to sit fully erect, but she had to curl her legs under her because there was no place else to put them.
She was supposed to ride in this rather daunting conveyance to her wedding. Evidently this was the Bedouin equivalent to the romantic horse and carriage she'd dreamed of and been forced to discard as impractical in the rainy winter weather of Seattle.
The old sheikh led the camel himself, saying that since her father was not there to do it, he would be pleased at the honor.
She felt as if a thousand eyes were on her as the camel made its sedate pace toward where the ceremony was to be held.
Catherine kept her head down, but peeked through her lashes at the desert people who had gathered to watch her and Hakim marry according to their tradition. Small silver bells on the ornate necklace she wore made a tinkling sound as her body moved with the jarring gait of the camel.
When they reached the site for the marriage, the old sheikh helped Catherine down from the camel and led her to take her place beside Hakim. She didn't look at him during the ceremony, but kept her gaze focused downward as Latifah had instructed.
The ceremony itself didn't take very long, but the Mensaf, a dinner prepared to celebrate their union , did. The men and women ate separately and came together only afterward for the entertainment. They sat in the open air with fires going around them. The wood was so dry, hardly any smoke emitted from the fires, but the scent of burning chicory filled the air. Men played instruments and women sang, their voices beautiful in their Eastern harmony.
Hakim interpreted the words for her, his voice husky in her ear, his fingers curled around her wrist.
She could not ignore the way his touch affected her and the growing desires in her body, not after four nights away from their marriage bed. By the time Latifah led Catherine to Hakim's quarters in his grandfather's tent, it was quite late and she was jittery with pent-up feelings.
Lit with hanging lanterns, the room was surprisingly large. Richly colored silks covered the interior walls of the tent and the floor was made of the beautifully woven rugs the Bedouin women had become famous for. Hakim's bed was in the center of the room.
It was too elaborate to be called a pallet even though the large cushion for sleeping reposed on the floor with no frame under it. A multitude of pillows indicated the head of the bed. They were framed by billowing white silk that draped from a round frame hanging from the tent's ceiling.
It was like a tent within a tent.
Other than the impressive bed, there were few other items in the spacious room. Big Turkish pillows, obviously for sitting, were arranged around a small table.
She opted to sit on one of the pillows rather than the bed to wait for Hakim. Unfamiliar with the customs of his grandfather's people, she had no idea how long her husband would be. She could hear the revelry continuing in the camp and then she heard the unmistakable tenor of her husband's rich voice just outside the wall of the tent.
As her attention fixed on the doorway through which he would come, it struck her how like her fantasy her current predicament was.
She'd been kidnapped by a sheikh and waited for him to have his way with her, but unlike the daydreams, Hakim was flesh and blood. She could touch him and he would touch her.
She shivered in anticipation at the thought.
Hakim paused outside the entrance to his chamber.
Catherine waited inside. She'd charmed Latifah with her sweetness, impressed his grandfather with her humility and scandalized the women who had helped Latifah prepare Catherine for the wedding by refusing to have her hair hennaed.
However, she had been very quiet throughout the evening's festivities. At least she had not refused to go through with the wedding. He had not been sure until he saw his grandfather leading the camel that she would actually go through with it, but then she considered it a sham. Another sham.
He would show her tonight there was nothing fake about their marriage.
He brushed aside the covering over the opening into the room and went inside.
The sight of her sitting on a pillow on the far side of the room stopped him. She had removed her headdress and it rested in her lap. Her hair hung loose, its dark honey strands glistening with sweet smelling oil. He inhaled the fragrance, taking in her distinctly feminine scent as he did so.
"My grandfather is pleased with you."
Her eyes flickered, their blue depths turbulent with emotion. "Does he know why you married me?"
"He does not know of my uncle's arrangement with your father, no."
She lifted the gold laden scarf. "Latifah told me this is considered quite a dowry for a bride, even the bride of a sheikh."
Hakim wished he knew what she was thinking. "Grandfather values you."
She looked down, her hair falling to shield her face