The Sheikh's Virgin(Desert Rogues, Book 13)(10) by Susan Mallery
By day three, they had settled into a routine. One Victoria found easy to deal with as it mostly involved Kateb ignoring her. While he was in the camp and occasionally spoke to her, he’d had her ride in a different vehicle and acted as if she were just one of the guys. That allowed her to relax a little and ignore their destination.
The desert had a unique beauty, she thought when they stopped for lunch. She accepted a bowl of stew from the cook and smiled her thanks. The dry air meant good hair days, although she was dying for a shower. At this point she was desperate enough to be willing to give up her favorite leather jacket for fifteen minutes of warm water and a bar of soap.
She sat in her usual place, at the back of the camp. This time there weren’t cliffs behind them, but more of the trucks. While no one walked around with a rifle, she knew that the men were always aware of the surroundings. Kateb more so than any.
He watched the sky, scanned the horizon. She suspected he would be able to tell her if there was a rabbit or fox within five miles. Or something more dangerous.
She liked how he was with the other men. He commanded their respect without being pushy about it. They looked to him because he was naturally their leader.
Her gaze returned to the scar. What had happened to him? She wanted to ask, but they weren’t speaking that much and it didn’t seem like a good conversation starter. There was a sort of truce between them she didn’t want to disrupt. Last night he’d brought her a lantern, so she could read if she wished. Not exactly the actions of a savage madman.
So maybe the mistress thing wouldn’t be too horrible. He was intelligent and strong. He joked with the other men. She liked the sound of his laugh, not that he ever laughed with her.
When she finished her lunch, she carried the bowl over to the wash bucket and cleaned it. When she straightened, Kateb stood next to her.
She jumped. “Why do you have to be stealthy?”
“We are close to the village. It’s less than twenty miles by horseback, although nearly fifty in the truck. The trucks require a road. I will be riding the rest of the way. Would you care to join me?”
“Sure. Thanks. Give me ten minutes to change my clothes.” She glanced around. Tents weren’t put up in the middle of the day, which meant privacy was an issue. Maybe she could climb in the back of one of the trucks.
“Why do you need to change your clothes? You’re even wearing sensible boots.”
She glanced down at her authentic cowboy boots. “I know. They’re so cool. I got them on sale. But I have a riding outfit.”
“Do you have different clothes for every event?”
“Of course. It’s a girl thing. Although I was challenged by the whole ‘you’ll be my mistress.’ That was a stumper. They don’t cover it much in the fashion magazines. I think they’re missing a real market.”
He was much taller than she and had to look down to meet her gaze. “You hide your emotions behind humor,” he said.
It was all she could do not to roll her eyes. “Well, duh.”
One corner of his mouth twitched. An actual twitch, which was nearly a smile. She wasn’t sure why making him smile or laugh would make her feel better, but she believed that all the way down to her toes.
“What you are wearing is fine,” he told her.
“But the outfit is really cool.”
“You can show me later.”
“You just don’t want to wait while I dig through all my luggage.”
“There is that, as well. Be ready in five minutes.”
“There aren’t any horses.”
“There will be.”
Kateb walked away. Victoria watched him go, not sure what to make of him. On the one hand, he’d taken her for his mistress for six months and that couldn’t be good. On the other hand, he’d given her electricity for her curling iron and taken care of her, albeit from a distance. Which meant this was the strangest semi-relationship she’d ever had in her life.
Four minutes and thirty seconds later, a man rode up leading two horses. Kateb spoke with him, then brought the horses to her.
“How well do you ride?” he asked.
“Isn’t it a little late to be worrying about that?”
He looked at her.
So much for the lip twitch. “I do okay. I’m not an expert, but I’ve been riding every couple of days for nearly two years.”
One of the men walked over and laced his fingers together to form a step. Victoria glanced back at the trucks holding all her things, including her purse. Was she just going to ride away and leave them all behind? Did she have a choice?
She stepped in the man’s hand, pushed off the ground, then swung into the saddle. After three days of driving, it felt good to be on a horse, out in the fresh air. Kateb got on his horse and moved the animal next to hers.
“We’ll be heading northeast.”
“Do I look like I know what direction that is?”
He pointed out into the wilderness, toward rolling hills dotted with low shrubs and grasses growing out of the sand. Like that would help.
He urged his horse forward. Hers moved into step without her doing anything, which meant it was probably going to be an easy ride. Her favorite kind.
“If you try to escape, I won’t look for you,” he told her. “You’ll wander for days before dying of thirst.”
“Oh, please,” she said, before she could remember he was royalty and sometimes it was better not to say everything she was thinking. “That’s so much crap.”
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