Authors: Serena Janes
Tags: #Contemporary, #erotic Romance
Love among the ruins was never this exciting.
On the run from failed relationships, a Canadian and a Dane meet deep in the desert of Syria. But what was meant to be a one-night stand leaves Julie and Torval reeling with the force of their connection. Each is compelled to track the other through the vast exotic lands of the ancient Silk Road, wanting just one more night together.
But will one night ever be enough?
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 Serena Janes
Cover art by Carmen Waters
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.
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Tracking Tor: Book One
In 2009 I spent a fascinating week in the Syrian Arab Republic. This story is dedicated to the wonderful Syrian people I met on my travels.
Julie blinked. Once, twice, three times, and she still couldn’t tell if what she saw was real or a hallucination. She sprang to her feet awkwardly, half trapped by the chair behind and the table in front. She almost called out to him, but had no idea why, or what she thought she was going to say. She raised her hand unconsciously, as if to wave, then froze in midair.
When she realized she was standing up at the crowded restaurant table, mouth open, arm raised in a half-salute, she blushed. Everyone was staring at her.
She watched the motorcycle drive away, leaving a plume of dust in the early evening air, and sank back into her chair, heart racing.
I swear I know him!
Of course she didn’t. But her body seemed to recognize him in some primitive way.
“Are you all right, dear? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Her mother, Hannah Stevens, a professor of Ancient History, was leading her fourth annual cultural tour of the Middle East. She was in charge of twelve souls, and Julie was acting as her assistant and sounding board. Touring this part of the world was not exactly a piece of cake—especially not for women.
“Yeah, Mom. I’m good,” Julie answered, looking down at the plate of food the waiter had just set down in front of her.
was one of the few dozen Arabic words Julie had picked up the previous year when she’d accompanied her mother on the same tour.
They started in Syria, moved through Jordan, and ended in Egypt—twenty-eight days of exploring museums, ancient cities, and World Heritage Sites. As long as civil war didn’t break out in Syria or Egypt, Hannah expected to be back in Vancouver in time to teach a summer session class in Ancient Civilizations, and Julie would step back into her regular summer job at the campus bookstore.
Julie knew her mother enjoyed leading these tours. It gave her a chance to indulge her love of travel and strengthen her knowledge base in her area of expertise—Bedouin culture. Professor Stevens’ clients often included graduate students—and on occasion, a few undergraduates—but usually it was retirees who made up the bulk of the group. This year there were five youngsters—unusual, considering only two of them were students. The others were retirees.
They’d arrived the day before, spending one night in Damascus, then boarding a bus to Palmyra, deep in the middle of the Syrian desert. Here, in this beautiful Spice Route oasis, there was enough to keep them busy for two full days before heading back to the capital. Ancient temples, Roman ruins and the famous Valley of the Tombs were just some of the area’s most important archaeological sites.
Julie’s stomach growled. Everyone at the table had ordered the house specialty—stuffed pancakes. She and her mother had carefully coached their clients about what to avoid eating and drinking on this trip. Raw food, they warned, might be contaminated. Meat and poultry were probably safe, but going vegetarian was even safer. Middle Eastern vegetarian dishes were excellent and inexpensive, and the regional pancakes were especially delicious, no matter what the filling.
They looked pretty good, Julie thought as she picked up her fork and opened hers to peek inside. It was stuffed with grilled vegetables and cheese, and the smell made her mouth water in anticipation.
If she hadn’t been so distracted, she would have attacked her food. But she’d just seen something amazing. Or at least she thought she had. Maybe her imagination was playing tricks on her.
She was still exhausted from the trip. Vancouver to Amsterdam, a five-hour layover, then on to Damascus. And the bus ride that morning had been hell.
But at the moment her synapses were fired up and her entire body pulsed with adrenaline.
I don’t know him, but I have a funny feeling that I should.
At first, it was just the motorcycle that had caught her attention. It was parked across the street from the restaurant. A big, powerful road bike. A gold-colored BMW, completely coated with dust. And bungeed to the back was a large backpack, also coated with the fine yellow dust of Palmyra’s desert. It seemed out of place here. It was too big, too foreign, in the town where the main mode of transportation was decades-old scooters.
But the bike became more than just a bike when Julie spotted a red and white decal of the Danish flag on the gas tank, almost invisible under the grime. She couldn’t see the license plate from where she sat, but she assumed it was Danish, too.
Someone’s a long, long way from home.
Julie was half Danish, her mother being a Dane. She’d never been to Denmark, but it was certainly one of her must-go destinations.
She’d been musing about why she was sitting in an outdoor restaurant in Syria and not in Tivoli Gardens of Denmark when her stomach somersaulted.
As dusty as his bike, the rider wore a red and black padded jacket, black riding pants and heavy black leather boots. Looking every inch a true road warrior, he strode out of the hotel adjacent to the restaurant and threw a leg over the bike. He was tall, with wide shoulders. His long hair was light brown, almost blond, and tied back with a thin piece of cord.
She had only a glimpse of his face before he pulled on his helmet. Handsome, clean cut but rugged—a fascinating combination. He was just her type, she thought as she watched him start the engine and drive off with a roar.
Wouldn’t he be perfect? Just what I need to get my mind off of Richard fucking Wakeman.
She really didn’t want to be this far from home and still be thinking about her ex-lover morning, noon and night. And what better way to get distracted than with another man. A big Danish biker would do the job, she thought.
But he’s obviously on his way out of here. Too bad…
Sighing, she looked down at her dinner again. Then she glanced at the plate next to hers, belonging to Marc. His pancake was filled with grilled chicken. It looked awfully good, but Julie and her mother had vowed to stick to vegetarian meals on this time. Last year they’d both caught a stomach bug that dogged them through the entire trip.
She watched as Marc pulled a little bottle of Tabasco sauce out of his breast pocket and liberally doused his meal.
Julie glanced down the long table at her other travel companions. They were busy eating and drinking, talking and laughing. It didn’t seem a bad group, as far as these kinds of groups went. Tina and Tanya, the twin bimbos from Nanaimo, might be a problem, though. They were both undergraduates in the History Department, and looked like partiers of the worst sort. Their hair was too blonde, their make-up too heavy and their clothes too tight. Everywhere they went they caught the attention of the local men. She might have to ask them to tone it down, at least until they got to Jordan where things were more liberal.
The twins had been a concern to Julie and her mother from Day One. Julie felt they belonged on a party cruise in the Caribbean rather than an academic tour of the Middle East. But a paying customer was a paying customer, and some undergraduates had parents who were paying customers.
In contrast was the mostly-quiet trio in their late twenties who seemed a little out of place. Arnie, a stocky young man with a shaved head and an aggressive demeanor, was never without his wife, Becky, at his heels. He was an academic of sorts, having recently completed his MBA, and Julie knew he was actively looking for a teaching post overseas. But she hadn’t yet asked him why he’d signed up for a cultural tour of the Middle East. She wondered if he was searching out employment opportunities.
Becky was a pale, pretty blonde, passive to the point of being almost invisible. By the third day of the tour Julie still hadn’t had a real conversation with her. All she knew about Becky was that she worked in a bank and kept pet rabbits.
Although she could understand why Arnie would bring his wife along, Julie thought it was particularly odd that he also had his kid sister in tow. Colette was in finance and just didn’t seem the type to be interested in ancient history. But she was a lively, humorous addition to their group, and Julie was glad for her company. Plain to the point of seeming unattractive, Colette wasn’t going to cause Julie and her mother the same kind of trouble as the twins. For that, Julie was grateful.
She was also grateful for Peggy, a single woman in her forties who worked in the university’s Special Collections Department. Peggy was easy to get along with and seemed to already know a lot about the places they were going to visit. She and Julie found they enjoyed many of the same books and they both admired Woody Allen films, which gave them lots to talk about.
The rest of the group was made up of active seniors. Bob and Rhonda were retired schoolteachers from North Vancouver. Well-traveled and well-read, they brought a wealth of anecdotal wisdom to the group. Short, fit and tanned, they looked almost alike in their matching Tilley hats and drab travel clothing.
Nibbling at her food, Julie looked down the table at Sharlene, a widowed nurse. She’d spent most of her working years in the Northern community of Peace River, and compensated by trotting all over the globe now that she was retired. A fitness enthusiast with a shock of curly white hair, she was always the first one up in the morning, insisting on a power walk before breakfast. Right now she was putting away her pancake as if she hadn’t eaten for days.
Rose and Margery—a close couple of indeterminate years—sat across from Sharlene. One look at them and anyone could see they were gay. They reminded Julie of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas—only the roles seemed reversed. Rose was the smaller woman, thin and quick with a sharp face, and clearly the dominant force in that relationship. Margery was large and ambling, slightly bovine in her features and mannerisms, with a sweet disposition.
Julie turned back to Marc. He was a welcome addition to the group, Julie thought, and not just because he was the lone single male. His wit and charm made everyone laugh—especially Hannah. Julie noticed right away that her mother seemed to sparkle whenever Marc was near. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen her mother sparkle, and she approved.
“That’s quite an addiction you’ve developed there,” Julie said he tightened the cap on the bottle of Tabasco and slipped it back into his breast pocket. Marc had the florid face of a natural redhead, although his pale hair was mostly white. She wondered if the hot sauce was the cause.
He laughed. “You’re right. But when you get to be my age, and been forced to eat bland tourist food for years, you feel the need for a little kick.”
“So you travel a lot?”
“I do. I took an early retirement package and set out to explore the world and its various cuisines.” He stuffed a slice of pancake in his mouth and washed it down with a drink of beer. “This is tasty. My passion is experiencing as many cultures as I can and enjoying regional foods and beverages along the way. Now tell me, what’s your passion?”
Julie felt herself redden under his scrutiny. She wasn’t sure what her passion was. Until a few days ago, she thought it was Richard. But now she knew she’d been mistaken. She swallowed a mouthful of pancake and put down her fork. “I suppose I’m floundering a bit. I like travelling, too. But I haven’t done a lot, yet. I’m just finishing my first year of graduate school, studying ancient history at the moment.”