The Sheik and the Virgin Princess (Desert Rogues #5)(6)

by Susan Mallery

She stopped to stare at him. “Why would you keep it?”

He groaned. “You have no business traveling on your own.”

“I’m not. I’m with my sister.”

“The blind leading the blind.”

She drew herself up to her full height and glared at him. As he was six foot three, the top of her head barely grazed his chin. He wasn’t impressed by her erect posture or the fire spitting from her eyes.

“Cleo and I have done perfectly well without your help.”

“I can see that. Getting attacked at the palace was part of your plan all along, right?”

“That was your fault, not mine.”

“In a situation like this you have to be prepared for the unexpected.” Although she’d certainly caught him off guard.

Zara’s temper faded. “Do I really look like her?”

“Enough to fool a new guard.”

“But not you.”

“No.” He shifted from foot to foot. “I’m sorry I attacked you.”

“It’s all right. You thought there was a threat.”

Looking at her now he didn’t see how that was possible, but that was what he’d assumed.

She pushed up her glasses. “Do you think there’s really a chance I’m the king’s daughter?”

“What do you know about your name?” he asked instead of answering her question.

“Nothing. I mean I know it’s unusual, but if you’d ever met my mother, you wouldn’t be surprised. She wasn’t exactly the most conventional person on the planet.”

“Zara was King Hassan’s mother’s name.”

Zara shivered, as if she were suddenly cold. Rafe didn’t blame her. She might have come to Bahania looking for her father, but she was about to get a whole lot more than she’d bargained for.

Zara paced restlessly after Rafe left. “He said he’d call as soon as he saw the king,” she said, more to herself than to Cleo, who was still reading her magazine. “He said he could get in to see him this afternoon. What kind of man can just waltz in and see the king?”

“A man with connections,” Cleo said, then grinned at her. “Honey, you’re taking this way too hard. What’s the worst that can happen? You’ll turn out not to be Hassan’s daughter. Then we can enjoy the rest of our vacation and head home.”

Zara supposed it was just that simple, although there was a part of her that hated the idea of being fatherless again. Not that she wanted a king for her father.

“I didn’t think it would be so complicated,” she admitted, more to herself than to Cleo.

“It’s not so complicated. Nothing’s changed.”

Zara sank onto her bed and shook her head. Things had changed the second Rafe Stryker had tossed her to the ground. Not only was she seeing their position from someone else’s point of view, she couldn’t stop thinking about his incredible blue eyes and how her insides quivered when she was close to him.

“Who do you think he is?” she asked. “Rafe was dressed like a sheik, but he’s obviously American.”

“What does it matter, as long as he can do what he says.” Cleo tossed the magazine aside and rolled toward her. “Forget about him. Think about the palace instead. Wouldn’t it be great to live there? It was so beautiful.”

“It was big and scary,” Zara said.

Cleo sighed. “What am I going to do with you? This is a fabulous opportunity and you’re going to blow it by getting cold feet. We’re talking princess, Zara. You could be an honest-to-goodness princess. That doesn’t happen to people like us. It wasn’t that long ago that money was so tight we could only afford day-old bread.”

“I know.”

“You could be rich.”

“I don’t want to be rich—I want to belong. I want roots and relatives and a history.”

“You could have all of that and a tiara, too.”

Zara laughed. “Is that all you can think about?”

Cleo grinned. “Diamonds have a way of getting my attention.”

“You talk big, but in your heart you want what I want. Real family.”

“Maybe, but I’d settle for royalty.”

Zara tucked her legs under her. “Do you think Rafe works for the king?”

Cleo groaned. “Don’t you dare get all dopey about that guy. For one thing, you’re about to find out if the king of a wealthy nation is your father. You don’t have time to be distracted. Second, you have the worst luck on the planet when it comes to men. Don’t even think about it.”

“I know.”

Zara couldn’t disagree with either of her sister’s statements. She just might be starting an amazing adventure, and her ill fortune with men bordered on legendary. Still there’d been something about Rafe’s eyes.

“I wonder if he’s married,” she murmured.

Cleo threw a pillow at her. “Stop it. Think about being a princess instead.”

“All right.”

But as Zara shifted to stretch out on the bed, she pictured a tall, dangerous looking man with a gaze that seemed to see into her soul.

Chapter 3

Instead of going directly to the king, Rafe detoured by his own office first. Once there he headed for his computer, prepared to research the possibility of Zara Paxton being King Hassan’s illegitimate daughter.

A part of him had already accepted her story, which made him uneasy. Except for the feeling in his gut, he had no reason to trust her. Was he getting soft? Had he been out of combat too long? Or were his instincts telling him the truth?

Forty minutes later he had a rough idea of the king’s travel schedule from thirty years ago. There weren’t a lot of details, but it was obvious that Hassan had frequently visited New York City. Rafe toyed with the idea of breaking into the financial records to check on jewelry purchases, but figured he would do better to ask the king directly.

Rafe reached for the ring he’d slipped into his pocket and turned it over in his hand. The diamonds glinted in the midafternoon light. They circled the entire band. Again he studied the inscription of the word forever. Had the king meant the sentiment? He’d never been one to keep a mistress or wife around for very long. He had only ever loved one of his three wives. Had Zara’s mother been the only other woman to truly capture the monarch’s heart?