The Sheikh's Bargain Bride (Desert Kings)(8)

By: Diana Fraser



“I will keep my end of the bargain. I will marry you and live here, for one reason only—to be with my son. But I will not sleep with you, Zahir.”

He shrugged. “I am used to battles, to strategy, I will get what I want. It will maybe take a little longer. But there is something to be said for the anticipation.”

“This is a battle you will not win.”

“Ah, Anna, I have fought many battles and lost none. A knowledge of one’s opponent is vital.”

She passed the cup back to Zahir.

“The outcome doesn’t bode well for you then, does it? You don’t know me at all.”

“But I do. I know that there is a reason for your outwardly conciliatory behavior. You are wearing Qawarian robes; you are partaking in the ancient Bedu coffee ceremony without comment. You are doing this not because it is easy for you, because it is familiar. You are doing it for a reason.”

And Anna had no intention of telling Zahir the real reason why she preferred to wear clothes that were like a uniform, which hid her and made her anonymous.

“I have no problems adapting to other people’s cultures. I was brought up amongst people of all nationalities. You could say I had an early education in world culture and cuisine.”

If you could call scavenging food from the back door of different takeaways—Indian, Turkish, Chinese, Mexican—an education, then yes, her taste buds were educated alright. Educated in getting something for nothing, in survival.

“I know more about you than you think. I understand your childhood was, shall we say, ‘interesting’.”

“I know what you’re saying, Zahir. You despise my background and, you know what? I don’t blame you because I didn’t much like it myself. But I tried to do something about that.” She couldn’t go on, her voice faltered and tears threatened the mask she was trying to keep on her emotions.

“And you failed, didn’t you. Married, became pregnant, and let your own weak need for ‘respect’ and ‘love’ prevent you from escaping that world. You see, every opponent has a weakness. And I know yours.”

He was watching her closely, waiting to see if she would take the bait. She looked down briefly. “You can think what you like.”

“There, again, you are holding back. You are not wanting an argument, you are waiting, watching.” He smiled as he acknowledged the truth in her face. “That is the measure of a good tactician.”

“It is the measure of someone with no other resources than to wait and discover how, exactly, you aim to seduce me. I’m sure, like everything else, you have it planned.”

“Indeed.”

“Then what is your strategy?”

“I have fought many battles and have never found it in my interests to reveal my strategies before battle commenced.”

“Battle.” She repeated, nodding, her lips pursed with restraint. “I guess anything goes in a battle, then. Tricks, treachery—”

“And skill, don’t forget skill.”

She looked up quickly and caught the heat of his gaze. There was no doubt he was skilled. She remembered his skills vividly.

“It’s a game to you, isn’t it? Listen, Zahir, there’s only one reason I’m here, and that’s for Matta.”

“You have to face facts, Anna. There is little you can give the boy. He has everything he needs here. He will receive only the best education and care. His nurse, Muma Yemena, will ensure that he—”

“He has a name—”

“Will be cared for.”

She sighed in exasperation. “Well, isn’t that just fine and dandy. The woman who helped spirit my son away from me is now given full-time care of him.” She’d felt the pang of helpless jealousy as yet another person in her life found love elsewhere.

“Of course. She was my brother’s nurse, and then Matta’s.”

“I thought Matta was safe with her.”

“He is.”

“I’d taken his passport, I didn’t think they’d be able to leave the country.”

“You underestimated the determination of a dutiful and loyal Arab woman.”

“And you underestimate the power of a mother’s love.”

“No.” He paused. “I don’t.” He looked at her directly. “You’re here aren’t you?”

“I don’t know how you could use Matta like that. To blackmail me into coming here.”

“The fact that Matta has also brought me you is a bonus. But he was always going to be raised here with me. There was no question about that.”

Anna shook her head in despair.

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