Later, sitting between her husband and the wife of one of his cousins, she thought the dinner would go on forever. It wasn’t that the company was not entertaining. They were. Hakim’s cousin’s wife was sweet and everyone had been very kind to Catherine, but her husband was driving her crazy.

He seemed to have gotten it in his head that she needed reassurance regarding their marriage. Physical reassurance.

Since it was considered unseemly among his people for a husband and wife to touch in public, all of his touches were surreptitious. And dangerous. Under the cover of the table, he caressed her thigh through the black lace overlay of her dress.

He had told her to dress in Western style for the dinner. She’d been glad she’d followed his advice when she arrived to find the other women similarly attired, although the men wore traditional Arab costume.

However, when she felt Hakim’s foot brush the inside of her calf under her long skirt, she wished she was wearing more than a pair of sheer stockings. Her body was humming with the excitement only he could generate and no way to appease it. They could not leave the dinner until his uncle excused them.

She turned her head to tell him to stop it and found herself mesmerizing by a pair of obsidian eyes.


“Yes, aziz?” His foot moved ans sensation arced right up her leg to the very core to her.

She gasped.

He smiled.

She was till smarting a little from their earlier argument, but he had promised never to lie to her again. “If you don’t stop it my foot is going to make contact with your leg as well, but it will still have a shoe on and its sharp toe will be the point of impact.”

He laughed and popped a grape into her mouth. “Your impact on my body is sharp indeed.”

She couldn’t help smiling at him.

He removed his foot and winked.

She sighed with exasperation and turned to her other dinner companion, Lila.

The other woman turned to her and smiled warmly. “You and Sheikh Hakim are well matched.”

“Thank you.”

“It is good to see him find pleasure in a duty that must have been hard to accept.”

“Yes.” The more time she spent around Hakim in Jawhar, the more she realized how much he had sacrificed of his personal happiness to oversee the family’s business interests abroad.

“In my opinion, it was necessary. It seems reactionary to believe the dissidents could force the family into fleeing the country. And, after all, marriage to an American would be difficult for the more traditional members of our family, but Hakim is content.” Lila leaned forward and whispered, “My husband would never approve my having a career.”

Considering the fact the woman’s husband was the Crown Prince of Jawhar, even Catherine could understand his reasoning. Being a queen would be full-time job.

Catherine didn’t know what her marriage had to do with politics. “Does King Asad really believe a coup could succeed?”

“I do not think so. I believe he assigned Sheikh Hakim his duty to be prepared in case it is so, but no out of real necessity. The dissidents have less support than they did twenty years ago and that uprising failed.”

“It’s too bad the king will not trust anyone but family to oversee the business interests. Hakim would be happier living here in Jawhar.” Catherine was certain of it.

“Perhaps my honored father-in-law could be persuaded to assign a trusted advisor to oversee the business affairs for the family, but he would only trust family to fulfill the duty assigned to Hakim.”

Catherine didn’t understand. Was the language barrier the problem, or was Lila implying that Hakim had additional duties in the States?

“After all, only a family member could be trusted to sponsor the others for living visas in the United States. I think your government may even require it to be a relation. You would know better than I. ”

Catherine’s confusion at finding the date on the geologist’s report was nothing compared to what she felt now. “I don’t understand, ” she admitted.

Lila smiled. “I found it rather complicated when my husband told me about it as well. It pleases me that he shares so much with me. In some ways he is very traditional, but he does not dismiss my intellect.”

Catherine would have felt more empathy if she wasn’t so puzzled. “Can you explain it to me?”

“Why don’t you ask Hakim? I, too, prefer not to admit to my husband when I don’t understand something he has explained. I suppose it is an issue of pride.” She sighed, then smiled. “It’s quite simple, really. Once Hakim married you, he was then eligible through you to sponsor long-term living visas for members of his family provided he could guarantee their income. Which, of course, is no problem.”