The Sheik and the Princess Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 8)(56) by Susan Mallery
He pulled out a wide, intricately carved gold bracelet. Different precious gems added to the pattern.
“They are very old and very rare. This one dates back to the early nine hundreds.”
She took the stunning bracelet and turned it over in her hands. “There’s no way to get it open.”
He smiled. “That is part of the appeal. This is a version of a slave bracelet.
The unlocking mechanism is hidden in the design. Some were made for the women in the harem. That way if they escaped, the bracelet marked them as a possession of the king. Others, like these, were made for the woman who possessed the king’s heart. They offered protection, a free right of passage anywhere in the country.
Those who aided her were rewarded.”
He reached into his pocket again and held out a tiny key dangling from a delicate gold chain. “You see where the diamonds surround the sapphire?”
She found the spot on the bracelet and nodded.
“The key fits there. If you choose to wear the bracelet, know that you will always have a place to call home here. When you are ready, remove it.”
She knew what he meant. When she loved another, she could take off the bracelet as a symbol of letting go.
Billie traced the wide gold band. The diamonds, sapphires and rubies glinted in the harsh lighting. There was so much history in this single piece of jewelry.
So much beauty.
“This should be on display in a museum,” she said.
“I would prefer you to wear it.”
She held out the band and he unlocked it. She slipped her wrist inside and snapped it closed. The cool metal fit perfectly.
Jefri slipped the chain over her head and she tucked the key under her blouse.
“Know you are protected,” he said. “That if you become lost, all you have to do is ask and you will be directed to me. Whatever happens, wherever you go, there will always be a safe place for you here. When I am gone, my heirs will honor the promise of the bracelet until the day you draw your last.”
He spoke the words as if they were a prayer…or a vow. They filled her heart with love and made her ache.
She took his hand in hers and leaned against him. “Maybe I’m not strong enough to do this. Maybe I want us to run away together and say the hell with the rest of the world.”
He touched her lips with his fingertips. “You need only speak the words.”
She glanced at the bracelet, then into his face. He meant it, she thought with amazement. If she asked him to go away with her, he would. He would turn his back on everything for her. The realization humbled her.
It was all there, she thought. Just out of reach. She only had to grab for what she wanted and it would be hers. But at what price? How many people would be hurt or disappointed? Not just Tahira. What about Jefri’s family? How long would he be content to be estranged from them? He was a prince and a sheik. He could trace his lineage back over a thousand years.
“Speak the words,” he repeated.
She drew in a breath for courage. “No.”
Sadness darkened his eyes. “Are you sure?”
She wasn’t, but she nodded because it was the right thing to do.
“Please take me back to the palace,” she whispered. “I’m going to need a long bath and a lot of chocolate to get through the rest of the day.”
He kissed her. “I will love you forever.”
“I’ll love you just as long.”
They drove back to the palace in the back of a limo. Billie snuggled close, resting her head on his shoulder. She closed her eyes against the sights of the city she had come to love, knowing that her days there were dwindling. She could feel the weight of the bracelet on her wrist and wondered how long it would be before she was willing to take it off.
She had a vision of herself as a very old lady, showing up at the palace and demanding refuge. Somehow she knew that a handsome young prince would appear. He would speak gently, telling her of his father’s death and how Jefri had loved her to the end. Then she would be taken to a pretty room where she would live out her last.
It all sounded romantic, she thought. But in reality, it sucked. Besides, she wanted to spend her last days surrounded by a large, loud family, not alone in a foreign country where no one knew her.
So in time, she would have to find the courage to put her love aside and go out and make a place for herself. There were good men out there. Men who could make her happy.
Or maybe she didn’t need a man. Maybe she could start adopting kids and make a family that way. She had a lot to offer—a big heart and plenty of love. She could buy a house somewhere and settle down. As long as she was near an airport.
The limo slowed. She opened her eyes and saw they’d entered the palace grounds.
Several guards approached the limo and motioned for the driver to stop. The rear door jerked open.
“Oh. Prince Jefri,” the guard said. “My apologies. I’m under orders to search every vehicle.”
Jefri stepped out. “What is going on?”
Billie followed him. There were dozens of guards everywhere. Up at the entrance to the palace, she saw the king talking with someone. It didn’t look like a happy conversation.
“This can’t be good,” she said.
Jefri took her hand and led her toward his father. As they approached, the king dismissed the other man and turned to them.
“You are here at last,” the old man said, looking both angry and worried.
“What has happened?” Jefri asked.
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