Lost to the Desert Warrior(5)

By: Sarah Morgan

 ‘You think I can’t defend myself from someone half my height and weight?’

 ‘I think Hassan will try anything at this late stage in the game. He is frightened and desperate and a desperate man should never be underestimated. I think it could be a trap.’

 ‘I agree.’ Salem’s voice was hard. ‘I’ll come with you.’

 Raz put his hand on his brother’s shoulder. ‘Your love and loyalty means more to me than you can possibly know, but you must trust me.’

 ‘If anything happened to you—’

 Raz felt the weight of it settle onto his shoulders. He, better than anyone, knew that there were some promises that shouldn’t be made. ‘Make sure I’m not disturbed.’ He dismissed his bodyguards with a single movement of his hand and strode into his tent.

 He closed the flap, muffling the sound of the wind and protecting them from prying eyes.

 The boy was on his knees in the furthest corner of the tent, his hands still tied.

 Raz studied him for a moment and then strolled over to him and cut the rope with a swift movement of his knife. ‘Stand up.’

 The boy hesitated and then stood in a graceful movement, only to fall again a moment later.

 ‘I don’t think I can stand—’ The words were uttered through clenched teeth. ‘My legs are stiff from riding and I injured my ankle when I fell.’

 Raz looked down at the slender body bowed at his feet. ‘Tell me why you’re here.’

 ‘I’ll talk to Raz Al Zahki himself, and no one else.’

 ‘Then speak,’ Raz commanded softly, and the boy lifted his head in shock.

 Under the concealing robes, dark eyes widened. ‘You’re him?’

 ‘I’m the one asking the questions.’ Raz sheathed his knife. ‘And the first thing I want to know is what a woman is doing creeping around my camp in the middle of the night. What are you doing walking into the lion’s den unprotected, Princess?’

 * * *

 Layla was in agony. Physical agony from her fall from the horse, and emotional agony from the knowledge that her sister was missing and alone in the vast emptiness of the baking desert and it was all her fault.

 She was the one who had suggested this stupid, crazy plan. She, who never did anything stupid or crazy. She, who studied all available evidence before she made a decision, had acted on impulse. Which just proved that a cautious nature wasn’t to be mocked.

 It would have been better had Hassan sent Yasmin to America. At least then Layla would have known she was alive.

 As it was, Yasmin was lost, and she was now a captive in the desert camp of Raz Al Zahki, a man who had more reason to hate her than any other.

 A man who knew who she was.

 Staring into those cold black eyes, she suddenly knew the meaning of the phrase ‘between a rock and a hard place.’ If her cousin was the hard place then this man was the rock. He stood legs spread, handsome face unsmiling as he stared at her. His body had the muscular structure of a warrior’s, his shoulders broad and hard. She knew he had suffered terribly and yet there was no sign of suffering in face. This man wasn’t broken, he was whole and strong—at least on the outside. There was nothing soft about him. Nothing vulnerable. Even before he’d revealed his identity she’d sensed his place at the head of the pack. He had the confidence and authority of a man born to lead others, and even though Layla had expected nothing less still he intimidated her.

 ‘You knew who I was the whole time?’

 ‘Within five seconds. You have a memorable face, Princess. And very distinctive eyes.’

 It was the first personal comment anyone had ever made to her and it took her by surprise.

 She’d studied him on paper and committed all the facts to memory, from his year and place of birth to his impressive military career and his degree in engineering. She knew he was a skilled rider and an authority on the Arabian horse. She knew all that, but was only just realising that facts could only tell you so much about a man.

 They couldn’t tell you that his eyes were darker than the desert at night or that the power he commanded on paper was surpassed a thousand times by the power he commanded in person. They couldn’t tell you that those eyes were capable of seeing right through a person to the very centre of their being. They couldn’t tell you that meeting those eyes would make your heart thunder like the hooves of a hundred wild horses pounding across the desert plain.

 She was fast realising that a list of dates and qualifications didn’t convey strength or charisma.