The Sheikh's Virgin(Desert Rogues, Book 13)(53) by Susan Mallery
“No, and I’m not going to try.”
Her plan was simple. If Kateb got into trouble, she would run out and throw herself on top of him. She just hoped Fuad was really good and made the ending quick.
“I’m not going into the arena to defeat him,” she said. “I’m going to die.”
Conversation exploded. Yusra closed the book, then moved close and took her hand.
“You are very brave.”
“I’m a lot of things, but brave isn’t one of them.” She didn’t want to do this, but it was the only way she could think to keep Kateb alive.
“Kateb will never allow this,” Zayd said.
“He’s not going to know. The only way I get involved is if something happens to him. If he’s injured, he won’t be in a position to stop me. Between now and then, none of you are to tell him.”
A very old man stood and pointed his finger at her. “Why would you do this?”
Talk about a stupid question, she thought. “I love him. I don’t want him to die.”
Zayd nodded slowly. “As you wish, Victoria. You may be Kateb’s sacrifice. Yusra will bring you to the arena and keep you from him. We will say nothing.”
“Thank you,” she said, both relieved and terrified.
“I hope Kateb knows the treasure he has in you,” Zayd told her.
“Me, too.” The problem was he didn’t—and by the time he figured it out, she would probably be dead.
Kateb walked to the harem. No matter how he busied himself with broadsword practice, with matters of government, he couldn’t forget Victoria’s words. Her claims to love him, her telling him that he was afraid to try again. Afraid to lose.
She was wrong, of course. He was Prince Kateb of El Deharia and he feared nothing. But he would miss her.
It had taken him most of the night to see that. Victoria was different from any woman he’d ever met. Cantara had been…comfortable. They had understood each other. She had been the love of his youth. What was Victoria?
Still unsure of the answer, he walked into the harem and called her name.
“Back here,” she yelled.
He followed the sound of her voice to the bedroom. As he entered, his gaze settled on the bed where they had made love the previous afternoon. Where she had offered him her heart. Where he hadn’t know if he should take it or not. Could he trust her?
All her suitcases stood closed and ready to go. She was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, obviously prepared to leave.
“I got my period,” she told him with a shrug. “I’m leaving after the challenge.”
She had warned him, but he hadn’t listened. Now, disappointment coursed through him, making him want to demand she be wrong. If she had been pregnant, it would have been so easy. He could have forced her to stay. He would have had more time to determine what was real and what was only as he wished it to be.
“You have no interest in the challenge,” he said.
“I want to see you win.”
“There is no victory today,” he told her. “Not with Fuad. I have no desire to kill him.”
“Do you have to?”
“If he begs for mercy, I can release him.”
“He’s here for revenge. He’s not going to beg.”
Kateb walked to the doors leading out to the garden. “There are times when the old ways weigh on me. When they feel like chains dragging me down.”
“When you’re the leader, you can break the chains.”
“When,” he echoed, then turned to look at her.
Sunlight touched her face, as if it, too, would miss her presence here in the village. His gaze dropped to her feet, where she wore high-heeled boots that had no place in anyone’s wardrobe.
“Stay,” he said without thinking. “Stay here with me. You love me, so marry me.”
She pressed her lips together, then swallowed. “Why?”
He had hoped for a happy response, for her to throw her arms around his neck and kiss him until he had no choice but to take her to bed. But Victoria was never easy…or predictable.
“Because you want to. Because I enjoy your company. Because I will take a wife and you are the one I choose. You will pass your intelligence and determination on to our sons. Our daughters will share in your beauty and wit.”
“Sometimes you’re a serious sexist pig,” she said with a sigh. “You’d think that would bug me.” She looked at him. “Do you love me?”
“Do you believe I love you?”
Did he? To believe would be to trust. And trust was the first step in wanting more. To give his heart again? Losing Cantara had devastated him. What would happen if he lost Victoria?
“I’ll take that as a no,” she murmured. “I’m leaving after the challenge.”
“If I forbid it?”
“You’re not the boss of me. Not anymore. It’s better, Kateb. You know that. Staying here, loving you knowing you didn’t trust me or love me would only make me miserable. I’m not the type to suffer in silence. We’d fight all the time and neither of us wants that.”
Emotions rushed through him. He grabbed anger because it was familiar. “I will lock you in the harem.”
“No, you won’t. You’re not that guy.”
“You know nothing about me.”
“I know everything.” She moved toward him and raised herself up on tiptoe, then kissed him. “That’s why I love you. Now go fulfill my warrior-prince fantasies. Yusra says it’s quite the outfit.”
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