The Sheikh's Impetuous Love-Slave(4)

By: Marguerite Kaye



‘Montignac,’ Khalid said musingly. ‘That is what you said your name was?’

Juliette nodded warily.

Khalid frowned. ‘What were you doing in my country?’

Juliette hesitated. They had not had official permission for their latest foray, had been coerced by the French Consulate into taking advantage of the confusion caused by the sudden death of the kingdom’s prince, Asad al-Muhanna, and the unexpected succession of his brother Ramiz. ‘We were in A’Qadiz, not Lash’aal, which I think is the kingdom adjoining yours. Papa is…was—he worked for the French government,’ she said cautiously.

‘A diplomat? Sent to pay his respects to the new ruler, perhaps? I believe Prince Ramiz has spent much time in the West as his brother’s emissary.’

The words formed, but Juliette hesitated to speak them. She was a very poor liar. ‘Not exactly,’ she said uncomfortably.

‘You said you helped him, your father? In what role, precisely?’ Khalid tapped one long finger on the hilt of his scimitar. ‘Montignac. Montignac. Montignac! Of course. Jean-Louis Montignac. The archaeologist. That was your father?’

‘Oui.’

‘Your father was one of those tomb raiders who rape our country of its history, and you, by your own admission, his companion in crime. Does Prince Ramiz of A’Qadiz even know you were within his kingdom’s boundaries?’

Though her inclination was to leap to Papa’s defence, the knowledge that he had, in fact, been operating illegally made Juliette hesitate. This prince did not look like a man to tolerate lies, and she knew, in any case, how transparent she was when she told them. She bit her lip.

‘I assume from your silence that the answer to that is no,’ Khalid snapped, appalled at this further complication. ‘I presume also, that you thought to take advantage of the fact that Prince Ramiz is too distracted by the conflicts which have arisen as a result of his brother’s death, to worry about being invaded by looters. What is it about you Westerners that you think you have the right to pillage any part of the world in which you set foot? You may rest assured, mademoiselle, that I will inform Prince Ramiz myself of your intrusion. He will want to know what was illegally and forcibly taken.’

‘What my father took from A’Qadiz is at the bottom of the sea along with my Papa.’ Tears started in her eyes, but Juliette brushed them away angrily with the back of her bound hands. ‘It’s true. He did take things without asking permission, but only because he was forced to, and he only selected the least valuable,’ she said fiercely. ‘What he cared about more than anything—what he taught me to care about—was knowledge. Who were these people, he asked. How did they live, what gods did they worship, what did they believe in, how were these things passed from one civilization to another? Whether an amulet was bone or gold, whether an idol was studded with jewels or formed from clay, it was what it represented, not what it would fetch in a market which mattered. I don’t care if you believe me or not, but it is the truth. Now he is dead, and there will be others with far fewer principles sent to replace him.’

Her passionate plea surprised him, for she articulated exactly what he felt himself about Persimmanion and all the other sites here in Lash’aal, but the fact remained, she and her father had been stealing. ‘I can guarantee that our borders will not be so easily breached as those of A’Qadiz,’ Khalid replied. ‘We are quite capable of looking after our own treasures without the help of your Western experts.’

‘Sans doute you will treat them all as well as me,’ Juliette threw at him. ‘Perhaps when they hear that their fate is to be held prisoner by savages and given away like a slave they will not come.’

Her refusal to back down infuriated him. There was something about this feisty, altogether wholly unusual female, with the mind of a man, the manners of an infidel and the body of an odalisque, that set his blood aflame. He was wholly unused to being challenged, and entirely unprepared for the source of the challenge to be a mere woman. ‘Perhaps,’ Khalid retorted furiously, driven beyond logical thought in his sudden burning need to bring her to heel, ‘we would treat them more hospitably if they waited upon an invitation.’

Without really thinking what he was doing, wanting only to cow her, Khalid pulled the little dagger, which nestled in the hilt behind his scimitar, from his belt.





Chapter 2




He intended only to free her, and was irked with himself for not having done so immediately, but as he advanced on her, Khalid found he was even more annoyed with Juliette than he’d realized. The defiance in those clear grey eyes of hers could not be ignored. Her face was gamine rather than beautiful, but the way she held herself, just exactly as he would himself under such circumstances, bold and proud, and the surprisingly lush curves of that taut body, roused in him more than just admiration. Desire, like a sharp flash of desert lightning, jolted through him. It didn’t occur to him that he might frighten her. He would have been appalled if it had, would have ceased immediately, but it simply did not. It was the sheer challenge of her, crying out to the innate conqueror in him, which made him raise the dagger higher.

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