The Sheikh's Virgin(Desert Rogues, Book 13)(44) by Susan Mallery
He waited patiently while she struggled to remember the question. What were her plans?
“I thought I would go back to the States,” she said at last.
“Eager to leave the desert?”
“Not really. I like it here. But once we’re…” She cleared her throat. “Once it’s time for me to go, I will. I don’t think I’d be comfortable staying in El Deharia on my own.”
“You don’t want to continue to work for Nadim?”
“Good.” He leaned toward her. “You have a gift, Victoria. You have the ability to help others achieve their dreams. Is that something you have considered?”
“Not really,” she said slowly. Where was he going with this? “I’ve been saving since I came to El Deharia. I didn’t have many expenses and I’ve always been a frugal shopper. I thought I might take the money I have and start my own business. I just haven’t figured out what. I’ll think about what you said. About helping others.”
“I would like you to consider it seriously. With the right funding, you could change people’s lives. If you had the financial backing, imagine what you could do.”
She didn’t like the sound of that. “Is that what you’re offering?”
“Yes. I would like to start a company with you. Perhaps a non-profit foundation that gives money to people who wish to start a business but don’t know how. You would assemble a staff of experts who would help them with every aspect of what new entrepreneurs need. From coming up with a business plan to hiring, advertising, dealing with tax regulations.”
She hadn’t expected anything like this and didn’t know what to say. “It’s a wonderful opportunity,” she murmured, torn between the excitement of being able to make a difference and the reality of being tied to Kateb. It would be easier for her peace of mind to simply walk away and never have to deal with him again.
“I would like you to consider it,” he said. “You could establish the main office anywhere in the United States. Where would you like to live?”
Did he have to sound so eager to get rid of her? “I’m not sure.”
“There is time for you to decide. And while we are on the subject of your future…”
He paused and for the first time since she’d met him, she had the sense that he was hesitating. Almost uncertain. “Kateb?”
He gave her a reassuring smile that did everything but reassure her.
“I would like to find you a husband. You have said many times you’re not interested in love, but you would like to be married for reasons of security. I am acquainted with many intelligent, successful men. Men who would be interesting and good husbands, without expecting all the emotional messiness that can make relationships difficult. If you wish, I can compile a list of potential suitors and arrange introductions.”
For the second time in as many minutes, she was glad she was sitting. Every part of her body had simply stopped working and had she been standing, she would have fallen to the floor.
He wanted to find her a husband? Was that the same as helping her look for a lost shoe or lip gloss? Did he plan to put an ad somewhere or hold interviews?
But that wasn’t what hurt, she thought, as cells slowly came back to life and her heart started beating again. No, the cold ache that spread through her was about how easily he said the words. He didn’t care if she was married to someone else. It might even make him feel better about the past month. She was a problem and once he’d fixed the situation, he could move on with a clear conscience.
None of this was about her. She wasn’t a person who mattered. She wasn’t significant to him. She’d fallen in love with a man who had no trouble thinking about her married to someone else.
Until that moment she hadn’t realized a fantasy had lived inside of her. One that said Kateb would turn around and actually see her. That he would recognize they were good together, that they could be happy. That he loved her.
She knew Yusra would tell her to be flattered. The prince taking so much interest in her future meant that he cared a little. Perhaps she was on the same level as a prized broodmare or a priceless painting. Something to be worried over and put in a safe place. But not anything he missed when the object was gone.
“Victoria? Are you interested in a husband?”
He sounded so calm, she thought, hurt turning to anger because anger was so much safer. He sounded reasonable.
“What else is on the table?” she asked, glaring at him. “A private plane? A small island? A large island? How about my picture on a stamp? Can I have that? Maybe a few jewels? You don’t have to buy me off.”
“What’s wrong? I’m not trying to buy you off. I want to take care of you.”
“By finding me a husband?” she shrieked.
“Why does that offend you?”
She supposed in time she would take comfort in the knowledge that all men were equally stupid. Even princes.
She stood and stalked to the door.
“Victoria, why are you angry?”
He sounded genuinely confused, as if he couldn’t imagine what was wrong.
She didn’t answer the question. She kept on walking. When she reached the harem, she looked around for something to throw, then grabbed a pillow off the sofa and tossed it.
The act wasn’t the least bit satisfying. She eyed a vase on a stand, but knew it could be priceless and her snit wasn’t worth destroying that. When she heard someone enter the harem, she braced herself for another encounter with Kateb, but found Yusra instead.
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