His head snapped sharply aside to collide with his own aching shoulder. The hulking brute he had heard referred to as Abdullah leaned into Caine's face while his brain was yet reeling, flexing his fingers from the punch just dealt to his jaw, and said in Arabic, 'I did not know English women were so strong.
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Just say, dakhilak.' Without hesitation, 'Dakhilak.' He nodded. Her accent was getting no better. 'Now, you can never take it back.' 'Well, what does it mean? Thank you?' She should have asked sooner. He didn't turn to meet the gaze he felt on him, his voice full of sand, his stomach sick. 'It gives me charge of your life.
She was an extension of his dreams. A sprinkling of magic dust, of unfeasible wishes, on his stable existence. The one thing-the one bright, marvelous thing-he wanted more than the world, but didn't deserve. However much he was tortured for her sake, however much blood he had spilled to protect her, the bruises to his body and the thrashings to his sanity, it would never be enough to make a wretch like him worthy of such a miracle.
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I know I am flaky, I accept that-and I know, as well, that I can mangle the good king's English like no one else in my or the next ten governesses' acquaintances, but that will not prevent me from speaking! I may not be as wise as you in the ways of the world, I may not have wounds that run as deeply or scars to wear upon my chest like medals of valor, but at least I don't retreat and hide the moment a soul comes within reach of my fingers!
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He watched her for her reaction, or possibly watched her just to watch, his eyes hooded by his lashes and his mouth impassive. A faceless man-such as the one she had dreamed of since she was a child-his identity not obscured by mist or flying sand or swirling dust, but by a mask he readily employed whenever he wished. As a shutter closed against a gale. Closed against her, no matter the impact of his words. He seemed to speak them against his will, just as he seemed to care for her against his will.
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She wondered how a man could look into a woman's eyes and lie so completely, so convincingly. She wondered how he could have looked and not seen the love that had glowed there, the blind faith, the unconditional devotion. She wondered how he would sleep at night, knowing he had betrayed her so effortlessly.
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Better this way, what remained of his battered sensibilities told him. He was no good for her, anyway. She didn't understand him. She didn't understand that he was cursed. And, selfish as he was, he'd rather she hate him than he hate himself any more than he was already going to. Any more than he already did.
The blood dried on his good hand, he passed his palm over her hair. It curled about his wrist and sprung back into displace as the breeze fluttered by. In the firelight, it was golden like the dandelions of which she'd spoken. The ones that had grown along the Franklin riverbank in late summer. The ones he had lost any faith in since he'd committed his first murder there.
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A hand stole around her mouth, silencing her, then his lips parting her tumbled hair: 'The walls have ears.' She blinked, and for the first time, looked around. A thin beam of light beneath what may have been a door. That was all. When he released her, she endeavored to match his own, barely audible tone. 'Do the walls understand English?
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Shifting uneasily, Caine cleared his throat, left to wonder why her eyes would make him so unbelievably uncomfortable now after all that had already passed between them these past few weeks. 'Caine?' That would be why. It was a question of insurmountable proportions. A single word that held every fear he had ever had-and every wish he had ever made on those cursed stars. She needn't say more. In a single syllable, she had said more than he wanted to hear in an entire lifetime.
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He had always prided himself on his ability to bargain, to bluff, to contain his ever-aching heart within the folds of his robes where no one could see his pain and his shame. Unconsciously, he reached up and fisted the little black pearl in his fingers, searching for words, praying to the Almighty for the words that would let him have her. But they would not come. They were not needed, when the truth was in his eyes.
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She accepted it uncertainly. 'This will help?' Without waiting for an answer, with that unsettling trust of hers, she popped open the lid and dug in her finger, smearing the slick substance on and around her mouth. Going outside of the lines, as he deduced she did with most everything in her life. When she was done, she looked absolutely ridiculous. Caine barely resisted smiling at her. 'It will help immensely.
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There are still many souls to be won for Christ, ' she answered with quiet dignity, eyes downcast-but not, he figured, in humility. 'Even here. Perhaps, especially here. Where better to spread his love, than a country just recently ravaged by war?' 'Where better to be kidnapped and sold into slavery, than a country just recently ravaged by war?' with a discernible sneer.
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There will always be another war, Gillia.' He allowed his cynicism to seep through. 'Do you know why? Because there will always be bigots and cowards and power-mad devils in positions of omnipotence. Look around you. There has been war here since time began. It's nature. Animals kill each other for survival, for territory... and for the taste of blood in their mouths. Man is no different.
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Therefore, she hummed the provincial lullaby she had learned from the officers' children in the English Quarter of Jerusalem, and watched in fascination while the savage radical's eyes misted over with tears. For an instant, the prison bars melted away, and she felt God's presence-for the first time since their imprisonment. She was not a captive, and this man was not her captor. Indeed, they were both merely God's children.
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deceitful!' she decided with a little bounce of fury that briefly ballooned the silk of her trousers. 'There! You deceitful ... ' 'Gillia... ' '... misleading, dishonest, insincere... ' 'Those are all the same words, Gill-' 'Ooh! Liar!' She'd managed to get her hands on a small pillow. He ducked just as it whizzed past him. In justice, however, it did strike the mosaic vase behind him on an engraved mahogany pedestal, and it tipped and spun on its base before landing in a shattered heap on the bare floor. 'Now, look what you've done!' she accused tearfully and bolted from the room.
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The horizon was indistinguishable from the inky black, which fell upon the desert like a sorcerer's mantle shot through with diamonds. The stars were so tiny, so far away, and yet, at the moment, with her fingers curled around his, he almost felt as though he could reach up and snag one by the tail.
Wait for me.' If his voice was just a bit hoarse, she didn't seem to take note of it. She looked at him as though he had reached over and slapped her. 'You don't trust me? After all that talk of taking me for my word-' 'This isn't about trust.' 'That is precisely what this is about.' Her fingers fisted in her skirts. 'Because I've trusted you.' It hurt him to hear it. He didn't know what else to do. He had no contacts left. He was walking around now like a blind man. He didn't need the added weight of her safety on his conscience. Caine's eyes fell away again. 'Maybe you shouldn't.' That earned him a flustered: 'You told me to!
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He squinted at her. He recalled the tears in her eyes that had not fallen into her teacup. No, it wasn't a revelation. Not even to him. Yet, this was the same woman who had stolen a camel right out from under the Anti-Zionist army's nose. She'd taken his hand, thrown herself down a sand dune on a dare, and then beaten him back up it. She'd glared at him and refused to part from his side. A coward? 'Never, ' he said again.
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What she knew was sand and wind and innumerable stars. The rumble in a camel's throat as it swayed over shifting dunes, its trappings jingling in time with its steps beneath her. She knew the sting of thirst and the taste of dried fruit, the glare of sun and the frigid, bone-numbing cold of the air when the sun gave her throne over to the moon. She knew that, to survive, one must often revise one's caliber, and one must completely depend upon Jesus Christ.
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