Read Heart of the Desert Online

Authors: Carol Marinelli

Heart of the Desert (9 page)

‘You make it sound so clinical.’

‘When?’ He challenged. ‘You interpret it as clinical—I assure you it was not.’

‘You can’t
teach
it …’ she flared but right there her argument started to weaken, because in his arms she had learnt so much. ‘It isn’t just …’ she tried again, but words failed her. ‘Some things,’ she attempted, and then closed her eyes in defeat, because how could she admit that it wasn’t just his skill that brought her to frenzy, it was him.

That just the curve of his arrogant mouth and the scent of his skin prompted vigilance, that if he sat there now and did not move, if all he did was stay still as she leant over and kissed him, if all he did was lie there as her hands roamed his body, it would be every bit as good as her recall. It wasn’t Ibrahim’s skill her body craved—it was him. ‘When we …’ Georgie swallowed. There was something she needed to say. ‘When I stopped you, it wasn’t because—’

‘I don’t want to discuss it,’ Ibrahim said, because it would be too dangerous here to recall that night. Going into the details of their time together would not help.

‘Please. I want—’

‘You heard what I said.’

He could be so rude. Annoyed at him, angry at how he just closed off whenever it suited him. She refused to drag conversation out of him. She wandered around the lounge and there was much to amuse and interest her. She ran her fingers along one instrument and another and for the first time in her life she actually wanted to dance. She wanted to turn up the music and turn to him, and she felt as if she was fighting insanity, wondered just what it was in the fruit, because the desert made her dizzy with freedom from inhibition. She forced herself to explore rather than linger, picked up a heavy glass bottle and pulled out the stopper, but Ibrahim came over.

‘They are not for cosmetic …’ Ibrahim shook his head, took the glass jar and replaced the stopper. ‘They are medicinal.’

‘I know,’ Georgie answered, irritated. ‘This is what I study.’

‘These are potent.’

‘I do know!’ She saw the dismissal in his single blink. It was a reaction she was used to, yet from Ibrahim it annoyed her. ‘Just because you don’t believe in my work …’

‘But I do.’

‘So why are you so scorning?’

‘I am not …’ His voice trailed off, because in truth he was. ‘There are thousands of years of learning, of wisdom in these oils, our ways—’

‘That can’t be learnt in a four-week course!’ Stupidly she felt like crying, not at his scorn, not at his derision, but because she felt there was truth in what he was saying. It was a question she had asked herself. She had sat in a classroom and later with clients wondering if she was worthy of imparting such ancient knowledge.

‘Do you believe in what you do?’ Ibrahim asked.

‘Of course,’ Georgie said. ‘Well, I do, but I know there is more, much more to learn.’

‘Always there is more to learn, for ever there will be more to learn,’ Ibrahim said.

‘So you don’t think I should practise.’

‘I did not say that. I go for my massage in London. There are practitioners like you …’ He said it without scorn. ‘They work with the oils, but their minds are not present.’ How could he explain something he did not fully understand himself? But Georgie understood.

‘Mine is,’ she said, and took the bottle back from him. She held it a moment then took off the stopper, placed a drop of oil on her finger and moved it to his throat. He stood rigid as her finger slid down to his throat and in tiny circular motions massaged over his thymus—that area held past issues and his was full. She could smell the frankincense, the bergamot and a note she couldn’t identify, and still her finger circled and her mind was present. It was Ibrahim who pulled back.
‘This is what you do for a living?’ He captured her hand.

‘You make it sound like I’m running some seedy massage parlour. It’s about energy and healing and relaxation.’ She gave an impatient shake of her head. ‘I don’t have to explain to you what I do.’

He dropped his grip and still her finger circled. ‘Show me,’ Ibrahim said, which normally would have been a dangerous tease, an extension of his game, but it was more than that. He could feel the tiny flickers of her pulse in the pads of her fingers, and he also wanted some of this peace she talked about. ‘Show me,’ he said again.

He was used to massage—a keen horseman, there was all too often a hip or a shoulder that had taken a beating. He used massage just for physical ailments but wanted more. Often in London he found himself face down on a table, but no matter how skilled the hands, no matter how they relaxed his body, his mind did not quieten, and it was that he craved—some peace and clarity, for conflicting thoughts to still so he could assess them. For a second she had given him that quietness and he wanted more.

He pulled off his robes and lay on the cushioned floor. Just a sash covered him and it was Georgie who was awkward as she prepared her oils from the vast selection. It was she who was facing the biggest test, she wondering how to remain professional because he was utterly and completely exquisite. She was used to shy, fragile women, and there could be no greater contrast.
His back gleamed with muscle and awaited her touch, but there was a pertinent problem and as she prepared her dishes and vials she tried to keep her voice matter-of-fact.

‘You need to lie on your back.’

She watched his shoulders stiffen, watched his expanded chest still as he held air in, then he turned round and she covered him, because this was not about sex, this was about something more.

But for Ibrahim any hope of relaxing, of merely enjoying a feminine touch, was dashed then, because lying like this with her kneeling next to him, it would take every ounce of concentration he possessed to ignore her, not to give in to the natural response of his body. He must lie there now and think of things, anything other than the woman who was moving down to his feet. He must not think of the hands she rubbed together to warm in preparation and he was about to roll over, to tell her not to bother, but as she captured a foot her fingers were so silky and oiled he lingered.

She had felt him resist, felt him fight, but as her hands slid to his feet and she stroked his sole, there was a tentative surrender that she recognised, a shift when a mind handed itself over to you. She wasn’t sure if that trust was merited. Just a ping of doubt went through her as she thought of a four-week course versus the arts of the desert, then she knew what to do, and there was no more trepidation. She felt as if the roof had lifted from the tent, felt as if it was daylight again and the wind was gone, that the sun was beating directly into
her head, spreading through her body and warming her fingers. Her hands knew what to do, and Georgie gave in to the healing along with Ibrahim and did what the desert told her.

She oiled his feet with lavender and spruce, worked slowly up past his calves, and when his legs were oiled and his body relaxed, her mind with his, she oiled her fingers and moved to his navel. There was a brief hesitation as her fingers hovered, and then it was only about him and she worked gently there with jasmine and neroli. She moved to his chest, small clockwise motions around his heart, and she couldn’t hear the wind, just its message, and she worked on forgiveness with geranium and other drops of different oils, but she still felt resistance, his urge for her to move on. She moved to his stomach again. She worked on release, with ylang ylang and blue tansy, but he would not give in to it.

She added melissa, the fragrance he had smelt on her that night on the balcony, or as he called it—Bal-smin. It was the chief of oils and Ibrahim met his match in it. She saw his eyes close tighter, and if it had not been Ibrahim, so proud and removed, she would have sworn it was a man fighting back tears. Then she felt the release, felt the pain slide out beneath her fingers as he freed Ahmed. And then she went to his heart again, which didn’t need her hand now because he had forgiven, and her hand slid down his body, down his legs, then to his feet to finish.

And it was more than intimate, it was more than sex, it was the closest he had ever been to another person,
and when she had finished, when he opened his eyes, he willed her to go on. But she could hear the music and see the man before her now, and it wasn’t her vocation that led her—it was instinct. She watched her own fingers as they dripped oil low on his stomach, and it was the woman she had only today first seen in the mirror that peeled back the sash. Her warm hands slipped around him, stroked him while she looked at him, slid both palms around in a skilled motion she had never so much as attempted before, and he looked into eyes that were wanton and a red mouth that in moment would take him—and how he wanted it to.

‘We cannot be together here.’

She could feel him sliding through her fingers, could feel the beat of her heart in her throat, and it was him and only him that made her bold.

‘No one would have to know.’ He watched her lips part in a smile. ‘What happens in the desert stays in the desert.’

Ibrahim’s fingers moved up her chin and slid into her hair and how he wanted to guide her head down, rather than wait till the morning. He wanted to break a rule, but he was stronger than that, or was he weak, because he could not defy the desert.

‘This is how you work?’

He watched colour flood her face, ached unfulfilled as her hands released him.

‘Of course not.’

‘Go to bed.’ he stood and pulled her from her knees to her feet and felt guilty for shaming her. He fought a rare
need to explain himself, that it was safer if they were apart. ‘Anyway, you might change your mind again at the last minute. Just go to bed, Georgie.’

CHAPTER NINE

I
T WAS
the longest night and she lay there both embarrassed and wanting.

The air was thick and warm and soon her jug of water was empty. Georgie wanted to go to the kitchen to replenish it, but was scared to move.

She had tried to seduce him. She closed her eyes in mortification—with all her banging on about being professional, she could hardly believe what she’d done, what the desert had made her do.

Georgie
. She could hear him calling her.

Georgie
. She heard it again and stood.

Georgie
. It was his voice, she was sure of it, and she padded across the room, parting the drape, ready for his summons, but then she heard the shriek of laughter from the wind that taunted her and she ran back to bed and curled up, wondering if she was going mad.

Ibrahim
. He heard it too, but he was prepared for it. He heard the desert tease, heard the wind drop into a low seductive voice that danced around his bed, saw her face in his dream and when he awoke, when he could not sleep, when his teeth gritted and his head thrashed with
insomnia, his hand stalled on its way down to private solace, for even that release was denied him by the laws that bound him tonight, because he would have been thinking of her.

And sunrise should have brought relief, but there was none. Still the winds blacked it out as they screamed, still it was dark, and she heard his chant of prayer and finally she completely agreed with Ibrahim, for Georgie now hated the desert.

‘Can we go?’ she asked, when his prayers were completed and she padded out of her room.

‘The winds are still heavy,’ Ibrahim said but he did not look at her. ‘Get dressed and we will have breakfast.’

‘I’m not hungry.’

‘Then go back to bed and rest,’ he ordered. ‘I will do the same. As soon as it is safe to do so, we will leave.’

‘I’m scared,’ Georgie admitted ‘I’m scared of the noises …’

‘It’s just wind.’

‘I feel like …’ It sounded madder in words than in her head. ‘I feel like it knows I mocked it last night.’

‘Don’t.’ He loathed what he had said to her in an urgent attempt to halt what they had been doing. ‘You did nothing wrong. I should not have spoken to you like that. Georgie … it’s just tales I was telling.’

‘You believe them.’

‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘Yes. I don’t know.’ He didn’t know. He could see her outline in the lamplight,
he could hear the fear in her voice, and tales of old were illogical.

‘Come here.’

She stood, scared to do as he said, scared to return to her own bed.

‘Come on.’

His voice was real, the wind was not, and as the wind let out a screech, she ran those thirty-four steps to him, to the solid warmth of his arms. He could feel her heart hammering in her chest as he held her close, because she really was terrified.

‘It’s just …’ He struggled for the words. ‘Old wives’ tales.’

‘So they’re not true?’

‘No.’ he started, but he could not quite deny them. ‘I don’t think so. Come …’ His bed was warm and her skin was cold and he pulled her in.

‘Did your parents not tell you tales when you were younger?’

‘No.’ She gave a cynical snort. ‘We weren’t exactly tucked in with a bedside story each night.’

‘Is that why you ran away?’ He felt her tense. ‘Karim told me,’ he admitted. ‘Not everything, he was talking more about Felicity, about her childhood, how mistrusting it made her. Your father—’

‘Was a drunken brute,’ Georgie finished for him. ‘My mother was terrified of him. Even after he died, he still left his mark on her. She’s still taking tablets to calm her nerves, still scared of her own shadow.’

‘What about you?’

‘I wasn’t scared of him—I just wanted to get away from him.’

‘Which was why you ran?’

‘I was always sent back.’ She was angry at the memory, angry at the injustice. ‘He never hit us—which made it fine, apparently. We were living in chaos, dancing to his temper, but …’ She didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t want to relive those times again—times when the only thing she had been able to control had been the food that had gone into her mouth, but Ibrahim seemed to understand without her saying it. She felt his hand dust her arm and slip to her waist, to the slender frame that was softened now with slight curves. As her hands had helped him, his hands did their work now, each touch, each stroke assuring her somehow that he knew how hard fought each gain had been, how fiercely she had fought for survival.

He could not
not
kiss her.

Just a kiss, and as he moved to her mouth for a moment he fought it.

‘What would happen?’ Georgie whispered, and he could taste her sweet breath.

‘Nothing probably.’ With her next to him, he could rationalise it. ‘As I said, look at my parents …’

‘But they still love each other,’ Georgie said. ‘They’re still bound. Felicity told me—’ she did not know if she was betraying a secret ‘—that Karim wouldn’t let her leave the desert till—’

‘It’s old wives’ tales.’ He was sure of it now. ‘After
all, I can bring a mistress from the palace to the desert and I am not bound to her. It’s just superstition.’

‘Why doesn’t she come to you?’ Georgie asked. ‘I mean, when you’re younger. Why do you have to walk to the palace?’ She liked the tales, liked hearing the stories.

‘It would be different.’ Ibrahim said. ‘Your first time, at such a young age, you would not be able to separate the two—and if you love her in the desert …’ It was too illogical to even try to explain it, so he smiled instead and felt her calm beside him. There was peace in his heart this morning that had been absent for ages, forgiveness in his soul, and he would be forever grateful to her for that, and he really could not not kiss her.

And that had caused trouble before, but this was a different kiss: this was slow and non-urgent and, a first for Ibrahim, it was a kiss that was purely tender.

And a kiss couldn’t hurt when it felt so nice, and she was content with his kiss, because she’d craved it for months. The taste of his tongue and the weight of his lips. For a while Ibrahim too was content, to feel her breast through the fabric as his mouth explored hers, but then a kiss did not quite suffice, and he opened the buttons as far as they would go. ‘Did your sister design this gown for you?’ he teased, because even with all the buttons undone, he still couldn’t get to her breast and his hand slid to her waist to pursue from a different angle, but that would not be wise so, just a little disgruntled, he pulled back.

His eyes asked permission, for what she didn’t know,
but she licked her lips in consent and he tore the fabric and went back to kissing her. She felt his sigh of satisfaction in her mouth as his hand, unhindered now, met her breast, and she kissed him and felt the satin of his skin beneath her fingers. It was still just a kiss, though her hands roamed. They felt the chest she’d once touched and explored it again, felt the dark, flat nipple beneath the pads of her fingers. It remained at a kiss even as her hands slid down.

And then, recalling last night, there was hesitation, but his apology came by way of his hands that led her to him and he moaned in her mouth as she held him.

Still just a kiss as she touched and explored what all night she had thought of, then it was far more than a kiss because his mouth would not suffice and her lips trailed down his torso, tasting the salt of his skin till Ibrahim halted her, because he wanted more of her, wanted longer with her, than her mouth would allow.

‘We mustn’t.’ Georgie said, as he pulled her body over his, because she was starting to understand there were rules.

‘We won’t,’ Ibrahim said, because he had more control than anyone, that much he knew.

He liked living on the edge, the brink, and this morning he did just that. ‘We can do this.’ Ibrahim said, and he pulled her till her legs were astride him. He took a breast in his mouth and his hands slid over her bottom, and she steadied herself with her hands and thought she would die because it felt like heaven.

‘We can’t,’ she said, which was different from the
I can’t
she had once halted him with.

‘We won’t,’ he insisted, as the tip of his thick length stroked her clitoris and he waited for the wind to warn him, or for a sign to halt him, or for Georgie to again recant. Except the desert was silent and there was nothing to halt him, and Georgie bit down on her lip to stop herself begging him to enter her.

She didn’t need to.

He slipped in just a little way and she could never again say no to him, because he felt sublime.

And there was only one law that they followed, and that was nature’s. He inched into her and then lifted her just a little further each time. He wanted the stupid nightdress off, but he did not want to stop touching her for a second. It was Georgie who lifted the fabric over her head and at the sight of her arms upstretched and her body above him he could no longer tease and cared nothing for rules, and he pulled her full down onto him.

The force of full entry had her cry in surprise, so purposefully and assuredly, he filled her, and though she tried to stretch for more of him, her body clamped down in possession, as if to assure herself she wouldn’t flee from him again. He watched, he slid up on the cushions so he could watch them, and she saw more than passion in his eyes. She saw something else too and she wanted to share it, so he pushed her head down a little, so she could share in the dark and light they made. She loved the rules as she watched them unite, she wanted
to be bound for ever. Then he guided her head to his and his cool tongue met hers—every beat of her orgasm matched his, every finger knotted in his hair met by the tug on her own scalp. Then, afterwards, their eyes were mirrors both searching for regret or dread at dues now to be paid, and both finding none.

She lay beside him, knew he was thinking and so too was she. ‘Later today …’ he kissed her shoulder, as if confirming a thought ‘… I will take you back to the palace and then I must leave for London.’

‘You’re leaving?’

‘I have to go.’

She looked up at him.

‘I need to speak properly with my father. I need to think about …’ He didn’t say ‘us’, but she was sure that he almost did. ‘He has flown there today to visit my mother.’

‘Because of what you said to him?’

‘In spite of what I said to him.’ The loathing in his voice did not match their tender mood.

‘Is it always like this between you?’

‘Always,’ Ibrahim said. ‘He demands I respect him—but how? Why can’t he just let her go?’

‘Let her go?’ Georgie didn’t understand. After all, his mother had her own life in London.

‘She is still his wife.’ Ibrahim looked down at her, took in the flushed cheeks and rumpled hair, and it felt so good to share his thoughts with her. ‘She regrets her indiscretion—so much so that all this time she has stayed loyal.’

‘But it’s been years.’

‘And there will be many more years. After all this time ignoring her, now he drops in at will. Who’s to say next month, next year he will be too busy? And she is expected to wait.’

‘Can’t she divorce him?’

‘There is no divorce in Zaraq. It is so forbidden that there is not even a word for it. A lacuna, there is no concept, no precedence. My mother knows that even if legally it is taken care of overseas, still always, to him, to the people of Zaraq, she is his wife and nothing can change it.’

He did not notice her flushed cheeks pale suddenly.

‘There’s nothing that can change it?’

‘Nothing,’ Ibrahim confirmed, and she felt her heart still. ‘You cannot undo what is done—that is the rule of Zaraq.’

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