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Her desert knight(3)

By:Jennifer Lewis



"Thanks. You should see the museum my brother's put together. He built a hotel on the site of an old Silk Road city."

"That sounds like an art historian's nightmare."

"You'd like it! There wasn't much left, just a few stumps of walls out  in the middle of an old oil field, and he's recreated it as a luxury  retreat, preserving as much as possible of the original."

"Your whole family sounds rather unusual."

He laughed. "Maybe we are. We all march to our own beat. The  archaeologists who excavated the site found some pottery and small  figurines. You might find them interesting."

"I'm sure I would. Do you know what era they're from?"

"No clue. Maybe we can visit the place together. It's only a short drive outside Salalah. We could go tomorrow."

She froze. There was no way she could go for a drive anywhere with a  total stranger. Even a seemingly handsome, charming and educated one.  She didn't really know anything about him. For all she knew, he could be  making everything up. And besides, her father and brothers would forbid  it. "I can't."                       
       
           



       

"Maybe another time, then. Let me give you my phone number."

She glanced at the two girls at the nearby table. Their dark eyes were  still darting to her and her companion. They'd be sure to notice. But  what harm could come of it if she never called him?

Her heart pounded while she watched him write the number in an assured  hand on the back of the blue paper napkin. "I'm staying at my brother's  hotel here in Salalah. It's right on the beach. Where do you live?"

She swallowed. This was getting dangerously personal. "Not far." No one  knew she was here, which was by design. "I really should be getting  back." She shoved the napkin into her pocket.

"I'll walk you home."

"Oh, no. There's no need. You stay here and relax." She put down some  cash to pay for the coffee. He thrust it back to her with a shocked  expression, and she decided-once again-to avoid a scene by accepting his  hospitality. "Thanks for the coffee." He rose when she did and for a  split second she had an insane thought he might try to kiss her. Her  whole body braced as adrenaline rushed through her. Then he thrust out  his hand and she shook it. "And thanks for the book."

"Call me. I'd like to go see the artifacts with you."

She picked up her new book, then turned and walked out of the café as  fast as she could. Most likely the tension and excitement was all in her  head-and her body-but she couldn't be sure. Either way, it was  exhilarating and she felt more alive than she had in months. Years,  even. And all because of a man she had no business even talking to.

She walked home quickly. Her dad wouldn't get home for a while but she  wanted to arrive before her brothers came back from their respective  schools. Her younger brother, Khalid, usually came straight home to do  his homework, but her older brother, Jalil, often stayed late in the  technical college library to pore over the designs for his latest  engineering project. She liked to make them a snack before they  returned, but today she wouldn't have time. In fact she barely had time  to put her new book in her bedroom and shove the napkin with Quasar's  number into a drawer before the front door opened and Khalid crashed in  and flung his book bag down in the hallway before heading into the  kitchen.

"I took a nap," she fibbed, as her brother's eyes scanned the empty  kitchen counters. Maybe they were growing too dependent on her. She  didn't plan to be here forever.

"A nap? In the middle of the day? You're going soft."

What would he say if she revealed that she'd let a strange man buy her a book-and a coffee? He'd probably question her sanity.

She read her new book for a while before she heard her father's  distinctive rap on the door. Even though the door was open he liked  someone to let him in. She pulled back the latch, forcing a bright  smile. "Hello, Father." She kissed his cheek. As usual he brushed it off  as if she were a fly. "How was your day?"

"Same as usual." His gruff voice and glum expression rarely softened.  "Too many fools in this business. Always looking for new cheaper ways to  do things that have worked just fine for decades." An engineer, he was  often irritated by new technologies and methods. He asked her brother  about his schoolwork, as usual. He never asked her about her day, which  was a plus today since she couldn't have said anything truthful about  it.

"Help Faizal prepare an excellent supper tonight, dear." Faizal was the  cook who came over to make dinner every night. Her father fixed his  beady gaze on her. "A friend of mine will be joining us." He looked her  up and down in a way that made her stomach muscles clench.

"That's great. Is he a friend from work?"

"Not from the firm, no. He's a supplier. Rivets and nuts." He squinted  at her for a moment. "Wear a color that suits your complexion more."

She glanced down at the navy blue she'd worn all day. "Why?"

"That blue is rather draining on you. Something brighter would be more attractive."

Dani stood speechless. This was the first time her father had expressed  an opinion on her clothes. Was he planning to set her up with his  friend? She wanted to ask but didn't dare.

She'd assumed he saw her as such a social pariah that it wouldn't be  worth the bother of trying to marry her off again. Maybe he'd grown  tired of having her under his roof and hoped to find someone who would  take her off his hands. She hurried to her room, wondering if she could  find an even less flattering color to wear.                       
       
           



       

Quasar hadn't thought she looked washed out in the blue. The way he'd  looked at her had made her feel as if she'd been glowing like a spring  flower. His daring gaze made her feel desirable-and it made her feel  desire. The memory of it made her blood hum.

Alone in her room she let herself dream about him for a moment. What  would it be like to accompany him to his brother's hotel/museum or  whatever it was? People had said her ex-husband was good-looking-she'd  thought so herself until she grew to understand his true character-but  he had nothing on Quasar's dramatic features and playful charm.

Of course, the man she'd just met was undoubtedly used to women  drooling over him. He was probably shocked that she refused his  suggestion that they meet again. If she were in America, without  traditional rules to consider, would she have said yes?

No. She had to be honest. She wouldn't have accepted an invitation from  a strange man who gave every impression of being a playboy dilettante  of the worst kind. Let him go charm someone else into making a fool of  herself with him. Dani Hassan wasn't making any more mistakes in the man  department.

Changing into a dark forest-green dress with silver edging, she went  back to the kitchen to help the cook prepare a traditional chicken dish  with rice and vegetables. She wasn't sure how the elderly Faizal felt  about her assistance-Dani suspected he'd just as soon she butt out and  leave him to his business-but joining him in the kitchen gave her an  activity to look forward to, when there was precious little to do around  the house all day.

She arranged the meal in the dining room, on the carpeted floor, Omani  style, with more attention to detail than usual-artfully folded napkins,  the prettier glasses-and waited with grim curiosity for her father's  "friend" to arrive. When he finally did, she hung back and waited in her  room with headphones on, pretending to listen to music, until her  brothers had been introduced and one of them was sent for her. The sight  of her prospective beau made her heart sink.

"Daniyah, I'm delighted to introduce you to Mr. Samir Al Kabisi." He  was at least sixty, with thinning gray hair combed over a freckled scalp  and a bulbous nose like a misshapen potato. His eyes were yellowish and  his teeth crooked as he spoke the traditional greeting.

He didn't extend his hand, so she bowed her head and attempted a smile.  Did her dad seriously consider this man a potential partner for her? He  must have a very low opinion of her worth.

On the other hand, maybe she had too high an opinion of herself. She  didn't know this man at all. He could be perfectly nice and here she was  judging him entirely on his looks-or lack of them. Wouldn't a kind and  sensible man with a homely appearance be better than a gorgeous and  dashing jerk?

She'd prefer the company of a good book.

"Do come in and have some coffee." She kept her smile fixed while she  served the fragrant hot drink in the ornate brass urn they kept for  visitors. Her father engaged their guest in riveting conversation about  the nuts and rivets industry, and he responded with brief comments in  the rasp of a heavy smoker.

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