Carnal Passions Presents
The Spider Prince
Desert Princes of Jikkar Book IV
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogues in this book are of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
A Division of Champagne Bookswww.carnalpassions.com
Copyright 2011 by Rebecca Goings
Cover Art by Amanda Kelsey Produced in Canada
#35069-4604 37 ST SW
Calgary, AB T3E 7C7
Other Books By Rebecca Goings
The Viper Prince
The Scarab Prince
The Falcon Prince
For Tuomas, Marco, Emppu, Julius, and Anette—the
members of Nightwish—for inspiring this entire series with
their song SAHARA.
"Ziyad Bihar, Spider Prince of the Golden Desert, you stand before me with your intended. You have chosen Amani Bantish to be your Spider Princess."
Amani watched as Ziyad raised his hand to stop the young Jackal Prince from going any further. "My wife, Siraj, not my princess."
Amani's heart fell and she trembled violently. The Spider had told her not long before the ceremony that he didn't love her. He was marrying her out of obligation, to provide himself and his caravan an heir to his throne. She suspected as much when he'd made her wait almost two full cycles before finally claiming her.
"I'm sorry?" The Jackal looked just about as nervous as Amani felt. He was young, a few cycles younger than she was, but he'd reigned his oasis for a while now, ever since the Viper deposed his father. He'd been the only caravan prince available to marry them in Suridesh, and this was obviously his first time officiating the ceremony.
"Amani will be my wife, not my princess," Ziyad explained once more.
The Jackal knit his brow in confusion, but nodded and continued. "Do you pledge to serve her for the rest of your days, to give her children and protect her with your very life?"
The Spider returned his gaze to her, piercing her to the core. His eyes were cold, as if he was remembering the wife he'd lost beneath the hooves of a raider's horse, the woman he'd always regard as his princess—Karis Bihar.
Amani couldn't breathe. Her own eyes filled with tears.
Holding Ziyad's eye contact was the hardest thing she'd ever had to do.
"I pledge it."
His empty words sealed her fate, like the sealing of a tomb rather than a vow of marriage. His distant demeanor had her remembering happier times, when Ziyad had actually smiled and Amani had heard the peals of his laughter.
But that man was gone, replaced now by the one standing before her, detached and uncaring. Amani had been offered to him once before, but he'd chosen her good friend Karis instead, who'd left Suridesh with him after they had wed. Long had Amani envied her friend, loving Ziyad, carrying his child…
But Karis had been killed in a senseless accident, bowled over by a group of raiders who hadn't stolen a drop of water from the Spider's caravan. Amani had mourned not only her friend's passing, but that of Karis's unborn child—of Ziyad's unborn child.
"By the law, you must pledge by blood." The Jackal's voice was louder now, able to carry out to the crowd that had gathered near the Spider's caravs outside the city wall.
The Spider produced a wicked-looking knife from his belt-wrap. On its hilt was a spider inlaid with black onyx, while the entire length of the blade was etched with spider webs. The weapon glinted in the sun as he gently cut the pad of his thumb, drawing a drop of blood from his skin. He held it up to her mouth.
Amani took hold of his hand and licked the bead just as her tears fell down her cheeks. As soon as she'd tasted him, Ziyad dropped his hand from her grasp.
"Amani Bantish," the Jackal said, turning to her. "Of the tent city Suridesh, you stand before me with your intended. You have chosen Ziyad Bihar to be your Spider Prince. Do you pledge to serve him for the rest of your life, to give him children and love him until your dying day?"
Ziyad's previous words to her suddenly came back in a rush. "I wish to marry you, Amani, but not for love. For an heir. I do not want to fan your hopes or give you lofty dreams. Our marriage will be one of convenience only."
There was still time to walk away. There was still time
to say no and let the Spider choose someone else to bear him sons. If he'd truly wanted her, he would have chosen her over Karis. But he hadn't.
Even the Scarab Prince had refused her.
After the Scarab's rejection, her father had also offered her to two traders and a goat merchant. All of them had passed over her.
No one wanted her to be their wife. Not even the Spider. There was no love for her in the dunes—she'd accepted that fate long ago. The only hope Amani had for love now was to have a child who adored her.
At least the Spider was offering her that much.
"I pledge it," she said, pleased her voice did not waver.
The Jackal nodded. "By the law, you must pledge by blood."
Ziyad handed her his dagger. She took the hilt, but her shaking hand and blurred vision made it nearly impossible to cut her thumb without doing more harm than she should.
After a few tries, Ziyad took her hands in his to steady her. "Try again," he whispered, helping her.
Amani bit her lip, but this time was able to draw a small line of blood that grew into a fat droplet. The Spider pulled her toward him and took her thumb into his mouth, suckling her gently before letting her go.
That one, hot, wet contact had her reeling back. For the first time in a long while, she admired the Spider for the handsome man he was. His thick, black hair was tucked behind his ears, but one pesky lock had decided to fall over his forehead. His face was clean-shaven, except for his chin, which was covered with a patch of black hair.
Even his eyes seemed dark against the black of his robes, the color of his caravan.
It must have been her imagination, but he seemed to be looking differently at her now, as if to tell her once and for all that she now belonged to him.
"Now the Spider must claim his…" The Jackal paused. "Wife."
Amani closed her eyes. She was humiliated enough that Ziyad didn't love her. But the fact that she would never be his princess was now known to one and all.
Ziyad took her right hand in his and placed something on her third finger. Amani peered down and gasped. The finest ring she'd ever seen adorned her hand. It was a spider, made of black onyx, much like the hilt of Ziyad's dagger. The band was the purest platinum, which held the stones perfectly, and the legs of the arachnid fanned outward, just barely covering her other fingers.
"With the gods' blessings," the Jackal exclaimed, "you are married. Go, and rule your caravan with firm hands and gentle hearts!"
A shout rose up from the crowd, probably from Amani's father—most likely a shout of relief. She gazed down to Ziyad's silver belt-wrap, unable to look him in the eye any longer.
"I must kiss you now," he whispered in her ear. "It's tradition."
Tradition. That's all it was for him.
Amani gave him a short nod and turned her face to his.
The moment after his lips touched hers, she pulled away, not wanting to linger. If she kissed him for any length of time, she might swoon. Her heart was not safe and she knew it. Amani had fancied the Spider Prince at one time, but he'd married her friend. Now, however, he was her husband.
He looked down on her and she shuddered. There was no hope for her. Amani knew without a doubt she'd already begun to fall in love with him.
Ziyad didn't know what to make of his new bride. She looked into his eyes one moment only to hide her gaze the next. She appeared shy, almost reluctant to look at him, and had seemed relived when her family took her aside.
Amani sat across the fire, quietly chatting with her sisters. Each of them looked deliriously happy, eating of the feast their mother made and throwing glances at him—all but Amani. She smiled and nodded, but her demeanor gave her away.
This was not the happiest day of her life.
Ziyad felt a pang of guilt for being honest with her earlier, but he knew he'd made the right decision. Telling Amani what he expected had been a good choice. He couldn't, in good conscience, marry a woman and not make her aware that he'd never regard another as the Spider Princess. That title would always belong to Karis.
Even now, almost two years after her death, Ziyad missed his first wife. She'd never had the chance to bear his son—the babe had died when she had. He'd scoured the desert looking for clues as to who the bandits were who'd attacked his caravan and killed his princess, but he'd come up empty-handed time and time again.
Ziyad wasn't getting any younger. The Spider needed an heir. The entire desert knew it. He'd accepted Amani, and now he was doing the honorable thing. Hopefully she'd bear him strong sons.
Ziyad glanced at Ahmed Bantish as he took a seat next to him. The governor of Suridesh was a balding, rotund little man, but he could be formidable when he wanted to be, settling disputes among the princes. Currently, he held a tray of bractav in his hand and offered Ziyad some of the succulent dessert. Ziyad refused.
"They're all yours, my friend."
"Please, you are family now," Ahmed told him. But his eyes squinted into slits. "However, I'm not too pleased to learn my daughter will not be regarded as your princess."
Ziyad sighed. "It is nothing personal, I assure you."
"It is not me you must convince," Ahmed replied, taking a bite.
"Does she, now?" Ahmed gave Ziyad a critical stare. "Treat her with respect, Spider. That girl will do right by you and your caravan. That's why I gave her to you."
"I do not doubt it," Ziyad said under his breath. "She already looks stunning in black." And she did, he couldn't lie. Seeing his new wife in his colors rather than the white of her father filled him with a certain amount of pride. He had a woman to protect once more.
He would not make the same mistake with Amani that he once made with Karis. She would always be protected.
"She does indeed," Ahmed murmured. "But do not take Amani for granted. If you let her, she could come to mean much more to you and your people than merely being the mother of your children." The governor patted Ziyad on the back and stood. "Congratulations."
With that, Ahmed made his way to Amani's side of the fire. Ziyad watched as he gave his daughter a strong hug. She smiled at Ahmed, but even from where he sat, Ziyad could see the hint of tears in her eyes. Despite her smile, he knew they weren't tears of joy.
"Are you ready to retire, Amani Bihar?"
Every inch of Amani's skin pebbled at the deep timber in Ziyad's voice. She hadn't sat next to him for the entire feast, and she hoped the people of Suridesh wouldn't find fault with that. But she couldn't pretend to be the adoring wife to an adoring husband.
She would not shame the Spider, but neither would she pretend their marriage was a perfect one.
Glancing up his tall frame, Amani sucked in her breath. His hand was outstretched, waiting for her to take it, and across his face was spread a handsome smile. It didn't quite reach his eyes, but it stole her breath regardless. He'd called her by her new name. By his name.