The Sheikh's Rebellious Bride(5)By: Cara Albany
Tariq felt himself bristle instinctively at that description. "Old friend?" he queried raising a brow.
Zoe nodded. Tariq saw her shift nervously on the edges of her shoes. She glanced at the horse in the stall. "I was waiting for you to come to the stables."
"Really?" he asked.
Zoe nodded. "Someone had to break the news to you about your prized stallion."
Tariq peered over the edge of the stall and drew in a sharp breath. "What happened?"
"I think he got startled."
"By what?" Tariq demanded.
He turned and looked at Zoe. He was aware that his stare was intimidating at times. People had commented on it. But, it would be nothing new to Zoe. She already knew what Tariq was like when he was displeased. He could be demanding. He knew that. But, Zoe had always been willing to stand her ground when it came to arguments.
He saw her jaw tighten, and he felt something shift in his middle. There was that determination, he thought. That familiar refusal to bend to the wishes of others.
Except that, when it came to love-making she had submitted many times; she had succumbed to his forceful, sensual attentions. Tariq restrained a smile of triumph at that memory.
"When I tried to take a look at him, he got startled," Zoe explained.
"So, it was you," Tariq replied aware that it sounded like an accusation.
Zoe's eyes narrowed. "It wasn't me that made him jump. When I looked into the stall, he already looked like he had hurt his leg."
Tariq frowned. "But, you're not sure," he said.
Zoe squinted. "What's important is that the equestrian vet came to see him. She took care of him and said he'll be fine."
Tariq sighed. "This horse is unique," he said leaning a hand on the stall.
"I'm sure you'll cope, Tariq," Zoe said. "You always used to tell me what a wonderful rider you were." Her brow quirked at him, and he saw that she was trying to tease him.
Tariq took a step forward. Zoe held her ground, her chin raised defiantly, her gaze locked on Tariq's face. "I would have thought you would have a good memory of my physical skills, Zoe," he said.
Tariq felt a momentary satisfaction when he saw Zoe swallow. This close to her, he could see the pulse throbbing on her long neck.
Zoe turned away from Tariq and started to walk slowly along the passageway between the stalls.
"Why didn't you contact me?" Tariq asked suddenly.
Zoe glanced at him, seemingly surprised by the suddenness of the question. "I was busy," she replied curtly.
"Too busy for a very close friend?" Tariq asked.
"You know why I didn't contact you, Tariq," she said.
"It has been a long time, Zoe." He ran his gaze down her body. "Too long." Once again the simple act of looking at her caused something to harden and shift. He was startled by the visceral way his body was reacting to this woman who had meant so much to him. Who still meant so much to him.
Tariq saw Zoe's eyes narrow. There was troubling thought in those eyes. She seemed to be preoccupied with something.
"How have you been, Tariq?" she asked, changing the subject.
Tariq waved a dismissive hand and grinned. "You know. The life of a sheikh is a terribly difficult one," he said. He rolled his gaze at her, making sure she understood he wasn't being serious.
Zoe's eyes brightened, and she laughed suddenly. The sound of her laughter echoed in the curious quiet of the stables. He heard some of the horses shifting in their stalls.
Tariq paused, and Zoe halted, facing him. There was an earnestness in her gaze, and he was suddenly sure that she was harboring some kind of secret, or even an urgent question.
"Tell me about your life, Zoe. What happened to you?"
There was a sudden pain in her eyes. Tariq already knew the story of how her father, Jack, had died after a brief illness; how Zoe had been forced to take over the business which her father had built up over many years. That business had started as a modest corporate hospitality organization, but Zoe's father had had a passion for polo.
So, he had created a company which specialized in arranging polo events on the sport's elite global circuit. From Argentina to North America to England and here, in the many states close to Qazhar, Zoe's father had become the only man who could properly organize those special polo events. His contacts in that elite world had always ensured a memorable turnout that enhanced everyone's involvement.