Rescued by the Sheikh(4)

By: Jennifer Lewis


Her heart leaped when she saw them pulling her and Allan’s bags from the trunk, but a brief protest was ignored and their bags were carted off through a tall pair of wood doors.

“Uh, that’s my equipment.” On instinct she followed her bags. The camera alone was worth nearly thirty thousand dollars. Leaving her host, she followed the traditionally garbed men down a stone-floored hallway. Round arches leading into other rooms lined the space. She glanced back to make sure Allan was following. “Sweetie, we need to keep an eye on our bags,” she hissed.

“I know.” His face looked grim. He realized they were way out of their depth.

“Don’t worry. We won’t steal your treasures.” Osman Al Kilanjar’s voice boomed out behind Allan. This was the first English he’d spoken since they arrived. He’d addressed the men in a confusing local dialect that she couldn’t follow.

“I didn’t mean to imply that you would.” She swallowed.

“Your caution is well placed.” He strode toward her, coming up behind Allan. He was a good head taller than Allan, who seemed to shrink in his presence. “You are among strangers. Perhaps our customs include extracting payment for our hospitality from our guests’ possessions.”

“I did a lot of reading about Ubar in preparation for my trip, and several texts mentioned the legendary hospitality of the region.” She attempted a smile.

A wolfish grin spread across their host’s wide mouth. “All your needs will be taken care of. Perhaps even those you did not yet anticipate.”

She frowned and looked ahead. They’d reached the end of the hallway and another high arched doorway. One of the men in the striped robes rapped on it with his knuckles, and a small, high grating opened. This must be some kind of inner sanctum.

The door opened slowly to reveal a beautiful woman in a turquoise silk dress. The woman’s eyes dropped to the floor at the sight of Osman, and she shrank back to let them pass.

She, Samantha Bechtel, might be his guest here overnight, but she had no intention of showing such humiliating deference. And she kept a sharp eye on their baggage as the men carried it along another hallway lined with doors under pointed arches.

This place was huge, and she was pretty sure she recognized it from her research. “Is this the fortress of Al Kaur?” She turned to Osman, defying him to ignore her question or give an enigmatic non-answer.

“It is. First erected around four thousand years ago to defend my ancestors from the marauding efforts of the neighboring Azrib tribe. Rebuilt and expanded many times since. For the last four hundred years or so it has been the seat of the ruling family of Ubar.”

She hadn’t yet revealed that she knew who he was. Perhaps it was better to pretend surprise. “So you’re royalty?”

“Indeed I am. “He looked infuriatingly smug.

As well he might if he was to be king.

Then again, who’d want to be king of this desolate stretch of rock-strewn desert?

He’d caught up and now his stride matched hers. Then he leaned in to whisper in her ear. “And perhaps one day you will be too.”





2





“I have met my wife.” Osman let his words sink in as he watched his brothers stunned faces. They sat on low cushions around the enormous traditional hookah the servants kept preparing despite his continued insistence that none of them smoked. Their father had smoked a bowl of something or other every day, and apparently he was expected to continue the tradition. The air was thick enough already. Incense smoldered in a brazier in one corner, and beeswax candles burned in several hanging lanterns, casting flickering light over the multicolored mosaics on the walls.

Zadir spoke first. “You’d marry an American?”

“Why not?” Osman had ushered Samantha to their finest guest chamber, where she was changing for dinner. He let his mind briefly stray to wonder what she was wearing right now. “I’ve spent most of my adult life in the U.S. Most of the women I’ve dated are American. Why would you find that strange?”

“That was when you lived in America.” His younger and more serious brother Amahd gestured with his hands. “It’s one thing to date a girl in the land of milk and honey, quite another to bring her back to this barren wilderness and ask her to live here.”

“I’d hardly call our ancestral homeland a barren wilderness.” They’d all grown too used to Western luxury. “Besides, we can maintain a residence or two abroad.”

“You can hardly be king and live somewhere else.”

“I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first.”

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