Traded to the Desert Sheikh

By: Caitlin Crews



 There had been no telltale men with grim, assessing eyes watching her from the shadows. No strange gaps in conversation when she walked into the small coffee shop in a tiny lakeside village in British Columbia. There hadn’t been any of the usual hang-ups or missed calls on her latest disposable mobile phone that signaled her little noose was drawing tight.

 She had a large mug of strong, hot coffee to ward off the late-autumn chill this far north, where snow was plastered across the Canadian Rocky Mountains and the thick clouds hung low. The pastry she chose was cloyingly sweet, but she ate all of it anyway. She checked her email, her messages. There was a new voice mail from her older brother, Rihad, which she ignored. She would call him later, when she was less exposed. When she could be certain Rihad’s men couldn’t track her.

 And then she glanced up, some disturbance in the air around her making her skin draw tight in the second before he took the seat across from her at the tiny little café table.

 “Hello, Amaya,” he said, with a kind of calm, resolute satisfaction—while everything inside her shifted into one great big scream. “You’ve been more difficult to find than anticipated.”

 As if this were a perfectly casual meeting, here in this quiet café in an off-season lakeside village in a remote part of Canada she’d been certain he couldn’t find. As if he weren’t the most dangerous man in the world to her—this man who held her life in those hands of his that looked so easy and idle on the table between them despite their scars and marks of hard use, in notable contrast to that dark slate fury in his too-gray eyes.

 As if she hadn’t left him—His Royal Highness, Kavian ibn Zayed al Talaas, ruling sheikh of the desert stronghold Daar Talaas—if not precisely at the altar, then pretty damn close six months ago.

 Amaya had been running ever since. She’d survived on the money in her wallet and her ability to leave no trail, thanks to a global network of friends and acquaintances she’d met throughout her vagabond youth at her heartbroken mother’s side. She’d crashed on the floors of perfect strangers, stayed in the forgotten rooms of friends of friends and walked miles upon miles in the pitch dark to get out of cities and even countries where she’d thought he might have tracked her. She wanted nothing more than to leap up and run now, down the streets of the near-deserted village of Kaslo and straight into the frigid waters of Lake Kootenay if necessary—but she had absolutely no doubt that if she tried that again, Kavian would catch her.

 With his own bare hands this time.

 And she couldn’t repress the shiver that swept over her at that thought.

 Much less the one that chased it, when Kavian’s sensually grim mouth curved slightly at the sight of her reaction.

 Control yourself, she snapped. Inside her own head.

 But Kavian looked as if he heard that, too. She hated that some part of her believed that he could.

 “You seem surprised to see me,” he said. “Surely not.”

 “Of course I’m surprised.” Amaya didn’t know how she managed to push the words out of her mouth. A list of things she needed to do—right that second, if there was any hope for her to escape him again now that he’d be fully expecting her to try—raced through her head. But she couldn’t seem to look away from him. Just like the last time she’d met him, at her brother’s palace to the south of Kavian’s desert kingdom, for the occasion of her arranged engagement to this man, Kavian commanded her full attention. “I thought the last six months made it clear that I didn’t want to see you, ever again.”

 “You belong to me,” he said, with that same sheer certainty that had sent ice spearing through her at the celebration of their betrothal in the Bakrian Royal Palace half a year ago. That same spear felt even colder now. “Was this moment truly in doubt? I was always going to find you, Amaya. The only question was when.”

 His voice was deceptively calm, something like silken in the quiet of the small café. It did nothing to lessen the humming sort of threat that emanated from that lethal body of his, all harsh muscle and a kind of lean, austere maleness that was as foreign to her as it was oddly, disruptively fascinating. He looked nothing like the local men who had been in and out of this very café all morning, wreathed in hearty beards and thick plaid jackets to fend off the northern cold.

 Kavian wore unrelenting black, relieved only by those furious slate-gray eyes he didn’t shift from her for a single moment. Black trousers on his tough, strong legs, utilitarian black boots on his feet. What looked like a fine black T-shirt beneath the black bomber jacket he wore half-zipped that managed to show off his granite-hard chest rather than conceal it in any way. His thick dark hair was shorter than she remembered it, and the closer-cut style accentuated the deadly lines of his brutally captivating face, from that warrior’s jaw with the faintest hint of his dark beard as if he hadn’t bothered to shave in days, his blade of a nose and cheekbones male models would have died for that nonetheless looked like weapons on such a hard-hewn face.

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