The Sheikh and the Runaway Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 4)(15) by Susan Mallery
She screamed and picked up the entire bowl. Still laughing, he stepped into the hall and closed the door, just as the bowl exploded against the wall.
Kardal was still chuckling as he entered the oldest part of the castle. He’d offered to modernize this section, but his mother protested that she preferred to keep things as they had been for hundreds of years.
He rounded a corner and saw an open arch, leading to what had been the women’s section. Nearly twenty-five years ago, his mother had opened the doors of the harem. Eventually she had sold them. As they had been nearly fourteen feet high, twelve feet wide and made of solid gold, they had fetched an impressive price. She’d promptly taken the money and used it to fund a clinic for women in the city. Well-trained doctors now monitored the women’s health, delivered their babies and took care of their young, all free of charge. Cala, his mother, had said the generations who had lived and died within the confines of the harem would have approved.
Kardal stepped through the open arch. What had been the main living area of the harem was now a large office. It was late enough in the day that her staff had left, but a light burned in his mother’s office.
He crossed the elegantly tiled floor and knocked on the half-open door.
Princess Cala glanced up and smiled. Tall, slender and doe-eyed, she had an ageless beauty that affected any man still breathing. A year away from turning fifty, she looked to be much closer to his age than her own. Her long dark hair was sleek and free from gray. During the day she wore it up in a sophisticated twist, but when work was finished, she often put it back in a braid. That combined with jeans and a cropped T-shirt allowed her to frequently pass for a woman half her age.
“The prodigal mother returns,” Kardal teased as he stepped around her desk and kissed her cheek. “How long will you be here this time?”
Cala turned off her computer, then motioned to the visitor’s chair across from her own. “I’m thinking of making this an indefinite stay. Will that cramp your style?”
Kardal thought of his recently monastic life. His workload had been such that he hadn’t been able to take time for female companionship. “I think I’ll survive. Tell me about your latest coup.”
She smiled with pleasure. “Six million children will be inoculated this year. Our goal had been four million, but we had an unexpected increase in donations.”
“I suspect it’s due to your persuasive nature.”
Cala ran an international charity dedicated to women and children throughout the world. When Kardal had gone away to boarding school, she had begun to busy herself with her charity work, traveling extensively, raising millions of dollars to help those in need.
She touched the collar of her dark red suit. “I’m not sure of the cause of the generosity, but I am grateful.” She paused to study him speculatively. “Is she really Princess Sabra?”
Kardal told himself he shouldn’t be surprised. News traveled quickly within the walls of the city and his mother always knew everything.
“She goes by Sabrina.”
Cala raised her eyebrows. “I hadn’t thought you could still surprise me, but I find I’m wrong. I’m sure you have a reasonable explanation for kidnapping the daughter of a trusted ally.”
He told her about finding Sabrina in the desert.
“She was looking for the city, but there was no way she was going to find it. She would have died if we hadn’t helped her.”
“I don’t dispute the fact that you should have offered assistance. What I question is you holding her captive. I heard that you brought her into the city on your horse, with her hands tied.”
He shifted uncomfortably.
“Why was she looking for the city?” Cala asked, leaning toward him. “I can’t imagine she’s interested in the treasures.”
“Actually she is. She said she has a couple of degrees. Archeology and something about Bahanian artifacts or history.”
“You can’t remember what she studied?” Cala shook her head as if silently asking herself where she’d gone wrong with him. “It was too much trouble to pay attention. Yes, I can see how a first conversation with one’s betrothed could be tedious.”
Kardal hated when his mother spoke as if she was being reasonable when in fact she was verbally slapping him upside the head.
“She is all I feared,” he told her. “Not only doesn’t she know we’re betrothed, but she’s willful, difficult and very much a product of the west.”
His mother’s dark eyes didn’t show even a flash of sympathy. “You knew her reputation when you agreed to the match. Don’t forget it was your decision. I wasn’t even here when King Hassan approached you.”
“I couldn’t refuse him without creating an international incident.”
Cala didn’t bother answering that. He knew the truth as well as she. Tradition stated that he marry the oldest Bahanian daughter, but it wasn’t a matter of law. Kardal supposed he could have insisted on finding a wife of his own choosing—a love match. But he didn’t believe in love. Not the romantic kind. So what did it matter who he married? The purpose of the union was to produce heirs. Nothing more.
“You and Sabrina have more in common than you realize,” Cala told him. “You would be wise to seek out those things. Also, if she is truly willful, I suspect there is a reason. Much would be gained by finding and understanding her motivation.”
“None of that is necessary.”
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