The Sheikh and the Runaway Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 4)(16) by Susan Mallery
“Kardal, your future happiness is at stake. I would think you would be willing to put in a little effort.”
He shrugged. “To what end? Sabrina isn’t the sort of woman who can make me happy.” Except possibly in bed, he thought remembering how she’d looked in the costume he’d made her wear. There she could please him very well.
“A wise man would make peace with his future wife. If she is content, she will be a better mother.”
“If only she were more moldable,” he grumbled. “Why did King Hassan allow her to be raised in the west?”
“I’m not sure. I know that he married Sabrina’s mother very quickly. Theirs seemed to be a match more about passion than affection. I have heard that if not for Sabrina, they would have divorced in a matter of months. Apparently when they did finally end the marriage, Hassan’s wife wanted to take her daughter with her back to California and he agreed.”
Kardal shook his head. “Why would a man allow his child to be taken from him? Bahanian law required Sabrina to stay with her father.” While the law allowed for either parent to take custody of the children, in the royal house, the children stayed with the royal parent. Sabrina had been the only exception.
“Perhaps the king was being foolish,” Cala said quietly. “Men act that way all the time. I know of a man who won’t even bother to get to know his future wife. He also assumes they can never be happy together. All this based on a few hours in her company.”
“Imagine,” Kardal said dryly. “All right. You have made your point. I will spend more time with Sabrina before I pass judgment on her. However, I’m convinced I will find her wanting.”
“Yes. Of course. As long as you keep an open mind.” His mother gazed at him. “What am I to do with you?”
She rolled her eyes. “I see I gave you your way too much when you were young.”
He didn’t doubt that was true, but what he remembered from his youth was his mother’s loving attention. She was devoted to him, always there when he needed her, always stepping back when he needed room to experience life.
She was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Kind, intelligent, wise beyond her years. Yet she’d lived her life alone.
“Was it because of me?” he asked.
Cala took several seconds to figure out what he meant. She rose and circled the desk, then crouched in front of him and touched his cheek. “You are my son and I love you with all my heart. My reasons for not marrying have nothing to do with you.”
“Then it must be his fault.”
Cala rose and stared down at him. “Kardal,” she said warningly.
He recognized the tone. Restless, he stood and glared at her. “I do not understand why you refuse to see the truth about the man.”
“Because there are things you can’t understand.”
There was no point in arguing about it. They’d had the same discussion dozens of times before. Instead Kardal kissed her cheek and promised to dine with her later that week. Then he left.
But his anger didn’t ease. With each step it grew, opening old wounds that still had the power to make him ache inside. Perhaps it was wrong, but Kardal had always hated his father.
Thirty-one years ago, King Givon of El Bahar had arrived in the City of Thieves. Cala, the only child of the Prince of Thieves, had turned eighteen. With no male heir, tradition required her to have a son by the king of a neighboring kingdom. King Givon had been her father’s choice. Her son would then be betrothed to the daughter of the king of Bahania, thereby cementing the relationship between the two countries and the desert city.
Givon had seduced Cala, stayed until she was pregnant and then had abandoned both her and her child. In the past thirty-one years he had never acknowledged her or his son. Kardal had been a teenager before he’d even known the identity of his father. But knowing the truth had only made his situation worse. He’d longed to meet the man, yet had stayed away. King Givon’s behavior had made it clear he had no interest in his bastard son.
Kardal stopped in the middle of the stone corridor. There was no point in visiting these memories again. Nothing had changed. So he forced himself to push down his rage. Over the years, he’d grown to be an expert at ignoring the past.
He continued down the hall, barely noticing the paintings, statues and tapestries that decorated this part of the castle. He pushed through a pair of wooden doors and entered into the “business” side of the castle.
Within the walls of a fourteenth-century addition existed a modern office complex and security center. A raised tile floor concealed miles of cable, electrical wires and fiber optics. Computers clicked, faxes beeped and telephones rang. He thought about Sabrina in the old living quarters and smiled. What would she throw at him if she knew the truth about this part of the castle? Perhaps if she was very good, one day he would show it to her and find out.
He nodded at his male assistant and stepped into his office. A large L-shaped desk sat in the center. At the far end of the room, French doors opened onto a courtyard.
He ignored the view, the blinking message light and the papers left for him. Instead he crossed to his desk and reached for the phone. He dialed the operator and asked to be connected to the king of Bahania. Even a disinterested father would want to know that his only daughter had survived her time in the desert.
“Kardal,” a familiar voice said as King Hassan picked up the line. “Is she with you?”
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