Page 14 of To Defy a Sheikh

The left door opened a crack, and he could see one brown eye glaring at him through it. “I have not forgotten.”

“I haven’t seen you in days, so I was concerned.”

She blinked twice. “I’ve been ill.”

“Have you?”

“Well, I haven’t felt very well.”

“I see,” he said.

“Because we’re engaged.”

“Did my proposal give you a cold?”

The eye narrowed. “What do you want?”

“I did not propose to you so you could nest in one of the rooms in my palace. We have serious issues to attend to. Namely, announcing our engagement to the world. Which will involve letting the world know that the long-lost, long-mourned sheikha of Jahar lives.”

“Can’t you write up a press release?”

“Let me in, Samarah, or I will push past you.”

“Would you like to try?”

“Let me in,” he repeated.

She obeyed this time, the door swinging open. She held it, her arm extended, a dark brow raised. “Enter.”

“Why is it you make me feel like I’m a guest in my own palace?”

“These are my quarters. In them, you are a guest.”

“This is my country, and in it, you are a prisoner.” Her shoulders stiffened, her nostrils flaring. “Such an uncomfortable truth.”

“I can think of a few things more uncomfortable.”

He arched a brow. “Such as?”

“If I planted my foot between your ribs,” she said, practically hissing.

“You and I shall have to spar sometime. When I’m certain you don’t want me killed.”

“You’ll be waiting a long time.”

“Careful. Some men might consider this verbal foreplay.” He said it to get a reaction. What disturbed him was that it did seem that way. It made his blood run hotter. Made him think of what it had felt like to hold her over his shoulder, all soft curves and deadly rage.

He gritted his teeth. He was not a slave to his body. He was a slave to nothing. He was master. He was sheikh. And with that mastery, he served his people. Not himself. That meant there was no time for this sort of reaction.

Her upper lip curled into a snarl. “You disgust me. Do you think I would sleep with the man who ordered my father killed?”

“For the good of our people? I would sleep with the woman whose father caused the death of my parents.” The man who had wrenched the bars open that held Ferran’s demons back from the world. The man who revealed what it was Ferran could be with the restraints broken.

He ignored those memories. He ignored the heat that pooled in his gut at the thought of what sleeping with her would mean.

She blinked. “I feel as though we have an impossible legacy to negotiate. I have, in fact, been thinking that for the past few days.”

“To what end?”

“To the end that in many ways I understand what you did.” Her dark eyes looked wounded, angry. “But I don’t have to condone it. Or forgive it.”

“Your father killed mine. Face-to-face and in cold blood. My mother…”

“I know,” she said. “And…it is a difficult set of circumstances we find ourselves in. I realize that.”

“Not so difficult. Marriage is fairly straightforward.” It was a contractual agreement, nothing more. And as long as he thought of it in those terms, he could find a place for it in his ordered world.

Both brows shot up. “Is it? As our parents’ deaths were a result of marital infidelity I think it’s a bit more complex than you’re giving it credit for.”

“Passion is more complex than people give it credit for. Passion is dangerous. Marriage on the other hand is a legal agreement, and not dangerous in the least. Not on its own. Add passion and you have fire to your gasoline.”

“Okay, I see your point. But are you honestly telling me you act without passion?”

He lifted a shoulder. “Yes. If I acted based on passion I would have had your pretty head for what you tried to do. Lucky for you, I think things through. I never act before considering all possible outcomes.” He studied her, her petite frame hinted at by a red, beaded tunic that hung to her knees, her legs covered by matching pants. Her dark hair was pulled back again, the top of her head covered by a golden chain that was laced over her crown. He wondered what her hair might look like loose. Falling in glossy black waves over her shoulders.

And then he stopped wondering. Because it was irrelevant. Because her hair, her beauty, had nothing to do with their arrangement. It had nothing to do with anything.

“Are you passionate?” he asked, instead of contemplating her hair for another moment.