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Copyright © 1999 by Rhonda Collins and Sandra McLaren
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
The English countryside outside
her window was bright with the blooms of spring. With the promise of new life
and hope. Amber drew the soft, damp, sweetly scented air into her lungs and
wondered if she'd miss it. Glancing down, she was startled anew at her own hand.
It seemed alien to her, somehow. So old, she thought with surprise. It's been so
long. Yet, she felt no different now than she had then, so many years ago.
Anwar bade his father goodnight, then carefully placed the receiver back in the cradle. Ever since grandfather died everything has been a disaster, he thought morosely. Even Nazeer, ever the optimist, was discouraged, fuming that, "Eisenhower thinks Nasser a 'dangerous fanatic' because he insists on a neutralist course!"
Saud and Nasser were continually at each others' throats, and now Saud talked of summoning Faisal to act as Premier to get him out of the pit he'd dug himself.
Nor did it matter that Nazeer didn't approve of Nasser any more than Eisenhower did.
Old feuds, new alliances. It seems it's always one step forward and ten back with our people. Anwar sighed heavily and went to the window of his office to look out at the cold, damp English evening. The warmth of the desert was very far away, and at times like this he wasn't very fond of the life he had to live. He loved England, with her vistas of changing green that seemed to go on forever, but he tired of it and longed for the fierce desert heat and shifting sands of his homeland.
If he'd had his way, he'd never have chosen commerce over life as a
simple Bedouin prince...but he'd never truly had a choice. The most he'd been
allowed to choose was between politics and commerce, and responsibility often
weighed heavily upon him. A soft knock on the office door disturbed his homesick
The door opened and his secretary, Terri, poked her head in and asked
distractedly, "Anwar...um...are you ready to go?"
"Go?" Puzzled, he tried to recall if there was some meeting, or party
he was supposed to attend...then he remembered: he'd promised Terri that he'd
fill in as interim pianist with her Amateur Operatic Society. Passing a hand
over his shaven head, he said, "I'm sorry, Terri! I forgot." He
gestured to his gallabeah, "I've already changed to go back to Hadleigh for
"That's all right," she said with a relieved smile. "I'm sure no
one cares what you're wearing as long as you can play!"
"Very well, then," he responded. "Shall we go?" As he followed Terri out to the garage, he felt his spirits lightening. At least he'd have the opportunity to play tonight. He loved his music. Not as much as he loved Egypt, but it came a close second. Playing always lifted his heart. It was certainly better than going home to Hadleigh alone.
It was damp and cool in the old church, but Amber was hot with her long, heavy hair down in her neck. She reached up and lifted it to let the breeze cool her a bit. At the advanced age of twelve-and-a-half, patience wasn't her strong suit. The stage floor was hard and her heels drummed a ragged beat on the old wooden panels under her feet as she swung them back and forth. As the hands on the clock reached ten past seven, Amber was wishing Mrs. Hilson back. She might've been a bit of a tyrant, but at least she was on time. She'd walk in the door with Tom, her husband and their producer, dead on the dot of seven, and by five past, she was belting out the notes on the piano and another rehearsal would have begun.
But now that the
Hiltons had retired and Terri taken over, things were a bit less rigid-which was
generally fine with all of the members. But tonight everyone was anxiously
waiting to see what Terri's boss was like.
The boys were pestering Amber again, but she ignored them as she watched and
But the figure that came through the door was not at all what she expected. Her jaw dropped, and it took her a few moments to realize how foolish she must look, sitting there gaping.
The man with Terri barely cleared the top of the door, and even then he had to duck his head, he was so tall. He was bald, all right, but he was anything but dull!
Dressed in flowing robes, he reminded Amber of some
huge genie with his dark skin and hooked nose. Surprised as she was, she
couldn't help but notice how huge his hands were, as without a word he seated
himself at the piano and played a few scales before settling into a piece.
As the impact of his strange appearance wore off, Amber began to notice other
things. Things she wasn't sure she liked, despite the fact that he played very
well, indeed. As he sat at the piano, he scarcely acknowledged the presence of
anyone else in the room, and as she crept closer to see him better, he lifted
his eyes and looked around the stage with such an arrogant glance that she
couldn't help but feel he had far too high an opinion of himself.
She glared back, determined not to let him feel she wasn't as good as he was. As
his eyes met hers, he frowned, pulling together bushy brows. It was then she
noticed his eyes. They were blue. An incongruous brilliant blue-like bluebells
or cornflowers-and fringed with thick, dark lashes. Yet somehow those fierce,
beautiful eyes made him even more intimidating. At least to her.
After a long moment, he turned his gaze away from her and back to the piano, and began playing one of the pieces they'd been practicing. His music enthralled her. It made her feel as if she'd never heard the piece played properly before.
Anwar felt ridiculous as he
entered the church. What am I doing here? he asked himself as he scanned the
anxious young faces staring at him. I don't belong here. But he'd promised
Terri, and...the piano stood enticingly alone beside the stage: a bright shaft
of sunlight fell through the stained glass and drew him to the polished wood. He
forgot for a moment the curious eyes and unfamiliar faces...the feeling of not
belonging that never quite left him when he was among Westerners despite his
many years among them. Smoothing his hand over the wood, he opened the piano,
pulled his robes aside and sat.
Suddenly, he felt the stares again and looked up...straight into a pair of the
loveliest green eyes he'd ever seen. Ancient eyes. Eyes that seemed to bore
through him and into his soul. They belonged to a young girl with porcelain-pale
skin and long, lustrous dark hair, and the passion and fire in her gaze froze him for a long
Turning back to the piano, he closed his eyes to force his attention to the music...and began playing. But even as his hands and heart reached for the music, he could feel her eyes on him.
Amber stared out the car window
as Terri took her home. If Terri noticed her silence, it wasn't obvious as she
raved about Anwar's playing. "Doesn't he play beautifully?" she asked,
then went on without waiting for Amber to answer. "I'm so glad he agreed to
fill in for us. I think he's missed playing in front of people. You know, he was
trained to concert level...." Terri glanced over at her, and Amber shrugged
a bit...not certain what she was supposed to say. Terri frowned, but turned back
to her driving. "You're awfully quiet," Terri noted finally. "Is
there something wrong?"
Amber sat up a bit and tried to appear more interested than she was. "No. Nothing's wrong. He does play well."
Terri smiled and continued with her praise of their new pianist. "He's
studied music most of his life."
Realizing that Terri wasn't going to stop talking about her boss, Amber decided
she might as well find out a bit about him, since they seemed to be stuck with
him. "Why does he wear those robes?"
"That's how he'd dress at home, in Egypt." Terri explained. "He
doesn't always dress that way, but that's how he's most comfortable. That's
understandable, I think."
"I guess," Amber conceded. They were nearing her home, and Amber fell
silent again. She didn't understand why she felt so ambivalent about this
man...so certain that they weren't going to like one another, but she'd never
before had such an uncomfortable and powerful feeling upon meeting anyone.
Terri chuckled a little. "He's really very nice, Amber, once you get to
know him. Don't let how he looks frighten you. I know he's not exactly handsome,
Now Terri laughed out loud. "He is big. But how can you say he's not ugly,
with that hooked nose and bushy brows?"
Amber remembered how the big man had looked when their eyes met. "He does
have nice eyes, though," she said quietly. It rather confused her that she
would be trying to say something nice about the man after she'd been sitting
here thinking how they weren't going to like one another.
Pulling up in front of Amber's house and parking, Terri reached over and hugged
her. "I guess he does, at that. And when he smiles, it makes him look much
nicer, too. You'll like him. You'll see."
But as Amber watched her friend drive away, she sighed heavily. We'll see, she
"Who is she?" Anwar
asked Terri the following day. They'd decided to lunch together so Terri could
fill him in on the various members of the Society and tell him a bit about their
individual talents. The one who interested him most was the lovely dark-haired
girl who'd stared at him so aggressively. He couldn't get her out of his mind.
"Amber? She's the daughter of an old friend of mine. She's a very talented
young lady, don't you think?"
Anwar sipped his drink before answering. "She has a good voice, but she's
"She's had a difficult time...had to grow up far too early, in my
opinion," Terri commented.
"Why? What's wrong?" he asked, more curious than before.
"Nothing wrong, really. Her family situation has been less than
stable..." Terri glanced up, seeming a bit apologetic. "Not terrible,
you understand. But her family isn't well-to-do, and as attractive as she is,
she started modeling recently to bring in more income for the household. It's
difficult, I think, for one so young to have such responsibility thrust upon
"How old is she?" He lit a thin Egyptian cheroot and drew the sweet
"Twelve?" he asked, more than a bit surprised. "I would've
thought she was at least fifteen."
Terri smiled. "She is lovely, isn't she? She won't be thirteen for another
six months. I've known her all her life and I suppose I feel more like an older
sister to her than merely a friend of her mother's. She spends a great deal of
time with me...weekends, that sort of thing."
"I see," he said, still thinking of the child's age. He'd never thought the girl was so young. She was tall for her age and well-formed. Terri was busy chattering away as she ate, but Anwar scarcely heard her. He only managed to pay enough attention to make an appropriate comment here and there. Thirteen, he thought with a feeling of dismay. No...not even that. Only twelve. She was so young.
Suddenly, he felt the weight of his own years. In forty-three
years he'd done so much-seen so much-his experiences could have filled two men's
lives. I could be her grandfather, he thought dismally. Yet, there was within
her eyes something veiled. Some ancient wisdom-merely slumbering. Waiting to
Terri glanced at her watch. "Oh, dear. It's getting on. I suppose I'd best
Brought abruptly back to the present, Anwar laughed and stubbed out his cheroot as he stood for her to rise. "Nonsense. You're lunching with the boss. There's no rush."
Weeks passed, then months, and
Anwar showed no signs of giving up his role as pianist. He seemed to have
settled in and grown roots, and at times Amber resented the fact. Simply his
presence in the same room was enough to make her feel sensitive and angry, and
tonight as they practiced it was worse than ever. This time, Anwar lost his
temper completely. He slammed the lid of the piano down with a crash, his fierce
blue eyes flashing as he uttered a long string of unintelligible Arabic. Amber
heard him telling Terri in a furious tone that he refused to play until
"She" ceased to fool around with the boys and was prepared to consent
to do some work.
I was just having some fun, Amber thought with resentment. She peered past the
veil of her hair to where Terri and Anwar were engaged in heated conversation.
We used to play around a lot and Mrs. Hilson didn't care.
Amber pursed her lips and pouted. It was frustrating and unfair. This was all
supposed to be fun! I try, she thought to herself, trying to decide how to face
Terri when she brought it up. I really do try! But he's harder on me than on
It was true that Anwar was a hard taskmaster. When it came to music, he demanded
the perfection it deserved. Amber recognized that at the same time as she
resented it. The voices buzzed in the background as he and Terri argued...his
like an angry bee, and Terri's coaxing and encouraging.
"Why did you give that child a part in this production?" he ranted at
her. "I can't understand her! Have you seen the way she torments the boys?
Take your eyes off her for a moment and she's giggling and whispering!"
"Anwar," Terri replied in a quiet, calm tone, "you have to
understand that girls in this country aren't raised like they are in
He glared at her, his face a mask of fury, and Amber shuddered a bit, glad that
for the moment at least his anger was being vented on Terri. "That much is
obvious!" he snarled, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "But the other
girls don't behave in the same manner. They behave much
Terri laughed at him then-which was a mistake because it only seemed to fuel his
anger. Amber watched in fascination as Terri tried to placate him. "She's a
normal teenager, Anwar. But she's attractive and talented, and not unaware of
the fact. She's only having fun."
But Terri's attempt at explanation fell short of its mark as well. He paced the
floor, gesturing fluently as he raged. "That's the problem! To her, it's
all a game! One day, mark my words, she will fall foul of it! I tell you, she
"Please, Anwar," Terri coaxed, "calm down. She'll hear you."
Anwar's voice was loud enough for his words to be easily understood. He
obviously didn't care if she heard or not. Amber smiled a tiny, secret smile.
She could tell that it was really bothering him not to be the boss. Here, Terri
was boss, and he didn't like it much. Amber could see his jaw clench, then he
said something she couldn't understand...something in Arabic. But his tone was
softer, less angry. Then, he threw his head back and took a deep breath before
telling Terri, "Perhaps she should hear! Someone needs to instruct the
brat!" But when Terri started to respond, he laughed and shook his head,
saying something too softly for Amber to hear.
Anwar turned to leave, and Terri began packing up the music. It was obvious that
rehearsal was over for tonight, and she knew Terri wouldn't be pleased. I won't
cry, Amber told herself as she clenched her fists.
Terri was very quiet as she took Amber home, but at least she didn't seem angry.
As Amber gathered her things together to get out of the car, she mustered enough
courage to tell Terri, "I'm sorry." Her voice shook a little, but she
"I know," Terri answered. She patted Amber's cheek. "I know. He's
probably sorry, too, but you're both too stubborn to meet each other
"I'm not stubborn! And I'm not a brat! He's so unfair, Terri! He'll spend
hours going over and over pieces with the others. With them, he's patient, but
nothing I do pleases him." She felt the prickle of tears, and blinked them
back. "Everyone can tell how much he dislikes me."
Terri had no answer for that. Because she knows it's true, Amber thought with a certain glum satisfaction.
Slamming the door behind him,
Anwar called for Robert, angry that his personal assistant and chauffeur had
been unable to pick him up in town. "Robert! Robert!"
There was no answer. Stalking down the hall, he surveyed his domain for someone
hapless enough to cross his path, but no one obediently presented themselves.
With a low growl, he crossed the expanse of rug to the bar and poured himself a
drink. It's too damned quiet, he thought furiously. He knew that his entire
staff was in hiding. Tossing the Scotch back, he settled onto the hassock and
pulled off his shoes and headdress. Why do I let the little bitch get to me?
This is ridiculous!
It had gotten worse with every rehearsal. Every time he saw her, it seemed she went out of her way to annoy him. She flashed those iridescent sea-green eyes at the young men, her smile lighting the room like a beacon-drawing them after her.
Oh, she knew her power, the little vixen...but she had no idea what trouble it
could get her into. If she were my daughter...my sister....his hands
clenched...I would strangle her, he thought with venom. No woman should act so!
He walked to the door and opened it, standing for a moment looking out over the
Taking a deep breath of the cool air, Anwar went out to the pool and
pulled his gallabeah over his head. The water was icy as it closed over him, but
his body soon warmed as he cut through the water with sure, even strokes.
Eventually, exhausted and with all his anger worked off in physical activity, he
pulled himself up onto the side, where Robert waited, holding a towel for him.
Anwar glanced up at his chauffeur's face where a slight, silent smile was the
only evidence of the man's amusement. As he dried himself, Anwar grumbled,
"So what the hell was wrong with the car?"
Robert handed him his robe. "Flat."
"I suppose the spare was flat as well," Anwar muttered sarcastically.
Hopeless, these English, Anwar thought in disgust. He knew Robert was merely
making excuses so he could avoid his master's foul humor, but he'd known Robert
long enough to realize there was no point in arguing. Robert was quiet, but had
a stubborn streak. "Where's Akhim?"
Robert walked beside him as he headed back to the house. "Akhim is upstairs
preparing some of that nasty Turkish coffee you like so much."
Just before Anwar started up the stairs, Robert asked quietly, "If you
don't mind my asking, Sir, why do you continue with this...frustration...if you
find no pleasure in it?"
Meeting the man's amused gaze, Anwar merely shook his head and shrugged as he
felt the anger drain away. "Allah alone knows, Robert." He turned to
go upstairs where his slave awaited him.
"Goodnight, Sir," Robert said gently.
The Awakening: 1960
Amber stood numbly watching as
her grandmother was lowered into the earth. She wanted to throw herself onto the
casket and wail...to scream in defiance of death itself. Mum stood beside her,
holding one of her young twin brothers, the tears slowly tracing their way down
her face, and her Dad stood beside her holding his other son. Amber felt as if
they barely knew she existed. She felt excluded, though she knew they didn't
mean to make her feel that way. I want to be held...comforted. But there's no
one to comfort me. It was her grandmother she'd been closest to, who had still
petted and babied her, never waning in her attention, even after the twins had
been born. Amber didn't think she could bear it...living at home without Gran.
Too proud and stubborn to let anyone know how she felt, Amber refused to cry,
Amber wondered how Anwar's father was doing. The old man had suffered a stroke, and Anwar had left suddenly for Egypt. She hoped Terri would be able to manage without him: she'd become very dependent upon him, and the two had become a marvelous team. Amber was a bit surprised to realize how much she missed him