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Her desert knight(8)

By:Jennifer Lewis

He flashed those slate-blue eyes at her. "You're not so far wrong.  Lately I've been thinking it might be time for me to slow down, though.  There may be some things I can leave undone."

Like seducing me. "You plan to become more selective as you mature."

"Exactly. At this point I think I should focus on only the very best."

"Business opportunities?"

He took his eyes off the road again and kept them on hers for far too  long. After an agonizing interval that heated her blood almost to the  boiling point, she glanced nervously out the windshield, half afraid  they'd driven right off the narrow strip of tarmac.

"Among other things." When he finally looked back at the long, empty  road-not a moment too soon-her heart was pounding and her lips parted.  The effect he had on her was a little frightening.

"But how do you know something is the very best until you try it?" She  wanted to fill the air with conversation. Right now the thoughts in her  brain and the sensations in her body were making her very uncomfortable.

"I have a lifetime of experience. Enough to be something of a  connoisseur." He spoke softly, and glanced at her quickly this time.  Just long enough to convince her that he was completely serious.

She believed him. The desert swept past, and they climbed into the lush  mountains again. She let out a breath she didn't realize she'd been  holding. "I can't believe how beautiful it is up here. This is the first  time I've come to the mountains in years. My dad and brothers have no  interest in nature."

"Let's come back tomorrow." He said it casually, and didn't even look  at her. "I'll bring some binoculars and we can look for birds."

No. Just say no. You can't do this. Going out with a strange man a  second time-or would it be the third, if she counted that cup of  coffee?-would confirm that they were having some kind of...relationship.  She wouldn't call it an affair since there was nothing sensual or  romantic about it, except in her mind.

Her mouth wouldn't form the simple rejection. If she said no she'd  probably never see Quasar again. That would be very sensible but the  prospect was too depressing to contemplate. There'd be nothing but dull  days at home, cooking the same familiar dinners, tidying her bare room,  broken up with occasional walks to the bookshop and the fruit stalls.  Possibly a frighteningly unattractive suitor would take pity on her from  time to time. Since she didn't have any kind of promising escape plan,  who knew how long that might go on for? "Okay."

He turned to her with an expression of surprise.

"You thought I'd say no."

"I did."

She loved that he didn't lie. "Apparently I'm more reckless than you thought."

"I like that in a woman." His wicked grin hinted at trouble to come.  And strangely enough, she was starting to look forward to it.

* * *

The next morning she dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. Considering she'd  worn little else for all her years in the United States, it was odd how  daring it felt to don them. When she returned, her father had told her  she should wear conservative clothing and conduct herself like an Omani  woman, and-grateful for the chance to stay here-she'd obeyed. They were  only clothes, right? She quickly adapted to covering her arms and legs,  and her hair-the way she'd been taught as a child.                       


But dressing in Western clothing again was liberating and felt right.  She did don a cover-up and headscarf before Quasar showed up, but she  shed them in the car with relief and enjoyed Quasar's admiring gaze on  her body-hugging jeans and T-shirt.

Driving up into the lush green mountains with a handsome man, Dani felt  a sense that anything was possible, something she hadn't experienced  since her college days. They parked and walked along a wooded trail as  thick with leaves and scents and life as any trail in the New Jersey  woodlands. It amazed her that during this season, paradise existed right  here in her arid homeland. In a way it proved that anything was  possible-anywhere-with a little rain and mist to break up the relentless  heat and sun that scorched most of Oman into a virtual wasteland.

"A steppe eagle." Quasar stopped and grabbed her arm. He pointed high  in a tree where a magnificent bird looked posed, as if it sat on an  ancient Egyptian frieze. "It's seen something."

The bird stayed frozen for a few moments, then dropped like a rock  toward land, before swooping up on broad, flapping wings with some small  creature in its mouth.

"It caught its prey. What a magnificent sight." Dani peered after it as  it perched on a branch nearby. "Though I can't help but feel bad for  the animal that's about to be eaten."

"Eat or be eaten." Quasar's grip on her arm had softened into a sort of caress. "It's the way of the world."

His touch heated her skin. She was usually the one being eaten. "Do you really believe that? Isn't there any middle ground?"

He looked amused. "I suppose so. I haven't explored it myself."

"Since I can't imagine you being eaten, then I assume you're used to being the one doing the devouring."

He laughed. "Too right. I used to keep a falcon for hunting. Trained it  myself. I'd spend hours out here tracking prey with it when I was a  kid." She shrank a little from his touch. His admitted predatory  attitude should make her wary. "But don't be afraid. I won't eat you."

"No?" She looked up into his face. His dark blue eyes were soft, curious.

"No." The high midday sun illuminated his aristocratic features. Of  course he wouldn't be interested in devouring her. Obviously she'd been  out of circulation too long to think that a man as magnificent and  confident as Quasar would be interested in her.

"Maybe just a tiny bite." His wide, sensual mouth hitched slightly.  Something strange was happening in her belly. It was the way he looked  at her, like he held her in his grasp. She couldn't look away. His face  was moving closer, his sparkling eyes still fixed right on hers. She  could smell his musky, masculine scent. Any minute now she'd feel the  roughness of his skin....

His lips met hers in a rush, like the eagle falling on its prey. Far  from diving for cover, her mouth rose to his and melded with it.  Sensation crashed over her. She was dimly aware of their natural  surroundings-the wind in the trees, animals scurrying nearby-and of his  hands resting warmly at her waist, but her whole being focused on the  kiss and the powerful and intense effect it created in her body. Heat  flooded her core, spreading out to her limbs, squeezing the breath from  her lungs as she gave herself over to the sensation. She'd never  experienced a kiss like this. Chemistry, was it? Or was it that she'd  never kissed a man as gorgeous and dashing as Quasar. Either way the  effect was overwhelming.

She had no idea how long they kissed, but when they finally pulled  apart and she opened her eyes, she found herself blinking against  now-unaccustomed daylight. "Oh, dear." The words spilled out. The  intense sensations pouring through her had sparked her to life in a way  that seemed dangerously familiar. She hadn't felt this way since the  early days of her marriage, when she was so sure that love could solve  any problem, if she could just find a way.

She'd been wrong.

Quasar gave an amused frown. "'Oh, dear?' That's not the effect I intended."

She sucked in a breath, fighting the urge to fan herself. "It's just  that I haven't...I'm not used to...I didn't think..." She didn't know  what she was trying to say. Had she really come here to watch the birds?  She was old enough to know better than to accompany a gorgeous man into  the wilderness if she couldn't keep her wits about her.

Her heart fluttered in her chest, the emotions that she thought she'd  abandoned back in the States scaring her. Her conviction that from now  on she'd live a sensible life, free of passion and drama, had all but  deserted her. Right now she wanted nothing more than to kiss Quasar  again.                       


Which was a terrible idea. He was only here for a couple of weeks,  tops. He'd made no further mention of introducing her to his family. For  him this was just a diverting vacation fling. If she could enter into  this with that spirit it would be fine, but she couldn't. "We should  go."

* * *

Quasar felt his smile fade. Just moments ago Dani had been one with  him, lost in a delicious and enthralling kiss. Now she shrank from him,  her muscles stiffening. "I didn't mean to alarm you. That was a  sensational kiss but I'll behave myself from now on if you prefer."