The Sheikh's Virgin(Desert Rogues, Book 13)(52) by Susan Mallery
When they were done, he rolled them onto their sides, facing each other. She traced the length of his scar. Tears filled her eyes.
“I love you,” she whispered, then dropped her fingers to his mouth. “Don’t say anything. I’m not expecting anything from you.”
Emotions battled in his eyes, but she knew that she wouldn’t be the winner. There was too much doubt. His reluctance wasn’t about her, it was about losing again. She couldn’t promise that wouldn’t happen and even if she could, he wouldn’t believe her. He would rather be alone than risk love. Worse, he wouldn’t admit any of this. Instead he pretended he couldn’t trust her. How was she supposed to fight that?
“I’m not pregnant,” she continued. “I’ll be getting my period in the next day or so.”
“How do you know?” he asked, his mouth moving against her fingers.
“I feel bloated and I want to eat my weight in chocolate. I just know. I’m staying through the challenge, and then I’ll leave.” Unless he wanted to stop her. Unless he wanted to take a step of faith and admit he cared about her.
Instead he stood and dressed. Then he left without saying anything.
Victoria and Yusra carried the large, dusty book to the closed doors. The book was huge—nearly the size of an end table and about as heavy as a water buffalo.
“I can’t go in there,” Yusra told her, looking nervous. “It’s the elders’ chambers. No women are allowed.”
“I survived my visit,” Victoria said. “If you don’t want to stay, that’s fine, but I need your help carrying in the book.”
“All right.” Yusra glanced around the corridor. “If the guards see us…”
“They won’t do anything. I’m the prince’s mistress and you’re here because I insisted. We’re fine.”
She balanced her half of the book with one arm and used her free hand to bang the door knocker three times. They staggered back a few steps and waited.
Seconds later someone slid open a space at eye level. “Who seeks the counsel of the elders?”
“This was so much easier when the doors were just open,” Victoria muttered, then looked at the man. “Victoria. Tell Zayd it’s about the challenge. I have a solution to the problem.”
“You are a woman.” The man sounded outraged.
“Really? Huh. Who knew? Look, this stupid book is heavy. Tell Zayd what I said. If you don’t, I’m going to make a sharp keening sound that will not only break glass, it will make you incapable of ever pleasing your wife again. Now go!”
There was a rustling sound, then the mini door slid shut. Seconds later the big door on the right creaked and opened. Two guards rushed out. For a second Victoria thought they were on the verge of having a close encounter with the dungeon, but the guards took the book from them and walked back into the chamber.
“I guess we’re supposed to follow,” she said.
“You go first,” Yusra told her.
Victoria smoothed the front of her tunic. She’d chosen a conservative, traditional long-sleeved shirt over loose trousers. She was covered from neck to toes, not wearing any flashy jewelry, and she’d pulled her hair back in a French braid. She hoped that by looking serious, the elders would take her seriously. They were her last hope.
The men were seated at a U-shaped table, all staring at her. Some looked curious while others were obviously having fantasies beginning with the words off with her head. She ignored all of them except Zayd. Not only was he in charge, but from what she’d heard, he was the most reasonable.
“Thank you for seeing me,” she said, and bowed. “I’m here because of the challenge.”
“How can you help?” Zayd asked.
“By offering myself as Kateb’s sacrifice.”
The men all looked at each other, then stared at her.
“Impossible,” one of them said forcefully.
“Not really.” She did her best to smile. “Look, we all know this is about revenge. I have a bad feeling about this kid. He wants to win in a big way, in front of a lot of people. What if he cheats or something? Do you really want him as your leader? Do you want him in charge? Kateb is the best man for the job and while I think we should have a serious discussion about women and leadership, this isn’t the time or place.”
The men started speaking with each other. Zayd held up his hand for silence. “Go on.”
“So if Fuad tries something, Kateb could be hurt. If he is, I rush onto the field as the sacrifice, Kateb is saved and we all go home.”
Zayd stared at her. “The fight is to the death.”
She didn’t actually want to think about that. “Okay. Everyone goes home but me.” She cleared her throat. The death part wasn’t her favorite.
“You’re a woman,” one of the elders said.
“Why does everyone keep saying that, like I don’t already know?” She turned to Yusra. “This is your part.”
The older woman motioned for the guard to bring her the book. She flipped through it and began to read. It wasn’t in English, so Victoria pretended interest until Yusra pointed at her, indicating she’d reached the relevant part.
“As you just heard, there’s no requirement for the sacrifice to be a man,” Victoria said. “You can’t refuse me. It’s my choice. I will be Kateb’s sacrifice.”
“Do you know how to use a broadsword?” one of the elders asked.
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