The Sheikh's Rebellious Bride(2)

By: Cara Albany



He glanced at the scoreboard. There wasn't much time left to wait. He'd be up next for the second match of the evening. That would be the real contest, against the military riders. Those riders were the true test of a polo player's mettle. Tariq figured he was good enough to go up against the experienced military types. He'd find out soon enough.

"I don't know how you can do that, Tariq," Ella said pointing at the riders. "It looks so dangerous."

Tariq smiled. "I can think of a few things that are more dangerous," he joked.

Raz squinted at Tariq. "Your time will come, Tariq," he said.

"Aliyah said that exact same thing to me this morning," Tariq replied.

Ella raised her glass in a mock toasting gesture. "If there's one thing your sister knows, it's when someone is ripe for marriage," she said mischievously. She glanced at Raz. "Isn't that right, my love," she said.

Raz grinned and gazed deeply into Ella's eyes. There was true love there, Tariq thought.

Raz turned to Tariq. "Why has your face turned so pale, Tariq?" Raz asked.

"There's nothing wrong with my face," Tariq replied.

Ella grinned. "It's as white as my dress," she observed, glancing down at the elegant white gown she was wearing.

Tariq felt a rush of mild panic rising inside himself. Time to make his excuses.

He glanced at the scoreboard. "I need to be getting ready. The next game will be starting soon. I need to go to the stable and get the horse ready."

Ella looked at Raz. "See what I mean. The slightest mention of marriage and he's off," she said.

Tariq put his glass down on the table next to him. "I'll leave you two to enjoy the rest of the game."

Then he strode quickly away, relief washing over him. He made his way through the crowds, exchanging pleasantries with many of the dignitaries who had turned out for the special event.

For that was what it really was. A special event. Organized and arranged by a woman with whom he had enjoyed a wild, tempestuous liaison only two years before.

Zoe Smith.

The American woman who had turned Tariq's world upside down.

And, the woman who seemed to be doing everything in her power to avoid meeting the man who had once broken her heart.





****





The inside of the stables was a cool retreat, and she was thankful to be where she really belonged. The soft overhead lights shone down into the stall where the distressed horse twisted it's head back and forth.

Zoe Smith lifted up the hind leg of the beautiful stallion and leaned back as the animal shifted in protest. She didn't want to get kicked in the head, but she knew her touch was gentle, that the horse would sense that Zoe wanted to help.

"What do you think?" Zoe asked the young female veterinarian, whose name was Saira. The dark haired woman leaned forward, shifting the folds of her loose, dark gown to one side. She narrowed her eyes, examining the horse's leg. "It's difficult to say without further examination. Perhaps some tests. But, at first glance it looks like a strained tendon."

Zoe nodded in agreement. "I concur," she said, realizing she sounded like a doctor in a surgery. In some senses, that was what she was. Zoe had studied to be a veterinarian before everything had changed; before she had been dragged into this mess. She forced those thoughts out of her head. No use going over all that again, she told herself for the thousandth time. She wasn't a vet; hadn't been one since she had been forced to take over her late father's business.

Zoe released the horse's leg and let Saira hold it gently, pressing softly against the area of concern.

Zoe stood upright. "I don't think there's much chance this horse will be taking part in the next polo match. Don't you agree?"

Saira nodded slowly and glanced up at Zoe. "This is not going to be very popular," she said. Zoe thought the young woman looked worried.

"Why not?"

Saira straightened and sighed. "This is the sheikh's favorite horse," she said.

"Which one?" Zoe asked. Something twisted in her middle because she already knew the answer to that question.

Saira frowned. "Sheikh Tariq Al Kharif," she replied with a hint of respect in her voice.

Zoe set her face into as tight a mask as she could muster. She wondered if the young veterinarian had noticed Zoe's reaction. Because, on hearing that name, Zoe had felt her stomach tumble and her chest tighten. Zoe tightened her fists and leaned back against the wooden frame of the stall.

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