Page 10 of To Defy a Sheikh

That meant she was perfectly happy to stay here, right in Ferran’s home, while she thought of her next move.

Well, perhaps perfectly happy was an overstatement, but it was better than being back in an old room in a shop in Jahar.

She looked around, a strange tightness in her chest. This was so very familiar, this room. She wondered if it was, perhaps, the same room she’d sometimes stayed in when she and her family had come to visit the Bashar family. In happier times. Times that hardly seemed to matter, given how it had all ended.

Lush fabrics were draped over marble walls, the glittering red and jade silks offering a peek at the obsidian and gold beneath. Richness layered over unfathomable richness. The bed was the same. Draped yards of fabric in bold colors, the frame constructed around the bed decorated with yet more.

Divans, pillows, rugs, all of it served to add softness to a room constructed from stone and precious gems.

And the view—a tall, tower room that looked beyond the walls of the palace gardens, beyond the walls of the city and out to the vast dunes. An orange sun casting burning gold onto the sands.

There was a knock on the grand, carved double doors and she turned. “Yes?”

One door opened and a small woman came in. Samarah knew her as Lydia, another woman who worked in the palace, and with whom Samarah had had some interaction over the course of the past month.

“Sheikha,” Lydia said, bowing her head.

So it had begun. Samarah couldn’t deny the small flash of…pleasure that arched through her when the other woman said her title. Though it had been more years gone than she’d been with it, it was a title that was in her blood.

Still, she was a bit disturbed by the idea of Lydia knowing any details of what had passed between Ferran and herself. More disturbing though was just what she’d been led to believe about their relationship.

The idea of being Ferran’s wife…his lover…it was revolting.

She thought of the man he was. Strong, powerful. Broad shoulders, lean waist. Sharp dark eyes, a square jaw. He was clean shaven, unusual for a man in his part of the world, but she couldn’t blame him. For he no doubt used his looks to his advantage in all things.

He was extraordinarily handsome, which was not a point in his favor as far as she was concerned. It was merely an observation about her enemy.

Beauty meant little. Beauty was often deceitful.

She knew that she was considered a great beauty, like her mother before her. And men often took that to mean she was soft, easy to manipulate, easy to take advantage of. As a result some men had found themselves with a sword trained at vulnerable parts of their body.

Yes, she knew beauty could be used to hide strength and cunning. She suspected Ferran knew that, as well.

She had spent the past month observing his physical strength, but she feared she may have underestimated the brilliance of her adversary.

“I have brought you clothes,” Lydia said, “at the sheikh’s instruction. And he says that you are to join him for dinner when the sun sinks below the dunes.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Did he really say it like that?”

“He did, my lady.”

“Do you not find it odd?”

A small smile tugged at Lydia’s lips. “I am not at liberty to say.”

“I see,” Samarah said, pacing the width of the room. The beautifully appointed room that, like Ferran and herself, was merely using its beauty to cover what it really was.

A cage. For a tigress.

“And what,” Samarah continued, “did he say about me and my change in station?”

“Not much, my lady. He simply said we were to address you as sheikha and install you in this wing of the palace. And that you are not to leave.”

“Ah yes, that sounds about right.” She was relieved, in many ways, that he hadn’t divulged many details. “So I am to dress for him and appear at this magical twilit hour?”

“I shall draw you a bath first.”

Samarah looked down at herself and put a hand to her cheek, her thumb drifting over the small cut inflicted by her own knife. She imagined she was a bit worse for wear after having spent the night in a dungeon. So a bath was likely in order.

“Thank you. I shall look forward to it.”

Minutes later, Samarah was submerged to her chin in a sunken mosaic tub filled with hot water and essential oils. It stretched the length of the bath chamber, larger than many swimming pools. There were pillars interspersed throughout, and carvings of naked women and men, lounging and tangled together.

She looked away from the scenes. She’d never been comfortable with such things. Not after the way her family had dissolved. Not when she’d spent so many years guarding her body from men who sought to use her.

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