Authors: Sophia Lynn
By: Sophia Lynn
All Rights Reserved.
Copyright 2016 Sophia Lynn
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
When Berry Caine turned the corner of the souk, dodging a man who was laden down with boxes of pastries and skirting a woman who wanted to sell her a beautiful gold necklace, she laid eyes on one of the most beautiful things she had ever seen.
It was a brass statue of a camel, and from the designs that she saw on its saddle and its tack, it was well over two hundred years old. Just because something was old, however, didn't mean that it was valuable, and she had more than three years as a Farnsworth Antiques curator to know that.
With a look of polite interest on her face, she wandered up to the stand where the brass camel was sitting. There was the common detritus of junk that she had come to associate as standard in an Alamun vendor stall, including small ceramic dancing figures, brass flowers, and vivid blue soapstone carved into balls. However, among the junk were pieces that would perfect for the store in Brooklyn, smaller and not great for the gallery, but perfect for the weekend antiquer with time on their hands and a willingness to pay a great deal for something no one else had.
However, right now, that camel was the one that Berry decided was absolutely not going to escape her grasp. The older woman working the stall came to meet her with a wide smile, following her glance to the camel easily.
"Ah, you picked the best of the lot," the woman said in slightly British accented English. "That one, my great-great-grandfather brought out of the desert, and it has been in the family for some time."
"Oh? And why are you selling it?" Berry asked politely. It was probably best to get the sob story out of the way early, and she was right. The woman spun a truly impressive tale about a granddaughter who wanted to go to school and a sick daughter, and how it would break their heart to part with the camel, but it had to be done.
Berry looked over the camel, pretending to think, and then nodded.
"I will give you two hundred for it," she said, and the woman cried with surprise and offense.
"Oh, two hundred if you wish to melt it down for brass!" she exclaimed. "For a thing that came out of the desert on my very ancestor's back, you should be ashamed to spend less than two thousand!"
Berry allowed herself to laugh with dismay. "Oh, surely not!" she protested. "When your ancestor brought it out of the desert, I'm sure he was thinking of melting it down himself …"
"Ah, perhaps I overstated then. Eighteen hundred, then, and break my grand-daughter's heart …"
"Five hundred, and I'd be happy to write her a referral letter."
"From an American tourist? Would that do any good?" scoffed the woman, but Berry could see her eyes growing brighter.
Later on, perhaps, they could get to know each other and form a relationship over shipment of some of the other goods. Right now, though, Berry knew that she wanted that statue and that nothing was going to get in her way.
"Well, maybe not that much, but to make up for it, six hundred …"
They went back and forth like that, drawing amused glances from the people passing by. The Great Marketplace of Alamun had been a famous Middle Eastern trading post for more than five hundred years, and from the first time that two travelers traded pure glass beads for a handful of small copper ingots, very little had changed.
It was an international place, where Berry, tall, chestnut haired, and slender, didn't raise an eyebrow. Unlike in other places in the emirates, women wore what they pleased, and today, Berry was dressed in a long sleeveless black dress, her bright hair covered with a diaphanous drape of fabric that kept off the sun.
She and the vendor finally seemed to settle down somewhere in the neighborhood of twelve hundred dollars. Berry could feel the statue in her hands, and she imagined the way her boss would adore the camel when suddenly a new voice entered the proceedings.
"Five thousand for the camel statue."
Both Berry and the vendor turned to gape in surprise at the newcomer, but the vendor recovered first.
"Sold," she cried, before glancing at Berry triumphantly. "There, you see?" she said. "That is a man who knows what value is."
The man who had stepped in to snipe her purchase was tall, at least two inches over six feet, and in the designer slacks and silk shirt he wore, she could tell that he was muscular. He was clean-shaven, but she couldn't see his eyes, which were covered with a pair of heavy black shades. What she did know was that his grin—bright white and sharp— was maddening.
"It's a beautiful piece," he said as the woman wrapped it up for him.
"Yes, it is," Berry said reluctantly. "I hope you enjoy it."
The man made a noise of agreement, but the moment the woman gave him the neatly wrapped package tied with string, he turned to Berry.
She had been waiting until after he had left to speak with the vendor some more—at the very least, there were the smaller pieces that were of quite a good quality—but then the man offered her the statue.
"Here," he said, his voice low and amused. "A beautiful present for a beautiful woman."
Other women would have been flattered or perhaps flustered by his extravagant compliment. Other women might have gasped at the gift. Berry just felt a tide of rage coming up over her.
"Seriously?" she hissed, and to her dismay, the vendor was watching them very curiously now. Berry could see her chance for getting a good deal going right out the window.
she could imagine the woman saying,
with a man who will spend so much cash on you, why are you even haggling?
There might be something to salvage here later, when she could come back without the infuriating man grinning after her, but Berry could tell that it was a lost cause right this moment.
"No, I think not," she said, her words brutally clipped, and turning on her heel, she strode off.
To her dismay, he followed her until she stopped at a stand selling limeade, where she bought a tall glass of the overly sugary drink.
"That's very sweet," he observed, the camel package still tucked under his arm. “I wouldn't have thought that a foreigner would have a taste for it."
"Well, there's perhaps a great deal you don't know," Berry said through gritted teeth. When she sat down at a bench under the shade of an old tree, she rolled her eyes when he came to sit down next to her.
Instead of being offended by her irritable words, he only looked curious instead. "Oh? So why don't you tell me what it is I don't know? Perhaps you can start with why a woman might turn down a gift that was bought with the sole purpose of simply pleasing her?"
Berry laughed, because after all, she was a Boston girl who had been fending off catcalls and sexual propositions from the least appealing men since she was a teen.
"First, if you dropped five thousand dollars on someone without expecting anything, you are either an idiot or a liar," she said. "Second, you may want to keep in mind that what you see is not necessarily what you get."
To her irritation, he didn't look the least bit abashed.
"So educate me," he said easily. "Tell me what I was really seeing."
"You were seeing a woman who was trying to set up a deal with a vendor who has things that her employers might want. My job is to get the best deal possible, and when some big lunkhead with more money than sense shows up to overpay people for extravagant gifts for me, that sort of defeats the purpose. If word gets around, I'm going to be paying a fifty percent markup at least on everything. If I'm lucky. If I haven't managed to make this entire place a wash for my business at all."
He waved his hand indolently, waving away her concern as if it was nothing more than a passing indulgence.
"Feh, I don't know where you have browsed in the past, but the Great Marketplace of Alamun is greater than the rest put together. It is far too big to be worried about that."
"Oh really?" she asked, her voice syrup sweet. "And exactly what do you know about all of this? What's your expertise in antiquities? What's your experience as a buyer?"
He looked at her with a kind of amused tolerance that could drive her mad. Part of it, she thought, was that it was hard not to notice what an exceptionally handsome man he was. The attraction she felt for him was veined with frustration and irritation, which somehow made their encounter even more charged.
"I know enough," he drawled. "And more than that, I know women."
She stared at him, unable to believe what she was hearing. "Oh? Do tell."
"When I walked up to the vendor, I saw two women, one older and one younger. The older one had a great fondness for the younger one, and the younger one, well, she was quite beautiful, but alone."
A part of her fluttered to be called beautiful, but she stomped on that impulse hard. "Go on," she said, her voice acid sweet.
"She wanted the best for you, and part of that best, as a woman operating alone? Was to have a man show interest in you."
Berry couldn't stop herself from laughing. "Oh right, because the highest thing that a woman can hope for is to find a man."
"That's not what I said," he replied with a grin. "In Alamun, a woman is known by the admiration she commands. A man does not own a woman, but instead, a man worships a woman."
"All right, that's a new one," she admitted. "Are you saying that you were interested in worshiping me?"
"Well, worship might be something reserved for a wife, someone who holds that place in your life," he said with a startling amount of earnestness. "You? Perhaps I was looking to pay court to you."
"That's getting awfully ahead of yourself," Berry said, and she wondered why she was giving this man this much time. She tried to tell herself that he was little better than the construction workers who had hooted at her along the streets, but the more time she spent talking to him, the more she sat with him and listened to his words, the more drawn to him she felt.
He laughed at her, nodding in apology. "So it is far too soon for me to offer you my hand and to whisk you away from all this?" he asked.
Almost against her will, she found herself laughing. "Yeah, I think so," she said. "Because after all, you were the one who just ruined that deal for me. I'm going to be grumpy for a while."
"Ah, I see. Then something more humble. Perhaps you would allow me to take you to dinner. There is an excellent Greek place here, and if there is a better apology than good hummus, I don't know it …"For a moment, Berry was tempted. She didn't know why. If someone had told her that this was going to happen to her, she would have said that her natural reaction would have been to stride off in self-righteous fury. However, as she was sitting on a bench chatting with a man who she was beginning to find remarkably charming, a lot of that simply went out of her head.
Reluctantly, she shook her head. "No, I'm sorry, not interested," she said.
"Well, perhaps I can make up my offense in a more direct way …"
"And what would that be?"
In a matter of a moment, his gaze changed. He went from teasing her to something much hotter, much more intimate. He allowed her to see him scan her closely, his eyes running up and down her slender body. Suddenly, without him saying a word or touching her at all, he made her feel completely naked.
"I have an apartment close by," he said, his voice hushed. "It's a lovely place, with a view of the skyline, and there is a large soft bed. Perhaps I would not worship you, but there is a type of appreciation that I would be happy to show you …"
"Appreciation?" she said, barely aware of what she was saying. She felt as if the day had become suddenly much warmer, as if she were hypnotized by this man, all without seeing his eyes.
"Yes. I would remove each and every piece of your clothing. I would want to run my hands along that fair skin of yours. I would want to run my mouth over your curves until I had come to the secret spring at the center of you, and oh, pretty woman, I would make you cry out as if there was honey on your tongue …"