The Sheikh's Virgin(Desert Rogues, Book 13)(47) by Susan Mallery
“Neither do I. I don’t want your love. I have never wanted it. Not from you or anyone.”
She swallowed. “Why does it have to be bad?”
“Because I will never love you and I will never seek love. We’ll never be together. You’re the last woman I would ever marry. It is over. Done.”
He walked out of the harem. She waited until she was alone, then sank onto the floor. The stone was cold and hard, just like the man. She curled up and waited for the tears.
She told herself that at least she knew and in the knowing there would be peace. Eventually. Just not today.
Kateb had little interest in meeting with the elders before the ceremony that would make him leader, but there was no way of getting out of it. While his father, the king, could be difficult, Mukhtar was only one man. The elders were many, opinionated and stubborn. Although they wanted to discuss several issues facing the village, he knew there was one major topic on their collective minds. Getting him married.
While the position of leader was earned rather than inherited, having a wife and children was a statement about a man’s character. Kateb understood the importance and intended to comply with tradition. What he didn’t like was having to talk about it. Especially now.
Although he hadn’t seen Victoria in two days, she was with him every moment. Her words taunted him, angered him, left him unable to sleep. He was furious with her and he couldn’t say why.
He made his way to the elders’ chamber and was announced by the guard at the door. Once he was named leader, he would take his place at the head of the table, but for now he stood, a mere visitor in the room where all important decisions were made.
Zayd, the spokesman for the group, acknowledged him with a nod and rose.
“You are well, Prince Kateb?” he asked politely.
“Yes. Thank you. The elders?”
“We are old,” Zayd grumbled. “And getting more so by the day. We summoned you here to speak of your future, and by association, our own.”
Kateb said nothing. When it was his turn to speak, they would tell him.
“We have reviewed your plans for the village. Your economic policy is aggressive. Perhaps too aggressive.”
“The old ways still work,” another man said, glaring at Kateb. “You think you’re going to change everything in a week? It doesn’t work that way.”
Kateb waited for the nod from Zayd, indicating he could respond.
“The old ways are the backbone of our way of life and our financial success,” Kateb told him. “I have no desire to change that. I seek only to add muscle to an already strong economy.”
He explained a little of what he had in mind, then outlined his goals for his first year. They listened, which was the first step in getting them to agree.
“This is all fine and good,” another man said, his voice wispy with age, “but what about getting married? Cantara was a flower of the desert, to be sure, but it has been five years, Kateb. You mourn her and those emotions speak highly of you. But it is time for you to marry again. Tradition demands it and so do we.”
“I agree,” he told them. “I am ready to take a wife.”
The elders looked at each other. Usually they were expert at keeping their opinions to themselves, but they were obviously surprised by his agreement.
“Do you have a preference?” Zayd asked. “Have you chosen someone?”
He thought of Victoria, who had proved to be an unexpected treasure. Until a few days ago.
“No one,” he said clearly.
Zayd raised his eyebrows. “I see. Then appropriate candidates will be brought to the village.”
“I will choose from among them.”
There were a few whispered comments between the elders. One of the old men stood.
“What of Victoria? Does she remain in the harem?”
Not if she wasn’t pregnant, he thought, still angry at her and still unclear why. It didn’t matter that he wanted her, that she pleased him in so many ways. It was impossible for her to stay.
Unless she was pregnant. If she carried his child, then he would have no choice but to keep her. The law was clear—a royal child could not be taken from the country without permission of the king. And Mukhtar would never give it. Victoria would never leave her child, trapping her in the village until the child was an adult.
What would that be like? Having her so close? What would he do with her?
The most logical solution was to retain her as his mistress. To keep her close and…
No. That was not his way—not when he was to marry. Which meant the easiest solution was for her not to be pregnant. That would be best for everyone. But if she did have his baby, all her strength, her determination, her intelligence would flow through to that child.
“I have not yet determined what will become of her,” he said, unwilling to explain the reason. They should know about the pregnancy within the week. “I will decide after the final naming ceremony. If she is to leave, the potential brides must wait until she is gone.”
He might not trust her, but he wouldn’t insult her by having to live with them in the harem. If she was pregnant…he would deal with that problem later.
The elders spoke to each other, then Zayd stood again. “Do you wish to marry the American? While tradition and political expediency suggest you take a desert bride, Victoria has proven herself many times over. Her work with Rasha has already brought glory to the village. She was wise about Sa’id when others didn’t see anything but a shamed child. She is strong and compassionate. If you wish to marry her, we have no objections.”
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