The Sheikh and the Runaway Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 4)(8) by Susan Mallery
“I don’t know what you think you’re doing,” she announced, practically vibrating with rage. The sensation of being blind while on a moving horse was completely disconcerting. With each step, she expected to tumble under the horse’s hooves.
“First,” Kardal said, his voice barely a whisper in her ear. “You don’t have to shout. I’m right behind you.”
“Like I don’t know that.”
She sat in front of him, on his saddle. As much as she tried to keep from touching him, there wasn’t enough room. Holding herself stiffly away from him only made her muscles ache. Despite her best effort to prevent contact, her back kept brushing against his front.
“What’s the second thing?” she asked grudgingly.
“You’re about to get your wish. Our destination is the City of Thieves.”
Sabrina didn’t respond. She couldn’t. Her mind filled with a thousand questions, not to mention disbelief, hope and excitement.
Behind her, Kardal chuckled. “Very real. I’ve lived there all my life.”
“But you can’t—It isn’t—” What he was saying didn’t make sense. “If it truly exists, how come I’ve never heard about it except in old books or diaries?”
“It’s how we prefer it. We are not interested in the outside world. We live in the old tradition.”
Which meant life for women was less than agreeable.
“I don’t believe you,” she told him. “You’re just saying this to get my hopes up.”
“Why else would I blindfold you? It is important that you not be able to find your way back to our city.”
Sabrina bit her lower lip. Could Kardal be telling the truth? Could the city exist and did people really live there? It would almost be worth being captured just to see inside the ancient walls. And his statement about finding her way back implied that he would—despite his posturing to the contrary—eventually let her go.
“Are there treasures?” she asked.
“You seek material wealth?”
There was something in his tone. Contempt, maybe? What was it about this man and his assumptions?
“Stop talking to me like I’m some gold digger,” she said heatedly. “I have a bachelor’s degree in archeology and a master’s in Bahanian history. My interest in the contents of the city are intellectual and scientific, not personal.”
She adjusted her weight, trying to escape the feeling that she was going to fall from the horse at any moment. “I don’t know why I’m bothering,” she grumbled into the darkness. “You’re hardly a sympathetic audience. Just believe what you want. I don’t care.”
But she did care, Kardal thought with some surprise when she was finally quiet. He had heard about her going to school in America. It had never occurred to him that she would actually complete her studies, nor had he thought she would study something relevant to her heritage. He wasn’t sure she didn’t want the treasures of his homeland for herself, but he was willing to wait and let her show her true self on that matter.
She leaned forward, as if holding herself away from him. He felt the tremor in her muscles, the result of her tension.
“Relax,” he told her, wrapping an arm around her waist and pulling her against him. “We have a long day’s ride. If you continue to sit so stiffly, you’ll spend much of the time in pain. I promise not to ravish you while we’re upon my horse.”
“Remind me to never dismount then,” she muttered, half under her breath, but she did let herself sag against him.
Sabrina was more trouble than any other three women Kardal had ever known, but he found he didn’t dislike her as much as he would have thought. Unfortunately he also found her body appealing as it pressed against his own. During the night he’d managed to ignore the sweet scent of her, but not while they rode pressed so closely together. When he’d first placed her in the saddle, he’d only thought to keep her from running off. By tying her hands, he’d attempted to both restrain and punish her willfulness. Now he was the one being punished.
With each step of the horse, her body swayed against his. Her rear nestled against his groin, arousing him so that he could think of little else. It was a kind of trouble he did not need.
She was not the traditional desert woman he would have chosen. She was neither deferential nor accommodating. Her quick mind allowed her to use wit and words as a weapon and there was no telling how her time in the west had corrupted her. She was disrespectful, opinionated and spoiled. And even if he found her slightly intriguing, she was not whom he would have chosen. But then the choice hadn’t been his at all. It had all been proclaimed at the time of his birth.
He wondered why she didn’t know who he was. Had her father not told her the specifics or had she simply not listened? He would guess the latter. Kardal smiled. He doubted Sabrina listened to anything she didn’t want to hear. It was a habit he would break her of.
He could almost anticipate the challenge she would be to him. In the end he would be the victor, of course. He was the man—strength to her yielding softness. Eventually she would learn to appreciate that. In the meantime, what would the ill-tempered beauty say if she knew he was the man to whom she had been betrothed?
Eventually Sabrina found the rhythm of the horse hypnotic, even with the chronic sensation of falling. Despite her desire to, if not prove herself then at least be somewhat independent, she found herself relaxing into Kardal’s arms. He was strong enough to support her and if she continued to hold herself stiffly, she would be aching by the end of the day.
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