Lost to the Desert Warrior(10)

By: Sarah Morgan

 ‘Perform?’ Raz was torn between amusement and disbelief as he stared down at her. Under the protective folds of the robe she was shy, fragile and clueless. ‘What exactly have you been reading? Whatever it is, it sounds an unusual choice for a girl like you.’

 ‘I’m not a girl. I’m a woman.’

 Not yet. The thought flew into his head and he stared at her for a long moment.

 ‘You are contemplating a lifetime with a man who cannot love you.’

 ‘But you will respect me.’ Lifting her head, she looked him directly in the eyes. ‘You will respect me for making the decision to do the right thing for Tazkhan. And that is all I need.’

 Raz stared at her for a long moment.


 Was that really all she needed?

 It sounded like very little, and yet right now he wasn’t sure he could deliver even that.

 Feeling the weight of responsibility pressing down on him like a thousand tons of sand, he turned and strode to the doorway of the tent. ‘I need air.’

 * * *

 I need air.

 Layla sagged. She needed air, too. She couldn’t breathe. She was suffocating under the heavy fabric of the robes and the stifling heat in the tent and she was terrified she’d blown everything by mentioning his wife. And as for the rest of it—she’d never thought talking about sex could feel so uncomfortable. It was a natural act, performed by animals—of which man was one—since the dawn of time. Why a discussion on the topic should leave her hot and shaky she had no idea.

 It was him.

 There was something about him—a raw physicality that made her understand for the first time why women talked about him in dreamy tones.

 Confused, exhausted and desperately worried about Yasmin, all Layla wanted was to strip off the robes she’d taken from her father’s rooms and lie down.

 She looked longingly at the low bed covered in richly coloured silks that dominated the far side of the tent.

 His bed?

 Just for a moment she had an image of him lying there, strong limbs entwined with the beauty who had been his wife, sharing their love. The image shocked her. Apart from images of the sculptures of Michelangelo she’d never seen a man naked, so she had no reason to be imagining one now.

 Her body ached from head to foot and she wanted to stretch her limbs and examine her bruises, but she was too afraid to move with the dogs guarding her.

 She watched them as she carefully tried to ease herself into a different position.

 The bag she’d tied under the robes pressed uncomfortably against her hip and she pulled out the two books she’d taken from the library. One was her favourite—a book she’d read so many times she almost knew it by heart. The other—

 ‘What is that?’ His voice came from the doorway of the tent and Layla jumped and dropped both books onto the thick rug that carpeted the floor of the tent.

 ‘Books. Just books. I brought them from home.’

 Before she could snatch them back he stooped and picked one up. And of course it was that one.

 There was a tense silence while he scanned the title of the volume. Dark eyebrows rose in incredulity. ‘The Kama Sutra?’

 ‘If I’m proposing marriage then it’s important I have some knowledge of what is required. There is no skill that cannot be mastered with sufficient studying. I’m ignorant, and in my experience ignorance is never bliss.’

 She could hear the blood throbbing in her ears. She felt her mouth dry as if she had swallowed all the sand in the desert and her heart pounded like the hooves of the Arabian stallion who had thrown her onto the sand with such disdain.

 His prolonged silence was more humiliating than a refusal and she was grateful for the semi-darkness of the tent that gave her at least some protection from his scrutiny.

 Her expectations of this encounter had been modest. She hadn’t exactly expected him to embrace the idea of marriage with enthusiasm, but she’d thought he’d say something. She certainly hadn’t expected him to walk out of the tent.

 But perhaps the thought of marrying her sickened him. Perhaps people were wrong and Raz Al Zahki wouldn’t do anything that needed to be done for his country. Perhaps even he wouldn’t stoop so low as to marry the daughter of the man who had destroyed his family.

 Perhaps he didn’t want a woman whose knowledge of the world had been gained from the contents of her father’s library.

 ‘You’re not going to need this.’ He handed the book back to her and her face burned like the desert in the midday heat