His Defiant Desert Queen(5)

By: Jane Porter

“So where do felons go, Sheikh Karim?” she asked quietly, meeting the sheikh’s hard narrowed gaze.

“To prison.”

“I’m going to prison?”

“If you were to go to court tomorrow, and appear before our judicial tribunal, yes. But you’re not being seen by our judicial tribunal. You’re being seen by my tribe’s elder, and he will act as judge.”

“Why a different court and judge than Mary and the magazine crew?”

“Because they are charged with crimes against Saidia. You—” he broke off, studying her lovely face in the mirror, wondering how she’d react to his news, “You are charged with crimes against the Karims, my family. Saidia’s royal family. You will be escorted to a judge who is of my tribe. He will hear the charges brought against you, and then pass judgment.”

She didn’t say anything. Her brow creased and she looked utterly bewildered. “I don’t understand. What have I done to your family?”

“You stole from my family. Shamed them.”

“But I haven’t. I don’t even know your family.”

“Your father does.”

Jemma grew still. Everything seemed to slow, stop. Would the trail of devastation left by her father’s action never end? She stared at Mikael suddenly afraid of what he’d say next. “But I’m not my father.”

“Not physically, no, but you represent him.”

“I don’t.”

“You do.” His jaw hardened. “In Arabic society, one is always connected to one’s family. You represent your family throughout your life, which is why it’s so important to always bring honor to one’s family. But your father stole from the Karims, shamed the Karims, dishonoring my family, and in so doing, he dishonored all of Saidia.”

She swallowed hard. “But I’m nothing like my father.”

“You are his daughter, and you are here, unlawfully. It is time to right the wrong. You will make atonement for your disrespect, and your father’s, too.”

“I don’t even have a relationship with my father. I haven’t seen him in years—”

“This is not the time. We have a long trip ahead of us. I suggest you finish changing so we can get on the road.”

Her fingers bent, nails pressing to the dressing table. “Please.”

“It’s not up to me.”

“But you are the king.”

“And kings must insist on obedience, submission, and respect. Even from our foreign visitors.”

She looked at him, seeing him, but not seeing him, too overwhelmed by his words and the implication of what he was saying to focus on any one thing. It didn’t help that her pulse raced, making her head feel dizzy and light.

The grim security guard at Tagadir International Airport had warned them. Had said that His Highness Sheikh Karim was all powerful in Saidia. As king he owned this massive expanse of desert and the sand dunes rolling in every direction, and as their translator had whispered on leaving the airport, “His Highness, Sheikh Karim, isn’t just head of the country, he is the country.”

Jemma exhaled slowly, trying to clear the fog and panic from her brain. She should have taken the warnings seriously. She should have been logical, not desperate.

Desperate was a dangerous state of mind.

Desperate fueled chaos.

What she needed to do was remain calm. Think this through. There had to be a way to reach him, reason with him. Surely he didn’t make a habit of locking up American and British girls?

“I’d like to make amends,” she said quietly, glancing up at Sheikh Karim from beneath her lashes, taking in his height, the width of his shoulders, and his hard, chiseled features. Nothing in his expression was kind. There was not even a hint of softness at his mouth.

“You will,” he said. “You must.”

She winced at the harshness in his voice. Sheikh Mikael Karim might be as handsome as any Hollywood leading man, but there was no warmth in his eyes.

He was a cold man, and she knew all too well that cold men were dangerous. Men without hearts destroyed, and if she were not very careful, and very smart, she could be ruined.

“Can I pay a fine? A penalty?”