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Desert Fantasies(5)

By:Trish Morey

‘Perfectly understandable, Princess. You have been through a testing time.’

She nodded and gave a matter-of-fact smile, relieved she hadn’t plunged their two countries into some kind of diplomatic crisis. After all, she was being offered protection here in a neighbouring country. Sanctuary. She should not abuse that courtesy. ‘Then I will not waste any more of your time, Sheikh Zoltan. I will wait in my suite until my father arrives.’

He took her hand and she felt a sizzle of recognition, of having held a hand like this one before, a hand that belonged to a man who ran with long, powerful strides …


‘Tell me one thing,’ she said, disturbed enough to remember another niggling question that had not been answered. ‘Why did my father send all of my belongings here when I will be in Al-Jirad such a short time? Surely he must have realised I could have made do with a suitcase-full at the most? Why do you think he did that?’

He shrugged, her hand still wrapped securely in his. ‘Maybe he thought you would need them afterwards.’

‘Afterwards? After what?’

‘After we are married, of course.’


SHE wrenched her hand away. ‘You must be mad!’ The entire world must be going crazy! First Mustafa and now this man claiming she must marry him! ‘I’m not marrying anyone,’ she said, wanting to laugh so insanely at the very idea that maybe she was the one who was mad. ‘Not Mustafa. And certainly not you.’

‘I am sorry to break the news this way, Princess. I had intended to invite you to dine with me tonight, and convince you of the merits of the scheme while I seduced you with the best food, wine and entertainment that Al-Jirad can offer.’

‘It does not matter how you planned the delivery. Your message would still be insane and my answer would still be the same. I am not marrying you! And now I intend to return to my suite and await the arrival of my father. I’m sorry that someone went to the trouble of unpacking all my belongings when they will only have to repack it all for the journey home tomorrow. Good night.’

She wheeled around, already taking a step towards the door that looked a million miles away right now, when her wrist was seized in an iron clasp.

‘Not so fast, Princess.’

She looked down to where his hand curled around her slender wrist, his skin a dark golden-olive, making her own honey-coloured skin pale to almost white. Or was that just because all her blood had drained away and turned her ghostlike?

She lifted her gaze to his dark, glinting eyes. ‘Nobody touches a princess of Jemeya without consent.’

‘Surely the betrothed …’

She pulled her wrist from his grip. ‘I have no betrothed!’

‘That’s not what your father thinks.’

‘Then you are indeed crazy. My father would never give his permission for a marriage I did not want.’

‘Maybe your father has no choice.’

‘And maybe you’re dreaming. For when he arrives tomorrow he will surely set you straight. He did not send his men to rescue me from the hands of one mad despot to simply hand me over to another.’

‘You are so sure they were your father’s men?’

His words blindsided her. What kind of question was that? Of course her father had sent her rescuers. ‘They came for me,’ she asserted, hating this man right now for making her question her own father’s actions, for making her doubt that he would do anything and everything in his power to get her back. ‘As I knew they would from the first moment I was kidnapped. I knew my father would send someone to rescue me and I was right. And they told me that my father would be told I was safe. So who else would have sent them?’

‘And if I told you that it was my men who rescued you from that desert camp and from a future bearing Mustafa’s fat and plentiful sons?’

She threw her hands up in the air. ‘I’ve heard enough of this. I’m leaving.’ She turned away and started walking. She was going to walk out of here and through that door, and this time, when she did, she would forget all about being a princess and looking like a princess and acting like a princess—she would run as fast and hard as she could back to her suite and lock the door behind her. And she did not care who might see her, or what they might think of her, and she would not come out until her father had arrived and ensured her safe passage back to Jemeya.

This time there was no iron manacle around her wrist, no move to stop her. And for a moment she even thought she might make it. Until she heard him utter the fateful words behind her.

‘And if I said I came for you with your father’s blessing?’

Her feet shuddered to a halt on the marble-tiled floor, fear clamping down so hard on her muscles that it was impossible to move. She was suddenly aware of the pounding of her blood, her heart racing like that tiny mouse’s must have, knowing the cat was behind it, ready to pounce if she moved so much as a tiny whisker.

I came for you?

Did he mean what he had said? Had he been there after all last night? Had he been one of the men in the rescuer’s party? Or had he been the one to slice his way into her tent, to plaster her to his body too tightly and set off a low, burning heat deep in her belly, to cradle her in his arms as his stallion galloped across the dunes?

For that man had been tall and broad, supremely fit and sure of himself and unbearably arrogant with it. Yet her rescuer had been a mercenary, dressed all in black, his face completely covered but for his dark, glinting eyes.

No, it couldn’t be him. She would not allow it.

She spun around. ‘You are bluffing! You admit speaking to my father this morning. He told you about the rescue and now you try to make me feel so indebted to you, so happy to have escaped the clutches of Mustafa, that I will agree to this—’ she searched frantically for a word that might convey just how crazy this marriage idea was ‘—insanity!’

Not a chance.

‘But by all means,’ she continued, ‘do share this little fantasy of yours with my father when he arrives tomorrow. I’m sure he’ll be most entertained.’

Zoltan pushed himself from the edge of the desk, then strode towards her with long, purposeful strides that ate up the distance between them until he stood before her, tall and impossibly autocratic, his eyes fixed with a steely determination, his jaw set like concrete. ‘If you want to talk fantasy, Princess, let me share one with you right now. Would you be similarly entertained if I told you that I cannot wait to see what that mouth of yours can do when you are in the throes of passion rather than in the grip of fear?’

Shock thunderbolted down her spine, ricocheted out to her extremities and made her clenching and unclenching hand itch to slap one darkly shadowed cheek. ‘How dare you speak to me like that?’

‘How dare I?’ He reached out a hand, put the pad of his thumb to her lip. ‘But you’re the one who put the idea into my head, Princess—you and those sharp, white teeth of yours.’

She gasped, took a step back. ‘You!’

And then he smiled and, seemingly casually, crossed his arms over his chest. She saw it then, on the index finger of his right hand: the imprint of her teeth etched deep and angry-looking on his skin.

He watched her eyes widen. He saw the realisation dawn and bloom. He smelt her fear.

And it felt strangely good.

‘Yes, Princess. Me. Wearing your brand, it would appear—some quaint Jemeyan custom, I assume, to mark one’s intended?’

She looked back up at him, her features tight and determined. ‘It doesn’t matter who you are or whether you were there last night. It doesn’t matter if you were in the party that rescued me from that desert camp. I owe you nothing but my thanks, and you have that. But there is still no way I will marry you. And there is no way on this earth that you can make me.’

‘You can fight this all you like, Princess, but there is no other way.’

‘And if I still say no?’

He smiled. ‘In that case, if you feel that strongly, maybe there is one other way after all.’


‘I can take you back to that desert encampment, leave you there and let Mustafa have his way with you. Your choice, Princess.’

She looked as if she was going to explode, face red with heat, her hands clenched at her side and her eyes so alight they were all but throwing flames. ‘When my father finishes his business with the King and comes for me tomorrow, he will tell you the same as I do. There will be no marriage!’

All of a sudden he was tired of the game, of baiting her for her reactions, of toying with this spoilt princess, even though she had provided the only entertainment value in a world suddenly turned upon its head. The need to rescue her had brought him and his three friends together again for the first time in five years, and plucking her from beneath the nose of his hated half-brother had presented a moment of such sublime satisfaction that he would revel in the victory for years to come.

Except now he was faced with a precocious, precious princess who thought she had actually some say in what was happening. Why had he ever let her think that? Why had he tolerated her demands, deflected her questions and allowed her that privilege when she had never had it?

He knew damned well why—because he was still so angry about being put in this invidious position himself. Because he couldn’t see why he should be the only one to suffer and sacrifice, the only one mightily frustrated at the choiceless situation he found himself thrust into. So why the hell shouldn’t he extract some measure of glee from seeing her tossed right out of her precious, princessly comfort-zone?