The Sheikh and the Runaway Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 4)(6) by Susan Mallery
Sabrina woke slowly to an unusual combination of hard bed and warmth. She shifted slightly, but the mattress didn’t yield at all. Nor did the heat source surrounding her. It was specifically on one side. Like a—
Her eyes popped open. She looked up into the rapidly lightening sky and realized she wasn’t back in her bed in the palace, nor was she in her room in her mother’s house. Instead she was in the desert, tied by a rope to a man she didn’t know.
The previous day’s events returned to her memory with all the subtlety of a desert storm: Her excitement at finally starting the journey she’d been dreaming about ever since she’d first heard of the lost City of Thieves. How she’d been so darn careful to pack her supplies sensibly, even taking a more docile horse than usual so that she wouldn’t have to worry about a riding accident. She’d had a compass, maps, diaries and determination on her side. What she hadn’t counted on was a conspiracy by the elements.
Which was how she’d come to find herself in her present predicament. Tied to a nomad who was going to do who knows what to her.
She risked glancing to her right. The man was still asleep, which gave her the opportunity to study him. In the soft light of morning, he still looked hard and powerful—a man of the desert. He held her fate in his hands, which alarmed her, but she no longer believed her life was in danger. Nor had she worried for her virtue. Even as she’d protested and then seethed at the thought of being tied up, she’d never once thought he would actually physically attack her. Which didn’t make any sense. She should have been afraid.
Now she looked at the thick lashes resting on his cheek and the way his mouth relaxed as he slept. His skin was tanned, adding shadows to sculpted cheekbones and a strong jawline. Who was this Kardal of the desert? Why did he hold her prisoner rather than simply offering to escort her to the nearest town?
Suddenly his eyes opened. They stared at each other from a distance of less than eight inches. She tried to read his expression, but could not. It was very strange, but if she had to pick a word to describe what was in his dark eyes, she would have said disappointment.
He rose without saying a word. As he did so, she realized that he must have loosened the rope holding them together, because it lay on the blankets he’d spread over the sand. With a quick movement, he bent down and untied her wrists.
“You may have a small bowl of water for your morning ablutions,” he said by way of greeting. “Don’t try to escape. If you do, I’ll give you to my men.”
And then he turned his back on her. “Not much of a morning person, are you?” Sabrina called out before she could stop herself.
He kept walking away and didn’t bother responding. She sighed. So much for friendly chitchat.
She did as he instructed, taking her small bowl of water to the far side of the camp. Covering herself with her cloak, she did her best to freshen up. Between the sandstorm, the night of sleeping in her clothes and the prospect of wearing them again for an unspecified length of time, she would have given a lot for a shower.
Ten minutes later, she cautiously approached the fire. Two men were making breakfast. She ignored the food and gazed longingly at the pot of coffee sitting close to the flames. Food wasn’t a priority for her until later in the day, but coffee was life.
She caught Kardal’s attention and motioned to the pot. He nodded without saying anything. She sidled closer to the men and took an unused mug from an open saddlebag, then poured herself a full cup of the steaming liquid. It was hot and strong enough to grow hair.
“Perfect,” she breathed.
Kardal moved around the fire to stand next to her. He wore his robe open over his shirt and trousers. The long covering flowed behind him with each step.
“I’m surprised you like it,” he said. “Most westerners and many women find it too strong.”
“Too strong isn’t possible,” she said after sipping again. “I like coffee I can stand a spoon in.”
“No lattes or mocha cappuccinos?”
What? Humor from the great and mysterious Kardal? She smiled slightly. “Not even on a bet.”
He motioned for her to follow him to the edge of their camp. Once there he put his hands on his hips and stared down at her as if she were a particularly unappealing bug. So much for the moment of bonding over coffee.
“Something must be done with you,” he announced.
“What? You don’t want to spend the rest of your days traveling with me throughout the desert? And here I thought you enjoyed tying me up and making me sleep on the hard ground.”
He raised his dark eyebrows. “You have more spirit than you did last night.”
“Not surprising. I’m rested, I have coffee. Despite rumors to the contrary, I’m a creature of simple wants.”
The curl of his mouth indicated that he didn’t believe her.
“We have three choices,” he told her. “We can kill you and leave your body here in the desert. We can sell you as a slave or we can ransom you to your family.”
She nearly choked on her coffee, barely able to believe he meant what he said. Although the edge of determination in his voice told her that he did.
“Can I see what’s behind curtain number four?” she asked when she could finally speak. Here she’d been thinking ol’ Kardal wasn’t so bad and he was talking about killing her and leaving her remains for whatever animals lived out here.
Of course if they were going to kill her wouldn’t they have already done it? Sleeping with her tied up next to him had to have been just as uncomfortable for Kardal as it had been for her.
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