The Sheikh and the Runaway Princess(Desert Rogues, Book 4)(52) by Susan Mallery
The king had been wrong, she told herself for the hundredth time. He’d been wrong about her having feelings for Kardal. She couldn’t think of him as anything but a friend because that’s all he was to her. A good friend. Someone with whom she had a lot in common. Someone…
She hadn’t realized where she’d been walking to until she found herself in the anteroom overlooking the formal garden. Spring was rapidly approaching summer and already the gardeners had hung wide awnings to protect the delicate plants from the strong desert sun.
Sabrina moved to the window and pressed her fingers against the three-hundred-year-old glass. It was less smooth than what one could buy today, and thicker. But it had a beauty no factory could produce. She thought of the treasures in the vaults and the magnificence of the castle. There was so much to see and understand here in the city. She could happily make it her life’s work.
And in a few short weeks, she would never see it again. She knew her time here was limited. She felt like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, watching the time of her life flow like the sands in an hourglass. How long before her father insisted she return home? How long until she had to pledge herself to the troll prince? How many more days in the City of Thieves?
She ran her finger along the ledge, where lead held the glass in place. A sharp point caught the skin of her thumb, piercing her. She winced and pulled back. Instantly a single drop of blood formed in the shape of a teardrop. As if her body wept.
But not for the city, she thought as she finally accepted the truth. While it intrigued her and excited her imagination, she would not miss the castle nor the streets nor even the treasure when she left. She would miss the man who was the heart of the city. The man who had stolen her heart.
She’d fallen in love with the Prince of Thieves.
Sabrina rubbed at the drop of blood, as if by erasing it from her body, she could erase the truth. Except the truth could no longer be denied. She was in love with a man she would never see again. Even if she went to her father and confessed her feelings, she knew he wouldn’t care. He had married for the sake of his country twice and he would expect no less of her. Perhaps if he cared about her, she might have a chance, but he did not. He had made his feelings abundantly clear.
Kardal, she thought suddenly. She could go to Kardal and tell him. Perhaps he had come to care for her as well. They could run off together and…
And what? Where would they go? Even if he would leave the city for her, she could never ask that of him. He was as much a part of this place as the castle itself, or the sand of the desert.
So he would stay where he belonged and she would return to Bahania to marry someone else…a man who could never hold her heart because she had already given it away.
“The security area is through here,” Kardal said the next afternoon, trying to sound more gracious than he felt.
After more than twenty-four hours of ducking his father and when that wasn’t possible, making sure they weren’t ever alone so they would have to speak directly to each other, he was finally trapped with Givon.
After lunch, both his mother and Sabrina had claimed appointments that could not be broken. Even Rafe had deserted him, stating he had an important staff meeting to attend. Givon had been left to Kardal, and Kardal didn’t doubt for a second that there was a conspiracy afoot.
However, there was no time to round up those involved and complain. Instead he had to show his father the security section of the castle.
“We have taken advantage of improved technology,” Kardal said as they stepped through wide glass doors that opened silently, admitting them into an alcove. When the doors closed behind them, they did so with an audible snick of an activated lock.
“As you can see,” he said, indicating the glass room, “we are trapped. The glass is bulletproof and explosion resistant. Should we try to make our way into the security area without proper clearance, forces on duty will respond within thirty seconds. To prevent us from trying something aggressive in that short period of time, a nontoxic sedative will be dispensed into the atmosphere.” He pointed to small spray nozzles extending down from the ceiling.
Givon looked around at the glass enclosure. “Most impressive,” he murmured. He glanced at Kardal. “Do you plan to sedate me?”
Kardal ignored the humor in the other man’s voice along with the question. “The doors are released by a combination of thumbprint and retinal scan.”
He touched the security pad and stared into the scanner. Seconds later the inner doors opened and they stepped into the heart of the operation.
Television screens lined one entire wall of the huge room. Remote cameras sent back views of every oil pump in both El Bahar and Bahania, except those within twenty miles of the main cities.
“All the information gathered is collected here,” Kardal said, walking over to a row of monitors opposite the television screens. “We regulate oil flow, check for any potential safety problems with the equipment and notify the nearest crew if something breaks. Over here—” he led the way to a different cluster of monitor screens “—we use infrared to find trespassers. And of course the remote cameras provide us with the majority of our information.”
Givon crossed to those screens and watched a group of nomads seen on one television. They rode camels and appeared not to notice the large oil pump behind them.
“Internal security?” he asked.
Kardal nodded. “They patrol the desert regularly. We also have helicopter patrols, but it’s not enough. The area is too large and those who wish to make trouble are growing more sophisticated. The technology which aids us, assists them as well.”
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