Zachery was asleep again, for which Doyle was grateful. The removal of the bullet had been a painful operation, for Cambridge had only a small amount of chloroform and was cautious in its use, saying he was not skilled enough to put Zachery out totally and still maintain a margin of safety. But he had dosed Hart with laudanum and he was resting peacefully.
"He should be fine," Cambridge reassured Doyle. "Let him sleep now. You look as if you could use a spot of tea, my boy."
Doyle tucked the blanket closer around Zachery, then followed the older man into the living area. "You're sure he's all right?"
Cambridge hung a kettle over the brazier, before answering. "It was a clean wound -- if any bullet wound can be called such. Sit down, Raymond."
Doyle sat tiredly and looked at Cambridge. "You've been very kind. Thank you."
"I did what was necessary. What the Sheik asked of me."
The younger man stared at him. "And if he hadn't asked?"
"Bodie's word is law here. You have to accept that."
"What are you doing here?" Doyle asked. "Bodie told me you once taught at Cambridge. How did you end up in this place?"
"It's a long, rather boring story. Suffice it to say, I chose to be here."
"That's not much of an answer."
"No," Cambridge agreed. "Perhaps I'll give you a better one some day. If I can think of one."
Doyle shook his head, bemused. "I don't understand any of this."
"Do you need to understand?" the old man asked curiously.
"Yes, I do. Who is Bodie? He isn't Arab. At least, he doesn't look it."
"Oh, but he is, Raymond. That is what he chooses to be, and that is what he will remain. In the long run, that is all any of us are -- what we choose to be." He watched Doyle for a moment, then seemed to come to a decision. "His father was my friend. We met at Cambridge when he was at school -- a very long time ago."
"Yes, Bodie told me that much."
"I was a professor at the university, still young enough to be a little restless in the rigidity of the academic world. I was something of a radical, I'm afraid. Not at all popular at the time, as you can imagine. When Nassar asked me to travel with him, the lure of strange lands was too much to resist. I thought I could learn far more from reality than within the ivy covered enclosures. I was right to a certain extent.
"It was a time of decisions, you see. A time when many countries were beginning to have a great interest in Arabia. Britain, France, Italy. Bodie's grandfather was ahead of his time. He realized a decision must be made, so he sent his son to be educated in Europe, wanting him to understand the world better than he could. Bodie's father returned, sophisticated, literate and with a definite preference for British culture. The Jafarr signed a treaty with Britain, as you know. And then...Bodie's father was betrayed by the British -- as you must also know."
"Then perhaps you can understand just a little why it is difficult for Bodie to trust."
"But...was his mother English then?" Doyle demanded, suddenly knowing it had to be true.
"Of course," Cambridge said quietly. "But it is not something that is wise to speak of."
"His father was killed because of British treachery. Isn't that enough?"
Doyle didn't reply, but was certain there was more to the story. The bitterness he sensed in Bodie was so strong, there must be something else to account for it.
Doyle entered Bodie's tent, more than a little nervous. If he thought Cambridge's quarters were lush, these were sumptuous. The hangings were black inlaid with silver threads, the interior of the tent large and airy. There was a large brazier in the center, flickering redly, and lamps hung from the braces, shedding a low golden glow across the plush rugs and richly embroidered cushions. This had more of a true Arabian/Oriental feel than Cambridge's tent, and was more subtly sensual because of it.
Bodie was seated cross-legged beside a low table near the brazier. "Come and sit. You must hunger."
Cautiously, Doyle sat down on a silk cushion. The platters in front of him looked and smelled delicious. He picked up a bit of meat and chewed warily. "This is good. What is it?"
"Roast kid. There are dates in honey and pomegranates as well."
Doyle eyed him from under the veil of his lashes. "Did your wife prepare this?"
"Only one wife? The Koran allows four, although Mohammed recommends no more than two. Domestic strife, you see."
Despite himself, Doyle's eyes widened. "You have... four
Bodie laughed. "I have no wife. Much to my Uncle's dismay."
"Oh." Then, a little lamely, "Why not?"
Bodie's smile switched off and he changed the subject. "Your companion, how does he fare?"
"Cambridge says he will heal. Do you really care?"
"No," Bodie replied honestly, "but it seems of importance to you."
"Of course it is. He's my friend."
"So you keep telling me."
Doyle glared at him. "Is that so odd then? That I have a friend?"
Suddenly, Bodie reached out and touched Doyle's cheek, holding his eyes with his own. "Oh no. One such as you must have many.... friends."
Doyle didn't quite understand what Bodie meant, but was sure he didn't like it. He pulled back angrily. "I suppose you intend to explain that?"
Bodie simply smiled. Then, as he studied Doyle's face, the blue eyes widened. "By Allah, I believe you truly do not know--!" He looked amazed, then asked thoughtfully, "English, have you never been with a man before?"
"Been with....? Oh!" Doyle stiffened then blushed hotly. "No...of course I haven't! I'm not...like that
Bodie stared at him, puzzled. "You are speaking the truth, are you not? But I assumed, the way you were with me...even from the first...that you must know what..."
Doyle's gaze dropped, horribly embarrassed.
Bodie shook his head, amused. "You English; so prudish. So afraid of your appetites. I should have realized. So this is why you have pulled away from me? Because of your priggish British morals?" He laughed. "And I thought you were simply being coy."
Uncomfortable, Doyle picked up a slice of fruit from the tray. "I'd rather not talk about this." He bit sharply into the ripe fruit and a dribble of juice ran down his chin.
The Sheik captured Doyle's face in ruthless hands and licked the sweet trickle off before the other could react. Startled, Doyle moved back and wiped his mouth instinctively. "Don't do that!"
"So bashful." The smile curved sensual and teasing. "I find I rather like it. Yes, I relish your innocence, English. That no other man has touched you before me. Indeed, it is very attractive."
Doyle was appalled both by the conversation and the implication. He stood. "I'm going back to check on Zack."
Bodie cut off his retreat, moving quicker than Doyle imagined was possible.
"What will it take for you to realize you feel the same as I? When I touch you...you feel it, too. The fire. Is that so unbearable, English? Are you so afraid of it?"
Doyle raised his chin obstinately. "Let me go to Zachery. He needs me."
A black eyebrow lifted. "I need you, too. But not, I think, in the same way." He stepped to one side. "Go on, then. Go to your friend."
Doyle left the tent, even more confused than when he had entered.
It was a long night at the bedside; Zachery was only intermittently conscious, and when he was, he was delirious, fever rising by the hour.
By the following morning, the situation was serious. Cambridge was the first to voice the obvious.
"His wound is infected. He needs more care than I can give him, Raymond. He needs a real physician. I'm sorry."
Doyle rubbed his eyes wearily. "I know. You've done your best, Cambridge, and you have my thanks. What can we do now?"
The older man eyed him sympathetically. "Perhaps you should speak to the Sheik."
Doyle looked at his friend, who muttered and shifted in the throes of his fever, then back at Cambridge. "I don't want him to die. He's a good man, Cambridge. We can't let him die."
Cambridge gave him his sympathy, but was unable to offer him more. "My influence with the Sheik is limited. The boy has his own mind, I'm afraid. And he is not at all pleased with the purpose of your journey. He may see no reason to make an effort to help your friend. Truthfully, it is surprising he has offered this much."
"You must understand, Raymond. Bodie despises the British. They have betrayed not only him, but his father before him. Both of you would be dead now except for..." he hesitated, obviously unwilling to voice his opinion of Bodie's reasons. "In any case, you cannot expect him to bend more than he has. You are the trespassers in this place."
"So I should just sit here and watch Zack die? I can't do that! Perhaps what we were doing was unethical -- I won't deny that. I don't understand enough about the situation to know anything for certain. But I do know that Zack doesn't deserve this."
"Then speak to Bodie. Perhaps he will listen to you."
Doyle had little confidence in that, but Zachery moaned and twisted on the pallet and there seemed little option but to try.
Uncertain of the proper etiquette involved in entering a tent (one could hardly knock on the door, after all), Doyle simply went in.
Bodie's head was bent, deep into the book he was reading. For a long moment, Doyle just watched, some part of him appreciating the perfect lines of the face, the long thick lashes, the beautifully sculptured nose and mouth. He had removed his burnoose and the close cut cap of hair was shining like raven silk in the lamplight, curling slightly against his forehead.
Doyle wished he could deny the attraction; it was so strong and so frightening, it put him at a definite disadvantage. As much as he wanted to view the Sheik as an enemy, it wasn't easy.
The Sheik looked up. "Ah, you have returned."
Doyle moved forward until he stood close. "Zachery is very ill. He must have help."
Bodie closed the book. "Sit."
Gingerly, Doyle settled on the pillow, avoiding the other's intense eyes. "You have to take us back to Aden."
"Oh yes? Why must I do this?"
"Zack is dying. His wound is infected. He needs--"
"Why should I be concerned with his needs?" Bodie cut in flatly. "He was trying to give aid to my enemy to assist in my destruction. You must forgive me, but can I possibly owe him something for that? I am, of course, not up on all the proper social niceties of the Empire, but surely even they do not expect graciousness in return for treachery."
Frustrated, Doyle snapped, "I don't give a damn about all that! All Zack ever wanted was to understand your blasted country. He loves it, god help him! And now it's killing him. You're
killing him, you son of a bitch!"
Bodie endured the blast with a notable lack of emotion. "What is it you want from me then? Oddly enough, I have found my restraint in this matter highly commendable up to this point. But I am willing to listen to suggestions."
"Take us back to Aden," Doyle repeated. "Cambridge says Zachery needs a real doctor and a hospital. He'll die if you don't return us soon."
"Is that intended to sway me?" Bodie retorted drily. "You are an optimistic one."
"He needs help, damn you!"
Bodie reopened his book and leafed through it to find his place. "You have my condolences."
Doyle grabbed the book away and pitched it across the tent. "Don't you dare treat it as unimportant. Zack's life is
important! You have no right to play god with it."
The blue eyes snapped dangerously. "You have more courage than sense, English. How can you feel I owe anything to this man? What logic do you find in my assisting an enemy?"
"Then murder us both and have done with it! For I am as guilty as he!"
Bodie grabbed his wrist in an iron grip. "Do not tempt me, English." He pulled Doyle forward and kissed him, mouth hard and scorching. A long moment later, he released him, both of them slightly breathless.
Doyle ran the back of his hand across his mouth, as if to rub away the sting of the kiss. "You bastard."
The anger had faded in the azure eyes, but the fire remained, fueled by a different source.
"You say you want this Zachery to live. We Bedouins are a practical people. What will you pay for his life?"
"Pay?" Doyle wavered. "I...I have little money."
"No? Then perhaps you have something else to offer."
Doyle jumped at the thought. "Yes, the Embassy. When you return him, I'm sure they would--"
"Reward me lavishly, I'm sure," Bodie cut in drily. "No, I do not think so. For some bizarre reason I find I do not trust the British embassy to keep their bargains. I'll accept your Zachery's ransom price from you, and only you."
The green eyes widened. "You really are a bastard, aren't you? What is it you want?"
"What I have desired from the beginning. Your cooperation. Judging from your response, that should not be such a hardship for you."
"You can't be serious."
"Oh, but I am, English. I will see that your skinny friend is returned to Aden, but you remain with me. Willingly."
Doyle looked away, mind whirling. "What is it you want from me?"
"Nothing you are not eager to give -- whether you know it or not. At present, your agreement will suffice."
"Agreement to what?"
"Whatever I ask of you. Innocent as you may be, you cannot be totally ignorant of what that involves."
"No..." Doyle said slowly. "I think I know what you want."
"Excellent. Well then, do you agree?"
Doyle looked up, meeting the eyes squarely. "I'll hate you for this, you must realize that. Whatever...feelings I had for you before, I shall hate you if you do this."
For the first time, it was Bodie's gaze that fell, disconcerted not so much by Doyle's anger but by the wisp of disillusion he sensed in the other. What was it the Englishman expected of him -- mercy? That was a trait the Sheik had long since abandoned as too dangerous a luxury.
Bodie smiled wolfishly, tossing aside his hesitation. "The British have always held us in contempt. Why should you be different? So what is your answer? Yes or no?"
Doyle's shoulders slumped. "Yes, damn you. Zachery is what matters. If this is the only way I can help him -- yes. And damn you to hell."
Unimpressed by the curse, Bodie observed him thoughtfully. "This Zachery means much to you. Why?"
Head bent, Doyle murmured, "He's been good to me."
"No more than that?"
"Isn't that enough?"
"Well, your so obvious sacrifice seems a bit excessive for a casual acquaintance," Bodie returned drily.
"He's my friend. Just make sure he gets home safely. That's all I ask."
"And if I do not?"
The green eyes lifted, blazing fire. "Then I will kill you. Somehow, someway, I will kill you."
"And you are willing to trade yourself for his freedom?"
There was a moment of hesitation. "Do I have a better choice?"
Bodie smiled wryly. "Actually, no. I was merely curious."
"Then let him go. I'll do what you want." His shoulders slumped again. "All my life I've had people telling me what to do. Why should this be any different?"
Bodie hesitated, but went to the entrance and called something out in Arabic. A man answered and they spoke quietly for a few minutes. After a short time, he returned and closed the tent flap. "Very well, at morning light he will be escorted safely back to Aden."
Raymond didn't move. "Thank you. What happens now?"
A dark eyebrow lifted in amusement. "We go to the bed chamber, of course."
Ray stiffened. "So you're no different than your uncle? You want the same thing he did?"
"Essentially. But, unlike Hassid, I would rather it be given, not taken."
Doyle laughed bitterly. "And this makes a difference? You're still taking, you bastard, whether I fight you or not."
"Perhaps." The Sheik approached him slowly. Reaching up, he traced the tense face with a gentle finger.
Ray didn't move, but his eyes closed. "Why are you doing this? Why
Bodie continued his exploration. "Because you are very beautiful. A precious jewel to be possessed."
The green eyes flew open. "I hate you."
"I regret that," Bodie said with sudden sincerity. "I wish it could be different between us."
"Then let me go with my friend."
Bodie shook his head. "Oh no. You would fly from me, and I would never see you again. What good would your fondness do me with you back in your cool, green England? I want you here and now. I shall have to be content with your hatred. And you will have to be content that I do not want to hurt you."
He led the way through the curtain, stopping beside the low bed. His fingers worked on the fastening of Doyle's clothing, baring the pale skin to his touch. The blue eyes were heated as he stripped the slender form.
Ray, holding to his pledge, remained passive under the hands, but he was trembling, terrified by what was to come.
Once the man was naked, Bodie stepped back and began pulling off his own clothes. Finally, he took Ray's face in his hands and promised again, very softly, "You will not be hurt." He kissed him slowly, hungrily. "What I want from you has nothing to do with pain."
Still shivering, Doyle let himself be levered down onto the soft pallet. His instinct was to fight the possessive grip of the hands, but he had given his word and Zachery's life was the price. What made it even more difficult, oddly enough, was that his body responded enthusiastically to the caresses.
His treacherous nerve ends found Bodie's every touch incredibly arousing. The anger and bitterness in his mind was acute, but it was impossible to hide his reaction to the lovemaking. Bodie discovered the other man's erection and met Doyle's eyes with a cynical gleam.
"I see what a sacrifice you are making. What hell it must be for you."
Doyle turned his head to one side, mortified by his body's betrayal. "I hate you," he hissed between gritted teeth.
Bodie chuckled. "Well, this kind of hatred I can savor. I could only wish all my enemies were so inspiring." He surveyed the line of bare skin in the lamplight. "By Allah, you are beautiful. I hardly know where to begin this feast. Yes, a kiss I think."
He turned Doyle's head back mercilessly. "Cooperation, remember?" Then brought his mouth down in a fiery kiss, his tongue easily prying open the prim lips to explore Doyle's mouth with ruthless delight.
As desperately as he wanted to, it was impossible to deny his response. The chemistry between them was too explosive, the sensual feel of muscular bare flesh too incredibly novel and stimulating to ignore. Sex had been a solitary endeavor for too long for him to be able to keep his head when fantasy was licking his nipples for real.
Doyle whimpered and reached helplessly to embrace the form that held him. It was so good, so perfect, his brain shut off and his senses took charge. When the voracious mouth lowered, every nerve in his body sang in response, quivering and helpless. He arched up, clutching the silken hair and making a purring sound in his throat that he couldn't have stifled for his life.
Reality paled any fantasy he'd ever had. Bodie knew every touch, every move to turn his bone marrow to lava. When he came, the pleasure was shocking in its intensity, pouring out of him into the hot mouth like soft fire, burning sweet and wild.Oh
, he thought in startled amazement, this is what it is. All this time, and I never really imagined.
Bodie returned to his mouth, lips hungry and demanding, body hard and insistent against him. Giddy with his still ebbing pleasure, Doyle moved with sensuous and natural rhythm, savoring the urgency and heat that plucked at his own singing flesh, wringing out the spirals of pleasure even longer. Something wet and hot splashed on his thigh and Bodie groaned deep in his chest, mouth moving to Doyle's throat. He felt teeth biting in, just on the edge of pain, then the strong body relaxed limply.
Doyle found it difficult to think clearly, every muscle in his body still reverberating with echoed delight. All his private gratification had never offered a clue to what reality would give. He was stunned by the degree of ecstasy, dizzy with it. The weight of the body against him felt solid and welcome, like an anchor to keep him from floating off in space.
After a long time, the Sheik raised his head, kissing Doyle's throat. "Is the price really so high then? Was it so horrible?"
Doyle stiffened, the truth of the situation falling on him like a wall of guilt. He had enjoyed it, this blackmail. It was nothing less than extortion for Zachery's life and yet he had let himself wallow in the pleasure of the payment. Shamed by his helpless response, he turned on his side, away from Bodie.
"You've had what you wanted, now leave me alone. I hate you, you bastard."
There was a heavy moment of silence, then the Sheik said calmly, "Oh no, English. That was only a taste of what I want from you. Hate me if you must, but our agreement stands."
Doyle blinked back the threat of tears, glad his back was to the other man. Oh but it hurt, to feel so much and have it mean so little.
The Sheik was still asleep when Doyle arose, his face young and blameless in repose. Doyle couldn't help but acknowledge the unconscious beauty, but he hated him for his callous indifference. The perfection of the face and body obviously hid a heart of stone, and Doyle had to learn to harden himself before he was crushed against it.
Doyle hadn't slept, his body burned with shame, his mind tormented by thoughts of his father and the rest of his family. How pleased they would be at the end he had come to. How delighted at his failure and humiliation. They'd expected no better than this from someone as weak as he, and he had fulfilled their prophecy admirably.
Finally, when he could lay still with his thoughts no longer, he braved the fear of waking the dragon beside him.
He slid out of the low bed and dressed quietly, wondering what new trials the day held. He refused to think of the night before, unable to face his weakness. Now that he knew what was in store, he would be able to fight it. Not openly, perhaps, because he had given his word, but he wouldn't let his reactions sweep him away again. The bastard could take what he wanted, but it would no longer be given.
He insisted on spelling Cambridge and sat the remainder of the night beside Zachery's bed, cooling his forehead with wet cloths, listening to the senseless garble of words as the man tossed and turned.
By dawn Zachery was still feverish, but slightly more lucid. "Ray...I'm sorry. I've got us into a hell of a fix, haven't I?"
"Shhhh... It'll all work out."
"No, I should've realized--"
Doyle soothed him, "It doesn't matter."
Hart tossed uneasily. "But it does...Ray, we were responsible...for the gold...and..."
"Don't talk, Zachery. Save your strength. You're very ill. They're going to take you back to the city where you can be cared for."
Blearily, the other man tried to focus on him. "Back to the city? I don't understand--" He reached out and caught Doyle's hand. "The Sheik is freeing us?"
The younger man tightened his grip on Zachery's hand, unable to meet his eyes. "You need a hospital, mate. I convinced the Sheik to let you go."
The fever bright eyes sought out his face. "But...you're coming too, yes?"
Doyle didn't answer for a moment, wondering how he could phrase it so Zachery would accept the situation. "Not right away," he hedged. "I'm not hurt, am I? It's you that needs looked after--"
Zachery's hand squeezed hard. "Look at me, Raymond. You're keeping something from me...I know it. You're not leaving, are you? Why?"
He met Zachery's gaze then glanced away uneasily. "You're talking too much again. And if you keep twisting around like that you'll have your shoulder bleeding--"
"Ray! Why are they keeping you here? Tell me!"
The voice was stronger than Doyle expected. He jumped a little and finally looked Zachery directly in the eyes. "What does it matter, Zack? Just promise me you'll hold on until you return to the city. The journey might be rough, and with no one to look after you properly--"
"Oh my god." The thin face was horrified as the answer dawned. "I've read about... He hasn't hurt you, has he? Damn him, I'll--"
Doyle held Zachery down when he tried to rise. "Please, just lie still. No, no one's hurt me, I swear! Now be still!"
Zachery lay back, agitated but too weak to fight. "That's it, isn't it? He wants you for... He wants to use you..."
Doyle flushed and lowered his head. "For Christ's sake, you're making it worse, don't you see? No more questions, please, Zachery."
"I'm sorry." He touched the red-brown curls gently. "Oh, Ray, you can't do this for me. I can't let you."
The younger man was solemn. "I'm afraid you have to, Zack. And I'm not doing it for you really. Don't you know that I couldn't bear it if anything happened to you?" He smiled softly. "You've been my friend, Zack, and you can't imagine what that has meant to me. It's changed me, I think. And whatever happens... I will be all right, do you understand?"
"When I get to Aden, I'll find a way to have you rescued--"
"No! You can't do that, Zack. I'm not important enough."
"How can you say that? You're a British citizen! This will cause an international incident--"
"No. That's precisely what I mean. If we become involved in a conflict, there could be a real war in the area. Bodie has a lot of men, and the British have very few in Aden. It would cause a great deal of bloodshed for nothing."
"Nothing! You can't expect me to--"
"Please...just let it go. For my sake. It's my choice. I will return under my own power, in my own time."
Tears sprang up in Zachery's kind eyes. "This is my doing. I brought you out here to this god forsaken place and now..."
There was a discreet cough at the door, and Cambridge entered through the dividing curtain. "The caravan is ready. They wish to leave immediately. I have brought some laudanum to ease the pain of moving you onto the litter."
Zachery glared at him. "I'm not going. Let the bastard come in and shoot me again if he must -- I'm staying right here with Ray!"
"Zack, don't be difficult--"
"Very well," Cambridge cut Doyle off brusquely. "I'll send someone to inform the Sheik of your decision. However, I would wager your shoulder is still playing up. Why be uncomfortable while you wait to be executed? Have a drop of this."
Zachery blinked, too feverish to take in all the rapid words, but understanding the meaning. Before he could make up his mind, Cambridge neatly administered a spoonful of liquid.
Hart choked a little but got it down, making a face. "Tastes dreadful."
"I would have mixed it with honey and milk, but I thought it better you have the benefit straight off."
"Yes, well, whatever this sheik of yours has in mind for Ray, it won't wash, do you hear? I won't stand for it! It's indecent and...and unnatural...and I won't...have...Raymond...do this for..." His words became slower and more labored, and his eyelids closed helplessly. "Ray...?"
Doyle was at his side again, holding Zachery's hand to his face. "Yes, Zack?"
"Stupid..so...schtupid...drugged me, th' bastard. Ray? You're a...good...boy..." His voice trailed off and he was sound asleep.
Doyle held his hand tightly before laying it down very gently and turning to Cambridge. "Thank you," he said simply.
The old man nodded. "I thought it would be easier this way. He should sleep for several hours now." Cambridge paused and impulsively touched Doyle's bowed head. "You are fortunate to have such a friend. He thinks much of you, Raymond."
Doyle wiped his hand over his eyes roughly. "Not nearly so much as I feel for him." He took a deep breath. "Yes, well, they'd best be getting started, hadn't they?"
Doyle watched the small caravan until it disappeared on the horizon. Oddly enough, he felt more alone and heartsick than he had standing at the bow of the ship watching the last sight of England fade away. England had never been much of a home to him, but Zachery...Zachery had made him feel like a person. And now...
He looked around the oasis uneasily, feeling curious eyes watching him from everywhere. The Sheik's new toy was bound to arouse speculation, of course.
Refusing to be cowed, he jerked his chin up proudly and stalked with as much arrogance as he could muster toward the Sheik's tent and swept inside.
It was empty. So was the bedroom, and the large, lushly appointed bath off to the side. He stopped in amazement, having had no reason to go inside this room earlier. It was complete with a large canvas tub, a commode, and a beautiful teak dressing table with a marble wash basin. Luxury, indeed. The facilities in Cambridge's tent were much more basic.
A soft sound behind him had Doyle spinning around defensively.
"A thousand pardons, monsieur." The small, whip-thin man who stood in the doorway, bowed politely.
"Who are you?"
"I am Gaston, Monseigneur's valet, monsieur. And yours, if you will accept my service." He bowed again.
"My master. Ze Sheik. I took a liberty of unpacking your bag this morning. I will be most happy to show you where--"
"But you're French!"
A tiny smile crossed the man's mouth, above which was a perfect, well-tended mustache. A long, thin scar stretched from the corner of his eye to his chin. He stroked it with his thumb in a gesture that seemed well rehearsed. "Oui, monsieur. Clever of you to notice."
Doyle stared at him blankly.
Gaston's smile deepened, eyes crinkling at the corners, dark and twinkling. "Perhaps you would care to bathe, monsieur? I can have ze water prepared very quickly--"
"What are you doing here?" Doyle demanded. "Where were you last night?"
"With my wives, monsieur. It was my free evening, you see."
"Wives?" Doyle croaked.
The grin was positively mischievous. He held up two fingers. "Which also explains why a Frenchman is in Araby, no?"
Doyle let out his stunned breath. "Where is the Sheik?"
"Working with his horses, I am sure. He is very conscientious in their care."
This time Doyle released a sigh of relief. He wasn't ready to face Bodie, if truth be told.
"A bath, monsieur?" Gaston reminded. Doyle wavered. It sounded wonderful -- he hadn't had a really thorough wash since they had left Aden four days ago, and after last night... He blushed at the thought, turning away from the Frenchman who must know exactly why he was here.
But there was no contempt in the dark eyes; only an eagerness to please. "I shall have water drawn and heated, ou? Your shaving gear is on ze dressing table, monsieur."
The younger man offered a shy smile. "Thank you, Gaston. And you may as well call me Raymond. Monsieur seems a bit grand for me."
"Not at all, mon petit Monsieur Raymond." He went to the door and clapped his hands, giving clipped orders in fluent Arabic to the magically appearing servants.
The canvas bath was soon filled with a seemingly unending line of jars and the water steamed enticingly.
Doyle unbuttoned his filthy shirt, delighted to be shed of it and the remainder of his sweaty clothing. Naked, he slipped down into the water with a long, helpless sigh of pleasure. It felt incredible, silky and soothing against his skin.
Gaston discreetly offered him spicy smelling soap and disappeared through the bedroom curtain. Doyle slid down in the water, closing his eyes. He washed his tangled curls first, scrubbing hard to take out what he was sure must be the odor of camels. Scrunching up his eyes against the sting of soap, he thought with amusement that it served the Sheik right if he stank to high heaven. In fact, this bath was probably a mistake. Maybe if he'd ripened a few days, Bodie would have gone off him altogether.
He grimaced, surfacing from the rinse. Unfortunately, Bodie didn't appear the squeamish type.
Worse -- he might have decided to bathe Doyle himself. The thought sent a tiny electric tingle to his groin that he quickly squelched. No, he wouldn't think about that. Not now.
Completing his ablutions, he got out and dried himself hastily, feeling guilty for enjoying even this much of the Sheik's hospitality.
Gaston returned and draped fresh clothing over the stool by the dressing table. He poured hot water from a pitcher into the basin. "Would you like me to shave you, Monsieur Raymond?"
"No, Gaston. I can manage." Still young enough to be pleased that his need to shave was even noticed, Doyle pulled on the clean white trousers and sat down in front of the mirror. He stared at his reflection almost with surprise. It seemed incredible that he looked no different than he had yesterday. The hint of a beard shadow gave his face a rather dissipated air, but once removed with a few swipes of the razor, there was nothing to indicate he was no longer the naive boy he had been. His skin was slightly flushed from the bath, the green eyes were wide and uncertain...until they rested on the broken cheekbone. His eyes narrowed a little, hardening at the flagrant reminder that he had endured cruelty before and survived. All his life he'd lived with neglect and abuse and scorn. He had known little else until he came to Arabia and met Zachery. If he must endure more of it, then he must. But this time he wouldn't let it destroy him. His newly kindled spirit wouldn't be crushed.
Chin set with determination, Doyle stood and pulled on his white linen shirt.
The first rule of war, he had once read, was to know your enemy. Who knew a man better than his servants?
"How long have you been here...with Bodie, I mean?"
"I was his father's man before." Gaston moved about the room, placing fresh towels, tidying the already immaculate table. "I went into his service nearly twenty-three years ago. We made ze acquaintance during a bar fight on a wharf in Marseilles." He smiled reminiscently, touching the scar again. "Monseigneur's papa saved my life, such as it was. I was fifteen when I came to ze desert, Monsieur Doyle, and I have found no reason to leave it. Would you like some breakfast perhaps?"
"What? No, thank you. I'm not hungry." He sat back on the stool, watching the other man in the mirror. "So your loyalty was to the present Sheik's father? He's been dead...three years, isn't it?"
"Nearly five," Gaston corrected. "The young master was not yet seventeen when he became sheik. But even then, he was magnifique, that one! He is one who knows how to make people love him."
"And fear him?" Doyle added cynically.
Unflustered, Gaston gathered up the damp towels. "C'est vrai, oui! His temper is of an enormity, no? Like his papa. There is a cruelty in him, en effet, do not doubt that."
"Then why do you stay? Are you a prisoner here?"
Gaston chuckled. "Oh mon petit Raymond, do not be absurd. I remain with Monseigneur because I wish it so." He took out a heavy silver brush and began to efficiently apply it to the damp curls. Doyle was going to stop the action, but it felt good, and he was too absorbed in what the man was saying to interrupt him.
"You must understand. It has not been easy for ze young master. When his papa is killed, everyone looks to him to save them from Fasik's bloodthirst, for Monseigneur was ze rightful leader and heir. A boy of sixteen! Bon Dieu! If not for him, ze Jafarr would have been slaughtered, what few survived scattered to ze winds, without a tribe left to give them safety. He is a hard man, oui. It was of necessity, you see. But he can be kind as well. There is also much of his so-beautiful mama in his heart. A sweetness one does not forget."
"You knew her, then?"
"Of a certainty, monsieur. She was..." He kissed his fingertips, "to make one's heart beat harder from a single look."
"Cambridge told me that his mother was English. How the devil did she come to marry an Arab sheik?"
Doyle glanced up in the mirror, feeling the sudden chill brought by his words. Gaston looked peeved, but more at himself than at Doyle.
"My cursed tongue," he muttered, putting the brush down on the dressing table. "Better to cut it out than continually stumble over it. Listen, mon ami, will you not eat something? Monseigneur will be displeased with me if you are weak with hunger--"
"No," Doyle said firmly. "Tell me about the Sheik's mother. What was her--"
"It is so long ago, n'cest-ce pas?" He interrupted Doyle with a Gallic shrug. "Who remembers? Now I have other duties, if there is nothing else you require?"
"No, and thank you, Gaston."
"Oh, almost I forget. Monseigneur thought you might have need of these, no?" The Frenchman produced Doyle's lost spectacles with a flourish.
Doyle took them gratefully and put them on. He had felt strangely naked without the feel of the glasses. They were an old friend to him. At home he had worn them as much out of defiance as need, knowing how much his family had hated the sight of them, his one pitiful symbol of rebellion. And while he could see well enough to function, particularly at a distance, reading or drawing would be impossible without them. "The Sheik gave them to you?"
"Oui, monsieur. He finds them in ze sand."
"Thank you...very much." Looking up at the Frenchman, he smiled. "You cannot realize how much."
Gaston flushed and offered another dismissive shrug. "It was ze Monseigneur who found them."
"Perhaps," Raymond touched the rim of the spectacles. "But it is you I thank, Gaston."
The Frenchman shook his head again, but smiled happily before ducking away to attend to other matters.
Bewildered, Doyle wandered back through the curtain to the outer area. This Bodie became more puzzling by the minute. A French valet and a Cambridge don as tutor for a half-British sheik who despised the British, yet held an Englishman captive for his pleasure while being thoughtful enough to rescue a pair of spectacles. It was all very strange.
He was drawn to a bookshelf that stood against the far wall of the tent. It was packed full of volumes, and Doyle sank down on a pillow to inspect them.
It was a wide-ranging assortment, from books on travel and geography to science and medicine. There were several very modern volumes on veterinary surgery and equine biology, but there were also works on Greek and Roman mythology and philosophy. Plato and Aristotle jostled works of Fielding and Swift and he was startled to see two novels in the original French by Jules Verne. And there was book after book of poetry. Byron, Blake, Keats, Shelley, Lovelace, Poe and Wadsworth. There were volumes in French, English, Latin and Arabic, shoved in together without any seeming rhyme or reason.
The only clear fact that came across was that Bodie -- or someone -- read them frequently, for they were well worn and slightly dog-eared, especially the poetry.
So what did he have now? A bloodthirsty, blue-eyed Arab sheik with the heart of a poet?
Giving up the mystery for the moment, Doyle pulled out a book at random and started to read.
"If you torture him we may discover the English dogs' plans."
Bodie rolled his eyes heavenward. "What do you suggest? Hot coals? Scorpions? Uncle, use what little brain the sun has not yet shriveled. This boy knows nothing."
The older man made a face. "And what of the other? The skinny one I shot? Was he so ignorant? I cannot understand why you sent him home snug like a baby hawk in the nest when you should have crushed him like an egg."
Sighing, Bodie uncinched the saddle and pulled it off. "He was harmless. Neither of them had any idea of why they were sent out into the desert. If I made a habit of killing fools, I would run out of ammunition long before running short of fools."
"So you do think they were a decoy?" His uncle leaned forward intently. "That they sent the gold with--"
"I think there was never any gold." Bodie began rubbing down the animal in slow, sure strokes. "Whoever sent them wished to be rid of them for his own reasons. Pay attention, Uncle. They were going in the wrong direction if they wanted to reach Fasik's camp in the Eastern mountains. They were headed north, correct? Therefore, the guide had been paid to lead them out and abandon them in the desert, yes?"
Hassid pondered that for a moment. "Perhaps. But I still think--"
"My Uncle, grant me the greatest mercy...do not think
, I beg you."
"Ah, you believe yourself amusing, nephew, but when Fasik and his dogs come upon us with British cannon and rifles bought with their gold, will you laugh then, eh?"
"No, I promise you, I will not even smile." Bodie checked the horse's hoofs and gave it a final pat as it was led away by one of his men. "No grass tonight for this one. He seems a little bloated. Give him mash and dry figs."
They began walking back toward the tents across the wide oasis. Bodie paused by the well to drink thirstily. He removed his headdress and poured a bucket of water over his head, gasping at the coldness of the water from the dark depths of the well.
It was nearly sunset and the sound of prayers lifted up around the oasis. Bodie's uncle knelt facing Mecca and joined the choir. Bodie stood silently. He knew the prayers as well as he knew his own hand, but had never spoken them since his father was killed. He had prayed then, with all his soul, for his father to be spared from the treacherous sword that cut him down. Prayed to Allah, and to another, more distant God, that his mother had wanted him to love. But neither Allah the All Merciful nor the meek Jesus had been kind on that day, and Bodie was not a man to forgive and forget.
But he was accepting of others' faith, and honored it by keeping his opinion of the matter to himself. He waited silently and patiently until the sun dipped below the horizon and the voices gradually stilled.
Hassid, only intermittently devout, had found this an excellent time to prostrate himself, hoping his nephew would take note of his holiness and sincerity.
Unfortunately, Bodie's aspect was cynical. "Was that to be absolved of beating your wives, Uncle -- or to give you permission to do so later tonight?"
Hassid stood up with difficulty. "Adder-tongued whelp! Once you would not have spoken to me so! And a true leader would be down on his face begging Allah for forgiveness for taking a green-eyed devil into his tent!"
Bodie laughed. "Oh yes, much better to take him on the desert and then share him with your men."
Hassid flushed bright red. "At least such vices are purged by the sun and the heat of battle, not pampered and perfumed in a bed that should be saved for begetting children."
Having just lit a cheroot, Bodie coughed out the smoke, choking on his laughter. "Battle? Oh yes, how could I have forgotten? This ferocious green-eyed devil did have you at gunpoint when I arrived. I only wish I could have seen the sport before. A score of armed men against one very skinny Englishman, one boy, and a sniveling renegade guide shot down in the first two minutes. It must have been dreadful for you, Uncle. I am in awe of your bravery."
Long accustomed to his nephew's sarcasm, Hassid ignored him. "If you will not torture him for information, then shoot the infidel -- or set him out on the desert to die, if you have no stomach for letting English blood."
Bodie took another long draw on the tobacco, mind already far away from his uncle. In his tent waited something he had thought of for weeks, dreamed of for years perhaps. Just touching Doyle had made him feel...whole. It was something he didn't understand, wasn't sure he even wanted to understand, but he had no intention of denying himself the pleasures that waited. Last night he had been cautious, only just discovering the extent of the boy's innocence. Tonight -- tonight he would have the rest.
"The Koran teaches one to listen to his elders," Hassid snapped, petulant at the lack of attention being paid to his counsel.
Bodie blinked and glanced at his uncle with twinkling eyes. "Ah, but it never speaks to how closely one must hear." He ground his cheroot out in the sand. "I am hungry for my supper, Uncle. As so must you be. Tomorrow we will work with Shaitan."
"You are mad there, too!" Hassid called after the retreating figure. "That beast will kill you! You should destroy it...and that green-eyes in your tent."
The Sheik's deep chuckle drifted back, carried by the soft evening breeze.
Inside the tent, all was quiet. Only one lamp was lit and it glowed softly in the deepening twilight. Surprised, Bodie started to call out, then caught sight of Doyle in the corner near the bookshelf, curled up like a cat on the bright pillow. A book had fallen from his sleeping hand and his tousled curls gleamed red-gold in the lamplight.
Gaston entered from the outside carrying coals to light the brazier. Seeing Bodie, he made a shushing gesture and pointed toward Doyle.
Bodie regarded his valet in bemusement. Perhaps Hassid was not so far wrong. The "green-eyed devil" had obviously bewitched Gaston, and Bodie had considered the hardheaded Frenchman impossible to charm.
"How long has he been like that?" Bodie asked quietly. Gaston looked up from the fire.
"Since early afternoon. Me, I think he needs ze sleep, no? He sits all night with his ami, Cambridge says."
Startled, Bodie looked back at Doyle. Of course he had known Doyle had risen before him, but he had imagined it nearer dawn than midnight when he left.
"Has he eaten?"
"No, Monseigneur. I offered...but he says he is not hungry." He smiled in Doyle's direction. "He is a gentle boy, no?"
Unaccountably irritated, Bodie waved him out. "Bring some food. I do not mean to starve him. He is too thin now."
The quick dark eyes surveyed Bodie wisely, seeing more than the Sheik would have imagined. "He is tres jolie, le petit Raymond, is he not? A fallen angel."
Bodie held his temper with an effort. "I know nothing of angels."
"This is obvious," the Frenchman murmured drily, then added louder, "Your bath is ready, Monseigneur." Before the Sheik could reply, Gaston slipped out the door.
Bodie shrugged, irritation fading. Who could ever hope to understand the French? In their way, they were even odder than the British.
He picked up the book where it had fallen open. It was Byron, The Prisoner of Chillion.My very chains and I grew friends,
So much a long communion tends
To make us what we are: --even I
Regain'd my freedom with a sigh.
For a long moment, he stared at his captive, wondering why he chose this particular poem -- or perhaps it only fell open there when dropped. An omen? It was a particular favorite of his own although he had never understood why. Shrugging, he replaced the book on the shelf.
He took a hasty bath, happy to remove the sweat and grit of the day, donned a flowing caftan, and returned to the outer tent. Doyle was still asleep. Helplessly attracted by the slumbering figure, Bodie moved closer, kneeling down beside him. He entwined a curl around his finger. It felt very alive, soft and springy to his touch.
The ginger lashes stirred, fluttering open sleepily.
"English, are you awake?"
Doyle murmured something unintelligible and snuggled to the caress of the hand in his hair. Bodie's heart stepped up its pace. There was something so unconsciously sensual about the gesture, the blatant enjoyment of both the cool silk of the pillow and the warm press of a hand, that made Bodie wonder what hidden depths he had yet to plumb. Last night, Doyle had been yielding, burning to his every touch, but had offered few in return, too caught up in the newness of sensation to do more than drift with it. But the capacity for sensuality was obvious in the lush mouth, in the wickedly slanted eyes.
Helplessly, Bodie leaned forward and buried his face in the long curls, inhaling the fragrance.
Awakening fully, Doyle shoved him away. "What--! Get off!"
Bodie sat back, grinning. "Ah, awake now I see. Sputtering like a green-eyed cat."
Doyle glared at him but didn't answer.
"Well, I must say you smell much better. Not that I object to a little sweat, but camel has never been my favorite--"
"Go to hell," Doyle snarled.
"Have you rediscovered your claws my little cat? Just remember that scratching can be hazardous to your lives." He brushed a finger over Doyle's dented cheekbone. "And it appears you have squandered a few already."
Doyle drew back from the touch, but held his tongue, fully awake now and recalling his situation.
Bodie lifted a curious eyebrow. "Was it broken, English? Your face?"
"Does it matter? It's mended now. What time is it?"
"You British are so obsessed with time. Ruled by the ticking of a clock. It is time to eat, English. That is what is important. You look famished."
Doyle's stomach chose that moment to rumble, and Bodie smiled. "See how wise I am? Come." He stood and offered Doyle his hand, but Doyle preferred to rise on his own. The Sheik ignored the slight and led the way to the cushions beside the brazier.
Moments later Gaston appeared, followed by three servants laden with trays. They put them down, salaamed and left. Gaston stayed to pour the coffee.
"There is lamb, Monsieur Raymond," he urged softly. "And broiled goat's liver, and pomegranates, honeyed dates and figs--"
"Monsieur Raymond can fill his belly without your assistance, Gaston," Bodie said sharply. "We will serve ourselves. You may go."
Gaston hesitated, looking at Doyle. "Monsieur requires nothing else?"
Doyle glanced up, surprised, then embarrassed by the sympathetic expression on the Frenchman's face. He knew, of course. They all did. Gaston, Cambridge...everyone in the camp knew why Bodie kept him here. "No, thank you, Gaston," he said in a small voice, face lowered and burning hotly.
"You are excused for the evening, Gaston," Bodie elucidated pointedly.
The valet left with obvious reluctance and the silence lengthened. "He seems to have taken to you," Bodie commented, choosing a date and popping it into his mouth.
"Gaston has been good to me today," Doyle replied quietly.
"Cambridge also seems to hold you in high regard."
"He was kind to Zachery -- to me, too."
"And is your appreciation for their kindness enough to send them singing your praises?" Bodie observed sarcastically.
The jade eyes lifted. "Kindness is something I have known little in my life. I cannot help but appreciate it when it is offered."
Strangely troubled by the reply, Bodie fell silent. He picked up a bit of meat and chewed it thoughtfully. "Has your life been so difficult then?" he inquired at last.
Doyle swallowed the food in his mouth and replied, "No, not by true standards, I suppose. There has been no hardship in my life. I have never gone hungry."
"Until now," Bodie put in lightly. "Eat, English. You have hardly touched enough to feed a sparrow and Gaston told me you have not broken fast all day."
Almost reluctantly, Doyle reached out for more. A few bites had settled his demanding stomach and now he was just nervous and depressed. Still, the Sheik was right. He would need his strength for whatever lay ahead.
"Perhaps you would like to try the qumiz," the Sheik suggested, pouring out a portion of thin, chalk-colored liquid into a cup. "It is a specialty of the desert."
Doyle took a sip and with an effort kept from spraying the table when Bodie continued, "It is fermented mare's milk."
After swallowing with difficulty, Doyle carefully sat the cup back down.
Bodie smiled, amused. "You are very pale, English. I assume it is not to your taste."
Something in Doyle snapped. "Stop calling me that!"
The blue eyes widened slightly. "What? English? What shall I call you then? Raymond?" He considered it then shook his head. "Too formal and proper. Ah, yes. Ray. Like a ray of sunlight, yes? Hot and bright and--"
"No," Doyle cut in sharply. The only one who had ever called him Ray was Zachery. But on Bodie's tongue the name sounded too intimate, like a lover's word. "Forget what I said. Call me English if you must."
Far away in the oasis, someone was playing a lute. Soon it was joined by the low thrum of drums. The music was eastern in feel, seductive, erotic, but slightly melancholy.
"Coffee?" Bodie offered politely.
Doyle nodded and sipped the strong brew to avoid looking at the man beside him. It was Turkish, very sweet and hot with a slightly bitter aftertaste that wasn't totally unpleasant.
Unable to stand the suspense any longer, Doyle blurted out the question that had been on his mind since the night before.
"You had what you wanted from me last night. When will you free me?'
"What makes you think that?"
Startled, Doyle glanced up. "But--"
"Surely you do not believe that was all
I wished from you. I accept your innocence, but you are far from a fool."
Doyle swallowed painfully. "Very well. How long? How long must I stay here?"
The blue eyes regarded him mildly over the cup. He took a drink then sat it down before replying. "Until I tire of you, of course."
Doyle's heart was thundering in his chest. "And how long is that?"
Bodie smiled and leaned forward, hand stretching out to slide into the thick curls beside Doyle's ear. "Time means little to Bedouins, English. You expect me to give you a date and hour?"
Doyle jerked away. "Don't touch me, damn you!"
Bodie straightened, blue eyes snapping with fury.
"So now that your Zachery is free, you are not so agreeable with our bargain? How typical."
Doyle's breath caught at that. "No...I mean...I'll do whatever I agreed. I'm not backing out on our deal. I just wanted to know how long..."
"I do not remember discussing duration. But if it will make you happy to have a time, shall we say six months?" Bodie suggested blithely, unable to imagine his infatuation lasting nearly so long. It had never endured more than a few weeks before. While ready to admit this was a special case, six months seemed like an eternity to someone with Bodie's taste for variety. And he had never before desired a man for more than a quick diversion; he would no doubt tire of the novelty very shortly. "Perhaps I shall even release you sooner," he added airily. "But shall we let the six months stand as your bargain?"
Doyle stared at him, frozen. Six months? Christ, what would be left of him by then? Yet a bargain was a bargain. And what choice did he have?
"Very well." Doyle pushed his plate back, having lost all appetite.
Satisfied with the deal, Bodie was in a mellow mood. "Tell me of your life in England. What does that dreadful little island have that makes its inhabitants feel they have the right to own the world?"
Doyle's jaw set stubbornly. "Does our bargain include my having to talk?"
Bodie's eyes narrowed. "It includes whatever I wish."
Doyle's mouth quirked in a wry smile. "In that case...I was born near a forest. My mother died when I was very young. My stepmother was a harsh woman who sent my sister and myself out into the woods to gather firewood--"
"Where you found a gingerbread house and a witch, yes I know. I may be Bedouin, my dear English, but even I have heard of Hansel and Gretel. You'll have to pick a more obscure fairy tale than that. Cambridge is British, too, you know. And he has the stories in the original German."
Doyle met his eyes without flinching. "Then I shall invent new lies. You shan't know the difference. Whatever else you've bought, Bodie, you haven't bought my mind. Or my soul."
The Sheik stared at him for a long time, then reached out and softly brushed his cheek with a fingertip. "No, I can see that. I am sorry. Tell me only what you want to tell me. But no lies, English. No fairy stories. I would prefer silence to untruth."
Doyle swallowed nervously, finding it difficult to remain cold under the warmth of those beautiful eyes. Gaston was right. Beyond the surface steel he preferred to present, there were occasional flashes of sweetness in Bodie, a level of gentle pureness from which it was impossible to turn away.
"I won't lie to you," Doyle said hoarsely. "But right now I don't want to talk about my life there. It still...troubles me in ways I can't explain."
Bodie nodded, accepting the reason. "Very well. Can you tell me about your voyage to Arabia? I have never been on a ship."
Doyle made a sick face. "Horrible. I was miserable most of the way. I'll never be a sailor." More comfortable on this topic, he did begin to talk, telling Bodie of the dolphins that danced along side the vessel, of sighting whales, of the beauty of the sun sinking into a glowing ocean.
The dreamy expression in the azure eyes surprised Doyle. "Would you like so much to see it?"
"Oh yes. And the world. Europe... Paris... Venice... Rome. America... Brazil... all of it. Jungles and swamps and moors. Snow. Rain. To stand out in a hurricane. Feel the bite of a blizzard. Oh yes, I would like to see it all, English."
"Then why don't you?" He glanced around the luxurious fittings of the tent. "You obviously have the means. Why don't you leave here?"
Bodie's face sobered. "I cannot. I am needed. I have responsibilities."
"But your father traveled," Doyle pointed out.
"How do you know this?" Bodie asked sharply.
Doyle shrugged, unwilling to expose his source. "You told me your father went to school in England and France."
"Ah." Bodie relaxed. "Yes, my father saw much of the world." He picked up another piece of fruit, his expression dark with memories. "My father intended to send me abroad to school, also. To Paris. But the war with Fasik began and then...then he was dead and there was no one else to take charge. Hassid means well, but he does not always think so clearly or wisely. We could have been destroyed -- the entire tribe. My father and his father before him did not live and die for that to happen."
"So you stayed here and fought. Regained what was lost."
Bodie bit into the fruit with savage satisfaction. "And more."
"So why didn't you leave after? Once things were safe?"
"Life is never safe in the desert. And there were the horses. My father had just begun to breed a line of perfect animals. Now they have proved out." He chewed the fruit thoughtfully. "Desert horses are stronger, with better wind and stamina -- but they also need a great deal of attention." He smiled ruefully. "As do my silly, scatterbrained people. They would go back to raising goats and spindly sheep and praying to Allah for a good shearing. You say I have wealth. This is true, because like my father I looked beyond my nose to the world. Horses -- quality horses -- are money. Whether you realize it or not, English, my animals have won much gold at your British racetracks. And in France and even America."
"But you still want to see the world?" Doyle prodded.
Bodie closed off the subject abruptly, either weary of the conversation or unwilling to reveal more of his dreams. He eyed Doyle thoughtfully.
"Right now I would like to see more of you." His voice was gruff. Reaching out, he gently removed the spectacles from Doyle and carefully laid them to one side. He stood and offered his hand.
Startled by the sudden change, Doyle stuttered, "What...I... But don't you...?"
"Come," the Sheik ordered implacably.
Hesitantly, Doyle took the strong hand and stood, knees weak. He told himself it was from sitting cross-legged, but it was a poor excuse. He bit his lip hard, recalling his earlier vow to himself; self-respect was more important than his body's treacherous urges. He had agreed to accept Bodie's desire, but he had never promised to enjoy it.
The curtain fell shut behind Bodie. The bedroom was smaller than the outer room, more intimate. More claustrophobic
, Doyle thought, wondering what would happen if he made a dash for freedom. Bodie would catch him, of course. More importantly, he would have broken his pledge.
Well, he would stand still and follow through with the bargain. Trembling slightly, Doyle waited for the other to move. After the previous night, he shouldn't be feeling so awkward or embarrassed. But last night had swept him away to a point where he hadn't cared what was happening and had been unable to control his reaction to it. Tonight couldn't be like that. He had to keep his head. This man may rule his actions, but he couldn't rule his heart.
"Undress," Bodie instructed softly.
Doyle's fist clenched in involuntary rebellion, but he obeyed, slowly, hesitantly. He kept his eyes lowered and when he looked up, he was surprised to see Bodie was naked as well.
They observed each other silently for a long moment. Doyle's artist eye caught the beautiful symmetry of the strong body, perfect in every muscled bulge and concave image. Bodie was sublime, like the horses he spoke of so proudly. Slightly wild, sublimely masculine, sleek and powerful.
Bodie saw a mystery, all slender and finely boned, golden skin, muscles wiry and subtle and strong as a poem. The face cat-like and wary, disordered curls glinting auburn in the lamplight, eyes green as new grass.
Aroused, Bodie moved forward, tilting the chin up to be kissed. Doyle suffered the embrace and the kiss, but held himself rigid and aloof.
After a moment, Bodie drew back. "What is wrong?"
"Nothing," Doyle responded between gritted teeth. He was finding his carefully planned reserve more difficult in practice than theory.
"Why so cold?" Bodie whispered against his ear. "You were not so restrained last night."
Doyle bit his lip hard, refusing to answer. The Sheik pushed him back to arms length. "You are afraid of me?"
Doyle was, but not for only the reasons Bodie imagined.
"I said I would not hurt you," the Sheik reassured softly. "Giving pain does not arouse me, English. Believe that. Was I cruel to you before?"
Bodie smiled. "I forget how innocent you are. Still so shy? Come, lie with me awhile and you will forget all your foolish British morals."Exactly
, was Doyle's rueful thought, but he could see no way to resist.
They lay on the bed and Bodie stroked him gently as one would a skittish colt. His fingertips swept the bare skin like silk, sending shivers through Doyle.
"Do you like that?" Bodie murmured against his lips.
Bodie kissed him and the feathery touches became firmer, sure caresses down Doyle's chest and stomach. His mouth moved down to suckle a nipple and Doyle gasped in response. The roving hand went to the tense thighs, sweeping up and down and then between, never quite touched the groin, but dwelling in the sensitive inner thigh until Doyle helplessly spread his legs for more.
Doyle moaned as the warm hand cupped his testicles, knowing the battle had been lost as soon as Bodie had touched him. The feeling was too overwhelming, his body starved for physical touch and even the hint of gentle affection. Doyle had no defenses against such skill.
The Sheik lifted his head, watching as the other's helpless erection hardened even more at his caress. He touched the tip of his tongue to the drop of white at the head and was gratified at the electric response. Moving back up to kiss Doyle again, transferring the faint taste of sperm to his mouth, he murmured, "You are beautiful, English."
His hand slid to stroke the straining member and Doyle's hips jerked up in rhythm with the movements. Bodie let go immediately.
"Too quick...we have just begun." He took Doyle's hand and placed it on himself, urging the other to give him a similar pleasure. Doyle jerked back his hand as if burned.
Bodie sighed. "Afraid it will bite?" He bit Doyle's shoulder lightly. "My teeth are up here, English, not down there."
Doyle swallowed loudly. "Is it...part of the agreement?"
For a second Bodie was speechless. He had believed the boy was shy from inexperience. He hadn't imagined Doyle really didn't want to touch him.
Bodie's jaw tightened, his heart freezing. "No. If it is that distasteful to you, it is not necessary that you respond at all."
He expected a denial, but Doyle gave a sigh of pure relief. Angered by it, Bodie rolled on top of him and kissed him brutally. Doyle winced as his lip was cut by merciless teeth, and Bodie eased up immediately, holding his temper in check.
"But," he added breathlessly, "our agreement holds that I obtain my satisfaction." He raised his head to look down at Doyle's face.
Wide-eyed, Doyle nodded.
Bodie's vexation was mixed with disappointment. He had believed his lovemaking pleasing to the other, but despite Doyle's inability to conceal his arousal, he obviously wanted nothing more than a quick relief from the problem. Typically British.Very well
, Bodie thought coldly, I will finish it quickly then
. He parted Doyle's legs widely, slipping between to nudge against the anus. He pressed his hips forward until Doyle shuddered, turning his head aside on the pillow with an indrawn breath.
"Relax," Bodie told him. "It will hurt you if you do not." Instead, Doyle stiffened more, as if inviting the pain of penetration.
Frustrated, Bodie pulled back a little. "I will fetch some oil to make it easier."
Doyle caught his arm as he started to move. "No! Go ahead. That's part of the bargain, isn't it? Sodomy? Do it then!"
Bodie observed the other's face in amazement. The expression was a strange mixture of fear, anger and...sadness.
"You surely cannot wish me to hurt you?"
"Whatever I wish, it will
hurt, won't it?" Doyle snarled.
"Not necessarily," Bodie replied slowly. "It can be good for you."
"How would you know?" Doyle demanded, green eyes glaring up. "How often have you been buggered?"
Bodie blinked, taken off guard by the question. "I...have not..."
"Of course not. You're a sheik. Who would dare? I'm nobody. What difference does it make what I want? Go ahead, damn you, do it!"
Bodie's heart was thundering in his ears, his body demanding that he take what he had thought of, fantasized about for weeks. But he found he could not. To take Doyle now, even with oil, would give him pain. The slender body was too tense, too resistant.
Bodie leaned down and kissed Doyle tenderly. "No, English. I promised I would not hurt you. How can I find pleasure in that? No, I will wait."
The green eyes mirrored an odd blend of relief and confusion. "No, get it over!" he said hoarsely. "It will be crueler to make me wonder when..."
"No, English." Bodie brushed back the tumble of curls, feeling a strange admiration for the boy's determination to carry out his promise. "Not until you are ready. I will not
hurt you. I have given you my word on this." All his lustful plans lay scattered around him, and he could not care. All he truly wanted at this moment was to hold the brave, foolish body against his own and wait until the trembling ceased.
"And I gave my word I would do what you required," Doyle said shakily. "I meant that, too."
"Yes, I know." Bodie nuzzled his ear and held him close. "So that is not what I want now."
"What...do...you want?" Doyle asked brokenly. "Please tell me. It's the...not knowing that...frightens me." The admission was not easily made, and Bodie appreciated the painful honestly.
He cupped Doyle's face in his hands, studying the features slowly. He knew what he wanted, what he ached for, and realized patience was the only path.
Anxious and afraid, Doyle quivered beneath him. "Please, I need to know ... what you want."
Holding his gaze, Bodie told him softly, honestly, "I want you never to fear this bed. To know that I will offer you nothing but pleasure here."
Doyle's breath caught in his throat and Bodie felt the heartbeat against his chest increase like a trapped bird.
Puzzled, Bodie asked, "What is wrong? How can that upset you so?"
"Finding pleasure in captivity makes one a true slave," Doyle replied grimly. "I am bound to you by my word -- but I will never be your slave."
Bodie's frayed patience was at an end. "No? We shall see."
His mouth covered Doyle's, hard at first, but gentling, tongue seeking out the other's knowingly, hands resuming the insidious stroking until Doyle once again found himself at fever pitch and beyond. Bodie was on top of him again, but simply sliding rhythmically between Doyle's thighs, brushing against the sensitive underskin of the testicles, his hard stomach pressing on Doyle's inflamed erection. And Doyle was once again lost, head falling back in abandon to the sensations and the blazing passion offered.
They climaxed at almost the same instant, the heat of it searing them both, and Doyle unconsciously opened his mouth to the devouring kiss that melted them completely in that final storm peak.
"No pleasure in captivity, eh?" The chuckle was deep and smug, and despite his sweaty weariness, Doyle's blood froze.
"I hate you," Doyle told him dully. "Whatever you make my body do, you'll only make me hate you more."
Bodie sat up and blew out the lamp. In the darkness, he said coldly, "That is good. If you loved me, I should soon be bored with you and have to send you away."
Resentment flared in Doyle. "And if you loved me?"
There was a second of startled silence before the Sheik chuckled. "In that dubious prospect I would banish you even quicker. A leader cannot afford such indulgence."
With that, he settled in the bed and went to sleep, back turned to the confused Englishman.
Unsurprisingly, the Sheik was gone when Doyle awoke. It had taken him a long time to fall asleep the night before. He had lain awake, too conscious of the man beside him to literally toss and turn, so he did so mentally. Desperately he tried to make sense of his captor, who could be so cold and uncaring one minute and so tender and considerate the next.
Bodie had sworn not to hurt him, but that strangely made him more wary than ever, for he wasn't certain it was physical pain that he feared the most. Yes, he had been afraid when Bodie was on the verge of taking him -- the panic had lodged in his throat like a live thing, choking off his air and making him tremble like a rabbit. And yet, when that danger had passed, some secret, perverse part of him had felt disappointed, as if he were being cheated of something very special.
However, despite everything, he still felt a vague triumph. Yes, Bodie had made him carnally enjoy the encounter, but he had also accepted that some part of Doyle's self-respect was intact. It wasn't much, perhaps, but it was all he had left to cling to at present.
No matter how he looked at it, and in whatever bizarre circumstances he now found himself, he still felt more of a man here than he ever had in his father's house in England. It was progress of sorts.
It was mid-morning when he left the tent. The oasis was humming with life. Women were busy washing clothes at the small pool, dark clothing and veils concealing everything but large, black eyes, and their incessant, chattering voices. Men darted back and forth carrying sacks of feed and bundles of cut grass and palm leaves. Several workers were busy laying stone near the spring, obviously enlarging the pool. Another group sat smoking black cigarettes and working on pieces of leather harness. In the distance, across the oasis, he could see the cluster of camels, and figures dodging their nasty temper. Children ran laughing, driving a herd of goats toward the pool. The women scolded and clucked in Arabic as the animals stepped over the wet clothes. Near the well, two naked toddlers played solemnly with a cluster of wooden spoons.
Far away, hidden by the line of tents, he could hear the whinny of horses and the sound of shouting and laughter.
Eyes glanced up as he passed, but after a speculative look, ignored him. His value as an item of curiosity had obviously diminished once they'd had a good look. One English was much like another, after all. They all looked alike once you got over the shock of their strange colored eyes and hair.
Doyle paused outside of the familiar tent. The flap was open, and he peeked inside. "Cambridge? May I come in?" he called out uncertainly.
The man tore his attention from his book. "Raymond. Indeed, my boy, do come in! How are you this morning?"
Doyle bit his lip, wondering what the question meant, but before the silence could become embarrassing, Cambridge said, "I'm just boiling water for a spot of tea. Would you fancy some?"
"Oh yes, thank you. The coffee is a little strong for my taste actually."
"Don't I know it, dear boy. These savages have palates like sledgehammers. Bodie is the worst of the lot, I'm afraid. Eat or drink anything that doesn't go for him first. Still, it certainly seems to have made him healthy enough, hasn't it? Sit down. I can't tell you what a pleasure it is to have someone civilized to talk to once more."
Hesitantly, Doyle sat down on the cushion. "I wanted to thank you again for--"
"Please, dear boy, there's no need. I did very little, I'm afraid. Certainly not as much as I would have liked. But que sera sera, yes?"
"Pardon?" Doyle asked politely.
"Oh, that is Spanish for `what will be, will be'. Lovely sound to it, I always thought. Beautifully fatalistic. The Arabic version is `as Allah wills'. More commonly, `let the chips fall where they may'. Interesting terminology. Chips meaning, in the original and basic concept, feces. Not a pretty thought for modern times, but perhaps quite apt, when considering the meaning involved. Essentially, of course, all of them are simply a verbal way of throwing up one's hands in defeat against the powers that be."
"Oh," Doyle replied weakly, a little overwhelmed by the man's explanation.
Cambridge smiled deprecatingly. "Forgive me. I do tend to lecture, don't I? A propensity held over from my university days, I suppose. Some habits are impossible to break."
Doyle returned the smile. "I don't mind, really. I like it. Zachery..." He trailed off, and glanced down uncomfortably.
"Yes?" Cambridge encouraged gently.
"My friend talked a bit like that. He would get on a subject that interested him and just ramble on..." Doyle flushed. "Not to say that you--"
"But of course I do," Cambridge chuckled. "And I told you, I liked your Zachery. We would have got along famously, I'm sure. And if you were fond of him despite all his garrulous speeches, perhaps you can learn to like me as well."
"But they were never that," Doyle protested. "I loved to hear him speak. I always learned something new."
The older man's eyes twinkled with delight. "And do you like to learn? It is not painful for you to stretch your mind a bit?"
Doyle laughed. "What? How can learning be painful?"
Cambridge stroked his beard in amusement. "You would be surprised. My students make the most dreadful noise when I give them assignments -- particularly if it requires actual thought."
"You teach here? The Arab children?"
"I try," he corrected Doyle drily. "Bodie has ordered the children to spend ten hours a week under my tutelage, against his uncle's -- and everyone else's -- wishes. They come, of course, since the Sheik commands them, but I'm afraid there are only a few that have any enthusiasm for the task. It is something of an uphill battle to convince them of the importance of literacy. Even the beloved Koran is told by word of mouth. `It is written' may be one of their favorite precepts, but Mohammed unfortunately didn't say they had to actually know how to read what was written."
"But surely some of them are willing to learn."
"Yes, Hassid's oldest son, Omar, is sixteen and very bright. I have great hopes for the boy. He has worked his way through my library and is still interested. Where he comes by his intelligence however, I have no idea. Hassid has the intellect of a water slug."
Doyle didn't want to be reminded of Bodie's uncle, so he said quickly, "You taught Bodie, yes?"
"Ah, now there was a promising student -- if he had ever applied himself properly. Unfortunately, he found it more interesting to be off shooting bandits or breaking horses than concentrating on his books. Still, I have managed to give him a fairly sound education. Besides his native Arabic, he speaks English and French fluently and has a readable grasp of German and Latin. He has studied most of the classics and has a workable knowledge of algebra and geometry. His ability in science and medicine was particularly strong--"
"Bodie?" Doyle asked in amazement.
"Do not let his muscles fool you, my boy. Behind that thick skull of his is a very quick mind." He sighed. "Unfortunately, he tends to use it as seldom as possible lately. His wretched uncle's influence, no doubt."
"I saw the books of poetry in his tent--"
"Ah yes. His weakness since childhood. I think he identifies a bit with Byron. Never quite belonging or fitting into the scheme of things."
"Because his mother was British?"
Cambridge lifted an eyebrow. "Of course. The dichotomy of his situation must be obvious."
"The people don't seem to mind."
"Of course not. People are people. They could be led by a green kangaroo as long as he gave them what they need -- safety, prosperity, a feeling of unity. They soon forget that he's even a kangaroo, let alone that he's green. But the kangaroo never forgets."
Before Doyle had time to puzzle that one out, Cambridge said brightly, "Do you play chess by any chance?"
"Uh... yes. Of course."
"Fabulous! Bodie despises the game. I always beat him, you see, and he can't bear that. The boy has wonderful strategy, but no patience. He gets bored and starts sacrificing pieces just to have it over. Would you care for a match?"
Doyle smiled. "Yes, I think I would."
Cambridge poured out the tea while Doyle set up the game board.
The days passed swiftly, and Doyle found to his surprise that he was never bored and seldom troubled by his situation. He spent much of his time with Cambridge, playing chess, discussing books, and learning more than he ever had from his tutors in England. Cambridge was an endless fountain of knowledge that spurted up and overflowed as naturally as he breathed. Doyle was only too happy to soak up as much as he could, content to listen to the monologues on history, culture or literature.
Always an eager student, Doyle found the old man was a gold mine of obscure facts and unusual anecdotes. And he dearly loved to debate. Often he would throw in a totally outrageous opinion just to coax Doyle to disagree and argue the point. Cambridge was a confirmed liberal, while Doyle tended to have a somewhat more conservative viewpoint which made the older man chuckle and dub him `Tory'. They would wrangle happily for hours until the sun was low and Doyle knew he should return to the Sheik's tent.
Somewhat to his dismay, even there he found little to which he could object. Bodie would return from work with his beloved horses, or scouting for raiders, dusty and sweaty from his exertions, but quick with a pleased smile when he saw Doyle. He liked Doyle to talk to him while he bathed, and having his back washed while listening to the current topic of debate with Cambridge. Bodie would add his own opinion, which generally differed widely from the other two, and would spark another conversation that often carried them through dinner.
The Sheik was always amusing, and surprisingly sweet tempered on the whole. His dry, somewhat caustic, humor generally had Doyle laughing before the meal ended. Occasionally Cambridge would join them for supper and whether on politics, religion or books the discussion would be lively and hot until Cambridge capped it all with some obscure quote in Latin that had Bodie groaning and Doyle struggling to remember the bits he'd always found so boring in school.
It was only after, when they were alone in the bed chamber that Doyle froze, remembering his oath to himself. He felt he must keep control, could never let his feelings go as he would have liked. He consistently lost the battle, of course; his intentions melting as his toes curled in delight at the first touch. But somehow the effort alone was enough, for Bodie never pushed him, never asked anything of him but to accept the offered pleasure. Bodie would often gently encourage him to respond in kind, but when Doyle tensed, he would not insist, and seemed content to take much of his own satisfaction from Doyle's.
As the weeks passed, it became a somewhat hollow victory, but Doyle wasn't sure how to break the pattern without giving up the tenuously held ground of his self-respect. If he was a kind of prostitute, Bodie at least knew his motivation was honorable. If he altered the situation, there was a danger he would also lessen Bodie's opinion of him. And that opinion was becoming strangely important as time went on.
The Sheik would occasionally surprise him with his sensitivity. Not long after they had struck their strange bargain, Bodie had approached him with Doyle's forgotten sketchpad, obviously retrieved from his baggage when they were captured. He had it opened to the hasty drawing Doyle had made of Shaizar that day by the fountain in Aden.
"I like this," Bodie had told him. "Would you finish it for me?"
Startled, Doyle wasn't sure how to reply.
"It is not an order. One does not order an artist. But it would please me if you do this."
Doyle had happily complied, and the Sheik had been liberal in his praise with the finished work, regarding Doyle with new appreciative eyes that made the younger man blush with pleasure.
Thereafter, he spent much time wandering around the camp, sketching the people and the busy life there. At sunset, he would stand at the edge of the oasis, longing for a palette and brush to paint the shifting colors of the desert.
"So the English is being tortured after all," Bodie observed drily. "Uncle will be pleased."
Cambridge and Doyle looked up from their concentration on the chess board. "Torture may be the correct word, but I'm afraid Raymond here is the one turning the screws. He has won two matches of three already."
"Indeed." The Sheik's hand dropped to the younger man's shoulder, and Doyle looked up into twinkling blue eyes. "Do not let this old fox trick you, English. He is building up your confidence so you will not surrender too easily when he goes in for the kill."
Doyle smiled. "If you mean that he has been letting me win, I've already figured that out."
"Nonsense," Cambridge acted offended. "He's a very clever lad, Bodie. Much more clever than you, I might add. He, at least, has the shrewdness to actually think before he makes a move."
"There you are wrong, old man. It took much thought to lose so quickly so I could be out in the sunlight again--"
"--doing all those manly, muscular activities that are so close to your barbaric heart," Cambridge finished, smiling fondly at the Sheik. "Were your hours here so tedious then?"
The blue eyes softened. "Would I have spent so many if that were true, my friend?" He glanced down at Doyle. "But I would like to steal your opponent away for a time."
"So early? Since when do you leave those precious nags of yours before evening prayers?"
"I thought he might like to ride with me. English?"
Doyle stood eagerly. "Yes." He tossed an apologetic glance at Cambridge. "That is...may we finish the game later?"
The old man grinned. "Go on, both of you. Intellectual pursuit has limited appeal to youth."
It was good to ride again. Part of him was surprised at the Sheik's ability to recognize his need for such a release. It was something that was so welcome and so necessary, Doyle wasn't sure how to express his gratitude. Was even less sure if he should. How do you tell your captor how much you appreciated even the illusion of freedom he generously granted?
And the horse Bodie had given him to ride was wonderful. It was a mare, sister to Shaizar, and quicker. In color she was a bright chestnut, red-gold in the setting sun, and lively as a whip. Doyle reveled in the beauty and sweetness of her gait, the smooth, effortless stride.
When they raced briefly, he became aware of the fact that Jasmine was faster than her brother. She didn't have the endurance, but in the short distance, she could slip past him like a dream, floating forward with an ease that amazed Doyle.
They stopped at last, near sunset, at a large outcropping of rock. It stretched a hundred feet high with dozens of deep crevices etched in the circumference.
Since it was the obvious point of their journey, Doyle pulled his mount to a halt and waited for Bodie.
Shaizar, probably the most expressive horse Doyle had ever known, looked tired, nonchalant and irritated all at once. Being outrun was obviously an unpleasant experience for him and a definite blow to his haughty pride.
They dismounted and Jasmine nibbled Doyle's shirt lovingly. He stroked her velvet nose in response.
The Sheik watched them, enjoying the backdrop of the setting sun against the long curls, glinting nearly the same bright red-gold as the horse.
"You ride well, English."
Doyle laughed. "You sound surprised. We have horses in England, too, you know."
The other man just smiled. "Not like these," he retorted with supreme confidence that bordered on arrogance.
"No," Doyle conceded. "I've never seen such perfect animals. Bodie, she's magnificent."
The Sheik tied back the reins to let his own horse roam free. "Her foal won a very large purse in England a few months ago. So you like her?"
"How could I not?"
Jasmine gave Doyle's face a wet, horsey kiss, obviously equally approving of her rider.
Bodie chuckled. "You have made another conquest, English. She is yours, if you want her."
Busy wiping off horse slobber, it took a moment for that to sink in. Startled, he turned to the other man. "Mine? But why?"
"Because she has fallen madly in love with you, of course." He smiled again at Doyle's blush. "And because I wish to give you a gift."
"But I can't accept...she must be worth a fortune."
Bodie nodded. "As Shaizar is the best stud I possess, Jasmine is the most prized mare. I do not offer worthless gifts, English."
Doyle stroked the long neck silently. "She is so wonderful... why should you want to give her to me?"
Bodie was behind him, hands reaching out to cover Doyle's as they petted the horse, stilling the movement. "It pleases me to see you happy. Riding my Jasmine made you happy."
Fighting the pleasure of the embrace, Doyle said grimly, "And what if I use her to run from you? To escape?"
"I have your word," Bodie replied confidently. "And our bargain. You will not break it, I think."
"I thought you did not trust the British."
"Nor do I. But I find I trust you. The horse is yours, my pretty English. If you were a woman, I would give you emeralds and fine silks -- but you are a man. I never forget that, nor wish to make you less than that. So I give you something a man could accept and know its true worth."
Doyle slid his hand down the horse's flank, feeling the movement of muscles just beneath the bright skin, like molten iron. "Oh, I do." He let Jasmine go to seek pasture on the sparse grass that grew in hardy tufts on the rocky escarpment. "But why should you give me a gift at all? I don't need a bribe--"
"I give what I choose to give," Bodie silenced him. "Our bargain stands. I take what I desire from you and you...you give as you wish." He paused. "If Jasmine is not--"
"No," Doyle said swiftly, turning to smile at him, "I'm not in a position to be too proud, but I'm not stupid either. Of course, I'll accept. And thank you."
"Good." Bodie pulled him to one side. He took off his flowing cloak, spreading it out for them to sit on the sand in the shadow of the outcropping of rock.
Doyle had refused to wear the Arabian headdress, and Bodie had discarded his own, as the sun's heat was stolen by the evening breeze, ruffling his short, black hair.
"I want to show you something, English."
"Sit down. Wait."
Doyle did as he was told, very conscious of Bodie's muscular length stretched out beside him.
"My father brought me here as a child. He wanted me to know that even dark things can have a beauty to them."
Puzzled, Doyle watched the fortress of stone. As the sun slid deeper behind the mountains to the west, there was a soft, fluttery stir in the air. The sound was muffled at first, growing slowly more powerful, like a battalion of moths battering against a window pane. And then a few ebony darts came from the stone edifice, spit out in the darkening sky like bold arrows. A second later, a cluster appeared, and he heard their high-pitched conversation as they fluttered toward the distant mountains.
"Bats?" he asked in amazement. "You brought me here to see bats?"
Bodie just smiled. "Watch, English."
Silently he waited, and suddenly in a steady ribbon of black they appeared, erupting forth from the recesses of the cliff. Thousands and thousands of them, a widening stream that cut into the failing reddish light like an invading army. There was a power and grace in their flight that left him breathless. It was awe inspiring, the incredible black wave that poured from the rifts in the rock, the air filled with the batter of wings and the high register of squeals. And then the jet wave split into perfect whirls of black, separating and moving into an intricate, swirling dance, the beautiful spirals each having a purpose and focus and direction.
Involuntarily, Doyle held his ears against the barrage of sound, so much of which was beyond his hearing -- the knowledge of it alone was enough to make him defensive.
It seemed to take forever for the ocean of black to subside. When it did, Bodie said quietly, "There is water deep within the caves. They come here for safety and darkness, returning the many miles to the mountains each night to feed."
Still awed by the magnificent sight, Doyle took a long breath. "That was...incredible. Wonderful." He turned to Bodie, almost shyly. "Thank you for bringing me."
"Many of my people fear this place; think it is evil. They believe Satan dwells in the caves beneath the rocks with the creatures as his eyes and ears."
"Well, I must confess, I've never been fond of bats myself," Doyle laughed. "But I've never seen them quite like this either. You said your father brought you here? He didn't believe the superstitions?"
"My father was a very enlightened man -- in some matters."
"Educated as he was, I suppose that's logical. You were close to him?"
If anyone else had dared to ask such a question, Bodie would have reacted very differently, his relationship with his sire a very private and treasured matter, but there was a wistful note in the younger man's voice that made him wonder at the source.
"Yes. He was a good father to me. He taught me many things. How to be a man, for one."
"Oh, yes," Doyle said with a touch of bitterness. "How to shoot a gun...how to fight...how to kill."
Bodie stared at him thoughtfully. "Yes, those things. But there was more than that. Honor, justice. To think and reason clearly." His voice mellowed in amusement. "Even to occasionally listen to what my enemy has to say for himself, English, rather than cut his throat or blow his head off as my beloved Uncle is always so eager to do."
The sun was down now, and the moon was rising, casting silver and black shadows. The horses, spooked by the rush of bats, had cantered off, but returned now, drawn by the smell of grass and the underground water. The tinkle of the silver on their bridles made a pleasant, musical sound in the quiet night.
Doyle was silent for a long time, then he said in an oddly strained voice. "He talked to you then? Really talked to you, I mean?"
Surprised, Bodie answered, "My father? But of course. I was his son. Why do you ask...?" He trailed off as he thought he saw a drop of liquid silver slip down the other's cheek. "English? What is wrong?"
But Doyle laughed, dispelling his forlorn expression. "Nothing. I was just thinking how you were fortunate in your father, Bodie. You must miss him terribly."
"English, your father was not--"
"My father," Doyle said firmly, "is dead also. And not missed in the least." Even in the dim moonlight, the green eyes flashed fire, the anger quiet but intense. "You once asked about my face. How it came to be broken. My father was not a patient man, you see. And he found his son sorely lacking in the manly arts..." He trailed off, reliving the scene for the thousandth time -- not only the incredible pain, but the more lasting humiliation of it. The fact his sire would have been more concerned with the well-being of one of his hunting hounds than his youngest son.
"He did that ... to you?"
The soft, wounded sound that seemed to come from Doyle's heart wrenched at Bodie. Doyle took a shaky breath and cleared his throat. "I'm sure he had his reasons."
"How old were you?" Bodie asked softly.
"Twelve." Doyle swallowed painfully, then choked out impulsively, "God, I hated him ... I still hate the bastard. He had no right--"
Bodie stilled the words with a gentle hand. "Your father did this to you?" His finger traced tenderly over the uneven cheekbone. "I regret he is dead, little English. I would have liked to have made him suffer for such cruelty."
Doyle let out his breath slowly, feeling all of his bitterness and long-held resentment draining out with it. The sympathetic touch of the hand, the defensive words on his behalf, somehow soothed much of the old sting. Bodie cared that he had been hurt. Bodie was on his side in this.
The Sheik tilted Doyle's chin up and studied his face. "He did not mar your beauty, English." Even in the pale light, he could see the other flush and try to duck away, but he held him firmly. "I should have hunted him in hell, had he spoiled that."
Doyle found he could not look away from the fierce dark eyes that held him captive -- even from the very first moment they had met.
Bodie lowered his head until his mouth covered Doyle's, passionate and possessive.
A tiny flare of uneasiness nagged at the back of Doyle's mind at the arrogant mastery of his body that seemed to imply something beyond their infamous bargain. But as always, his senses betrayed him, and he was lost in the skillful sensuality of the mouth ravishing his, and the knowing hands sliding inside his shirt transforming his nerves to fire and his bones to jelly.
Bodie made long, slow love to Doyle there under the brilliant night sky, whispering how beautiful he was in the wash of silver moonlight.
Afterwards, they lay watching the glittering spray of stars, Doyle's head pillowed on Bodie's shoulder, feeling as if all his muscles had been dissolved and were only now slowly reforming.
He always felt like this after, languorous, vulnerable, and strangely content to be so. There was a delicious feeling of openness about it, drained of will and direction, floating on sensation. It usually passed quickly, as soon as he remembered the arms that held him so securely, and the hands that had brought him such pleasure. And the sad, certain fact that this was a deal to Bodie, nothing more -- a means of gratification. He was a piece of property, hardly of more value than a trinket bargained for at a bazaar, taken only because the Sheik fancied its shine and glitter. Pretty but cheap.
"You are sad again."
The quiet voice seemed unnaturally loud in the silence and Doyle jumped a little. "No...it's just..."
Doyle sighed. "It doesn't matter. Please, don't push me, Bodie."
A gentle hand soothed him, and lips brushed his forehead. "Very well. Are you cold?"
The desert night was becoming a little chilly as the breeze picked up.
Doyle nodded, and Bodie folded them both in the cloak, holding the younger man very close.
Nearly two months after his arrival at the oasis, Doyle was rummaging through an old trunk in Cambridge's tent, searching for a copy of Shakespeare's plays that Cambridge was sure he had stored somewhere. Cambridge was engrossed in volume N-P of his newly received Encyclopedia
Doyle pulled out various textbooks on entomology, psychology, and taxidermy without finding the book he wanted.
Digging deeper, he discovered the trunk had a false bottom. Curious, he pulled on a half-hidden tab and the layer lifted to reveal a strange collection of seeming junk; tarnished metals, diplomas, letters tied with faded ribbons. He started to say something to Cambridge, when his eye caught something else.
It was a small oil painting wrapped in delicate tissue paper, no more than ten by twelve inches in size. Curious, he folded back the covering. The colors were slightly faded and blurred, but the portrait itself was intact. He lifted it out, admiring not so much the artist's work as the subject. The woman was hauntingly beautiful. Her upswept hair was black with wisps of curls escaping at the nape of the neck, eyes so dark blue the color should have been unbelievable but somehow wasn't. The mouth was curved in a sweet, slightly pouty smile, as if she was more than a little willful, but charming with it. The nose was perfect with just the hint of upturned tilt. Her skin had a luminous clarity. The total look was strikingly lovely.
Then his breath caught in his chest as he realized why it fascinated him so.
The woman looked like Bodie. Nose, mouth, eyes...even the silky black wave of hair were all feminine versions of the son she had borne.
Doyle glanced at Cambridge, then back to the portrait. The scrawled signature in the corner was SLW, but somehow he knew beyond question that it was Cambridge that created this.
"You're very good," he said quietly. "Why did you stop painting?"
"Hmmm?" Cambridge answered absently.
"What was her name, Bodie's mother?"
The old man's head snapped up, drawn from his concentration as effectively as if Doyle had shouted fire.
Doyle turned the portrait around, meeting the startled eyes over it. "She was very beautiful, wasn't she?"
Cambridge jumped up, for once ignoring the plight of the book and the way the pages bent as it fell unheeded to the rug. "Where did you find that!"
"Here in the trunk. I didn't mean to pry. You told me to--"
"I never meant--" He grabbed the picture from Doyle, then caught himself abruptly, biting his lip hard. "Forgive me for barking at you, my boy. I directed you to that trunk and I'm sure the book you want isn't there at all." He shook his head and sighed. "Subconsciously, perhaps I wanted you to find this."
Puzzled, Doyle watched him as he sat down heavily, holding the portrait with reverent care. "Yes, she was beautiful." He smiled a little sadly. "You asked why I stopped painting, didn't you? The answer is simple -- I hadn't the talent."
"But it's very good," Doyle protested.
Gaze still on the canvas, Cambridge just shook his head. "No, this was the last painting I ever attempted. I knew then, you see, where my limits were. I couldn't really capture her spirit, her true beauty. Knowing that, there seemed no point in continuing."
Doyle didn't answer, understanding on a very deep level exactly what Cambridge meant.
"Her name was Diana," Cambridge continued softly, "and it was quite appropriate. She could ride like the wind, could shoot and hunt as well as any man. She was brave and bold, and...ah, but she was gentle, too. The wildness in her made one forget until they looked into her eyes. Inside her shell she was all softness and compassion. Her temper was just a shield for her vulnerability."
He fell silent, contemplating the portrait and Doyle was afraid he would say no more. He prompted, "How did she come to marry Bodie's father?"
Cambridge shook his head. "She never married him, not by any British law. But by the law of the desert they were man and wife. He saw her at a bazaar in Baghdad and wanted her. He took her. It was simple as that."
"What? You mean he abducted her? How?"
"Diana was a willful girl, spoiled I suppose would be more accurate; an only child of a widowed father. She was his joy and life after his wife died. He raised her almost like a son and because of that, he taught her to ride and shoot with him, giving her a freedom females seldom know. She traveled with him to Baghdad on business and found she did not care for the restraints put upon her there. As I said, Diana was spoiled, careless and totally oblivious to the fates that can befall an unattended girl in a foreign city. What had begun as a lark to explore the city turned into an abduction. It was not a difficult task. Baghdad is a dirty, dangerous city, and when she disappeared there was little the authorities could do. Everyone accepted the idea that she must be dead. Even her father didn't want to think of the alternative."
Appalled, Doyle said, "You knew about this, and you did nothing to help her?"
"By the time I was aware of what happened, it was far too late to change the situation. She had been with Nassar for weeks before he brought her back to the desert. It was not hard for him to keep her to himself, you see. Money buys much silence."
"But why didn't you help her return to her father once you knew--"
"Return to what, Raymond? She was ruined, you must know that. Even Diana knew she could never go back to the life she had known -- she would be scorned, pitied, and that she could never have borne."
Doyle thought fleetingly of his own position, and knew there was really no comparison. He was a man, and that made all the difference. A high born girl out in the world without a chaperon was left with a shattered reputation. Her hopes of being accepted in polite society -- whether the situation was of her doing or not -- was lost. And twenty years ago, her position would have been even more untenable.
This was the same man Bodie said had taught him about honor and justice. "How could he have done such a thing?" Doyle wondered. "It's barbaric."
"Yes, but not so very surprising. For all his education and polish, Nassar was still a Bedouin. Women are property; hardly of more worth than their animals. A female that belongs to another -- whether father, husband, brother -- is carefully secluded; kept from the eyes of temptation. Diana, alone in the marketplace without concealing yards of cloth, seemed fair game, unprotected and unclaimed. Intellectually, Nassar knew better, of course, but emotionally his environment and heredity ruled."
After his time with Bodie, Doyle understood this only too well. The Sheik had a royal air about him, expecting and accustomed to being obeyed without question. Yet, despite that, he never treated Doyle as less than another male, giving him a degree of respect and attention he might not have offered a woman in a similar position. It was easy to imagine what poor Diana had suffered.
"It must have been terrible for her," Doyle said solemnly.
"Yes, although Nassar gave her more freedom than most Arabic women. For example, she was never forced to swath herself in the heavy clothing or remain hidden away. She rode with him and moved freely within the camp even when he was away, which was an amazing thing considering his possessiveness of her. It helped alleviate her feeling of captivity somewhat. And Nassar loved her deeply, I never doubted that. Even worshipped her. After a while, she came to love him as well. My friend was a very virile, handsome young man -- it would be difficult for a young girl to remain totally immune to that attraction, whatever the circumstances."
"So she eventually accepted her fate?"
Cambridge shook his head sadly. "No, never. She was very stubborn, exceedingly willful. What she felt for him never stopped her attempts to escape. No matter how she loved him, she would not be held. A dozen times she fled from him only to have him drag her back again. Once she even reached as far as Aden before he found her. She had Bodie with her then -- he was hardly five years old at the time."
Doyle gasped. "He knew? Bodie was part of this?"
"Oh yes. Torn both ways, of course. He adored his mother, but admired and loved his father. Over and over he was witness to the battles between them. Both were hot-tempered and passionate people. They loved each other violently -- and hated with an equal passion. It was not a serene childhood, as you can well imagine."
"Christ." Doyle shut his eyes, seeing in his mind's eye the small boy that was once Bodie, understanding his dilemma very well. He opened his eyes to glare at Cambridge. "And you stood by and did nothing?"
The old man did not flinch from the condemnation. "What would you have me do? I had sworn loyalty to Nassar long before. Should I disregard my oath to him? Help Diana to escape? Do not think I didn't consider it. But escape to what? She could not go home -- never intended to do so. She never thought beyond obtaining her freedom. Unfortunately, I had to consider it. And once her son was born, Nassar would have stopped at nothing to find them again. By all the laws he lived by, she was his property and Bodie was his heir. Whatever I wanted to do, these were laws I agreed to live by as well when I came to this land."
He looked down at the portrait again. "Even so, if I had not believed she truly loved Nassar, I might have..." he trailed off and shook his head. "No matter. What is past is past."
Cambridge looked very weary. "Raymond, we have talked enough for one day. Please..."
"Of course." Doyle stood and moved to stand close. He squeezed the old man's shoulder affectionately. "Forgive me if I seemed to judge you. I know you acted as you felt you must. And I thank you for telling me these things. I can see it was painful for you."
His hand covered Doyle's fondly. "I wanted to help you understand him just a little. There is so much turmoil in his heart -- but it is a good heart. Perhaps you can help him heal it."
Having much to consider, Doyle turned to leave, but Cambridge called out, halting him.
"Wait. I have something for you." The old man got up and rummaged in another trunk, coming up with a large flat box. He handed it to Doyle. "My oil and brushes. They may be a bit dried by now, but it may serve you for the present."
Throat tight, Doyle protested, "I can't take these--"
"But of course you can. I have finished, my boy. You have just begun."
When Doyle left the tent, Cambridge returned to the portrait.
"You would like him, Diana," he whispered. "He has a gentle soul. Your son needs that now, I think."
Doyle spent the remainder of the afternoon experimenting with the oils and thinking of what Cambridge had told him. As he had been warned, the paints were thick and dried, but a little turpentine helped bring them to life. The story he had been told was old as well, but it was bright and vivid in his imagination. Bodie's dual nature was suddenly more comprehensible now. And his own unloving, lonely childhood was perhaps not so grim compared with the storms Bodie must have weathered in this tent. To watch two people you loved tearing at each other day after day must have made love seem a very bitter and frightening thing to a young boy. While Doyle had never known love of any kind, somewhere deep inside him there had always been a quiet conviction that it didn't have to be so; that there was beauty in giving, and contentment and security without the power of ownership. How could Bodie have ever known that?
Doyle jumped a little as warm lips nuzzled the back of his neck. He had been so lost in thought, he hadn't heard the other man's approach.
"Where did you get the paints?" Bodie asked, kneeling behind Doyle on the cushion and encircling him with his arms.
"You nearly gave me heart failure!"
Bodie chuckled. "And who else would be kissing you, that you would not know it was I?" His lips moved to Doyle's ear and nibbled hungrily. "Did you expect my Uncle, perhaps?"
Doyle laughed and squirmed at the ticklish feel. "That's not the point. You shouldn't sneak up on a person."
Bodie sat back, grinning. "My apologies. But you looked so entranced, I could not resist. You still haven't told me about the paints."
"Oh...Cambridge gave them to me."
"Really? I never knew he painted."
"He doesn't--" Doyle broke off, biting his lip, wondering if Bodie had seen the portrait of his mother. "Well, he hasn't for a long time. So he decided to give these to me."
Oblivious to any deeper meaning, Bodie stood and wandered off toward the bath, shedding clothes as he went. "Good. I will enjoy seeing what you do with color." He laughed teasingly, "Perhaps I shall have my Uncle sit for a portrait. Would you like that, English?"
Doyle caught him half way to the bath and tackled him. "Your uncle, the warthog? But of course I would be delighted..."
They wrestled on the thick carpet, tickling and teasing each other mercilessly. Bodie, out of breath and laughing, pleaded for a halt, finding himself at a distinct disadvantage. "Stop... English, my bladder is full. This is not a good time for--"
"Ah ha!" Doyle crowed in delight, poised above him, "so I have you now. One more move and you will embarrass yourself forever. The Sheik of the Jafarr peeing down his leg...think of the shame...the mortification to an entire race of proud people..."
Giggling, Bodie tried to lever him off, but Doyle pinned down his wrists implacably.
"You're in my power, oh mighty Sheik. What will you grant me in return for letting you up?" The green eyes glowed with mischief.
Bodie smirked. "If I pee, I will pee on you...and think of the shame to the British Empire."
"In that case," Doyle sighed mournfully, and released him. Bodie kissed him quickly then disappeared into the bath. Doyle picked up Bodie's clothes, knowing he would leave them there for Gaston if he didn't.
The Frenchman came in at that moment. "I had ze bath prepared--" Seeing what the other was doing he frowned at Doyle.
"You need not do that, Monsieur Raymond."
"Neither should you. He can pick up after himself."
Gaston grinned. "You dream very large, mon ami. Me, I would just be happy if he--"
"English!" Bodie called out.
"--would learn ze patience," Gaston continued with a grin. "I will see that dinner is brought soon, oui?"
"Yes, thank you." Doyle went through the curtain to find Bodie already in the bath, soaking contentedly. "Yes, oh royal pain?"
The blue eyes opened and Bodie smiled sweetly, unconsciously twisting Doyle's heart. "Come here. Talk to me, my English. What do you plan to paint, if you do not want to spend your time immortalizing my so lovely Uncle?"
Doyle pulled the stool close to the tub and trailed a hand in the soapy water until he found the sponge. He squeezed it, letting the warm liquid flow over Bodie's shoulder and chest. The Sheik dropped his head back with a dreamy mien. "That is nice..."
Drenching the sponge, Doyle repeated the gesture. "I'd like to try and paint the desert. Pencil or ink is good for the shadows and glare of the day, but I've thought it needed color to do the evening justice. The way the sun turns the sand to red and gold as it sinks; the violet and pink tint of the sky." He paused, tracing a sensuous path down the bare chest to the stomach. "And I would like to paint you, I think."
Bodie eyes opened again. "Me?"
"Would you object?"
The Sheik seemed surprised by the idea. "But why?"
"Because you are beautiful, of course." To his amazement, Bodie actually blushed, sinking a little deeper in the water.
Doyle grinned. "You're embarrassed!"
"Do not be absurd," Bodie growled, flushing a brighter red. "But there are better ways to use your talent."
Delighted, Doyle fished, "So you think I'm talented? Really?"
"Have I not just told you?"
"Then I definitely want to paint you," Doyle said firmly. Impulsively, he leaned over and kissed Bodie.
Startled by the gesture, Bodie didn't move, savoring the caress. It was the first time Doyle had ever offered a kiss of his own volition.
"Sit up," Doyle told him brusquely. "Let me wash your back. The water is cooling and the dinner will be here soon."
As they ate, Bodie watched Doyle suspiciously. There was something different about him today; he was more responsive and open. While Bodie didn't object to the change in the least, it made him a shade uneasy. And the way the green eyes looked at him was different, too. Once he caught an expression that seemed almost sympathetic, before Doyle smiled and the image was banished, making Bodie wonder if he had imagined it. Why the devil Doyle should feel sympathetic toward him, he couldn't fathom.
After dinner, they could hear Abdul playing his guitar near the well, the music carrying sweetly in the air. Bodie looked up from his book to find Doyle busily sketching him, the lamplight glinting off the gold rim of his glasses.
Bodie smiled. "So eager to pin me down to paper, English?"
The green eyes examined him thoughtfully. "You don't mind, do you? The light is not good for drawing, but...I like the shadows on your face. When I do the oil, I want you in sunlight."
"So what is this in aid of?" Bodie asked.
Doyle shrugged. "Just because I wanted to do it." He closed the sketchpad and removed his glasses, laying them both to one side. "It's time to go to bed, isn't it?"
This was also a first. Doyle usually waited for him to make the first move in that direction. Warily, Bodie followed him after extinguishing the lamps. Inside, Doyle was already waiting for him in the bed.
Bodie undressed and slid under the silk sheet, telling himself the odd, out-of-phase feeling he had all evening was nothing more than a momentary fancy. But Doyle went into his arms with a quick passion he had not expressed since the first night.
Bodie came up for air, startled by the response and by the fact Doyle was quite obviously aroused before he had even touched him.
"What has you on fire, English?" he whispered, half amused, half suspicious.
"You," Doyle replied simply, and pulled him back into another lengthy kiss.
Totally confused by the unprecedented turn of events, Bodie let Doyle do what he wanted, accepting with wonder the eager tongue that plundered his mouth and the hands that moved over his body in delighted exploration.
Doyle's mouth left his to trace down his throat to his chest. When the tongue swirled over his nipple, Bodie's head fell back in surprise and pleasure, his hand moving to the soft tumble of curls that tickled his skin. Shifting to the other nipple, Doyle brushed it with gentle teeth; it hardened, shooting lines of quick pleasure to Bodie's groin. He moaned, forgetting to muse at this sudden change in his erstwhile captive; it all felt too good to question. Doyle's voracious mouth moved down the muscled stomach, pausing for one long, heart-stopping moment before touching his tongue to the head of Bodie's erection.
Bodie arched up, crying out softly at the shocking delight. Doyle took the shaft in his hand, studying it in the lamplight, stroking it.
Aroused and breathless, Bodie watched him, surprised and delighted by this change.
"I've...never..." Doyle said nervously. "If I do it wrong... tell me..."
As far as Bodie was concerned, at this point the only mistake Doyle could make would be to stop. He held Doyle's head in his hands, fighting the urge to force him down.
Doyle lowered his mouth and sucked on the head, drawing a helpless moan as his tongue swirled over the tip, tasting the fluid he drew forth. His mouth opened wider, taking it deeper, finding an even rhythm that matched Bodie's demand.
Helpless in his ecstasy, Bodie tangled his fingers in the curls, pushing him down more until he heard Doyle gag. He let up immediately, regretting his impulse, but Doyle seemed encouraged by the enthusiasm, lowering again, even deeper, taking in more and drawing back with sensual ease, his hand reaching to cup Bodie's testicles, caressing them in rhythm with his suction.
Reaching his peak, Bodie cried out, hips lifting to the accepting mouth that hungrily milked every drop that was offered.
Panting, Bodie lay back, unable to think. Without asking, wild with need, Doyle moved on top of him, mouth seeking, still flavored with seed, body alive and trembling with helpless passion as he thrust wildly against Bodie until he, too, stiffened and cried out in release, the wetness spurting over Bodie's stomach.
They lay there for a time as their heartbeats slowed, until Doyle slid over to his side, arm wrapped tight around Bodie, head pillowed on his shoulder.
"Was it right?" he said hesitantly. "I mean...was it--"
Bodie touched his cheek. "Oh, yes."
Doyle sighed in relief. "I thought it might be. At least I tried to do everything you do to me. But I was so...I was so excited myself...I wasn't sure if I remembered..."
Bodie was silent, regaining his breath and his equilibrium. He held Ray tightly in his arms, loving the warmth, the sweetness. Loving....
Like the whirl of a roulette wheel his thoughts slowed and clicked to black. And red. Black and red. He saw it. Black and red.His feelings terrified him. And the terror was black and red. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't scream, but he wanted to scream --
"Bodie? Is there something wr--"
The Sheik blinked and shook his head a little. "No. It was fine. It was perfect," Bodie told him, realizing only after he felt Doyle pull away that his voice had been tense and distracted. He started to caress the bare shoulder to take away the cold sting of his words, but his hand withdrew in mid gesture. What had he said? What had he done? There was a moment when he was somewhere -- sometime else. Somewhere black and red. Sometime when this feeling was wrong -- dangerous. To feel for someone as he did for Ray was.... No, he had to think.
"Bodie, please, what is it?"
His confusion made it impossible to offer reassurance.
Bodie rolled away abruptly and got up, finding his clothes and dressing hurriedly, grabbing up his cloak as an afterthought.
"Bodie...?" Doyle was sitting up.
He shook his head. "It is nothing. I will be back soon. I just need...to be alone for awhile."
Darting through the curtain as if escaping, Bodie nearly ran from the tent. Outside, he paused to breathe in the night air in quick gulps. The camp was quiet, most of the torches dimmed, the fires burned down to flickering embers.
He whistled and waited. Then whistled again. Two minutes later Shaizar trotted into sight around one of the tents. Of all the horses, he was one who was never tethered or roped off, always left free to roam the camp, trusted to never stray so far he would not hear his master's call.
Bodie stroked the velvet nose, murmuring softly to the animal, then burying his face in the fall of mane. After a moment he straightened and leaped onto the horse's bare back, urging him out toward the desert.
Unneedful of reins to guide him, the stallion followed the direction of the knees and hands he knew so well. He bounded forward happily, eager for the run in store. It had been some time since they had run the desert at night. The animal's memory was not long, but it dimly recalled these night races and had missed the wild release. They tore across the sand, the oasis falling behind them with ever lengthening strides. Bodie leaned over the horse's neck, urging him faster and faster. Shaizar raced the night wind, picking up the inchoate desperation of its master, reveling in the unchecked abandon of the run.
Bodie blanked his mind, feeling only the power of the animal beneath him and the whip of mane stinging his face in the wind.
It was freedom, it was clean and pure and blissfully alone. Responsibility beaten back with the rhythmic hiss of hooves on sand. Alone... alone....
How long they sailed effortlessly across the sand, Bodie never knew, but it was finally Shaizar who slowed, finding a limit to his strength previously undiscovered. The run tapered to a canter and then a trot, ears pricked up to catch any demand of its master to continue. He still had the heart to go on if the man required, even if his legs were beginning to shake with the effort.
But Bodie did nothing, hardly noticing even when Shaizar came to a stop, sides heaving with effort.
Finally, belatedly, he felt the lathered neck and realized the animal had ran himself out. Guiltily, he slid off and pressed his face to the horse's muzzle.
"Oh, my foolish Shaizar. Forgive me. I have let you run too far and too long. We will rest now, my friend." He pulled off his cloak and used it to rub down the wet body, drying it against the night chill. Finally he threw his cloak over the animal and sat down on the sand, knees against this chest, arms wrapped tightly around his legs, shivering a little himself.
Concerned, in its dim, horsey way, Shaizar nibbled at the top of its master's head. Bodie pushed him away impatiently. "No, Shaizar. Rest first. Then we will go back."
The stallion snorted disapprovingly, but moved away a little to sniff the air.
Bodie rested his chin against his knees, eyes staring unseeingly at the expanse of desert and the horizon scattered with a billion stars.
Outside he was calm, but inside he was shaking. Who was this English to bring such confusion? He had longed for the response Doyle volunteered, but now it had been offered him, some part of him ardently wished nothing had changed. They had found a good balance between them; the agreement honored by both, and nothing more was needed. Why must Doyle upset it?
All Bodie wanted from him was the use of that sensual body, but what he had been given tonight was something more. It was not only the physical acts of sex -- Bodie had known those same touches from a score of whores in Aden, and most of them had more expert techniques than Doyle could ever master. But for all their exotic tricks, none had made him feel as Doyle had.
He knew their price, but he did not know Doyle's and he was afraid it would be more than he could pay.
"Oh Allah," he whispered fervently, "do not let me love him."
Shaizar's ears pricked up at the soft sound, but when it was not repeated, the horse turned his attention to other matters -- like the lizard scampering across the dune.
Bodie had witnessed what love did. It destroyed. It was fury and pain and blood. So much blood.
Black and red. Black and red.
He couldn't remember what it meant. Only what it made him feel. The more he felt for Ray, the more he was afraid. The soft, curling sentiment of love had a nasty companion. He couldn't look it in the face, but it horrified him, bringing a hollow, dark sensation of doom, of evil. And he was terrified that Ray would be the one to suffer the result.
Alone....alone...best to be alone....
A tear streaked down his face unnoticed. Another followed, and a sob choked his throat. He buried his face in his knees, lost in a turmoil of emotion he didn't truly understand.
"How long will you be gone?"
Bodie finished packing the saddlebags and tied it securely. He shrugged. "A few weeks perhaps. If we are lucky the Northern tribes will have some decent horses to trade; if not, we shall travel east. It is important we find fresh breeding stock before we move to the summer camp in the Western Mountains."
Doyle watched him, unable to think of anything else to say.
Bodie had returned at dawn and had bluntly announced that he and several of his men were leaving immediately on a trading expedition. Doyle was painfully aware that there had been no mention of the trip before this. Even if Bodie had simply not seen the need to tell him earlier, the startled expressions in the men's eyes when the orders were given was enough to indicate the decision had been made very suddenly. Last night, to be precise.
Doyle turned away, heartsick. Obviously, he had made a mistake.
When would he learn that he had nothing of value to offer? How many times did it have to be proved to him? Was rejection so wonderful that he must court it?
At the door of the tent, the Sheik paused, looking back. Doyle stood with his back to him, shoulders slumped in dejection. Bodie dropped the pack on the floor and went to him, turning him around and noting the dark circles under the huge eyes.
"You did not sleep last night?"
Doyle looked down without answering.
"I did not leave our bed to insult you, English."
"No." Bodie kissed him softly, barely brushing the closed lips. "I will return soon. Will you smile for me now, Ray?"
Doyle's eyes widened at the use of his name. Encouraged, he asked eagerly, "Take me with you."
Bodie frowned, releasing him. "No."
"My answer is no," the Sheik snapped irritably. "I will have...other matters to hold my attention. I could not protect you well in the places we travel."
"Protect me?" Doyle felt a surge of anger. "I can take care of myself!"
The attitude in the blue eyes verged on patronizing as they swept over the slight form. In another minute, Bodie would be patting him on the cheek and telling him to stick to his paints and books. Just like Doyle's father and brothers; so bloody superior in their muscles and thick minds -- as if he were an object to be pitied. Oh, but it hurt to feel this from Bodie. Of all the reactions he longed to stir in the other, pity was the least desired.
Doyle turned away, shoulders stiff. "Fine. Go, then. Good luck to you."
Bodie hesitated. "Ray...?" When he received no reply, the Sheik shrugged and walked to the door, grabbing up his pack. "I will return in a few weeks."
Again, he was answered by silence. Slightly annoyed at the icy aura Doyle exuded, Bodie was tempted to force a thaw. It wouldn't be difficult. He had discovered Doyle was amazingly easy to manipulate.
Or was he seeing only a reflection of his own gullibility? That errant thought was disturbing enough to drive him out the door with a muffled curse, the barren Northern desert a welcome alternative to the treacherous softening in his heart.
Bodie had been gone less than a week and Doyle was already finding the nights dreadfully empty, but after spending most of the day with Cambridge, he didn't feel he should take up his evenings, too. He felt restless, dissatisfied with both his books and his art, the latter difficult to perfect in the wavering lamplight.
Soon after sunset prayers, Doyle returned to the Sheik's tent, his customary evening ride having done little to dispel his vexation.
Gaston was seated outside of the tent, working a bit of leather with a knife. He looked up and smiled as Doyle approached.
"Raymond, mon fils, comment allez-vous, eh?" Doyle shrugged and sat down on a camp stool nearby. "When the master is away, ze camp is always not so 'appy, ne c'est pas?"
The younger man flushed, annoyed at the implication that it was Bodie's absence that caused his discontent. Whether it was true was irrelevant; the fact it was so obvious was irritating.
"Oh non, regardez!"
Before Doyle could move, Gaston had aimed the knife and threw it with deadly accuracy at a mouse that had ventured from its hiding place in a clump of grass.
Nonchalantly, the Frenchman got up and strolled over to retrieve the blade, kicking sand over the tiny corpse. "Ze mice, they chew ze grain, oui? Monseigneur does not like me to kill them like so, if you can believe. Finds them charming with ze big ears and whiskers. Me, I remember rats on ze wharfs in Marseilles and have no compassion. A rat ez a rat, no?" He shuddered in distaste and cleaned his knife in the sand.
Doyle wasn't concerned with the fate of the rodent in the least; he was fascinated with the incredible accuracy of the throw.
"How did you do that?"
"It was so far -- and you hit it dead on!"
"But of course, mon ami. It is a matter of ze practice, no?"
The green eyes sparkled. "Could you teach me? To throw a knife like that, I mean?"
Gaston glanced at him suspiciously. "Je ne sais pas. Why do you wish to learn this?"
"Does it matter why?"
"Perhaps," the Frenchman replied slowly.
Understanding, Doyle flushed angrily. "Very well, I shall learn on my own then. But if I wished to murder your master, I would not need to do it from twenty feet away, Gaston. In case you have forgotten, we sleep in the same bed. Should that be my wish, it would take little skill to cut his throat as he slept."
It was the Frenchman's turn to blush. He looked down at the sand and said quietly, "Je regrette, monsieur. I was not accusing you: I only asked to know your reason. Pardonnez moi."
"Very well, I shall tell you. I cannot abide guns. The noise of them, the feel of them... But that doesn't mean I don't want to know how to defend myself, Gaston. I was taught a little fencing, and my balance is good. But the swords I've seen in the desert are more for chopping and butchering than for what I know. A knife... I've never seen one used like that before. As a weapon."
Reared in the shadow world of the French docks where a stiletto was the weapon of choice, silent, efficient and deadly, Gaston regarded the young man for a long moment, wondering again at his innocence. But beneath the naivet, he sensed a steel as fine and resilient as the blade on his throwing knife. It would bend, but it would take much to break it.
"Ah." Gaston looked Doyle over thoughtfully. "Oui, the blade might well be for you, mon petit. We shall see. Oui, I shall be pleased to instruct you."
Sultry, dark eyes over a silken veil, lush curve of hip, rounded bounty of breast as it all moved in the rhythm of the dance, the music calling to and increasing the coursing of the blood, the beat of the heart. The sensuality of the East could not be excelled. It coaxed the dark, masculine side, captivated and charmed -- even corrupted.
For all he'd lived with it all his life, Bodie was not immune to the allure, the soft, dark decadence. He knew it well, and some part of him basked in it, yearned for it.
The dance brought her near enough that he could smell her fragrance, female and jasmine combined. Heady scent that went straight to his groin. On her knees, bending at an impossible angle backwards, her lush breasts were inches from his face.
"Lovely, is she not?"
Bodie tore his attention from the woman to glance at his companion seated on the cushion beside him. "Indeed."
"Her name is Issira. She asked for the privilege to dance for you."
The girl fluttered her long lashes and flashed an enticing look at Bodie before raising up with fluid grace to continue her dance at a distance.
"She is yours if you wish."
His body definitely said yes, but some other part of him resisted, helplessly recalling another form not quite as lithe and certainly not as lush, but just as appealing. He dispelled the thought crossly.
"The horses, Musef. We haven't agreed on a price."
"Business, my friend?! One should never discuss business over dinner! That is a cold exchange for morning light, not while food is warm in the belly and music is playing. I would be a poor host if I did not--"
"--bribe me sufficiently," Bodie continued, raising a skeptical eyebrow. "While I graciously appreciate your hospitality, my friend, the only flesh I am seeking is horseflesh."
Musef leaned back. "Your reputation speaks otherwise. Have I mistaken your pleasures? If it is of a different slant....?" He hesitated. "There are rumors of an English boy--"
"Rumors are dangerous things, Musef," Bodie snapped. "They can damage business if one pays too much heed to them."
"Indeed so," Musef said hastily. "I only thought if Issira was not to your taste--"
"She is exactly to my taste. And so are three of the horses you offer."
"Only three? But what--"
"I have definite tastes. I only accept the best. The rumors are quite correct in that. I will buy the three mares, no more."
Musef looked a little put out, but Bodie added flatly, "And I will pay your price for them since I believe they are worth it."
The Arab brightened. He had hoped for a larger sale, but now that he knew the young sheik's tastes, there was hope for more volume in the future. Bodie was no fool, but he was obviously willing to pay top price for what he did
want with no haggling or threats. That boded very well for future business. And Sheik Bodie's reputation had already far outreached his territory. Just doing good business with him would bring other business.
Musef rubbed his hands happily. "We have a deal then?"
Bodie inclined his head. "Agreed."
"And for tonight...?" Musef grinned. "Issira is very eager. And very skillful, I might add."
Bodie's eyes returned to the dancer, mesmerized by the sway of the hips in rhythm with the music.
"Yes," he said quietly. "Issira."
"You have an excellent eye, mon fils." The satisfaction in Gaston's voice was evident. His praise, however, was not offered idly, and Doyle had worked very hard to earn it. He had struck their makeshift target five times in a row, dead center. The blade felt almost a part of him now; an extension of his eye and hand. For over three weeks he had practiced, ignoring his books and his painting to concentrate on mastering this deadly skill, and at last he was hearing his success from someone who knew.
Doyle retrieved his knife and returned with his chin tilted proudly, pleased at his accomplishment.
"Would they think I was good in Marseilles?" he asked archly.
The Frenchman pursed his lips, noting the cocky walk, amused by Doyle's pseudo-dangerous air.
"Mais oui! You are one tough customer, mon cher. But what will you do if you have no knife, eh? Or if -- bon Dieu! -- you miss your target who is not so kind as to stand still for ze perfect aim?"
Doyle stopped, a little of the bravado leaving his slender frame. "What?"
"Do you think they will wait like so polite gentlemen until you retrieve your blade?"
"So what do you do, eh? Sing them lullabies? Tell them stories?"
Doyle grinned, cockiness returning as he remembered Hassid and a certain fistful of sand. "I've known that to work."
Before Doyle realized what was happening, Gaston had leaped in the air, foot sweeping out to neatly catch the younger man's chin, just hard enough to knock him flat.
"Non! Voil!" Gaston laughed. "That
is what works, mon cher."
Doyle glared up at him, rubbing his sore jaw and spitting out sand. "Why did you do that?" Then, "How
did you do it?"
Gaston chuckled wisely. "That, mon petit Anglais, is le savate. The boxing with ze feet, oui? When one has little weight to give advantage -- like you and I -- ze object is to damage your enemy from a distance. A blade is good -- but if you have no knife, ze legs are longer than ze arms, no? And a well-placed boot can strike with much more force than any fist."
Doyle stood, eyes shining keenly, interest piqued. "Can you teach me?"
Gaston shrugged. "Moi, teach vous? Non. Where is ze point? Three minutes ago you were ready to take on ze docks of Marseilles, just you and your leetle knife. How should I improve such perfection?"
Half eager and half indignant at being put down so effortlessly, Doyle mimicked the Frenchman's move with lightning speed. As quick as he was, Gaston was quicker. He dodged the kick with seeming ease, but his teasing smile had vanished.
"Oo la la! Trs bien, mon fils! Very good, indeed. You are fast an' you are smart. This will go well, I think."
From his perspective, flat on his back in the sand, Doyle just stared at him wide-eyed, too winded to speak.
Grinning, Gaston offered him a hand up. "You must learn to land better, Raymond. On ze feet, like a cat, no? Else you accomplish nothing, ne c'est pas?"
Standing, Doyle took in a shaky breath. "I'm sorry, Gaston. I really wasn't trying to... I just didn't think."
The Frenchman's grin just widened, eyeing the worried boy with a new appreciation. "You were furious, no? Good. A kick in ze face is not a kiss; ze anger is only natural, is it not? Now, try once more. And this time, mon ami, channel your anger through your silly brain. Consider your move before you make it. Like a dancer, ze mind must control ze body. If you strike out without thought, your opponent will use it to his advantage. Once down, or once he has hands on you, ze battle can be lost. Superior weight and muscles will win, mon petit, never doubt. But while you dance free, you can have ze upper hand, no matter how big your enemy." He grinned, "Or upper foot, as ze case may be."
Curious, Doyle asked, "Did you teach Bodie?"
"When he was young, I try, but le petit Sheik had none of ze patience. Le savate takes much practice. It is an art, like ze ballet. It is a dance, no? A dance of violence. But patience and much work is needed to perfect both. Le petit Sheik liked only those things he could do well tout suite -- ze rifle, fighting with ze fist, wrestling. All with muscle and aggression, of which he has in abundance, no? And he had little talent for le savate... unlike you, mon ami."
"I do?" Doyle questioned eagerly.
"Have I not said? But much effort is needed," he cautioned. "Carelessness and overconfidence is ze real enemy. In le savate, you must accept that you bring defeat upon yourself when you let ze opponent touch you." He tempered the warning with a broad smile. "Unlike Monseigneur, however, you have patience, no? We shall begin."
Bodie's patience was at an end.
"But we haven't found all the stock you--"
"Enough! I'm weary of looking at spavined, weak-chested nags. If that is all they have to offer, we shall do as well to breed from Shaitan. Wild or not, his lines are perfect and he has spirit."
"Too much spirit--"
"Are you leader now?" Bodie snapped. "Do you make the decisions?"
"No, my lord." Mohsen regarded him in surprise. The short-temper and abruptness was not typical. But he had not been himself since they left on this expedition.
"Very well, we leave for home tomorrow." Bodie turned and went into his tent. Far smaller than his home, it was still well appointed as befitted his rank. He sank down onto the pillows and rubbed his eyes tiredly.
What was wrong with him? He should look further, seek out better stock from the northern tribes. It was almost a wasted trip otherwise. What he had found so far was hardly more than adequate for the coming year. Certainly not enough for the long term.
But he couldn't stand any more. No more succulent banquets where the bargaining came second to parading daughters and concubines for approval. Even once he made it clear that marriage was not an option, his hosts insisted on pressing him with servants and slaves to please him. Far too often he found himself accepting as much to silence them than for actual desire. It only took the mention of his English slave to make him accept, fearful they would think his infatuation with the British boy laughable. Better they know the English for only the toy he was.
Bodie leaned back, feeling uneasy. Ray, a toy? No, he was not that. Never that.
But if not, where did that leave them?
It couldn't be more, he could never let it be more.
He purposely turned his mind to Issira. Now, she had been exceptional. Hot and knowing and eager. Her mouth far more experienced, her body quivering in the desire to be taken by him, and the culmination had been sweet. He was a man. He needed to possess, to master. For the last few months he had been.... what? Playing? Adolescent groping. He'd lost sight of who he was -- what he was. He'd been manipulated into serving another's pleasure. A captive at that!
Losing sight of the fact that Ray's pleasure stirred him as much as his own, Bodie let his anger rise. His pride took the upper hand and he barred his teeth in irritation.
Who was this English whelp to turn his life upside-down? To force him to feel these .... feelings? Issira was far more proficient. Skilled in the erotic arts, with no groaning about her freedom or her rightful position in life, happy to submit to him as a man, reveling in his maleness, his possession. Hungry to take him into herself and satisfy him
. Why had he kept Doyle except for that purpose? To use him in just that fashion. When had he forgotten that? Why had he permitted himself to be swayed by compassion?
He pounded his fist into the pillow, determined to change the untenable state of affairs. When he returned, it would be different.
But part of him still shied from the idea of hurting Ray, finding it impossible to envision causing him pain.
There was a way, he knew, to achieve his ends.
He smiled suddenly and relaxed back on the cushions.
Yes, there was a way.
Cambridge eyed Doyle skeptically. "Greetings, stranger. What can I offer you today; a book on Japanese sumo wrestling perhaps?"
Doyle had the grace to look uncomfortable. "I'm sorry I haven't been to visit lately, but I've--"
"Nonsense. You popped in no more than four days ago. I remember it distinctly. To borrow the rubbing liniment, wasn't it? A wrenched shoulder, I believe. I trust the condition has improved? Or are you here for my unlicensed medical advise?"
Eyes lowered, the young man seemed engrossed in the Persian carpet. "Cambridge, I'm--"
"No need to explain, lad. I am aware of how busy you've been learning how to inflict mayhem on your fellow man. The grapevine is quite active. The natives are extremely impressed with your ferocity."
"What's wrong with learning how to defend myself?" Doyle demanded huffily. "Perhaps I'll always be a seven stone weakling, but I'd at least like to be one people think twice about abusing. Is that so strange?"
Cambridge's eyebrows lifted. "Not at all. So what have you learned?"
"That size isn't everything," Doyle snapped, nettled at the disapproval he felt radiating from Cambridge. "Maybe that after being pushed around all my life it isn't necessary to lay back and take it."
"And you would like to do a little pushing yourself?"
Doyle glared at him. "Perhaps."
"Congratulations. You have just joined the majority of the human race. Who shall we bully first, eh?"
"I didn't say..."
"No, of course not. But you feel strong now, don't you? Able? Virile? More of a man. Defend yourself, you say? Oh yes, and I'm sure you are positively itching for the opportunity to prove it."
Doyle felt as if someone had stuck a pin in him and let out all the air. He sat down very suddenly, realizing that Cambridge was right. Some secret part of him was eager to prove his new-found abilities, and whatever he had told himself, there was a large degree of aggression in that desire. The same exhilaration in violence he had hated in his family was present in himself, as he had suspected after that comical fracas in Aden. Only now he had the skill to cause real damage. Gaston's instruction had been thorough. Along with his deadly accuracy with a knife, he now possessed the ability to break a man's neck with one kick. His teacher had not made light of the consequences of some of the moves he taught him, but somehow it had never seemed real until Cambridge presented it so flatly.
"You think I should never have learned these things?"
"Oh no, Raymond," Cambridge said softly. "You mistake my meaning. I am quite pleased."
Confused, Doyle looked up. "Then I don't understand--"
"I merely hope for you to retain some perspective. It is fine for you to defend yourself if necessary, but that prowess does not make you more of a man. It is your humanity and compassion and your ability to think and reason that makes you a man, not your skill in cutting a throat or kicking in teeth."
"If a man has no legs, does that make him less of a man, Raymond? He cannot fight as you can now, but he could think and feel and dream as well as you. Would you look him in the eye and call him less a man than you?"
"No," Doyle replied slowly. "Of course not."
"Yet you walked in here today as if you ruled the world -- simply because you had learned to injure another human being. You can take pride in your proficiency in defending yourself and even in the dexterity and skill that involves, but you must see it as no different -- and certainly no better -- than other ways you keep your body healthy and sound. As a safeguard, not as some rite of passage to make you a man."
"I'm sorry," Doyle whispered contritely.
Cambridge grinned. "No need to be sorry. Your reaction is quite natural. And do not be so swift to condemn your instinctive aggression. It can be an extremely useful trait."
Doyle's head jerked up. "What?"
"Only clams are passive and who listens to them, eh? You must stand up for yourself. While others may stand up for
you, only you can stand for yourself
Doyle's mouth opened, then closed helplessly.
"Now that," Cambridge observed with a twinkle, "was amazingly clamlike."
"Everything you just said," Doyle sputtered, "all that talk about -- making me feel like--"
"Making you think
," Cambridge corrected. "If you're going to kick someone's teeth in, make sure it's for the right reasons. That's essentially all I've said. If it sounded like a lecture on passivity, think again. I repeat, your ability to fight does not make you more of a man. What it does give you, however, is a means of underlining your opinion. The responsibility for your skill rests with your conscience. Its wise use rests less on your talent than on your ability to choose the right time and the right issue for making a stand."
The old man smiled kindly. "Now, how about a game of chess? It's time you exercised your mental physique as well."
...Continued in Chapter 14...