The Sheik's Unexpected Bride by Elizabeth Lennox

He looked at her sharply, then smiled politely. “I would be happy to, if you need assistance. I’m always willing to help a damsel in distress.”

“Of course you are!” she hissed right back at him. “Because all Neanderthals are enlightened!”

He blinked, startled by her comment. “Do you have an objection to my record on women’s rights, Your Highness?”

She shrugged and smiled blandly, but her eyes glittered with irritation. “Of course I don’t. I’m just a silly little girl. Why would I have an opinion on something as complex as half of your country’s population living in servitude?”

He laughed softly, but he wasn’t amused. “If being happily married and living with their families is considered servitude in your mind, then you have a pretty major problem.”

The waiter arrived with lemon sauce and steamed broccoli. Smoothly, Tasim put a spoonful on his plate. Then turned to Luna, eyebrows raised, silently asking if she’d like any.

“No. Thank you.”

“You don’t eat vegetables?” he asked, still holding the broccoli tongs.

Her eyes flashed, but she maintained a serene smile so that anyone looking on would assume they were having a congenial conversation. “Of course I eat vegetables. I’m just not fond of broccoli.” She stared right back at him, daring him to comment. There was a long pause as they glared at each other. The confrontation was finally broken when she heard the silver spoon clank angrily against her plate. Looking down, she realized that there was an enormous pile of broccoli that literally covered all the other food on her plate.

Her lips pressed together for a moment before quickly curving into a polite smile. “Why thank you, Your Highness. I’m so glad that you’re here to take care of little ole me. What would I do without your paternalistic efforts to keep me healthy?”

He didn’t respond. He simply handed the platter to the waiter, and again snubbed her by turning to converse with the woman on his other side.

“You must love broccoli,” the man to her left commented with a soft chuckle as they both looked down at her plate.

“Oh, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to eat all of this,” she said to the man, in a voice loud enough so that the jerk could hear. “I’m sure that I’ll find something creative to do with it though. I don’t want food to go to waste.”

The general cleared his throat, calling attention.

“Would anyone like to hear a joke?” he asked the table hopefully. Before the group could reply, he eagerly began. “A guy walks into a bar…” the general paused, his smile lighting up as the other guests at the table ended their conversations and looked on politely. “And he’s carrying jumper cables.” The general looked around, eager to please. “The bartender turns to him and says, ‘Hey buddy, don’t start anything in here.’”

Luna slapped a hand over her mouth and looked around. The other guest were laughing politely and it took Luna a great deal of effort to restrain herself from laughing out loud. It was a very corny joke, but she loved it! It was absolutely hilarious!

“Don’t hurt his feelings!” Tasim hissed into her ear.

Luna glanced up at him and all amusement dissipated in the face of his anger. “I wasn’t…I thought…”

“Stop!” he hissed. “Just stop! He’s a kind man. He likes to tell silly jokes and, I’m sorry, but he’s probably going to tell that joke again.” He eyed her sternly. “Don’t hurt his feelings!”

Luna’s eyes widened for a moment. Their glaring match continued, but without a winner, what was the point?

Instead, she glanced over at the elderly general, then at his wife, who was stared fixedly down at her plate with embarrassment. Over a joke? How ridiculous!

“General, thank you so much for lightening the conversation. We were venturing into political territory on this side of the table and your joke was very much appreciated,” she said, smiling warmly at him. The man’s eyes widened, then his cheeks flushed with pleasure.

Tasim watched the interaction, even noticing that the general’s wife looked relieved. Well done, Princess, he thought. But he didn’t say anything. Although her words sounded sincere, this was Princess Luna after all. She was spoiled rotten and irritatingly self-centered.

Wasn’t she?

So, why did he suddenly have the feeling that he’d hurt her feelings with his abrupt warning?