The Sheikh and the Runaway Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 4)(45) by Susan Mallery
Sabrina felt the heat that instantly flared on her face. She knew she was turning the color of a pomegranate seed. Words failed her as she met the questioning gaze of someone she had come to think of as a friend.
“I…” She cleared her throat. “It’s not what you think.”
“I don’t know what to think.”
Sabrina glanced at the small chests lined up against the wall and knew their contents could damn her. “It’s just—” She began speaking very fast. “Kardal won’t listen to me and I don’t understand his position. If the city no longer steals, why can’t some of the treasures be returned? But he won’t speak of it. He says that if those countries want their treasures, they should come and take them back themselves. Except how can they when they don’t know that they’re here?”
She twisted her hands together. “I see his point about some of the treasures. He’s right about the Imperial Eggs. Who owns those? But there are other items that are easily identified. I pointed that out to him, but he just laughed. So I, ah, well, I decided to return some of the items myself.”
She pointed to the chests. “Most of the things I’ve taken are from El Bahar and Bahania. Those are the easiest for me to identify and the ownership is clear. There are a couple of things that belong to the British crown and some other countries. They’re not for myself,” she finished, feeling lame.
Cala didn’t say anything for a long time. She walked over to the open trunk and stared inside. “I think I told you my charity was first financed by stolen goods.”
Sabrina exhaled in relief. Cala didn’t sound angry. At least not too angry. “Yes, you’d mentioned that.”
Cala smiled slightly. “My father indulged me. He gave me diamonds and rubies, emeralds the size of your fist. All stolen. He made sure that what he gave me was untraceable. They were at least a hundred years old and no one knew the rightful owners. So I went out and sold them. In time the charity grew large enough to attract attention. Donations now support the causes. But the seed money was the result of the city’s tradition.”
She bent down and pointed to a diamond tiara. “This has always been one of my favorites,” Cala said. “Where does it belong?”
“Great Britain. It was created for the first Elizabeth. She’s wearing it in one of her portraits.”
Cala straightened and touched her arm. “Kardal can be most difficult when he doesn’t agree with someone. He tends to be stubborn to the point of wearing one down. I’m glad you’ve found a way to circumvent him.”
Sabrina tried to keep the surprise out of her voice. “You’re not going to tell him what I’ve been doing?”
Cala laughed. “Kardal is the Prince of Thieves. Surely one with such a title should know when he himself is being robbed.”
She walked to the sitting area next to the fireplace and rested her hands on the back of the brocade chair. Today Cala wore her casual clothes, jeans and a T-shirt. Her long hair had been pulled back in a braid. She wore no jewelry save a pair of gold hoop earrings and a gold bracelet.
“What do you think of my son?” she asked, staring into the fireplace, as if the unlit logs could show her a most desired truth.
The question surprised Sabrina. What did she think of Kardal? “He confuses me,” she said honestly, walking over to stand closer to her guest. “I agree that he can be stubborn, but he can also be kind.”
She thought of the way he touched her. How he’d kissed her. He was a passionate man, but she wasn’t comfortable saying that to his mother.
“You’re his prisoner,” Cala said. “Shouldn’t you hate him?”
“When you put it like that, I want to say yes. But I don’t. Mostly because at this point in time, I have no desire to go home. So as long as Kardal lets me, I will stay in the city, cataloging the treasures.” She paused, then smiled. “Stealing those small enough for me to carry to my room, with the intent of returning them when I finally leave.”
Cala moved around to the front of the chair and settled herself. Sabrina sat opposite her.
“Why must you go home?” Cala asked.
Why indeed? Sabrina had begun to suspect she might like to stay for a very long time. But to what end?
“My father and I aren’t very close,” she began carefully. “However, he does have certain expectations. I am betrothed.”
Cala looked surprised. “To whom?”
“I don’t know. I was so angry when he told me he’d arranged a marriage that I left before hearing the details. I refer to my future husband as the troll prince. My biggest fear is that my description is going to be accurate.”
“Perhaps he will not be as bad as you fear.” Kardal’s mother leaned back in her chair.
Sabrina didn’t want to think about that. She didn’t want to think about not being with Kardal. She knew she was here on borrowed time and eventually she would have to leave. And then what? Would he miss her? Would he think about her after she was gone? Sabrina didn’t understand her relationship with the Prince of Thieves. He could be both passionate and caring, funny and dictatorial. She still didn’t know why he’d brought her here nor why he kept her. She wasn’t his slave, yet a few days before he’d told her that she wasn’t allowed to leave.
“I suppose if I were a different kind of person I would want to leave,” she said more to herself than to Cala. “I should hate being held here.”
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