The Sheik and the Virgin Princess (Desert Rogues #5)(9)


by Susan Mallery

The security guys went on instant alert. One of them headed for the door while the second one covered him. They stepped into the hallway for a minute, then reappeared pushing a tray of drinks and snacks.

“Now that’s just what happens when I go through a fast-food drive through,” Cleo murmured.

Hassan raised his eyebrows. “What is that?”

“You know. When you desperately want a burger and fries, but you don’t want to get out of your car? You can place the order and pay, then get your food, never once putting out more effort than rolling down the window. You have to try it.”

Hassan asked Cleo a few more questions. Zara admired her ability to be almost normal, despite the situation, then remembered that Cleo had a whole lot less on the line.

Rafe and the security men put the drinks and trays of snacks on the coffee table between the two sofas. Zara reached for a cola bottle, but her hands were shaking too much for her to unscrew the top. Rafe took the plastic bottle from her and unfastened it, then poured the fizzing liquid over a glass of ice.

“You’re doing great,” he said as he handed her the drink.

She hoped he was telling the truth. The urge to throw up hadn’t gone away.

Hassan removed Fiona’s diamond ring from his coat pocket and held it out. “I gave this to your mother on our one-year anniversary. I wanted to make sure she would never forget me.”

“I don’t think that was a problem,” Zara said, then cleared her throat. “Your Highness, this is all very strange to me. I think, before we go too far, we should find out if I’m really your daughter.”

“I already know. You look very much like Sabrina.”

“Who?”

“Princess Sabra. She prefers the American version of her name.”

Zara remembered the guard at the palace. “Okay, so I look like her. That doesn’t prove anything.”

“You have this.” He placed the ring in her hand and closed her fingers over it. “I know, Zara. Here.” He touched his chest. “That is all that matters.”

Rafe sat next to Cleo and took a soda for himself.

Hassan touched Zara’s cheek. “Your mother was younger than you are now when we met. I was young, as well. Very proud and certain of myself. I was visiting New York and wanted to see a Broadway show. Afterward, at a party, I met the cast. Your mother had captured my attention from the first moment she stepped onstage. I arranged for us to have a private introduction. She was as charming as she was beautiful. I believe I fell in love with her that first night.”

Zara had tried to be sensible and stay in control of her emotions, but hearing about her mother’s past tested her resolve. Fiona had rarely talked about that time in her life and never said anything about the man who had fathered her child.

“I’ve seen a few pictures from when she was a showgirl,” she admitted. “She was lovely.”

“More than that. She had dozens of admirers, but from the first there was something special between us. We only wanted each other. We were together whenever I could get away.” He smiled sadly. “I asked her to marry me, but she refused.”

“Are you kidding?” Cleo blurted, then covered her mouth. “Sorry.”

Hassan shrugged. “I was stunned, as well. However, I already had a wife. I offered to divorce her, but Fiona refused. She said she didn’t want to make trouble and she doubted that she would have been content to live in one place, even one as amazing as Bahania.”

“My mother did like to wander,” Zara said, a little dazed by all she was hearing. A king had offered to marry Fiona and she had said no?

Hassan studied her. “Was there…” He cleared his throat. “I often wondered who Fiona had married.”

“She didn’t,” Zara said quickly. “We moved around constantly and while Fiona always had dozens of friends, there was never a special man in her life. She used to tell me that she’d already fallen in love once and didn’t plan to do it again.”

Hassan closed his eyes briefly. “Yes. I gave her my heart, and when she left, she took it with her. I like to think she experienced the same with me. Perhaps not. We’ll never know.” He turned his attention back to Zara. “At the time I could not understand why she disappeared from my world, but now I know. She must have left as soon as she found out she was pregnant. She knew that I would have insisted we marry. Even if we had not, she feared for her child.”

Too much was happening too fast. Zara felt as if her head was already too full of information. “Why would she fear that anything would happen to me?”

“Bahanian law requires that a royal child be raised in the palace. I suspect Fiona feared that if I knew about you, I would insist you be raised here. If she didn’t marry me, she would lose you.” He sighed. “I like to think I would not have insisted, but I don’t know that it’s true. After I lost her, I would have given anything to have a part of her with me.” He touched her hand. “And now you are here.”

Zara smiled tightly as she held on to her glass of cola. “Yes, well, it’s all very strange.”

“How did you find me now?”

Zara explained about the papers the lawyer had sent. “Once I read the letters, I started to consider the impossible.”

“Zara insisted we take the tour,” Cleo announced cheerfully. “I wanted to walk up to the front door and knock. She said the guards wouldn’t have let us in.”

The king smiled. “Even one as charming as you, Cleo, might have had a little trouble getting past the royal guard. Although I suspect you have a way with men. I’ll have to warn my sons about you.”

Cleo flicked her wrist. “I’ve sworn off princes, Your Highness. They’re just all the same. Rich, powerful…it gets boring after a while.”

Zara rose from her seat and crossed to the French doors leading to the balcony. Rafe came up behind her.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

She shook her head. “Would you be, under the circumstances?”

“Probably not.”

“Everything is so confusing.”

“There’s nothing to be confused about,” Hassan announced as he stood. “After twenty-eight years, my daughter has returned to me.”

“You make it sound so simple and I can barely catch my breath.”