The Sheikh and the Runaway Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 4)(44) by Susan Mallery
She laughed. “Good try, Kardal, but not even close to the truth. I’m trying to place the age of this piece. It’s a blend of styles.” She closed the book and set it on the table next to her chair, then put down the bracelet as well. “I’m thinking that the artist was originally from El Bahar or Bahania and then moved to Italy at some point. Maybe the late 1400s.”
She rose and crossed toward him. “How was your day?”
She moved with the grace of a hawk—her body curved and swaying. The ancient rhythm of the female called to him so strongly it was all he could do to resist her siren song. The ache returned and with it the desire to claim her as his own. To be her first—her only. To touch and taste her innocence, then to change her into a woman and discover all the possibilities they could create together.
However, this was not the time. Kardal ignored the fire inside of him and instead handed her the saddlebags he’d slung over his shoulder.
“Your horse and your camel were found wandering in the desert. I believe these belong to you.”
She laughed and took the bags from him. “My maps and diaries,” she said with delight. “Not that I need them to find my way to the city now. Thank you for bringing them to me. And I appreciate knowing my animals are all right. I’ve been worried about them.”
“They were found by a tribe of nomads right after the storm,” he told her, watching her open the saddlebags and pull out the contents. “They have been safe since then. The tribe was making its way to the city and turned them over to me as soon as they arrived.”
He walked to the tray of refreshments Adiva always kept ready in Sabrina’s room, then poured himself a glass of water. “The information in the diary is mostly accurate, but the maps would not have brought you anywhere near the city.”
She flipped through the pages of the diary. “You looked through my things?” she asked, then glanced at him. “What happened to me being a free woman and all that?”
He moved toward her and stared into her dark eyes. “You had your chance at freedom, Sabrina, and you chose to stay in the City of Thieves. You are mine once again. To do with what I will.”
She shivered slightly at his words, but didn’t turn away. “You’re forgetting about the troll prince. He might want me enough to fight for me.”
Kardal was grateful she didn’t know the truth of her words. “I know he would fall on a sword for you…if he knew you. But he will only know what he has read in the paper and what your father has told him. I think I am safe from him.”
“You can’t know that,” she said, but they both knew she was bluffing.
“Is it so awful, to be my slave?” he asked.
She sighed and turned away. “No. I’m not ready to return to Bahania and face my fate, but it’s going to happen eventually. You have to know that, Kardal. You can’t keep me here forever.”
He spoke the words even as he wondered what she would say if she knew the truth. That he could keep her forever, if that was what he desired. What exactly did Sabrina think of him? And why did he care? She was only a woman. His betrothed, if he chose to have her.
He tried to tell himself that it was only his desire for her that made him interested in her opinion, but a voice in his head warned him it might be more serious than that. He might be close to admitting that Sabrina’s opinions, needs and happiness just might matter.
It was a most disconcerting state of affairs. One he wasn’t sure he liked at all.
The afternoon temperature was surprisingly warm. Sabrina found herself wishing her cloak weren’t so thick and long, but she didn’t have a choice. She also wished she weren’t sneaking around the halls of the palace like some common criminal, but that wasn’t to be helped.
As she had every day since Kardal had said she could begin cataloging the treasures of the city, she kept careful hold of the items bundled together under her cloak. When she met someone in the hall, she did her best to act as natural and normal as possible, praying no one would guess the truth. Kardal would kill her if he knew what she was doing.
Sabrina saw the door to her room at the end of the hall and sighed with relief. Another secret mission completed without incident. She slipped into her room and hurried over to the small trunks arranged against the far wall, next to the window. She’d requested them from Adiva, supposedly to store her personal belongings. Fortunately Adiva had never realized Sabrina had very little of her own to store.
Sabrina shrugged out of her cloak and let it fall to the ground. Lengths of white cloth were wrapped around her middle, holding her precious cargo safe. She released the tie in back, then pulled out three velvet bags and a small jade statue. In the bags were various gems and pieces of jewelry. The jade statue had once belonged to the emperor of Japan. At least the residents of the city had been equitable thieves, she thought humorously. They had stolen from nearly every country in the world.
After examining the contents of the first bag—the tiara from the reign of Elizabeth I, she opened one of the small trunks and deposited everything inside. Pausing to admire her bounty, she calculated that given just another month she could make quite a sizable dent in the—
“I know for a fact you can’t be stealing,” a woman’s voice said from behind her. “So what are you doing?”
Stunned, Sabrina spun on her toes and watched as Cala stepped out of the shadows. Kardal’s mother had been sitting in a chair in the corner, obviously waiting. She’d seen everything. Questions filled her dark eyes, but it was impossible to read her expression or know what she was thinking.
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