Page 18 of To Defy a Sheikh

“And that,” she said, her words clipped, “is something I can respect.”

It was true, and it didn’t hurt to say. There was honor in him, and she accepted that. The only problem was, it clashed with the honor in her. With her idea of what honor needed in order to be satisfied.

“Get yourself ready,” he said.

“What?”

“I intend to take you out into the city.”

“But…no announcements have been made.”

“I am well aware of this. But a limo ride with a woman who is hardly recognizable as the child sheikha who disappeared sixteen years ago isn’t going to start a riot.”

“A limo ride?”

“Yes. A limo.”

“I haven’t been in a car…well, I rode beneath the tarps in a truck to get across the border into Khadra. Then I got a horse from some bedouins out in the desert and rode here.”

“What became of the horse?”

“I sold him. Got a return on the money I spent on him.”

“Enterprising.”

“I am a woman who’s had to create resources, even when there were none. Other than that ride in the truck though, I’ve not been in a motorized vehicle in years.”

“You haven’t?”

“I walk in Jahar. I rarely leave the area I live in.”

“Then decide what you think would be best for a limo ride. And by all means, Samarah Al-Azem, try to enjoy yourself.”

CHAPTER FIVE

SAMARAH MADE HERSELF well beyond beautiful for their outing into Khajem, the city that surrounded the palace. It was hard to believe that the child he had known had grown into the viper that had tried to end him. And harder still to believe that the viper could look so soft and breathtaking when she chose. Hard to believe that if he leaned in to claim her mouth he would probably find himself run through with a hairpin.

Today she was in jade, hair constrained, a silver chain woven through it, and over her head, a matching stone resting in the center of her forehead.

“This is all so different to how I remember it,” she said, once they were well away from the palace.

“It is,” he said. “Khadra has been blessed with wealth. All I’ve had to do is…”

“You’ve been responsible with it. You could have hoarded it. God knows my country had wealth, and it was so badly diminished by the regime that came after my parents. Spent on all manner of things, but none of them ever managing to benefit the people.”

“As you can see, we’ve followed some of what Dubai has done with development. New buildings, a more urban feel.”

“But around the palace everything seems so…preserved.”

“I wanted to build on our culture, not erase what came before. But Khadra has become a technology center. Some of the bigger advances are starting to come from here, and no one would have ever thought that possible ten years ago. The amount of Khadrans going to university has increased, and not universities overseas, to take jobs overseas, but here. Some of the change has been mine, but I can’t take credit for that.”

“I wish very much Jahar could have benefited from this,” she said, her words vacant. As though she had to detach herself in order to speak them. “You have done…well.”

“You didn’t know about the development happening here, did you?”

“I saw from a distance. From in the palace, but I didn’t know the scope of it. I didn’t know what these buildings accomplished.” She leaned against the window and looked up at a high-rise building they were passing. “How could I have known? We were cut off from the world for years, not just my mother and I, but the entire country. We were behind an iron curtain, as it were. And in the years since it’s lifted…well, the rest of the country may have made a return to seeing the world, but mine has stayed very small.”

“I think it’s time it grew a little, don’t you?”

“Why are you doing this?” she asked, turning to look at him.

It was a good question, and he knew she didn’t mean why had he improved his country, but why was he showing her. Why was he trying to change her mind about him.

It had less to do with self-preservation than he’d like to believe.

Perhaps it was because he wanted to return something to her that, no matter how justified he thought it might be, he’d taken from her.

Perhaps it was simply a desire to see some of the sparkle return to her dark eyes.

Or maybe it was just that he truly didn’t want a wife who had more fantasies about killing him than she had of him in bed.

Would he truly make her his wife? In every sense of the word?

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