The Prince and the Pregnant Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 6)(50) by Susan Mallery
Cleo had never flown in a helicopter before. She tried to stay calm and not think about the insanity of trusting her life to a giant flying bug. Rather than give in to her fear, she stared down at the endless stretch of desert. Somewhere in the sandy beige of the Bahanian wilderness sat a secret city hidden for over a thousand years.
The City of Thieves acted as a home base for thousands of wandering nomads. The residents had originally made their fortunes by stealing from desert travelers.
Eventually they had realized it was far easier to offer protection to the merchants on the Silk Road than to take from them. Now the nomads protected the vast oil fields belonging to Bahania and neighboring El Bahar.
Cleo had read up on the City of Thieves, at least on the legends about the place. The city didn’t officially exist. In a way it was like Camelot—without the English accents.
Cleo smiled at her feeble joke, all the while trying not to feel apprehensive.
Zara had returned from her honeymoon the previous day. As much as she wanted to deal with Zara over the phone, it didn’t seem fair. Not after all they’d been to each other. Her foster sister would want an explanation, and Cleo was going to give it to her. Maybe in defining all that had happened between Sadik and herself, she would come to understand it more clearly.
The helicopter moved lower. Cleo squinted against the bright sunlight. There, at the base of a mountain, she thought she saw something. Buildings maybe? They blended perfectly with the surrounding rock. Was it possible that a medieval city still functioned in these modern times?
The original stone huts had given way to an elaborate walled city, complete with a castle. The location had been decided by two factors: the geography that allowed a stone city to blend into the surroundings and a river flowing from an underground spring. The water circled the city, then dove beneath the earth to be cleansed and renewed.
Sabrina’s husband, Prince Kardal, ruled the city. Zara’s new husband, Rafe, was in charge of security. Although a Bahanian princess, Zara now called the City of Thieves her home.
Cleo pressed a hand against the window as the giant bug slowly lowered itself to the stone landing pad in front of the main doors to the palace. She could see vast fields, irrigated by the river, and corralled cattle and goats. In the distance several dozen nomads made their way back to the desert, after visiting the city.
Once the helicopter came to a stop, a uniformed guard opened the door, put out a step for her and bowed.
“Welcome to the City of Thieves, Princess Cleo,” he said, straightening and offering a hand to help her down.
Cleo rested her fingers lightly on his palm. She stepped onto the worn stone and saw a courtyard filled with a busy marketplace. She had the sense of stepping back in time—as if life in the city had been like this for a thousand years.
After all, it probably had. She half expected to see a dancing scarecrow and tin man singing about visiting a wizard.
But instead of Technicolor creatures, the main doors of the palace opened to reveal Zara and Sabrina. They both rushed toward Cleo and gathered her close in a group hug that brought tears to Cleo’s eyes.
Zara stepped back first and glared at her sister. “Don’t for a moment think I’m ever going to forgive you for running off and getting married without telling me about it.”
Cleo winced. “I didn’t want to spoil your honeymoon. Are you really mad?”
Zara sighed. “No. I understand.” She looked at her sister’s bulging stomach.
“It’s not like you had a lot of time to wait. I just wish I’d been there.”
“I would have liked that, too,” Cleo admitted as the weepy feeling started to get stronger.
Sabrina slipped between them both and drew them inside the castle. “Now, ladies, there will be no tears today. And no ill tempers. We’re going to have a fabulous ‘girls only’ day. We’re going to stretch out on sofas and eat fattening food, while we trash our husbands and talk about shoes. Are we in agreement?”
Zara smiled at Cleo. “Yes. I agree. And I’m really glad you’re here.”
For the first time since her marriage to Sadik, Cleo felt as if she could actually relax. “I’m glad I’m here, too.”
Zara and Sabrina took Cleo on a tour of the castle before they settled down for their girl talk. While sections of the ancient structure had been modernized, there were still rooms and corridors constructed of stone, with slits for windows and no heating, cooling or air-conditioning.
“There are fireplaces,” Sabrina said as they strolled through a large guest bedroom. “The stone walls are thick enough to keep out the heat, and something about the way the place is built actually takes advantage of the night breezes to cool the place off. But you wouldn’t want to get lost around here. It’s big enough that it could literally take days to find you.”
“I’m still using a map,” Zara confessed. “I also have a cell phone that I’ve had to rely on more than once. It’s pretty embarrassing to phone Rafe and tell him to come find me.”
Sabrina laughed. “He hardly minds. You’re still newlyweds.”
Zara sighed with contentment. “You’re right. He doesn’t mind at all.”
Cleo smiled because she was expected to, but she couldn’t help feeling a twinge of envy for Zara’s and Sabrina’s happiness. They were both married to wonderful men who were completely devoted. They were—
A tall man dressed in traditional desert robes swept around a bend in the corridor. Cleo froze, then instinctively took a step back before recognizing the handsome prince. He nodded at both her and Zara, then swept Sabrina into his arms.
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