His Defiant Desert Queen(9)

By: Jane Porter


Drawing a breath, she left the tent, stepping out into the last lingering ray of light. Two of the sheikh’s men guarded the tent, but they didn’t acknowledge her.

The desert glowed with amber, ruby and golden colors. The convoy of cars that had descended on the shoot two hours ago was half the number it’d been when Jemma had disappeared into the tent.

Sheikh Karim stepped from the back of one of the black vehicles. He gestured to her. “Come. We leave now.”

She shouldered her purse, pretending the sheikh wasn’t watching her walk toward him, pretending his guards weren’t there behind her, watching her walk away from them. She pretended she was strong and calm, that nothing threatened her.

It was all she’d been doing since her father’s downfall.

Pretending. Faking. Fighting.

“Ready?” Sheikh Karim asked as she reached his side.

“Yes.”

“You have no suitcase, no clothes?”

“I have a few traveling pieces here, but the rest is in my suitcase.” She clasped her oversized purse closer to her body. “Can we go get my luggage?”

“No.”

“Will you send for it?”

“You won’t need it where you are going.”

Her eyes widened and her lips parted to protest but his grim expression silenced her.

He held open the door. The car was already running.

“It’s time to go,” he said firmly.

Swallowing, Jemma slid onto the black leather seat, terrified to leave this scorching desert, not knowing where she’d go next.

Sheikh Karim joined her on the seat, his large body filling the back of the car. Jemma scooted as far over as she could before settling her blazer over her thighs, hiding her bare skin. But even sitting near the door, he was far too close, and warm, so warm that she fixed her attention on the desert beyond the car window determined to block out everything until she was calm.

She stared hard at the landscape, imagining that she was someone else, somewhere else and it soothed her. The sun was lower in the sky and the colors were changing, darkening, deepening and it made her heart hurt. In any other situation she would’ve been overcome by the beauty of the sunset. As it was now, she felt bereft.

She’d come to Saidia to save what was left of her world, and instead she’d shattered it completely.

The car was moving. Her stomach lurched. She gripped the handle on the door and drew a deep breath and then another to calm herself.

It was going to be okay.

Everything would be okay.

Everything would be fine.

“It’s beautiful,” she whispered, blinking back tears.

He said nothing.

She blinked again, clearing her vision, determined to find her center...a place of peace, and calm. She had to keep her head. There was no other way she’d survive whatever came next if she didn’t stay focused.

“Where does this elder, Sheikh Azizzi, live?” she asked, keeping her gaze fixed on a distant dune. The sun was dropping more quickly, painting the sky a wash of rose and red that reflected crimson against the sand.

“Haslam,” he said.

“Is it far?”

“Two hours by car. If there is no sandstorm.”

“Do you expect one?” she asked, glancing briefly in his direction.

“Not tonight, but it’s not unusual as you approach the mountains. The wind races through the valley and whips the sand dunes. It’s impressive if you’re not trying to drive through, and maddening if you are.”

He sounded so cavalier. She wondered just how dangerous a sandstorm really was. “The storm won’t hurt us?”

The sheikh shrugged. “Not if we stay on the road, turn off the engine and close the vents. But I don’t expect a sandstorm tonight. So far there appears to be little wind. I think it will be a quiet night in the desert.”

She tried to picture the still crimson desert as a whirling sea of sand. She’d seen it in movies, but it seemed impossible now. “And so when do we see the judge?”

“Tonight.”

“Tonight?” she echoed, and when he nodded, she added, “But we won’t be there for hours.”

“We are expected.”

His answer unleashed a thousand butterflies inside her middle. “And will we know his verdict tonight?”