The Sheikh and the Runaway Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 4)(17) by Susan Mallery
“Yes. We found Princess Sabra yesterday. She’d lost her horse and her camel in a sandstorm.”
Hassan sighed. “She took off without saying anything, which is just like her. I’m pleased she is safe.”
Kardal tapped his desk. “She seems to be unaware of our betrothal.”
“Yes, yes, that’s true. When I started to explain that I’d arranged a match for her, she screamed at me and bolted from the room before I could give her any details.” There was a slight pause. “She’s flighty, like her mother. A woman without great depth or intelligence. I fear for the minds of her children. I don’t suppose, now that you’ve met her, that you wish to continue the engagement.”
Kardal had heard that the king of Bahania didn’t pay much attention to his daughter, but he wouldn’t have thought the man would insult her so freely. While Sabrina wasn’t what he would have chosen for a wife, he’d seen no sign of her being slow-witted. Quite the opposite.
He might have toyed with the idea of ending the engagement, but Hassan’s bald assumption that Kardal would dislike his daughter bothered him.
“I have not made any final decision,” Kardal said at last.
“Take all the time you need. It’s not as if we’re eager to have her back at the palace.”
They discussed a minor matter of security, then Kardal ended the call. Sabrina had hinted that things were not as she would like them at the palace, but he’d had no idea how her father thought of her. Not that Hassan’s attitude should make any difference. Still, it might explain a few things.
“You’re looking thoughtful. Are we going to war?”
Kardal glanced up at the tall, blond man standing in the entrance to his office. Rafe Stryker, former U.S. Air Force officer and now head of the city’s security, moved forward and took the seat across from Kardal’s.
“No such luck,” he told his friend. “Although King Hassan is very enthused about the combined air force.”
“Enthusiasm doesn’t pay the bills,” Rafe reminded him.
“No, but the king does. Do not worry that there won’t be enough to buy all those expensive planes you covet.”
Rafe grinned. “You want them, too.”
Kardal nodded in agreement. In recent years it had become increasingly apparent that remote security cameras and irregular patrols by the nomadic tribes weren’t enough to keep the desert safe. The oil fields were increasingly vulnerable. King Hassan had contacted Kardal about starting a joint air force. Rafe was in charge of coordinating with the Bahanians.
Kardal knew it was unusual for a man in his position to trust a foreigner with such an important job. Yet Rafe had earned his trust many times over. The blond officer carried a knife scar from a potentially lethal blow meant for Kardal. In return Kardal had permitted Rafe to wear the mark of the prince. As a result, the people of the city accepted Rafe as one of their own—honoring him with the title of sheik.
Today Rafe wore a uniform but just as often he swept through the castle in traditional robes, his blue eyes looking startlingly out of place against his tanned face.
Rafe’s expression changed to one of mild amusement. “There’s a rumor about a slave girl in the palace. The word is you found her in the desert and claimed her as your own.”
Kardal glanced at his watch. “I’ve been back nearly four hours. When did you hear?”
“About three and a half hours ago.”
“Word travels fast.”
Rafe shrugged. “I have good sources. Is it true? I never thought slave girls were your style.”
He hesitated. So far no one knew Sabrina’s true identity and that was how he preferred it. But if she needed protection, there was no one he would trust more than Rafe.
“Her name is Sabrina. She’s Hassan’s daughter.”
Rafe stared at him. “The one you’re engaged to?”
“The same. She knows about the betrothal, but not the details. I don’t want people finding out who she is.”
“Or her finding out who you are?”
Rafe whistled softly. “I knew this job would be interesting when I signed on. I can’t wait to meet her. I’ve never seen an honest-to-God princess in person before.”
Kardal knew his friend was joking, but that piece of information didn’t stop the knot from forming in his gut or the sudden heat that filled him. He frowned. Anger? At what? Rafe would never bother Sabrina, and he, Kardal, shouldn’t care if his second-in-command was interested. Sabrina was nothing but a thorn in his side.
“You’re bound to run across her,” Kardal said, rising to his feet. “I’ll instruct her to stay in her quarters. I’m sure she won’t listen. If you find her wandering around, please return her to her rooms.”
“Where are you going?” Rafe asked lazily.
“To prepare to do battle. If I am going to marry the wayward Princess Sabra, she must first be tamed.”
Kardal entered Sabrina’s quarters around ten the following morning. He’d given her the night to come to terms with her situation, although he doubted she would see reason on the matter. From what he could tell, Princess Sabra could be most willful.
Interestingly enough, he found himself looking forward to their encounter. She would complain and possibly throw things, they would battle verbally, and although he would best her in the end, she would make him work for his victory.
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