Traded to the Desert Sheikh(8)

By: Caitlin Crews

“That sounds ominous,” she said. Still, she walked through the door of her own volition, out into the moody light of this cold northern morning. “Will you throw a potato sack over my head? Keep my mouth shut with duct tape? Make this a good old-fashioned sort of kidnapping?”

Kavian probably shouldn’t have found that amusing. He was aware that was begging for trouble, but he couldn’t help it, especially not when she walked out in front of him and he understood, at last, the true benefit of a tight pair of jeans on a fine-figured woman.

His palms ached with the urge to test the shape of that bottom of hers, to haul her against him the way he had done but once, six months ago. It hadn’t been nearly enough, no matter how many times he’d replayed it while scouring the earth for her trail.

“It is a relatively short helicopter flight to Calgary,” he said. “Then a mere fifteen hours or so to Daar Talaas. It is entirely up to you if you wish to dress in sacks and tape. I can drug you, if that will appeal to your sense of victimization. Whatever you wish, my queen, it shall be yours.”

She stopped then, on the street in this small little Western town in the middle of so much towering wilderness. She turned slowly, as if she was still processing that dry tone of his, and when she met his gaze her own was solemn.

“I can’t be your queen,” she said quietly. “You must know that. Surely that, if nothing else, became clear to you over all these months.”

He didn’t try to keep his hands off her, then. He pulled that thick plait into his palm and let the warm silk gently abrade his skin. It wasn’t lost on him that if he wished it, he could tug her closer to him, hold her fast, use that braid to help him plunder that plump mouth of hers. The specter of that possibility danced between them and he knew, somehow, that those dark, greedy moments in her brother’s palace hung there, too. Steaming up the cold air. Making her cheeks bloom red and his blood heat.

“You promised yourself to me,” he reminded her. “You made oaths and I accepted them. You gave yourself into my hands, Amaya. You can confuse this issue with as many words as you like—forced betrothal, political engagement, arranged marriage. Whatever way you hedge a bet in this strange place and pretend a promise need not be kept. In my world, you belong to me already. You have been mine for months.”

“I don’t accept that,” Amaya whispered, but he was attuned to what she didn’t do. She didn’t weep. She didn’t pull away. She didn’t so much as avert her gaze. He felt all of those things like caresses.

“I don’t require your acceptance,” he said softly. “I only require you.”

* * *

There were no direct routes into the ancient desert city that comprised the central stronghold—and royal palace—of Daar Talaas. It had been a myth, a legend, for many centuries, whispered about by traders and defeated challengers to its throne, incorporated into battle songs and epic poems. In these modern times, satellites and spy drones and online travelogues made certain there was no possibility of truly hiding a whole city away from the rest of the world, but that didn’t mean the old royal seat of the warrior kings of Daar Talaas was any more accessible for being known.

The roads only led an hour or so into the desert from any given border, then ended abruptly, unmarked and nowhere near the city itself. There was nothing but the shifting desert sands in the interior of the country, with secret and hard-to-find tunnels beneath the formidable mountains that the natives had used to evade potential invaders for centuries. There were other, somewhat more modern places in the country that appeared on all the maps and were easily approached by anyone insane enough to consider the wide, empty desert a reasonable destination—but the ancient seat of Daar Talaas’s power remained half mystery, half mirage.

Almost impossible to attack by land.

Much less escape.

She might not ever have wanted to end up in this place, Amaya reflected as she stepped out of the small, sleek jet into the bright, hot desert heat and the instantly parching slap of the wind that went with it, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t studied up on it. Just in case.

Kavian moved behind, shepherding her down the stairs toward the dusty tarmac as if he imagined she really might fling aside her jet lag and race off into the treacherous embrace of the shifting, beckoning sand. And after fifteen hours in an enclosed space with all that sensual menace that blazed from him like a radiator in the depths of a Canadian winter, Amaya was almost crazed enough to consider it.

“I won’t even send my guards after you,” he murmured, sounding both much too close and entirely amused, as if reading her mind or the longing in that glance she’d aimed at the horizon was funny. “I’ll run you down myself. I’m not afraid to tackle a woman, particularly not when she has proved as slippery as you have. And imagine what might happen then?”