Forbidden: The Sheikh's Virgin(9)

By: Trish Morey


‘There is only this one sample here in the palace, but there is plenty of time before the coronation—it is no more than an overnight trip. And you would have to travel to Marrash if you wished to deal with the tribespeople. They would not do business otherwise.’

‘But what of Kareef? I have only just arrived in Qusay. What kind of support would I be to my brother if I were to up and leave him a few short days before his coronation?’

‘He would think you are a businessman with an eye to business. He would be more surprised if you did not pursue an opportunity such as this. Besides, I suspect he will be busy enough with arrangements as it is.’

He supposed she was right. And it was one way of making the most of his time in Qusay. Why not combine business with pleasure? It had been a long time since he had ventured across the desert to the mountains of red stone. A very long time…

‘I’ll go,’ he said, nodding, ‘I’ll explain to Kareef and get Akmal to organise a driver.’

‘You’ll need a guide too, to smooth the negotiations.’ He was about to protest when she held up one hand softly. ‘You might now be a prince, my son, but you are still a man. You will need someone who knows the women and understands their needs, someone who can talk to them as an equal. I would go myself, but of course…’ she shrugged ‘…with so many guests in the palace, and while we wait on news of Tahir, there is no way I can excuse myself. I can send one of my companions. They have all travelled extensively throughout Qusay with me, talking to the women, listening to their needs so that we might better look after our people.’

He noticed the sudden panicked look in Sera’s eyes as she sought out his mother’s, and wondered absently what her problem was. There was no way his mother would send her to accompany him; she knew only too well what his feelings would be at the suggestion. And there was no way he would take her if she did. In fact, instead of looking panicked she should look relieved. With him out in the desert for a couple of days and no chance of running into each other, without the constant resurfacing of memories best left forgotten, she should be relieved. He knew he was.

‘Who did you have in mind?’

His mother gestured to a woman sitting patiently in one corner amongst the drapes that lined the walls. ‘Amira can accompany you.’

She was older than his mother, with deep lines marking the passage of time in her cheeks, and her spine curved when she stood, but it was the expression of another woman that snared his attention. Sera looked as if she’d just escaped a fate worse than death.

It rankled. He had no wish to spend time with her, but did her relief have to be so palpable? Anyone would think she regarded the prospect of two days in his company with even more revulsion than he did. How could that be possible? It wasn’t as if he was the one who had betrayed her. What was she so afraid of—unless she feared that he might somehow try to exact his revenge?

Revenge?

His mother was talking, saying something to Amira, but he wasn’t listening. He was too busy thinking. Too busy making his own plans. He looked across at the figure in black, hunched and cowed, her eyes looking everywhere but at him, no doubt wanting nothing more but that he might disappear into the desert with Amira to accompany him.

Did she really find the idea of being with him more appalling than he found the prospect of being with her? The gears of his mind crunched in unfamiliar ways, dredging up memories in their cogs, reassembling them into a different pattern, different possibilities.

Maybe there was something here he could turn to his advantage after all.

She’d never paid for what she’d done. She’d never so much as been called to account. She’d simply turned her back on him and walked away.

Why shouldn’t he take advantage of this opportunity to even things up?

‘I thank Amira,’ he said, turning back to his mother and smiling at the older woman. ‘But it is an arduous journey into the mountains that will by necessity be rushed and uncomfortable. I would hate to subject Amira to that. Perhaps I might suggest another idea—someone younger perhaps?’

It was the turn of the older woman to look relieved, while the hunched form alongside his mother tensed, the colour draining from her features. He allowed himself a smile. This might be even more satisfying than he’d imagined.

‘Sera can accompany me.’

His mother’s eyes turned to him in surprise, but it was nothing compared to the look he saw on Sera’s upturned face. Disbelief combined with sheer horror, her black eyes brimming with fear.

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