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Her desert knight(4)

By:Jennifer Lewis



Dani wished she could go hide in her room. They stumbled through dinner  with innocuous conversation about the city and a recent burst of new  construction. After dinner her father leaned forward and pinned her with  his gaze. "Mr. Al Kabisi was widowed seven years ago."

"I'm so sorry for your loss." Uh-oh. Seemed like her father was finally getting to the point.

"He's mourned his wife for many years but I've persuaded him that perhaps it is time to set the shroud of grief aside."

Dani swallowed.

"Boys, come out into the garden with me for a few minutes." Her  brothers looked perplexed for a moment, especially Khalid, who probably  wanted to go play with his Xbox, but they got with the program and  followed her dad out of the room.

Alone in the room with this man more than twice her age, Dani had no  idea what to say. He stood and cleared his throat. "I see no shame in a  woman divorcing a man who is cruel to her."

Her heart clenched. He must know her humiliating story. "That's kind of  you." Now what was she supposed to say? She did see considerable shame  in marrying a man old enough to be her father, whom she had less than  nothing in common with, out of desperation. And she had no intention of  doing so.

"I own my own business and my house. My three sons live and work in  Muscat with their families, so I am all alone here. My income is-"

A desperate need to interrupt his sales pitch overcame her and she rose  to her feet. "You're very kind but I really don't think-"                       
       
           



       

He rose, too, with considerable difficulty since they were sitting on  the floor. His eyes bulged. "I am still potent." His fetid breath stung  her nostrils. "So have no fear that you will be neglected."

Her dinner churned in her stomach. "I'm not ready to marry again. It's  too soon. I'm still...recovering." She'd be in permanent recovery if  this were the kind of prospect available to her.

At that exact moment she resolved to throw caution to the wind and take Quasar up on his invitation.





      Two

Quasar emerged from the warm water of the pool with chlorine-blurred  eyes. Sun shone on the sandstone surfaces of the elegant hotel  buildings, and a light breeze ruffled the rows of majestic palm trees.

"Your phone's ringing," Celia, his brother Salim's wife, called from  beside the pool, where she was relaxing with Sara, the wife of his  brother Elan. They'd just eaten a leisurely poolside breakfast and were  planning a day of relaxation on the nearby beach. Quasar was soaking wet  and bouncing his three-year-old niece, Hannah, on his shoulders. "I  doubt it's anything important. I'm taking a break from business."

"Throw me!" Little Hannah could yell surprisingly loud for such a small human.

"I can't. You can't swim." She'd watched him tossing her cousin and was  desperate to join in the fun. He ducked down and almost dunked her,  then rose up fast, making her scream.

"You're so good with kids. You should have some." Sara sipped her nonalcoholic cocktail. She was pregnant with her third child.

"Nonsense. I just need to spend more time with you guys. I think this  is the first time we've all been together since Salim's wedding. I'm not  going to let that happen again."

Salim and Celia lived in Salalah, with their children Kira and Basia.  This hotel was the headquarters for his chain of luxurious resorts  throughout the region. Elan and Sara lived in Nevada, where they ran  their thriving fuel exploration business while raising Hannah and their  son, Ben. Quasar was usually jetting around cooking up projects and it  was rare for them all to make the time to relax. For the last decade  he'd been so busy starting businesses and partying hard that he hadn't  had time to get bored. Now he was beginning to think he'd missed out on  something. Something big.

He didn't even have a permanent address right now. He'd sold his L.A.  penthouse for a profit too good to refuse, and his worldly goods were in  a storage unit near Hollywood. He'd recently bought a farmhouse in the  hills near Salalah, but it had needed months of renovation so he'd  barely spent any time there.

"It's ringing again." Celia peered at his phone, which sat on the table next to her. "Same number. Want me to get it for you?"

"Okay."

She picked up his phone. "Quasar's phone. Celia speaking." Then she  frowned. "They hung up." She lifted a brow. "I hope I didn't scare off  one of your girlfriends."

He swung his niece around until she shrieked loud enough to pierce his eardrums. "I don't have any girlfriends." Then he froze.

Dani.

What if she'd decided to call him, and now a woman answered his phone?  "Let's go dry you off, kid." He carried his niece to the steps and  climbed out, dripping onto the sandstone tiles. He dried his hands on  his towel and snatched up his phone.

Celia leaned toward Sara. "I think he does have a girlfriend or two that he's worried about."

He didn't recognize the number, but it looked local. He called it, and listened while it rang.

"Hello?" a shy, thin voice answered.

"This is Quasar. You just called my phone." He didn't want to say her  name in case it wasn't her. He'd made that mistake before.

"Hi. It's Dani." She hesitated, possibly wondering about the woman who'd answered his phone.

"I'm so glad you called." He walked along the edge of the pool, away  from his sisters-in-law. He could feel their eyes on him. "I was hoping  you would. That was my sister-in-law Celia who answered."

"Oh." She sounded relieved. "I'd like to go see the museum pieces with you, if you're still interested."

"Absolutely. Is this afternoon good?" He didn't want to wait and take a chance that she'd change her mind.

"Okay."

"Excellent. If you give me your address, I'll come pick you up."                       
       
           



       

She told him that she preferred to meet him outside the vegetable  stalls at the end of the street with the café. Apparently she didn't  want him coming to her house. And she had to be home by four, at the  latest. It was all starting to sound intriguingly cloak-and-dagger.

"Sure, I'll be there at noon." His blood pumped a little faster at the  prospect of seeing her again. He wondered if she'd wear the elegant  traditional attire she'd had on yesterday, or something more Western. He  was curious about her figure. He could already tell she was slim, but  he had no idea about the cut of her hips, the shape of her legs, or the  curve of her bosom. There was something to be said for that kind of  mystery.

Still, he promised himself that he wasn't going to make even the  slightest hint of a move on her unless she showed signs of strong  interest. He was a guest here in Oman and although he didn't remember  too much about the local customs, he knew that toying with a woman's  affections was a total no-no.

Unfortunately that didn't dampen his enthusiasm one bit.

"Did I hear you say that you're meeting someone this afternoon?" Sara  asked. She was smoothing sunblock on her arm. "I thought we were doing a  barbecue on the beach."

"Something came up." He tried not to reveal his excitement.

His willowy sister-in-law Celia tilted her head. "Is she very beautiful?"

"How do you know it's not a dull business meeting?" He rubbed himself with the towel.

"The look in your eyes." She smiled, but raised one of her slender  brows, too. "Those dangerous blue eyes where a woman is likely to drown  in passion."

"I suspect most women are better swimmers than you think." He swatted  six-year-old Ben with a towel as he ran by. "And as it happens I'm  taking her to see the restored oasis that you created." Celia had first  come to Oman as the landscape designer for the project. "She's a  historian specializing in this region so I think she'll be interested in  the artifacts you found."

"I bet she will. Something tells me you don't want to turn this into a family expedition where we all meet her."

He smiled. "Not yet. I only just met her myself. I don't want to scare her off."

"Very sensible. Though maybe she should be a little scared. The press  coverage from your latest shenanigans hasn't even died down yet. Laura  was creating a stir on Twitter this morning talking about her broken  heart."

Ouch. Meeting Dani had shoved his most recent girlfriend out of his  mind. Unfortunately she was still in a lot of other people's minds since  she was a well-known actress with a talent for self-promotion. "I  promise I didn't really break her heart. She broke it all by herself.  She's one of those people who are in love with an impossible ideal of  love. I don't think anyone could make her happy."

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