His Defiant Desert Queen(8)

By: Jane Porter


“Stop,” he ordered, unable to watch her struggle any longer. “You’re about to take out your eye.”

“I have to get them off.”

“Not like that.”

“I can do it.”

“You’re making a mess of it.” He crossed the distance, gestured for her to turn on her stool. “Face me, and hold still. Look down. Don’t move.”

Jemma held her breath as she felt his fingers against her temple. His touch was warm, his hand steady as he used the tip of his finger to lift the edge of the strip and then he slowly, carefully peeled the lashes from her lid. “One down,” he said, putting the crescent of lashes in her hand. “One to go.”

He made quick work on the second set.

“You’ve done this before,” she said, as he took a step back, putting distance between them, but not enough distance. He was so big, so intimidating, that she found his nearness overwhelming.

“I haven’t, but I’ve watched enough girlfriends put on make up to know how it’s done.”

She looked at him for a long moment, her gaze searching his. “And you have no say in the sentencing?” she asked.

“I have plenty of say,” he answered. “I am the king. I can make new laws, pass laws, break laws...but breaking laws wouldn’t make me a good king or a proper leader for my people. So I, too, observe the laws of Saidia, and am committed to upholding them.”

“Could you ask the judge to be lenient with me?”

“I could.”

“But you won’t?”

He didn’t answer right away, which was telling, she thought.

“Would you ask for leniency for another woman?”

His broad shoulders shifted. “It would depend on who she was, and what she’d done.”

“So your relationship with her would influence your decision?”

“Absolutely.”

“I see.”

“As her character would influence my decision.”

And he didn’t approve of her character.

Jemma understood then that he wouldn’t help her in any way. He didn’t like her. He didn’t approve of her. And he felt no pity or compassion because she was a Copeland and it was a Copeland, her father, who had wronged his family.

In his mind, she had so many strikes against her she wasn’t worth saving.

For a moment she couldn’t breathe. The pain was so sharp and hard it cut her to the quick.

It was almost like the pain when Damien ended their engagement. He’d said he’d loved her. He’d said he wanted to spend his life with her. But then when he began losing jobs, he backed away from her. Far better to lose her, than his career.

Throat aching, eyes burning, Jemma turned back to the mirror.

She reached for a brush and ran it slowly through her long dark hair, making the glossy waves ripple down her back, telling herself not to think, not to feel, and most definitely, not to cry.

“You expect your tribal elder to sentence me to prison, for at least five years?” she asked, drawing the brush through her long hair.

Silence stretched. After a long moment, Sheikh Karim answered, “I don’t expect Sheikh Azizzi to give you a minimum sentence, no.”

She nodded once. “Thank you for at least being honest.”

And then she reached for the bottle of make-up remover and a cotton ball to remove what was left of her eye make-up.

He walked out then. Thank goodness. She’d barely kept it together there, at the end.

She was scared, so scared.

Would she really be going to prison?

Would he really allow the judge to have her locked away for years?

She couldn’t believe this was happening. Had to be a bad dream. But the sweltering heat inside the tent felt far too real to be a dream.

Jemma left her make-up table and went to her purse to retrieve her phone. Mary had informed the crew this morning as they left the hotel that they’d get no signal here in the desert, and checking her phone now she saw that Mary was right. She couldn’t call anyone. Couldn’t alert anyone to her situation. As Jemma put her phone away, she could only pray that Mary would make some calls on her behalf once she returned to London.

Jemma changed quickly into her street clothes, a gray short linen skirt, white knit top and gray blazer.