“Merciful?” he asked, raising his brows. “I had not thought that an accurate description. Perhaps…thwarted?”
She stopped moving, her eyes snapping up to his. “Perhaps,” she bit out.
“Sit,” he commanded.
She continued walking, to the head of the table, around the back of him, lifting her hand the so she was careful to avoid contact with him. She watched his shoulders stiffen, his body, his instincts on high alert.
He knew he had not tamed her. Good.
She took a seat to his left, her eyes on the plate in front of her. “I do hope there will be food soon. I’m starving. It seems I was detained for most of the day.”
“Ah yes,” he said, “I recall. And don’t worry. It’s on its way.”
As if on cue, six men came in, carrying trays laden with clay pots, and clear jars full of frosted, brightly colored juice.
All of the trays were laid out before them, the tall lids on the tagines removed with great drama and flair.
Her stomach growled and she really hoped he wasn’t planning on poisoning her, because she just wanted to eat some couscous, vegetables and spiced lamb. She’d spent many nights trying to sleep in spite of the aching emptiness in her stomach.
And she didn’t have the patience for it, not now.
She needed a full stomach to deal with Ferran.
“We are to serve ourselves,” Ferran said, as the staff walked from the room. “I often prefer to eat this way. I find I get everything to my liking when I do it myself.” His eyes met hers. “And I find I am much happier when I am in control of a situation.”
She arched a brow and reached for a wooden utensil, dipping it into the couscous and serving herself a generous portion. “That could be a problem,” she said, going back for some lamb. “As I feel much the same way, and I don’t think either of us can have complete control at any given time.”
“Do you ever have control, Samarah?”
She paused. “As much as one can have, Sheikh. Of course, the desert is always king, no matter what position in life you hold. No one can stop a drought. Or a monsoon. Or a sandstorm.”
“I take it that’s your way of excusing your powerlessness.”
She took a sharp breath and turned her focus to her dinner. “I am not powerless. No matter the situation, no matter the chains, you can never make me powerless. I will always have choices, and my strength is here.” She put her hand on her chest. “Not even you can reach in and take my heart, Sheikh Ferran Bashar. And so, you will never truly have power over me.”
“You are perhaps the bravest person I’ve ever met,” he said. “And the most foolish.”
She smiled. “I take both as the sincerest of compliments.”
“I should like to discuss our plan.”
“I should like to eat—this is very good. I don’t think the servants eat the same food as you do.”
“Do they not? I had not realized. I’ll ask the chef if it’s too labor intensive or if it’s possible everyone eat as I do.”
“I imagine it isn’t possible, and it would only make more work for the cook. Cooking in mass quantities is a bit different than cooking for one sheikh and his prisoner.”
“I’ve never cooked,” he said. “I wouldn’t know.”
“I haven’t often cooked, but I have been in the food lines in Jahar. I know what mass-produced food is.”
“Tell me,” he said, leaning on one elbow. “How did you survive?”
“After we left the palace—” she would not speak of that night, not to him “—we sought asylum with sympathizers, though they were nearly impossible to find. We went from house to house. We didn’t want people to know we’d survived.”
“It was reported you were among the dead.”
She nodded. “I know. A favor granted to my mother by a servant who wanted to live. She feigned loyalty to the new regime, but she secretly helped my mother and I escape, then told the new president—” she said the word with utter disdain “—that we had been killed with the rest.”
“After that,” she said, “we were often homeless. Sometimes getting work in shops. Then we could sleep on the steps, with minimal shelter provided from the overhang of the roof. Or, if the shopkeeper was truly kind, a small room in the back.”
“And then?” he asked.
“My mother died when I was thirteen. At least…I assume she did. She left one day and didn’t return. I think…I think she walked out into the desert and simply kept walking. She was never the same after. She never smiled.”