The Sheikh's Impetuous Love-Slave(3)

By: Marguerite Kaye

Though much of the time, Juliette admitted sadly to herself, especially when she was little, Papa had barely noticed her. It was only as she grew old enough to be of use that he took control of her education, though his purposes were self-serving rather than altruistic, his teaching confined to his own field. In his daughter’s views on anything outside the world of archaeology, he had no interest. Juliette doubted he even knew whether she preferred tea or coffee, Rousseau or Voltaire. Certainly, he would have considered both questions irrelevant.

Prince Khalid was looking at her strangely. ‘No husband?’ he asked with a raised brow. ‘That is surely rather…unusual?’

Juliette bristled. She was aware that her life had been unconventional, but it was all she knew. Though she herself had begun to question it, she did not relish a complete stranger doing so. ‘All my life, I have helped Papa with his work. Important work, far more important than a mere husband. I have no time for such things. I earned the right to be treated as an equal by Papa and his assistants.’

Eyeing the extremely shapely female body beneath the tattered remnants of her clothing, Khalid found this rather difficult to believe. Catching the lascivious look of the tribesmen as they ogled her, he felt a stab of anger at his subjects’ lack of manners, but also at this odd female’s naïveté.

‘She is very pretty, no?’ the tribesman said with a wink in Juliette’s direction.

‘Son of a camel,’ Juliette spat at him, ‘how dare you look at me like that!’

The tribesman moved quickly to the side as Juliette aimed a kick at him, hampered by her bonds. ‘As you can see, Majesty, she has a fine, fiery spirit.’

‘I hope,’ Khalid said coldly, ‘that you have treated her with the respect due to a foreign visitor to my kingdom.’

The tribesman gave a nervous laugh. ‘Such a temper she has, my men would not dare go near her. Truth be told, Majesty, we are glad to be rid of the little wildcat. Only a prince such as you, Mighty One, can tame her, bring her to heel,’ he said with an unconvincing smile and a sideways glance at Juliette.

‘Qu’est-ce qu’il dit?’ Juliette demanded of Khalid. ‘What is he saying about me, that man who has a goat for a father?’ Though her hands were still bound, she looked so fierce that the tribesman shrank away. ‘For a month, they have kept me tied up like an animal. I demand that you tell me….’

‘Enough!’ Khalid clapped his hands together so loudly that Juliette fell abruptly silent. ‘You are in no position to make demands, mademoiselle. I did not ask for you, and by the gods, I wish you had not been given to me, but you are now, by the laws of Lash’aal, my property. Payment for a debt of honour, ‘ he explained grimly. ‘Despite their ramshackle appearances, these men represent a powerful tribe. It would be unwise of me to offend them by refusing their gift.’

It would indeed be most unwise. In fact, the situation was extremely tricky, and Khalid could not help blaming the female gazing belligerently up at him for causing it. Why did she have to wash up on his coastline? By accepting her, there was a risk her government might think him complicit in her imprisonment. He would have to think very carefully indeed about the best way to return her to the French Consulate in Cairo.

Turning back to the tribesmen, Khalid decided to dispense with at least one part of the problem. ‘I consider the debt now paid in full. You may go with my thanks. Take my honoured guests away, Farid, and see that they are well fed and watered before their return journey.’

‘Yes, Highness. And the—the female?’ Farid replied, casting Juliette a pointed glance.

‘I will deal with Mademoiselle Montignac,’ Khalid replied grimly. ‘Just get them out of here.’

The room emptied quickly. Alone with Prince Khalid in the vast, strange space, the light refracting and reflecting off the multitude of mirrors, Juliette tried desperately to think of her next move. Her insides might well be churning with dread, her knees unaccountably like jelly and worryingly unwilling to support her, but support her they must. All she had were her wits, and she must at all costs keep them about her. A frisson of awareness, like the wind rippling over the soft sand of a dune, made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up as Prince Khalid turned the full blaze of his piercing blue eyes on her.

At four and twenty, Juliette’s experience of men other than those involved in her father’s excavations was extremely limited. It occurred to her now as she tried to rally her flagging spirits, that the man eyeing her with what looked horribly like contempt might not share her enthusiasm for Papa’s profession. The unofficial war being waged between the British Consul General Henry Salt and the one-time French Consul General Bernardino Drovetti had forced Papa to break all his own rules, excavating and smuggling artefacts without permission. It was extremely likely that this Prince Khalid would see this as nothing more than looting. Papa, who was usually so adamant about things remaining in the place where they had been found, had compromised almost every principle of his in the past year or so. When he had drowned, he had been a bitter, disillusioned man.

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