The Sheikh and the Runaway Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 4)(46) by Susan Mallery
“As prisons go, it is very nice,” Cala teased. “One with a remarkable treasure.”
Sabrina smiled. She supposed the problem was that she liked Kardal. Perhaps too much. He was unlike anyone she’d ever known. Perhaps her half brothers—also princes—had similar personalities, but she’d never spent enough time with them to know.
“There is also the matter of Kardal,” Cala said, completely serious now. “I think you like him a little.”
Sabrina was willing to admit to that. Perhaps even more than a little. He made her think of things, want things, she’d never thought of before. When she remembered how it was when he kissed her and touched her, she nearly went up in flames. But they had no future. She could not allow them to make love. However angry she might be at her father, she couldn’t defy tradition or the monarchy. Not in that way. She had to stay a virgin. If she did not—if she allowed Kardal to make her his own—her father would kill him. She did not want to think of a world without the Prince of Thieves.
“Life is complicated,” Cala said quietly. “After nearly thirty-two years, King Givon returns to the city and I can’t think of what I’m supposed to say to him.”
Cala’s obvious distress distracted Sabrina from her own thoughts. “You invited him. Have you changed your mind?”
Cala looked at her and laughed. The sound was more strangled than humorous. “A thousand times. Every morning I wake up determined to withdraw the invitation. I reconsider that over breakfast, then around ten in the morning, decide to call and tell him not to come. Then I switch again.” She shrugged. “It goes on like this all day and long into the night.”
She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around herself. “What am I supposed to tell him?”
Sabrina tried to imagine what it must be like—to meet the father of one’s child after a thirty-one-year absence. “What do you want to tell him?” she asked. “Is there any unfinished business between the two of you?”
“Too much.Perhaps none. I don’t know.” Cala shook her head. “I was so young. Just eighteen. I knew the tradition, the expectation. I knew there had to be heirs for the city, but in my heart I never thought my father would make me bed a stranger for the sole purpose of becoming pregnant. And if the resulting child was a girl, I would be expected to do it again and again, until I had a son.”
She closed her eyes as if she could not stand to see into her past.
“I threatened to run away,” she continued. “I believe I even threatened to kill myself. My father stood firm and told me I was the princess of the city. I had a responsibility to my people, my heritage and the future.” She glanced at Sabrina. “At eighteen, I wasn’t very moved by his arguments. But I had never defied my father, not significantly. So I didn’t run away or take my life. I waited. Then one day he arrived.”
Cala stood and walked to the fireplace. She touched the uneven stones. “In a room much like this one, I met him for the first time. He was old.” She laughed. “He seemed old to me. He was at least thirty and he was married, with two sons and a third child on the way.” She paused, then turned to face Sabrina. “He was kind. I could tell that the situation made him as uncomfortable as it did me. Perhaps more, because he had a wife and a family. But duty required that we produce a son together.”
Cala fingered a slender gold chain on her wrist. “That first night we only talked. He said we had time and that he would not rush me. I had imagined being raped and abandoned so his consideration did much to ease my fears. Over the next couple of weeks, we became friends. When we were finally lovers, I was the one who went to him.”
Cala turned away, facing the stones again. Her shoulders stiffened. “As I already told you, I was very foolish. I didn’t think about his wife or his sons. I only thought of myself and how Givon made me feel when he touched me. I only thought of the laughter, how we danced together. How we made love each morning as the sunlight crept across the room. I fell in love with him.”
Sabrina’s chest tightened at the words. Cala painted a picture of a doomed relationship, one in which an innocent young woman lost her heart to a man she could never have. Recognition made her squirm. Until this moment, she hadn’t bothered to name her growing feelings for Kardal. She’d found him annoying and charming, dictatorial and a great companion. She knew that she liked him when he wasn’t making her crazy. But she hadn’t thought beyond that. She hadn’t considered there might be danger for both of them.
“One month turned into two,” Cala said. “I knew I was pregnant, but I didn’t want to tell him because I didn’t want him to leave.” She glanced at Sabrina and smiled, despite the tears sparkling in her eyes. “It turns out he knew, but didn’t want to say anything because he’d fallen in love as well.”
Cala sighed and returned to her chair. “When we finally confessed all, I was so happy. Givon loved me and would never leave me. Because I was young I could convince myself that it would work out. I didn’t think of his kingdom, his wife or his sons. I only thought of the man who was the light of my world.”
“But he left,” Sabrina said. “What happened?”
Cala fingered the slender bracelet again. “His wife arrived. She brought with her his newborn son and placed the child in his arms. ‘Will you abandon us all?’ she asked. I was standing in an alcove of the foyer and I heard her words. I saw the indecision in Givon’s eyes and I saw the moment he chose.” She glanced at Sabrina. “He didn’t pick me.”
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