They walked out front where a Jeep was waiting. “You will need to learn to ride,” he told her. “Eventually you will want to go into the desert with the girls.”
“I know.” She settled in beside him and fastened her seat belt. “Maybe I’d do better on a camel. Horses and I don’t get along.”
“A camel is not a comfortable ride. Trust me. You would much prefer to be on a horse.”
“Maybe.” She would have to try a camel first.
It was late afternoon. The sun sat in the west, giving everything a rosy, golden glow. The air was warm with the promise of a cool night to follow.
“I wonder what it’s like to live in the desert,” she said as she stared out the window. “Traveling with a tribe, connected to the land.”
“No plumbing, no heat or air-conditioning, no closet.”
She laughed. “I can’t see you worrying about a closet.”
“I would not, but what about you?”
“I like plumbing and closets.” She didn’t have a lot of things, but she did like to have her few treasures around her.
“My brother Kateb lives in the desert,” he said. “He has always preferred the old ways, when life was simple and a man lived by his wits and his sword.”
“You’re serious? He’s a nomad?”
“It is how he prefers it. When each of us reached the age of thirteen, my brothers and I were sent into the desert for a summer. It is considered a rite of passage—a test of manhood. The tribes were not cruel, but we were shown no preference because of our stature. I enjoyed my time, but had no interest in changing my future because of the experience. No so Kateb. He spoke of nothing else when he returned. Our father insisted he complete his education and Kateb agreed. But when he graduated from university in England, he returned here and went into the desert.”
It sounded romantic, Kayleen thought, if she didn’t think about the reality of the life. Weren’t there sand fleas? And the heat in summer would be devastating. Still, the wilderness had some appeal. Not answering to anyone. Except one would have to answer to the tribe. There would have to be rules for the greater good.
“Will I meet him?” she asked.
“Not tonight. Kateb lives deep in the desert. Once or twice a year he returns to the palace, to meet with our father.”
As’ad watched as Kayleen stared out into the desert. “It’s all so beautiful,” she said. “I can see why your brother would want to make it his home. Even without running water.”
She spoke almost wistfully, as if she meant what she said, which she most likely did. He had learned that Kayleen’s word was truth—an unusual trait in a woman. But then Kayleen was not like other women he’d known.
Now that she had a wardrobe of designer clothes, she dressed more like someone engaged to a prince, but there was still an air of…freshness about her. She blushed, she looked him in the eye when she spoke, she never considered hiding her emotions. All things he liked about her. He hoped she would not develop a hard edge of sophistication. He enjoyed her candor and down-to-earth ways.
A surprise, he thought, knowing he had always preferred women of the world. Of course, those women had been companions for his bed, not anyone he would consider to be the mother to his children. He remembered a conversation he’d had years ago with his aunt. Lina had told him that there were different women in this world. That he should have his fun but save his heart for someone unlike his playthings.
She had been right—not that he would give her the satisfaction of telling her. At least about marriage. His heart remained carefully unengaged, as it should in situations as important as these.
He pulled up by the edge of the camp and parked. Kayleen drew in a deep breath.
“They are so going to laugh at me,” she murmured.
“Why would they do that?”
She looked at him and said, “Good evening. Blessings to you and your family,” in the old tongue of El Deharia. Then added in English, “My pronunciation is horrible.”
“You are learning our language?”
“It seemed the right thing to do. Plus, last time almost no one would talk to me in English. It’s their country, right? One of the maids is teaching me on her lunch hour. She’s taking night classes and I’m helping her with her calculus.”
He stared at the hazel-eyed beauty who sat next to him. In a few months, they would be married and she would be a princess for the rest of her life. Her blood would mingle with his and their children would be able to trace their lineage back a thousand years.
She had a vault of jewels to wear whenever she liked, a bank account that never emptied; she lived in a palace. Yet did she expect humble people of the desert to speak her language? Did she hire a tutor? Have a linguistic specialist summoned? Not Kayleen. She bartered with a maid and learned an ancient speech not spoken outside the desert.