The Sheikh's Impetuous Love-Slave(10)

By: Marguerite Kaye



It had taken all his resolve not to plunge his shaft into the sweet depths he had so delightfully prepared. Even now that he had put some distance between them, the vision of her there, damp and hot and sweetly ripe, was almost too much for his self-control. ‘I could have taken you but chose not to. Remember that,’ Khalid said.

Mortified now, Juliette glared up at him, wishing he would just go, go and leave her to her shame. As he picked up his cloak, throwing it carelessly around his shoulders, obviously in as much of a rush to be away from her as she was now to have him gone, a small object clattered to the floor and rolled across the tiles towards the bath.

She caught it just before it fell into the water. It was gold, lying heavily in the palm of her hand. ‘Shal’aal,’ Juliette exclaimed, forgetting her embarrassment as she looked at the little idol in astonishment.

Khalid looked surprised. ‘You know her name?’

Juliette smiled down at the little goddess, tracing the idol’s voluptuous curves with her finger. ‘She’s one of my favourites.’ A fertility symbol. The connection jolted in her mind and she blushed violently, thrusting the artefact back at Khalid, avoiding his gaze as she scrambled in an ungainly way out of the bath, hurriedly covering herself with a large drying sheet. ‘She’s usually found much farther north and west of here,’ she babbled, still avoiding his eye, gratefully grasping at the familiar topic in an effort to recover a little of her composure. ‘Usually she’s made of clay. Girls were often given one when they reached puberty, and childless women quite often wore them around their necks.’

‘A fertility symbol,’ Khalid said, torn between the vision of the damp, inadequately draped female before him and the little goddess he held in his hand.

‘Obviously,’ Juliette replied, striving for a business-like tone, irked by the breathiness in her voice.

He had not really believed her to be the expert she claimed to be, but obviously he was wrong, as he had been wrong from the start about almost everything to do with Juliette de Montignac. She was an enigma, a myriad of contradictions, all of them intriguing. He desired her, and admired her, and he wanted to soothe her and reassure her, and at the same time he wanted to make passionate love to her, and to pick her clever little mind and kiss her mindless.

She was edging nervously away from him now, and he couldn’t blame her—he couldn’t predict himself what he was going to do next. Taking a deep breath, Khalid tried to focus his mind. Get out of the bathing chamber. Eliminate one distraction, at least. Motioning Juliette into an adjoining room, he sat down at a careful distance from her on a divan. ‘Tell me what else you know about Shal’aal,’ he said, handing her the idol again.

Tugging the towel closer, Juliette tried very hard to concentrate. It should be a relief to turn her mind to such safe territory, but discussing goddesses with a damp prince while she was wrapped only in a towel, and he had just—they had just….

Think! ‘As I said, she’s never been found this far east.’ His thigh was too close to hers. She could feel the heat from it through the linen of the towel. Juliette shuffled a little farther over on the velvet divan. ‘I found a reference to her in a papyrus document once,’ she said, addressing the floor. ‘At least, I thought it was a reference to her, but Papa disagreed. He thought my theory nonsense. The scroll dated from about the fifth or sixth century, and mentioned a city which was then already more than two thousand years old.’ Realizing she was babbling, she came to an abrupt halt.

‘Do you remember the name of the city?’ He asked more from a desire to keep the conversation going, a reluctance to leave, though he knew leave was what he should do.

‘Persimmanion.’

‘Are you sure?’

His startled tone made Juliette lift her eyes from her study of the mosaic floor. His whole body seemed to have tensed. ‘Persimmanion. I am certain of it,’ Juliette replied, unnerved by his piercing gaze, ‘but I have never come across any reference to it again.’

‘What did the scroll say about the goddess?’ Khalid asked cautiously, trying desperately not to betray his excitement.

‘Only that the city was founded for her, that its riches were a gift from her. Where was she found?’

‘That need not concern you. What else do you know?’

‘Nothing. Except—it has just struck me, the similarity between her name, Shal’aal, and the name of your kingdom.’

‘Lash’aal.’ She was right; there must be some connection. He must think. There were books he must consult. ‘I am indebted to you for shedding some light on her origins. I will take her back from you now, if I may.’

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