His Defiant Desert Queen(7)

By: Jane Porter


“No,” he said.

“Will I have any legal representation?”

“No.”

She hesitated, brow furrowing, lips compressing, somehow even more lovely troubled than when posed on the desert sand in the fur and thigh high boots.

Yes, she was beautiful. And yes, she’d inherited her mother’s famous bone structure, and yes, even in this dim, stifling tent she still glowed like a jewel—glossy dark hair, brilliant green eyes, luminous skin, pink lips—but that didn’t change the fact that she was a criminal.

“Neither of us have lawyers,” he added, hating that he was even aware of her beauty. He shouldn’t notice, or care. He shouldn’t feel any attraction at all. “There is just the case itself, presented by me, and then the judge passes the sentence.”

“You represent yourself?”

“I represent my tribe, the Karim family, and the laws of this country.”

She turned slowly on the stool to face him, her hands resting on her thighs, the pink kimono gaping slightly above the knotted sash, revealing the slope of her full breast. “What you’re saying is that it will be you testifying against me.”

He shouldn’t know that her nipple was small and pink and that her belly was flat above firm, rounded hips.

Or at the very least, he shouldn’t remember. He shouldn’t want to remember. “I present the facts. I do not pass judgment.”

“Will the facts be presented in English?”

“No.”

“So you could say anything.”

“But why would I?” he countered sharply. “You’ve broken numerous laws. Important laws. Laws created to protect our borders and the safety and security of my people. There is no need to add weight or severity. What you’ve done is quite serious. The punishment will be appropriately serious.”

He saw a flash in her eyes, and he didn’t know if it was anger or fear but she didn’t speak. She bit down, holding back the quick retort.

Seconds ticked by, one after the other.

For almost a minute there was only silence, a tense silence weighted with all the words she refrained from speaking.

“How serious?” she finally asked.

“There will be jail time.”

“How long?”

He was uncomfortable with all the questions. “Do you really want to do this now?”

“Absolutely. Far better to be prepared than to walk in blind.”

“The minimum sentence is somewhere between five to ten years. The maximum, upward of twenty.”

She went white, and her lips parted, but she made no sound. She simply stared at him, incredulous, before slowly turning back to face her dressing table mirror.

She was trying not to cry.

Her shoulders were straight, and her head was high but he saw the welling of tears in her eyes. He felt her shock, and sadness.

He should leave but his feet wouldn’t move. His chest felt tight.

It was her own damned fault.

But he could still see her five years ago in the periwinkle blue bridesmaid dress at Morgan’s wedding.

He could hear her gurgle of laughter as she’d made a toast to her big sister at the reception after.

“We will leave as soon as you’re dressed,” he said tersely, ignoring Jemma’s pallor and the trembling of her hands where they rested on the dressing table.

“I will need five or ten minutes,” she said.

“Of course.” He turned to leave but from the corner of his eye he saw her lean toward the mirror to try to remove the strip of false eyelashes on her right eye, her hands still shaking so much she couldn’t lift the edge.

It wasn’t his problem. He didn’t care if her hands shook violently or not. But he couldn’t stop watching her. He couldn’t help noticing that she was struggling. Tears spilled from the corners of her eyes as she battled to get the eyelashes off.

It was her fault.

He wasn’t responsible for her situation.

And yet her struggle unsettled him, awakening emotions and memories he didn’t want to feel.

Mikael didn’t believe in feeling. Feelings were best left to others. He, on the other hand, preferred logic. Structure. Rules. Order.

He wouldn’t be moved by tears. Not even the tears of a young foreign woman that he’d met many years ago at the wedding of Drakon Xanthis, his close friend from university. Just because Drakon had married Jemma’s older sister, Morgan, didn’t mean that Mikael had to make allowances. Why make allowances when Daniel Copeland had made none for his mother?