Authors: Miriam Minger
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Medieval, #General, #Historical Fiction, #Romance, #Historical Romance
Eve was pleased to see that
had done her job well. The low tortoiseshell table in the center of the room
was set with gleaming silver plates with cream silk napkins wrapped in
mother-of-pearl rings, and in the middle sat a large platter covered with plump
figs, bowls of caviar, salty olives, and feta cheeses. Next to the platter was
a basket of bread, the crusty, flat loaves still steaming from the harem
It was a simple repast. The heavier meal would come
later that evening.
on the tasseled pillows strewn beside the table, Eve
picked up a carved crystal pitcher and poured them each a goblet of cool,
"That is work for a slave,"
objected mildly, as he had done since Eve had first
entered his harem. "A woman in your exalted position should have a
multitude of slaves, yet you accept only one,
and she is forever doting on the child instead of you."
Eve knelt on a cushion, smiling as she handed him the
goblet. "I have simple needs, my lord. Simple wants. And I enjoy doing
these things myself. More slaves would only disturb my privacy, which I
treasure more highly than ease of living." She gave a small laugh. "As
, she does dote overmuch on Leila, but she
is a great help to me, and Leila adores her. It is enough."
chuckled, shaking his
head. He drank deeply from his goblet, then set
it down and leaned toward her. "You, my beloved Eve, are truly a wonder,"
he whispered, his gaze moving slowly over her face as if memorizing its shapely
contours. "My two other wives grow fat and lazy because they do not lift a
finger for themselves except to bring food to their mouths, while you"—he
reached out and tenderly stroked her cheek— "insist upon serving me with
your own hands."
Eve closed her eyes and inclined her head, her skin
tingling from his touch. She felt his smooth fingertips stray ever so slowly
along the high curve of her cheekbone and down her throat, lingering at the
hollow pulse point, then drift still lower. She drew in a sharp breath when he
traced the firm swell of her breasts through her silken clothing.
"My touch excites you, yes?"
asked huskily, circling his palm over her taut
nipples. "Your pulse betrays you, my beloved. It pants for love as a wild
beast pants for water beneath the desert sun. As I pant and bum for the
softness of your body. Our meal must wait."
raised himself up
suddenly and sucked hungrily at her breast despite the silken barrier, a wet
and frustrating sensation that caused Eve to moan deep in her throat. How she
longed to be free from her clothing and feel his lips, his flicking tongue upon
As if in answer to her wish, Eve opened her eyes to
kneeling in front of her. She watched,
fascinated, as he reached around her narrow waist and deftly unfastened the
embroidered belt securing her
pushed the outer garment from her shoulders. And still
he suckled her. His movements were abrupt and impatient, his breathing becoming
as her own
. Wherever he touched her, she
could feel him trembling
It was always
like this when he had not seen her for three days. Sometimes his hunger was so
great he would rip the clothes from her body in his haste to possess her.
pulled the filmy
over her head and tossed the dress to the floor. Eve
shivered as the cooler air in the salon found her naked torso. He bade her
stand as he tore wildly at the silk
drawstring gathering together the waistline of her voluminous
. It was all she could do not to
her knees were so weak with desire. She leaned on his broad shoulders while he
dragged the shimmering pants from her hips, his nails lightly raking her skin,
and she laughed giddily when he pulled her into his lap with an exultant cry.
His need for her was so overpowering he did not bother
to remove his robes. With a quick adjustment of his
he freed himself and entered her, supporting the weight of their bodies on his
Eve's cries of passion were silenced by his kiss. His
long fingers ripped off her veil and threaded through her hair as he moved
powerfully within her. Their fusion was swift and furious, their release as wild
as a sudden thunderstorm breaking over the distant mountains of Lebanon. And
when it was over,
drew her down beside him on
the pillows, their flesh still joined.
"How you please me!" he whispered raggedly
into her ear, wiping long, midnight strands from her shoulder and nuzzling her
Eve shifted her weight, draping a slim leg over his hip
and winding an arm around his neck. She played languidly with his turban, which
amazingly was still atop his head. The thought made her giggle, and she hugged
him impulsively. "How you please me, my lord!" she said brazenly, her
eyes shining into his.
They lay entwined together until their breathing had
slowed, and then for a long time afterward, simply basking in the warmth and
nearness of the other.
reluctantly from her, retying his pants, and Eve covered herself with her
, pulling it over her head. Yet they
remained close together on the pillows, sitting side by side and clasping
Thinking he might be hungry, Eve picked the choicest
fig from the platter and offered it to him, holding it to his lips.
smiled playfully and took the fig between his even
white teeth, but he did not bite into it. He bent his head to her in a funny,
familiar game, and she bit the plump fig in half, the sweet juice dripping down
their chins. Sticky kisses followed, and much
and they both sank back down on the pillows, embracing.
"My beautiful, wondrous Eve,"
said, sifting her silken hair through his fingers. "I
have found my dearest treasure in you." He kissed her soundly, then
brought himself up on an elbow and gazed into her eyes. "I want to give
you a gift. A marriage gift."
Eve shook her head gently, though she was touched by
his offer. "No, my lord. I have riches enough. You have been more than
generous with me, even adopting my daughter as your own and promising her an
education that would be unheard of in my country." Her voice softened with
wonderment. "I still cannot believe it, the possibility of training Leila
one day to follow in your footsteps as a physician—"
"Tell me what you want, Eve." He interrupted
her so firmly that she knew he would not be swayed. "And if it is within
my power, I will give it. Allah has blessed me; I am a wealthy man. What can I
give you? Jewels? If you wish for a sparkling diamond as large as that fig or
even larger, you shall surely have it! I could build you a country villa, with
fragrant rose gardens and tiled pools, and a pavilion with a gilded roof that
will shine in the sun like beaten gold . . ."
Eve listened quietly as his fantastic list grew longer,
her heart thudding painfully in her chest.
Dare she ask him?
There was something he could give her that was more
precious than gold or silk or the rarest jewels, something they had touched
upon only briefly in the past. When
her he wished for them to marry, he said Moslem men were allowed to take
Christian women as wives, though he hoped she would one day accept his faith.
She had said nothing, and had been grateful when their conversation had drifted
to other topics. But now . . . did she dare?
—there is something,
my lord," she began hesitantly.
"Ask and it is yours, my beloved."
Eve met his gentle gaze fully, hoping against hope that
he would understand and not take offense at her request. "The greatest
gift you could offer me is a simple one and costs nothing, my lord, save the
generosity of your heart. I . . . I want to remain a Christian" —she
almost faltered as his expression hardened, but rushed on recklessly— "and
I want to raise my daughter in the faith of her homeland."
There, it was said and she didn't regret it, though
from the angry look flaring in his eyes, she feared he would deny her request
at once. Yet no words came as his mouth drew into a thin, tight line.
She waited for long moments and
now lying on his back and staring blindly at the muted colors on the ceiling,
still said nothing. The salon was so quiet she could hear the stream rumbling
outside in the courtyard and the haunting trill of a caged nightingale from a
distant corner of the harem. When her hope had all but faded, he spoke.
"You have requested a hard thing of me, Eve,"
he said, turning his head to look at her. "A very hard thing."
"I know this, my lord."
His voice fell to a solemn whisper. "You and I . .
. we shall never be together in Paradise."
"That only God may judge."
Again he was silent, and she could sense him wrestling
with himself until finally he reached for her hand and gently squeezed her
fingers. Her heart began to soar before he even said the words.
"You are fortunate that Islam is tolerant of other
faiths, though the same cannot be said for the Christian crusaders who
terrorize and rape our land and our cities. To them, we are the infidels, the
unfaithful, and no better than dogs."
Eve did not respond, for she knew he spoke the truth.
She kept silent, waiting.
sighed heavily, his
tone resolute. "If it is your greatest desire," he began,
paused as he searched her face.
"Very well. Then I must grant it."
Tears of gratitude sprang to Eve's eyes and she hugged
him, but he did not return her embrace. She remained undaunted, knowing he was
hurt, and hugged him more fiercely, as if she would never let him go.
"I will never leave you, my lord, save in death,
for today you have truly won my heart. This I promise."
arms wrapped around
her so suddenly, clasping her tightly against his chest, that they took her
breath away. He buried his face in her hair, inhaling her sweet perfume and murmuring
her name over and over like a fervent prayer. She felt a hot wetness on her
neck . . . his tears.
Eve smiled through her own tears as a strange lightness
washed over her, releasing her. It was dizzying and wonderful, and she knew at
last that she was free.
Goodbye, William. Sleep in peace, my love.
"I shall lead, mistress."
Leila inclined her head curtly in acquiescence, making
no comment as
opened the door and stepped
outside. She lifted the opaque veil attached to her long
and tucked a corner into her headband, covering her face below the eyes, then
followed the stout white eunuch into the nearly deserted street.
She hated visiting the governor's prison, even if it
was to assist her father. How she wished Jamal Al-Aziz, her betrothed and
only son by his second wife, was here in Damascus
so she wouldn't have to go. But he had been summoned to Cairo to cure the
caliph's family of smallpox and wouldn't be home for weeks. As her father's
apprentice, she was the next likeliest choice.
A new case,
message had read, delivered to her barely ten minutes ago just as she was
beginning to relax after a long, wearying day spent caring for patients at the
. Something highly unusual. She
was to make all haste. She had to admit her curiosity was aroused, though she
wished she was meeting her father anywhere but in that horrid place.
At least the walk there would be pleasant, Leila
thought, much of her apprehension and weariness fading as she hurried to keep
, who despite his bulk was maintaining a
vigorous pace. It was such a beautiful summer
she could not help but feel exhilarated.
A balmy breeze swirled around her, lifting the embroidered
edges of her veil, and she inhaled deeply, filling her lungs. The air was sweet
with the scent of flowers; jasmine, oleander and her favorite, damask rose. She
wore the barest hint of its fragrance at her wrists and throat, her only truly
feminine indulgence when she went about her work.
She glanced up at the sky, a deepening turquoise bowl
inverted above the walled city. Here and there, stars were beginning to
twinkle, and the bright quarter moon was just rising over the rugged summit of
. Multicolored pigeons flew high above
her in ever-widening circles, searching amid the countless rooftops for a home
perch. They were all familiar sights to her, yet somehow new and hauntingly
different each time she beheld them.
"How I love this city," she whispered to
herself, listening to the sounds of the night as they headed west along a
narrow side street.
A chestnut vendor's cart rumbled past them, the wooden
wheels bumping noisily on the uneven paving stones, and a donkey brayed in the
distance. Laughter filtered from the houses, as did the animated drone of
conversation, a baby crying, mongrel dogs barking, and everywhere the lush
sound of fountains and cascading water; the stirring cacophony of life.