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


by Susan Mallery

Zara reached into her carry-on bag and drew out a pad of paper. “Here’s a list of the jewelry I can remember my mother selling. It’s not a complete list because I’m sure she sold some before I was born or while I was too young to know what was happening. There’s also this.”

The “this” turned out to be a diamond band inscribed with the word forever on the inside. The tightening in Rafe’s gut got worse.

Zara sat facing him, her hands carefully folded on her lap. She wore a light cotton, peach sundress and sandals. Her long hair tumbled down her back. With her dark eyes and honeyed complexion, she looked a lot like Princess Sabra—Sabrina—the king’s only daughter.

Yeah, there were differences. Sabrina didn’t wear glasses and she had an air of confidence that Zara lacked. Still, the combination of the physical similarities and the evidence made him fairly sure Zara was exactly who she claimed to be. He couldn’t begin to imagine what was going to happen when the king found out.

“What stories did your mother tell you about your father?” he asked.

“She rarely said anything.” Zara shrugged. “When I would ask questions, she would just say that they couldn’t be together. He didn’t know about me and she wasn’t in a position to tell me about him. I used to ask if he would want me if he found out he had a daughter. She always said he would, but I never knew if that was her interpretation of events or if it was true.”

The information hardly helped. He glanced over at Cleo who had stretched out on the far bed, reading a fashion magazine.

“Do you remember your mother telling any stories about your father?”

Cleo smiled. “I’m not lucky enough to be related to royalty. Sorry.”

“Cleo is my foster sister,” Zara said.

“That’s right. Fiona brought me home when I was ten, just like picking up a puppy in a pound. I was housebroken, so she decided to keep me.”

Cleo spoke cheerfully enough, but there was a hint of darkness in her eyes. Rafe studied her pretty round face, taking in the wide eyes, blond hair and full, pouty mouth. She didn’t look anything like Zara.

Zara glared at her sister. “It wasn’t quite like that. Cleo came to us as a foster child, but quickly became a member of the family.”

This was more information than Rafe had wanted. “So you’re not blood relatives.”

Zara returned her attention to him. “No.” She opened her mouth as if she was about to speak, then shook her head and rose. “I can’t do this,” she said, and headed for the balcony.

Cleo sighed. “Zara’s been like this since we left Spokane,” she confided. “It’s one thing to say you want to meet your real father, but it’s another to have it happen. At least, that’s what she says. I think being related to royalty is pretty cool, but then, Zara’s always been the sensitive one.”

Sensitive? Rafe didn’t do sensitive. Why the hell had he been the one standing in the room when the guard had brought in Zara? Couldn’t someone else have attacked her and been responsible for this mess?

Muttering under his breath, he rose and stalked out to the small balcony that overlooked the tourist portion of the city. The late-May heat was a tangible creature, sucking air from his lungs and moisture from his body. Zara didn’t seem to notice as she leaned against the railing and stared off into the distance.

“I don’t want you to say anything to the king,” she said without looking at him.

“I don’t have a choice.”

That got her attention. She spun toward him. “Why? It doesn’t matter. He already has one daughter…he doesn’t need another one. Besides, I don’t think I’d be a very good princess.”

“You’d be fine.”

Rafe shifted uneasily. He didn’t like emotional confrontations with women who looked as if they might start to cry.

She swallowed. “You think maybe he’s really…” Her voice trailed off as she gestured to the letters he still held in his hand.

He knew what she was asking. “Yes, Zara. I think he could be your father.”

She turned her attention back to the city. “I didn’t think it would be like this,” she said quietly. “All my life I’ve wanted to belong to a real family. To have relatives and roots. But not here—with royalty. I wanted some normal, American family. You know the kind with a bunch of kids and maybe one or two eccentric relatives.”

She had a perfect profile. His gaze lingered on the gentle curve of her mouth and the length of her neck. Something flickered inside. Something that had nothing to do with his gut instincts and everything to do with being a man.

A faint breeze stirred, bringing with it the scent of her. A scent he remembered from when he’d attacked her. Even as he’d pulled a gun and prepared to defend the royal house of Bahania, he’d been aware of her feminine fragrance, not to mention her body beneath his.

She looked at him. “What if I can’t do this?”

There were questions in her brown eyes. Questions and pain.

“I could act as intermediary,” he found himself saying. “I could take the letters and the ring to the king privately. You wouldn’t have to be there, and no one else would have to know.”

She bit her lower lip. “Once you begin, there’s no turning back. I don’t like that.”

“You wouldn’t have come here if you hadn’t wanted this,” he reminded her. “You’re the one who started this in motion by going to the palace.”

“But wanting and getting are too different things. Maybe Cleo and I should just disappear.”

“If you do, you’ll spend the rest of your life wondering what would have happened.”

“Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad.” Zara hesitated, then nodded. “You’re right. I’m here. I want to know the truth. If you wouldn’t mind taking the letters to the king, that would be great. I’m not feeling brave enough to be rejected in person. Not that I could get in to see the king.”

Rafe didn’t know how the king was going to react, but he was fairly certain Hassan was Zara’s father. Which could create many complications.

She headed toward the room. “You should probably take the ring, too.”

She was so damn trusting. “How do you know I’ll return it?”