Traded to the Desert Sheikh(62)

By: Caitlin Crews

And then she wound herself around him, pressed her mouth to his and showed him exactly how much she meant it.

* * *

Kavian claimed his queen in a grandiose ceremony that was reprinted in a thousand papers all over the world and broadcast on far too many channels to count. Bakri and Daar Talaas, united as one in the eyes of the world and against their common enemies.

His wife, his at last.

“This way,” he told her with complete satisfaction when they were bound to each other in three languages, two religious systems and under the laws of at least three countries, “there can be absolutely no mistake. You are mine.”

“I am yours,” she agreed, with a smile that nearly undid him.

And she was. Finally, she was.

More than that, she was the queen he’d always dreamed she’d be. She was beautiful enough to stand at his side and make the nation sigh in wonder. And she was capable enough to do her good works, dirtying her hands when necessary, making the nation love her as he did. The people admired her as much for leading him on a merry chase as for her eventual surrender, and they called her the strong queen, like the old poems, as if they believed she was as much a warrior queen as he was her warrior king.

They loved her.

They loved her even more when she gave him his first son some eight months after their wedding, bringing Kavian’s own bloody circle to a far happier conclusion. This son would not need to avenge his father. This son would not need to wonder what kind of man he was—he would know.

And they called for national holidays when Amaya gave him his first daughter a year and a half later, the prettiest little girl in the history of the world—according to the besotted king, who considered making that declaration into law.

Kavian made her the greatest queen in the history of Daar Talaas.

But Amaya made him a man.

She loved him fiercely and fully, and demanded nothing but the same in return. She fought him as passionately as she made love to him, and he learned how to bend. Just a little. Just enough. She forgave him and she redeemed him, every day.

She taught him. Every day, she taught him. He did not have her mother thrown in his prisons as he’d wanted, and he saw the benefit of that as the years passed. Elizaveta would never be warm or cuddly, or even, to his mind, tolerable—but she was a far better grandmother than she had ever been a mother.

“She has softened,” he said to Amaya one day. They stood together in the old harem, watching Elizaveta and the children play in the desert sunshine that danced through the courtyard. The blonde woman laughed as she held his squirming five-year-old daughter aloft. When she was with their children, she was unrecognizable. “I would never have believed it.”

“She’s not the only one who has softened,” Amaya said, and only smiled at him when he glared at her in mock outrage.

“I am a man of stone, azizty,” he said, but he couldn’t keep himself from smiling. Amaya didn’t try. She laughed at him instead, and the world stopped. The way it had when he watched a video of her a lifetime ago. The way it would, he was certain, when they were both old and gray and addled.

“You are a man,” she agreed, and surged up on her toes to kiss him, hard and sweet and fast. Kavian felt her smile against his mouth, and deep in his heart besides. “My man.”

And then she took his hand in hers and led them out into the sun, and all the bright days of their future.