The Sheikh's Rebellious Bride(4)By: Cara Albany
Zoe walked along the narrow passageway between the stalls. Horses shifted impatiently, the sounds from outside making the animals restive. The excitement of the crowd contrasted with the peace of the stables, causing the horses to become edgy and nervous.
Just like Zoe.
Edgy and nervous. Who wouldn't be in these circumstances?
Because, Zoe Smith was waiting for Sheikh Tariq Al Kharif to come to the stables so that she could ask him something she never thought she'd ever ask anyone. Something that two years ago would have seemed unthinkable, but now appeared to be her only option.
When Tariq finally arrived in the stables, Zoe was going to propose a marriage to the sheikh she had once rejected.
Tariq paused at the high, arched entrance to the stables and peered into the dimly lit interior. From behind him, there was a ripple of applause and the commentator's announcement of yet another goal.
Tariq stepped into the stable and called out. There was no reply. He made his way toward his horse's stall.
Arriving at the stall, he pulled open the door and halted suddenly. He gazed down and cursed at the sight of the bandage wrapped around the horse's leg. What had happened?
He bent down and examined the horse's injured leg. Why hadn't anyone told him about this? He stood up and let out an exasperated breath. This was going to ruin everything, he thought. He'd have to use an alternate mount.
Tariq went around and stroked the side of the horse's head, whispering gently. Animal and man had a close bond, forged through countless hours of practice on the polo field. The horse calmed on hearing his master's soft, authoritative tones.
Then he heard a voice from behind him.
He froze, disbelief clutching at his gut.
Tariq turned and there she was.
She stood at the open door to the stall, gazing up at him. Tariq had to restrain a gasp of disbelief. He was rooted to the spot, utterly speechless.
He could have said to himself he'd forgotten how beautiful Zoe was, but that wouldn't have been true. Tariq could never have forgotten those green eyes, that thick blonde hair, those luscious curves that filled the blue dress. How could he ever have lost the memory of that oval face, the moist, full lips and that delicious way that one side of her mouth creased slightly with a permanent mischievous smile. A myriad of memories tumbled into his mind, and every one of them involved himself entwined with Zoe.
Tariq quickly ran his eyes down Zoe's figure, all the way down her long legs, to the modest heels she was wearing. Glancing back into her eyes, he saw a flicker of uncertainty on her face.
Her gaze was fixed on Tariq, awaiting his reply, but also gauging his response to her appearance.
Tariq took a step forward, and Zoe moved to one side, allowing him to step out of the stall. Tariq closed the stall behind him. He felt as if in a daze, expecting Zoe to evaporate like a mirage.
"It's nice to see you, Tariq," Zoe said. Tariq noticed a quiver in her voice. She was nervous and doing her utmost to hide that fact, he thought.
"Zoe. What a surprise," he said, knowing that it didn't sound at all convincing.
A smile appeared on Zoe's face, every bit as forced as Tariq's efforts at appearing surprised.
Then she did something that really rocked him back on his heels. She leapt forward, taking hold of Tariq's shoulders and, stretching her head up, gave him an air kiss. The scent of Zoe's perfume burst into Tariq's awareness. He almost gasped at the intensity of the perfume, but it sent a jolt of welcome delight coursing through his nervous system.
Tariq leaned forward and tried to lay his hand on one of Zoe's shoulders, but she was too quick for him. With a sudden jerk, she let go of him and took a couple of steps back.
Zoe thrust her hands behind her back, almost like a girl younger than her twenty-four years. She squinted at Tariq as if waiting for him to say something.
Finally, Tariq found his voice. "I knew you were here, but I couldn't find you." Right now, the truth seemed like the best choice. There was no use pretending that he hadn't been thinking of her the whole evening. In fact, he hadn't stopped thinking about her since she'd arrived in Qazhar, a few days before.
Zoe's nose crinkled. "Of course, you knew I was here, Tariq. But, I've been so busy, I couldn't take time off for anything. Not even to see an old friend."