Authors: Miriam Minger
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Medieval, #General, #Historical Fiction, #Romance, #Historical Romance
It was an outrage. It made him sick. It made him even
sicker to think she probably shared that Arab physician's bed. A beauty such as
Leila could hardly have been spared the base indignities that were perpetrated
on the female sex. No doubt she had been deflowered at a tender age by that
By God, there had to be some way he could help her.
Some way they could help each other, for that matter. There had to be some way
they could both escape what fate had brought them. Surely she wanted to return
to her own people and leave her wretched servitude behind, and he'd be damned
if he was going to wait patiently in this cramped cell for a ransom.
Tomorrow he would ask for her help, he decided
fiercely. Together they would devise a plan.
That evening proved balmy and clear, ushered in by a
spectacular sunset that lit the western horizon like orange and crimson fire.
Now it was dark. Leila stretched languorously on the
cushioned divan and gazed up at the starry heavens.
What a perfect time to relax on her mother's roof
terrace. Not too warm or too windy. Only a gentle breeze played across her pale
blue silk damask robe, tickling her
delighting her nostrils with the terrace garden's lush scents.
Leila laced her fingers together and rested her hands
upon her firm breasts. She hadn't felt such peace in days. She had been so busy
at the hospital and visiting her harem-bound patients scattered throughout the
city that she had simply been too exhausted when she returned home to avail
herself fully of the harem baths. But this afternoon had been blessedly
After noting the sooty smudges under her eyes, and
fearing she had been working herself too hard of late, her father had insisted
she leave the hospital early. He had even provided a silk-curtained litter to
take her the short distance home.
A luxurious bath after a brief nap had been a balm to
her two personal odalisques, had first slathered her skin with an aromatic
lemon paste and scraped her completely of body hair. Next they had washed her,
poured silver bowlfuls of tepid water over her in the hot steam rooms, massaged
her until her smooth white skin had flushed pink from their pummeling, and
anointed her with her favorite rose oil.
She felt clean and fresh and satiated, her body
tingling from her scalp to the soles of her feet. The sheer physical pleasure
of her slaves' ministrations left her feeling as if she were floating. Even her
long, knee-length hair felt charged and alive, brushed to a high gloss after
being vigorously shampooed and dried, then left free to hang down her back.
Leila coiled a perfumed tendril around her finger. As
the silken ebony threads caught the silvery moonlight, she smiled. The
glistening reflection reminded her of a poem she had recently received from
Jamal, written in praise of her beauty. Recalling its erotic content, cloaked in
flowery verse, she was filled with anticipation.
Truly, she looked forward to the day when they would
marry. But not only for the promise of sensual delights. There was a more
important reason to consider. She would not be allowed to practice medicine as a
full-fledged physician until she was a married woman.
That was simply the way of things. All decent women in
the Arab Empire were under the protection of a man, whether a father, husband,
brother, uncle, lord, or sultan.
She would have been married already if not for her
medical studies; she had been of marriageable age since her first monthly flow
when she was fourteen. Yet her father had insisted upon waiting until she
finished her training, believing pregnancy and children would hinder her
Now that her apprenticeship would soon be completed,
that was no longer a concern. She knew it would not be long before a date was
set for the marriage. When she was finally wed to Jamal Al-Aziz, she would have
the protection she needed to fulfill her heart's ambition. Her life would be
just as she had always envisioned it. Neat. Well-ordered. Perfect.
It didn't hurt that Jamal was everything she wanted in
a husband—kind, clever, possessing refined taste and manners. Perhaps one day
she would even grow to love him, though to her mind such affection was hardly
thought, and a firm grip on one's emotions. Love was no use to her at all. It
was more important that they understand and respect each other.
And desire each other, she added, thinking again of his
provocative poem. Once they were married, she would not hesitate to share his
bed. There was not a more handsome man in Damascus, other than the crusader—
Leila shook her head, forcing Guy de
striking blond image from her mind.
No, she would not think of him now! It was bad enough
that the barbarian's terrible curses and hungry glances had plagued her
thoughts all day. She determinedly imagined Jamal instead, with his smoldering
brown eyes, midnight curls, and strong, masterful hands which would someday
caress her and bring her quivering body to ecstasy just as he promised in his
Aroused by her wanton thoughts, Leila trailed her gaze
about the dark, trellised roof terrace. She was still alone. Her two odalisques
had not yet returned from the harem kitchen with the light supper of yogurt,
olives, and fruit she had requested.
Slowly she drew her knees up and squeezed her slender
thighs together, tightly at first, then rhythmically, eliciting a secret
yearning deep inside her that made her moan and tremble.
Leila had been educated in many lovemaking techniques
so that one day she might please her husband, but she had also been taught to
please herself. When she married Jamal she would be sharing his attentions with
his first wife and his many concubines; that, too, was simply the way of
things. There would be times when he would not be able to respond to her needs,
when she must look to her own fulfillment.
Her small hand crept between the embroidered folds of
her robe and she touched her breast, finding the nipple warm and rigid. She ran
her palm over the sensitive nub and back again, over and back, but oh so
lightly, imagining what Jamal's caress would be like. She massaged her other
breast, sighing with pleasure.
She could not have been more startled when the imagined
caress suddenly grew rough and demanding in her mind. The huge hands she
pictured stroking her body were not smooth like a physician's but callused and
powerful. A warrior's hands. Blazing blue eyes swept over her, devouring her in
a glance, and she could feel rock-hard muscles pressing relentlessly against
her flesh. She inhaled sharply as the exquisite pressure between her thighs
burned ever brighter, ever hotter . . .
A keening moan broke from her throat, and she arched
upon the divan as intense pleasure engulfed her, agonizingly sweet. She held
herself there, scarcely breathing, four fingers pressed hard against the moist,
aching cleft of her womanhood until her climax subsided. Exhaling in a rush,
she sank onto the cushions and lay there, stunned, shocked, and bewildered.
How could she have thought such a thing? It was
immoral, indecent. A sin! To imagine a man other than her betrothed touching
her body, caressing her . . . That barbarian, no less!
The tranquility of the evening had been spoiled. She
rose in agitation, her silky hair swirling around her. As she angrily drew her
robe together and tied the sash, she heard light footsteps behind her.
"I'm not in the mood for any supper," she
said irritably, thinking her odalisques had returned with her meal. "Take
"Indeed. And such a lovely supper it is, too."
Leila spun, her eyes widening at the sight of her
mother. Swathed in peach silk from her gossamer veil to her tiny,
feet, Eve was holding a brass tray laden with
food, a silver goblet and pitcher, and a delicate oil lantern which cast a soft
golden glow upon her exquisitely beautiful face.
It never ceased to amaze Leila how youthful her mother
appeared. Though Eve was forty-three years old, the two of them could easily
pass as sisters. Leila was slightly taller, but other than that their lissome
figures could have been shaped from the same mold.
told me I would find you here, my daughter. I
dismissed them for the evening. I hope that does not displease you . . .
"Of course not," Leila said, rushing forward.
"Let me help you, Mother."
She took the tray and set it on the low table beside
the divan. The aroma of lamb and spinach-filled pastries reached her nostrils,
stirring her appetite, and her stomach grumbled noisily. It was far more
substantial fare than she had expected, and it looked very tempting.
"It seems your stomach is not in agreement with
your heated words," Eve said mildly, seating herself on the divan. "I
would swear such a rumbling protest proves you have not eaten since this
Leila sat down beside her mother, chagrined because Eve
had heard her use such a petulant tone. She waited silently for the reprimand she
knew was coming.
"Harshness does not suit you, Leila.
not your normal manner with
your slave women, nor a just reward for their faithful service. What has
provoked such a display of temper?"
Leila looked out across the moonlit rooftops, then down
at the tray, anything to escape her mother's inquisitive gaze.
What could she say? That she was being tormented by
lustful thoughts about the crusader? Her mother already knew of their valuable
patient, but Eve hadn't yet heard that Leila had actually spoken with him
earlier in the day. Oh, why couldn't she avoid the unsettling subject
"I was thinking of the crusader, 'tis all,"
she mumbled, opting for a version of the truth. "He regained his senses
this morning and attacked a guard."
"And this has made you angry, my daughter?"
Leila sighed with convincing exasperation. "Only
because Father and I worked so hard to save his life last night. His wound
could have opened. He could have bled to death before we arrived, and the
governor's ransom would have died with—"
"But the wound did not open, did it?" Eve
interrupted her sharply.
Puzzled by her mother's tone, Leila answered, "No.
It is better in fact. The swelling is almost gone."
Eve nodded as if she was not surprised by this news. "I
prayed that it would be so," she said more softly. "God is with him."
She fell silent and gazed into the distance.
Leila felt a tug in her breast as she watched a
familiar haunted, faraway look settle over Eve's lovely face. She was about to
ask her what had been bothering her these past weeks when
suddenly appeared at the top of the stairs leading to the terrace. The tall
odalisque hurried over to the divan and bent down on one knee, taking Leila's
hand in her larger one.
"Your mother has told you the wondrous news, yes?"
asked, her gray eyes shining with excitement.
She pressed Leila's hand to her smooth cheek. "A thousand and one
upon you, my young mistress!"
Leila was so surprised she could only stare from
, who was covering her hand with kisses, to her
Eve began, her voice wavering, "Leila has not . . ." She faltered,
then threw up her hands, her many precious rings glittering in the moonlight. "I
have not told her yet."
mouth fell open in
embarrassment. She released Leila's hand and prostrated herself on the enameled
tiles, her forehead resting atop Eve's
"Forgive me, O my mistress. Such a flapping
tongue! I thought by now you would surely have shared your tidings. I waited by
the stairs, impatiently counting the moments, and I could contain myself no
longer. I was so happy. Ah, forgive me. I did not mean to spoil the surprise."
Eve leaned over and grasped the odalisque's broad
shoulders, giving her a reassuring squeeze. "
. Please stand up. I dislike it so
when you do this. We can tell her together, you and I. Stand up, dearest
"Such a foolish tongue. I curse it! May it shrivel
up and fall from my mouth,
I shall stomp upon it!"
"What utter nonsense. You have done nothing wrong,
only given of your heart's joy. Come. Sit here by me."
With a plaintive sigh,
rose. She smiled apologetically at Leila as she sat on the edge of the divan.
"There. That is so much better," Eve said
calmly, though she still appeared flustered. She patted the odalisque's hand. "Now.
. Tell Leila why you are so elated."
Leila stared at her mother, feeling for some strange
reason that Eve was reluctant to share this news herself. She glanced
, who was again smiling
"A date has been set for your marriage to Jamal Al-Aziz.
One month hence, my young mistress, you will be a bride!"
Excitement blazed through Leila. "When was this
decided?" she asked, astounded that she had been thinking of such a thing
only a short while ago.
"Late this afternoon," Eve replied quietly. "Your
father received a letter from Jamal at the hospital not long after you left,
but since his work will stretch far into the night he sent a message requesting
I give you the news. Jamal believes the caliph's family will be fully cured
within a few weeks, and he has requested that the wedding preparations begin at
once. He is most eager for the marriage."