The Sheikh and the Runaway Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 4)(28) by Susan Mallery
Sabrina blinked in surprise. She took in Princess Cala’s unlined face and youthful features. She was beautiful and couldn’t be more than thirty-five.
Cala laughed. “Your shocked expression makes me feel positively youthful. I was nearly nineteen when Kardal was born.”
“Practically an infant yourself,” Kardal said, urging both women toward the low table that had been set with their dinner.
For the first time Sabrina noticed that Adiva had provided three places. She waited until Cala was seated, then settled across from her. Kardal sat next to his mother. Cala sat on the cushions as if she’d been doing it all her life, which she probably had. Sabrina studied her, noticing the similarities between the two in the shape of their eyes and their smiles.
Cala motioned for Kardal to open the wine sitting at the end of the low table. She leaned toward Sabrina.
“I want you to know that I don’t approve of my son’s behavior. I would like to blame someone else for his bad manners, but I fear the fault is mine. I hope you can find some enjoyment during your stay in the City of Thieves, despite the circumstances.”
“She wants for nothing,” Kardal said firmly. “She has books to entertain herself during the day. I dine with her each evening and I have just agreed to let her catalog the city’s treasures.”
Sabrina traded a wry smile with Cala. “As your son points out, Princess, my life couldn’t be more perfect.”
Cala held out her glass to Kardal as he poured the wine. “Tell me, Sabrina, are you as much trouble to your mother as Kardal is to me?”
“Not really.” Sabrina thought about mentioning that her mother barely noticed when she was around, but didn’t see the point.
“I thought not.” Cala glanced at her son. “You could learn from that, Kardal.”
“You adore me,” he said, unruffled by his mother’s complaints. “I am the sun and moon of your world.”
Cala laughed. “No. You are an occasional light-bulb in a dim room.”
Kardal gave her a brief hug, then kissed her forehead. “You must not lie. Untruths damage the perfection of your soul. I am your world. Admit it.”
“You can sometimes be a charming son. Other times, I think I should have been far more firm with you.”
Sabrina watched the exchange between mother and son. They were obviously close and had great affection for each other. She envied that.
Kardal poured her wine and she took a sip. “I didn’t know you lived here, Your Highness,” she said.
“Call me Cala,” Kardal’s mother said, lightly touching her hand. “Despite my son’s highhandedness, I hope that we can be friends. I don’t usually spend much time within the city walls, but I have just returned and plan to spend a few months here.”
“Mother runs a large charity,” Kardal said. “It provides health care for children.”
Cala reached for the first serving dish and passed it to her son. “When Kardal left for school in America, I found I had too much time on my hands. I began to travel. Everywhere I went I saw need. So I started the children’s charity as a way to address that.” She smiled. “I was quite wicked. The initial funding for the charity came from some of the stolen treasure. I was careful to choose pieces that could not possibly be returned to a government or family. Still, I expected to be struck by lightning every time I sold something.”
Kardal passed the vegetable dish to Sabrina. “Sabrina believes the treasure should be returned.”
Sabrina glared at him. Figures he’d bring that up now. “I understand there are difficulties with some of the items, but not with all of them.”
“I agree,” Cala said easily. “Perhaps that will happen eventually. The city has not encouraged thievery for many years, but there are still those who remember and long for the old ways.”
“Oil is more profitable,” Kardal pointed out.
Cala passed her son another dish and leaned toward Sabrina. “He says that now. But when I insisted he go off to school, he protested for weeks. Threatened to run away into the desert so that I couldn’t find him. He didn’t want to learn western ways.”
Sabrina glanced at Kardal. “I understand that. When my mother took me from Bahania, I didn’t want to go, either. The transition was difficult. I had the advantage of having lived in California for nearly a year before I started school.”
Some of Cala’s humor faded from her eyes. She turned to Kardal. “You know I didn’t have a choice in the matter. You were to be ruler of the city. You needed an education.”
He smiled at her. “Mother, all of your actions were based in what was best for me. I do not regret my time in America.”
“But it was hard on you.”
He shrugged. “Life is hard. There were adjustments. I made them.”
Sabrina waited for him to say more but he didn’t. Had he never told his mother the details of his first few years at the boarding school? He’d told Sabrina. Was that because she was so insignificant as to not matter or because they shared the experience?
Cala turned back to her. “You had much the same situation, didn’t you?” she asked. “You spent your school year with your mother and your summers in Bahania?”
Sabrina nodded. “It was always a shock to go from one place to the other. For security reasons my mother never told anyone who I was. As I grew old enough to tell my friends on my own, I didn’t say anything because I thought they either wouldn’t believe me or things would change.”
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