The Sheikh's Virgin(Desert Rogues, Book 13)(39) by Susan Mallery
He rubbed her back and murmured her name.
So much pain for a child she barely knew, he thought. Victoria wore her heart on her sleeve. She had a softness, a tenderness he had not seen before. She needed protection from the harshness in the world. At the same time, he recognized her compassion gave her an inner strength and a direction he admired. She saw things clearly where others would make excuses.
Finally the tears slowed. He cupped her face, then wiped her cheeks with his thumbs. “Where is he now?” he asked.
“With one of the maids. She’s a distant relative. At least I think so. Her mother was somebody’s cousin by marriage. I’m not sure.”
“Have the boy brought to me.”
Her eyes widened. “You’ll do something?”
“I will speak to him.”
Victoria rushed to the phone and called housekeeping. Less than ten minutes later, the boy was escorted into his office by a young woman.
“Prince Kateb,” the woman said, practically ready to fall to her knees. “This is Sa’id.”
The boy bowed low. He looked terrified, but stood in the center of the room, obviously prepared to accept his fate.
“Do you know who I am?” Kateb asked.
Sa’id nodded. “You are the prince. I think maybe you will be the new leader, but I’m not sure. I hear people talking, but only some. They don’t like me to stay near them.”
Victoria took a step toward him. Kateb stilled her with a look.
“I understand you have been living on the streets.”
Sa’id nodded. “My mother died and my father…” The boy raised his chin. “My father is a bad man and a coward. He stole camels and when he was caught he ran away. I stand for my family now.” He swallowed. “Sometimes it’s hard to be hungry but I try to be brave.”
Kateb could feel Victoria willing him to do something—to chose compassion over tradition. He knew she would beg for the boy, just as she had begged for her father. Did she ever beg for herself or were all the sacrifices saved for other people? And how could he reconcile the greedy woman who wanted to marry a prince with the person before him? The one in tears over the fate of a small boy she didn’t even know.
He looked at the maid. “A place will be made for him, here in the palace.” He returned his attention to Sa’id. “Are you afraid of hard work?”
“No, sir. I used to help my father all the time. I’m strong and I don’t eat very much.” He sounded both hopeful and resigned. As if hope had become an impossible dream these days.
“You will eat as much as you want,” Kateb told him sternly. “I need good strong men to serve me and for you to be capable, you must grow. So you will eat all your meals and sleep well and work hard. When you are finished, you will play, as a boy should. Do you understand?”
Sa’id nodded, smiling for the first time since he entered the room.
The maid cleared her throat. “Sir, may I be responsible for Sa’id? I have known him all his life. He’s a good boy and we could keep each other company.”
“Thank you,” Kateb told her. “I will speak with Yusra so that your duties allow you plenty of time with Sa’id.” He nodded.
The girl took Sa’id by the hand and led him out of the room. Sa’id paused at the door to wave at Victoria. The second they were gone, she turned on him.
“You made him a servant? He’s nine and he’s going to be scrubbing floors and doing laundry? What about school? What about his education? Or is that not serving the prince well enough?”
“You can be very trying,” he told her.
“Ask me if I care.”
“I already know the answer.” He leaned against his desk. “Does it occur to you to thank me for getting him off the streets? He now has the protection of the prince. That means he will be safe.”
“To be a servant.”
“For now,” he said patiently. “Until I am proclaimed leader, I have minimal power here. As soon as I take the office, I will pardon Sa’id so he can return to the life of a normal boy in the village.”
“Oh.” The fight went out of her. She looked around the room, then glanced back at him. “You didn’t say that.”
“You didn’t give me a chance. You’re very quick to judge me.”
“Not you specifically,” she admitted. “I’m still angry at Yusra and Rasha.”
“Our ways are different.”
She put her hands on her hips. “I don’t want to hear that again. There’s no excuse for what happened to him.”
“They didn’t like the situation, either, but they know there are reasons.”
“Maybe a thousand years ago, but not today.”
“Yusra is your friend. Do you wish to be angry with her forever? What about Rasha? Will you no longer support her business because of this? If they do not act as you wish, are they unworthy?”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “You’re saying I’m judging them too harshly.”
“I’m saying people have different ways. Children frequently illustrate both the best and worst of every culture. Sa’id demonstrates that.”
“Are there more like him?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“When you’re proclaimed or whatever it is, will you change the law so children aren’t abandoned like that ever again?”
Copyright © 2015 by Read Best Books Free Online