Page 27 of To Defy a Sheikh

So were the feelings that he called up out of her. Effortless. Like he was some sort of emotional magician. Creating emotions when there had been none, at least no refined, squishy ones, for years.

“Do you see?” he asked.

She looked up and out the front windshield at the tents in the distance. “Yes.”

“That’s the encampment. And there’s smoke. Likely they’re cooking for us. If not, we’re in trouble because it means they aren’t happy with me.”

“Do they have reason to be unhappy with you?”

“People are unhappy with the leader of their country most of the time for various reasons, are they not?”

“I suppose they are. Though, I’ve had more reason to be unhappy with mine than most.”

“Given the circumstances, yes.”

“They stole my life from me,” she said, looking up and meeting his gaze. “They stole my life.”

“They did?”

And not him. She didn’t miss the unspoken part of the sentence.

“Do not read too much into that. It was a complex situation, that’s for sure,” she said. “Many people could be assigned portions of blame. Except for me,” she said, feeling the familiar anger welling up in her. “I was a child. I was six. It wasn’t my fault. And I’ve still had to live it.”

“You have,” he said. “And it is a crime, because you’re right. You had no fault in it. You had no part in the play and yet you were forced to deal with the consequences. So now…accept this. Accept this life. Live something different.”

His words curled around her heart. Sticky, warm tentacles that wrapped her up tight and made her feel secure. And trapped. And she wasn’t sure if she should fight or give in.

“Are you ready?” She knew he was talking about getting out and meeting the people, but it had another meaning for her.

She nodded slowly. “I’m ready.”

She thought, for the first time, she might truly mean it.

* * *

The people did rush to greet them. And there was dinner prepared. They hurried to make a spot at the head of the table not just for Ferran, but for Samarah.

Ferran was pleased that everyone here seemed happy with his choice of bride. Because for the desert people who often traveled near the borders of the neighboring countries, the relations between Khadra and surrounding nations was even more important than to those who lived in the cities.

For them it wasn’t about trade. Or import tax. Or the ability to holiday where they pleased. For these people, it was often about survival. To be able to depend on the friendliness of their neighbors for food, shelter, water if there was an emergency. Medical help. It was essential.

For his part, Ferran provided what he could, but if there was ever an emergency on the fringes, then there would be no way for the government to provide aid in time.

He looked at Samarah, who was curled up next to him, her feet tucked beneath her bottom, her hands in her lap. She looked much more at ease in this setting than she had at the press conference, but he still wondered if all of the people looking at her with obvious interest were bothering her.

He didn’t like for her to be afraid. That realization hit him hard. But he wasn’t sure why it did. Of course he shouldn’t want her to be afraid. She was to be his wife, and it was his duty to ensure his wife was protected, regardless of how they’d gotten their start.

Perhaps you find it strange because you know you can’t really protect her?

Not from the truth. Not if it ever came out.

He shut down his thoughts and focused on what was happening around them. Most of the tribe was sitting in the mobile courtyard area for dinner. Families in clusters, children talking and laughing, running around on the outskirts of the seating area.

The elders were seated with him and Samarah, on cushions, their food in front of them on a wooden mat that would be easy to roll up and transport. It was nothing like the heavy, grand dining table in the palace that his father had had brought in. So formal. Custom made in Europe.

Ferran found that in many ways, he liked this better. This spoke of Khadra. Of its people. Its history.

“Sheikha.”

Ferran watched Samarah’s dark head snap up when the tribal elder to his right addressed her. “Yes,” she said, seemingly shocked to have been spoken to.

“How do you find the political climate in Jahar at present?”

She blinked rapidly. “I… It has improved,” she said. “The sheikhdom is never going to be restored, not as it was. The new way of doing things is imperfect. But since the death of the previous leader, there is something of a more…legitimate democracy in place. All things considered, that is perhaps best for the country.”

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