person Victoria knew best—namely Kateb—had made it clear he didn’t think much of her. It did not make for a fun day.
Nearly as bad was that she wanted to be with him again. Be with in a man-woman kind of way. She wanted to kiss him and touch him and make love until they were both breathless. Not that he was interested. Irrational blame seemed to be even more effective than a cold shower.
He looked up and saw her, then gestured her over.
“Very nice,” he murmured as she approached. “And no one can see your butt.”
He introduced her to the other men. Their names blurred. Then they were all walking out to the front of the palace where several Land Rovers were parked.
“We’re driving somewhere?” she asked as Kateb held open the rear door for her. A man was already behind the wheel.
“It isn’t far. The nominating ceremony takes place in the arena.”
Who knew? “What kind of arena? Big sports facility where they hold trade shows or more stone and Rome Colosseum?”
He sat next to her and closed the door. “The latter.”
“I can’t wait to see it.”
The Land Rover began to move through the village. There were very few people on the street. Those who were waved at the vehicle. A few tossed flowers toward the hood.
“So you’re going to be nominated,” she said. “Does the king know?”
“I spoke to my father this morning. He is not happy.”
Not a surprise, she thought. Kateb was in line for the El Deharian throne. If he accepted the nomination, he would be abdicating his inheritance, in essence turning his back on his heritage. It wasn’t something to be done lightly.
“Did you explain this is what you really wanted?” she asked.
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