Rescued by the Sheikh(7)

By: Jennifer Lewis

Maybe she should try them on. Just for the experience. If this was what women wore for the festival, it was research anyway. Right?

She’d dressed, surprised to find that the ensemble was rather fitted and showed off her curves. There was a veil of sorts—pearl gray with gold beading—and she remembered from images she’d seen in her research that it draped over her hair and was secured with a gold ring, similar to a headband, which she found nestled within it. She’d just finished outlining her eyes in dark pencil, to get the full effect, when there was another knock on the door.

She decided to ignore it.

“Sam?” It was Allan.

“Come in, babe. It’s open. You’re not going to believe what I’m wearing.” The mirror now reflected back the image of an Ubarite princess. Or at least an elegant commoner. The eyeliner was a winning touch. With the tan complexion of her mother’s French ancestry, she looked surprisingly Middle Eastern.

The door opened slowly, to reveal Allan still in the same rumpled t-shirt and jeans he’d had on earlier. He stopped and stared.

She smiled. “Whaddya’ think?”

His pale blue eyes narrowed. “Did he make you wear this?”

“Make me?” She laughed, but only to hide a growing sense of unease. “Or course not. Why would you think he could make me do anything?”

Allan rubbed his arm. “I don’t know. He seems like the type to make women do things.”

“Women aren’t as malleable as you apparently believe, Allan. He simply offered them to me, so I could experience the culture, and I decided to try them on.” She attempted a confident smile. “Maybe we’ll get better footage if we can blend in easily with the locals. Perhaps you should dress up, too?”

“Going native is not my scene.” He cast a dubious glance over her colorful finery. “They brought me an outfit, but I sent them away with it. If you start letting these people push you around, you have no idea what they’ll try next.”

“No one’s pushing me around, Allan.” She wiped off some of the eyeliner with a fingertip. Maybe she didn’t need to look quite so full of Eastern promise. “Isn’t it kind of cool that we’re staying overnight in a real sheikh’s palace?” She gestured around at the carved stone archways, the luxurious hangings.

“I don’t know. This Osman character seems like trouble.”

“Nonsense. He’s a little arrogant, but nothing we can’t handle. Think of it as an interesting exercise in cultural immersion.” She squeezed his arm. “Come on, Allan. This is a big adventure.” She took his hands. “This is almost our honeymoon. Let’s enjoy it!”

He inhaled deeply and seemed to grow taller. Good. She’d managed to inflate his confidence. She needed to bring alive the romance of the situation. She leaned toward him and puckered her lips. He gazed abstractedly into the air behind her.

She drew back. “What’s on your mind?”

“I should call Roth to go over our plan for the edits of the Arts Council thing.”

“I’m sure he can handle it by himself.” She smiled reassuringly and leaned in further.

“What are you doing?”

A twinge of disappointment flicked inside her. “I was hoping to kiss you.”

He frowned. “Oh.” He leaned in, and their lips met in an unconvincing way. He draped his arms around her and sighed. “I’m sorry I’m not being more romantic. I’ve just got a lot on my mind with the upcoming release and those awards I’m up for. We have a tight turnaround on this project and this delay has me rattled.”

She squeezed him. “Me, too. The festival only lasts three days, so we have to stay focused. Besides, I don’t love you because you’re romantic. I love you because you’re brilliant. You’re the smartest person I’ve ever met.”

“It’s nice to be appreciated.”

“Together we can accomplish anything.” She stroked his messy hair. “We were lucky to be rescued, and we need to focus on getting out of here as early as possible tomorrow morning so we can get our car fixed.”

It was a relief to simply stand here with their arms around each other. They were a team, and they could face anything together. Even Osman Al Kilanjar kissing her hand. She wasn’t sure if Allan had noticed that, but she decided not to mention it. Why should she anyway? It was inconsequential. “Are you ready to go experience a traditional local meal?”

“I suppose so. I took a Pepto-Bismol ten minutes ago so it’s probably kicking in.” He grinned. She kissed him again, just a quickie on the lips. She didn’t feel the amazing chemistry she’d read about in Cosmo with Allan, but their relationship was based on mutual respect and companionship. That was the stuff of long-lasting partnerships. Her own parents, both actors, had a tempestuous on-again-off-again marriage that had created an atmosphere of constant upheaval during her childhood and made reliability seem far more appealing than steamy passion.

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