The Sheikh and the Runaway Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 4)(5) by Susan Mallery
“I’m looking for the lost City of Thieves.”
She expected a reaction of interest or disbelief. What she didn’t expect was for him to lean his head back and laugh. The low chuckling drifted across the desert. The men at the fire turned to look at them, as did the horses.
“Laugh all you want,” she snapped. “It’s true. I know exactly where it is and I’m going to find it.”
He raised his eyebrows. “The city is a myth. Adventurers have been searching for the city for centuries. What makes you think one slip of a girl will find it when they have not?”
“Some of them have,” she insisted. “I have maps, diaries.”
He lowered his gaze to her body. She wore a T-shirt and jeans, along with hiking boots. Behind her, on the sand, lay her cloak. She would need that cloak later. Already the temperature was dropping from stifling to pleasantly cool.
“Where exactly are these maps and diaries?” he asked sounding oh so polite.
She gritted her teeth. “They’re in my saddle bags.”
“I see. On your runaway horse?”
He paused. “You do realize it will be more difficult to find this fictional city without the maps.”
She curled her fingers into fists. Irritation swelled inside of her. “I’ve already figured that out.”
“Yet you continue to seek the city?”
“I don’t give up easily. I swear I’ll come back and find it.”
He rose to his feet and stared down at her from his rather impressive height. “How determined you sound. But your plans are based on an interesting assumption.”
She frowned, barely able to see him in the darkness of the night. “What’s that?”
“For you to return anywhere, I must first let you go.”
Kardal kept his eyes closed, trying to ignore the squirming of the woman next to him. The ground beneath was hard, but not uncomfortable, although he doubted Sabrina would appreciate that fact. While he’d unbound her feet, he’d kept her wrists tied and connected to a rope anchored to the belt around his waist. He knew that without a deterrent of some kind she was impulsive enough to try to escape in the night.
She was less than amused by their sleeping arrangements.
“This is ridiculous,” she hissed, her words barely audible over the snores of his men. “It’s the middle of the night in the middle of the desert. Where exactly do you think I’m going to go? Untie me at once.”
“How imperious you sound,” he replied, not bothering to look at her. “If you continue to speak, I’ll put a gag in your mouth. I assure you, after a time it grows most unpleasant.”
He heard her sharp intake of air, but she didn’t talk anymore, for which he was grateful.
She shifted again, drawing her thick cloak more tightly around her. The night temperature continued to drop. Kardal knew that in time she would welcome the heat of his body next to hers. Left on her own, she would be shivering by dawn. But he doubted she would thank him. Women were rarely sensible creatures.
As for trusting her enough to release her—he would rather trust his fortune to a gambler. He couldn’t believe she’d been foolish—or foolhardy—enough to be traveling by herself in the desert. Didn’t she realize how dangerous the vast emptiness could be?
Obviously not, he thought, answering his own question. At first he’d been shocked to see a lone traveler in the distance. He and his men had quickly changed course to offer assistance. As they’d approached, he’d realized the traveler was a woman. And then he’d seen her face and known exactly who she was.
Sabrina Johnson—otherwise known as Princess Sabra, the only daughter of King Hassan of Bahania—was everything he’d feared. Willful, difficult, spoiled and lacking the intelligence the good Lord gave a date palm.
He supposed the sensible course of action would be to return her to her father, even though he knew the king wouldn’t do anything to mend her wayward ways. From what he’d heard, King Hassan ignored his only daughter, allowing her to spend much of the year with her mother in California. No doubt living in wildness as the king’s former wife did.
Kardal opened his eyes and stared up at the heavens. Stars twinkled down at him. He was as much a product of the new century as any man in his world could be. Trapped between tradition and progress, he attempted to find wisdom and act accordingly in all situations. But when he thought about Sabrina wasting her time in Beverly Hills, having affairs and living who knew what kind of hedonistic lifestyle…
He swore silently. She might be uncomprehendingly beautiful but she had the heart and soul of a spoiled and willful child. She was not a traditional desert wife, nor was she a sparkling gem of a woman produced by the best western culture had to offer. She fit nowhere and he had no use for her. If life were fair, he could simply return her and be done with her.
Unfortunately life was not fair and that course of action wasn’t open to him. The price of being a leader, he supposed.
Sabrina flopped onto her back, tugging at the rope that bound them together. He didn’t move. She sighed in disgust and was quiet. In time, her breathing slowed and he knew she’d found sleep.
Tomorrow would be interesting, he thought wryly. He would have to decide what to do with her. Or perhaps he already knew and didn’t want to admit it to himself. There was also the matter of her not recognizing him, although it was possible she hadn’t been told his name. That thought made him smile. If she didn’t know, he wasn’t about to tell her. Not yet.
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