Traded to the Desert Sheikh(7)

By: Caitlin Crews


And this despite the fact that she still wore her hair in that same impatient braid, a long, messy tail pulled forward over one shoulder as if she hadn’t wanted to bother with it any further. At their engagement party, she’d worn it up high in too many braids to count, woven together into some kind of elegant crown. And here he stood on the other side of the world, still itching to undo it all himself and let the heavy, dark length of it fall free.

He wanted to bury himself in the slippery silk of it, the fragrant warmth. In her, any way he could have her. Every way.

It didn’t even matter that she was dressed in a manner that did not suit her fine, delicately otherworldly allure—and was certainly not appropriate for a woman who would be his queen. Jeans that were entirely too formfitting for eyes that were not his. Markedly unfeminine boots. Both equally scuffed and lived in, as if she were still the university student she’d been not too long ago. A bulky sweatshirt that hid her figure, save those long and slender legs of hers that nothing could conceal and that he wanted wrapped around him. And the puffy jacket she’d thrown over the nearest chair when she sat down that, when she wore it zipped up to her chin, made her look almost like a perfect circle above the waist.

Kavian wanted to wrap her in silks and drape her in jewels. He wanted her to stand tall beside him. He wanted to decorate her in nothing but delicate gold chains and build whole palaces in her name, as the ancient sultans had done for the women who’d captivated them. He wanted her strength as much as her beauty.

He wanted to explore every inch of her sweet body with his battered hands, his warrior’s body, his mouth, his tongue.

But first, and foremost, he wanted to take her home.

“Is it force, then?” he asked her, standing in the open doorway, not in the least bit concerned about being overheard by the townspeople. “Will I throw you over my shoulder like the barbarians of old? I think you know I will not hesitate to do exactly that. And enjoy it.”

She shuddered then and he would have given his kingdom, in that moment, to know whether it was desire or revulsion that swept through her at that thought. He hated that he didn’t know her well enough, yet, to tell the difference.

That, too, would change. And far quicker than it might have had she come with him as she’d been meant to do the night of their engagement party, when he’d been predisposed toward a gentler understanding of her predicament. But there was nothing gentle left in him. He had become stone.

Amaya swept her big coat up in one hand and hung the ratty bag she carried over one shoulder. But she still didn’t move toward him.

“If I come with you now,” she said, that husky voice of hers very even, very low, “you have to promise that you won’t—”

“No.”

She blinked. “You don’t know what I was going to say.”

“What can it matter? I made you a set of promises upon our betrothal. You should not require anything further. You made me promises, too, Amaya, which you broke that very same night. It is better, I think, that you and I do not dwell on promises.”

“But—”

“This is not a debate,” he said gently, but he could see the way the edge beneath it slapped at her.

Her lips fell open, as if she had to breathe hard to get through that slap, and he couldn’t pretend he didn’t approve of the way she did it. She even stood taller. He liked that she was beautiful, of course he did. Kavian was a man, after all. A flesh-and-blood king who knew full well the benefits of such beauty when he could display it on his arm. But his queen had to be strong or, like his own fragile and ultimately treacherous mother, she would never survive the rigors of their life together. She would dissolve at the first hint of a storm, and he couldn’t have that.

Life was storms, not sunshine. The latter was a gift. It was not reality.

Kavian was a warrior king. Amaya had to be a warrior queen, in her own way. No matter how little she liked the lessons that would make her into what he needed.

He was certain he, at least, would enjoy them.

“There are no caveats, no negotiations,” he told her. Perhaps too firmly. “You have no choices here. Only an option regarding the delivery method toward the same end.”

He thought she would argue, because it seemed she always argued—and, of course, when he’d elected to quiet her in the only other way he knew, she’d bolted for six months. He could admire it now that it was over. Now that she was in his possession, where she belonged.

But today, his warrior queen lifted her head high and walked toward him instead, her dark chocolate gaze cool on his.

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