The Sheik and the Princess in Waiting(Desert Rogues, Book 7)(43) by Susan Mallery
“I know you didn’t want to do this today. Be with me and my parents, I mean. I appreciate you arranging everything and then coming along.”
“It is important that you all enjoy your time in Bahania.”
Before they left, she thought glumly.
“Seeing the desert will help you understand our ways,” he said. “The desert is filled with tradition. For centuries nomads have wandered through the vastness of these lands. Thieves preyed on those using the silk road.”
“Great. My mother was worried about being robbed.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Those times are long past. Today those who live in the desert protect the oil fields to earn their living. A combination of the old ways and the new.”
“Sounds like a good plan.”
He shrugged. “There are those who do not wish to work. They want to take—much like the thieves of old.”
She glanced around at the rolling dunes, the few clusters of scrubby plants.
“Money. They threaten our oil fields with disaster if we don’t pay them off.”
She caught her breath. “That’s illegal, isn’t it?”
“Yes. We know who these boys are. Most are second and third sons of nomadic chiefs. As they will not inherit, they are locked out of the family wealth.
Instead of earning a living, they seek something more profitable and to their minds, easier. They play at being men.”
“Are you going to have them arrested?”
He shook his head. “I have given my word to their fathers that I won’t lock them up without cause. Mere threats are not considered cause, not out here. So we wait and watch. Sometimes angry young men grow up. Sometimes not.”
“I don’t understand,” she admitted. “Why wouldn’t their fathers want them to go to prison? What they’re doing is wrong.”
“To a man of the desert, there is no greater torture than to be locked away from the sun. I won’t arrest anyone until he gives me a reason. This information does not make my head of security very happy.”
“Hardly a surprise.”
This was the longest conversation they’d had since they’d spent the night together. Emma wondered if Reyhan was thawing toward her or simply making the best of a bad situation.
“I’m sorry this is so difficult for you,” she said. “Having me stay. Having my parents here. All of it.”
“The time will pass.”
Not exactly words to warm her heart. She wanted to remind him that a few days ago he’d wanted her with a passion that had thrilled them both. That he had kissed her and touched her. Remembering their time together made her stomach clench and her body burn.
“What if I just left?” she asked.
He continued to look straight ahead. “Nothing would change. When you returned, the ticking clock would continue. My father can be most stubborn.”
She thought about how Reyhan avoided her as if she had some disease he didn’t want to catch. How he barely spoke to her and never laughed anymore. The stubbornness seemed to be an inherited trait.
They arrived at the oasis about an hour later. Emma’s parents were already there and rushed to greet their daughter. Reyhan watched them, wondering at their anxiousness. She had been with him and he would have died to keep her safe. Not that her parents had ever trusted him.
He dismounted and moved beside Emma’s horse. Her mother glared at him as he helped Emma down. Even with her parents watching and disapproving, he noticed the warmth of her body and the way she leaned against him while she regained her footing.
“So I have a way to go before I’m an accomplished horsewoman,” she said with a smile. “At least I survived.”
He wanted to smile back at her and tell her that he would be happy to teach her to ride. He wanted to put his arm around her and draw her closer against him. He wanted to kiss her and touch her and be with her. Instead he stepped back and turned away.
“This oasis is not considered large. There are others deeper in the desert that cover several acres. But many families travel here because they can be close to the city while maintaining their old ways.”
“Is it safe for us to wander around?” Emma asked. “Are there any things we shouldn’t do? I don’t want to offend anyone.”
“You are an honored guest. You will be welcome.” He looked at the small campsite set up around the pond of water. Children played with each other. The women talked together over the open fires, while the men tended the camels. Their arrival had been noticed, but his people would wait for him to make the first move.
“You have nothing to worry about,” he said.
“Are you sure?”
He nodded, not surprised by her concern. One of the things he’d liked about her when they’d first met had been her soft heart. She cared about others—an unusual characteristic in the women he generally met.
Emma linked arms with her parents. “Isn’t this fabulous?” she said happily.
“Let’s go introduce ourselves.”
“They’re strangers,” her mother said. “We don’t know if they speak English.”
“Most do not,” he confirmed.
“Then we’ll have to fake it,” Emma said, and pulled her parents toward the women.
He resisted the need to walk with her and claim her as his own by staying close.
His presence was enough protection, he reminded himself. Even though she didn’t need any.
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