The Sheikh's Virgin(Desert Rogues, Book 13)(37) by Susan Mallery
“But Prince Kateb must see the treasure he has in you.”
“You’d think,” she joked, not sure why she felt a tightness in her chest. “Anyway, let’s get back to business. I’m going to leave these copies of the business plan with you. Let’s talk in a few days and work out the details.”
“Yes. That will be wonderful.”
They rose and Rasha walked her to the door. When Victoria pulled it open, she saw the same small boy in the yard.
“Go away, Sa’id,” Rasha said sharply. “We do not want you here.”
The boy’s eyes filled with tears as he slunk away.
Victoria was a little shocked by her tone. “Who is he?”
“No one. A child in the village. My sister has a friend who weaves beautiful cloth. Could we sell her work the same way?”
“Maybe.” Victoria watched the boy turn a corner and disappear. “Where are his parents? He can’t be very old.”
“His mother is dead. His father…recently left the village.”
Victoria stared at her. “He doesn’t have any family?”
“Who feeds him?” Victoria demanded. “Where does he sleep?”
“That isn’t your concern. He will be fine.”
Rasha once again brought up the textiles. Victoria promised to think about it, mostly so she could get away and find the boy.
How was it possible that Rasha could be so callous about a child? From all Victoria knew, she was a warm, caring woman. But she’d dismissed Sa’id as if he were a stray cat.
Victoria hurried along the street and turned where the boy had. She saw him sitting in a doorway, wiping his face. He kicked at the stone street with his bare toes.
“Sa’id?” she called softly.
He looked up and smiled at her. “Hello.”
“Hello yourself. I’m Victoria.”
“You have pretty hair.”
“I remember you like it.”
He was painfully thin and covered in dust and dirt. His clothes were practically rags. She didn’t know much about children, so wasn’t sure of his age. Seven? Nine?
She crouched in front of him. “Sa’id, where do you live?”
His smile faded. “I need to go,” he told her.
“Please don’t. Do you have a home?”
Tears filled his eyes again. “No.”
“And you don’t have any family?”
He shook his head, then wiped his eyes angrily. “No,” he said again, and squared his shoulders.
What the hell was going on? She had seen nothing but kindness from the people in the village. They were peaceful, thoughtful and prosperous. Why would a child be left alone on the streets?
“You must be hungry,” she said. “It’s very close to lunchtime. I know I’m hungry. Would you like to come with me and get something to eat?”
His eyes widened. “You live in the Winter Palace.”
“Yes, I know.”
“I can’t go in there.”
He shrugged. “I just can’t.”
“But if I live there and you’re with me, wouldn’t that be okay?”
He frowned. “Maybe.”
She stood and held out her hand. “I say it is and I have very pretty hair.”
He smiled. “Okay.” He put his hand in hers.
She went around to the rear of the palace, just in case there was some weird protocol thing she couldn’t understand. She didn’t want to make trouble until she understood everything going on. But she was determined to get the child a meal.
She had barely taken three steps into the kitchen when all the cooks started talking in a language she didn’t understand. She caught a few words about dirty hands and sacred space, so she led Sa’id to a small bathroom down the hall. Once they’d both washed their hands, they went into a dining room mostly used by staff. Victoria sat him at a table and went to get food.
When she returned with a tray, one of the maids approached her, then bowed slightly.
“Miss Victoria, you have brought Sa’id to the palace?” The young woman looked frightened.
“Yes. Is that a problem?”
The maid was maybe eighteen, bright and pretty, with an easy smile. It was missing now as she bit her lower lip.
“No, of course not. You are the prince’s mistress. I, um, know him. His mother and mine were cousins by marriage. I was just surprised to see him here.”
“I was surprised to see him on the street. Do you know why he’s living there?”
The woman nodded and ducked her head.
Victoria held in a sigh. There was no point in making her uncomfortable. She would talk to Yusra instead.
“Can you sit with him while I find out what’s going on?”
The maid smiled. “Gladly. I am finished for the day. I can take him to my rooms.”
“Thank you. I shouldn’t be long.”
Victoria watched until the maid had spoken with Sa’id. The boy nodded eagerly, then dug into his lunch as if he hadn’t eaten for days. Maybe he hadn’t.
It didn’t take her long to find Yusra. The old woman stood counting linens in a massive closet filled with shelves stacked with towels and sheets.
“The boy Sa’id,” Victoria said by way of greeting. “Do you know him? He’s living on the street. Apparently he doesn’t have any family.”
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