The Sheik and the Virgin Princess

BOOK: The Sheik and the Virgin Princess
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SUSAN MALLERY

 

 

 

The Sheik and the Virgin Princess

 

 

 

TORONTO

NEW YORK

LONDON
AMSTERDAM

PARIS

SYDNEY

HAMBURG
STOCKHOLM

ATHENS

TOKYO

MILAN

MADRID
PRAGUE

WARSAW

BUDAPEST

AUCKLAND

 

Contents

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

 

Chapter 1

“What kind of stupid does it take not to want to be a princess?” Cleo asked.

Zara Paxton ignored both her sister and the question. Stupid or not, what she wanted more than anything was to turn tail and run. This had been a really bad idea from the start.

“The mosaics on the east wall date back to the early 1100s,” the tour guide intoned as she pointed to the Bahanian palace wall covered with small tiles in a rainbow of colors. A few tiles had chipped over the past thousand years, but the majority were in place, detailing a lovely landscape of the ocean and a lush island in the distance.

“The scene is of Lucas-Surrat,” the guide continued. “The crown prince of the island has always been a member of the Bahanian ruling family.”

“How can you not want to know?” Cleo asked in a low voice. “Come on, Zara, take a chance.”

“Easy for you to say,” Zara pointed out. “We’re not talking about your life.”

“I wish we were. I would love to find out I’m the illegitimate daughter of royalty.”

Zara hushed her sister, then glanced around to make sure that no one in their tour group had overheard Cleo’s comments. Fortunately the others were more interested in what the guide had to say than any conversation between the two women.

Zara tugged on Cleo’s arm, pulling her to a stop. “Don’t say anything,” she said urgently. “We’re not sure what’s true. So I have a few letters. They don’t mean the king is really my father.”

Cleo didn’t look convinced. “If you don’t think there’s a possibility, what are we doing here?”

Zara didn’t have an answer for that. The “here” in question was a public tour of the famous royal
palace
of
Bahania
. Cleo had suggested they simply announce themselves at the front gate and demand to be let in. Zara had opted for the more subtle approach—hence the tour. If nothing else, she could get the lay of the land, so to speak. Her trip to Bahania had been impulsive, something she tried to avoid. Now that she was here, she was going to have to think through what she wanted to do.

“You make me crazy,” Cleo muttered, trailing after their group. “All your life you’ve wanted to know who your father is. You finally get some information on the man and suddenly you get all scared.”

Zara shook her head. “You make it sound cut-and-dried, and it isn’t. I thought my mother had an affair with a married man and that’s why she wouldn’t talk about my father. If it turns out he really is the king, then life is a whole lot more complicated. I’m not sure I want to be a part of all this.”

“Which brings me back to my stupid remark,” Cleo said with a look of impatience. “Hello? This is your chance at the fairy tale, Zara. How many of us get to be transformed into a princess? Why on earth wouldn’t you jump at the chance?”

“Because I—”

“Princess Sabra! I did not know you had arrived.”

Both women turned to the man who hurried toward them. He was slight, in his mid-thirties and wearing some kind of uniform.

“I was told you would be arriving shortly. I had been watching for you, but must have missed you.” The man stopped in front of them and bowed slightly. “A thousand pardons.”

Zara blinked. “I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m not—”

“I am new,” the man continued, as if she hadn’t spoken. “Please do not be angry. This way.”

Before Zara could protest, the man grabbed her arm and hustled her down a long corridor—one that led away from the tour group. She heard Cleo’s footsteps as her sister hurried after her.

“Zara? What’s going on?”

“I have no idea.” She tried to free herself, but the little man’s grip was surprisingly strong. “Look, you’ve made a mistake. I’m not who you think I am. I’m with the tour group. We’re just tourists.”

The man gave her a disapproving glance. “Yes, princess, but if you wanted a tour of the castle, you could simply ask your father, who is waiting for you even now.”

Father? Zara’s stomach tightened. She had a bad feeling about all of this.

They turned right, then left. She had a brief impression of large rooms, tile floors, beautiful statues and paintings, along with occasional glimpses of the blue
Arabian Sea
. Then they came to an oval foyer filled with half a dozen people. The man stopped and released her arm.

“I have found Princess Sabra,” he announced to the milling crowd.

Everyone turned to look at her. Conversation stilled. In the heartbeat of silence, Zara knew that something awful was about to happen.

Her premonition proved true.

A male voice yelled that they were imposters. People dove at them from all directions. Zara didn’t know what to do, and that indecision cost her breath when a large man threw himself at her. One second she was standing, the next she hit the hard, tiled floor with the impact of a train barreling into a brick wall.

Air rushed from her body. Her head banged against something unforgiving and the room began to spin. The next thing she knew, she couldn’t breathe and there was a gun pointed at her temple.

“Talk!”

The voice commanded her obedience. Zara blinked and tried to suck in a breath. Her lungs wouldn’t cooperate. The spinning increased, fueled by panic. She moved—or at least made the attempt—but her body froze. She inhaled again and this time air seeped into her lungs. Again and again she drew breath until she was able to focus. It was then that she realized her body wasn’t frozen, it was pinned by a large, angry man with the coldest blue eyes she’d ever seen.

Blue had always been her favorite color, she thought somewhat hysterically. It was the color of the sea and the sky. But the irises of this man held no warmth. Staring at him, she felt chilled down to her bones. Maybe even down to her soul.

“Talk,” he repeated. “Who the hell are you?”

“Zara Paxton,” she breathed.

The pressure on her temple increased. She swallowed when she remembered the gun.

“Are you going to shoot me?” she asked, her voice shaking.

Everything she’d read about Bahania had told her that the country was safe, forward thinking and a perfect tourist destination. Perhaps the brochures had been wrong.

“What are you doing here?” he demanded, ignoring her question.

“My sister and I were touring the castle. A man pulled us away and insisted we come with him.” She hesitated, not wanting to say that he’d called her Princess Sabra and had mentioned seeing the king. That sounded too far-fetched to be believed.

Those cold blue eyes never wavered from her face. She didn’t doubt that he could read her every thought, so there was no need to go into detail. She noticed the man wore traditional Middle-Eastern garb, and that his Anglo features looked out of place.

They were nestled together intimately, his legs pinning hers, his chest flattening her breasts. One of his hands rested on her throat where he could no doubt feel the galloping of her pulse.

She licked her lips. “I’m sorry.”

“Me, too,” the man muttered as he slid off her and got to his feet.

Zara sat up slowly. She glanced around and saw that she was the center of attention—one of her least favorite things to be. Two burly guards were holding Cleo, but released her when the blue-eyed man instructed them to do so.

Zara got awkwardly to her feet. She still felt a little shaky and afraid. Cleo rushed to her side and they held each other. Zara pushed up her glasses.

“What happens now, Mr….” Her voice trailed off as she realized she didn’t know the man’s name.

“Rafe Stryker.”

He spoke several sharp commands in a language she didn’t recognize. The area cleared.

“Come this way,” he said, and started walking without checking to see if they would follow.

Zara had the idle thought that they could run for it, but where would they go? They were in a strange country, in a huge castle and she had no idea of the floor plan. As the guards had disappeared, it seemed unlikely that they were about to be arrested.

She glanced at Cleo, who shrugged. Together the two women trailed after the man in the long robe and traditional headdress.

He led them into a small office. After seating them in chairs, he perched on the corner of the desk and studied them both.

“There’s been some kind of misunderstanding,” Zara said when the silence had stretched on for too long. “I was telling the truth before. My sister and I were on the tour, and suddenly we were dragged away. Then you and those guards attacked us. I’d like to know what’s going on.”

Rafe Stryker rubbed his temple. “That’s what I’d like to know, as well. You two have any ID on you?”

Zara and Cleo exchanged a look. Did they really want to turn their passports over to this man?

“I’m not the bad guy here,” Rafe said, confirming Zara’s suspicions that he could read her mind. “I won’t take any documents out of this room. I simply want to make a few phone calls.”

“I don’t think we have a choice,” Cleo said in a stage whisper. Her short blond hair was more spiky than usual, and the corners of her full mouth trembled.

Zara nodded. She had been worried about a lot of things when they’d talked about coming to Bahania, but being attacked in the palace wasn’t one of them. What on earth was going on?

They pulled their passports out of their purses and handed them over. Rafe picked up the phone on the desk and began making calls.

Five minutes later a young woman appeared with a tray of cold drinks and small sandwiches. She smiled as she entered and set the refreshments on the credenza by the window. Without saying a word, she bowed slightly and backed out of the room. Rafe was still talking, but he jerked his head toward the food.

BOOK: The Sheik and the Virgin Princess
5.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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