The Sheikh and the Runaway Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 4)(42) by Susan Mallery
“What is it you want?”
She returned her attention to the garden. Tears filled her eyes, but she blinked them away. What was the point? Kardal wouldn’t understand and she would never make herself so vulnerable as to speak the words. What would a man who had been well loved all his life know of not being wanted anywhere? She and Kardal shared a past of being torn between two worlds, but he’d always had his mother’s support. She, Sabrina, had been unwelcomed by both her parents. What she wanted more than anything was to be loved for herself. To be accepted, welcomed, cherished.
He touched her cheek. “Ah, my beautiful desert bird, you are wrong about me. I may not know your heart’s desire, but I can guess what you would like to compensate you for my omission of certain details about the castle.”
“I doubt it.”
“You have so little faith.” He tapped one of her slave bracelets. “While it is your duty to please me in all things, it is my duty to protect you and care for you.”
How she wanted the words to be true. “You haven’t a clue about me.”
He leaned close until his breath tickled her ear. “You are wrong and in the morning, I’ll prove it.”
Darn the man. He’d gotten it right in one. Sabrina thought about being annoyed at the fact the next morning when they left the city on horseback, but she was too happy to be riding in the desert to want to quarrel with Kardal.
“I feel as if I haven’t been outside in weeks,” she announced when they’d cleared the gates and cantered toward the rising sun. “This is wonderful.”
Kardal didn’t reply with words. Instead he urged his horse forward until they were racing across the smooth desert floor. The air still contained a hint of coolness, but that would soon burn away. It was spring in the desert, which meant the intense, killer heat lurked around the corner. But Sabrina didn’t want to think of that. This morning there was only the rush of air in her face as her robes flew out behind her.
Kardal had appeared at her door shortly after five thirty that morning. He’d brought traditional clothing for her, explaining that in robes and a headdress she would not call attention to herself. She’d seen the sense of his suggestion right away. Now, flying over the sand as the sun rose higher above the horizon, she felt at one with the glory that was the desert.
After a half hour or so, they slowed to a walk. Sabrina glanced around at the endless empty land.
“You do know how to find your way back, don’t you?” she asked, her voice teasing.
He met her gaze. “I have been out here a time or two. I believe I will manage quite well.”
She remembered what he’d told her about growing up with his people. “Did you really spend months at a time out in the desert?” she asked.
He nodded and moved his horse closer to hers. “Until I was sent away to school, I lived in the desert. I only went to the city to visit my mother and grandfather, although sometimes he rode out with me as well.”
He stared toward the horizon. Sabrina looked in the same direction and saw nothing, but she suspected Kardal could see a thousand adventures from his past.
“I would guess it’s a difficult life,” she said.
He looked back at her. “The desert does not tolerate weakness or fools. But it honors those who know its ways. I learned. The elders taught me, as did my grandfather. By the time I was eight, I could find my way across the length and breadth of the El Baharian and Bahanian desert.”
He pointed to the north. “There is an oil field. You should be able to make out the pumps.”
She squinted slightly and saw several metal pumps, along with a few low buildings.
“There are many more stations, such as that one. We take from the desert, but we do carefully. If there was an attack, the fragile ecosystem would be destroyed. After the Gulf War, oil fires raged for months. I do not want that for my land or my people.”
Sabrina nearly pointed out that the land wasn’t really his. It belonged to the two neighboring countries. However, while Kardal’s territory might technically end at the borders of his city, in truth it stretched for thousands of miles. Neither King Givon nor her father could begin to control the vastness of the desert. It was here that Kardal reigned supreme.
“Perhaps it is time to change your title,” she said. “You are no longer the Prince of Thieves.”
He smiled. “Perhaps not, but I have no desire to acquire a new title.”
He looked especially dangerous on horseback. She had seen him slip a gun into a holster before they left and she doubted that was his only weapon. Should they be attacked, Kardal was prepared. She’d been more than stupid heading out on her own the way she had. She was lucky to have been found alive.
“What are you thinking?” he asked.
“That I should have stayed home instead of going off looking for the City of Thieves. It wasn’t my finest hour.”
“But if you had not ridden into the sandstorm, I couldn’t have taken you as my slave.”
She wanted to say that wouldn’t have been tragic to her at all, but the words got stuck in her throat. “Yes, well, you did and here I am.” She pulled at her head covering, removing it so the breeze could stir her hair. “Where exactly will the air force be located?”
Kardal gazed at her for a full minute, letting her know that he didn’t have to accept her change in topic. But eventually he responded to her question.
“The main base will be in Bahania, but there will be airstrips all over the desert. I believe your brother, Prince Jefri, is in charge of the development of the air force.”
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