Traded to the Desert Sheikh(9)

By: Caitlin Crews

She didn’t have to imagine it. She’d spent a large portion of her time and energy these past six months doing her best to cast the memory of that night at her brother’s palace out of her head.

“That will never happen again,” she assured him.

His hand curled around the nape of her neck as her feet hit the ground. He didn’t release her as he stepped into place beside her; if anything, his hand tightened. He leaned in close, letting his lips brush against her cheek, and Amaya was certain he knew exactly what that did to her. How the heat of it rushed over her as if she’d dropped off the side of the parched earth into a boiling sea. How her skin pulled tight and her breasts seemed to swell. How her breath caught and her core melted.

Of course he knew. He remembered, too. She had no doubt.

“It will happen often,” he said, warning and promise at once, “and soon.”

Amaya shuddered, and she couldn’t convince herself it was entirely fear. But he only laughed, low and entirely too lethal. He didn’t let go of her until he’d helped her into the waiting helicopter and started to buckle her in himself.

“I’m not going to fling myself out of a moving helicopter,” she gritted out at him, only just stopping herself from batting at those fascinatingly male hands of his as they moved efficiently over her, tugging here and snapping there, and managing to kick up new brush fires as if he’d used his teeth against the line of her neck.

He eyed her in that disconcertingly frank way of his that made something low and hot inside her constrict, then flip.

“Not now, no,” he agreed.

It was a quick, dizzying ride. They shot up high into the air in a near-vertical lift, and then flew over the nearest steep and forbidding mountain range to drop down in a tumultuous rush on the other side.

Amaya had a disjointed, roller-coaster sense of a city piled high along the walls of a deep, jagged valley, the stacked buildings made of smooth, ancient stone that seemed almost a part of the mountains themselves. There were spires and minarets, flags snapping briskly against the wind, smooth domes and thick, sturdy walls that reminded her of nothing so much as a fort. She had the impression of leafy green squares tucked away from the sprawl of the desert, of courtyards bursting with bright and fanciful flowers, and then they touched down and Kavian’s hands were on her again.

She started to protest but bit it off when she looked at the expression on his hard face. It was too triumphant. Too darkly intent.

He’d promised her months ago that he would bring her home to his palace, and now he had done so. Her throat went dry as he herded her off the helicopter with him—she told herself it was the desert air, though she knew better—as she wondered exactly how many of his promises she could expect him to keep.

All of them, a small voice deep inside her intoned, like a death knell. You know he will keep every single promise he ever made to you.

She had to repress an involuntary shiver at that, but they’d stepped out onto a breezy rooftop and there was no time and certainly no space to indulge her apprehension. Kavian wrapped his hard fingers around her wrist and pulled her along with him as he moved, not adjusting his stride in the least to accommodate hers.

And she would die before she’d ask him to do so.

They’d landed on the very top of a grand structure cut into the highest part of this side of the valley, Amaya comprehended in the few moments before they moved inside. And then they were walking down a complicated series of sweeping, marbled stairs and through royal halls inlaid with jaw-droppingly beautiful mosaics, lovingly crafted into high arches and soaring ceilings. Though they’d gone inside, there was no sense of closeness; the palace was bright and open, with light pouring in from all directions, making Amaya feel dizzy all over again as she tried to work out the systems of skylights and arched windows that made a palace of rock feel this airy.

People she was dimly aware were various members of his staff moved toward him and around him, taking instruction and carrying on rapid-fire conversations with him as he strode deeper and deeper into the palace complex without so much as a hitch in that stride of his. They all spoke in the Arabic she’d learned as a child, that she still knew enough of to work out the basic meaning of what was said around her, if not every word or nuance. Something about the northern border. Something about a ceremony. An aside about what sounded like housekeeping, a subject she was surprised a king—especially a king as inaccessibly mighty as Kavian—spent any time thinking about in the first place. Each aide would approach him, walk with him briefly and deferentially, then fall back again as if each were a part of the royal wake he left behind him as he charged through his ornate and bejeweled world, never so much as pausing as he went.