The Sheikh's Virgin(Desert Rogues, Book 13)(33) by Susan Mallery
“He needs someone to make him happy. Are you up to the task?”
“I’ll do my best,” she murmured, thinking that Kateb was actually only interested in counting down the days until he could find out if she was pregnant or not. It wasn’t as if he sought out her company or wanted her in his bed.
“You need to do more than that,” the elder told her. “You must claim him with enthusiasm and energy. That’s what a man wants.”
“You make him sound like the last chip on a nacho plate,” she said without thinking. “And Kateb’s more of a man who does the claiming rather than the other way around.”
It was one of those horrifying party moments when the entire room goes silent at exactly the wrong time. Her words echoed in the great hall.
Where was a natural disaster when you needed one? she thought grimly. The old man stared at her for a long time. She couldn’t look away, couldn’t move and she had no idea where Kateb was or if he’d heard. The way her luck was going, he was standing next to her, ready to snatch back the tiara and lock her up in the harem.
Then the old man began to laugh. He put his hands on his belly and laughed and laughed until tears streamed from his eyes. Conversation around them resumed.
“I’ve heard of nachos,” he said. “Very good. Yes, you’ll do.” He waved her on.
Victoria quickly made her way through the rest of the line, careful to only smile and not say anything. Kateb was waiting for her when she finished.
When she glanced at him, he raised one eyebrow. Great. Just great.
“You heard,” she said.
“It seemed an unusual thing to say.”
“You had to be there for the entire conversation.”
He put his hand on the small of her back and guided her toward the head table.
“Are you mad?”
“No. I’ve been compared to nachos. My life is complete.”
She smiled. “You’re funny. It’s kind of strange, but I like it.”
He held out her chair. As she sat she realized his humor wasn’t the only thing she liked about him. She liked that he listened and that, except when it came to assuming the worst about her, that he was fair. He would be a good leader. She liked…him. As a man and maybe even a friend. She respected him.
Which was fine. Better that they get along rather than not. Eventually she would leave and it would be nice to have good memories of their time together.
The dinner progressed smoothly. Kateb endured the elders speaking about him in glowing terms. Their stories were to reinforce their decision but took simple events and expanded them.
“Is there a story about how you slayed the village dragon?” Victoria asked quietly as she leaned toward him. “Or rescued fifteen orphans from a burning building while inventing the Internet at the same time?”
“Later,” he told her, enjoying the scent of her skin.
“I like a big finish.”
“Then you’ll enjoy the dancing girls.”
She stared at him. “Seriously? I love dancing girls. I’ve seen them in the city. Well, I was standing in the back of the room, so there wasn’t much detail, but it was very cool. I could never be that graceful.”
“You’re not insulted?” he asked, surprised by her reaction. “You don’t think it’s barbaric or demeaning?”
“Why would I be insulted? They go through years of training and it’s beautiful to watch. Like ballet, but with sheer pants and veils and different music.”
Music filled the large hall. Conversation quieted as several young women walked out in front of the head table. True to her word, Victoria stared intently, as if mesmerized by the entertainment. When the women began to move, she smiled and swayed in her seat.
He did his best to pay attention to the entertainment, but couldn’t seem to avoid glancing at the woman next to him. The heat of her body invaded him and no matter how the dancers moved and tried to catch his eye, he could not be interested in anyone but her.
He reminded himself that she might be pregnant and in getting pregnant, she might have tied herself to him forever. He repeated that he couldn’t trust her—that she had come to El Deharia for the express purpose of marrying Nadim, and if not him, then someone else with money. He should be angry and not trust her in the least.
But all the words in the world couldn’t keep him from remembering what it had been like to make love with her that lone night. The need to touch her again, to please her and be pleased, to hear her breathing catch and feel her soft skin overwhelmed him.
He disliked the sense of needing her so much. Living in the desert had taught himself control. What had happened to it? To him?
Then it no longer mattered. All he could think of was being with her again. The minutes crawled by as the dancers performed. Victoria whispered to him, but he couldn’t hear her words. There was only pounding desire that burned through him.
At last the women were still and everyone applauded. The evening had come to an end.
He stood and spoke, not sure of his words, counting on years of attending such events to ensure he said the right thing. Victoria was smiling when he finished, so he must have done well enough. Then he grabbed her hand and started for the exit.
Many people wanted to speak with him, congratulate him, tell him how they were looking forward to his leadership. He nodded and replied where he must, but continued to move toward the hallway.
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