The Sheikh and the Runaway Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 4)(14) by Susan Mallery
“Stand still so that I may look upon you.”
The words came out of nowhere and startled her into freezing in place. Kardal stood just inside the door. He had entered as quietly as a ghost. She’d heard neither the door open nor close. Darn the man for being so stealthy.
He’d cleaned up, she thought, looking at him and trying to still the rapid thundering of her heart. The man cleaned up pretty good. He still wore loose trousers and a linen shirt, but they were freshly pressed. His hair gleamed damply in the lantern light and his jaw was freshly shaved. Not wanting to know what he was thinking, she avoided glancing at his eyes, but she couldn’t help notice the elegant sweep of his nose or the strength inherent in his jawline. Were he not a kidnapper and a potential defiler of women, she might think him very handsome.
She had tried to make her study of him surreptitious, but he did not share her good manners. Instead he gazed at her as if he were considering the purchase of a mare. He stalked around her, looking at her from behind, then returning to stand in front of her again.
His attention made her shiver. She felt both his power and her near-nakedness. She liked neither. Fear took up residence low in her belly, making her chest tighten and her fingers curl toward her palms.
“You can’t do this,” she said, trying to make her voice strong, but sounding scared instead. “I’m a royal princess. The price of doing…that to me would be death. Besides, as the Prince of Thieves, you owe allegiance to the king of Bahania. To so insult his daughter would be an insult to him.”
Kardal folded his arms over his chest. “You’re forgetting that the king of Bahania doesn’t care about his daughter.”
She fought back a wince. “Actually I have trouble forgetting that, as much as I would like to.”
“Do you really think he would be angry?” he asked, stepping closer.
He reached for her right hand and took it in his. The contact startled her. She tried to pull away, but he would not release her.
“He might be annoyed,” Kardal conceded even as he ran a single finger along the length of her palm. Something unexpected skittered up her arm, as if a nerve had been jolted. “He might stomp about the castle, but I doubt he would kill me.”
“It doesn’t matter what he thinks about me,” she said, hating that those words were true. “But if you defile me, you defile a woman of his household. Regardless of his lack of concern, he would not let that go unpunished.”
Kardal shrugged. “Perhaps you are right. We’ll have to find out together.”
He moved with a swiftness that defied physics. One second he was lightly stroking her hand, the next he’d snapped something heavy around her wrist. She’d barely had time to gasp when he did the same to her left arm.
The air fled her lungs. She tried to scream in outrage, but had no breath. Slave bracelets. The man had claimed her with slave bracelets.
“You—” She searched her mind for an appropriate slur and was disgusted when none came to mind. “How dare you?”
Instead of being afraid—which was obviously too much to ask with this man—he grinned at her. “You appreciate that which is ancient and valuable. You should be honored.”
Honored? Her gaze dropped to the gold encircling the five inches of her arm just above the wrist. The slave bracelets were obviously old and handsomely made. A swirling pattern had been etched into the gold—the design both intricate and beautiful. She knew that somewhere was a tiny latch which when pressed, would cause the locking mechanism to release. She also knew that it could take her weeks to find it.
“How dare you?” she demanded again, glaring at Kardal. “You mark me.”
He shrugged. “You are my possession. What did you expect?”
The insult was nearly unbearable. “I am not a creature to wear a collar.”
“No, you’re a woman in slave bracelets.”
She stuck out her arms. “I demand you remove them.”
He turned away and walked over to a bowl of fruit left on a table near the door. He picked up a pear, sniffed it and then took a bite. “I’m sorry. Were you speaking to me?”
She jerked at the right bracelet, knowing it was useless. “I hate this. I hate being here. I refuse to be your slave. And there are times when I really hate being a woman. My father and my brothers ignore me, you think you can do anything to me. I will not be treated with the contempt you give a camel.”
At last he turned to face her. “On the contrary,” he told her, then took another bite of the pear and chewed slowly. “I have great respect for camels,” he said when he’d swallowed. “They provide a lifetime of service and ask very little in return.” He glanced at her, starting at her feet and ending at the top of her head. “I doubt the same may be said for you.”
It was too much. She screamed, then reached for the bowl of fruit. Her fingers closed around an orange and she threw it at him.
“Get out!” she shrieked. “Get out of here and never come back.”
He headed for the door. The man was laughing at her. Laughing! She wanted him killed. Slowly.
“You see,” he said as he reached the door. “You are not going to be as well behaved as a camel. I’m disappointed.”
She threw a pear at him. It bounced off the door frame. “I’ll see you in hell.”
He paused. “I’ve lived a most exemplary life. So when we are both in the great afterward, I’ll try to put in a good word for you.”
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