The Sheikh and the Runaway Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 4)(35) by Susan Mallery
“What is he waiting for me to learn?” she asked. “What lesson? Does he want me to become a good slave?” She shook her head. “I’m his daughter. Why doesn’t that matter to him?”
“Both our fathers are idiots,” he announced. “What is it they say in the west? They need attitude adjustments.”
She gave him a tiny smile, then swiped at her tears. “I always knew I wasn’t very important to him. My brothers were what mattered, and his cats, of course. I thought I’d made peace with that, but it still hurts to find out he doesn’t care about me at all.”
Kardal smoothed her hair away from her face. The thick red curls wrapped themselves around his fingers. He drew his thumbs under her eyes, brushing away her tears.
“King Hassan doesn’t know what he’s missing by not getting to know you better,” he told her. “In just a week I have learned that you are nothing like the young woman in the tabloid stories. You are intelligent and stubborn. Despite the lack of amusements, you seem very content here in the city. You have a vast understanding of our history, you even read ancient Bahanian.”
“Not very well.”
He smiled. “I don’t read it at all.”
Some of the pain left her eyes. “Thank you,” she told him. “Your words mean a lot to me. I just wish my father shared your opinion. Maybe then he wouldn’t have betrothed me to a man I’ve never met.”
Kardal stiffened. “Did you discuss that when you spoke with him on the phone?”
“No. There wasn’t time.” She eased away and shrugged. “Besides, what is there to say? I doubt we’ll ever like each other, let alone fall in love. How could I possibly be happy marrying a stranger?” She blinked back tears. “For all I know he’s a disgusting old man and has three wives.”
“The troll prince.”
“Your father would not permit such a union,” he told her.
“If it offered political gain, I believe he would subject me to anything.”
Sabrina sat in the center of the bed, her spine straight, her chin held high. Despite her swollen eyes and damp cheeks, she looked regal. Every inch the princess. Kardal wanted to tell her that her fate wasn’t to be as horrible as she imagined. That he had no other wives, nor was he that old. Barely thirty-one. But he was not yet ready to reveal the fact that he was her betrothed. Not before he was sure.
“All I wanted was to find someone who cared about me. Someone who wanted me.” She twisted the handkerchief in her hands. “No one ever has,” she said softly. “Neither of my parents, my brothers. No one.”
He thought of telling her that he wanted her very much, but he did not speak the words. The desire he felt was not what she meant. Sabrina wanted a longing of the heart. Why did women care so much about love? Didn’t they realize that respect and shared goals mattered so much more?
“Besides,” she said, “it’s the twenty-first century. Arranged marriages are barbaric.”
“You are of royal blood,” he reminded her. “Arranged marriages are a fact of life. You have a duty to your country.”
“What about you? Will you go easily to the slaughter?”
“Of course.Tradition states that my marriage be advantageous to my people.”
Her eyes widened. “You can’t be serious. You’ll agree to an arranged marriage?”
“Within certain parameters. I will meet my prospective wife first and see if I think we can have a productive marriage with many sons.”
“What? You want to make sure she’ll only have sons? You do understand the biology of pregnancy, don’t you? It’s not the woman who decides gender.”
Her combination of outrage and earnestness made him smile. “Yes, Sabrina. I know where babies come from and how their sex is determined. By productive I didn’t just mean having children. I need a woman who can rule at my side, understand my people and be a part of the rhythm of the city.”
She glanced down at the handkerchief in her hands. “I might be willing to go through with an arranged marriage if I got to pick all that, too,” she muttered. “You get Princess Charming and I get the troll prince. It’s hardly fair.”
“Perhaps he’s not so very horrible,” he teased, thinking that the more he learned about Sabrina, the more he found her appealing. He could tell her the truth and ease her fears, but he found himself reluctant to change their current relationship.
“Do you think I should do my duty and just agree to the betrothal?” she asked.
Kardal hesitated. “Duty is always important.”
“Whatever the circumstances?”
“I have already said that I will agree to an arranged marriage.”
She returned her attention to him. “That’s not what I meant. King Givon was only doing his duty when he came to the City of Thieves. He was only doing his duty by fathering you.”
Kardal started to protest, then stopped. “You have a valid point,” he said grudgingly. “I will consider it. However, it will be some time before I can reconcile duty with the fact that my father turned his back on his bastard son.”
Unexpected tears returned to Sabrina’s eyes. She leaned toward him and touched him arm. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I didn’t mean to bring up something so unpleasant. Believe me, I know what it’s like to be rejected by a parent. For what it’s worth, I think King Givon is an idiot for not wanting to know you and being proud that you’re his son. You’re a really good prince, Kardal.”
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