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Her desert knight(10)

By:Jennifer Lewis


Even if she might have a point, especially where he was concerned. He  didn't exactly have the best track record when it came to long-term  loving relationships. "Look at the view from here." They'd reached a  bend in the road and a gap in the trees revealed a clear view down to a  river sparkling in a valley below them. "Isn't it amazing to see a river  running here so close to the vast barren desert?"

"This whole mountain range seems to rise up out of nowhere. I guess it shows you that life can flourish in surprising places."

"And joy can flourish in unexpected places, too."

She turned sharply to look at him. "You're a flirt."

"Either that or I'm speaking the truth."

"Or both." She laughed. "I think you're very easy to take at face value."

"Good. Would you like to walk down toward the river? There's a path  here-look." A narrow trail between the trees zigzagged across the  hillside.

"Why not?" The sparkle was back in her eyes. "In fact, I'll lead the  way." The kestrel spiraled overhead as she proceeded-gingerly-down the  gravelly path toward the sparkling water in the wadi below. He enjoyed  the view of her body in the fitted jeans that showed off her  athletic-looking curves. The mystery of her traditional clothing had its  own allure, but he preferred the what-you-see-is-what-you-get  simplicity of Western clothing. Maybe mystery wasn't his thing. His  hands itched to run themselves over her lithe body, but he counseled  himself to take it slow. Take your time. It will be worth it. The last  thing he wanted was to add to her burden of grief and regret. When they  parted, he wanted to leave her smiling.

His own thoughts jolted him, and he almost slipped on the loose ground.  Why was he thinking about their parting already? In business he always  had an exit strategy in mind. Was he the same in relationships, even  though he'd never admitted it to himself?

Something felt different this time, though. What were his intentions  with Dani? She was quieter and gentler than the kind of women he usually  dated, and that made him take their whole new relationship more  seriously. He knew everything that happened between them would mean a  lot to her, and that made it important to him, too. Already he felt a  connection to her far deeper than such a short acquaintance would  normally produce. He wanted to make her happy.

"Almost there!" She flashed him a brilliant smile that made his breath  catch in his lungs. In moments like this he could see Dani shake off the  shroud of fear and transform back into the vibrant young woman she was  supposed to be. Her exhilaration was catching and he bounded down the  last few yards like a clumsy gazelle, arriving on the pebbled shoreline  at the same tizme she did.

"I wonder if the water is cold." He crouched and dipped his fingers in it. "Yes. It must be spring water."

She let her fingers play in the water. "In the old days there were  underground channels that carried water hundreds of miles through the  desert-all the way to the cities-without evaporating."

"Proves that in some ways our ancestors were more advanced than we are.  Today that kind of pipeline is usually filled with oil."

"One day something else will replace the oil. A few centuries ago the  frankincense trade was the beating heart of this area. You still see the  trees dotting the landscape. Some of them are hundreds of years old,  maybe even thousands. They tap them for the sap, which dries into hard  chunks of frankincense. People still burn it for the aroma, though it  isn't worth more than gold anymore."

"Value is always relative." Quasar splashed water on his face and neck.  "Anyone in business will tell you that. Can't knock the oil, though. It  made my family wealthy, though they've since branched out. Is your  father in the oil industry?"

"He used to be. Right now he's employed by the latest building boom. He  does pretty well but for some reason he's always complaining. I think  he feels he should be a millionaire by now. He's never satisfied. He's  griping about supporting me again. I wish I could find a job."

"Have you looked?"

"Here in Salalah?" She laughed. "I haven't. I've just assumed there's nothing in my field."

"Don't give up before you even try." He splashed a little water at her.  She shrieked and splashed him back. Suddenly they were engaged in an  all-out splash war that left them both drenched and breathless-and  kissing again.



Dani's clothes had almost dried by the time she unlocked the back door  to the house and snuck in, hoping no one had noticed Quasar's car on  their street. He could hardly drop her off at the market damp and  disheveled, so she had to take the risk.

"Where have you been?" She almost jumped out of her skin at the sound of Khalid's voice.

"Why are you home from school so early?"

He stood in the hallway looking gangly and awkward in his too-small  school uniform. At fifteen, he was going through a teenage growth spurt  and had shot up about three inches just since she'd been home. "Our  algebra teacher is having surgery. They let us go home. Why are your  jeans wet at the bottom?" His eyes traveled back up to meet hers. "And  why are you wearing jeans at all. I thought Dad told you to dress  traditionally."

"I'm a grown-up. I can dress how I want." She attempted to sweep past him but the hallway was narrow and their elbows bumped.

"Hmm. Sounds like you were doing something you're not supposed to."

"I know. Walking around without a male relative. It's a shame you  weren't here or I could have taken you with me to the dry cleaner."

"How did you get wet at the dry cleaner?" He was following her down the hallway.

"I stepped in a ditch. Someone must have just emptied water in it." The  lie made her flesh creep a little. It was pathetic that she couldn't  even tell her own younger brother that she'd spent the afternoon in the  mountains. He'd probably be interested in hearing about the steppe eagle  they saw, but she knew her father would freak out and possibly never  leave her unattended again if he knew she'd been out in a car with a  strange man. There was no way she could tell the truth.

Which was ridiculous. "Are you going to follow me into the shower?"

"Why are you taking a shower in the middle of the afternoon?" Her  brother's question grated on her nerves. He wasn't a bad kid. She'd been  trying to get to know him since she'd been back here, since the age  difference between them meant they'd never been especially close. He'd  only been about six when she'd gone off to the United States for  college. He was very by-the-book, though. The kind of person who'd never  be able to sleep at night if his homework wasn't done and his teeth not  brushed. He was not someone she'd dare confide in.

"I'm hot. It's always hot here in Oman, but I guess I'm not used to it anymore."

"What's it like living in America? I bet it's pretty cool."

His wistful voice made her turn. Leaning against the wall he looked  much less like an inquisitor and more like a curious fifteen-year-old.  "It is pretty cool. The food takes some getting used to but there's  stuff going on all day and night and more places to go than you can  imagine."

"Do you think Dad would let me go there for college? He let you go."

She sighed. "I don't know." He probably wouldn't be willing to risk  another of his offspring going astray. She hadn't exactly stuck with the  program. "Wait until the dust has settled. I think he's still stirred  up about me being back here with my life in shambles. He doesn't think  America is a very good influence."

"Do you think it's a bad influence?"

She frowned. "No. It's big, though, and confusing. You have to be  careful or you can just...get lost." She'd lost herself, giving her  heart and soul to a man who could never be happy.

At least now she could see that the fault lay with him. It had taken  some time to gain that perspective. And even now she wondered what she  could have done differently. What she could do differently in the future  so she didn't screw up again.

Quasar was different. Excitement flickered in her heart at the thought  of him. Khalid walked back down the hall toward his own room, and she  sagged with relief. She'd been afraid to even let Quasar cross her mind  until her brother had taken his keen eyes off her. She worried about  what he might see-a telltale sparkle in her eyes, a giveaway flush in  her cheek. Even thinking about him produced a physical reaction. It was  startling and disturbing.

She closed the door of her room behind her and glanced down at the wet  cuffs of her jeans. She'd better hope Khalid didn't mention anything to  her father. And if he did she'd better have a good story. A glance in  the mirror showed that her face was tanned from their afternoon in the  sun. She unwound her headscarf and let her hair fall down her back. A  memory assaulted her of Quasar's fingers raking through the long  strands, of his hand pressing against the base of her skull as they  kissed, so deep and long that she could barely breathe.