The Sheik and the Virgin Princess (Desert Rogues #5)(8)


by Susan Mallery

Hassan glanced at his watch. “Have this arranged by four o’clock. I won’t wait any longer.”

Which gave Rafe less than two hours. Great. “Yes, Your Highness. I’ll take care of everything.”

“I’m going to throw up,” Zara announced as she stood in the center of the massive living room of the presidential suite at the Bahanian Resort Hotel.

To her left were floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the incredible Arabian Ocean. She’d already tried concentrating on the view as a way to calm herself, but the height made her head swim…and not in a good way.

The furniture in the suite was enough to make her uneasy. The living room held five sofas—five!—and a baby grand piano. There were also coffee tables and sofa tables. All this furniture, and there was still enough floor space to hold an aerobics class.

She and Cleo had yet to find their way through the entire suite. They’d gotten lost twice then had given up exploring, fearing that the king would arrive and find them trapped in a bedroom closet or bathroom.

“Don’t throw up,” Cleo advised. “It never makes a good first impression.”

“Thanks for the share.” Zara tried for a smile, but her face felt frozen and tight. Like she’d had too much Novocain at the dentist. “What are we doing here? Are we crazy?”

Cleo rubbed her hand along the back of one of the sofas. “I don’t know, Zara. I mean, I didn’t really connect this whole king-father thing before. But now it’s real and it’s scary.”

“Tell me about it.” Zara forced herself to sit. She chose a sofa that faced away from the windows. “At least Rafe arranged for us to meet the king here rather than at our hotel.”

Cleo managed a brief smile. “I’ll bet he’s never been in a two-star place before. Do you want to know that you’re the color of a sheet?”

“Not really.” Her stomach tightened. “What was I thinking?”

“That it would be nice to meet the family.” Cleo sank into a sofa opposite hers.

“You’re my family,” Zara reminded her. “Whatever happens here, I want you to know that. Anything else is just gravy.”

Cleo rolled her eyes. “If your father turns out to be the king, then I would say that at least rates him being an entrée. Oh, and if you are a real princess, I want you to promise to send your jewelry castoffs my way.”

Zara chuckled. “Deal. When my tiaras get old and dusty, I’ll toss them your way.”

“Cool. I could wear them to work.”

The thought of Cleo wearing a diamond tiara while working at the copy shop she managed eased a lot of Zara’s tension. She’d nearly relaxed enough to sit back in the sofa when the main door of the suite opened. Instantly her heart beelined for her throat and her entire body began to quiver.

“I can’t,” she breathed.

Cleo was at her side in a second, putting her arm around her and hugging her. “You can. If you have to throw up, rush for that plant and I’ll distract him with a knock-knock joke.”

Cleo’s outrageous instructions allowed Zara to suck in a breath and get to her feet. Rafe entered the room, followed by a man she recognized from the research she’d done. A man who was staring at her as if she were the most amazing creature on the planet.

The dark intensity of his gaze made her uncomfortable. Was this really happening? Was the handsome, older man really King Hassan of Bahania?

“Your Highness, may I present Miss Zara Paxton,” Rafe said, gesturing toward her.

Zara felt, more than saw, Cleo move away. She was vaguely aware of two more men entering the room. Security, she thought hazily, all of her attention focusing on the man who might be her father.

He was a few inches shorter than Rafe, but a couple of inches taller than her. He wore a suit and looked fit. His eyes were the same rich brown as her own, and when he smiled she thought she recognized the shape of his mouth.

“My long-lost daughter,” he intoned, stepping toward her and holding out his arms. “The child of my beloved Fiona. Welcome. Welcome home.”

Before she knew what was happening, she found herself caught up in the king’s arms, pulled against him and held tight. Zara tried to hug him back, but she couldn’t move. For the second time in one day, a strange man held her immobile.

She needed to escape, she thought frantically, and glanced around the room. Only Rafe seemed to notice her distress. He eased forward and gently disentangled the king.

“Perhaps we should all have a seat and discuss what has happened,” he said, urging Hassan toward a sofa.

“Yes, yes.” The king took hold of Zara’s hand and sat down.

Zara perched next to him feeling both uneasy and awkward. He was royalty. Was she supposed to bow or sit lower or what? She looked to Rafe for an answer, but he was busy settling Cleo across from them, then he picked up the phone and announced that it was time to serve the refreshments.

Zara returned her attention to the king only to find him staring at her. His attention made her feel even more nervous. She pulled her fingers free of his and carefully laced her hands together.

“I don’t know what to say,” she admitted. “This is very strange. I’m sure Rafe explained about the letters. I don’t mean to be presumptuous or to get in the way. I’m simply trying to find out some information.”

Hassan sighed. “I see your mother in you. She was a true beauty. The most glorious rose in the garden of womanhood.”

Zara blinked and pushed up her glasses. While Fiona had always been lovely, Zara had inherited little of her physical attributes and none of her charm. “Yes, well, I am tall like her.” She glanced at Cleo. “Oh, you haven’t met my sister. This is Cleo.”

Cleo grinned. “Foster sister,” she corrected. “Although I wouldn’t mind being able to say my daddy is a king, I won’t be able to claim that relationship.”

Hassan chuckled. “I welcome you to my country. Is this your first visit?”

“For both of us. It’s great. A little hot, but hey, that’s why they invented air-conditioning.” Cleo leaned forward. “I confess, you’re the first royal person I’ve ever met. How exactly am I supposed to address you?”

“Your Highness is the accepted form,” Rafe said hastily as someone knocked on the door.