Compared to what they’d talked about before, it had been a lot of revelations in a short span of time. Malik did not open up easily. She knew that, but she’d been feeling so vulnerable after realizing how she still felt about him.
She’d wanted to know he was affected, too. That some part of him wanted more than just sex. The way he’d touched her in the shower, his hand trembling—it had to mean something, didn’t it? And after, when he’d been so focused on her pleasure, so determined to make her feel good—what had he said? I have not forgotten even a moment of making love to you.
Even now, the words had the power to make her shiver.
She’d been certain he must feel something—but Malik was not the sort of man to talk openly about his feelings. He never had been. Sydney bit her lip. She had no idea where things stood between them now. Just because they’d had sex, it didn’t mean that everything was grand.
It didn’t mean they could leave Jahfar and forget about the divorce. Nor did she want to. She’d given up everything when she’d married him—and then she’d given up her self-respect while she’d waited for him to say he loved her, to contradict what he’d told his brother on the phone.
She would not be so weak again. Loving someone didn’t mean you were capable of having a relationship with them, especially if they didn’t have the same level of commitment to it as you.
Sydney gathered her things together and shoved them into the small suitcase she’d brought. It wasn’t very hard to do so since she hadn’t brought a lot. Within the hour, they were in the Land Rover and heading out of the oasis. Sydney turned to look back at the stand of palms with the cool, clear water and the black goat-hair tents arrayed around it. A child stood behind one of the palms, arms wrapped around the tree, watching them go.
Inexplicably, hot tears rose to her eyes. Not because she was going to miss the oasis terribly—she hadn’t been there long enough to get attached to it—but the child represented a kind of innocence she would never have again. It was impossible not to be tossed about by the vicissitudes of life when you got older. And impossible not to long for a simpler time when your heart was breaking.
Sydney blinked away the tears as she turned to concentrate on the rolling sand before them. The desert was blinding, but the windows were tinted and helped to cut the glare. Waves of heat rippled in the distance. Malik had the air on, but only barely. She knew it was to keep the engine from overheating.
“How long will it take?” she asked.
Malik shrugged. “About two hours.”
They lapsed into silence then. Sydney stared out the window, but her eyes were growing heavy. She hadn’t had nearly enough sleep last night. She tried to keep them open, but finally gave up to the inevitable and dozed off.
She awakened with a start, what felt like only a short time later. Something didn’t feel quite right. She blinked, sitting up higher. And then she realized—
The Land Rover wasn’t moving. And Malik wasn’t inside any longer.
In a panic, she grabbed for the door pull and yanked hard. The vehicle sat at an angle that tilted her door down so that it swung wide very quickly when the latch was released.
Sydney barely caught herself before she tumbled onto the sand below.
“Careful,” Malik said, and her thudding heart gave a little leap. He hadn’t left her.
She closed her eyes. Dear God, she wasn’t alone.
“Why did we stop?” she asked, climbing down from the vehicle to join him.
The Land Rover sat in the minimal shade of a giant dune. She glanced up, realizing the sun was still fairly high overhead. It was past its zenith, which meant it was after the noon hour at least.
She brought her gaze back to Malik, her pulse thrumming quickly, her blood pumping hard. She didn’t know if it was fear, or the adrenaline from nearly falling into the sand.
Malik leaned against the side of the Land Rover. His head was wrapped and his dark gaze burned steadily as he stared at her.
This couldn’t be good….
“We did not stop on purpose, habibti. We have broken down.”
THE hours passed slowly in the desert. Sydney gazed up at the horizon for the hundredth time, wondering where their rescue was. Malik had told her not to fear because he had a satellite phone and a GPS transmitter. They were not lost, and not unrecoverable.
But they were all alone, and likely would be for some hours yet. There had been a sandstorm to the north, which cut them off from Al Na’ir city. And Al Na’ir city from them.
A hose had broken, and there was no spare. Malik seemed calm enough now, but she knew he would have sworn violently when he realized it.