The Sheikh and the Runaway Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 4)(23) by Susan Mallery
“The other boys teased you and you reacted the only way you knew how.”
“Exactly. I was nearly expelled.”
“I came home for the summer. My grandfather explained that I could only be the prince of the city with the proper education. That to keep the city a secret, no one at the school could know who I was. They thought I was the son of a wealthy sheik. He told me that it was my responsibility to learn all that I could, so that I would be a wise and honorable ruler to my people. I promised him I would try to fit in and dedicated myself to my studies.”
She studied the stern lines of his handsome face. “So you returned in the fall and this time instead of kicking actual butt you kicked academic butt.”
“I would not have phrased it that way, but yes.”
“Did the situation improve?”
He grinned. “When I turned fifteen and we had several joint activities with the neighboring girl’s boarding school.”
Sabrina couldn’t help laughing. “Let me guess. You were wildly popular with the opposite sex.”
“I did well,” he admitted. “Also, I’d grown taller and stronger. No one wanted to take me on anymore. And I had learned how to fit in. But like you, each summer I returned to the desert. It took several weeks until I felt at home here, and then I had to return. I was pleased when I graduated from college and was able to always live in the city.”
“Who would have thought we’d have that in common,” she said, feeling suddenly awkward. She pressed the fingers of her right hand against the slave bracelet on her left arm. “Kardal, do you really mean to keep me as your slave?”
“Of course. Nothing has happened to change my mind.”
“But you can’t. I’m a princess. We’ve already established that my father doesn’t care about me too much, but he would never let someone hold me against my will.”
Kardal’s dark gaze turned unreadable. “I have informed him that I’m holding you for ransom.”
Shock and outrage filled her. She sprang to her feet. “You can’t be serious.”
“Because the king of Bahania will not negotiate with you. He’ll crush you like a bug.”
Kardal looked unconcerned as he put his napkin on the table and slowly rose. “He cannot. A symbiotic relationship exists between his country and the City of Thieves. He cannot afford to anger me.”
“What about you angering him? You’re crazy. This will never work.”
“Of course it will. Occasionally it is important for me to remind my larger neighbors that I have power as well. That we each need the other.”
She planted her hands on her hips. “Are you trying to tell me that you kidnapping me is simply political?”
She couldn’t believe it. Nor did she understand why the information should upset her.
“I rescued you from the desert because I did not want to leave you there to die,” he told her. “However, there were many reasons for me keeping you. Yes, one of them is political.”
“What are the others?”
His gaze swept over her. “Perhaps I find you attractive.”
She’d been thrilled when Adiva had shown up that afternoon with a selection of dresses. Anything was better than the uncomfortable costume. But even knowing she was covered from collarbone to ankle, Sabrina still felt exposed. Something about Kardal’s intense stare made her wish she had several more layers of clothing between her and nakedness.
“I’d rather you let me go,” she said.
He stepped around the table, toward her. She backed up.
“I told you, my desert bird. You are my slave. The proof of your status rests around your wrists.”
“This is crazy. You can’t hold a royal princess captive.”
He continued to move toward her. She kept stepping away. Unfortunately she soon found herself pressed up against the stone wall.
Kardal loomed over her. He raised one hand and touched her cheek. Just a light brush of his knuckles against her skin. She should have barely felt it. Instead heat seemed to fill her as a shiver rippled all the way down her spine.
“I choose to keep you here,” he murmured, lowering his head slightly. “Perhaps, if you are lucky, eventually I’ll choose to let you go.”
She tried to inch away along the wall, but he placed a hand on her waist, holding her still.
“Maybe I’ll get a bigger knife and stab you in your sleep,” she said recklessly.
“You may certainly try. I would welcome you seeking me out in my bedchamber. I am eager to know all that you’ve learned about pleasing men.”
There was information that would fill a pinhead, she thought grimly as he moved closer and closer until his mouth was less than an inch from hers.
“I don’t know anything,” she insisted, pressing her hands against the wall, as if she could scratch her way to safety. “Not about men or sex or any of that.”
“We shall see,” he breathed and pressed his lips to hers.
Sabrina steeled herself against the contact. It was going to be gross. She would endure, but if it went on too long, she would kick him in the shin and bite his lip until he screamed. Then she would run out of the room and find a way to escape.
His mouth touched hers as lightly as a feather. His breath smelled of strawberries and the heat from his body seemed to settle over her.
“How was that?” he asked.
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