The Sheikh and the Runaway Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 4)(30) by Susan Mallery
“Rafe,” she said softly. “He’s not here for castle security at all.”
“The castle is part of his responsibility,” Kardal told her. “But not the main part. My nomads can only do so much to protect the desert. The use of technology has been growing over the years.”
She touched his arm, resting her fingertips on his shirt. She could feel the heat of him, and his strength.
“What does this have to do with your father?”
He glanced down at her, then returned his attention to the night sky. “El Bahar, Bahania and the City of Thieves are bound by more than economics. There is also a blood tie. When there is no male heir for the city, either the king of El Bahar or the king of Bahania joins with the oldest daughter, staying with her until she is pregnant. If the child is a boy, he’s the new heir. If the child is a girl, the king returns each year until a son is born. My grandfather had only one child…a daughter.”
Sabrina withdrew her fingers and pressed them against her chest. “That’s barbaric,” she said, shocked by what he was saying. “He just shows up and sleeps with her? They don’t even get married?”
Kardal shrugged. “It is the way it has been for a thousand years. The kings alternate so that the blood lines stay connected but still healthy. Two hundred years ago the king of Bahania performed his royal duty. It was King Givon’s turn this time.”
Sabrina shook her head. Nothing made sense. “But your mother was so young.”
She tried to imagine herself in that position, having to take a stranger into her bed for the sole purpose of getting pregnant. “It could have just as easily been my father,” she breathed. “That would have made us half brother and sister.”
She wasn’t sure but she thought he might have smiled briefly. “That would have made things more interesting,” he told her. “But we are not related. Although I’m not sure your father would have treated my mother any differently.”
His anger returned. “Givon never cared about her. He simply did his duty and walked away. Not once in the past thirty years has he been in touch with either of us. He never acknowledged me.”
Sabrina felt his pain. “I know,” she said softly, leaning toward him but not touching him. “I know exactly what it feels like to be rejected by a parent. There’s a horrible combination of not wanting to care and desperately wanting to be noticed.”
“My feelings don’t matter,” he said into the darkness. “Thirty-one years after the fact, my father is finally ready to admit I exist.” He shook his head. “It’s too late. I won’t receive him.”
“You have to,” she said urgently. “Kardal, please listen to me. You have to see him, because if you refuse, everyone is going to know the rejection still hurts and you don’t want that. Your people will assume you’re sulking. That is not the measure of a good leader. Face him because you don’t have a choice. Don’t let him see that he still matters.”
He turned on her. “He doesn’t matter. He never mattered.”
She held her ground and met his furious gaze. “He matters a lot and that’s what makes you so angry. Whatever you tell yourself, he’s still your father.”
He continued to glare at her. Eventually some of the heat left his gaze. “You are not as I imagined,” he said.
Despite the tension in the air, she couldn’t help chuckling. “I know what you thought of me before so that’s hardly a compliment.”
“I mean it as one.” He touched his fingers to her face. “I have much to consider. Your counsel is most wise. I will not dismiss it simply because you’re a woman.”
“Thank you,” she murmured, knowing he was actually being sincere. The man might have gone to school in the west, but desert sand flowed through his veins. He made her crazy.
Worse, she wasn’t sure she would change even one thing about him.
The next morning Kardal’s assistant, Bilal, knocked on his door, then stepped inside to announce that Princess Cala was here to see him. Kardal hesitated. For the first time in his life, he didn’t want to see his mother. He’d spent most of the last night and this morning trying to forget what she’d told him. That King Givon was coming to the city.
He nodded at Bilal and told the young man to show her in.
Cala swept into the office. She wore jeans and a T-shirt, and looked more like a western teenager than a nearly fifty-year-old mother. Her long hair hung in a braid down her back.
“I thought you might refuse to see me,” she said as she plopped down in the seat across from his. “You were in quite the snit last night.”
She shrugged. “You were obviously upset with both the situation and with me.”
“Do you plan to repeat everything I say?”
“No.” He placed his hands on his desk. How could he explain what he was feeling? Why did he have to? Shouldn’t his mother understand?
Cala crossed one leg over the other and smiled at him. “I liked Sabrina. She’s very nice.”
It took him a second to catch up with the subject change. “Yes. I was surprised as well, although I’m not sure I would use the word ‘nice’ to describe her.”
“What word would you use?”
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