The Sheik and the Princess in Waiting(Desert Rogues, Book 7)(44) by Susan Mallery
He looked at the men hovering by the pen of camels. When he nodded, they approached, then bowed and offered greetings of respect. He recognized the oldest man, the chief of the small tribe, as someone who had ridden the desert with his father.
“Bihjan,” he said, returning the bow. “I bring greetings from my father.”
“I return those greetings and wish blessings on you and your family.”
“And to yours.”
The old man looked at Emma and her parents. “She is as beautiful as the sunrise.”
Pride filled Reyhan. “My wife.”
The old chief showed no surprised. “I see your blessings have already begun. You care for her.”
Reyhan nodded rather than speak the truth—that care didn’t come close. She was his life, his breath, and he wasn’t sure he would survive without her.
“She will give you fine sons.”
“If it is to be,” he said simply, ignoring the tightness in his chest when he thought about children. He and Emma had made love without protection. He’d been so caught up in the moment, he’d never thought, never considered the consequences. If she was pregnant…
He cast the worry away. She couldn’t be. If she were pregnant, she would stay forever, and being with her would destroy him. But to have a child with her…
He returned his attention to the chief. “You have been blessed with many sons,”
Bihjan nodded, his eyes dark with worry. “My youngest son, Fadl, leads the renegades,” he said quietly. “I know what they do, what threats they make.”
“I have given my word,” Reyhan reminded the old man. “If their threats remain empty, then I will do nothing. Perhaps in time, they will grow up enough to rejoin their people and become honorable men.”
Bihjan sighed with relief. “I had heard it was so, but I wanted to ask for myself. I know these young men try your patience.”
“My security chief’s, as well. He believes they should be arrested and put in prison. I have explained that to be so confined is a form of death for men of the desert.” He narrowed his gaze. “But be warned. My patience has limits. If any of the renegades acts in the smallest way, if their talk becomes action, my retribution will be swift and severe.”
The old man nodded. “As it should be, Prince Reyhan. As it should be.”
Emma loved everything about the oasis. The people were charming and at least two of the women understood a little English—at least enough for them to attempt to communicate. The children were beautiful and friendly and fun. She adored the dogs and the baby camels and the clever way the camp itself came together after being carted across miles of desert. Even her parents seemed to be having a reasonably good time, asking questions more than complaining. Maybe there was hope for them after all.
“They have invited us to dine with them,” Reyhan said as he came up to stand next to her. “I have accepted.”
Emma instantly glanced at the pen holding the camels and swallowed. “So, uh, what will be on the menu?”
Reyhan smiled. “Fear not. It’s chicken.”
“That’s a relief. I don’t think I could chow down on something I’d just petted and cooed over.”
“I would not expect you to.” He took her arm and pulled her away from everyone.
“I told them you were my wife, without mentioning the pending divorce.”
“Okay. That makes sense. The situation is complicated.” She didn’t know how to tell him she didn’t mind him claiming her as his wife with no “but” tacked on.
“I wanted you to know,” he said.
They were called to dinner. Everyone sat around in a circle. Dishes were passed from person to person. Emma sampled spicy rice casseroles and tender chicken.
There were flat breads and grilled vegetables. Two teenage boys played three-stringed musical instruments and a young girl with bells around her wrists and ankles danced for them.
“Can they afford to feed us like this?” Emma asked after a tray of honey-coated dates were offered. “I don’t want them to starve or anything because they played generous host with us.”
His dark gaze lingered on her face. “I appreciate your concern for my people. Do not worry. I have taken care of things.”
She trusted that he had. Reyhan was a good man, a man she could admire. What would he say if he knew that she wanted these people to be her people, as well? That the more time she spent in Bahania, the more she liked the country and was confident she could have made a home here?
After the meal, several of the women rose and disappeared into one of the tents.
A few of the men wandered off toward the camels. Emma started to rise, but Reyhan put a hand on her arm.
“There’s more to come,” he said.
“I’m pretty full.”
“It’s not food.”
Sure enough, a young girl walked up and knelt in front of Emma. She held out her hand, offering a beautiful blue and red enameled necklace. Emma looked at it, then at him.
“I can’t take that.”
“You have to. You’re their princess and they want to show respect.” He leaned close and lowered his voice. “Don’t worry. All that is expected is that you are enthusiastic and love everything. When we leave, the gifts stay behind.”
“Good thing,” she murmured as she noticed a teenage boy leading several camels toward her.
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