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Her desert knight(2)

By:Jennifer Lewis



He pulled out her chair and she settled herself into it, arranging her  traditional dress. Then she realized that she didn't even know his name.  She glanced about, wanting to make sure no one could overhear her. The  attendant was gathering menus by the bar, far enough away to be out of  earshot. "I'm Daniyah...." She hesitated, her ex-husband's last  name-McKay-on the tip of her tongue. She suddenly decided not to use it  anymore. But using her father's last name, Hassan, which she'd given up  when she married against his will, didn't feel right either. "But you  can call me Dani."                       
       
           



       

"Quasar." He didn't say his surname, either. Maybe it was better that  way. They were casual acquaintances, nothing more. And he was even more  fearfully good-looking in real daylight, with a strong jaw and tousled  hair that added to his rakish appearance.

She glanced away quickly. Her blood heated just looking at this man. "I'll have a coffee with milk."

He ordered, in expert Arabic, without looking at the menu. "Me, too.  Though I suppose we should be drinking it black, with some dates, now  that we're back in Oman."

She laughed. There was something about the way he said it that made her  feel like his coconspirator. "It's terrible. I find myself longing for a  burrito or a foot-long sub."

"Are you going back to America soon?"

His question took her by surprise. "I don't know. I'm not sure what I'm  doing." It was a relief to be honest. Maybe because he was a stranger,  she felt she could let down her mask a little. "I came here in a hurry  and now I seem to be becalmed."

"Becalmed?" He tilted his head and surveyed her with those striking gray-blue eyes.

"It's an old-fashioned term for a ship that's stuck out at sea because  there's no wind to fill her sails." Maybe Quasar was the wind she'd been  waiting for? This afternoon was already the most excitement she'd had  since her arrival three months ago.

"So you need a bracing gust to set you on your way again."

"Something like that." She let the gleam in his eyes light a little  spark of...something in her chest. The way he looked at her suggested  that he found her attractive. Was that even possible? People used to  tell her she was pretty, but her ex made her feel like the ugliest loser  in the world. Right now she felt odd and frumpy in the loose dress and  pants she'd worn to look modest and tasteful, but Quasar didn't even  seem to notice it. He related to her as easily as if she were in her  familiar jeans and T-shirt. "Why are you here?" she asked.

"Visiting my brother and his family. And trying to reconnect with my  culture. I don't want to stay away too long and have my roots shrivel  away." His wry grin was disarming. Just looking at him, seeing the way  his white shirt and jeans showed off a powerful physique, was stirring  feelings she'd almost forgotten existed.

"If you want to reconnect with your roots, you should wear a  dishdasha." She could barely picture him in the long, white traditional  garment, with its knotted sash and ornamental dagger at the waist.

He raised a brow. "Do you think I'd look better in one?" He was flirting.

She shrugged. "No. I'm only wearing this because I don't want to scandalize my family. I've done that enough already."

Curiosity flared in his gaze, as she'd predicted. "You don't look like the type to cause a scandal."

"Then I guess my disguise is working. I'm trying to fit in and fly under the radar."

"You're too beautiful to ever do that." He spoke softly, so the waiter  couldn't hear him, but his words shocked her. She blinked at his bold  flattery.

"Even traditional clothing allows your face to show," he said. "You'd have to hide that to go unnoticed."

"Or just never leave the house, which is what my father would prefer.  He has no idea I'm out here right now. He thinks I'm at home writing  poetry in my childhood bedroom. I'm twenty-seven and divorced, for  crying out loud, and I have to sneak around like a naughty teenager."

Quasar laughed and looked as if he were going to say something, but  just then the waiter brought their coffees. Dani watched Quasar's  sensual mouth as he sipped his drink and she cursed the shimmer of heat  that flared under her voluminous clothing.

"I think you are ready for that breeze to catch your sails," he said at last.

"I don't know what I'm ready for, to be totally honest. My divorce just became final."

He lifted his coffee cup. "Congratulations."

She giggled. "That sounds so wrong, but it does feel like something to celebrate."

"We all make mistakes. I'm thirty-one and I've never been married. That  has to be a mistake of some kind. At least that's what my two happily  married brothers keep insisting."

"They think you should find someone and settle down?"

"Absolutely. In fact I'm not sure they'll let me leave Oman until I'm legally wed."

She laughed. Since his brothers would not be likely to encourage him to  marry a divorcée, this put them on a "friends only" footing that was  rather reassuring. She could admire him without worrying that anything  could come of it. But sadness trickled through her at the realization  that she was damaged goods, and safely off-limits. "How do you feel  about the idea?"                       
       
           



       

"Petrified." He looked rueful. "If I was cut out for marriage, I'd probably have plunged into it by now."

"You just haven't met the right person yet."

"That's what they keep telling me."

"It's better to wait for the right person than to have to extricate  yourself after you've chosen the wrong one." He must have no shortage of  women trailing after him. In fact two girls had sat down at a table  near them and she could see them glancing over and whispering to each  other.

Then again, maybe they were whispering about her. She didn't know how  much had gotten out about her...situation. When she'd first arrived she  assumed that no one would remember her or care what she'd been doing,  but she'd forgotten what a small town Salalah could be, at least when it  came to gossip.

She stiffened, and sipped her coffee. "What kind of business are you in?"

"Any kind of business that grabs my attention." His gaze stayed riveted  on her face. The way he stared at her was disconcerting. She wasn't  used to it. "I love to jump into a new field and be one of the first to  stake out unknown territory."

"You make it sound like mountain climbing."

"Sometimes it is. Three-dimensional printing technology was my most  recent fascination. Printers that can render a solid object. It's going  to revolutionize manufacturing. Just imagine, you could design and print  out a new pair of shoes right in your own home."

"That sounds fun."

"The technology is even being used to print human tissue for operations like skin grafts."

"Very cool."

"That's what I thought, so I invested in a start-up and helped them develop the technology. I just sold my share."

"Why? It sounds like a fascinating industry."

"I was ready to move on. Try something new."

"You're restless."

"Always."

So that's why he wasn't married. He got bored easily, then moved on to someone new and more exciting.

"What do you do?" He leaned close enough that she imagined she could  smell his scent. But she couldn't. The aroma of coffee was too strong.  Why was she thinking about the way he smelled? She must be attracted to  him. That would explain the quickening of her pulse and the way she was  growing warm all over.

This was breaking news. She didn't think she'd ever be attracted to a  man again. At least that part of her was still alive, not that it was  likely to do her much good.

His eyes glittered with amusement and for a frightening second she  wondered if he could read her mind. "Is your occupation a secret? Do you  work for the CIA?"

Her face heated. She'd been so busy noticing her brain's reaction to  him that she'd forgotten he asked a question. "I'm an art historian, and  most recently worked at Princeton. The ancient Near East is my area of  expertise."

"Am I right in guessing that Oman counts as the Near East?"

She nodded. "It's a large area, and was the seat of many great civilizations."

"Mesopotamia, Sumer, the ziggurats at Ur-Nammu." Tiny smile lines formed at the corners of his wide, sensual mouth.

"Most people think of ancient Egypt."

"Do I sound like a show-off?"

"A little." She fought a smile. His arrogance and confidence had an  effortless quality that was oddly appealing. "But I won't hold it  against you."

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