The Sheikh's Virgin(Desert Rogues, Book 13)(28) by Susan Mallery
He glanced at her. “The king is not interested in what I want.”
“He’s disappointed. I’m sure he sees your decision as a rejection of him and what he has to offer. Gee, the throne of El Deharia isn’t good enough. That kind of thing. But in his heart, he wants you to be happy. You’re his son.”
“Your father isn’t interested in what makes you happy.”
“I know.” Her presence here was proof of that. “But he’s not like other fathers. His heart belongs to the cards, not to any one person. The king loves you.” She touched his arm. “He’ll get over it.”
“You sound very sure.”
“I am. I’ve heard him speak of you. There is so much pride and love in his voice. This will get better.”
He squared his shoulders and faced front. “Thank you.”
She noticed her hand was still on his arm and she pulled it back.
Tension seemed to fill the space. Victoria decided a quick change in subject might help.
“Once you’re in charge, are you going to make any big changes? Bring in a mall? A couple of chain restaurants?”
One corner of his mouth twitched. “I had not planned to.”
“What about the harem? Keeping that open? You could have your own bevy of beauties calling your name.”
“One woman is plenty. Any man who seeks more is a fool.”
“Right,” she whispered, suddenly deflated.
One woman. A wife. Because Kateb would marry someone and have a family.
It made sense. He would want children—probably sons, but maybe daughters, too. It was the circle of life. He probably had to marry to keep his people happy. Good for him. She would be long gone, back in the States, content in her world.
They’d barely been in each other’s company two weeks. It wasn’t as if they were friends or anything. She wouldn’t miss him. It would be foolish to think she would. Or that he would remember her. Once she was gone, it would be over. Forever.
They arrived at the arena. It was larger than Victoria had imagined, tall and open, with dozens of rows of seats circling a surprisingly large space. An awning shaded the front. As she climbed out of the Land Rover, she could hear the roar of an unseen crowd.
“How many people will be here?” she asked.
“Nearly the entire village,” Kateb told her.
He put his hand on the small of her back and guided her through the people milling by the entrance.
Someone jostled her and she nearly lost her footing in her high heels. Kateb reached for her hand and drew her close.
She knew he was only being polite—making sure she didn’t get hurt. But she sort of liked her fingers laced with his. It felt right.
They walked around the inside of the stadium, under the seating. Up ahead she saw large wooden double doors with guards.
“Is that where they keep the lions who rip apart the unruly prisoners?” she asked.
“Only on even days. You’re safe.”
The humor was unexpected. She glanced at him and smiled. He smiled back. Warmth seemed to blossom inside of her, making her feel kind of melty and feminine. If only he would kiss her.
Afraid he would know what she was thinking, she quickly looked away.
“So, um, what happens now?” she asked as they approached the doors.
“Yusra will stay with you through the ceremony. When it’s finished you’ll be escorted back to the palace. I have assigned two guards to you because there is a large crowd. Don’t make a fuss about it.”
She paused in front of the double doors. “A fuss? Me? Have we met? Because I’m very easygoing.”
“Of course you are.”
The double doors opened. She and Kateb walked into a large room filled with thirty or forty people, mostly of them older and male.
The elders, she thought, looking around and feeling a little nervous. Most everyone turned to look her way. Or maybe they were staring at Kateb, she told herself. He was going to be nominated today, not her.
The room itself had food and drinks set up on tables pushed against the wall, and lots of comfortable sofas, not that anyone was sitting. As she watched, a couple of guys started unlocking big doors, then sliding them along the track. The room opened up to the floor of the arena.
Victoria spotted Yusra, who came over.
“Stay with her,” Kateb instructed.
“Where are my guards?” Victoria asked.
“Staying out of the way. When it’s time for you to go back to the palace, they’ll be going with you.”
She stared into his dark eyes, not sure what to say. “Good luck” seemed weird and “Have a nice nomination” was stupid. Before she could settle on something else, he moved away.
“Come,” Yusra said, taking her by the arm and leading her to a sofa on the side. “We will have an excellent view here and stay out of the way.”
Victoria’s instinctive protest was that maybe she wanted to get in the way, but she held it in. The elders had lined up, with Kateb at the rear. Everyone looked solemn, as if this was a great occasion. Then she heard music and the arena went silent.
“It is the procession of the elders,” Yusra whispered. “They will file out and present themselves. The oldest will call for a leader to be nominated.”
“I didn’t know there’d be a band,” Victoria said.
Yusra smiled. “We enjoy music.”
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