The Sheikh's Virgin(Desert Rogues, Book 13)(35) by Susan Mallery
Another thrust and another until his features tightened and she felt the exact moment of his release. She saw everything, the yearning, the relief, the satisfaction. At last he was still and they were done.
Victoria had thought Kateb might simply leave, but instead he lay down next to her and pulled her into his arms. She went willingly, wanting to prolong the moment, to feel him next to her. She told herself it was more about being lonely than needing the man and hoped she was telling the truth.
“Did you mean to do that?” she asked, her head resting on his shoulder.
“Make love with you? Are you wondering if it was an accident?”
She heard the humor in his voice and smiled. “Maybe.”
“I didn’t slip and fall into you.”
“I know. But you didn’t want this to happen again.”
“Perhaps I can’t resist you.”
If only that were true.
He stroked her hair. “Why did you offer yourself to me?”
“I told you when it happened. I couldn’t let you put my father in jail.”
“Because of your mother. Did the promise mean so much?”
She sensed he was genuinely asking rather than questioning her loyalty.
“She was always there for me,” Victoria said slowly, closing her eyes and inhaling his scent. “Even though she loved him more than she should have, she took care of me and loved me. No matter how bad things got, I knew she adored me. It helped, through all the other stuff.” She opened her eyes. “I made the promise to take care of him because I hoped it would be enough to keep him alive.”
“You didn’t have that power.”
“I was only a few weeks shy of graduating from high school. I wasn’t ready to be alone in the world. I had to believe in something.”
“You made your way.”
“It wasn’t easy.” She didn’t want to think of that time, of the struggles and the fear. Not tonight. “I learned to be strong.”
“You were always strong,” he told her.
“I wish that were true.”
“It takes strength to survive tragedy.”
She thought of the boxes in the room next to his. The trapped memories and the pain.
“You must miss her very much,” she murmured.
He stiffened slightly. If they hadn’t been touching, she might not have noticed.
She put her arm across his midsection. “Don’t.”
“Whatever you were thinking. Leave. Shut down. We can talk about her.”
“No, we can’t.”
“Why not? She was your wife. You loved her and now she’s gone. You should talk about it.”
“Maybe I have.” He stared at the ceiling as he spoke.
“I doubt that. You’re not the type. You’ve kept it all inside. So talk to me. I’m a safe bet.”
“In what way?”
“I don’t matter.”
He turned toward her. “Why would you say that?”
“I don’t mean it in a self-defeating way. As soon as you’re sure I’m not pregnant, you’re sending me back to the city.” She wasn’t sure exactly why. Perhaps he had initially believed she had tried to trick him, but she doubted he’d stayed convinced of that for long. It was too ridiculous and Kateb was a logical man. “I’m a safe bet. So tell me. What was her name? What was she like?”
His dark gaze locked with hers, as if he wanted to test her sincerity. She didn’t look away. Eventually he relaxed. A slight smiled pulled at the corner of his mouth…the corner not touched by the scar.
“Her name was Cantara. She was the daughter of a chieftain and I met her when I was ten and she was eight. She didn’t believe I was a prince because I didn’t have a crown and she could ride a horse better than me. We became friends. That never changed.”
“You’re lucky,” she said. “Being friends with the person you marry sounds like a great way to make a relationship work.”
“It was,” he said as he shifted onto his back and tucked one arm behind his head. He kept his other around her. “She understood the desert and understood me. From the time we were sixteen or seventeen, we knew we would be married.”
Victoria wondered what it would be like to have that much certainty in her life. To know she was loved by a man and to love in return.
“We waited until I was twenty-two,” he continued. “My father thought I was too young, but I insisted and eventually he agreed. Cantara and I were married and came to live here.”
“You must have been very happy.”
“I was. I had everything. A few years later, I had to attend tribal meetings. They can go on for weeks and be very tedious. She decided to go to Europe with a couple of her friends. She was killed in a car accident. She died instantly.”
He spoke calmly, as if telling a story about someone else. But she knew there was pain inside of him. Grief that would never fully heal.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“As was I. Time heals.”
“Not enough. You’re going to marry for duty, not love.”
He looked at her. “Yusra talks too much.”
“That’s very possible, but you’re not going to stop her.”
“Probably not.” He touched her hair again. “I will wait until I am leader, then pick a wife who brings power with her. My goal is for my people to know peace and prosperity. An alliance with one of the larger desert tribes will help with that.”
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