The Sheik and the Princess Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 8)(19) by Susan Mallery
He held her a fraction of a second longer than necessary, not that she minded, before assisting her with her shoes. They left their jackets, helmets and goggles in the plane and walked toward the clusters of plants and trees at the edge of the water.
“Are there underground springs?” she asked.
“Hundreds. My brother, Reyhan, has a house in the middle of the desert that sits on top of a spring. He and his wife live there now. The fabled City of Thieves is said to exist at the edge of an underground river.”
Billie frowned. “I remember reading about the City of Thieves when I was doing research on your country. It is supposed to be hidden somehow. The way the buildings blend in with the land or something. One account I read said there was a medieval castle there.”
“How interesting,” Jefri said in a carefully neutral tone.
“Is it real? The city?”
He drew her close and brought her hand up to rest on his arm. “Bahania is a land of much beauty and many mysteries. Perhaps you should give yourself time to discover them all.”
“Hardly an answer,” she grumbled but without much energy. When faced with the beauty of the oasis, what did a mythical city matter?
He pointed out different types of trees and shrubs. She bent down to feel the softness of the grass that grew right to the edge of the large pond in the center of the oasis. The water lapped against the bank, as if driven by a tidal force.
“Why does it move like that?” she asked.
“The pressure of the feeding spring.”
“Okay, so if the pond is being constantly fed with fresh water, why doesn’t it overflow? It’s not evaporating that quickly and I don’t see any kind of drainage.”
He smiled. “Yet another mystery to be solved. Things are more complex than they first appear.”
He led her around a grove of palm trees where she saw two lounge chairs set up with a small table between. A cooler sat on the ground with a basket of fruit on top.
“You’re kidding,” she said with a laugh. “You planned this?”
“Down to the last detail. We’ll be having lunch later.”
“I know it’s not in our plane, so did you have someone specially bring all this here?”
He spoke so casually, she thought as he led her to one of the lounge chairs.
Talk about the thrill of royalty. She was lucky if she could convince one of her brothers to bring her back gum from the convenience store.
She settled down while he popped open the cooler. There were an assortment of cold sodas, juices and bottled waters. She liked that he wasn’t going to drink while they still had to fly back.
When they were stretched out on their chairs and sipping their drinks, she glanced around at the beauty and quiet of the desert.
“Did you run off here when you got in trouble as a kid?” she asked.
“Sometimes. My father learned fairly quickly that I could be kept in line with the threat of losing access to my planes.”
“I know what you mean. In my house, getting grounded was meant literally.”
He chuckled. “I doubt you received many lectures on your duties to the people and how when you got in trouble you were letting down a thousand years of tradition.”
“Okay, I was spared that.” She looked at him. “Did the king really bring up a thousand years of tradition in his lectures?”
“It was a particular favorite.” Jefri shrugged. “According to him, I deeply disappointed all of our ancestors on a regular basis.”
She couldn’t imagine having that much history in one family. She got excited when she was able to stay in one place more than eight weeks.
“But you recovered to transgress another day,” she said.
“Sometimes I did not wait that long.” He smiled. “I liked to explore and I rarely followed the rules.”
“Something tells me you still don’t.”
Instead of answering, he reached for her hand and took it in his. “Tell me what it was like when you were growing up. There was no king to make pronouncements.”
“Maybe not, but my dad was used to being in charge. With three boys to deal with, he had to be firm.”
Jefri rubbed his thumb across the back of her hand and made her skin tingle.
“What about with you?”
“Until my mom died, she took care of disciplining me. I spent most of my time with her and we always got along. She used to say how as there were only two of us, we had to band together.”
She felt his gaze on her face. “You must have found her death very difficult.”
“I did. I was just about to enter the whole teenaged thing, when a girl really needs her mom. She had cancer, so there was some warning, but only a few weeks.
By the time she realized she was sick, it was already too late. My folks had first started dating in high school and my mom once admitted they’d both been each other’s first time. So when she got sick, my dad really freaked out.”
She stared out at the horizon. “My dad traveled a lot and I thought that meant he didn’t care so much about her, but I was wrong. I remember a couple of days after she’d been diagnosed and they’d told us, I went into their bedroom to talk to her. He was there, holding her. Crying. I’d never seen my dad cry. I didn’t want to spy, but I couldn’t seem to walk away. He begged her not to die. He told her he couldn’t make it without her. I could feel their love for each other. I vowed then I would find someone to love me that much.”
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