The Sheikh and the Runaway Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 4)(29) by Susan Mallery
Cala glanced at her son. “I believe you shared her opinion.”
“It was a secret city, Mother. I couldn’t talk about it.”
Cala changed the subject, mentioning the opening of a new wing in the medical clinic. They discussed the unusually cool spring weather and the latest nomadic tribal council meeting. Sabrina found herself liking Kardal’s mother. The woman was gentle and kind without being spineless. Kardal treated her with great respect. He also glanced at Sabrina from time to time, his eyes almost twinkling, as if she shared a secret with him.
She wasn’t sure what it could be, but she liked the feeling. It made her shiver nearly as much as his kiss had.
“I’ve issued an invitation,” Cala said when the meal had finished. Sabrina collected the last of the plates and put them on the tray.
“Do I need to be concerned?” Kardal asked lazily. “Will twenty women be invading the castle? Should I plan a trip into the desert?”
His mother busied herself folding her napkin. “No women. Just one man. King Givon.”
“The king of El Bahar,” Sabrina began. “Why—”
Kardal rose to his feet. His expression turned dark and forbidding as he glared down at his mother. “How dare you?” he demanded. “You know he is not welcome here. If he tries to step one foot in the City of Thieves, he will be shot on sight. If necessary, I will do it myself.”
He stalked from the room and slammed the door behind him.
Sabrina stared after him, bewildered. “I don’t understand,” she whispered. “King Givon is a wonderful ruler. His people adore him.”
Cala sighed. “Kardal would not care about that. I had hoped time would heal the wound, but I see that I was wrong.”
“What wound? Why does Kardal hate King Givon?”
Cala bit her lower lip. “Because Givon is his father.”
Cala stayed for several minutes before excusing herself, but when Kardal’s mother finally left, Sabrina saw tears glinting in her eyes.
King Givon was Kardal’s father? Sabrina couldn’t believe it. The king of El Bahar was known to have been a devoted father all his life, and before his wife’s death, they were supposed to have been wildly in love.
She paced the length of her room for a few minutes, then headed out to find Kardal. She ran into one of the servants and got directions to his private quarters.
The imposing wood doors with an enamel seal nearly made her turn back, but she had the feeling that Kardal would need to talk to someone tonight. They had more in common than she would have thought so maybe she could help with this. Squaring her shoulders for courage, she knocked once, then entered.
Kardal’s rooms were large, filled with incredible antiques. She entered a tiled foyer with a fountain trickling in the corner. To her left was a dining area with a table that seated twenty. She recognized the ornate style of eighteenth-century France—a time of excess that produced beautiful furniture. She crossed the living area and saw the balcony doors were open.
Some inner voice drew her out into the evening coolness. Below were the lights from the city and in the distance, the darkness of the desert. She sensed more than saw movement and approached the man leaning against the wooden railing.
“Kardal?” she whispered, not wanting to startle him.
He didn’t say anything, nor did he move away. She walked toward him and stopped when she was next to him. His face was expressionless. As twilight turned to night, his features blurred.
They were silent for a long time, but she found she didn’t mind the quiet. There was something restful about the desert. The occasional voice drifted up to them. Laughter. So much life all around them, hidden from the rest of the world in this fabled city.
“I’ve only been here a few days,” she said without thinking, “yet I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
“I never wanted to leave,” Kardal replied. “Even when I knew it was for the best.”
He leaned forward and rested his forearms on the wood railing. “You don’t understand, do you?”
“Not any of it,” she admitted. “I never knew King Givon was your father. Of course I didn’t know much about the city or its inhabitants so I suppose that’s not a complete surprise. But I thought…” Her voice trailed off. “I don’t know what I thought.”
“It’s a long story,” he warned.
She glanced at him and gave him a slight smile. “I might be your slave, but I have amazingly few duties. So I’m free to listen.”
He nodded briefly, then began. “Centuries ago, before the discovery of oil, there existed what was called the silk road. It was a path through the desert, linking India and China with the west. Trade between the near and far east supported dozens of economies. When the silk road was open, many flourished. When it was closed, countries suffered. Over time the nomads found they could made a good living by offering protection for merchants. Those who dwelled in the City of Thieves learned they could make more by preventing theft than by stealing.”
“Quite a change in the way of doing business,” she said, listening intently.
“Agreed. El Bahar and Bahania have been good neighbors for hundreds of years. What most people don’t know is that the City of Thieves is intimately involved with the two countries. There is a symbiotic relationship between the three governments. Five hundred years ago the prince of the city controlled the nomads. He collected a percentage of all goods passing through the desert. Today I collect a percentage of the oil. In return my people keep the desert safe from terrorists and the oil fields free from attack.”
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