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Her desert knight(6)

By:Jennifer Lewis



"You didn't miss your family."

"I didn't miss my father. He was very strict and kind of mean. I guess  I'm not the type to get hung up looking for Daddy's approval. I made  friends and moved on."

"And you've been moving on ever since."

He turned to her. "You think my nomadic lifestyle is the result of  childhood psychological trauma?" He sounded serious, but she saw a  twinkle in his eye.

She shrugged. "I don't know." She wondered what depths lay beneath his  cocky exterior. Was there a wounded little boy craving approval and  love? "Where is home for you?"

He shot her a glance with those piercing blue eyes. "Good question.  Until recently it was L.A., but I just sold my condo there. Right now  the only place I own is a house out in the desert here. I don't know if  I'd call it home since I just had it renovated, but I bought it as a  place to put down some roots and reconnect with my heritage, so maybe  I'm heading in the right direction."

"Or the wrong direction." She laughed. "Do you really think Oman is  your home now, or are you more comfortable in the United States? I feel  more of a stranger here these days than I did in New Jersey. Moving  around the world hasn't made my life easier."

"How did you end up in America when your family is still here?"

"My story's not so different from yours. I was sent to live with my  aunt in New Jersey when my mother died. The idea was that I would go to  college there then come back and work in my father's engineering firm  while pursuing a suitable husband. I don't think it occurred to my  father that I could just switch majors and stay there."

"Did he mind?"

"He went ballistic when I told him I wasn't coming back to Oman. It  took me a long time to pluck up the courage to admit that I'd majored in  art history instead of engineering. Since I paid the bill myself with  an inheritance from my mom he didn't find out until it was too late."

She saw a smile tilt the edge of Quasar's mouth. "So you're a bit of a rebel."

"Only a very tiny bit."
                       
       
           



       
"I wonder." He gave her a mysterious look.

She had been a rebel in choosing to chart her own course in life. The  fact that she'd been blown right off it and ended up back here again  made her wonder about her choices. She planned on sticking closer to the  straight and narrow from now on. A degree in engineering certainly  would present a lot more employment opportunities than her currently  useless art history Ph.D.

"We're nearly there. It's called Saliyah, after my sister-in-law Celia,  who designed the grounds and ensnared the heart of my brother Salim."

"That's so romantic." They turned on to a side road in the desert.  Spreading date palms cropped up to line the desolate road and cast lush  shade over its dusty surface.

She gasped at the sight of a large animal underneath a nearby tree. "Look, a camel."

Quasar laughed. "Salim's always complaining about them. They eat his  expensive landscaping. I figure he should just consider them part of the  scenery and worth supporting. This place has been attracting a lot of  visitors from overseas and they eat that stuff up."

The road led up to a high mud-brick wall with an elaborately carved  arch. They entered and drove around a large circular fountain, where  moving water sparkled like diamonds in the hot midday sun. Quasar helped  her out of the car and it was whisked away by a valet while she blinked  and adjusted to the bright light. They walked across a smooth courtyard  of inlaid sandstone into a shady lobby that looked like the throne room  of an ancient palace. Colorful mosaics covered the walls and lush  seating arrangements were clustered around impressive botanical  specimens. The guests were an interesting mix of glamorous Omanis and  other Arabs, their traditional garb accented with Chanel sunglasses and  Fendi handbags, and chic Europeans showing a lot of carefully suntanned  skin. Waiters served coffee and dates, and the scent of rose petals  filled the air.

"Would you like some coffee, or do you want to get right to the good stuff?"

She glanced about, feeling awkward and out of place. She didn't belong  here among these stylish and confident members of the international  elite. "I'd like to see the museum."

"I suspected you would." He shot her a smile that made her blood pump  faster. "Follow me." She walked across the elegant foyer, trying to keep  her eyes from tracking the lithe roll of his hips in too obvious a  manner.

Sexual magnetism radiated from him like an exotic scent. Women's eyes  swiveled to him from all directions, and it was all she could do not to  glare at them. As if he were even hers to be jealous about! She felt  their critical gaze on her, too. No doubt they wondered what a fine  specimen of manhood like Quasar was doing with a mousy nobody like her.

Quasar led her out through a grand arch into a formal garden with a  trickling fountain. Romantic-looking couples sat on upholstered sofas,  chatting under the shade of the exotic plants. For an instant she  imagined sitting there with him, just enjoying the afternoon. But he  would hardly romance her in front of the employees at his brother's  hotel.

Was he attracted to her? It was hard to imagine that someone like  Quasar, whom almost any woman-including the wealthy, beautiful, famous  and brilliant-would find desirable, would be interested in her. But if  he weren't, why did he invite her here?

* * *

Quasar waited for her to pass him when they reached the path to the  museum, but she hesitated, uncertain. "This is it." He gestured at the  carved wood door, almost hidden by flowering bushes.

Dani peered at the door with a sparkle of excitement in her eyes. Today  she wore a traditional Omani getup in a rose shade that brought out the  roses in her cheeks and lips. He hadn't noticed yesterday what a mobile  and sensual mouth she had. "It's almost as if they didn't want people  to discover the treasures inside."

"Maybe they don't. I suspect they're more interested in selling them expensive massages." He smiled. "Let's see if it's open."

He tried the handle. She played with her headscarf, almost nervous.  What was she afraid of? Being alone with him in a cool, darkened room  filled with antiques?

Hmm. If she knew his reputation she'd do well to be afraid. But she  couldn't know anything about him. They hadn't exchanged last names.

He tried the brass handle and the door creaked open, sending a rush of air-conditioned air toward them.

The room was dimly lit, with spotlights shining down on a few key pieces, mostly ornately carved silver.

She walked right past those to some dull-colored pots displayed on a  shelf against the far wall. "These are ancient," she breathed, and she  rushed forward to examine the closest one. "Two thousand years old at  least. Back when this area was a pit stop along the Silk Road."                       
       
           



       

The same color as the mud-brick walls, the pottery didn't look that  exciting to Quasar. Still, Dani's exuberance was contagious.

"Everything here was found buried beneath the sand at the site. Celia says the oasis was in use for thousands of years."

"Camel trains would come through Salalah before making the long trek up  through the desert toward Jerusalem." Dani wheeled around, and headed  for a display case filled with silver jewelry. "Look at these pieces.  They're exquisite."

He examined the big heavy silver bracelets and necklaces that were large enough to strangle a camel. "I bet they're heavy."

"I bet they're not." She smiled at him. "Some of them are hollow. You  could store prayers in them for protection. Look at the carving on this  one. It must have taken the craftsman weeks to make all those intricate  designs." She sighed. "We're too busy these days to make anything so  beautiful."

"How come you don't wear jewelry if you admire it so much?" He noticed  for the first time that her ears were pierced, but unadorned by  earrings.

"You don't wear jewelry when you're trying to disappear." She flashed  him a wry smile. "The ladies wearing these pieces wanted everyone to  notice them."

"And to gossip about how rich their daddies or husbands were, I suspect."

"Absolutely." She grinned. "I bet they enjoyed it, though."

She moved over to a display of colorful clothing. "These aren't antique."

"Nope. Celia thought it would be a good idea to include them to  celebrate our traditional clothing. Hardly anyone wears such bright  colors these days."

"They wanted to stand out against the dusty backdrop of the desert,  like magnificent exotic birds. Maybe I should start wearing stuff like  this myself?" She lifted a brow.

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