Lost to the Desert Warrior(8)

By: Sarah Morgan

 Her words were serious, those beautiful, almond-shaped eyes steady on his.

 ‘He has no care for the feelings or opinions of others and an overinflated idea of his own importance. He is a dangerous man. But you already know that.’

 ‘Yes.’ He did know. What surprised him was that she knew.

 Raz realised he’d made assumptions about her based purely on her bloodline. He also knew she was right that the marriage had to be prevented. He didn’t reveal that he’d had his own plans for making sure it didn’t happen.

 There was no doubt her plan was better. Permanent.

 And safer for all concerned.

 Except for him.

 For him, it meant breaking a vow.

 His tension levels soaring into the stratosphere, Raz paced the length of the tent.

 Whichever way he looked at it, it felt like a betrayal. It pulled him down and tore at him. ‘I cannot do it.’

 ‘Because I am the daughter of your enemy?’ She spoke in the same calm voice. ‘Aristotle said “a common danger unites the bitterest of enemies”. We have a common danger. I am proposing we unite. It is the right thing to do and you know it.’

 Raz turned with a snarl that drew the dogs to their feet. ‘Never assume to guess what I am thinking, Princess.’

 Her head was slightly bowed but he could see her eyes were fixed in terror on the two animals now crouched low on the floor of the tent.

 ‘I beg your pardon.’ She held herself absolutely still, her voice barely more than a whisper. ‘It seems a logical solution to me. I assumed it would seem so to you.’

 It did. The fact that his emotions defied logic frustrated him. ‘Do you apply logic to everything?’

 ‘I didn’t apply logic when I chose to steal a horse and point him towards the desert, so the answer has to be no, not to everything. But to most things. I find generally the outcome is better if the action is given the appropriate consideration.’

 He’d never met anyone as serious as her.

 He wanted to ask if she’d ever laughed, danced or had fun, and then wondered why he was even interested.

 ‘You are suggesting something I cannot contemplate.’

 ‘And yet you know it is the right thing for Tazkhan. So your reluctance must be because you once had a wife you loved so very much.’

 Raz felt the blood drain from his face. The tips of his fingers were suddenly cold. Anger sharpened his brain and tongue. ‘Logic, if not an instinct for self-preservation, should be warning you that you are now treading on ground that is likely to give way beneath your feet.’

 ‘I did not bring up that topic to cause you pain, but to try and understand why you would say no to something that is so obviously right.’ Her fingers shook as she smoothed the robe she was wearing. ‘You loved her and exchanged promises, and now you never want to marry again. I understand that.’

 ‘You understand nothing.’ He heard the growl in his own voice. ‘You have condensed a thousand indescribable emotions into one short sentence.’ The force of his anger shook him, and it clearly shook her too because her eyes flickered to the entrance of the tent, gauging the distance. Raz felt a rush of shame because whatever his sins, and God knew there had been many, frightening women wasn’t one of them.

 She spoke before he did. ‘I’m sorry.’ Her tone was a soothing balm against the raw edges of his pain. ‘And you’re right, of course. I don’t understand what you’re feeling because I’ve never loved anyone that way. But I understand that what you lost is somehow linked with your decision never to marry again. And I just want to make clear that what I’m suggesting has nothing to do with what you had before. Ours would be a marriage of political necessity, not of love. Not a betrayal of her memory, but a business arrangement. If you marry me, you take your rightful place as ruler of Tazkhan. You would be unchallenged.’

 Not a betrayal of her memory.

 So maybe she did understand him better than he’d first thought.

 ‘You think I’m afraid of a challenge?’

 ‘No. But I know you love your people and want to give Tazkhan a peaceful and prosperous future.’ Suddenly she sounded very tired, very alone and very young.

 Raz frowned as he tried to remember her age. Twenty-three? Younger?

 ‘And what do you gain from this arrangement, Princess? How do you benefit from entering into a marriage where feelings play no part?’ In the flickering candlelight he could see a hint of smooth cheek beneath the voluminous robes, but very little else except those eyes. And her eyes were mesmerising—as dark as sloes and framed by long, thick lashes that shadowed that smooth skin like the setting sun. Suddenly he wanted to see more of her. He wanted to reach out and rip off the robes that concealed her and see what lay beneath the folds of fabric. He’d heard whispers about the beauty of the elder princess and ignored them all because her physical attributes had been of no interest to him.