Rescued by the Sheikh(10)

By: Jennifer Lewis

“Does it pay well?” He sipped a goblet of some pale-green liquid he’d just poured. He had very sensual lips for a man. Not that she liked that sort of thing.

“Not at all.” She smiled. “As you can tell, I’m pretty nuts.”

He raised a brow. “But you love what you do.”

“Absolutely. Each project is a big adventure filled with challenges to overcome. I thrive on adversity, I guess, because I just go out looking for more trouble after each project wraps.”

He smiled. “The kind of trouble that finds you stranded at nightfall in a dangerous stretch of mountainous desert.”

“Exactly. It’s not very dangerous, though, is it? I thought most of the conflicts in this region were resolved with the 1987 peace treaty.”

He sighed. “Lately trouble has been brewing again. Terrorism to all appearances, but we’re not sure who’s responsible.”

“I didn’t read about it when I did my research.”

“So far we’ve managed to keep it out of the international press. They’ve been small incidents, and mercifully no one has been killed.

“What happened?”

“Three months ago an oil well out near our western border was set alight. We’ve had men working day and night trying to put it out. Millions of barrels of oil have been wasted and the pollution is hard to contain.”

“You’re sure it’s arson?”

He nodded. “There was a phone call to our security office declaring responsibility, but not claiming it for any particular group.”

“That’s odd. Usually terrorists are dying to draw attention to their cause.”

He shrugged. “And then last month an explosion almost totally destroyed a small temple just outside the city wall. It was one of the oldest structures in Ubar. No one was hurt because it hasn’t been used in years, but it’s a loss to those who want to preserve our history.”

“Could it be a radical group who wants a break with the past?”

“I suspect it’s more likely to be a traditional group that wants to prevent the changes we hope to bring.” He ate thoughtfully for a moment. “But the events don’t seem to have any coherent message. My brother Zadir was in a plane that crashed under suspicious circumstances, and last week five shots were fired at my brother Amahd when he was out riding in the desert. Fortunately, they missed, but now we all feel we have to watch our backs for the first time in our lives. I had to fight off my own security detail just to go visit an old friend alone today.”

“It sounds like an investigation into these events might make an even more interesting documentary than the festival.”

“Not if I can help it.” He sipped his drink. “My security staff is on alert.”

“How do you monitor activity at a festival, where there are hundreds of people milling about?”

He inhaled deeply. “You don’t. I’ll admit our intelligence needs some work. Even if we were inclined to invade people’s privacy by monitoring emails and phone calls, many of the houses here consider electricity to be a fad not worth bothering with.” A smile tugged at his mouth.

His lips were quite something. She’d bet he was a pretty spectacular kisser. Which was hardly relevant. “It must be challenging being the person who has to decide which comes first, people’s right to privacy or the need to maintain public safety.”

“It’s certainly a different kind of challenge from running the robotics company I’ve been building for the last seven years.”

“I’m picturing R2D2 and C3PO.”

He chuckled. “Instead, picture machinery assembling high-tech equipment. We make a few consumer goods, but they’re not our big sellers. My brother Zadir thought it would be fun to send a vacuum cleaner robot I developed out into the marketplace in Nabattur. People decided it was possessed by an evil spirit and beat it to death with broomsticks.”

She laughed aloud. “Poor little robot.”

“It was misunderstood, ” he said with a wistful smile. “My father was comfortable with the old ways and made few efforts to bring technology and change to Ubar.”

“I’m guessing you feel differently.” She bit into an unfamiliar fruit, and its sweetness splashed across her tongue.

“It’s a dilemma. Most people here have lived the same way for centuries, taking donkeys to the market instead of cars, talking to each other over coffee instead of texting. Who am I to say the new ways are better? Although we have some key reforms planned, when it comes to smaller things I prefer to allow people to pick and choose.” He shrugged. “But I’m making high-speed Internet access a top priority because I’ve forgotten how to live without it.”

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