Pursued by the Desert Prince(8)

By: Dani Collins

But she supposed the kidnapping was the reason this meeting had come about, ever rippling from the past into the future, so... Very well. There were days they revisited that dark time and this was one of them.

As she made that decision, she was able to move behind her desk and set her coffee aside with a modicum of control. Flicking her gaze, she invited him to take a chair.

“I’ll stand.”

“Suit yourself. Either way I know I’ve captured your full attention.” She clasped her hands on her desktop, trying to steady herself. “I mean that literally. You won’t be allowed to leave until I say you may.”

He snorted, but she could see she did, indeed, have his full attention. She felt the heat of his gaze like the sun at the equator.

She swallowed. Good thing she was still wearing her pendant. Too bad he knew about it. She resisted the urge to grasp it for reassurance.

“The advantage that you continue to possess,” she said, trying to mollify him, “is that you’re willing to refuse the clothes we’ve made for your sister. I’ve heard all you said about wanting to protect her. I feel the same toward my own sister.”

Empathy. Step two of a hostage negotiation. This was good practice, she told herself. Another drill.

“You’re obviously aware of the general details of Trella’s kidnapping.” She had to swallow to ease how quickly those words tightened her throat. Her knuckles gleamed like polished bone buttons, but she couldn’t make her hands relax.

“I know what was on the news at the time, yes.”

She glanced at him, not sure what she expected to see. Avarice, maybe. People always wanted gruesome details beyond the basics of a nine-year-old girl being set up by a math tutor as boarding school was letting out, held for five days and found by police before money changed hands. There’d been more than one probing question today from different women in Hasna’s bridal party.

Angelique was adept at dodging those inquiries, but they rubbed like salt in a cut every single time.

Kasim was next to impossible to read, but there was an air of patience in him, like he understood this wasn’t easy for her and was willing to wait.

Great. Now her eyes began to sting. She was a crier, unfortunately. She already knew there would be tears later, when she spoke to her brothers. It wasn’t because she was upset by the false alarm, just that when a roller coaster like today happened, she tended to fall apart at some point as a sort of release.

She pushed the Remind Me Later button on her breakdown and strained her back to a posture she thought might snap her in two, but was enough to keep her composure in place.

“What’s never been made public is Sadiq’s part in helping us retrieve Trella.”

Kasim set his cup into its saucer and placed it on the corner of her desk. Folded his arms. “Go on.”

“You can’t simply accept that this is the reason we feel a debt to him?”

“Your brother could give him shares in Sauveterre International, if that was the case. Your other one, the one who races, could buy him a car. Why this?”

“Sadiq is very modest. He has refused all the different times we’ve tried to offer any sort of compensation. He doesn’t brag about his connection to our family. In every way he can, he protects our privacy. That’s why we love him.”

She took another brief sip of her overly sweetened coffee, trying to find the right words.

“As you’ve pointed out, his family has plenty of money. Gifting him shares would be...a gesture, not something meaningful. He’s not the least bit into cars the way Ramon is, but when your sister mentioned she was going to approach us about making her gown, Sadiq was excited that he had an in.”

Maison des Jumeaux wasn’t exclusive because it was expensive—although it was obscenely so. No, their clothes were coveted because she and Trella were extremely selective about the clients they took on, always protecting their own privacy first. Gossipy socialites didn’t even get an appointment, let alone an original ball gown with a hand-sewn signature label.

“Sadiq only prevailed on our friendship to ask that we accept her as a client, but of course we wanted to do it and of course we wouldn’t charge him. He wanted to pay. I think the only reason he’s letting us get away with not charging is because it’s really Hasna who benefits, not him. For Trella, it’s a way to repay Sadiq herself. It’s very important to all of us, for her sake, that she be allowed to do that.”

It was part of her sister’s healing process. Attending the wedding had become a goal Trella was determined to achieve, come hell or high water.

“Is your sister having an affair with him?”

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