The Sheikh and the Runaway Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 4)(7) by Susan Mallery
“Eliminating death as an option,” she said cautiously, “I don’t think I’d make an especially good slave.”
“I had considered that. Of course a good beating would change that.”
“And what would a bad beating do?” she murmured.
“Which would you prefer?”
She stared at him. “A good or a bad beating? Neither, thank you.” She couldn’t believe they were discussing this. She couldn’t believe this was actually happening. That she was standing in the middle of the Bahanian desert discussing the physical abuse of her person.
“I meant,” he said slowly, as if she weren’t very bright, “which of the three do you prefer?”
“It’s my choice? How democratic.”
“I am trying to be fair.”
She grimaced. Obviously he’d missed the sarcasm she’d attempted to interject into her words. “Fair would be giving me a horse and some supplies, then pointing me in the right direction.”
“You’ve already lost your own horse and camel. Why would I trust you with stock of mine?”
She didn’t like the question so she ignored it. There was no point in protesting that the loss of her horse and camel had been more because of the storm than because she’d done something wrong.
“I do not want to be killed,” she said at last when it became apparent he really was waiting for her to choose her fate. “And I have no desire to be any man’s slave.” Nor did she want to return to the palace and marry the troll prince. Unfortunately there wasn’t much choice.
She wondered if her father would bother to pay a ransom for her. He might if for no other reason than it would look bad for him if he didn’t. Now if one of his precious cats had been kidnapped, the entire kingdom would be in an uproar until it was returned.
It was very sad, she thought to herself, that her place in her father’s affection was far below her brothers and well under the cats. Unfortunately it was true. However, Kardal didn’t know that. There was no other choice. She was going to have to tell him who she was and hope that he was a man of honor, loyal to the king. If so, he would happily return her to her father. Once there, she would deal with her betrothal to the troll prince.
She drew herself up to her full height—all of five feet four inches and tried to look important. “I am Princess Sabra of Bahania. You have no right to keep me as your prisoner, nor may you determine my fate. I demand that you return me to the palace at once. If you do not, I will be forced to tell my father what you have done. He will hunt you and your men like the dogs that you are.”
Kardal looked faintly bored.
“You don’t believe me?” she asked. “I assure you, it’s the truth.”
He studied her face. “You don’t appear very royal. If you’re really the princess, what are you doing out here in the desert by yourself?”
“I told you yesterday. Searching for the City of Thieves. I wanted to find it and surprise my father with treasures I discovered there.”
That much was true, she thought. Not only had she wanted to study the fabled city, but she’d figured finding it was a surefire way to get the king’s attention. Once he realized she was a real person, she might be able to talk him out of her engagement.
He considered her words. “Even if you are the princess, which I doubt, I don’t see why you would have been out alone. It is forbidden.” His gaze narrowed. “Although they say the princess is willful and difficult. Perhaps you are her after all.”
Talk about a no-win situation, Sabrina thought glumly. She could accept the character assassination or not be believed. Once again she was left grasping for an alternative. Why was it people always assumed the worst about her? Didn’t anyone understand that she hadn’t had a normal life? Splitting time between two parents who didn’t really want her around hadn’t given her anything close to a happy childhood. People who thought she was fortunate saw only the physical trappings of her station. No one saw the endless hours she’d spent alone as a child.
But there was no point in explaining all that to Kardal. He wouldn’t believe her and even if he did, he wouldn’t care.
“I will consider what you have told me,” he said at last.
“What does that mean? You believe that I’m really the princess? Are you going to take me back to the palace in Bahania?” Compared to her recent desert experience, the troll prince might not be such a bad choice after all.
“No,” Kardal told her. “I think I will keep you for now. It would be most entertaining to have a princess as a slave.”
She tried to speak but could only splutter. He couldn’t mean it, she told herself, hoping she wasn’t lying.
“No,” she finally said. “You couldn’t do that.”
“It appears that I could.” Kardal chuckled to himself as he walked away, leaving her openmouthed and frothing.
“You’ll regret this,” she yelled after him, fighting the fury growing within her. If she hadn’t treasured her coffee so much, she would have tossed the steaming liquid at his retreating back. “I’ll make you sorry.”
He turned and looked at her. “I know, Sabrina. Most likely all the days of my life.”
Forty minutes later, she knew a flogging was too good for him. She was back to wanting him both hanged and shot. Maybe even beheaded. It wasn’t enough that he threatened her and insulted her. No. Not only had he tied her up, but he’d blindfolded her as well.
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