The Sheikh's Virgin(Desert Rogues, Book 13)(45) by Susan Mallery
“What’s wrong?” the other woman asked. “You are pale. Are you ill?”
“Kateb is an idiot,” Victoria yelled, then walked to the far end of the room. She needed to move. Maybe if she went far enough, she could leave all this behind.
“What has he done?”
“He wants me to run a foundation to help women start their own businesses. Which is great. It’s a dream, really, one I didn’t even know I had.”
Yusra stared at her. “And?”
“And he wants to find me a husband.”
The old woman didn’t look surprised. “You need to be married.”
“What I need is to kick him in the head. He’s going to find me a husband. Isn’t that nice? One who won’t mind that I was briefly mistress to a prince. But is that a bad thing? Won’t it make a great cocktail-party conversation? This is Victoria. My wife used to sleep with an El Deharian prince.”
Her eyes began to burn. There was no way she was crying over Kateb. He didn’t deserve it.
“Our ways are different,” Yusra began slowly. “He is showing that you are important to him.”
“By giving me to another man? Oh, yeah, I’ll just stand here and feel the love.”
“Would you rather he walked away without considering your future at all?”
“No.” She wanted him to realize she cared about him. She wanted him to be unable to let her go. “No. That would be worse.”
“Then why is there a problem?”
Yusra wasn’t an idiot. She’d been around a long time and Victoria was pretty sure she’d already figured out the problem.
“You’re going to make me say it, aren’t you?”
Victoria opened her mouth, then closed it. “I won’t. It’s not true. It’ll pass. Like a stomachache.”
Yusra clicked her tongue and shook her head, then walked into the harem’s back rooms.
Victoria trailed after her. “I’m not in love with him. That’s what you’re thinking, aren’t you? Well, I’m not. He should honor his original bargain and keep me around for six months. That’s only fair. Then I’d leave. I want to leave, but only after I’ve paid my debt.”
Yusra straightened a few towels. “Yes. I see how this is all about your guilt.”
“Not guilt exactly,” Victoria mumbled. “I don’t love him. That would be incredibly stupid. Love is for fools.”
“It is a woman’s destiny to love. It is how we are made. You can try to deny the truth, but it is the same as a turtle believing he can fly. No matter how he resists reality, he will always crash back to earth. So it is with you. You love him.”
Victoria sucked in a breath. “I don’t want to.”
“Does the wanting or not wanting change what is?”
“Don’t get all mystic on me.”
The older woman moved next to her and patted her shoulder. “It is good that you love him.”
“He wants to send me away and marry me off to someone else.”
There was no “perhaps.” It was real and it was happening. “I don’t matter to him at all. Or at least not enough.” Not enough for him to want her to stay.
“He doesn’t know how you feel.”
Victoria held up both hands, palms out, and took a step back. “I’m not telling him. No way. Not me. Are you serious? Give him that much power? I don’t think so. Did you know Cantara? Am I anything like her?”
“No. She was very traditional. She had lived in the desert all her life. She was the love of his youth. He needs a new love now that he is a man.”
The words made her heart ache, Victoria thought sadly. She would give anything to be that woman. The one he cared about. The one he wanted to be with for the rest of his life.
“He can’t have loved someone like her and then care about me. We’re too different. I don’t bring anything to the relationship. No tribal connection, no power base. He said his marriage will be political.”
“What else is he going to say? That he doesn’t want to love and lose again? What man admits that? Tell him how you feel. What is the worst that will happen?”
She shuddered. “He’ll reject me.”
“Is that the worst? Or is it spending the rest of your life not knowing?”
Kateb knew that Victoria was angry, but he had no idea why. She was a most complicated woman, he thought grimly as he made his way to the harem two days later.
He had offered to take care of her for the rest of her life. He would give her a great business to run and find her a good husband. What more could she want? But was she grateful? Of course not.
Worse, he had sent for her twice and she had ignored him both times. No one kept him waiting—and he would tell her that explicitly.
He stalked into the harem, letting the door bang shut behind him.
“Victoria,” he yelled, “you will appear before me this instant.”
“I’m not a ghost,” she yelled back. “I don’t appear and disappear. Right now I’m busy. Go away.”
Incensed, he followed the sound of her voice, then wished he had not when he stepped into the harem bath and found her in the middle of the large pool.
The swirling water did little to conceal her nakedness from him, which would make it difficult to have any kind of serious conversation. But to retreat now would be to show weakness. He would simply ignore her firm, round br**sts and the curve of her hips. He wouldn’t notice her long legs or how she’d piled her hair on top of her head. He was strong and powerful. A sheik who ruled the desert. He could resist a mere woman.
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