The Sheikh's Virgin(Desert Rogues, Book 13)(41) by Susan Mallery
The kitchen was crowded with many of the staff. When Yusra and Victoria entered, the large room went silent. Victoria felt everyone looking at her.
“Ignore them,” Yusra said, approaching the buffet set up against the far wall. “They will get used to you. It will take time. Word is spreading about what you did to help Sa’id.”
“Not everyone will like me butting in.”
“Perhaps, but those who don’t will not have the courage to say anything. At least not to your face.”
Victoria laughed. “Then I’ll try to enjoy them talking behind my back.”
“As you should.”
After lunch Victoria made her way to the library. She wanted to see if there were any lists or catalogues for all the artwork in the palace. Someone had to figure out what was there and make sure it was taken care of. Or at least insured. Assuming insurance was available. Did Mutual of El Deharia exist?
She’d been in the large, open room dozens of times. As she walked in, she saw someone else was there, which was odd. Usually she had the space to herself. Then the man turned and her heart skipped a beat or two before resuming a slightly elevated rhythm.
“Kateb,” she said, then realized her voice was a little breathless and cleared her throat. Lately she’d noticed a bit of a quiver when they were together. A slight vibration deep inside her belly. It was more than just the longing to be with him. It was something else she couldn’t name and didn’t want to study too closely.
“I didn’t think you were the library type,” she said.
“I am not,” he told her, looking amused. “Yusra informed me you were heading this way and wished to speak with me. Apparently she believes you have the power to summon me.”
Yusra had called him? She wasn’t ready to share what they’d discussed at lunch an hour ago, but unless she came up with a credible substitute, it appeared she was going to have to.
“She’s right,” Victoria told him. “You have appeared.”
“How fortunate for you. What is it now? Emancipation for cats? A school for the sheep?”
“Don’t mock my good works,” she told him, even as she smiled. “Yusra said I was right about Sa’id.”
“Words I’m sure you never tire of hearing.”
“What did you promise at lunch? Are my people to ask for more money? Better weather?”
She hesitated. “I haven’t had a chance to organize my thoughts.”
“Has that stopped you before?”
“Not really. Okay. More than fifty percent of the staff at the palace is female and most of them have children. The time their shifts begin and end follow a tradition that dates back a couple hundred years to when mostly men worked here. It would be helpful for them to start and stop at different times. Some want to come in early, others late. It seemed reasonable to me. Also, the male secretaries make more than the female secretaries. I can’t begin to tell you how much that annoys me, speaking as a former assistant.” She paused for breath.
He stood, looking at her, still appearing amused.
“Are you taking this seriously?” she asked.
“Did you want to write any of this down?”
“Not really. You will remind me of anything I forget.”
“The textiles. I don’t know how to get them into the marketplace. I was wondering if I could write some of the other princesses in the area. They’ve been doing the royal thing longer and might have some suggestions. From my research, Princess Dora of El Bahar seems like a great place to start. But I think I need your permission to do that.”
“You have it.”
As easy as that? “And the other stuff?”
“I will address it when I am leader.”
“The first week?”
“Perhaps the second. I will be busy the first week.”
She wanted to launch into him but held back. He’d been more than reasonable about Sa’id, so she wasn’t going to assume it was something silly.
“With what?” she asked.
“As leader, I am granted twelve virgins. I may pick one as my wife or not. The others live in the harem, there only to please me.” He smiled. “So I will have my hands full for the first few days.”
“Your hands full?” She didn’t care that her voice came out as a screech. “With twelve virgins? Are you serious? I don’t believe this. There are serious matters of government for you to consider and you want to talk about twelve virgins?”
She was just getting started when Kateb began to laugh. He crossed to her, put his hands on her shoulders, then kissed her.
“I am pleased that Nadim never did raise his head from his work enough to notice you. Had he seen the spark of life you carry inside, he might have decided you would do for him and he would never have appreciated your fire.”
He kissed her again, this time lingering against her mouth until she felt her knees go weak.
She didn’t understand. “You’re not marrying one of the virgins?”
“No. Nor will I take them into the harem.”
“Then why bring them up at all?”
“Because you make it so easy, Victoria. You should learn to control your temper.”
She glared at him. “What I should do is throw one of these books at your head.”
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