The Sheikh's Impetuous Love-Slave(6)

By: Marguerite Kaye

Juliette staggered back, only just managing not to collapse onto her knees. Totally taken aback by her own response, horrified by the extremely unwelcome suspicion that, had he not stopped she would not have stopped him, she wanted at all costs to prevent Khalid from seeing the effect his kiss had had on her. With her defences breached, she had no option but to attack. Quite deliberately wiping her hand over her mouth, she cast Khalid a contemptuous look. ‘Merci du compliment, but I have no wish to become your concubine, Highness,’ she said, dropping a shaky curtsy.

Khalid, as astonished by his actions as Juliette appeared, had been on the verge of apologizing, but he had been taught to counter attack with attack. ‘You have much to learn before you could even aspire to such a position, mademoiselle. Concubines are rather more skilled in the arts of pleasing men than you.’ In truth, her innocent response to his kiss had been more rousing to him than the experienced touch of an odalisque.

‘I demand that you release me,’ Juliette said, more for lack of anything else to say than a desire to go.

It was what he had intended, but once again her refusal to back down made him behave contrarily. ‘No one makes demands of me!’ Khalid exclaimed. ‘You forget that you were given to me as a gift. In the eyes of my people, in the eyes of the law, you are now my property to do with as I wish.’

‘I am a citizen of France, you cannot….’

‘You are in my kingdom, under my jurisdiction. There is nothing I cannot do,’ Khalid interrupted ruthlessly, so thoroughly enjoying his unwonted release from self-control that he conveniently forgot he believed no such thing. ‘What is more, you should consider yourself fortunate to be here with me. You should ponder, mademoiselle, the eventual fate which would have awaited you at the hands of my tribesmen. Eventually, those flashing eyes and that vicious tongue you have would have been insufficient to protect your virtue. If, that is, you have any virtue to protect.’

‘How dare you! How dare you imply that I, Juliette de Montignac, would—’

‘You are quite right. No man in his right mind would wish to breach such a forbidding citadel,’ Khalid cut in again, too intent on besting this infuriating female, too carried away with having finally perceived a crack in her armour to consider the outrageousness of his words. ‘No man that is, until now. Now, my fair prisoner, I can think of no better lesson to teach you. It is time you learned that you are a woman, capable of passion. And the place to learn that lesson is the harem.’

In the heat of the moment, she had forgotten that first impression of him. Formidable. Too late, she realized that appeasement would have been a far better tactic. ‘Please! Prince Khalid, I did not—that is, I am sure you cannot mean….’

‘I never say what I do not mean.’

The determination in his voice told her she had overstepped some invisible mark by some distance. Prince Khalid swooped down on her before Juliette could protest any further, never mind make any attempt to escape him. He picked her up bodily, throwing her over his shoulder as if she weighed nothing, striding up to the double doors at the end of the throne room, kicking them open to the utter astonishment of the guards who stood on the other side.

With the tingle of his kiss still there on her lips, thoroughly panicked by the shockingly appealing image of the sultry harem and all it implied, knowing that the only way to escape what she suspected must be her inevitable, willing submission was to free herself from his inexorable hold, Juliette beat Khalid’s back with her clenched fists. She tried to kick with her bare toes, she tugged his headdress from his head, she let forth a stream of idiomatic curses garnered from years of mixing with soldiers and adventurers alike, and nothing made one whit of difference. On he strode with her, through miles of spotless tiled corridors, past what seemed to her hundreds of guards, until he arrived at a large oak door with an iron grille set in it. The key was in the lock. He turned it, holding her steady with one hand clamped over her bottom, and entered the courtyard, kicking the door shut behind him.

Expecting to see hundreds of scantily clad houris lying about on divans and eating sweetmeats, Juliette let her protests die on her lips as she gazed about her. The courtyard was empty. The fountain, an ornate affair with some rather buxom nymphs at the centre, was dry. The rooms, which ran, one opening out onto the other, around the perimeter of the courtyard, were empty. The silence was eerie.

As Prince Khalid released his hold on her, allowing her to slither to her feet, Juliette backed away from him, willing the tears pricking at the back of her lids to stay where they were. There was a gate fixed in the wall on the opposite side of the courtyard. Peering through it, she saw a garden, a tangled wilderness of bright, blowsy flowers and overgrown trees, lemon and orange, pomegranate and fig, and caught the overpowering scent of jasmine. ‘Where have you brought me?’ To her relief, her voice sounded calmer than she felt.

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