The Sheik and the Virgin Princess (Desert Rogues #5)(13)


by Susan Mallery

They had not been assigned a room—instead there was a suite at their disposal. Zara’s first impression was of space and beauty. Cream-colored walls soared up at least fifteen feet. Opposite the door, floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors allowed a view of the deep blue Arabian Sea beyond the large balcony. She had the brief thought that the water was the same color as Rafe’s eyes, then she told herself not to go there—it would only be dangerous and potentially humiliating.

Two sofas and several chairs formed a conversation group around a large square table made of inlaid wood. Large pillows were piled up in the corners of the room. Tapestries in deep blues and rose covered the pale walls, and underfoot an intricate tile pattern formed a maze.

“You each have a bedroom,” the woman said, motioning to identical doors on either side of the vast living room. “His Highness thought you would prefer to be together, but if you would rather have separate quarters, that can be arranged.”

She looked at Zara as she spoke. Zara glanced at Cleo, who shrugged.

“This is fine,” Zara told the woman. “The room is lovely.”

“If you will tell me which luggage goes in which room?”

Zara pointed to her two suitcases. A different servant took them to the left. Cleo’s were taken to the right. Zara trailed after her bags and found herself in a massive bedroom.

A four-poster bed stood in the center of the room. Two steps led up to the high mattress. Double doors led to the same balcony she’d seen from the main room. An oversize armoire held a television and DVD unit. Drawers below offered a selection of American and foreign movies.

Dazed and with her senses on overload, Zara moved into the bathroom where she nearly fainted with delight. A private walled garden grew at the edge of the tub. Sunlight dappled the tile floor, illuminating a long vanity and double sinks. The shower could easily hold five or six people, and there were baskets of shampoo, lotion and soaps, all from expensive boutiques. It was girl heaven.

Zara turned and saw the head servant waiting expectantly. “It’s beautiful,” she told her. “Everything is lovely.”

The woman smiled. “I will tell the king you are pleased. Would you like us to unpack for you?”

Zara thought about her discount clothes and the ratty state of some of her underwear. “Um, no. Thanks. We can manage.”

The woman bowed and left, taking the other servants with her. It was only then that she realized Rafe hadn’t followed her into her room. Where was he staying? Not that she needed to concern herself with the arrangements. No doubt the palace had plenty of room for her temporary bodyguard.

“Can you believe it?” Cleo asked.

Zara stepped into the living room. “What’s your room like?”

“Come see. It’s amazing. It’s something out of a movie or a dream.”

Cleo’s room was identical to Zara’s, right down to the baskets of soaps and lotions. Cleo climbed the two steps and threw herself on her bed.

“I’m never going home. This is fabulous. When I grow up, I want to be the daughter of a king, too.”

Zara laughed at her sister’s pleasure. “Wait until you see the harem.”

Cleo sat up, her eyes wide. “There’s a harem?”

Zara held up her hands. “I don’t know. I was kidding. I didn’t read anything about it. I have no idea how old the palace is, but it’s possible.”

“I’m going to ask the king the next time I see him.” Cleo flung herself back on the mattress. “I can’t believe I’m saying that. The next time I see the king. How did you get so lucky?”

Zara didn’t answer. While she, too, was overwhelmed by the luxury of the suite, she still felt uneasy about being in the palace. Everything was so unfamiliar. At least she and Cleo had each other.

A knock on the door drew her into the living room. She found herself hoping it was Rafe, checking up on her. Her heart beat faster at the thought, but when she pulled open the door, the person waiting in the hall was a woman.

Zara opened her mouth to say hello but had to close it without speaking. All rational thought fled. Her mind filled with thoughts, went blank, then exploded with questions.

The woman standing in front of her looked to be about her age. They were of similar height, although Zara was a couple of inches taller. But it was her face that captured Zara’s attention. The shape of the eyes and the mouth. The angle of the cheekbones. The similarities were striking, although the mystery woman was far more attractive. Zara’s stomach plunged for her toes.

“You must be Zara,” the young woman said. “I see what my father meant when he said we could almost be twins. At the very least, it’s obvious we’re sisters.”

They both had dark hair. Zara nervously pushed up her glasses. “So you must be Princess Sabra?”

The woman nodded. “Call me Sabrina.” She slipped past Zara and stepped into the suite. “Nice room. I heard you have a sister, but she’s not really your sister? Is that right?”

“I’m Cleo.”

Sabrina turned toward the voice, saw Cleo entering the living room and smiled. “Well, we don’t look anything alike. Is your hair really that color? It’s gorgeous.”

Cleo fingered her spiky blond hair. “This is me. I tried being a redhead for a while, but blond roots look really weird, let me tell you.”

Zara closed the door. She didn’t know what to think or say. This was her half sister. Princess Sabra…aka Sabrina. She was stunning in her elegant clothes. She wore slacks and a silk blouse that looked expensive. Zara fingered her own bargain cotton dress. Geometric gold earrings caught the light and there was a huge diamond on Sabrina’s left ring finger. She moved with an elegant grace that reminded Zara of her mother. Fiona had been forever trying to teach her to glide rather than stomp, but Zara had never learned the lesson.

The three of them stood awkwardly in the center of the room. Zara couldn’t escape the feeling of being a bad copy of a stunning original. As usual Cleo broke the ice.

“So what do we call you?” Cleo asked. “Your Highness?”

“Just Sabrina.”

“And you’re really a princess?”

“From the day I was born.” Sabrina moved to one of the sofas and motioned for them to join her.

“You sound American,” Cleo said, sitting at the opposite end of the same sofa. “The king has a bit of a Middle-Eastern accent.”