She nodded, unable to immediately voice her acceptance.
He led her to a chain in the middle of the room, much closer to the front than she usually sat. Taking her arm, he helped her into the seat with a courtesy that was both captivating and alarming. Alarming because it meant he touched her and the feel of his warm fingers on her arm was enough to send her senses reeling.
Several pairs of eyes turned to watch them take their seats, the curiosity of the onlookers palpable. She smiled slightly at an elderly woman whose state was filled with avid interest. Catherine remembered talking to her at the last meeting. She was nice, but a bit nosy.
Catherine moved her own gaze to the front of the room where tonight’s speaker stood talking to the president of the society.
The speaker was the leading authority on George Lee and Sons telescopes. He was supposed to bring along one from his collection for the society members to look at up close. She couldn’t wait to see it and thought the red silk covered shape in the front of the room must be it.
She was proved right forty minutes later when the silk cover was removed and the general assembly was invited to come forward and take a look.
“You wish to see it?” Hakim asked her.
“What does this shrug mean?”
She turned her head, allowing herself the luxury of a full-on look. The impact was that of a bomb exploding in her brain and she almost gasped, but held back the revealing sound.
She smiled wryly, knowing herself. “The shrug means I’ll probably forego the pleasure.”
“I will accompany you.”
Like a security blanket? “It’s not that,” she denied, even though it was exactly that. “I’d just rather not wait in line. Do you see how many people are already waiting to look at it?”
Hakim looked toward the line of society members and then back at her. “Are you quite certain you do not wish to see it?”
Even a George Lee and Sons telescope could not compete with Hakim for her interest, she admitted to herself. “Very sure.”
“Then, perhaps you would consent to dinner with me this evening and we could discuss my new hobby. You appear highly knowledgeable in the subject.”
“Dinner?” she parroted.
“Are you concerned about sharing a meal with a stranger?”
The quite justifiable concern had never entered her mind, but then she’d never been in a sheikh’s company before, nor had she ever experienced the debilitating cocktail of feelings being near him elicited in her body.
“No,” she said, shocking herself and making his eyes widen fractionally.
“Then you will allow me to buy you dinner this evening?”
“I don’t know…”
“Please.” The word sounded much more like a command than any sort of pleading, yet it affected her just the same.
“I suppose I could follow you to the restaurant in my car.” She should show at least a rudimentary level of self-protection.
“Very well. Is seafood to your liking?”
Her mouth watered at the thought. “I adore it.”
“There is a beautiful restaurant not a block from here. We could walk.”
“I think it’s just starting to rain,” she said.
His lips tilted in a sardonic smile. “If so, I will lend you my raincoat.”
She laughed at the instant picture she had of herself in a raincoat several sizes too big. “That won’t be necessary. I just thought you probably wouldn’t like to walk if it was wet out.”
“I would not have suggested it otherwise.”
It was a short walk and though the gray clouds were heavy with moisture, it did not rain.
They spent dinner discussing her favorite hobby. She was surprised at his knowledge and said so.
“I read the books you gave me this afternoon.”
It was his turn to shrug. “Most of them.”
“Wow. I guess you didn’t have to go back to work.”
“We all must have our priorities,” he said with a smile.
“I wouldn’t have pegged you as someone who put his hobbies above his work.”
“There are times when the unexpected takes precedence in our lives.”
She wondered at the mysterious statement, but did not know him well enough to ask about it.
They both declined dessert and he walked her back to her car. He took her keys from her and unlocked it. Opening the door, he indicated she should go inside.
She stopped before bending down to get into the driver’s seat. “Thank you for dinner.”
“It was my pleasure, Catherine.”
Two days later, Hakim invited her to attend a Saturday showing of a journey among the stars at the theater. It required spending the whole day together as well as a three-hour drive to Portland. The prospect of all that time with just her and Hakim in the enclosed space of a car had her nerves completely on edge. She jumped when the security buzzer rang to announce his arrival.