Lost to the Desert Warrior(9)

By: Sarah Morgan

 Disturbed by the sudden flare of his own curiosity, he stepped back. ‘How do you benefit from this “business arrangement”?’

 ‘If I am married to you, then I cannot be married to Hassan.’

 ‘So I am the lesser of two evils?’ Could that truly be the reason? Raz struggled to decipher her intentions. She seemed innocent and yet she came from evil. She appeared to speak the truth but those who surrounded her spoke only lies. Feeling the weight of responsibility, he suppressed his instinct to trust her. ‘You are expecting me to believe that you crept out of the Citadel tonight, stole a horse and rode aimlessly into the desert in the hope of tripping over me so that you could propose marriage?’

 ‘I had more to lose by staying than leaving. And it is well known that there are plenty of people who know your whereabouts, Your Highness. I trusted that someone would bring me to you.’

 She’d called him ‘Your Highness’. It was an acknowledgement he wouldn’t have expected from her, given that they were on opposite sides.

 Raz narrowed his eyes. ‘Your loyalties are easily shifted.’

 ‘My loyalties are to Tazkhan, but I understand that you are afraid to trust me. I do have other reasons—more personal ones.’

 ‘What other reasons?’

 ‘If he finds her, Hassan intends to send my sister to America.’ Desperation shook that steady voice. ‘He wants her out of the way.’

 ‘Why would he want her out of the way?’

 ‘Because we are stronger together than we are apart and he wants to weaken us. Because my sister has an uncomfortable habit of speaking her mind and she becomes harder to control with each passing day. She is dreamy, passionate, and challenges everything. And Hassan hates to be challenged.’

 ‘And you don’t challenge him?’

 ‘I see no point in poking an angry dragon with a stick.’

 ‘And where is your sister now?’

 ‘I don’t know.’ There was fear and anxiety under the veneer of calm. ‘The horse galloped off. I’m scared she might have fallen and been injured. I’m scared Hassan’s men will find her before you do.’

 Raz lifted an eyebrow. ‘That is almost inevitable since I’m not looking for her.’

 ‘But will you look for her? Once I’m your bride, will you also offer your protection to my sister?’

 So that was why she was here, he thought.

 She’d risked everything for love. Not romantic love, perhaps, but love all the same.

 ‘So to keep your sister with you, and protect Tazkhan, you would marry a stranger. That is the least romantic proposition I have ever heard.’

 ‘Possibly. But we’ve already established this is not about romance. You wouldn’t want that and neither would I.’

 ‘Why wouldn’t you?’

 ‘I am not a romantic person, Your Highness.’

 That matter-of-fact statement might have been unremarkable had it come from someone several decades older than she was. Her eyes were dark, luminous pools of pain and he wondered how those eyes would look if she smiled.

 ‘You don’t believe there can be love between a man and a woman?’

 ‘Yes, I do believe there can be. Just not for me. I’m not like that. I don’t have those feelings. I’m a very practical person,’ she said with disarming honesty. ‘As you don’t want love either, I assume that won’t be an obstacle for you.’ She brushed it aside as easily as the desert winds shifted sand.

 She had no idea, he thought. No idea that love was the most powerful force known to man. No idea how much havoc could be wrought by that emotion.

 But he knew.

 He’d been caught in the wake of devastation and still ached from his injuries.

 ‘You say that this is a political arrangement to secure the future of Tazkhan, but for a marriage to be legal and binding in our country it requires more than simply the exchange of vows and rings.’

 Her spine was rigid and her eyes were fixed on the ground in front of him. ‘I am aware of that. It’s important that Hassan isn’t able to challenge our union       so I’ve already familiarised myself with Tazkhan marriage laws.’

 Raz found himself intrigued and exasperated in equal measures. ‘So you understand what marriage entails?’

 ‘You’re referring to the physical side and, yes, I understand that. I know it has to be a full and proper marriage. I accept that. It won’t be a problem.’ She’d dipped her head so that the folds of her robe almost obscured her features. ‘From what I’ve read, it shouldn’t be a problem for you, either. A man doesn’t need love in order to be able to perform the sexual act.’