The Sheikh and the Runaway Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 4)(32) by Susan Mallery
“We’ve modernized,” Kardal admitted, moving toward the table.
She glanced around at her room, her gaze lingering on the lanterns and the lack of running water. “Obviously the remodeling didn’t get this far,” she said dryly. “Okay, item one, the dinner.” She wrote. “Item two, tour of the castle and that security stuff that Rafe is in charge of.”
Kardal pulled out a chair and sat next to her. He wore a loose linen shirt and dark trousers. Even casually dressed, he appeared powerful and just a little scary. At least that’s what Sabrina told herself to explain the rapid beating of her heart. It couldn’t possibly be because he was sitting close to her, could it?
“The air force,” Kardal said.
Sabrina opened her mouth, then closed it. “Excuse me?”
“The air force,” he repeated. “That is why Rafe is here. He’s working with another American in Bahania. In the past few years it has become apparent that nomadic tribes and electronic surveillance isn’t enough to keep the desert safe. We need airplanes to patrol the area. Rafe and Jason Templeton, who is Rafe’s counterpart in Bahania, both have military experience. Your father and I hired them to get our air force up and running.”
“You’re kidding,” she said, still in shock. “You’re going to have a military presence here in the City of Thieves? And my father is doing the same?”
“We have valuable resources to protect. Not just the oil. Minerals are being mined. When tensions run high, we are vulnerable. My grandfather was a wise man in many ways, but he resisted technology. I don’t share his view.”
“I guess not.”
Sabrina supposed that when she thought about it, some way of protecting the country made sense. Bahania, like El Bahar, had remained neutral as much as possible throughout the past several hundred years. But situations arose that forced action. Or at least protection.
“What about El Bahar? Will they participate?”
Kardal frowned. “Hassan wants to invite Givon, but I have resisted. With my father coming here, I may not have a choice in the matter.”
“At the risk of starting trouble, wouldn’t everyone be safer if the three of you presented a united front?”
“Perhaps.” He looked at her. “Yes, of course. But for now I would rather be stubborn.”
“Just so you’re willing to admit it.”
They were sitting closer than she’d realized. She could see the flecks of gold in Kardal’s irises and the dark line where his whiskers began on his cheeks. Her gaze drifted to his mouth and she remembered what it had felt like against her own. He hadn’t tried to kiss her again. Was that because he hadn’t been pleased with what had happened before? Was he angry because she’d pushed his hands away?
She wasn’t going to get any answers to her questions, she told herself. There was no way she was going to ask them and he wasn’t likely to volunteer the information. Time to return to the subject at hand.
“Do you think the air force is the reason Cala invited Givon here? So that you would have to include him?”
“Perhaps. My mother rarely interferes with issues of state, but she understands the ways of the world. I frequently seek her counsel.”
“But not in this matter.”
“No. We disagree about King Givon.” He tapped the table. “You are right about the state dinner, however. It is necessary to act as if this visit is no different from any other. Would you plan that for me?”
His request surprised her. Her father rarely let her plan more than her own wardrobe. “Yes. Of course.”
“I’ll instruct the household staff to consult with you on every detail.”
She nodded, more pleased than she could say. “I’ll put together a menu, then discuss it with you.” A thought struck her. “If you like, I could find some El Baharian treasures in the vault and use them to decorate the dining room and the king’s rooms.”
Kardal grinned. “Tweaking Givon’s nose?”
“Just a little. Do you mind?”
He smiled at her. “Not at all, although I’m beginning to see that while it’s very pleasant to have you on my side, I would not want you for an enemy.”
She made a few more notes, then set down her pen. “Kardal, you have to really be prepared for this. Seeing your father is going to be a bigger deal than you imagine. If you don’t get ready, you won’t be able to do more than react when you see him.”
He stared into the distance. “I know. But how does one prepare for such an event? I can imagine it, as I have dozens of times in my life. I see him in my mind’s eye, but he doesn’t speak. After all this time, what is there to say?”
“I wish I knew.” Sabrina thought about her own father whose greetings to her usually consisted of an absent, “Oh, you’ve returned.”
“What do you want to say to him?” she asked.
Kardal leaned back in his chair. “I don’t know. I have many questions, but I’m not sure I still care about the answers. It was different when I was younger. However, I will consider your advice.”
She wanted to point out that considering and taking were two different things. She also thought he was wrong. He might be older, but she doubted his feelings for his father had changed very much over the years.
“Will King Givon come alone or bring his sons with him?”
“My mother didn’t say and I have not clarified that with her.” Tension filled his body. “I will speak with her today and let you know so that you may plan accordingly.”
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