The Sheikh's Virgin(Desert Rogues, Book 13)(50) by Susan Mallery
“No!” Victoria said loudly. “No. He can’t fight to the death. What if he’s defeated?” Kateb dead? She wouldn’t be able to stand it. “There has to be something we can do.”
“There isn’t. Tradition demands the fight.”
Victoria couldn’t breathe. “Who’s challenging? What if he’s some gladiator guy who’s been practicing for years.” She fought against tears. “We have to stop it.”
“We can’t. If Kateb refuses the challenge, the other man wins. Worse, Kateb is shamed and branded a coward.” Yusra patted her arm. “He is a worthy fighter.”
“And when was the last time he fought to the death with broadswords? Not lately, I’m guessing. What is wrong with you people? Can’t you just hold an election like everyone else?”
“If Kateb survives, you can talk to him about changing the laws.”
“Assuming he survives.” Panic swirled inside of her. “What can we do?”
“I can’t stand this,” Victoria told her. “What if the other guy gets in a lucky shot and wounds him? Then he kills him and it’s not right.” Kateb couldn’t die.
“What?” Victoria demanded. “What are you thinking?”
“If either man is injured, another can take his place. A sacrifice.”
Nothing was making sense. “What are you saying?”
“If Kateb were injured, the challenger would kill him unless someone else stepped in. The sacrifice then fights in Kateb’s place.”
“Or dies,” Victoria whispered.
“Yes. The fight only ends with death.” She drew in a breath. “We worry too much. Kateb is strong and skilled. He will prevail.”
But what if he didn’t? Victoria couldn’t stop thinking about him lying in the dirt, bleeding to death. That wasn’t what she wanted for him.
They would have to find someone to take Kateb’s place if he were injured. But who would be willing to die for him? And even if someone were, how could she ask one man to give up his life so someone she loved could go on living?
“I really liked living here right up until now,” she said. “I swear, if he comes out of this alive, I’m making sure the law changes. I don’t care what it takes.” Her stomach clenched with a cramp reminding her she didn’t have much time to make that happen.
The elders’ chamber was in an uproar. Everyone spoke at once. Kateb listened to the sea of voices and disregarded the words. They weren’t important. What mattered was defeating the challenge.
“This is most unexpected,” Zayd said. “He waited until nearly the last day.”
“He is a boy,” another man called. “Kateb will defeat him easily.”
Zayd looked at Kateb. “The boy fights for revenge, Kateb fights for what is right. Who is to say how it will end?”
Kateb met the old man’s gaze and understood his point. The challenger had planned this moment for years. There was power in making something happen. There was power in avenging a father.
“I do not take the challenge lightly,” he said. “But there is no question of the outcome.”
The old men nodded. “So it will be,” one of them called.
The door to the chamber burst open and Victoria rushed inside. Kateb couldn’t remember a woman ever entering the room before. The men all stepped back, as if afraid of her. She ignored them and came directly to him.
“What is wrong with you people?” she demanded as she approached. “What’s wrong with something as simple as an election?”
There were tears on her cheeks and worry in her eyes. He forgot that he was angry with her, forgot that he was counting the moments until he could send her away. He held out his arms and she rushed into them, then hugged him as if she would never let him go.
“I won’t let you do this,” she mumbled against his chest. “I’ll tie you up and beat you with a stick until you agree that hiding isn’t such a bad thing.”
She smelled of sun and flowers. Her body was familiar and tempting and he wanted her, as he always did. He kissed the top of her head before saying, “You wouldn’t respect a man who let that happen.”
“I’d get over it.”
“I would not.”
She raised her head and looked at him. “Kateb, you can’t do this.”
“I must. I want to.”
“Fight with broadswords. Do you even know how?”
He smiled. “Yes. I am very skilled.”
“And here I thought I was hot stuff because I can build a Web site. Why is this happening?”
Zayd inched closer. “Perhaps you would like to speak with Victoria alone. Somewhere else.”
She glanced at the older man. “What’s going on?”
“You’ve violated the sanctity of the elders’ chamber. Women aren’t allowed.”
She rolled her eyes.
He chuckled. “Come,” he told her. “We’ll speak of this in the harem.”
Victoria went willingly. She wanted to be alone with Kateb and the elders’ worried glances made her want to slap them all. Probably not the best plan, considering she might have to go to them and beg for Kateb’s life. She was determined to do something to stop the madness—she just had to figure out what.
They walked to the harem. Once they were inside, seated on one of the overstuffed sofas, she turned to him.
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