The Sheikh's Rebellious Bride(10)

By: Cara Albany



Zoe heard a noise behind her and thought, for a moment, that Tariq had returned. Perhaps he'd changed his mind and was coming to berate her for being so selfish, so presumptuous as to test him like that.

Zoe glanced at the stable entrance and saw the figure of Saira. The young vet had returned with a colleague, a young man.

Zoe composed herself as quickly as she could.

"Saira. You're back. I didn't expect you so soon," Zoe said.

Saira looked toward the stall that contained Tariq's horse. "The sheikh asked me to come and attend to the horse," she explained. "This is my assistant," she said motioning to the young man.

"Really?" Zoe asked.

Saira nodded and went to the stall, followed by her assistant.

Saira paused and turned to Zoe. "And, the sheikh has said he will not be riding in the next match," she said. Zoe was sure there was an unwelcome edge to Saira's voice, as if she knew the real reason Tariq was no longer interested in a polo match.

Saira opened the stall and began busying herself with the care of the horse. It was clear from Saira's frosty demeanor that she didn't appreciate Zoe's presence.

Zoe walked to the stable entrance and gazed out toward the polo field and the large crowd of spectators. The tented pavilion was open on the sides. The night air was cooler now, and Zoe drew in a welcome, calming breath. She knew she would have to attend to whatever details had come up during her absence.

She'd done what she'd come to do. Hadn't she?

Tariq was out there somewhere. Zoe wondered what he was thinking, who he was with. Perhaps he was already with another woman. Maybe Zoe had merely provoked him so that he'd go running straight into someone's arms.

Zoe wrapped her arms around herself.

Now, why had that thought caused her to feel that odd sensation.

Surely that wasn't jealousy.





*****





Later that evening, Tariq, Raz and Ella left the Qazhar Polo Club behind and started back to the family palace on the outskirts of the city. The drive home in Raz's car seemed unnaturally long to Tariq. Sitting in the back seat, he'd sunk into a morose silence. His mind was full of the most ridiculous thoughts. And they were all about Zoe Smith.

From the moment he'd emerged from the stable, Tariq had been almost dumbstruck. How had that woman found the courage to try and hold Tariq to a promise he'd made so long ago? Tariq had almost forgotten making it. Even as he recalled the desperation he'd felt facing Zoe as she stood in the lift waiting for the doors to close, Tariq tried to tell himself this was all some elaborate prank; a hoax devised by his brothers to make him feel like a fool.

But, he knew that wasn't the truth. The reality was that Zoe Smith was in trouble and that Tariq had promised on his sacred honor that if such a thing were to happen, he would move heaven and earth to keep her safe.

Tariq glanced in the rearview mirror and saw that Raz was watching him, eyes narrowed with obvious concern. Ella leaned back against the front seat. She was a picture of marital bliss and contentment. Was that what awaited Tariq? Was he to have Zoe by his side, clinging to him, needing him, relying on him?

The mere thought of such a commitment made Tariq draw in a deep breath and run a hand nervously through his hair. He gazed out the window at the passing city streets. It was quiet now. The polo event had gone well, and a great deal of money had been donated to important charities. Everyone had had a good time. The foreigners liked these events. It gave them a chance to mingle with the rich families of Qazhar. The British and Americans were the principal attendees, and their pockets were deep when it came to charitable donations.

Zoe had done a spectacular job of organizing the event. Tariq knew that she traveled the world arranging such events in far-flung places. He'd had no idea that Jack Smith had left his daughter in charge of what was, essentially, an almost bankrupt business. How could he have done such a thing, Tariq asked himself.

He'd met Jack a few times when Tariq and Zoe had been an item. It had all started back in England when Tariq had attended a polo tournament in the leafy countryside of that green and pleasant land.

Tariq had been overwhelmed by Zoe's natural beauty. And her spiky, sharp personality had only added a welcome edge which made it impossible to resist her. Pretty soon they had found each other in bed, enjoying earth-shattering encounters that left both of them wrecked by pleasure so intense, Tariq could hardly have believed it possible.

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