The Sheikh's Virgin(Desert Rogues, Book 13)(20) by Susan Mallery
“Who makes the jewelry?” she asked.
“Three or four families. The women work together. Mother to daughter, as it has been for many years.”
The skills passed on to each generation? No wonder the work was so perfect. “Is it close? Could I see where they make the jewelry?”
The other woman nodded slowly. “Yes, you come. This afternoon.” She gave her directions.
Victoria smiled. “I look forward to it. Thank you.”
“You are welcome.” She hesitated. “You are with Kateb?”
Victoria tried not to blush. “Yes. I’m with Kateb.” Whatever that meant.
“He is a good man. He will be nominated as leader. We all miss Bahjat. Kateb is very lonely these days. Perhaps with you here…” Her voice trailed off.
Victoria frowned. Yusra had also mentioned Kateb being lonely. What was up with that? The man had a harem he could fill with as many women as he wanted. How lonely could he be?
Yusra arrived in Kateb’s office fifteen minutes after he’d sent for her. She bowed slightly.
“It is good to have you back in the Winter Palace,” she said.
“It will always be my home.” He motioned her to sit, then abruptly rose and paced to the window. It had taken only a few hours for him to come to the obvious solution to his problem. “Victoria must return to the city. You will pack up her things and arrange transportation. She is to be gone before noon tomorrow.”
He stared out at the courtyard as he spoke. Dozens of people came and went, looking busy and determined. He was just like them, with responsibilities. He didn’t have time for a woman’s plan to trap him.
“I am surprised,” Yusra said slowly. “She displeased you so quickly?”
Victoria hadn’t displeased him, which was part of the problem. He’d felt…unsettled after their encounter. A strange state of being he did not want to repeat. Having her gone was the best solution. She would attempt to find a different rich husband, trick another man. He would not fall prey to her.
“She is fine,” he said, still not looking at Yusra. “But I have no time for her. With the elders about to meet, I must deal with my responsibilities.”
“She is one woman, Prince Kateb. How much trouble could she be?”
“You have no idea. My mind is made up. I want her gone.”
“As you wish, sir.”
He heard the older woman stand. He looked back at her, prepared to wish her good day. She spoke first.
“And if she is with child?”
Six simple words that changed everything, he thought grimly. Pregnant. He hadn’t considered the possibility. Last night he’d be unable to think of anything but having her.
He didn’t bother to question how Yusra knew they’d had sex. The ripped dress would have been clue enough and he’d left it on a chair in his rooms. Word would have spread quickly. He knew there were those who wanted him to take another wife, to have a child. They would hope Victoria was someone he would consider.
Or at least they would unless they found out the truth about her.
Could she be pregnant?
He hadn’t thought to use protection. Was she on birth control? He remembered her plan to marry Nadim. No doubt had he been willing to take her to his bed, she would have been delighted to use pregnancy to trap him. There was no reason to assume she would act any differently with him.
He returned his gaze to Yusra. “She can’t be allowed to leave until we know if she is pregnant or not.”
“As you wish.”
“You will tell me either way?”
“Of course. In no more than twenty-eight days, sir. Then you can let her go.”
Having her gone tomorrow would be easier, but not possible. A little less than a month. That shouldn’t be a problem. As Yusra had pointed out, Victoria was only one woman. He could handle her easily.
Exactly at three, Victoria knocked on the door of the old house on the corner. A woman answered right away. She was probably close to fifty, tall and very beautiful, with dark hair hanging in a long ponytail and large, expressive eyes. Gold chains hung around her neck and bangles jingled on both wrists.
“You must be Victoria,” she said warmly. “Welcome. I am Rasha.”
“Thank you so much for letting me see where you work,” Victoria said as she stepped into the building.
From the outside it looked like a house, but on the inside, it was a big, open space with skylights and windows. The floors were stone. Interior walls had been removed and work stations set up in several places. Heat billowed from the left side, where several women poured molten gold into molds.
“I’ve admired your jewelry ever since I came to El Deharia two years ago,” Victoria said. “I just didn’t know it was yours. I bought these in the market in the city.”
Rasha touched her earrings. “Yes, I recognize the piece. Very nice.”
“They’re beautiful. The weaving is incredible.”
Rasha led her around the room. “We use many techniques to make our jewelry. Molds, as you see them doing here. The weaving involves long wires or threads that are just soft enough to bend. The delicate beadwork is the most difficult. We also set stones.”
Rasha introduced her to many of the women working in the house, then showed her their inventory. The rows of completed work was dazzling and for a moment Victoria felt a little light-headed.
“I’m practically a professional shopper,” she joked. “Seeing this much all in one place isn’t good for me.”
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