The Sheikh's Virgin(Desert Rogues, Book 13)(40) by Susan Mallery
“You ask for much.”
“You have much to give.”
Cantara would not have asked that of him, he thought. She would have accepted Sa’id’s fate as the destiny he must endure. But Victoria would never see it so. She wouldn’t care if she expected too much of him. She would fight and nag and work until what she saw as wrong was made right.
The women were so different, he thought, knowing that while he would always love Cantara, she was no longer as much a part of him as she was. Without realizing, he had lost her. Or perhaps time had healed as it often did.
He felt regret and, oddly, hope.
Victoria could not have been more out of place in her jeans and silky shirt, her ridiculous high-heeled boots and dangling earrings. She looked like a woman prepared to go shopping in New York or Los Angeles. Her blond hair and blue eyes set her apart. Her worldview and attitude would always find injustice where others saw nothing out of the ordinary.
“You have a way of tiring a man,” he said at last.
“Then go take a nap.”
“You won’t yield at all?”
“Not on this.”
Nothing for herself, he thought, remembering how she wouldn’t borrow the sapphire earrings because she was afraid of losing one but she would borrow the tiara because it made her feel like a storybook princess.
“You are a complex woman.”
“I did not mean it as a compliment.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Are you trying to distract me?”
“No.” He sighed heavily. “When I am leader I will change the law.”
He thought she might make him promise, which he would resist. Instead she nodded. His word was enough? How unexpected.
She crossed to him, cupped his face and kissed him. The second her mouth touched his, he wanted her. Need was everywhere, even though the kiss was chaste. Imagine what would happen if Victoria actually tried to seduce him. Or perhaps it was best not to.
“I knew you would make it right,” she said earnestly. “When I found out what was going on, all I could think was that I had to get to you. I’ve never trusted a man before. Not with anything important. So thank you.”
She kissed him again and left. He watched her go, then stood alone in the silence.
He felt as if she’d handed him something important. Something precious, although he couldn’t say what. Involuntarily he looked at the calendar on the desk. How many more days until they knew if she was staying or not?
He’d planned on her leaving, had hoped to get her out of his life. Now, for the first time, he wondered what it would be like to have her stay.
Except for checking on Sa’id every now and then, Victoria spent the next couple of days mostly keeping to the harem. While she appreciated all that Kateb had done for her, she was still angry that Sa’id had been abandoned by the village—most especially the women.
She understood there were cultural differences involved, but leaving a child to starve on the streets because of actions he couldn’t control seemed inhuman. Children were vulnerable enough without worrying about that. Every time she nearly calmed down, she thought about what had happened and got angry all over again.
While she liked Rasha and Yusra, she couldn’t reconcile their actions with someone she considered a friend. As they were pretty much the only two women she knew in the area, that left her by herself for way too many hours a day.
On the third day, she was tired of the harem and went down to the kitchen for lunch. As she turned the corner to head in that direction, she nearly ran into Yusra. The two women looked at each other.
“You are angry,” Yusra said, forcing the issue.
“Yes.” She braced herself for the fight—for the older woman to say she would never understand the ways of the desert people and so on. It was an argument she could never accept.
“I was wrong.” Yusra sighed. “My husband has been gone many years now and still I hear his voice in my head. He would tell me about the old ways and how they must live on. I believed him, and I didn’t question Sa’id’s fate. No one did. It was not something we wanted to see, so we all looked away. It took someone from the outside to remind us of who we are. That we value family and kindness.”
It took Victoria a second to realize she didn’t have to be mad anymore. “I don’t know what to say,” she admitted. “I’m glad you see that Sa’id is only a little boy.”
“Of course. He’s a wonderful child. Rasha and I have been talking. As soon as the prince is made village leader, we are going to ask him to change the law. We will stand firm on this, not leaving until he gives in. Rasha has already talked to Sa’id’s cousin about taking them both in. Her children are grown and her house more empty than she would like.”
The relief tasted sweet, Victoria thought happily. “Kateb is already planning to look into changing the law, but I’m sure he’ll be happy to hear that there are others who agree with him.”
“Good.” The older woman tilted her head. “So we are friends again?”
Victoria smiled. “Yes. Of course. I’m sorry we fought.”
“The fault is mine. I got so used to what has always been.”
“We all do.”
“Come,” Yusra said. “You were on your way to lunch. We will eat together and talk about all the ways we can change the laws.”
“Kateb won’t like that,” Victoria said with a laugh.
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