Page 4 of To Defy a Sheikh

“You want blood.”

She lifted her chin, defiant. “I require it. For this is my vengeance. And it is all about blood.”

“I am sorry that I could not oblige you tonight.”

“No more sorry than I.”

“Why am I the object of your vengeance?” he asked. “Why not the new regime? Why not the people who stormed the palace and killed the royal family. The sheikha and her daughter.”

“You mean the revolutionaries who were aided by your men?”

“They were not. Not I, nor anyone else in Khadra, had part in the overthrowing of the Jahari royal family. I had a country to run. I had no interest in damaging yours.”

“You left us unprotected. You left us without a king.”

“I did no such thing.”

“You had the king of Jahar tried and executed in Khadra,” she spat, venom on her tongue. “You left the rest of us to die when he was taken. Forced from our home. Servants, soldiers…everyone who did not turn to the new leader was killed. And those who escaped…only a half life was ever possible. There was no border crossing to be had, unless you just wanted to wander out into the desert and hope to God you found the sea, or the next country.” As her mother had done one day. Wandered out into the desert never to return. At least, in recent years it had eased. That was how she’d been able to finally make her way to Khadra.

“I am not responsible for Sheikh Rashad’s fate. He paid for sins committed. It was justice. Still, I am regretful of the way things unfolded.”

“Are you?” she spat. “I find I am more than regretful, as it cost me everything.”

“It has been sixteen years.”

“Perhaps the passage of time matters to you, but I find that for me it does not.”

“I say again, I did not give the order to have your people killed. It is a small comfort, certainly, as they are gone, but it is not something I did. You aren’t the only one who doesn’t believe. I am plagued by the ramifications of the past.”

She curled her lip. “Plagued by it? I imagine it has been very hard for you. I’m not certain why I’m complaining about the fate of my country. Not when it has been so hard for you. In your palace with all of your power.”

“It is hard when your legacy is defined by a human rights violation you did not commit,” he bit out. “Make no mistake, I am often blamed for the hostile takeover of your country. But I did not send anyone into the palace to overthrow your government. Where have I benefited? Where is my hand in your country? What happened after was beyond my reach. And yet, I find I am in many ways responsible for it.”

“You cannot have it both ways, Sheikh. You did it, or you did not.”

“I had choices to make. To stand strong for my people, for my father, for my blood. Had I foreseen the outcome, as I should have done, my choices might have been different.”

“Are you God then?”

“I am sheikh. It is very close to being the same.”

“Then you are a flawed god indeed.”

“And you? Do you aspire to be the goddess?” he asked, moving to the foot of the bed, standing, tall, proud and straight. He was an imposing figure, and in many ways she couldn’t believe that she had dared touch him. Not when he so obviously outmatched her in strength and weight. Not when he was so clearly a deadly weapon all on his own.

“Just the angel of death, as you said. I have no higher aspiration than that. It isn’t power I seek, but justice.”

“And you think justice comes with yet more death?”

“Who sent the king of Jahar to trial, Sheikh? Who left my country without a ruler?” Who left me without a father? She didn’t voice the last part. It was too weak. And she refused to show weakness.

“I did,” he said, his tone hard, firm. “Lest we forget the blood of the king of Khadra was on his hands. And that is not a metaphor.”

“At least Khadra had an heir!”

His expression turned to granite. “And lacked an angry, disillusioned populace. Certainly the loss of the king affected Jahar, but had the people not been suffering…”

“I am not here to debate politics with you.”

“No, it is your wish to cut my throat. And I must say, even politics seems preferable to that.”

“I am not so certain.” She looked away for a moment, just a moment, to try and gather her thoughts. To try and catch her breath. “You left a little girl with no protection. A queen without her husband.”

“And was I to let the Jahari king walk after taking the life of my father? The life of my mother.”

“He did not…”

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