The Sheikh and the Runaway Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 4)(1) by Susan Mallery
Sabrina Johnson had sand in her teeth and a lot of other places sand wasn’t supposed to be.
She’d been an idiot, she told herself as she huddled under her thick cloak and listened to the storm howling all around her. Only someone incredibly foolish would have driven four hundred miles out into the desert by herself, and then left all signs of civilization behind, traveling with only a horse and a pack camel, looking for a stupid, mythical city that probably didn’t even exist.
A particularly vicious gust of sand and wind nearly toppled her. Sabrina clutched her legs more firmly to her chest, rested her head on her knees and swore that no matter how long she lived—assuming she survived her current predicament—she was never, ever going to be impulsive again. Not even a little. All impulse had gotten her was lost and trapped in the middle of a sandstorm.
Worse, no one knew she was out here, so no one would be looking for her. She’d stalked off without saying a word to her father or her brothers. When she didn’t show up for dinner, they would probably assume she was either sulking in her room or had taken off for Paris on a shopping trip. They would never think she was lost in the desert. Her brothers had warned her more than once that her crazy ideas were going to be the death of her. She’d never thought they might be right.
Heat and dryness pressed against her. She coughed, but couldn’t seem to clear her throat. How long would the storm go on and would she be able to find her way when it was over?
She didn’t have answers to her questions, so she tried not to think about them. Instead she wrapped her thick cloak around herself more tightly, staying low to the ground, hoping the storm wouldn’t sweep her up in its power and blow her away. She’d heard stories about that sort of thing. Of course her brothers had been the ones telling the stories and they didn’t always stick to the truth.
After what could have been hours, she thought she noticed a slight lessening of howls. Gradually she became aware that the gusts weren’t quite so strong and that it was getting easier to breathe. A few minutes later she risked peeking out from under her cloak.
There was good news and bad news. The good news was she wasn’t dead. Yet. The bad news was her horse and the supply camel were gone, along with her food, water and maps. Almost worse, the storm had buried the makeshift road she’d been following and had erased all the landmarks she’d noticed on her way into the desert from the outpost where she’d left the truck and horse trailer. The truck that wouldn’t be found until someone else journeyed to the abandoned old building. That event could be weeks or even months away. How would she survive until then?
Sabrina rose and turned in a slow circle. Nothing looked familiar. In the distance, the storm still raged. She watched clouds of sand reach up toward the sky as if trying to obliterate the sun. She swallowed. The sun was surprisingly low in the horizon. It was late. Apparently the storm had lasted longer than she’d realized.
Her stomach growled, reminding her she hadn’t eaten since a very early breakfast. She’d been so eager to get started on her journey that morning, that she’d left the capital city well before dawn. She’d been convinced that she was going to find the fabled City of Thieves she’d been studying for ages, and prove its existence to her father. He’d always teased her about her fascination with it. She’d been so darned determined to have the last word. Instead she’d ended up here.
Now what? She could continue to search for the lost city, she could try to return to Bahania and her life of being ignored by her father and brothers or she could simply stand here and die of thirst. Actually while the third choice wasn’t her favorite, under the circumstances it seemed the most likely.
“I’m not going without a fight,” Sabrina muttered as she tightened the scarf tied around her head. She shook out her cloak, then folded it and slung it over one shoulder.
West, she thought and turned so the setting sun was on her right. She needed to retrace her earlier journey by heading south and a little west to find the outpost. There was food and water in her car, because she’d brought more than she’d been able to fit onto the camel. Once she had something to eat and drink, she could think more clearly and figure out what she was going to do.
Ignoring her hunger and thirst, she set off at a steady pace. Fear dogged her heels, like a desert jackal, but she mentally kicked the beast away and reminded herself that she was Sabrina Johnson. She’d faced much worse in her life. She was lying, of course. She’d never faced physical danger before. But so what? There was no one around to point out that fact.
Thirty minutes later she wanted to call a cab. Forty-five minutes later she realized she would have sold her soul for a single glass of water. An hour later, the fear won and she knew she was well and truly going to die in the desert. Her eyes burned from the dryness. Her skin felt as if it were a size too small and her throat was raw and on fire.
She wondered if death in the desert was like death in the snow. Would she simply get tired and go to sleep?
“Not with my luck,” she muttered between parched lips. “My death will be much slower and more painful.”
Still she continued to put one foot in front of the other, ignoring the tempting mirages appearing directly in front of her as the sun slowly set. First she saw a wavering oasis, then a waterfall. Finally she saw a half-dozen men on horses riding closer and closer.
Horses? She stopped walking. She blinked, then squinted. Were they real? As she paused, she realized she could feel the thunder of the horses’ hooves on the ground. Which meant there was a possibility of rescue. Or something less pleasant.
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