The Sheik and the Virgin Princess (Desert Rogues #5)(3)

by Susan Mallery

“Zara!” Cleo frowned. “What about the king?”

“This isn’t the time,” she said, not looking at her sister, instead focusing on Rafe Stryker, who hadn’t appeared the least bit impressed by her speech.

He surprised her by holding out their passports. But other than that, he didn’t make any attempt to grant her wishes.

Zara grabbed the documents and tucked them into her purse. “May we leave now?” she asked.

“Not until I hear the whole story.”

“There isn’t a story.”

“There’s the letters,” Cleo said helpfully. “Zara has these letters from King Hassan to her mother.”

Rafe carefully watched the two sisters. Cleo, the younger, was short and blond, with the curvy kind of figure that made most men’s mouths water. Rafe dismissed her. He was far more interested in the tall, slender brunette who claimed to be the daughter of a king.

He could see how the guard had mistaken her for Princess Sabra. Zara was only a couple of inches taller. Her coloring was the same, as were her features. Both she and the princess had large brown eyes, and the shape of their faces was remarkably similar. However, the American schoolteacher wore glasses, while the princess did not. And even though he’d been in close contact with Princess Sabra, never once had his body reacted to her. However, his few moments of nearness to Zara Paxton had left him…intrigued.

Zara sighed. She pulled the chair a couple of feet away from the desk, then settled onto the seat. Still holding her lemonade, she reached into her large purse and drew out a stack of letters.

“My mother never told me who my father was. There were no pictures, no personal effects. She didn’t even share many stories about their time together. I assumed he was a wealthy married man. You see, she’d been a dancer and very beautiful. Men were always interested in her.”

Zara smiled slightly, as if remembering something that brought her pleasure. The smile faded as she fingered the letters.

“There were several pieces of jewelry. My mother sold most of them over the years to supplement our income. She died eight years ago, and I figured that any information about my father died with her.”

“Why did you come here now?” he asked, even as he wondered how much she intended to ask for. Had the plan been her idea or her sister’s? At what point had she realized she had more than a passing resemblance to Princess Sabra, and when had she decided to use that to her advantage?

“My mother kept these letters along with several other personal mementos with an attorney. I only discovered their existence a few months ago when he sent a bill for storage. I requested the things be sent to me instead. Once I read them, I realized…” Her voice trailed off.

“That you might be the king’s daughter. May I see the letters?”

Zara shook her head. “You know what I’d really like?”

About five million dollars, Rafe thought cynically.

“I’d like to go back to my hotel and forget this ever happened.”

“What?” Cleo sounded outraged.

Zara ignored her. “There’s been a mistake. I don’t want to be here. Can you get us out of the palace?”

Rafe considered the possibilities. Either she was having second thoughts about her plan, or she wanted time to come up with a better story. Or she was preparing to go to the media. Better that he not let her wander around on her own just yet.

“How about if I take you back to your hotel myself? As a way of apologizing.”

“Just show us the nearest exit and we’ll be fine.”

“I’d prefer to escort you. I insist.”

Zara didn’t look too happy, but she nodded her agreement. Rafe excused himself while he went to change his clothes, promising to return in ten minutes.

“What are you doing?” Cleo asked the second they were alone. “Why do you want to go back to the hotel? Zara, this is your chance to meet the king.”

Zara set her drink on the desk, rose and paced to the window. “Don’t you get it? Couldn’t you tell by the way he was looking at us? Rafe thinks we’re here for money.”

Cleo grinned. “Isn’t that one of the perks of being a princess?”

“I’m serious. He doesn’t believe us. He thinks we’re going to blackmail the king or something. It’s horrible.” She folded her arms over her chest.

All the times she’d imagined coming to Bahania, she tried to think of everything that could go wrong. She’d pictured the king telling her she wasn’t his daughter. She’d thought about having him admit to being her father and not wanting anything to do with her. She’d even figured he might think she was crazy. But she’d never thought anyone would think she was in it for the money.

“Why couldn’t Mom have fallen in love with a banker or an executive? Why did it have to be the King of Bahania?”

Cleo didn’t bother to respond. Zara knew her sister thought she was crazy for not simply marching up to the king and announcing she was his long-lost daughter. As if Zara had any chance of getting close to a member of the royal family. Besides, Cleo didn’t understand her ambivalence about the whole situation. Things had looked a lot clearer from five thousand miles away.

The door opened and Rafe entered. “Are you two ready?” he asked.

Cleo glared at Zara, as if daring her to say they could go. Which was unnecessary, because Zara wasn’t in a position to speak. In his traditional head-dress and robes Rafe had been tall and intimidating. Dressed in a well-cut business suit, he was simply gorgeous.

His gold-blond hair had been cut military short, a style that looked both severe and sexy. He had a strong jaw, a perfect mouth, and while his eyes were still cold enough to freeze air, they were also doing odd things to Zara’s insides.

She’d never felt herself melting in the mere presence of a man. But even as she stood there, she could feel her bones dissolving. It was impossible to move, let alone have a coherent thought.

She’d come halfway around the world to find the man who might be her father. In the space of an hour, she’d had second, third and fourth thoughts, been thrown to the ground, held at gunpoint, accused of being a gold digger and struck by lightning. All this and it wasn’t even noon.

Chapter 2

“Cool! A limo!”

Cleo beamed with excitement as they exited the palace through a side door and saw the waiting transportation. Zara tried to work up an equal amount of energy at the thought of riding in such an expensive car for the first time in her life. Unfortunately, all her extra attention was focused on continuing to breathe. Being too close to dangerous, not to mention mysterious, Rafe Stryker left her gasping.