The Sheikh's Sinful SeductionBy: Dani Collins
ARRIVING AT THE OASIS brought Fern Davenport back to life in a way she’d never experienced. The two-day camel trek through the dunes that she had anticipated with such excitement had been exactly what her employer and friend, Amineh, had warned it would be: a test of endurance.
But worth it. Exactly as promised.
After nothing but shades of blinding white and bleached yellow and dull red, the glimpse of greenery had Fern sitting taller, bringing her nose up the same way her camel did, searching for the scent of water. As they entered the farthest reach of the underground spring, where the palms were stunted and the grass sparse, she felt like a giant looking down on the tops of trees. The sun was already behind the canyon wall and blessedly cool air began to slither beneath the flapping edges of her abaya to caress her bare legs.
The tension of fearing for her survival began to ease. She wanted to release a laugh of relieved joy.
Outbursts of any kind weren’t her thing, though. She preferred to be as invisible as possible. Fern considered herself an observer of life, not so much a participant, but for the first time she experienced something like what a frisky lamb or a cocky adolescent must feel. It was a strange awareness of being alive. Her blood cells took on new energy and her pulse returned to vigorous beats. She wanted to throw off the weight of her clothes, expose her hot skin to the verdant air, kick up her heels and soak life through her pores. She wanted to be one with nature.
Awash in this state of renewal, she looked ahead to the clearing where the caravan would unload and saw him.
Just a man in a thobe and gutra. He could have been one of the camel keepers for all she knew, but a deep, feminine part of her recognized the kind of male that called to any woman. A leader. One whom other men looked to for direction and approval. Confident. A man of strength whose muscles strained the white tunic that draped his shoulders. He wore sandals and his feet were dusty, but he planted them firmly. With ownership.
She forced herself to lift her gaze to his face, barely able to withstand the impact of such handsomeness. How could a man be so beautiful yet so rugged? He was a product of the desert, she supposed, cheeks hollow and roughened by stubble, skin deeply tanned by the sun, mouth somber yet sculpted and...how did she even sense this? Sexual. A hawkish nose and brows as straight and firm as the horizon and then...
Green eyes. As startling and revitalizing as this oasis.
His sheer magnificence took her breath.
“Uncle!” the girls cried and the man’s severe expression flashed with a smile that made wistfulness bloom in Fern’s chest.
Men were such puzzling creatures to her, having mostly been passing ships in her life. She’d attended an all-girls school where even the principal was female. The library trustees, her mother’s doctor and the few teenaged boys she’d occasionally met through Miss Ivy’s club were the only males she really knew. She often found herself watching men like birders watched finches, studying their behavior and trying to make sense of them. She was always startled to discover they were quite human. The ones that were able to be tender with a child were especially fascinating to her. They made her wonder what it would be like to be close enough to truly understand one.
Not that she expected to get close to this one!
She had worked out that he was Zafir, Amineh’s brother. Amineh’s husband, Ra’id, hupped at his camel so it would drop to its knees. He dismounted and the men clasped hands and bent their heads together as they embraced with easy warmth.
Definitely not a camel keeper, Fern chided herself. Her students’ Uncle Zafir was formally known as Sheikh abu Tariq Zafir ibn Ahmad al-Rakin Iram. He was leader of Q’Amara, the country bordering Ra’id’s.
She must have sensed who he was and his stature impacted her, she reasoned. That’s why she was suffering this flare of heightened interest. The significance of arriving and meeting such an important man was turning her inside out in a way that was both familiar yet amplified. She was not only shy by nature, but also a redhead with the overactive blushing response that often came with it. She had flushed uncontrollably the first time Ra’id had spoken to her—she’d been so self-conscious under the attention of such a strong personality. A domineering, angry mother had made her sensitive to all authority figures. Anxious to please. It was completely understandable that she’d have an attack of nerves when faced with meeting another sheikh.
She’d never felt blistered from the inside like this, though. Never electrified yet stimulated. It was very disconcerting.