The Sheikh and the Runaway Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 4)(12) by Susan Mallery
“Who are you?” she asked, knowing she wasn’t going to like the answer.
“I have told you, I am Kardal.”
He waited, obviously expecting her to start walking again, but she stood her ground. She glanced around at the happy, almost reverent crowd, then back at him. “Uh-huh. Okay, Kardal, what am I missing?”
He tried to make his expression innocent and failed badly. If her hands hadn’t still been bound, she would have planted them on her hips.
“Look,” she said, both fearful and irritated. “You can call me a spoiled brat if you like, but I’m not stupid. Who are you?”
An old man stepped forward and smiled at her. He was stoop-shouldered and barely came to her chin.
“Don’t you know?” he asked in a quavering voice. “He is Kardal, the Prince of Thieves. He rules this place.”
Sabrina opened her mouth, then closed it. She’d heard of the man, of course. There had been a prince of the city for as long as the mysterious place had existed.
“You?” she asked in disbelief.
Kardal shrugged. “I suppose you had to find out sometime. Yes, I’m the prince here.” He motioned to the castle and the desert beyond. “I am ruler over all we survey. The wild desert is my kingdom…my word is law.”
At that, he jerked the cloak from her bound hands and grabbed her fingers in his. He pulled her up the stairs to the entrance to the castle, then turned to face the murmuring crowd.
“This is Sabrina,” he said, motioning to her. “I have found her in the desert and claimed her as my own. Touch her and you will have breathed your last that day.”
Sabrina groaned. Everyone was staring at her, talking about her. She could feel herself blushing.
“Great,” she muttered. “Death threats to those who would help me escape. Thanks a lot.”
“I say these words to protect you.”
“Like I believe that. Besides, you’re treating me like a possession.”
“Have you forgotten that you’re my slave?”
“I would if you’d give me a chance.” She glared at him. “Next you’ll be putting a collar around my neck, the way my father does with his cats.”
“If you are very good I might just treat you as well as your father treats his cats.”
“I won’t hold my breath on that one, either.”
Kardal laughed as he led her into the castle. She followed, her mind whirling with a thousand different thoughts. Too much was happening at once. She was having trouble keeping up.
“If you’re the Prince of Thieves,” she said, “have you really spent your entire life stealing from other people?”
“I don’t steal. That practice went out of style some time ago. We produce our income in other ways now.”
She wanted to ask what, but before she could, they stepped into the castle. Everywhere she looked she saw beauty. From the perfectly even stone walls to the intricate tapestries to the elegant mosaic tile floor. There were candleholders of gold, frames decorated with gems, paintings and antique furniture.
The main room of the castle was huge, perhaps the size of a football field. It stretched up at least two stories and there were stained-glass windows and skylights to let in the light. She motioned to the candles and gas lamps.
“No electricity?” she asked as Kardal cut the bindings on her wrists.
“We generate some, but not in the living quarters. There we live as we have for centuries.”
Again he took her hand in his, tugging her along. She tried to take everything in, but it was impossible. Everywhere she looked, she saw something old, beautiful and very likely, stolen. There were paintings by old masters and impressionists. She recognized the style but not the subject. There were some she’d seen in books, rare photographs of paintings missing and long thought destroyed.
Kardal led her through a maze of corridors, up and down stairs, twisting and turning until she was completely lost. People passed them, stopping to smile and bow slightly. If she hadn’t been sure of his identity before, by the time they finally stopped in front of double wooden doors, she was convinced. The Prince of Thieves, she thought in amazement. Who knew such a man existed?
It could be worse, she told herself as he pushed open one of the doors. He could be the troll prince. With that thought, she stepped into the room. And gasped. When Kardal released her, she turned in a slow circle, taking in the spacious quarters.
Each item of furniture was huge. The four-poster bed could easily sleep six or seven. There was a fainting couch, covered in the same thick burgundy as the bedspread and a fabulous Oriental carpet on the stone floor. A brilliant mosaic of a peacock displaying for his peahens graced one humongous wall. There was a fireplace as large as her dorm room and books. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of old, leather-bound books.
She crossed to them and reverently ran her fingers along their spines.
“Are they cataloged?” she asked, opening an old copy of Hamlet by Shakespeare, then gasping when she saw an inscription dated 1793. On the small table in front of her sat a hand-illustrated text of the Bible. She’d never seen such bounty.
Still holding the slim volume, she turned to face him. “Kardal, do you know what you have here? It’s priceless. The knowledge and history.”
He dismissed her with a wave. “Someone will see to you. A bath will be brought, along with appropriate clothing.”
She could barely force her attention away from her book to concentrate on what he was saying. “Appropriate?”
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