Yet he’d let her sleep through the whole thing.

Sydney perched on a chair in the sand and made whorls with her foot. It was hot, but not as bad now that the sun had fallen deeper and deeper in the sky. The shadow of the dune was long, and they were in it. Thankfully.

“Drink some water,” Malik said, handing her a fresh bottle from the cooler in the back. Not that the water was icy cold, but it had been refrigerated in the oasis and put into a chilled container for their trip.

Sydney unscrewed the top and took a sip. “Will they come soon?” she asked, wiping her hand across her mouth.

Malik looked toward the horizon. Then he turned back to her. “The truth is that I don’t know. It may be morning before anyone can make it.”

“Morning?” She tried not to shudder at the thought. A night in the desert. In a Land Rover. Not exactly her idea of a fun vacation.

Malik shrugged. “It will be fine. So long as the storms don’t turn south.”

“And if they do?”

He speared her with a steady look. “That would be bad, habibti. Let us hope they do not.”

A few minutes of silence passed between them again. “Malik?”

He turned to look at her. He was every inch a desert warrior, she realized. Tall, commanding and as at home in this harsh environment as he was in the finest tuxedo.


“Did you spend much time in the desert when you were growing up?”

She thought he might not answer, might consider it too personal in light of their conversation last night, but he nodded slowly. “My father thought that his boys should all understand and fear the desert. We came many times, and when we reached a certain age, we underwent a survival test.”

She didn’t like the way that sounded. “A survival test?”

He took a drink of his own water. “Yes. We were left at a remote location with a survival pack, a compass and a camel and told to find our way to a certain point. None of us ever failed.”

“But if you had?”

“None of us did. If we had, I imagine my father would have sent someone to retrieve us before we died.”

Sydney swallowed. She couldn’t imagine such a thing. How could you send your own children into danger?

“I don’t understand your life at all.” It was so foreign to her, so otherworldly. She’d been protected, educated, guided. She’d never been tested.

Perhaps she should have been. If she had been allowed to choose for herself, even if the choice was wrong, then maybe she’d have learned to trust herself more.

“And I don’t understand yours,” he replied.

She took a deep breath. “Then tell me what you want to know about me. I’m an open book, Malik.” Because, if she were open with him, if she were willing to talk, then maybe he would do the same. Maybe they could learn to understand each other. It was a long shot, but she had nothing left to lose.

His gaze grew sharp. Considering. “I want to know why you have no confidence in yourself, Sydney.”

Her stomach flipped. “I don’t know what you mean. That’s ridiculous.”

“You do. You work for your parents, at a job you despise, and you think you are not worthy of more. They’ve taught you that you are not worthy of more.”

“I don’t despise my job.” But her throat was dry, her ears throbbing as the blood pounded in them. “And my parents only want the best for me. That’s all they’ve ever wanted.”

She’d attended the finest schools, taken culture and deportment lessons, learned to ride horses, play piano. Her parents had given her everything she needed to be successful.

They were wildly successful, a perfect couple—and their children would be perfect, too. The perfect Reed family.

“You do despise your job,” he said firmly. “You’re good at it, but it’s not what you want.”

Her eyes burned. “How do you know what I want?”

“Because I pay attention. You don’t miss your job when you are away. You would rather play with your designs on the computer.”

Her pulse was racing, throbbing, aching. “How do you know that? I’ve never told you that.”

“Because I know more than you think, Sydney.”

She could only stare at him, wondering. And then it dawned on her.

“You had me watched,” she said, her throat suddenly threatening to close up. “You spied on me.”

His gaze glittered. “I did have you watched. For your safety, habibti. You are my wife, and just because you chose to leave me, that did not mean you would not be of interest to people.”

She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. And yet it suddenly made terrible sense. She’d always wondered why no one ever bothered her, why the paparazzi left her alone. She was the wife of a renowned international playboy, and no one ever hounded her for pictures or quotes.