The Sheik and the Virgin Princess (Desert Rogues #5)(10)


by Susan Mallery

Her father—she couldn’t believe that was possible—nodded. “This is unfamiliar to us both. Perhaps we should take the time to acquaint ourselves with the situation. I wish to show you my world. Bahania is a country blessed with great resources and people. You must see the beauty of it. We will start with you and Cleo moving into the palace.”

“All right!” Cleo clapped her hands together. “I think I’m going to like having you in the family,” she told the king.

Zara wasn’t so sure. “Our hotel is very comfortable,” she said. Both Hassan and Cleo looked at her as if she were crazy.

“You are my daughter,” Hassan reminded her. “As such, the palace is your home. You will be made to feel welcome. We will have time together.”

“Your Highness, you need to think this through,” Zara said. “I mean I know I look like your daughter and Fiona is my mother and you did have a relationship with her, but you have to be sure about this. Shouldn’t we take blood tests?”

“I know what is right and I know who you are.” He walked over to hug her. “After so very many years, you are where you belong. That is all that matters. Come, you will collect your things and move into the palace right now.”

Zara glanced around, searching for an escape. Her gaze settled on Rafe. For some reason he seemed the only sane person in the room.

“Are you going to be there?” she asked before she could stop herself. “At the palace? Do you live there?”

Rafe nodded. “For the next few weeks.”

Hassan stared at him. “That’s right. You will be at the palace. You have found my most beloved treasure and brought her to me. Therefore, I will entrust her to you.”

Zara slipped free of Hassan’s embrace. “I don’t understand.”

Rafe looked as if he’d just sucked a lemon. “Your Highness I don’t—”

Hassan cut him off with a shake of his head. “My mind is made up. I will only trust you with her safety. It will be a temporary matter, until you return to your regular duties.”

“Trust him for what?” Zara asked.

“Rafe will be your bodyguard. He will protect you with his life.”

Chapter 4

Rafe held in a groan. He did not need this kind of trouble in his life. Protecting royalty wasn’t that big a deal—he’d been in charge of Prince Kardal’s security for three years. But guarding the king of Bahania’s newly found, soon-to-be-favorite daughter wasn’t his idea of a good time. Especially when the king had more in mind than her physical protection. King Hassan wouldn’t want anyone messing with Zara for any reason—including and probably especially sex.

Which meant his physical attraction toward her could be a one-way to ticket to a headless moment, should he be foolish enough to let his libido overrule his common sense. Not that he would ever let that happen.

“Your Highness,” he said, trying to figure out how to reason with the king without creating trouble.

Hassan waved away his concerns before he could even voice them. “As a temporary measure, Rafe. I’m not unmindful of your duties to my son-in-law.”

Zara glanced between them, obviously confused. “What are you two talking about?”

Cleo bounced off the sofa and fluffed her short blond hair. “What your new father is saying is that Rafe has been assigned to protect you with his very life. While I could be taken by terrorists and tortured, and everyone would just yawn.”

Hassan smiled at her. “Rafe will keep you under his care, as well,” he said. “While you are my guest, your safety is of equal concern. You are the most-beloved sister of the daughter of my heart’s desire.”

“Could I get that on a plaque?” Cleo asked.

“Perhaps a tapestry,” the king told her. “We could have the weaving women design one.”

“You have weaving women?” Cleo sounded horrified. “Is that what they do with their entire day? Weave? Do you…” Her voice trailed off as she caught the king’s smile. “You’re teasing me.”

“Yes.”

Cleo shrugged. “He’s got a sense of humor. Who knew?”

Zara didn’t respond. She still looked as if she was in shock. Hassan hugged her one last time.

“I leave you in the protection of your bodyguard. Rafe will make all the arrangements to move you into the palace. I look forward to seeing you there.”

With that, he was gone. Cleo shook her head. “This is amazing. Just like in a movie.”

Rafe wished it was a movie. Then he could get out of his seat and head back to his regular life. Instead he was stuck. He supposed that he could go to his boss and complain, but that would annoy King Hassan.

Zara folded her arms over her chest. “He can’t be serious. He wants you to be my bodyguard?”

“I’m more than qualified.”

She opened her mouth, then closed it. “This isn’t about your abilities, Rafe. It’s about being sane. Who on earth would want to hurt me? No one knows who I am.”

“You might be Hassan’s daughter. I know it sounds far-fetched, but go along with it for now, all right? This is a temporary situation.”

“Don’t you have a real job you’d rather be doing?”

He was supposed to be coordinating the development of an air force in Bahania, El Bahar and the City of Thieves. “That is going to have to wait for a while.”

Prince Kardal, his boss, would understand. At this point in the negotiations no one wanted to annoy King Hassan. Which meant Rafe would spend the next few weeks making sure Zara didn’t get so much as a splinter. It would mean long hours and close contact with the first woman to get his attention in years. Life had a hell of a sense of humor.

“Look at the bright side,” Cleo said. “At least the king didn’t throw you out on your butt. If anything, he seemed really happy to see you.”

Zara nodded. “I don’t know what to think about any of this. I guess we should head back to the hotel and pack up our stuff.”

Cleo did a couple of quick dance steps. “I’m gonna live in a palace,” she sang as she shimmied around the sofa. “And you wanted to go camping in Yellowstone instead of coming here.”

Zara headed for the door. “I’m beginning to think that would have been a better idea.”