The Sheikh's Virgin(Desert Rogues, Book 13)(8) by Susan Mallery
“You are not expected to cook the meal.”
Right. Because she was expected to provide other services. Her stomach tightened, which she ignored, along with any thoughts about sharing Kateb’s bed. That was for later. When they arrived at the mysterious desert village. For now she was safe.
She glanced at him, at the proud set of his head, at the deep scar on his cheek. Kateb ruled the desert. He could do what he would like with her and no one would stop him. Which made safe a relative term. She took a step back.
“I’ve never been camping,” she said. “This is nice. Desert life is more modern than I would have thought.”
“This is not desert life. This is efficient transportation. To be in the desert is to be one with the land. It is to travel with camels and horses, bringing only what you need, knowing what you forget you do without. There is beauty deep in the desert, but danger as well.”
Her gaze was drawn to his scar. She’d heard rumors that he’d been attacked as a teenager, but she never learned the details. Asking hadn’t seemed important. Her total knowledge about Kateb would barely fill a good-sized e-mail. If she’d known she was going to be spending some serious time in his company, she would have asked more questions.
One of the men brought over two folding chairs, setting them in the shade. Victoria wasn’t sure of protocol, but she waited until Kateb was seated before sitting down herself. When the man returned with two bottles of water, she accepted one gratefully.
“I grew up in Texas,” she said, more to fill the silence than because she thought he was interested. “A little town between Houston and Dallas. It was nothing like this, although it could get hot in the summer. There weren’t a lot of trees, so when people were outside, there wasn’t anywhere to go to escape the sun. I remember summer storms racing through. I would stand out in the rain, spinning and spinning. Not that the rain cooled things off very much.”
“Did you like living there?”
“I didn’t know anything else. My dad would disappear for weeks at a time. Mom missed him when he was gone, but I liked that it was just the two of us. It felt safer. Then he would come back, sometime with a lot of money, sometimes broke and driving on fumes. Either way she was happy—until he left again.”
That was a long time ago, she thought sadly. But she remembered everything about those days.
“When did she die?”
“On my seventeenth birthday.”
Victoria didn’t want to think about that. “She worked two jobs most of the time. She did hair during the day and worked at a bar at night. She used to talk about us opening a beauty shop together. I never wanted to tell her that I was just waiting to turn eighteen to leave.”
“Where did you go?”
“Dallas.” She smiled at the memory. “It was really the big city for me. I got a job, enrolled in community college and worked my butt off. I started off waitressing at a diner, then moved up to nicer places. I made a lot with tips and when I got my associates degree, I found a job as an administrative assistant.”
“Why not a four-year degree?”
“Have you priced college lately?” She shrugged. “It’s a lot more money. Working full-time and going to college isn’t easy. So I got a job working for an oil company.”
“And through them, met Nadim.”
She could hear the judgment in his voice. “Eventually.”
“What about your father?”
“I didn’t talk to him much. He came by a few times, looking for money.”
“Did you give him any?”
“The first time. Then I stopped.” She didn’t want to think about that, either. “So there’s probably not a shower in one of those trucks.”
“No. You will have to wait until we arrive at the village.”
Great. “And I’m going to go out on a limb and say you didn’t think to bring an extension cord. For my curling iron?”
He stared at her. There wasn’t a hint of humor in his dark eyes or even a twitch of his mouth. “No.”
“You don’t actually do the humor thing, do you?” she asked, knowing it was probably a mistake, or at least presumptuous.
“Were you being funny?”
She laughed. “Careful. You wouldn’t want to appear human.”
“I am many things, Victoria.”
His gaze was steady as he spoke. Steady and almost…predatory.
No, she told herself. She was imagining things. He wasn’t actually interested in her. Keeping her around was all about her paying her father’s debt. But once the idea appeared in her brain, she couldn’t seem to push it away. It made her aware of him, sitting close to her. Of the way he dominated the space, despite the fact that they were outdoors.
“Do we, um, drive the whole way?” she asked, hoping a neutral topic change would make her feel better.
“Not quite.” He looked away. “There is a road to the village. The last day I will ride. You may join me if you wish. Assuming you ride.”
“Horses, right? Not camels.”
“Then I ride.” She’d learned the first year she’d been in El Deharia. Having access to the royal stable was one of the perks of her job. Even the lesser horses the staff was permitted to ride were still amazing, purebred animals that ran like the wind.
“I hope you have more sensible boots than those.”
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