The Sheik and the Runaway Princess(9)

By: Susan Mallery

But there was no point in explaining all that to Kardal. He wouldn’t believe her and even if he did, he wouldn’t care.

“I will consider what you have told me,” he said at last.

“What does that mean? You believe that I’m really the princess? Are you going to take me back to the palace in Bahania?” Compared to her recent desert experience, the troll prince might not be such a bad choice after all.

“No,” Kardal told her. “I think I will keep you for now. It would be most entertaining to have a princess as a slave.”

She tried to speak but could only splutter. He couldn’t mean it, she told herself, hoping she wasn’t lying.

“No,” she finally said. “You couldn’t do that.”

“It appears that I could.” Kardal chuckled to himself as he walked away, leaving her openmouthed and frothing.

“You’ll regret this,” she yelled after him, fighting the fury growing within her. If she hadn’t treasured her coffee so much, she would have tossed the steaming liquid at his retreating back. “I’ll make you sorry.”

He turned and looked at her. “I know, Sabrina. Most likely all the days of my life.”

Forty minutes later, she knew a flogging was too good for him. She was back to wanting him both hanged and shot. Maybe even beheaded. It wasn’t enough that he threatened her and insulted her. No. Not only had he tied her up, but he’d blindfolded her as well.

“I don’t know what you think you’re doing,” she announced, practically vibrating with rage. The sensation of being blind while on a moving horse was completely disconcerting. With each step, she expected to tumble under the horse’s hooves.

“First,” Kardal said, his voice barely a whisper in her ear. “You don’t have to shout. I’m right behind you.”

“Like I don’t know that.”

She sat in front of him, on his saddle. As much as she tried to keep from touching him, there wasn’t enough room. Holding herself stiffly away from him only made her muscles ache. Despite her best effort to prevent contact, her back kept brushing against his front.

“What’s the second thing?” she asked grudgingly.

“You’re about to get your wish. Our destination is the City of Thieves.”

Sabrina didn’t respond. She couldn’t. Her mind filled with a thousand questions, not to mention disbelief, hope and excitement.

“It’s real?”

Behind her, Kardal chuckled. “Very real. I’ve lived there all my life.”

“But you can’t—It isn’t—” What he was saying didn’t make sense. “If it truly exists, how come I’ve never heard about it except in old books or diaries?”

“It’s how we prefer it. We are not interested in the outside world. We live in the old tradition.”

Which meant life for women was less than agreeable.

“I don’t believe you,” she told him. “You’re just saying this to get my hopes up.”

“Why else would I blindfold you? It is important that you not be able to find your way back to our city.”

Sabrina bit her lower lip. Could Kardal be telling the truth? Could the city exist and did people really live there? It would almost be worth being captured just to see inside the ancient walls. And his statement about finding her way back implied that he would—despite his posturing to the contrary—eventually let her go.

“Are there treasures?” she asked.

“You seek material wealth?”

There was something in his tone. Contempt, maybe? What was it about this man and his assumptions?

“Stop talking to me like I’m some gold digger,” she said heatedly. “I have a bachelor’s degree in archeology and a master’s in Bahanian history. My interest in the contents of the city are intellectual and scientific, not personal.”

She adjusted her weight, trying to escape the feeling that she was going to fall from the horse at any moment. “I don’t know why I’m bothering,” she grumbled into the darkness. “You’re hardly a sympathetic audience. Just believe what you want. I don’t care.”

But she did care, Kardal thought with some surprise when she was finally quiet. He had heard about her going to school in America. It had never occurred to him that she would actually complete her studies, nor had he thought she would study something relevant to her heritage. He wasn’t sure she didn’t want the treasures of his homeland for herself, but he was willing to wait and let her show her true self on that matter.

She leaned forward, as if holding herself away from him. He felt the tremor in her muscles, the result of her tension.

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