The Sheikh's Virgin(Desert Rogues, Book 13)(32) by Susan Mallery
“You look very beautiful.”
“Are you sure it’s okay? I feel weird in pants.” She crossed to a mirror. “I don’t know.”
“Perhaps this will help.” He walked toward her. “Though they are only on loan.”
“What are we talking about?”
He pulled a pair of sapphire earrings out of his jacket pocket. She stared at them. The large stones glinted in the light.
“Are those, um, real?”
“The diamonds around them, too?”
She looked at him, then back at the earrings resting on his palm before tucking her hands behind her back. “I don’t think so. They’re probably eight or nine carats each. If I lose them, I’d have to wash a lot of dishes to pay you back. I don’t need the pressure.”
She was refusing them? He would have assumed she would jump at the chance to wear such jewelry.
“I am Prince Kateb of El Deharia.”
“I’ve heard that.”
“You’re my mistress.”
“There is a rumor that says that, too.”
“Are you trying to be difficult?”
She smiled at him and stepped away. “I appreciate the thought, but I don’t need to borrow your jewelry.”
“It’s not exactly mine.”
She laughed. “I don’t think you wear it at night when you’re alone, but you know what I mean. What I have is fine.”
Suddenly he needed to see her in those jewels. “Victoria, I am telling you to wear the earrings.”
“And I’m telling you no.” She picked up a simple pair of gold hoops.
“Because they are borrowed? If they were a gift, would you wear them?” Was this a way to get something out of him? Another game?
“No, and it’s pretty mean of you to even think that. I would worry. I don’t need the stress.”
“I also have a tiara for you.” He pulled it out of his other pocket.
Her eyes widened. “A tiara? Like a princess? I used to have a paper one when I was little. My mom made it for me and glued on glitter. I wore it until it practically disintegrated.” Once again she tucked her hands behind her back. “I really couldn’t…”
But there was a question in her voice. And longing.
The longing seemed genuine, as did the sadness in her expression.
“At least try it on,” he said.
Her breath caught. She reached for it, then gently picked it up, turned back to the mirror and put it on her head.
The diamonds sparkled in her blond hair. She smiled, looking beautiful and regal.
“This is worth having to wash dishes for the rest of my life,” she whispered, then met his gaze in the mirror. “Thank you.”
“And the earrings?”
He shook his head. “You are a very confusing woman.”
“I know. Doesn’t that just make you want to give me a hug?” She laughed. “Okay. I’m ready. Let’s go celebrate you getting nominated.”
Kateb stared at her as if she were crazy. Maybe she was, Victoria thought, knowing he would never believe that the earrings, while dazzling, weren’t that big a deal to her. She wasn’t sure how she felt about borrowing them for the night. But a tiara was different. It made her feel like a princess and for reasons she couldn’t explain, connected her with her mother.
“As you wish,” he said, and held out his arm.
She tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow. They left the harem and walked toward the great hall.
“They’ve been preparing all week,” she said. “I’ve been getting in their way, watching them set up. They talked endlessly about the tables. First they tried a big square, but there wasn’t enough room. Then they tried rows of tables. In case you were wondering, the palace has a lot of tables. I suggested round tables with one long head table. But I’m merely a woman, so they pretended not to hear me. When I went back later in the afternoon, that’s what they’d done.”
“So you’re feeling smug about that.”
She laughed. “You have no idea. Want to hear about the menu?”
Instead of answering, Kateb stared at her. “You are most unexpected.”
Her insides clenched—the air was suddenly very warm. She felt both happy and shy. “Thank you.”
It was their last moment alone. As they turned the corner, she saw dozens of people standing around, talking. Everyone grew quiet as Kateb approached, then they broke into applause. Not sure she belonged in such a special moment, Victoria stepped to the side and clapped her hands as well. Kateb glanced back at her, but didn’t slow. She joined the people walking into the great hall behind him.
The elders stood in something resembling a reception line. Kateb went first, greeting them. They each embraced him, obviously pleased with their choice. Victoria wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do. She knew she would be seated next to Kateb at the main table, but until that happened, she thought it might be best to stay in the background.
Then she was surrounded and urged forward by the crowd. Before she could get out of the way, she was standing next to the first of the elders, Zayd.
He was old and very small, bent, but with bright, wise eyes. “So you are Kateb’s mistress.”
Victoria didn’t know what to say, so she smiled and hoped it would be enough.
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