Arabian Nights


Arabian  Nights illustration by Suzan Lovett thumbnail


England, 1892

It was an impressive room; large and square with French doors that led onto a precisely trimmed English garden. The doors were secured against the chill, gray drizzle of an early spring rain. The other three walls of the study were lined not in books but with trophies; from one oak-paneled wall a head of an enormous stag stared glassily down, while a Bengal tiger snarled from another. Between the two hung an incredible array of lesser (although no less dead) creatures, all bagged by generations of Doyles on bold expeditions to various exotic corners of the Empire.

Behind the massive desk sat an equally massive man. Muscles threatened the seams of his fine coat and, although his hair was quite gray, he looked more than capable of strangling the aforementioned tiger with his bare hands.

The slight figure that stood timidly before the desk would have been sure of it -- except that Uncle Cedric so loved to shoot things. The smell of the powder, the roar of the explosion...

"Raymond, you are daydreaming again!" The voice boomed out, not unlike the discharge of one of his elephant guns.

The young man jumped, startled from his reverie. "Uh... no, sir. Not at all, sir."

Pale blue eyes narrowed suspiciously. "You haven't heard a word I've said, have you?"

"I--" the voice squeaked, and Raymond swallowed nervously, clearing his throat. "Of course I have, sir. You were explaining about Father's estate."

Cedric grunted, unappeased. Cedric Caesar Doyle was the younger brother of the recently deceased Lord Henry Hannibal Doyle, who had met an untimely demise under the feet of a somewhat ill-tempered rhinoceros.

"Being the executor of your father's will is a thankless task, my boy. No one feels his death more keenly than I, but we must face the unpleasant facts of life."

Raymond, who had been only slightly more intimidated by his father than he was by his uncle, simply nodded and tried to look suitably mournful. His strongest memory of his sire was when, at age twelve, he had refused to shoot a deer and, in a fit of manly outrage at his son's squeamishness, his father had struck him in the face with the butt of his rifle. The lad came away from the experience with a broken cheekbone and a deep abhorrence of both his father and the inestimable skill of blasting defenseless animals. Privately, he had only the best of wishes toward a certain rhino.

The title, of course," Cedric continued, "will go to your oldest brother, Manfred. Alfred is already firmly established in what promises to be a brilliant political career, and his mother settled a handsome inheritance with him at her death. Harold has announced his intentions of taking over the management of the various family holdings and business ventures; an occupation for which he is well suited."

Raymond could easily agree with that assessment. Brother Harold had the compassion of a shark in feeding frenzy and his fingers were permanently stained from counting bank notes.

"Percy and Randolph have both expressed interest in taking commissions in Her Majesty's service," his uncle continued. "Nigel, as you know, is already serving in India." He regarded the youngest Doyle son with distaste. "That, however, leaves you."

His gaze raked the unprepossessing figure from the unruly reddish-brown curls to the neatly shod feet. There was nothing of the Doyles in this slight, mousey boy. He was entirely the product of his mother, from the odd, Celtic slant of the too-green eyes and the elfin face, to the slender, sensitive hands. Cedric shrugged fatalistically. He had warned Henry not to marry that Irish chit, even if she was of decent family. She hadn't two coppers to rub together and she didn't have the stamina nor the fortitude to be a breeder of true Doyles. Henry's previous two wives had been of much sturdier stock (although somewhat accident prone -- one having broken her neck falling down stairs, the other flattened by a milk wagon on market day). But between them both they had borne him six stalwart sons.

At age fifty, however, Henry Doyle had been smitten by Elizabeth Carrey's fragile beauty and the fearless way she rode to hounds, throwing her heart over the fences. She was but seventeen when the middle-aged Lord Henry put a lucrative proposition to the girl's father in return for her hand in marriage. It was an offer the impoverished Irish peer couldn't refuse.

Cedric, however, had proven prophetically right about the young Lady Doyle. Almost nine months to the day after their wedding, she had died giving birth to Raymond Patrick Doyle. He had been a sickly child who had grown into a rather frail, bookish youth. Even now, at nearly age eighteen, Cedric doubted the boy would top eight and a half stone. For a Doyle, his puny size alone was shameful.

Shaking his bullish head, the man addressed himself to the problem at hand. "It is my responsibility to see you suitably established. This presents something of a dilemma as obviously you are not military material. In fact, you have demonstrated a deplorable lack of interest in sport of any kind. Nor do you have the disposition for the clergy, thank god." He seemed oblivious to any irony in the statement.

Raymond, however, bit his lip to stifle a nervous giggle.

"A political career is also out of the question," Cedric plowed on, finding a certain satisfaction in enumerating his nephew's deficiencies. "Lord knows, you barely have nerve to reprimand a servant, let alone give speeches in the House." He shrugged his broad shoulders. "I must confess, young man, I have been in something of a quandary as to where you fit in at all." He picked up the letter opener (which had once been a ceremonial dagger Cousin Bartholemew Brutus Doyle had liberated from a Swahili chieftain) and began paring his nails.

Steeling himself, Raymond ventured, "Sir, what I really want is--"

"After long consideration, however," his uncle blasted on, ignoring the humble interjection, "I have fastened upon the perfect situation. Diplomatic service! Splendid idea, you must agree."

The green eyes widened. "Sir?"

"I don't mind telling you, it took some doing. But I finally convinced an old chum of mine to take you on."

"Take me on...?"

"Yes, indeed. He tells me he could do with ah...what do they call it? Attach or some such rot. A glorified secretary is what it is." He offered another scan of the slightly-built youth and frowned at the gold-rimmed spectacles the lad wore. "You certainly look the part. With those infernal eye glasses of yours, anyone would take you for a clerk."

Raymond flushed slightly, but years of merciless teasing from his older brothers had made him nearly immune to that particular ridicule. "Precisely what do you mean by `diplomatic service', Uncle?" he forced himself to ask.

"Sir Melvin Hacksley -- he's the friend I was telling you about -- tremendous horseman, fabulous shot...can pick the eye out of a grouse at thirty yards, can old Hacksley. Sir Melvin was appointed to one of the foreign offices -- Arabia or some such heathen place. In my last correspondence with him, he was good enough to accept your service. There is a boat departing in two days. You can take the London coach in the morning so you will have plenty of time to catch it."

Raymond stood frozen, breath lodged in his throat. He couldn't speak, couldn't move, all he could do was stare in horror at the man who could casually send him so far from home without so much as consulting him. It wasn't that he was disappointed in his uncle; having minimal expectations of any of his family had somewhat prepared him for a certain lack of consideration. But he was still appalled at such utter callousness.

Cedric glanced up from trimming his nails. "Well, that's all, boy. You had best begin packing. You'll need to make an early start of it tomorrow if you're to reach town by nightfall."

"But...I don't want to go."

Cedric blinked. "Eh? What's that?"

Raymond cleared his throat and said louder. "I don't want to go, sir."

"Poppycock!" Cedric snorted. "It'll be a great adventure for you, boy! About time you got your nose out of a damned book and saw something of the world."

While Raymond agreed in principle, what he had in mind was more in the way of a civilized tour of the Continent, not being tossed to the natives in some barbaric province. While naive, he wasn't stupid, and he realized the true intention behind this plan -- to bury him in some godforsaken place, out of sight and out of mind. Timid, he might well be, but he had other plans for his life.

Screwing up his courage, the young man squared his shoulders and faced his uncle. "I want to go to Cambridge, sir."

"University!" From the man's reaction, he might as well have said he had a yen to be a bank robber or even go on the stage. "You want to attend one of those blue-nosed universities?" Cedric was disgusted at the very idea. "And what was wrong with the education you received here at home, pray tell? It's been bloody good enough for every other Doyle. You've had nannies and tutors coming out your bloody ears! No, it's out of the question. I'll have you know that no Doyle has ever needed an education to make his way in the world!"

Raymond opened his mouth to reply, but shut it again as his uncle roared on.

"Furthermore, I know very well what those institutions are about. They're a breeding ground for discontent, that's what. Full of middle-class upstarts dissatisfied with the natural order of things. Filling lads' heads with rubbish about social equality and turning them into so-called `free thinkers'. A pack of nonsense. I won't have it, do you hear?" Rising to his feet, he pounded his meaty fist on the desk.

Despite himself, Raymond shrank back a little.

"I'll wager it was that fancy French tutor of yours that put all this rot in your head, wasn't it? I should horsewhip the bastard!"

"No, sir. It wasn't Phillipe's idea, honestly," the young man put in quickly. His chin lifted, fighting back his natural fear of his uncle. "If I can't go to University... then let me go to Paris to study. Just for a year. That's all I ask."

"Study? Study what?"

Taking a deep breath, Raymond said, "Art, sir. I should like to be an artist."

It was his uncle's turn to be struck breathless. "You must be raving mad."

"No, sir. I'm really rather good at it. I'll show you." Eagerly he went to the gun case and slid his portfolio from its hiding place behind it, having anticipated this session with his uncle and wanting to be prepared to back up his ambitions. This was his chance to prove himself and he had to make the best of it, even if his knees were shaking and his heart pounding like a wild thing. Hesitantly, he handed it to his uncle, certain one perusal of the contents would, at the very least, make him reconsider his hasty decision.

"Sketches are for prissy young misses to keep them busy until they catch a husband, not for the son of Henry Doyle. There has never been a poet or...artist," he spat out the word like a bad taste, "in the Doyle family and there certainly shan't be while I have a say in the matter! Bah!"

Without even opening it, he tore the portfolio in two and then shred it again for good measure before tossing it to the floor.

The artist cried out as if it were himself being ripped asunder. For a long moment there was silence except for the lash of rain against the glass and the rustle of loose paper caught in the draught from under the door.

Then green eyes lifted, blazing with hate. "Damn you. Damn you to hell!"

"Be that as it may," Cedric said, unperturbed. "We will hear no more of this nonsense, is that clear? You will go to Sir Melvin and follow his instructions to the letter. I will not have you bringing disgrace on this family with such pooftish airs. Artist, indeed!"

Tears burned the young man's eyes as he knelt to gather up the scraps of paper. Two years' work; years of dreams. These had been his best, his proudest efforts. This wasn't necessary, he thought bitterly. It was stupid and cruel. But that's all he is -- what they all are. My father, my brothers...all of them. My god, how could I have been born to this family? Why was I born at all?

"Did you hear what I said, boy?"

"I heard," Raymond replied grimly without looking up. "I'm not going."

"You think not, eh? I'm afraid you have no say in the matter, you insolent puppy. Until you come of age, you are in my control. And for your information, I have formally released my guardianship to Sir Melvin while you are in his service."

The young man stood, clutching his ruined drawings in his hands. "And I tell you, I'm not going."

The uncle towered over the slight figure, glowering down at him. "You've chosen the wrong moment to show some backbone. You impudent rascal, I ought to knock you across this room."

Raymond didn't flinch as his uncle approached him threateningly. "Go ahead. It wouldn't be the first time, would it?"

Cedric stopped. "So it thinks it's a man now, does it? Very well, if that's how you want it. You be out of this house before morning, and never expect another farthing from myself or anyone else in this family. We'll see how long you last, eh?"

For a splendid moment, his nephew's eyes blazed, defiant with enough fire to put even the brutish Doyles to shame. "I don't care. I've been bullied long enough. I don't need any of you!"

Cedric laughed and the sound of it deflated the boy as nothing else could have done. More shouting would have hardened his resolve; a blow or slap at this torch point might even have goaded him to fight back. But the derisive laughter dampened his newly awakened spirit as effectively as a bucket of water dousing a match.

"It's a hard world, boy. Without the cushion of money and position, you wouldn't last a week. Any of your brothers might manage it, but not you. Look at yourself! Make your own way in the world? Ha! You could barely make your way to the next village before you got a blister on your heel and came limping back to Nurse."

The words pummeled his defenseless ears, and the boy felt sick. His uncle was right. He knew nothing of the world; had hardly been off the estate in his short life. His impulsive defiance led to the unknown for he had no real knowledge of what awaited him beyond the covers of the books he had read.

"So what will it be then?" Cedric prodded ruthlessly. "Make up your mind now, but don't expect to come crawling back when you discover you've chosen wrong. You can starve for all I care."

Still, the youth remained silent, the fear insidiously seeping in, stealing away his courage. He had found the fortitude to face his uncle, but the terror of the unknown was a barrier he hadn't anticipated. The truth shamed him as his uncle had never been able to. He was a coward. His vivid imagination betrayed him and the specters were too frightening to blithely accept.

"Well?" his uncle demanded coldly. "What's it to be?"

Raymond's head drooped and his shoulders slumped in defeat. "Just as you say, Uncle. Whatever you think best."

Slightly mollified by the sudden capitulation, Cedric grunted. "Now you're being sensible. Artist, indeed! Sometimes I wonder how you could possibly be Henry's son."

A flicker of the crushed spirit flared for an instant as the boy looked up. "I wish to god I wasn't."


Arabia, 1892

In a land far away, the fading rays of sunset touched the tent of Sheik Adu Bodie al Nassar bin Jafarr. A few of the more pious were still at prayers and their sing-song chants drifted across the sands and presumably to the ears of Allah.

"It is not proper, Son of my Brother. When will I make you see reason?"

Standing at the open tent flap, the young man let the words pass over him with as much notice as the moon pays a fleeting cloud.

Sighing, the older man sat back on the cushion shaking his head wearily. He watched the Sheik taking in the beauty of the sun melting into the mountains, sensing the young man's mind was far removed from that as well. Abd Hassid al Abdul bin Jafarr had served and advised his nephew since the death of his brother, nearly five years earlier, when the sixteen-year-old boy had taken his father's place as sheik and leader of the Jafarr.

In many ways, Hassid admired the young Sheik. As a leader he was strong, but compassionate. The people loved him without question -- perhaps even more than they had his sire. As a warrior, Adu Bodie was unequaled. Ruthless in battle, fearless and skilled beyond his years, he had brought the tribe of Jafarr back from the ignominy of defeat in the war that killed his father to dominance of the entire region.

Hassid observed his nephew silently as the scarlet and gold fingers of the sun slipped behind the mountains. Bodie had been a comely lad who had grown, both in muscle and hardness, into a splendidly handsome man. But his skin was far too white for a Bedouin and his eyes were a startling azure blue that contrasted with the luxurious length of black lashes and the jet of his hair. The eyes and pale skin were unwelcome reminders of his nephew's English mother, kidnapped by the previous sheik and made first wife. Considering it a folly of his brother's youth, Hassid had despised the woman from his first sight of her. Beautiful she may have been, but unwomanly to his strict Muslim eye. She had refused to wear a veil and had ridden horses and smoked like a man, with little thought of her place as an inferior creature in the sight of Allah.

"Is Gasim on watch again tonight, Hassid?"

Startled by the interruption of his thoughts, it took a second for Hassid to realize Adu Bodie had spoken.


"Gasim took watch last night," Bodie said patiently. "Why again tonight?"

"Oh. He is having trouble in his tent. His wives have been bickering so he requested the watch to escape their shrewish tongues."

Bodie smiled wryly. "I see. And still you insist I need a wife, Uncle?"

Cursing his clumsy tongue, Hassid said quickly, "He cannot control his women. A good beating would soon put them right, but he is too soft. You, however, would--"

"Would be much sterner, of course," Bodie cut in, "like my father." His amused expression vanished, his face cold. Turning from the door, he joined his uncle on the cushions. "I have heard your arguments for marriage, Uncle. My ears bleed from your talk. Enough."

"No. It is a disgrace, nephew. You are the sheik of the Jafarr and you have no sons. You are nearly twenty-one years yet you have taken no wife to continue our line. I have three wives, your father had four--"

"After my mother died," Bodie put in dangerously.

"We will not speak of the woman who bore you; we will only quarrel. But you must see that this...this stubbornness is not good for your people. Who will there be to follow you?"

Bodie rolled his eyes. "Let us see, you have..." he made a rapid calculation, "...ten sons--?"

"Eleven," Hassid corrected proudly. "Fatima bore me a son two moons ago."

"That's right. Eleven. Is that not a sufficient number to guarantee succession of the name?"

Hassid sighed. "It is not the same. You are first son of first son of the tents of Jafarr. I am second son and I serve you as my sons will serve your sons. It is written that--"

Bodie held up his hand to forestall the endless quotation. "I am well aware of what is written, my Uncle. Spare me."

"You need a wife," Hassid repeated obstinately.

"I need peace," Bodie replied flatly.

Frustrated, Hassid snapped, "What is it? You do not like women?"

Bodie regarded him with amusement.

"Very well," Hassid conceded. "I know of your prowess in the towns. The way you go through women like a goat devours new grass. But those are harlots, women of the street. You need a chaste woman of good family. My daughter, Sarika, for example--"

"I have not even seen her face since she was ten, Uncle."

"I should hope not!" his uncle retorted, outraged at the very thought. "She is a virtuous girl. No man but myself and her brothers have set eyes upon her face! I swear it by almighty and all-seeing Allah!"

"I meant no offense, Uncle. I believe you. But I also do not wish to wed someone I have never seen."

"Do our customs mean nothing to you? Satan's teeth! That is the influence of that thrice-cursed English tutor of yours! I warned my brother--"

"Cambridge has nothing to do with it. I simply do not wish to marry yet, my Uncle. Trust me, when I decide it is necessary, Sarika will be high in my consideration."

Hassid clapped his hands in delight. "Ah, so it is in your thoughts. Praise be to Allah! You make me so happy, my most worthy of nephews!" He leaned over and clasped Bodie's face, kissing him soundly on both cheeks. "Now I can die content."

Bodie was less than impressed. "I am your only nephew. And do not slaughter the goats for the wedding feast just yet, Uncle. I said when the time comes, not that it has arrived. In any case, you are not yet forty. It is a somewhat young age to talk of dying -- contented or not."

Hassid waved a dismissive hand. "It is enough to know the thought of marriage and duty to your tribe is in your heart, beloved nephew." He leaned forward conspiratorially, "Just between the two of us, my Sarika is exquisite. She will be fourteen at the next moon." He kissed the tips of his fingers. "Eyes like a doe, skin like satin, a mouth fresh and sweet as a pomegranate--"

"I am convinced she is without equal," Bodie cut in hastily. "At present, however, I have other matters on my mind."

"What matters? We have sent Ali Fasik and his dog-loving followers back to the holes of their birth. What else troubles you?"

Bodie chose a fig from the dish and chewed it thoughtfully. "The English will come soon, I think, to make a new treaty. Their agreement was with Fasik and his word is dust now."

"That is months in the future. Perhaps years. They care as little for us as we for them. Let them have their seaports. What care Bedouin for those?"

"My father believed it important to have ties with the British," Bodie pointed out. "And who do we sell our horses to, yes? The world is large, Hassid, and it is not all desert."

"And the world is not all the English. The French also would court our allegiance."

"True. But the British are stronger."

"Yes, and look how quickly the English turned on your honored father when that Fasik dog attacked? They made bonds with his enemies before your father's blood was dry on the sand."

The younger man's expression was black. "I have not forgotten."

"He trusted the blue-eyes..." Hassid trailed off, realizing his error. "He trusted the English and they turned on him like jackals. You cannot make the same mistake--"

"Enough," Bodie snarled. "I will make my own decisions, Uncle." He held the older man's gaze. "About everything."

Wanting to say more, Hassid wisely held his tongue. He knew his nephew could be pushed only so far before his patience snapped. In some ways he was more unbending than his father.

Adu Bodie was not a man that even a loving uncle chose to cross lightly.

Lost in his own thoughts, Bodie murmured, "The English have much to prove."


Raymond Doyle stood before Sir Melvin's desk in much the same position he had stood before his uncle's several weeks and thousands of miserably seasick miles ago. As a matter of fact, the man behind the desk wasn't all that much different in either looks or temperament from Cedric Doyle.

Raymond, however, felt even more poor-spirited and ineffectual than he had in Cedric's study.

Stepping off the ship onto a strange land, blissfully grateful to feel solid ground under his feet, it had taken about three minutes to find himself stripped of both his pocketwatch and his purse. He had retained his valise only by sheer determination and a hasty retreat from the docks. It had seemed to take forever to locate the British Embassy. No one had been sent to greet him and he knew no Arabic. The natives just eyed him speculatively when he asked the direction and jabbered away in an incomprehensible tongue. Unaccustomed to the oppressive heat, he found it difficult to breathe in his stiff collar and his curls were soon plastered to his forehead and sticking lankily against his neck. Once he managed to locate the British Compound, he nearly lost his bag again when he paused to give a few stray coppers to some scrawny children at the gate.

His introduction to Arabia had been less than congenial, and his present mood was fatalistic to say the least.

"So you're Cedric's nephew, are you?"

Raymond gritted his teeth. Even as a rhetorical question it was unbearably idiotic under the circumstances. He had already told the man his name. How many bloody Doyles was he expecting? Still, he managed a civil nod.

The man looked him over critically. "Well, I must say you're not at all what I expected. Henry Doyle's son, you say?"

Even as exhausted and dispirited as he was, the open disappointment in Sir Melvin's attitude had the power to hurt.

Expressionless, he replied, "Yes, sir."

Sir Melvin shook his head. "Cedric did write that you were a bit of different bird than the rest of the family, but I didn't imagine..." he trailed off, making it abundantly clear that the reality was even less acceptable than he had hoped. "Well, never mind. You're here now. I suppose we'll have to make the best of it. Have you any experience in diplomatic affairs?"

"No, sir."

Sir Melvin frowned. "I understood your brother is in the House?"

"He is. I haven't spoken with him in three years."

"I see. Never mind, you do have a brother in finance, so the bookkeeping matters--"

"I haven't seen Harold in two years."

Sir Melvin blinked. "Oh. Very well." He studied the papers on his desk. "Ah...I see your brother in India is familiar with trade agreements and--"

"I was ten when he was last in England, sir."

The man looked so totally nonplussed that despite his depression, young Doyle felt a bubble of amusement.

"Well, what can you do, boy?"

"Nothing, sir."

"Eh? What do you mean, nothing?"

Doyle took a deep breath, too utterly weary and discouraged to care about anything at this point. "I believe I was candid enough about my talents. I can, however, give you a further definition of nothing if you wish. Nothing -- a person or thing of no consequence. Absence of anything perceptible. Nonexistence. Zero. Insignificance. Obscurity. Without discernable value..."

"Are you trying to be impudent, young man?"

"Yes, but I'm probably failing at that, too."

Sir Melvin's face reddened to an amazing shade of puce. Raymond wondered idly if he suffered from hypertension.

"You'll learn to keep a civil tongue in your head when you talk to me, you arrogant little pup!"

"I was only answering your question, sir. You asked what I could do, and I told you. I have no skills, no training, and no great ambitions to become a civil servant. The most I can offer is honesty."

"Then why the devil are you here?!"

"I have no idea. You must ask my Uncle Cedric next time you join him on a hunt. I'm told you're lethal to fowl."

Lost for a reply, Sir Melvin merely harrumphed and busied himself filling his pipe, eyeing the boy uncertainly. He was saved from deciding on a response by a light tap on the door.

"Come in," he bellowed."

A head peered around the door. "You sent for me, sir?"

"Ah, yes, Hart." Sir Melvin greeted him with something akin to relief. "Come in, man. Don't stand with your long neck stuck through the doorway like a bloody ostrich. Doyle, this is my secretary, Zachery Hart. Hart, this is Mr. Doyle. I've decided he will be in your charge and work with you on .... whatever," he finished vaguely.

"Of course, sir. How do you do, Mr. Doyle? Welcome to Aden and to Arabia."

Raymond took the outstretched hand, a little startled at both the open friendliness and the man who offered it. If Doyle thought himself too thin, Hart was positively emaciated. Somewhere in his late twenties, Hart was half a foot taller than Doyle and gawky and angular, all elbows and adam's apple. But he had kind brown eyes and his handshake was warm and genuine.

"Find him something to keep him occupied," Sir Melvin directed peevishly. "I don't bloody care what, as long as you keep him out of my way -- the insolent rascal. And you, Doyle, better learn to mind your manners, or I shall be forced to inform your uncle of your behavior." He dismissed them both with an imperious wave and returned to lighting his pipe.

Doyle picked up his valise and followed the secretary out of the room and down a long corridor to the tiny cubbyhole that was obviously Hart's office. It had a small shuttered window and a desk crammed in among an assortment of filing cabinets and shelves stuffed with rolled maps and charts. Doyle's heart sank, realizing what a horrible imposition he would be in this tiny space.

"We'll have to fit another desk in here somehow, won't we?" Hart said cheerfully, seeming not at all put out by the idea. "Here, lad, make yourself comfortable. You look all done in." He pushed out his own chair for Doyle to take and perched on the edge of the over-laden desk.

"I do hope that pompous old jackass didn't give you too hard a time of it. He likes to pretend he knows what goes on around here, but mostly he spends his time in the Club, sucking on his nasty pipe and expounding on the superiority of the British Way."

Uncertain how to respond to the companionable flow of words, Raymond kept silent.

Under the cover of his easy chatter, Hart observed the young man very carefully, noting the too-pale skin, the dark circles under his eyes, the way he sat hunched in the chair nervously clutching the arms as if expecting to be barked at any moment. He guessed the boy was sixteen or seventeen, and would be a very nice looking lad if he had any color in his face and would meet another's eyes for more than a second. He reminded Hart of a rabbit accidentally released from a hutch, trembling and terrified of the new world it was unexpectedly thrust into.

"Hullo? Are you listening?"

Doyle started a bit and looked up, eyes wide. "I'm sorry. What did you say?"

"I asked what you said to his Nibs to turn him up so. Thought he was on the verge of apoplexy when I popped in."

Raymond looked at the floor. "I don't know. I shouldn't have said anything, I suppose. It just made him angry."

"Nonsense. It's good for him to have his long nose out of joint occasionally. Maybe we'll get lucky and the old bastard will burst a blood vessel or something, eh?"

The green eyes lifted, startled.

"Well, never mind him. What say we have a spot of tea? It's a tad early but you look as if you could use something."

Having had nothing since the breakfast he couldn't keep down on the boat, not to mention the many other meals he had upchucked, Doyle couldn't help but look eager at the prospect. "Yes, please."

Hart rang a little silver bell on his desk and an Arab boy appeared like a genie popping up from thin air.

"This is Ali. He's a great friend of mine. Ali, this is Mr. Doyle. He'll be working with us."

The boy bowed slightly to Doyle, touching his fingers to his heart then to his forehead in a gesture that Ray found more graceful than humble. "Ahlan wasahlan," he offered formally.

Uncertain if he was supposed to return the motion, Raymond bowed his head in return and smiled hesitantly. "I'm sorry, I don't understand your language, but I'm very happy to meet you."

"He says you are so welcome here," Hart translated, pleased and a little surprised at the young man's willingness to treat a servant as a person. He discovered his ready sympathy for the lad already veering toward affection. "Ali, would you be so kind as to bring the tea tray early today?"

"Yes, Effendi."

After the boy scurried out, Hart commented, "He's a very clever fellow. A great help to me, actually. And his English is quite good. He considered it more of an honor to welcome you in his own language, you see." He looked at Doyle again. "You really do look a bit rough, old son. Are you sure you're all right?"

"Yes, I'm fine. Thank you. Just tired. It's been...a difficult day."

"I can imagine. Never been away from home before, have you?"

Doyle flushed. "That obvious, is it?"

"Yes, but it's not a crime, y'know. Everyone has a first time away. Seasick, were you?"

An embarrassed nod.

"And they robbed you blind at the pier, did they?"

Doyle started to nod again, then looked up, surprised. "How did you know?"

Hart laughed. "Because it happened to me, too, old chap. Those little buggers are experts. You're lucky you came through with your underpants. They see a white face, they know they have an easy mark. Happens to everyone sooner or later."

Raymond relaxed a little, relieved to know that maybe everything wasn't due to his own incompetence after all.

The boy brought the tray, bowed, and disappeared again.

After a cup and a few biscuits, Doyle felt a little better. Bold enough to look around more openly. "Exactly what do you do here, Mr. Hart?"

"Call me Zachery or Zack, please. Working in such close quarters, we'd best become friends straight off, don't you think?"

Friends? Doyle picked up on the word with a tiny lurch of his heart. He'd never had a friend before. Not a real one anyway. Phillipe, his tutor, had been the closest he had ever come to having a friend he could really talk to, and even Phillipe had returned to France with hardly a backward glance.

Friend had become an significant word to Raymond Doyle and not something lightly given or accepted. He studied the other man out of the corner of his eye.

"I'm Raymond," he finally offered timidly.

"Well, Raymond, when they told me who was coming, I was expecting someone quite different--" He broke off as he noticed the stricken look on the boy's face and the way his eyes ducked back to the floor as if ashamed.

"Yes, I know," Doyle said quietly. "I'm not much like the rest of my family."

Reading the despondent form and flushed face, the older man suddenly got an amazingly clear picture of the volumes of despair that lay behind those softly spoken words.

Inexplicably angry, Zachery said heartily, "Well, thank heavens for that! We shouldn't have got on at all if you were!"

The green eyes darted up shyly. He was accustomed to being compared unfavorably with his brothers. This was the first time anyone had seemed pleased that he didn't measure up to the Doyle standard.

Sensing the confusion, Zachery grinned. "I had nightmare visions of some beefy, frightfully sporting young despot barging in and either bullying me or boring me to tears. Thank goodness you look like a fellow with something in your head besides air and more conversation than the cricket matches."

A dimple sprang up in Doyle's cheek and his smile was a little less hesitant. "I'm dreadful at cricket."

"There we go! I knew we had common ground. Now finish up your tea and I'll show you around a bit if you'd like. Believe it or not, our rooms are much more spacious than this. Quite nice, in fact. Of course, that's only because they ran out of closet space after assigning this office..."

Ali returned to take the tray and Doyle impulsively offered him the remaining biscuits. The dusky face blanched and he shook his head violently, plainly horrified.

Dismayed, Doyle turned to Zachery. "What did I say?"

Patting the Arab boy's shoulder, Zachery said soothingly, "He meant no insult, Ali. He doesn't understand. We'll soon set him straight."

Ali nodded and tossed Doyle a forgiving smile before bowing out of the room as silently as he had entered.

"I didn't mean to offend him," Doyle said shakily. "What did I do?"

"This is the first week of the fast of Ramadan, you see." Hart explained. "It is to commemorate Muhammad's receipt of God's revelation, the Koran -- that's the equivalent of our Bible. For one month devout Muslims neither drink nor eat nor smoke from sunrise to sunset. At the end of the month there is a great three-day festival, the Eid al Fitr."

Raymond let out his breath. "It seems I have a lot to learn."

Zachery regarded him soberly. "Most of the British here don't bother. Are you truly interested in learning something of the culture?"

Doyle considered it. "I hadn't thought about it really, but I certainly don't want to offend Ali or anyone else. If I'm to live in this country, it seems only right that I know as much about it as I can. Otherwise, I might as well be back in Sussex."

The older man grinned broadly. "I was hoping you would feel that way. Myself, I've been fascinated for years with the Arabic literature and culture. It's rich and beautiful and ...but I'm already starting to lecture, aren't I? Forgive me."

"No, please, I'm interested," Doyle encouraged. "Will you teach me?"

"With pleasure. But I'm afraid Ali would be a much better teacher than me. I'm just beginning to catch on myself."

Puzzled, Doyle said, "But I thought you had been here a long time!"

"Goodness, no. Only a couple of months. It took me nearly three years to arrange an assignment to this station."

"You wanted to come here?" Doyle asked in amazement.

"Of course! I've been studying Arabic since I was eighteen, reading everything I could get my hands on." He blushed a little. "Actually, my dream is to write a book on the history and culture." He moved to the windows and opened the shutters. The afternoon sunlight poured into the dim room, bright and blinding in intensity, hot and hard and brilliant as diamond. "There is a mystery...a sense of romance about Arabia. It's perhaps the same feeling other people have for the sea. The quiet power and endless space. Don't you feel it?" Without waiting for or expecting an answer, he closed the shutters to block the scorching sun. "I suppose it is like the sea in a way -- a trackless ocean of sand with an occasional oasis as its islands."

"Yes, I see," Doyle murmured, not sure he did see. Not yet. Not as Zachery did certainly. So far his experience of this country had been something less than pleasant, but if Zachery was so taken, there must be more to it.

All Raymond Doyle knew of the world was confined to the pages of books. It was a concept that had frightened him before. Now he had the opportunity to discover more and he was surprised at his eagerness to touch the reality. It was no less intimidating, but it was intriguing as well. None of his daydreams of life had included Arabia, but he was here and it seemed an excellent place to start.

"If it won't bore you to help a beginner, I would like to learn," Doyle offered shyly.

Zachery beamed at him, pleased at his interest and sensing it was more than politeness. He had liked Doyle instinctively and now he was certain his instincts were right.

"Come on, old son, I'll show you around the compound a bit. Get you settled in. This should be rather jolly, having someone to natter on to. There's only one condition."

"Yes?" Doyle asked warily.

"If I start to bore you silly, you mustn't be bashful about telling me."

Doyle's worry cleared like magic. "Agreed."

The white stallion thundered across the sand, releasing the pent up tensions in both horse and rider. Black robes flowing in the bright wash of moonlight, Bodie leaned closer to the Arabian's outstretched neck and encouraged the flight with soft snatches of Arabic, whispered love words that drove the animal to greater efforts. None were necessary. The animal would have burst his heart for this man, if he had asked it of him.

But soon the young Sheik called him back from the heaven of sheer, unchecked speed; tugging on the whipping mane, gentling the racing stallion with his hands and the subtle pressure of his knees.

"Enough Shaizar, easy easy, my brother."

The horse reluctantly slowed, tossing his head to show his irritation, wanting more even though his sides were slick with sweat and his breathing labored.

Bodie caressed the stallion's arched neck. "Yes, I know...I know. It's never enough is it, dear friend? To run and run until your legs tremble, until your eyes burn red, and still you need more. Somehow you hope to catch a freedom you have never known... So do I, my Shaizar." He sighed. "So do I."

He looked up at the bright spray of stars, paled by the cold glow of the moon. The sand stretched in an endless sea of silver before them and he wondered what his faithful friend always ran so hard to find. Freedom was too obvious an answer -- for both of them. For the animal the answer was probably quite simple, the horse ran for the elemental joy of running. Reveling in his own speed and power.

For himself the answer was not so easy. What did he run from? Or to?

It was a question he had never been able to resolve, but it haunted him -- and it drove him out into the desert again and again to seek enlightenment.

As he surveyed the expanse of sky and sand, he felt a wave of loneliness so intense he bent his head and buried his face in the tangled mane, unable to cope with the bitter emptiness in his soul.

No matter how fast or far Shaizar ran, Bodie could never escape the aloneness; it clung to him, was part of him like the air he breathed -- like his too white skin and his accurst blue eyes.


Doyle removed his spectacles and rubbed his weary eyes. He had been checking off figures for hours, going over the bill of lading for a French ship that had docked the day before. Part of their job was to assess import tax on foreign goods coming into Aden, which, of course, would be compared and tallied with what the Arabian office figured. Since they seldom matched, it was important that the British figures be correct. It was incredibly tedious work and it was easy to let his thoughts wander.

It was late afternoon and a melancholy horn sounded in the distance. Trumpeted from the mosque not far outside the British compound, it called the faithful to prayers. The bustle in the streets quieted for a time and then the low murmur of thousands of voices chanting bits of the Koran wafted through the open window. The sun was low enough for the shutters to be fastened back in the vain hope of a stray breath of air. The concert of voices calling to Allah had a strangely soothing effect. In the two weeks Doyle had been in Aden, he had subconsciously learned to mark off the day by the five times of Muslim prayer -- dawn, noon, late afternoon, sunset and late evening. The cycle was more dependable than any clock.

Idly he began doodling on a spare bit of paper, sketching the spire of the mosque and the surrounding rooftops that could be seen over the wall of the compound. He tried to catch the hard glare of the sun on the white adobe, the way the shadows were black and sharp in the bright angle of the late afternoon light....

"Eh, that's rather nice, old chap."

As Zachery leaned over his shoulder to take a closer look, Raymond quickly crumpled up the page and pitched it into the trash bin.

Zachery straightened. "Why'd you do that?"

Doyle shrugged. "I should get back to work. There are still three more lists to--"

"You've been at it for hours. I'm not a slave driver, y'know."

The younger man smiled. "That's certainly true. If it was up to you I could daydream half the day."

Zachery airily waved one bony hand. "In the Arabic world, one learns not to hurry. Time is a thing to be savored, never conquered."

"And what would Sir Melvin say about that?"

"Sir Melvin would poke his monocle in his eye, chomp on his pipestem and say that is why the British rule the world instead of the `wogs', as he so charmingly calls them. Sir Melvin does not know, nor does he care, that the `wogs' ancestors built great civilizations while we in Britain were still busy painting ourselves blue."

Doyle laughed. Zachery could always make him laugh. It was a marvelous feeling, laughter. More than once during the last few days, it had occurred to him that despite the boredom of the work, despite the heat and minor discomforts of adapting to a new climate and new lifestyle, he was happier and more relaxed than he had been in memory. Zachery was comfortable to be around, easy-going to the point of limpness. He never got angry, never ordered the younger man around or made him feel inadequate or stupid when he made a mistake -- which was quite often in the beginning.

"Don't try to change the subject," Zachery said with mock sternness. He plucked the ball of paper out of the waste bin and smoothed it out. "This is good, you know. Why did you throw it away?"

The younger man squirmed uneasily. "It's silly. Pointless." He tried to snatch the paper back, but Zachery backed out of reach and studied the sketch silently.

Finally he laid it down on the desk in front of Doyle. "And who told you it was pointless, I wonder? Someone very like Sir Melvin, I'll wager."

Looking down at his creased sketch, Doyle muttered agreement, "Yes, very like."

Doyle hadn't touched a pen or brush to draw for weeks -- not since his uncle had heartlessly destroyed what he had so timidly presented. He had thought he had bricked up that part of himself, closed it off as he had so many things he felt. What was the point in trying at all when whatever you had to offer would be ripped up and thrown in your face as rubbish?

But now, staring down at what he had done without thinking, he noticed with surprise that his style had altered just a bit -- the lines stronger, the contrast between light and dark bolder and better defined than anything he had produced before.

Something in the young man's expression compelled Zachery to put a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Don't throw away your dreams, Ray."

When Doyle didn't respond, Zachery gave the shoulder a quick squeeze and returned to his own desk, seething inside at whoever had trampled the boy's spirit so thoroughly.

Raymond had improved tremendously over the last two weeks, opening up a little and showing occasional flashes of humor and a sharp wit. But he was still painfully shy and the wrong word could send him curling back into his shell. Yet, there was something in the cat-green eyes that made Zachery think of a slumbering volcano. There was so much anger and passion buried beneath that meek exterior, he imagined the boy's true temperament had been stifled for so long he wasn't even fully aware of it himself. When it finally did surface, Zachery suspected Doyle might be the most surprised of all.

As Zachery continued his own work, he watched Doyle out of the corner of his eye, pleased when Ray smoothed out the crinkles in the drawing and tucked it carefully into a drawer.

They both returned to their ledgers, and for a time the only sound was the scratching of pens and the final sounds of the prayers until they, too, faded to a drowsy quiet.

"What is the meaning of this!"

The sudden roar in the sleepy peace startled them both. Sir Melvin stood at the door, monocle firmly in place, glaring hard at Doyle, a sheaf of papers clutched in his hand.

Doyle sat frozen. "S-sir?"

Sir Melvin dropped the papers on the desk. "These were supposed to be delivered to Sidney Carstares yesterday morning. Not ten minutes ago I received a note from him informing me that his ship has still not been cleared. I told you to deliver this to the portmaster, Doyle!"

Nervously, Doyle skimmed through the scattered papers. "Uh.... sir, there was a problem with.... That is, he had some contraband items on board, sir. They aren't on the prescribed listing--"

"I don't give a damn about the listing, you insipid idiot! Carstares is a friend of mine, and what he has on his ship is his business! Now I want those release papers delivered immediately!"

Doyle stared down at the sheets, his demeanor altering as he remembered why he had held up the ship. The green eyes lifted to Sir Melvin's. "With all due respect, sir, I believe this is our business. One of the contraband items happened to be a rather large packet of opium, sir."

Sir Melvin blinked, then took out his pipe and clamped his teeth on the stem with decisive force. "What of it?"

Doyle stared back. "You're suggesting that we should release that?"

"I'm suggesting nothing -- I'm telling you!" He continued chewing on his pipestem, looking as if he'd like nothing better than to swat Doyle like an annoying gnat. "It is obviously for medicinal purposes."

"There's no requisition order to back it up," Doyle replied without wavering. "I won't release the ship with the drug on board without proper documentation."

For a second Sir Melvin was flabbergasted.

Zachery glanced at Doyle, almost as surprised as the old man. Doyle looked deadly serious and determined to stand his ground.

"Damn it all! Who the bloody hell do you think you are?" Sir Melvin blustered. "I'm sure this is all perfectly legal--"

"I'm doing my job," Doyle cut in coldly. "And that opium is not legal as it stands now."

Zachery chewed his lip worriedly. While he was gratified to see Ray standing his ground for once, it wouldn't do if his first attempt resulted in being squashed under the weight of Sir Melvin's heavier authority.

"Just a moment, sir," Zachery interjected, deciding this had progressed too far. Sir Melvin looked on the verge of a stroke and Doyle's eyes were snapping green fire. "I'm afraid this is all my fault. I should have taken care of it."

Sir Melvin turned his wrath on Hart. "You! I might have known! I want this mess cleared up immediately, do you hear? Carstares is wondering what kind of show I run here. I won't have this slip-shod behavior from my clerical staff. You can be replaced very easily, Hart. Another foul up and you'll find yourself back in London -- without references."

"Yes, sir. I understand. I received the release form earlier and forgot to let Mr. Doyle know. He was only going by the book, sir. Very commendable, you must agree."

Sir Melvin grunted, but the magic term `by the book' seemed to calm him down. "Very well. But I want no more of these mixups."

"We'll take care of it, sir," Hart assured him.

Sir Melvin turned back to Doyle, still bristling. "I want you to take this clearance down to the dock personally, do you hear? No wog messenger -- you."

Doyle stared back silently, and for one horrible second Zachery thought Doyle was going to spit in the old man's face, so angry did he seem.

"We'll see to it," Zachery repeated, hurrying Sir Melvin out the door and down the corridor. "Tell me, sir, is your gout improved....?"

Left to himself, Doyle picked up the British custom seal and pitched it against the wall. Then he grabbed up the oil lamp.

"Please don't," Zachery remarked mildly from the doorway. "It'll take us six weeks to requisition another."

Doyle sat it back down on the desk and glared. "Why did you do that? You know there's no medical dispensation. Carstares is smuggling opium and you're letting him get away with it!"

Zachery stooped to retrieve the seal and dropped it on Doyle's desk. "I know he is. You know he is. Carstares knows he is. But Sir Melvin doesn't."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Zachery sat down with a sigh. "Ray, by the time we convinced that bombastic old ass that his chum was smuggling enough opium to choke half of Albert Square, you would've been packed off back to England and Carstares would've been buying his mistress pretty gewgaws with his ill-gotten gains."

Doyle stared at him, eyes darkening with disillusionment. "So you're just going to turn your back and let him get away with it?"

Zachery smiled. "Oh no, I'm not going to do that."

Doyle dropped back into his chair, relieved but shaking his head in confusion. "I don't understand."

"Listen, Ray, we go down to the dock, tell Carstares his ship has been released to sail -- except that the opium has to be burned on the dock. That is the condition of release. He'll raise a fuss, but we'll have the Customs seal in our hands, and he's on a tight schedule. He's already a day late. He's not about to slow that up any more for a few pounds of illegal drugs that he knows would probably be confiscated anyway if he tried to fight. That note to Sir Melvin was a wild card. He was hoping he could slip it through. But he's not fool enough to push it any further. He can't afford to."

"But what you said--"

"Sir Melvin is an ignorant, pompous bastard, and we both know it. But crossing him when we don't need to is stupid. We can take care of it and save him face as well. If we'd rubbed his nose in it, right or wrong, he'd have shipped us both back to England out of pure spite."

Doyle regarded him solemnly. "Until you spoke up, it was only me he was furious with."

"Well, you certainly weren't the shy, retiring lad I've come to know. I thought you were going to thump the bugger."

Staring thoughtfully down at the floor, Doyle said quietly, "Why, Zack? Why did you jump in like that? It didn't involve you."

Zachery studied him. "Do you want to go home, Ray? Back to England?"

Doyle considered it for a long moment. "At first, yes, I did. I was homesick .... or just afraid, I suppose." He hesitated. "Now, I don't know." Then, in a stronger voice, "No, no I don't think I do. I was never really happy there. Here .... maybe ...." He shrugged, then looked up. "That still doesn't answer my question. You do want to stay here. Why did you stick your neck out for me?"

"Because you're my friend," Zachery said simply, honestly. "And I don't want you to go."

There was a sudden sharp sting of tears in the green eyes as he absorbed the words and cherished them. He bit his lip. "You haven't known me very long--"

"How long do I need?" Zachery smiled. "I like you, Raymond Doyle. Believe it or not, you're a quite likable chap."

Doyle's throat felt tight. The man had waited years to be assigned to an Arabian post and he could have lost it in one snap of Sir Melvin's fingers. In spite of Zachery's lightness, it was just now sinking in what he had risked for him.

"Thank you," Doyle said softly. "No one's ever done anything like that for me before."

Zachery didn't try to dismiss it as nothing, for he could see that to young Doyle it was important. For once in his short and dismal life, someone had found Doyle worth protecting and the grateful glow in the green eyes both embarrassed and pleased the older man.

Standing, Zachery gave Doyle a comforting pat on the back. "Come on, tiger, let's go set old Carstares straight, shall we? We'll take a stroll through the market after. You haven't seen much of the city since you've been here. Time to broaden your horizons."


By the time they finished their business at the dock, (leaving a very disgruntled Captain watching his cache of opium smoldering away while interested bystanders circled around trying to inhale a bit of free smoke), it was nearly dusk and the sunset prayers were over. As they ambled through the bazaar, everyone seemed to be making up for their long day of fasting, scurrying to buy dates, honeyed locusts and chunks of roasted lamb. Women, swathed in voluminous robes and veiled so only the flash of dark eyes was visible, carried earthen jugs of water from the communal well in the market square. Street musicians played sitars, flutes and goatskin drums, increasing the decibel level even more, blending a festive air in the gathering twilight. Torches flickered by the doorways of shops and vending carts, and merchants called out shrill advertisements for their wares.

Doyle felt oddly lighthearted, almost giddy in the jostling, noisy crowd. He smiled widely at the passing Arabs and they smiled back, making him feel less like a stranger in a strange land.

Excitement bubbled in his blood like champagne, and he wondered if maybe he hadn't got a whiff of the opium smoke by accident because he couldn't recall ever feeling so bold or alive. The evening air was cooler but still sultry, and he followed Zachery's example and unbuttoned his collar and shirt, letting the light breeze dry the perspiration on his face and throat.

Zachery, even more pleased than Doyle to be mingling with the people he found so fascinating, stopped every few yards to engage shopkeepers and passersby in conversation, eagerly drinking in all the detail. Sir Melvin frowned on his staff leaving the British compound and it had been seldom Zachery had managed to go out into the city to experience the Arabian culture firsthand.

He kept a careful grip on Raymond's elbow, however. The boy's face was flushed and his eyes were wide and bright with the bustle and drama of the bazaar.

When they stopped at a stall filled with a huge array of handpainted porcelain and ceramics, Zachery spoke cheerfully to the owner. The man answered in a desultory fashion. He was a very fat man, and didn't stir from his seat on a huge cushion, his piggish eyes surveying the Englishmen with disdain.

Undaunted, Zachery said something else in Arabic.

The black eyes widened in sudden fury and he called out a flurry of words, mixed liberally with curses that even Doyle could understand -- in tone, if not meaning. Two men came from the back of the shop, obviously the shopkeeper's sons.

"What's wrong?" Doyle asked Zachery shakily.

Glancing from one Arab brute to the other, Zachery responded in his usual breezy manner, "Oh, I'm sure it's nothing. Just a little misunderstanding."

Observing the decidedly bellicose expressions on the faces of all three men, Doyle clutched Zachery's arm urgently. "A little misunderstanding? Zack, let's get the devil out of here."

"Nonsense. It's just a slight problem in communication. I'll straighten it right out."

Doyle's face blanched. "No.... don't say anything--"

Unperturbed by his friend's lack of faith in his linguistic abilities, Zachery tried again. All three men gasped in horror at the Englishman's audacity.

Doyle swallowed. "Uh, it seems you said the wrong thing."

Zachery was baffled. "But I'm certain that was the correct phrasing...."

The three Arabs were now arguing loudly among themselves. No doubt deciding who would get the pleasure of breaking them in two, Doyle guessed sickly. They tossed murderous glares at the oblivious Zachery, who was chewing on his index finger in puzzlement, unaware of his predicament. Deciding their preservation was apparently up to him, Doyle began backing carefully away, tugging Zachery with him. After a few feet, however, he ran into something quite solid. Turning, he looked up into a pair of glowering black eyes in a pock-marked face only a very nearsighted mother could love.

Doyle gulped and ventured a quavering smile. "Hullo there," he said sweetly, then in a whispered aside to Zachery, "Oh god, they're going to kill us."

"Eh?" Zachery glanced at him then at the surrounding wall of very displeased faces. "Yes, I see what you mean. They do seem a trifle upset, don't they?"

Doyle stared at him incredulously. "Zack! What the devil did you say to them?"

"I've been thinking about that, y'know," his friend replied with academic interest, still seemingly insensitive to their peril. "I thought I'd asked him the price of the blue bowl with the curved handles," he made a curving motion with his hands and the Arabs growled in unison. "But I actually might have asked the price of his sister's--"

"Oh Christ." Doyle shut his eyes tightly. "I thought you'd been studying Arabic for years?"

"Well, I have," Zachery retorted, a little offended. "But it's a different thing altogether to speak it, isn't it?"

Doyle opened his eyes in time to see the largest of the brothers move forward and grab Zachery by the shirt collar. Instinctively, Doyle leapt forward and futilely tried to break the grip. A huge arm swatted him to one side like a worrisome gnat, and his glasses went flying. Fortunate, actually, as another of the brothers proceeded to punch him in the eye a split second later, sending him sprawling back against a melon cart. The wood splintered under the impact and fruit went rolling everywhere with mushy splats and the merchant's cries of outrage.

For a second Doyle lay there, dazed. He shook his head to clear the buzz in his addled brain before his vision cleared to focus his customary farsighted blur on the melon in his lap. He looked up and saw in horror that they had turned their wrath back on the one who had insulted their sainted aunt. The largest brother was shaking Zachery like a terrier shakes a rat, and the others stood around waiting for their turn.

Panicked, Doyle did the first thing that came to mind. He picked up an unripe melon and launched it at Zachery's captor. It struck him squarely -- and amazingly -- right in the nose. He yelped and released the Englishman, who dropped like a sack of potatoes. The other two brothers spun around and headed for Doyle, teeth barred in horrible grimaces of fury.

"Oh dear," Doyle said weakly. He scrambled to his feet and dodged one, tripping him headlong into the jumble of smashed fruit. Making a dash for the china cart, Doyle smashed a jug against the side of Brother No. 2's head. Brother No. 1, nursing his broken nose, now gave a roar of pure rage, forgetting Zachery completely as he lumbered toward the little devil-dog of an English. Doyle threw a platter at him, followed by a vase. Meanwhile, the fat father got into the act, screaming -- surprisingly enough -- in English, "My dishes! My dishes! Aiy, Aiy! Allah defend us! Not the dishes!"

The other two brothers were recovering, but so was Zachery, who was getting unsteadily to his feet. Doyle, who was down to small ammunition such as teacups and saucers, decided discretion was most definitely the better part of valor and it was time to make a run for it. He tipped the shelf over on his approaching adversaries, leaped nimbly over the ankle-deep shards of glass, grabbed Zachery by his suspender and pulled him willy-nilly down the street, leaving a laughing and clapping crowd surrounding the debris of the shop. Apparently the family wasn't well loved in the neighborhood.

"Run, dammit!" Doyle yelled as Zachery tried to slow down and look back.

"But I'm sure I could've explained--" Zachery began plaintively.

"Shut up and run," Doyle ordered grimly.

Several blocks away, they ducked into a side alley and leaned against the wall, exhausted and gasping for air. Almost as one, they slid down the wall and sat on the filthy cobblestones, trying to catch their breath.

It gradually occurred to Doyle that Zachery was laughing -- in fact, he was chortling like a drain.

"What's so bloody funny?" Doyle demanded. "We were very nearly murdered back there!"

Zachery turned to him, still chuckling. "Marvelous, wasn't it?"

Doyle opened his mouth, but there seemed to be no words to frame a proper response to such idiocy. Finally he addressed a scrawny stray dog who sat lazily scratching fleas a few yards away. "The man's mad. Totally mad."

Zachery laughed even harder. "Oh, come, old son, admit it. You enjoyed the hell out of that. Your eyes are sparkling like Chinese fireworks. You bloody loved it."

"I did?" Doyle thought about it for a moment. Adrenaline still pumped through his bloodstream, and although he had caught his breath now, his heart thumped with lingering excitement. Enjoy it? He remembered the particularly satisfying crunch of the melon impacting with the Arab's nose and the musically violent crash of breaking glass.

Slowly, reluctantly, a whimsical smile grew. "You know, I think I really did. Perhaps there's more of my family in me than I imagined." That thought sobered him, uncertain if he cared for the idea -- after all, he'd hated his family for the very aggressive instincts he'd just displayed.

"Eh," Zachery broke into his thoughts, "nothing to be ashamed of in being able to defend yourself -- or in defending a mate. You were fantastic."

Doyle's smile returned and he felt a tiny flare of pride. "I was, wasn't I?" Running the battle over in his mind, he felt rather good about it on the whole. Zachery had defended him against Sir Melvin and now he had returned the favor. That was what friendship was about, wasn't it? And now he truly did have a friend.

Feeling he needed to make something clear, however, he confessed, "I was scared, though. The whole time, I was scared witless."

"So?" Zachery laughed delightedly. "Raymond, my dear, did you see the size of those chaps? Even one of them out-numbered both of us." He shook his head in admiration. "I wasn't much help to you, I'm afraid. But I've always been terrible at that sort of thing. I'll have to leave the brawling to you."

"But--" Doyle broke off, totally confused at the assumption of his expertise. He took a deep breath and decided he felt too good -- except for his eye which was rapidly beginning to swell -- to think about it now. "I suppose we should be getting back to the compound."

"You've lost your spectacles," Zachery suddenly noticed. "Can you see all right without them?"

"Well, the world is a bit fuzzy round the edges, but I can manage. Never mind, I have an extra pair back in my room." They stood and Doyle peered cautiously around the corner. Whatever confidence Zachery seemed to have developed in his pugilistic abilities, he wasn't quite ready for another row just yet. "It looks clear. Let's go home."

"Oh no," Zachery protested. "It's early yet. There are other markets in Aden."

Doyle stopped. "Zachery," he cautioned, "I don't think--"

Ignoring the warning, the older man continued cheerfully, "And I'm still keen to practice my Arabic."

Eyes widening in alarm, Doyle pelted after him. "Zachery, wait!"

The man looked over the top of his spectacles as Bodie entered the tent. "Well, hello. Come to borrow another book?"

He spoke in perfect, cultured English, and the young Sheik answered in the same, with only a small trace of accent.

"I have read them all." He smiled fondly at his mentor as he dropped gracefully down on a cushion near him. "And so have you. Thrice over, I should imagine."

"If something is finely written, it can suffer being read a hundred times without squeezing it dry. And the best fruits are those you must eat slowly. If you gulp them too quickly, you lose the texture and the flavor."

"If that is your clever way of telling me to stop skimming Dante, you are not being very subtle, Cambridge."

"Dante is one thing," the older man admonished lightly, "but when you race through Cervantes, it is a sin. But then, you've always preferred poetry, haven't you? Byron, Blake, Keats..."

"And who was it gave me my first book of poetry?" Bodie grinned. "You have only yourself to blame."

"Actually, I believe it was your mother who gave it to you," Cambridge said thoughtfully.

The smile froze then faded on the handsome face. He changed the subject pointedly. "We will be taking a caravan into Aden for the festival of Eid al Fitr. I will buy you some new books then. What would you like?"

The old man watched his young friend sadly. Even after so many years the bitterness still burned in Bodie like corrosive acid; the wounds never healed. He loved the English literature and poetry while professing an open hatred for the English. He treated his British tutor like a well beloved and honored grandfather, yet would not even speak the name of his British mother. The dichotomy of his feelings was so intense, so violent, Cambridge marveled that it had not torn the boy apart long ago. Only Cambridge knew how deeply Bodie had loved his mother, and how much he loved/hated her now for so many reasons -- not the least of which was the sense of isolation he felt. While his people accepted him without reservation, Bodie couldn't accept himself. He could never escape the fact that what he hated most was inside of him, part of him.



"I asked what books you would like," Bodie repeated patiently, pouring out a cup of Turkish coffee.

"Oh, anything will do. I'm not choosey."

Bodie laughed. "Of course you are. The last time you berated me for twenty minutes on my poor choices. Tripe, I believe you called them."

"So make use of that fine but rarely utilized mind of yours and pick something decent!"

The blue eyes twinkled with mischief. "Decent? I was rather hoping to run across a trunk of French pornography."

Cambridge made a face. "Boring, my dear boy. Very mechanical and utterly predictable. In any case, British pornography is far superior."


"Oh, most definitely. Queen Victoria has done wonders for the male libido. All these high collars and bustles. In a prim and proper age imagination soars and vice, like mold, grows best in dark and hidden places."

Chuckling, Bodie said, "You old reprobate."

"Old is the key word, I'm afraid."

The young man's eyes were warm and affectionate. "You'll never be old, my dear friend."

"My creaking bones are delighted to hear that. But speaking of age, did you think I had forgotten what day this is? Your twenty-first birthday, yes?"

Bodie grimaced. "As my Uncle reminds me repeatedly."

"Hassid is still haranguing you to take a wife?"

"Incessantly. One would think I will be castrated tomorrow for all the urgency he gives the matter."

"He is only concerned with your welfare, Bodie," Cambridge commented gently.

"I realize that. But--"

"But you fear you will make the same kind of husband as your father did," Cambridge finished.

The blue eyes glittered angrily. "Watch how you tread, old man."

Cambridge only smiled. "I thought you said I wasn't old."

Bodie relaxed slightly. "Nor will you get older if you do not learn to curb your tongue."

Not at all impressed by the threat, Cambridge chuckled. "And what will you do, oh great Sheik? Chop off my infidel head?"

Bodie flushed. "Do not be ridiculous. I only meant that you should--"

"Old dogs and new tricks," Cambridge calmly cut in. "I left England nearly thirty years ago because I spoke my mind, and it's too much to expect me to change at this late date."

The Sheik let out his breath in exasperation. "Very well, so say what is on your mind and have done with it."

"It's nothing very profound, I'm afraid. Only that I tend to agree with Hassid. You should marry."

Bodie stared at him, stunned, expecting almost anything but that. "You have never agreed with my Uncle in your life. Why now? And about this of all things?"

"I could care less about continuing the great and noble line of Jafarr. But I do care about you, and you worry me, lad. I can see how lonely you are. You need something, someone--"

"Allah defend me!" Bodie sat his cup down with a clatter. "If it is not my uncle wanting to breed me like a prize camel, it is you concerned with my emotional stability! This is bloody pathetic. As you pointed out, I am twenty-one. I can make my own decisions, thank you very much. Now let us drop the topic, shall we. I am bored to tears with it."

"Very well," Cambridge agreed amicably. "But I just want to add one thing if I may."

Bodie regarded him with suspicion. "Yes?"

"You are neither your father nor your mother, Bodie. You are yourself. You have your father's temper, sensual nature and -- yes -- his possessiveness. But you also inherited his excellent mind and appreciation of beauty. You have your mother's spirit and willfulness, but her gentleness and sensitivity is yours as well. They were both stubborn, strong-willed individuals and I'm afraid their traits are magnified in you. But I also knew them both very, very well, and you are all the good things they were, and very little of the bad. I know you don't want to hear any of this, so I won't say it twice. Just remember that history doesn't have to repeat itself -- not if you are cautious. Find someone for yourself, Bodie. And, no, I don't mean one of these submissive, well-trained Arab girls. It wouldn't suit at all. Find someone with fire to complement your own, someone with intelligence and spirit ... and an understanding soul. Then, perhaps you can stop feeling so alone."

"Are you quite finished?" The face that turned to him could have been carved in stone.

Cambridge nodded, spreading his hands.

"Good. Then I have one question for the Oracle. Where am I to find this paragon?"

Cambridge grinned, amused. "I have no idea."

"I must keep in mind that you never married yourself. Obviously you never found her either."

"Oh, but I did," Cambridge murmured.


The old man shook his head, dispelling ancient fantasies. "Never mind that." He leaned forward and smiled. "I have a present for you. Hold out your hand."

Intrigued, Bodie did as instructed and something cool dropped with a sensuous tingle into his open palm. It was short silver chain; incredibly delicate, finely woven in a slender rope that glinted and reflected in the light.

"What is this?"

"A bracelet. They tell me that, ages ago, it was once a necklace, but each time it was broken, it shortened a bit. It is very old."

"It has no clasp," Bodie commented, admiring the craftsmanship of the pattern.

"Of course not. The end links are welded together and it is not to be removed until you can offer it to your love. Hold out your wrist."

Bodie hesitated. "It is too fine. I would lose it -- break it."

"It is stronger than you imagine," Cambridge said softly. "Are you refusing the gift?"

"No, but--"

"Hold out your wrist."

Bodie obeyed and Cambridge use the tongs to pick up a red hot coal from the brazier. He touched it to the ends of the chain as they were wrapped around the young man's wrist, taking care to keep the heat away from the skin. After a few moments, he returned the coal to the fire, but held Bodie still while the metal cooled and hardened to complete the circle.

The chain fell down on Bodie's wrist. He looked at Cambridge, bewildered. It seemed a very odd gift from the often crusty old man. "I thank you. But... Why this?"

"The gift is not mine. It is from your mother."

Bodie's hand jerked up as if the metal still burned. "What?"

"The chain was hers. Her father gave it to her when her mother died. It has been in your mother's family for generations. She asked that I give it to you when you came of age .... or found your true love. It was important to her that you have it."

Cambridge waited, half expecting the volatile young man to rip it from his wrist and cast it away. But Bodie only stared at it pensively, caressing the bright links with his finger. It was a long time before he spoke, and when he did Cambridge had to strain to hear the words.

"She gave it to you, not to my father."

"She never gave it to anyone," Cambridge corrected gently. "She left it in my trust to give to you." He sighed, knowing that this was painful, too. "She did love him, Bodie. In her way. It was not lack of love that destroyed her, lad, it was .... pride."

The Sheik stood and walked to the door. He stopped at the entrance, but did not turn.

"I will wear it, Cambridge," he said steadily, only the tense set of his shoulders betraying his emotions. "But I wear it in honor of you, not her. My family, my people, are of the desert, not some distant land of which I have only read. She brought dishonor and shame to our tents and I disavow her heritage and her blood."

He swept out of the tent without looking back.

Feeling weary, Cambridge sat down and stared in the smoldering fire.

"And will you also tear out your blue eyes and burn your white skin dark?" he mused to himself. "Oh, my poor Bodie. Must you hate yourself so much? There is too much of your mother in you -- more than you know. Pride, damnable pride!"


Doyle sat against a sun-warmed wall sketching an old man who was contentedly chewing qat a few yards away. Zachery had told him qat was a mild narcotic leaf favored by the Arabs. The old geezer was ostensibly minding a vegetable cart, but was spending much more time dozing in the shade. He had an interesting face, sun-darkened to mahogany, leathery and creased with age, teeth long since history, but there was still a rather noble set to his brow and hints of the virile strength he had once possessed. Capturing that melancholy loss was Doyle's goal. He kept stopping, rubbing out his marks and trying a new tack until he finally caught the mood he wanted.

Leaning back and closing his eyes, Doyle ignored the persistent buzz of flies and the hardness of the stone under his behind. The flush of successful creative energy was enough to satisfy him for the moment.

He had Zachery Hart to thank for that.

Not so many weeks ago Doyle had surrendered his aspirations, crushed by the contemptuous disparagement of his uncle and, more importantly, by his own feelings of inadequacy and spinelessness. How could he possibly hope to create something splendid and worthwhile when he felt so totally worthless himself? It was Zachery who shook him out of his self-pity, made him fight to win back his diminished self respect, helped him see there was more to himself than he had dreamed. More practically, Zachery had bought him a sketch pad and charcoals, instinctively knowing it was what Doyle needed to push himself into trying again.

Doyle smiled to himself, remembering the scene. Not more than forty-five minutes after the "battle of the blue bowl" as they now called it, Zachery had dragged him unwillingly into a different bazaar. By this time Doyle had reluctantly decided that, as much as he was fond of Zachery, the man had about as much common sense as a goose. Their narrow escape from the Brothers Grimm had fazed him not at all; in fact, he plunged right in, spraying badly accented Arabic to anyone who would listen. Doyle had gritted his teeth and prayed very hard. But this time there were no problems, and the shopkeepers were all smiles and Arabic salutations -- from heart to forehead with their fingertips. Doyle learned how to return the gesture.

Zachery dragged him into a stationer's shop at one point and asked the clerk for a sketch pad and drawing materials. Doyle had protested, but Zachery had shoved them in his hands and told him to throw them away if he liked.

"Maybe I'm wrong," Zachery had said, "but I think you're good at it. I reckon it must be something you've worked at a bit. If not, pitch it away and forget it. But only do it if you want to. It's your life, Raymond. You have to follow your heart."

"And if everyone else thinks I'm wrong, that I'm going in the wrong direction, what then?"

"Ignore everyone else. You have to trust your heart. Even if it's wrong, it's right. However it turns out, it's better to try than to never know."

So Doyle had tried and had discovered to his delight that his fingers moved with a will of their own, feverishly sketching -- landscapes, architecture and people. After the soft, civilized smoothness of the estate at home in England, this land brought visions to his mind and onto paper that thrilled him with their passion and starkness. Some drawings were harsh, almost violent, some were mellow and serene, but all had a strength and depth he had never found in England. Perhaps because he had never found it in himself until now.

The secret was whispered to him softly, in slow, comforting degrees. Freedom. He was free of his family, free of disapproval, free of being unable to compete in their world, free of feeling the runt, the useless one. Here, he was just Raymond Doyle. Different, yes, because he was English, but being different was nothing new; he had always been that. Here, however, no one cared that he was different. Inside the compound, he was mostly ignored or treated with quiet courtesy. They saw very little of Sir Melvin who had his own, much more aloof circle of cronies. Doyle had Zachery, who was a constant and steadfast friend. He was a wonderful anchor; someone to show his drawings to, someone who would criticize or praise -- but always honestly. An equal Doyle could talk to, listen to, learn from.

Life was good, and for once Raymond Doyle was getting a hefty taste of it.

While it was Sir Melvin's unwritten rule that they should remain inside the British compound unless sent on specific errands, Doyle and Zachery quickly fell into the habit of leaving every evening to explore the city. So far, no one had noticed their absence and if it did come to Sir Melvin's ears, there really wasn't much he could do about it bar sending them packing. The chances of his going to those extremes for such a minor infraction of protocol, however, were slim, so they didn't worry about it. There were too many others in the Embassy who also sought their pleasures in the city.

Zachery would wander the marketplaces and engage whoever was willing in conversation while Doyle would settle in an interesting place with his sketch pad and work happily until the light completely faded and he could no longer see the paper.

He had stopped fretting about Zachery creating another disaster -- while quite aware that, of the two of them, he would have to be the one to deal with trouble if it arose -- it simply wasn't in Zachery's optimistic nature to worry or to even recognize trouble when he plowed hip deep in it. Doyle had come to the fatalistic realization that, if Zachery got himself in difficulty, it would be up to Doyle to get him out of it the best he could, and that was that. Stifling Zachery's impulsively easy-going manner would be a crime. It was what made Zachery special; simply part of the incredibly accepting, open person he was.

Zachery Hart had the amazing ability of appreciating people on their own terms, and even if he didn't always approve of what they did, he almost never judged them harshly. Even Sir Melvin received the benefit of his accepting nature.

"It's not his fault, is it?" Zachery had told Doyle. "It's all he knows. Certainly he's a bigoted, pompous bastard, but if you're raised up from the cradle to be a bigoted, pompous bastard, what're you to do?"

"I was brought up to be just that," Doyle had pointed out, a little peeved.

"Yes, but you're different, aren't you? That's the bonus, y'see. There's always the odd duck that flies a tad off center to the others. That's the hope, y'know. That different duck. It's not that the others are wrong precisely; it's just that maybe this one has found a better way and sooner or later, with luck, the others will realize that, too. That's progress, that is. What you have to do is learn to take the ordinary blokes as they are. Look at you, Ray. They never bothered to accept you as being a bit out of their line, just stepped on you hard because you didn't fit the mould. But then you turned around and hated them and what they stood for because they wouldn't let you be yourself. It's a vicious cycle, isn't it? Everyone hating everyone else because they don't quite fit to measure. If people would be a jot more easy to please, the world would be a much more peaceful place.

"But there's always change. It grinds slow -- like the mills of god -- but it does grind. I can deal with chaps like ol' Melvin easy enough because they're a dying breed. They don't know it, but their time is limited. The British Empire won't last forever."

Doyle had been amazed. It was a totally new concept to him. "It won't?"

"Of course not. It all goes in cycles, like I said. I'll give Britain another twenty, thirty years, maybe a little longer before someone else takes over."

"America?" Doyle asked, intrigued as if he was listening to a soothsayer.

"You must be joking. Not a chance. They're too young and disorganized. Have you ever met a Yank?"

Doyle shook his head, eyes wide.

"Dumb as a post, mate. Nah, they're too confused, poor things. Like bastard children or mongrel pups, they don't have a feeling of unity yet. Aggressive enough, I suppose, but they can't make up their bloody minds which direction to go; pushy as the devil one minute, self-effacing the next. No, I think it'll be Germany. They're tough and cool and disciplined. And aggressive. They're the ones to watch."

Listening to Zachery was entertaining if only because his theories changed so rapidly. The next day he was predicting another Napoleon would spring up and France would conquer the world; the day after, he was saying Australia was a sleeper and would burst out as a great world power. Doyle asked him once why he was so certain the United States would never be much of anything, and Zachery replied cryptically that he had an Aunt who lived in Tulsa.

Doyle stretched luxuriously just as the horn sounded for sunset prayers. Immediately everyone in the vicinity rolled out their prayer rugs or knelt on the bare stone and began their lengthy prayers to Allah. Feeling as out of place as a Protestant in a Catholic church during High Mass, Doyle just sat in silence, experiencing a bizarre sense of guilt. Although he had never been particularly religious, he said the Lord's Prayer under his breath and felt strangely better, having done his duty in his own fashion.

When the prayer finally ended, there was a tremendous whoop all around the square and Doyle jumped, startled by this new development. It took a second for him to remember what day this was. The end of the fast of Ramadan. This was the beginning of the three-day feast of....whatever it was called.

Men ran about the marketplace with a sense of recklessness, gorging themselves on figs and dates and whatever came to hand with more abandon than usual. Doyle noticed there were more women in the square than was customary. Wrapped in their chador, the concealing clothing, they gathered in giggling clusters, watching the men and making whispered comments.

It was then he noticed the horse. Standing near the well, it tossed its proud head before deigning to drink the water its master offered. It was an incredibly beautiful animal; that ghostly grey/white that only Arabian horses seem to possess, muscles powerful in the haunch and forelegs, heavy chest and long graceful neck with the small, elegant diamond head and large, liquidly dark, intelligent eyes.

It was rare to see a horse in the square. Horses were a rich man's animal and this particular market was not one of the larger or more impressive ones. Camels could be found almost anywhere, but horses had an expensive price tag -- they had to be fed and watered and pampered to an exorbitant degree. This particular stallion looked royally pampered and smugly accustomed to it. The traditional Arabian fittings were elaborate and costly, from the black silk tassels and silver decorations on the shining bridle to the matching inlay of silver on the saddle. The horse projected an arrogance that was almost startling, as if the animal was conscious of its own worth; it had a personality and haughty presence Doyle found fascinating and amusing.

In the rapidly fading light, he flipped to a clean page and began to sketch as the lanterns and torches were being lit all around the square and well as twilight encroached.

Its master, obviously more concerned with his animal's well being than his own, waited patiently for the stallion to finish drinking. That action gave Doyle pause, glancing around at all the others in the square grabbing and gulping at the food and drink after the day's fast.

The horseman was dressed in black, but his robe was embroidered with a silver strip, and the material shimmered with a voluptuous hint of richness. His kafiyah -- the Arabian headdress -- was also black, held with a twisted rope entwined with thick silver thread.

Only when the horse had drunk his fill did the man draw water to quench his own thirst. Doyle kept sketching until he could no longer see the page, then sighed and flipped the folder closed.

Still intrigued, he gathered his things and moved toward the well.


The man spun around, hand slipping quickly to his belt where a wicked looking knife rested in a sheath against his side. The hand hesitated, then fell as he judged there was no threat.

Doyle started to speak again, but everything in his mind evaporated as the Arab's face was revealed in the torchlight. The eyes were unexpectedly -- startlingly -- blue. The face was so distinctly British it would have been unremarkable in Trafalgar Square or Picadilly.

The amethyst eyes swept over him scornfully, then paused again at Doyle's face, a spark of interest flaring.

"Yes?" It sounded slightly more cordial than the hard expression indicated. He looked like a dangerous man, and Doyle, despite his new-found boldness, wasn't particularly interested in irritating dangerous men.

"I beg your pardon, I was just admiring your horse, actually."

It must have been the right thing to say for the man smiled, teeth flashing white and even, softening the hardness and transforming him from coldly attractive to strikingly handsome. "Thank you. He is rather special, my Shaizar."

The man's English was excellent -- but he looked English. A trifle confused, Doyle asked, "Are you British?"

The blue eyes frosted. "I am Bedouin." Then he added something in Arabic that sounded like a curse.

The chilled tone of the answer and the unconcealed distaste for Doyle's assumption was annoying. "Congratulations," Doyle snapped. "I'm British, you know, so I wasn't exactly intending an insult. It's a natural mistake, after all. You speak English very well and you look--"

"I spoke English because you did," the other cut in rudely. "I prefer to speak my native tongue."

A part of Doyle advised him to back off while he had the chance, but another part -- the same rebellious bit that had taken on three angry Arabs with nothing more formidable than melons and crockery -- was irritated. "Well now, that'll cut our conversation short. My Arabic is somewhat limited."

The beautiful mouth sneered. "Typical. You English come to our land, take what you want, never even make an effort to learn our customs or language--"

"Excuse me," Doyle's temper flared. "You underestimate the complexity of your language, sir. I've been in Aden precisely three weeks and five days. Do you think your `native tongue' so simple a bloody parrot could learn it that fast?"

Staring into the angry cat-green eyes, the other man suddenly smiled. He made the heart-to-head gesture and said with total politeness, "Forgive me. I did not realize. It is a poor excuse for my boorishness, but I beg you accept my apology. You are very welcome to my country, Mister--?"

"Doyle. Raymond Doyle." He relaxed, his bad temper fading, unwillingly charmed by the disarming smile. "Thank you. Knowing some of my countrymen as I do, I seriously doubt if you have the market on ill manners." He smiled ruefully. "Actually, I cannot fault you. It was I, after all, who intruded on you."

The Arab's head tilted a little, gazing at Doyle with increased fascination. "Not at all," he murmured.

A little uneasy under the scrutiny, Doyle returned to his original interest. "I do like your horse very much. May I touch him?"

The other man nodded and turned to catch the stallion's head, whispering something in the sensitive ear in Arabic. "Proceed. He will accept you now."

Doyle stroked the powerful neck, feeling the muscles ripple under his touch. "He's magnificent. Where did you get him?"

An amused eyebrow lifted. "A wise man does not ask a Bedouin where they acquired property."

Doyle remembered a remark of Sir Melvin's about the Bedouins being `a pack of thieves.' "You mean he is stolen?" he asked absently, still stroking the horse, mesmerized by the quiet power he felt under the perfectly groomed coat.

There was a moment of silence, then the man laughed softly. "You are very brave or very foolish, English. Some would have your head for such a suggestion."

Doyle blinked and looked up, only now realizing what he had said and mortified by it. "But I didn't mean--"

"No matter. I am not offended. No, I did not steal Shaizar. My father bred his sire. But I confess I might have been tempted to do so if I had seen him and he had not been mine by right."

Offering a final pat to the impressive animal, Doyle backed away. "Anyone would be," Doyle replied lamely, although he was positive there would be few foolish enough to try to steal anything from this man. "He's wonderful. Does the name Shalizar have a meaning?"

"Shaizar," the other corrected. "It has several interpretations in our dialect. The Wind is one. Wild Wind is another."

"Ah, perfect." Doyle hesitated. "Well, thank you for letting me pet him. I love horses, but since I left England, this is the closest I've got to one. I've disturbed you long enough..."

"No, do not go."

Doyle glanced down at the hand that gripped his arm, then up into the dark blue eyes. They stared at each other for a long, long moment and the breath in Doyle's lungs remained in stasis, captured and waiting for some signal to give it permission to move out or in.

The stallion tossed its head, jingling the silver trappings musically, and Doyle blinked.

Breaking the entrancing hold of those eyes with an effort, he let out his breath and glanced around the square, catching sight of Zachery wandering about like an absent-minded professor who was sure he had misplaced something without quite remembering what it could be.

"My friend is looking for me."

"Let him look." The grip on his arm tightened and the blue eyes captured Doyle's again and held the gaze with arrogant ease.

Strangely disturbed, Doyle finally managed to pull away. "I must go. Thank you again ....?"

But the man offered no name, just continued to look at Doyle with that oddly intriguing and hungry expression.

Doyle found it difficult to turn away, something in him urging him to stay and learn more of this man, but his more rational side advised him to get away very fast indeed.

He walked off quickly without looking back, seeking out his safe and comfortable friend, who greeted him happily and began regaling him with stories he had picked up in the marketplace.

As they started to leave, Doyle ventured a glance toward the well, but the horse and rider were gone.

Bodie watched with narrowed eyes as Doyle moved across the square and met with a particularly gaunt Englishman. They strolled along the street, chatting with a kind of easy bonhomie that set Bodie's teeth on edge. Obviously Doyle would rather converse with that skinny Englishman than with him. Well, skinny Englishmen could be dealt with, if necessary.

He spotted Gasim trotting across the square -- heading for the closest brothel, no doubt. Brothels and easy women had abruptly become insipid and boring to Bodie. He had seen what he wanted, and nothing else would suit. He called to Gasim and the man hesitated, glancing longingly toward the brightly painted house at the edge of the square, but he answered the summons willingly.

"Gasim, I have a task for you."

"Yes, my lord?"

"That English there -- the little one with green eyes -- I want you to follow him. Find where he stays. It will be in the British compound, undoubtedly, but I want to know precisely where."

Curious, Gasim observed the object he was to pursue, then looked back at his master. "You want me to follow that one?"

"Is that not what I said?" Bodie snapped. Then he put his hand on his man's shoulder, relenting his stern demeanor. "You will be well repaid for your effort, Gasim."

Even knowing this was true, Gasim sighed at the wasted time. Still, what Adu Bodie wanted, he must have.

It was hot in the little room -- oppressively so. While this wasn't unusual, the restless feeling that plagued Doyle was. He hadn't been able to shake it since he had seen the blue-eyed Bedouin by the well.

He went out onto the balcony, hoping to catch a cool breeze. Leaning back against the iron rail, he closed his eyes and took in the heavy scent of jasmine. It was a heady, sensual fragrance that stole all sensible thoughts from his mind; made him envision forbidden pleasures and abandoned morals.

A jingling note interrupted his fantasies, and he opened his eyes and looked down at the street below. This section of the building overlooked the wall of the compound which bordered on a quiet, residential section of the city.

A horse stood near a gaslight. White and beautifully muscled, it tossed its head with impatience, wanting to be off; its nervous movements causing the jingling notes as the silver decorations clinked together. Then he saw its rider standing in the shadows, no more than a darker blur against the blackness.

Drawn against his will, he leaned over the rail and watched in fascination. After a moment the man stepped into the circle of light, black robes shimmering with rich mystery. The face looked up, meeting his gaze with an all-too-familiar arrogance.

An odd shiver raced up Doyle's spine. The man was incredibly handsome, face perfect and symmetrical in every line, eyes dark and mysterious in the smoky light.

For a long time they regarded each other solemnly, a sizzle of excitement coursing between them. Then the man leaped into the saddle and rode away, leaving Doyle feeling curiously bereft and a little disappointed.

It wasn't until he returned to his bed that he realized he was hard and aching with arousal. Trying to ignore it as he slipped under the sheet, all he could see was the strongly beautiful face and the wonderful eyes holding his own.

He tossed uneasily in his bed, wondering why the stranger had been on this particular street. Even more, wondering what there was about the man that disturbed him so.

The pleasurable ache in his groin intensified and he touched himself, his fertile mind supplying other hands and other touches.

Realizing what he was thinking, he abruptly jerked his hands away and buried them under the pillow. He was well aware of his own sensual impulses. From a very early age he had learned to satisfy himself. Whatever the Church or clergy said, he could never believe it was all that bad -- certainly not enough to stop doing something that felt so good. But all his fantasies had never included a man before. This was new and perturbing.

Determinedly, he tried to summon an image of the German chambermaid back home -- buxom and willing. He had nearly had her once, but his brother Manfred had returned home at an inopportune moment and caught them in a compromising situation. The jovial lecture he'd received afterwards put him off sex for a good two weeks. The gist of it was that it was fine to indulge in a bit of slap and tickle with the maids as long as you remembered they were well beneath your station and that any little by-blows produced must be dealt with discreetly, preferably deported to Australia along with the mother and any of her relatives with loose tongues. Doyle had fancied himself in love with Helga at the time, and was almost prepared to fight the issue -- until the next day when he discovered Manfred busily doing what he'd nearly done with Helga with her happy cooperation. After that, the entire situation hardly seemed to matter. It was more proof, if he'd ever needed it, that being ruthless, cold and aggressive was the only way to win anything. And it didn't alter the fact he couldn't find it in himself to be any of those things. A square peg in a world of round holes. At the ripe age of fifteen, some part of him had given up, totally outclassed by six brothers, an uncle and a father who could do everything better, faster and more thoroughly than he could.

The weeks in Aden had changed his mind about much of that. But his sexual experience was still confined to the comfort of his hand. Not that he hadn't been sorely tempted by some of the street women in Aden but, surprisingly, Zachery had put his foot down very firmly on that subject, telling Ray it wasn't a proper way to start -- not to mention that most of them probably carried the French disease.

Doyle took a deep breath and turned over on his back, his manhood still obstinately stiff. The minute he touched it, however, an image of blue eyes and a definitely masculine face appeared again.

Oh god, he thought wearily, with all my other problems, I can't be unnatural as well. He had heard of such tendencies, of course. Referred to obliquely in books, more crudely giggled over by stable boys, but he had never really understood what it was about. Until now. His body seemed to understand far more than his mind at the moment, but he still wasn't sure what it implied.

Before he could puzzle over it further, there was a sound on the balcony outside. He sat up in bed, listening. Again, there was a soft scraping noise.

Scrambling back into his robe, he went out. He leaned over the rail, but the path below was empty, as was the street over the wall. A little disappointed, he had turned to go back when a hand clamped securely over his mouth and an arm banded like warm iron around his chest.

"Do not call out," a soft voice instructed.

An odd little thrill raced through Doyle as he recognized the sound. He nodded and the hands released him.

Doyle turned to face the intruder. The silver splash of moonlight easily confirmed the identity. "How did you get in? The guards--"

"Are sleepy," the man said with a lazy smile. "And stupid. I climbed the wall, of course. Your security is abysmal."

Doyle let out a shaky breath. "So .... why? I mean...."

"Why did I come? I wanted to see you, speak to you. You ran off very quickly."

"Oh." Doyle wasn't sure how to point out that climbing a wall and up a trellis wasn't precisely the proper British way to pursue an interesting conversation. But then again, he couldn't truly say he was sorry. He had been thinking about this man for hours, and the reality was even more striking than the memory.

They regarded each other in silence. Finally, the stranger moved forward and touched Doyle's face, tilting the chin up in the moonlight.

"You are very beautiful, English."

Startled, Doyle shifted out of his grip and retreated nervously until he backed against the metal railing. "I beg your pardon?" He was terribly frustrated that his voice chose that moment to revert to an adolescent squeak.

"No one has told you this before?" Amused, the Sheik stepped closer until they were so near Doyle could smell the scent of strange spice, tobacco and a dash of horse. It increased the man's enticement, and along with the smooth handsomeness of the face in the moonlight, Doyle's breath caught in his throat at his body's sensual response.

"No, not really," he said stupidly. "I mean, it's not really something...." he trailed off helplessly.

"You have a face that is difficult to forget."

Suddenly Doyle felt the hands upon him again and he was being abruptly and soundly kissed. The mouth was firm and knowing, turning the smaller man's knees to jelly and igniting a flashfire that fueled his earlier arousal to new and dizzying heights. His mouth opened instinctively under the assault, accepting the tongue that plundered him with ruthless and demanding passion.

Doyle's head was swimming when he was finally released, and scorching blue eyes devoured him from under a fringe of long, black lashes. A deft hand unfastened his robe and slipped inside to caress bare flesh as Doyle gasped in reaction.

Muscles lax in the firm embrace, Doyle somehow dredged up the ability to speak. "This is madness .... insane .... I don't understand.... What do you want?"

The man's other hand toyed with the curls at the nape of the bewildered boy's neck. "I did not realize I was being so subtle. I want you, English."

Doyle swallowed helplessly, thoughts in a whirl, senses intoxicated by the slow, tantalizing caresses. "You said .... you wanted to talk."

The sensuous mouth curved into a wicked smile. "I lied."

A finger swept over his nipple and Doyle gave a helpless whimper of pleasure, lured even closer until their groins pressed together, the Arab's arousal apparent even through the layers of material between them.

A loud knock on the door froze them both.

"Tell them to go away," he ordered, lips on Doyle's neck just below the ear.

Doyle shivered as the teeth nibbled on his earlobe and the tongue darted inside, hot then cool with teasing breath.

The knock repeated, louder.

Doyle pushed against the broad chest. "It must be Zachery--"

"Ignore it."

"I can't. He knows I'm in. He'll wonder--"

The Arab took his shoulders in a crushing grip. "This Zachery, is he more to you than I?"

The haughty tone jerked Doyle from his mesmerized state. "I don't even bloody know your name," he pointed out with irritation.

"Ray?" Zachery called from outside the door. "Is something wrong?"

"Get rid of him," the man demanded in an autocratic growl.

"No." While still painfully aroused, Doyle's head had cleared enough to realize he didn't care for the masterful manner. He had had his fill of commands in his life. He wrenched away from the hold. "Leave me alone, damn it."

The Arab took a deep breath, resisting the impulse to force Doyle's surrender. "You do not mean that."

"Don't I?" Doyle snarled, furious at how easily he had fallen under the man's spell, burning with embarrassment at how he had melted like wax in the domineering embrace. Fantasies were bad enough, but surrendering to the reality was disgraceful. "Go to hell."

Frustrated and angry, the other mocked, "Why do you tease and delay? You want what I want! You burn--"

Another rap at the door, softer now. Zack would give up and go away in a moment -- and with him would go Doyle's best excuse for running.

But the Arab caught his arm as he turned. "What is he to you?" he hissed jealously.

"It's none of your business, is it?" Doyle retorted, jerking his arm free.

"You want me," his tormentor stated with supreme confidence. "Why do you deny it?"

Even now, furious and annoyed, Doyle couldn't. His skin tingled at the touch and the eyes were seducing him.

"I want you to leave," Doyle said flatly, and it was only half true. He was too confused to know what he really wanted. But he purposely retied his robe, stalked to the door and opened it, deliberately refusing to look back to see if his request had been granted.

Zachery had started to turn away as the door opened. "Oh, I thought you must be asleep. Did I disturb you?"

"Not at all," Doyle assured him. He finally steeled himself to glance toward the balcony, but it was empty. He sighed, partially in relief, partially in regret. "In fact, your timing is impeccable."

"Whatever do you mean?"

Doyle just shook his head ruefully. "Only that you saved me from . . . a very odd dream."


"This is going to be a right pain in the arse," Zachery said in annoyance.

Doyle looked up from his work. "What's that?"

"Several of the treaty agreements expire in a few months and renewing them is going to be beastly difficult."


"Of course. Why else do you think Britain has a toe-hold in Arabia? The French would love to get their greasy fingers on some of these ports. They control most of North Africa already. The only reason we have Arabia is that we wrangled a deal with the current emirs and sheiks to handle all foreign affairs so they don't have to bother. They enjoy the weight of the British Empire without most of the complications of a colonial force. Arabia isn't a colony or part of the Commonwealth, just an auxiliary to it. They are still, formally at least, autonomous.

"I realize that," Doyle said impatiently. Zachery's penchant for lectures could occasionally be tiring. "I was asking about the treaties."

"Well, in the absence of signed agreements, British authority in Aden is null and void. A fact which will delight the French no end."


"And we have a rather tricky situation on our hands. Ninety-nine percent of the treaties have been renewed with no trouble; however, there is one that presents a problem."


"There was a nasty tribal skirmish out in the desert a few years ago. Generally that doesn't affect us. The new dominant force in the area is usually only too happy to sign the pact -- it cements their power officially, you see. But this particular case is deuced difficult." Zachery sighed and shook his head. "Not that I can really blame the bloke for turning sour, all things considered."

"What happened?"

"Well, we had a treaty with the current sheik's father some years ago, but when there was a rather nasty little war and a rival sheik, Ali Fasik came into power, we naturally signed an agreement with him. Unfortunately, the situation wasn't as settled as we imagined. Within a year of Sheik Nassar's death, his son systematically and quite ruthlessly ousted Fasik. Now we are faced with a man who trusts the British only slightly less than he would someone selling excursions to the South Pole."

"What happens if he refuses to sign the treaty?" Doyle was curious.

"Nothing immediately. However, the Jafarr are well respected, and their influence is great with the other tribes. Sheik Adu Bodie bin Jafarr has a lot of friends. It is conceivable that he could even convince many of the other sheiks to breach their treaties. In which case, British claim in this area would be in serious jeopardy."

Zachery shrugged. "Odd, isn't it? Only a sheet of paper prevents us from being out on our ears. Serves us right, I suppose, for being so bloody pragmatic. A bit of loyalty might have saved a world of aggravation. That Fasik chap must've been a right bastard, too. From what I gather, when he took over the area, he nearly had a revolt on his hands. Nassar, the current sheik's father, had been in power for over thirty-five years -- and his father before him for even longer. They must've been doing something right."

"And the new sheik?" Doyle inquired, attention only half on the conversation, still filling out a form in triplicate for the Home Office.

"Hard to say. He's been in charge for two or three years now, and from what I can tell he's been doing a bang-up job of it. No petty raids; he stays in his own territory and makes very certain the other tribes do the same; trades fair; and the people in his sphere of influence seem to adore him. He's very young though -- early twenties at most, but he's a shrewd customer just the same. If rumors have it right, however, if England could be blown to bits, he'd volunteer to light the bloody fuse. Pity, really. His father was very pro-British and understood that if Britain loses its foothold, other countries might not be so respectful of their autonomy." He shrugged. "Then again, I understand Nassar was educated in England. Makes a difference, I suppose."

Doyle put down his pen and looked up. "So he refuses to sign the treaty because we didn't support his father in some tribal war?"

"In not so very polite terms. Resentment for how we switched sides after his father's death, I imagine. Although I admit he was at least prepared to listen to the proposal. He was here a couple of weeks ago and actually stooped to meet with Sir Melvin. I gather they didn't get on at all."

"That's hardly surprising," Doyle commented drily.

"Still, it doesn't make things easy. We've got about three months before the present treaty expires. Questions are going to be raised and England had better come up with suitable answers."

Two days later they were summoned to Sir Melvin's office concerning the same subject.

"This matter must be addressed," Sir Melvin announced, ponderously pacing up and down the length of the room.

"Yes, sir," Hart replied. "But if the Sheik won't listen to reason--"

"He doesn't know the meaning of the word!" Sir Melvin cut in furiously. "Came barging into my office as if he owned the bloody country."

Zachery exchanged an amused glance with Doyle behind the blustering man's back. "Well, he does appear to own a good portion of it, sir."

Sir Melvin spun around. "What's that, Hart?"

"Uh.... nothing important, sir. Have you any idea of a way to change the Sheik's position on the matter? The time is getting a bit short."

"I wouldn't even stoop to try," Sir Melvin growled. "The man is little better than a mongrel; an arrogant, ungrateful cur. I prefer to have him muzzled so he can't do more damage."

"From what I understand of the Sheik, that might not be very easy," Zachery pointed out.

Sir Melvin gave a crafty smile. "Not necessarily. We can't do anything openly, of course, but a messenger arrived today from Ali Fasik."

"The deposed sheik? But I thought his band was wiped out?"

"He is attempting to regroup his forces for another go. He wants our assistance. Under the circumstances, we are pleased to give it. He will be quite happy to sign the treaty when he has regained control."

Doyle spoke up for the first time, "But we are supposed to be uninvolved in local disputes -- neutral."

Sir Melvin glared at him. He still didn't care for the little bugger and would like nothing better than to send him packing, but so far Doyle had done nothing to warrant the chance of upsetting the Doyle clan, who were large, wealthy and influential. "Naturally, we will have to be discreet in this matter. But we can furnish Fasik with funds to buy arms and trust he will take advantage of the charity."

Hart shifted uncomfortably. "That doesn't seem precisely cricket, sir. After all--"

"Nonsense," Sir Melvin blasted. "That Bodie rascal had his chance to be sensible. I only regret I won't be there to see that young troublemaker get his comeuppance. Impudent bastard! In any case, I'm giving you the task of delivering the money to Fasik's camp. He doesn't dare come anywhere near Aden -- not with that mad bugger controlling all the passes through the mountains. And I certainly can't trust that kind of money with some wog. No, there's no help for it; you'll have to transport it in person, Hart. Fasik's messenger left directly after completing his mission -- afraid of being caught, no doubt. So I'll have to engage another guide to take you to Fasik's camp. The arrangements should be completed by tomorrow morning. You can leave then."

Zachery was delighted with the turn of events, already forgetting his disapproval of the plan to assist Fasik. He had longed to travel into the desert and this was a perfect opportunity.

Doyle was a bit more apprehensive about the entire scheme, sensing it wouldn't be quite as simple as Sir Melvin presented it.

"But if the Sheik's men are watching the passes, won't they stop him?"

"They wouldn't dare to detain a British citizen!" Sir Melvin snorted.

Doyle wasn't so sure about that, particularly if Adu Bodie despised the British as much as they were led to believe. "I don't think this is a very good idea, sir."

"Did I express an interest in your opinion, Doyle? It has nothing to do with you. Hart will do as he is instructed and try not to muck up the job."

Doyle cocked an eyebrow at his friend, but Zachery was already lost in the idyllic romance of a desert excursion.

Raymond admired and loved Zachery Hart more than anyone he had ever known. Zachery was undoubtedly intelligent, fearless, warm and compassionate. But he was also undeniably the only person Doyle could envision being even more naive and impractical than himself. The mere thought of Zack set loose alone on an unsuspecting desert with his trusting nature -- not to mention his dangerous command of Arabic -- made Doyle weak in the knees. While not at all confident that he could do bugger-all to improve matters, it was totally impossible for him to stand back and wave a cheery goodbye while his friend trotted off to disaster. If disaster was inevitable, he would prefer to face it beside his friend.

Doyle sighed, feeling like a parent dragged along on an ill-judged school expedition with heavy weather looming. "Sir, I insist on accompanying Mr. Hart."

Riding a camel tended to make Doyle a bit seasick, but in the best stoic British tradition he managed to ignore the discomfort. The beasts were bad tempered, disgusting and altogether distasteful. In Doyle's opinion it was a pity that two of them actually made it on the bloody ark.

Zachery was naturally in seventh heaven, shouting tidbits of information across to Doyle as they lumbered through the mountain pass and entered the great desert.

"People have the mistaken idea the desert is barren. Ridiculous! The place is positively teeming with life!"

Doyle eyed the stark sand and rocks doubtfully. "Oh yes?"

"Of course. One simply needs to know where to look."

"No doubt."

"Absolutely," Zachery enthused. "Just look around, mate. Ruddy marvelous, isn't it?"

Sightseeing was a trifle difficult while trying to keep down one's breakfast, but Doyle nodded and offered a weak smile. "Marvelous. How long until we reach Fasik's camp?"

The guide, riding slightly ahead, had apparently been eavesdropping on the conversation. "Three days.... perhaps four."

Doyle's thanks were tinged with reserve. He found he liked and trusted their surly guide only slightly less than the camels.

"Zack," he began uncertainly, "I have my doubts about the purpose of this journey. It seems a bit....unjust. Lending aid to one side over another is interference of the most blatant sort. I thought we were...." He trailed off. "It just doesn't seem right somehow."

Hart shrugged uneasily. "Without a valid treaty the British will have no rightful influence in this sector of the world. That can't be good, can it?"

Having been born and bred to think it must be a natural law, Doyle had no trouble agreeing with the premise. "No, of course not. But--"

"If the Sheik refuses to sign, it puts us in a very difficult situation."

"But isn't that the point?" Doyle queried. "We are here on the sufferance of the inhabitants, yes? I mean, of course we should be here, and of course it's for their best interests... but if they don't like it..." He trailed off looked confused. "Don't they perhaps have the right to express that opinion?"

"Politics are a complicated issue, Raymond. It's not for you or I to say what is proper. We don't understand the big picture, do we?"

Doyle frowned. "But this isn't the big picture....this is what's happening right here in this area. It's about the people who have to live here, isn't it?"

"That's not for us to judge," Zachery sputtered, uncomfortable.

"Isn't it?" Doyle mused drily. "I rather thought it must be. The people in London can't know what's going on here."

Zachery scowled at him. "You know the small degree of respect I hold for Sir Melvin, but something of this magnitude surely must have the agreement of the Crown. And neither you nor I can question that authority, can we?"

Doyle hesitated, still holding doubts as to the origin of this half-baked scheme. Whatever Zachery chose to believe, Doyle wasn't so sure it had the backing of Whitehall. Still, Zachery had been in the diplomatic service much longer and no doubt knew better than he.

"I suppose you're right," Doyle conceded reluctantly, "I reckon this Sheik Bodie isn't concerned with his people's welfare if he's risking the loss of British support. If the French or Dutch or even the Americans come into this area, they might not give a fig for treaties."

It was Zachery's turn to look uncertain. "He doesn't care for the British right enough, but I don't think it was only that which prevented him from signing. If truth be told, part of what put this young sheik off was Sir Melvin trying to bribe him into signing the treaty. Not a very smart move."

Doyle turned, appalled. "You're jesting surely?"

"I wish I was. But you know Sir Melvin and his opinion of `wogs'. How he was ever appointed to the position of diplomat, I'll never know."

Doyle winced. "Maybe the French would be better at that."

Zachery chuckled. "You should've seen it. I thought for a minute the Sheik was going to go for the old geezer's throat. I'm not sure why he didn't -- except it probably gave him more satisfaction to spit in his face."

"He didn't?"

"Oh, yes," Zachery answered, not without a degree of approval. While he professed to understand Sir Melvin, he had suffered his tongue lashings and witnessed his unjust and pompous prejudice too long to avoid a bit of vicarious appreciation in his comeuppance. To his credit, he had not spoken a word about it to Doyle until now when it had a direct influence on their present situation. Doyle wasn't so sure he could have resisted the opportunity to gloat about their superior's humiliation. But Zachery had a much more forgiving temperament. Even now, Hart's comments were mild and judicial.

"Can't say I blame the Sheik, all things considered. It was a dreadful insult." He looked thoughtful and a bit troubled. "Surely that wouldn't have anything to do with our supporting Fasik? I mean, something of this nature must have sanction of a higher authority, don't you think?"

Ray didn't answer. He'd had doubts about that from the beginning, and if Zachery hadn't been so engrossed in the romance of a trek through his beloved desert, he would have had suspicions as well. At this juncture it seemed pointless to worry about it.

Zachery must have thought the same, for he dismissed the subject abruptly, returning to the obstinate sheik. "He was a handsome devil, Sheik Adu Bodie. But there was the oddest thing about him."

Doyle's nausea had eased and the rocking motion of the camel along with the heat was making him drowsy. "Hmmm? What's that?"

"He's the first Arab I've seen with blue eyes."

Doyle's eyes snapped open and his head jerked around. "What? What did you say?"

"That sheik chap, Adu Bodie. He had the bluest eyes I've ever seen. Didn't look Arab at all -- except for his manner of dress, of course." Noticing Doyle's slightly stunned expression, he added curiously, "What is it? What's wrong?"

Doyle just shook his head. "Nothing, really. I just.... No, I'm sure it's nothing at all.


It happened very suddenly, as such things always do. They topped a crest of sand only to find a line of wicked looking horsemen awaiting them at the bottom of the rise.

"Who are they?" Zachery questioned their guide, who sat wide-eyed and frozen on his camel.

"Unfriendly," Doyle suggested drily, noting the drawn guns and the fierce expressions.

The guide broke away suddenly, urging his camel down the slope, shouting excitedly in Arabic.

"Damn and blast the filthy devil!" Zachery swore, totally at odds with his usually calm manner.

"What's he saying?"

"He's telling the rascals all he bloody knows, that's what! About Fasik, about the gold -- everything!"

Doyle took a deep breath. "So much for secret transactions. What do we do now?"

"I think our options are rather limited. Not much point in making a run for it. We'll have to think of something."

"Well, think fast. They're coming."

There were at least twenty wicked-looking horsemen, all armed to the teeth, seated on fast and spirited horses. The Arabs milled around the small caravan, curiously silent, while the Englishmen's former guide chattered nervously to a man who clearly led the band.

The leader, a heavyset man in his late thirties, signalled to the others and they jumped from their saddles and began pulling the supplies from the pack camels. Obviously they were searching for the gold which was in the lockbox in Zachery's pack.

The two Englishmen exchanged glances. Neither of them was armed, nor would have stood a chance if they had been. Still, Zachery's chin went up stubbornly as he and Doyle dismounted.

Hart called in Arabic, catching the leader's attention, "Are you the Sheik?"

"You speak our tongue, English dog?" the leader spat out, his English roughly accented but intelligible. He grinned nastily, revealing unattractive and blackened teeth.

Zachery looked relieved. "And you understand English. That should make the situation easier." This was one time when even Zachery wasn't sanguine about trusting his shaky Arabic.

The Arab stoked his beard as he eyed the two men. "I understand the snake when he hisses; understanding the English is no different." He laughed heartily, appreciating his own wit, then translated for his men, who also found the remark excessively amusing.

Neither Doyle nor Hart were quite up to enjoying the joke.

Their guide began speaking again in rapid-fire Arabic, the tone increasingly whining and nervous. The bearded Arab's expression was one of distaste mixed with boredom as he whipped up the pistol from his gunbelt and calmly shot the guide through the heart.

Hart and Doyle were frozen in their tracks, shocked and appalled by the cold-blooded action.

"You killed him!" Doyle said, furious and sickened. "Christ, you didn't even give the poor bastard a chance--"

"He annoyed me," the Arab answered absently, turning his attention to Doyle as if noticing him for the first time. He looked him up and down, lips curving into a lascivious grin. "It is said the devil has green eyes. All English are devils, but you are doubly cursed." He reached out to touch Doyle's face, but the younger man backed away fast and Zachery stepped between them.

"Listen, we are British citizens and demand you let us go about our business. You've already murdered our guide--"

"He was betraying you. You would have killed him yourself... if you are any kind of man at all."

"I wouldn't have shot him down like that," Hart objected, then added with his typical wry honesty, "I can't say I'm particularly upset about it, now that you mention it, but there are other ways to--"

The Arab made a rude noise. "He was a renegade; a traitor to his people and even to you. Enough chatter about such a dog. He said you have gold -- gold you were to take to Fasik. Where is this gold?"

Zachery pressed his lips together obstinately, unwilling to give them anything. Doyle stood back and watched; his uneasy suspicion about this whole affair growing by the minute.

"You will not cooperate? Very well." The Arab motioned to one of his followers, who approached the pack on Hart's camel. Zachery leaped forward.

"No, you've no right--"

A gunshot blasted again and Zachery cried out, falling in a heap in the sand. Doyle ran to him.

"Zack! God, no!"

Zachery attempted to sit up, clutching his shoulder to staunch the flow of crimson, teeth clenched against the flare of agony.

They had found the lockbox now and brought it to the leader. Despite his injury, Zachery tried to protest again, but Doyle held him still.

"Forget it, Zack. Let them have it. It doesn't matter." He had the sick feeling that it never had; that they had been set up from the first. How or why, he wasn't sure.

The pistol came in useful once again as it blasted off the lock.

"What joke is this?"

Doyle looked up from trying to stop the bleeding with his kerchief. The lockbox held only a brick and some loose gravel.

The Arab kicked it to one side and came to stand over the Englishmen. "So where have you hidden it? Did you see our approach and bury it in the rocks, hoping to sneak back to it later?"

Zachery's face was ashen from loss of blood, and now his eyes were wide in surprise. "I...Ray, what could have--"

"Tell me, English dogs! Or I will shoot you now!"

Furious, Doyle snarled up at him, "Go ahead then, dammit! We can't tell you anything." The green eyes blazed. "I wouldn't if I could, you bloodthirsty bastard!"

"The guide..." Zachery trailed off, coughing a little. "Last night...while we were asleep...he must've..."

Doyle had a different theory, but he kept still. He had no proof, and it hardly mattered now in any case. "Zack--!" But Hart had already passed out, either from loss of blood or pain.

The Arab considered them thoughtfully. "So your story is that you were robbed." He stuck his pistol back in his belt. "No matter." He was regarding Doyle, a strange light in his black eyes. "You show fire, Green Eyes. I like that." He grabbed Doyle's arm and yanked him to his feet. He jerked off the spectacles and tossed them away impatiently. "Yes, very pretty behind the wire and glass."

He spoke a quick sentence in Arabic and his men laughed uproariously. Doyle stiffened and tried to pull away, but the man's grip was like a vise. "They say the English are good for only two things, Green Eyes. Betraying their allies...and being buggered."

Doyle's eyes widened and a jolt of terror raced through him. He wasn't so naive that he didn't understand what the Arab was about, or even doubt that he would do it. The expression in the obsidian eyes was hungry and merciless. The rest of the men circled around, laughing and nudging each other eagerly.

Doyle managed to jerk loose from the hold, but found he had no where to run, surrounded by the ever-closing ring of men.

"Now just a minute," he stalled. "You can't do this. I'm a British citizen--"

The leader laughed and translated to his men, who found this even more amusing. "You English, somehow you feel that phrase is magic; a shield that makes you immune. Foolish, Green Eyes. To some of us, it would you English say it?...yes, it is like a red cloth to a bull."

Still trying to buy time to think of a way out of this mess, Doyle chattered, "Actually, I'm Irish on my mother's side... Great storytellers, the Irish. You Arab blokes fancy stories, yes? Scheherazade and all that?"

"What nonsense do you babble?" The Arab growled impatiently.

"Oh, y'know... A Thousand and One Arabian Nights an' all--" As quick as a flash, Doyle stooped down and tossed a handful of sand in the leader's face, grabbing the pistol from his belt as the grit found target in the Arab's open eyes. Dodging under the belly of the camel, Doyle sprinted to where the horses were standing. They spooked as he approached, but he managed to snare the reins of one. Shots fired off before he could mount, spitting up sand near his boots, so he spun around, aiming the stolen pistol straight at the leader who was bellowing orders and curses in Arabic.

"Go ahead," Doyle told them coldly. "But he'll die, too. Believe that, you bastards!" To his amazement, his hand wasn't even shaking, and he meant every word. For the first time in his life, he was ready to kill.

Whether the men understood the actual words, they didn't mistake his intention. Although they didn't lower their rifles, they remained still, just waiting. Stand-off.

But unfortunately not a stalemate. Zachery was still lying helpless on the sand, and Doyle knew he couldn't leave him there no matter what else was at stake. The leader was recovering now, although his eyes were still watering as he approached Doyle's position.

"You surprise me, Green Eyes. But this changes nothing. The weapon you took is empty. Pull the trigger and see."

Doyle swallowed, knowing it must be true. The Arab didn't hesitate in his approach and there wasn't even a gleam of fear in the black eyes. Despair engulfed him and the gun wavered.

"It is wicked to tell lies, my Uncle." The quiet voice came from behind Doyle, but he resisted the natural urge to spin around. Ah, but he knew that voice, and some secret part of him was more afraid of that than the danger in front of him.

"The weapon has been discharged only three times that I have counted. Chances are there are still two or three rounds left. Despite evidence to the contrary, my revered Uncle does not normally waste ammunition."

A white stallion trotted into Doyle's peripheral field of vision, but he kept his eyes and his gun trained where they were. The black gaze moved from Doyle to the figure on the horse, the expression no more than irritated.

He snarled something in Arabic, and the horseman chuckled. "Uncle," he replied in English, "if you and twenty of my best men cannot capture one small Englishman, I am totally out of patience with you. You deserve to be shot."

Leaping lightly from the saddle, he came to stand directly in front of Doyle, who was forced to look into the blue eyes he remembered all too well.

"Still," Bodie suggested softly, "if you must shoot someone, I would prefer you shoot me, English. I am quite fond of my uncle, despite his obvious shortcomings."

"It is you," Doyle said lamely. "I thought it must be."

Bodie took the gun from Doyle's lax hand and stuck it in his own belt. "I wish I could believe you came on this journey to seek me out, but I rather doubt that is the case."

"You're the Sheik." Their gaze held, and Doyle found it as difficult to break the contact now as he had that evening in the square. "You never told me your name."

The blue eyes sparkled with amusement. "How rude of me. Sheik Adu Bodie al Nassar bin Jafarr, at your service." He made the heart-to-head gesture with mocking precision. "Now, perhaps you had better tell me why you are here and what this little drama is about."

"They... he murdered our guide...and shot Zack..." Doyle bit his lip worriedly, furious with himself for forgetting his friend even for an instant. He pushed Bodie to one side and ran back to Hart. The men aimed their rifles, but at an abrupt gesture from the Sheik lowered them again.

"Hassid, what goes on here?" Bodie demanded tersely. Quickly, in Arabic, his uncle explained the situation. Bodie nodded and gestured toward the bodies on the sand, beside one of which Doyle was kneeling. "Are they dead?"

Hassid shrugged. "The traitor, yes. The infidel has a bullet in the shoulder. I thought he would speak of the gold quicker with pain as a goad, but I think he knows nothing. I say we kill them both now. They are in league with Fasik, there is no doubt of that. Of course, the little one could be good for a few hours of--"

Bodie silenced him with a look. "We will not kill them. And I do not approve of your kind of sport, Uncle."

"But why? They are infidel dogs! Since when has your heart bled for the English?"

Bodie's laugh was bitter. "You, of all people know better than that, my Uncle. But they may be worth a ransom."

Hassid snorted. "If this were true, they would not be sent like this, without escort. And if they truly let the renegade steal the gold, they are worth nothing to us."

"You think not? That, in itself, is interesting. Would you send a shipment of gold with two lambs such as these? Even for a secret trade?"

"The British are fools," Hassid spat.

"True, but not quite so foolish as that I think. There is more to this."

Hassid looked up, eyes narrowing. "A trick? To confuse us while the real payment to Fasik travels a different route?"

"It is a possibility," the Sheik observed drily.

For a second Hassid looked confused and more than a little disgusted. "They would sacrifice two of their own people for a ruse? A poor one, at that? They must know we have all the routes covered."

Bodie walked toward Doyle, his smile cynical and blackly cold. "As you say, they are English. Honor and loyalty is foreign to their nature."

"And I still say we kill them, sheep or no," Hassid muttered as he followed the Sheik.

Bodie knelt beside Doyle and efficiently inspected Hart's injury. He removed his headdress, revealing close cropped jet black hair, using it to pad the wound, tearing strips of cloth to bind it tightly in place. "It does not appear too serious. The bleeding has nearly stopped. The bullet must be removed, of course, but not here. Cambridge can do this much better."

"Cambridge?" Doyle inquired shakily.

Bodie ignored the question to give rapid instructions to his men. Then he stood, his eye catching a glint of sunlight off an arc of gold. Bending, he picked up the discarded spectacles and absently secured them inside his tunic. He drew Doyle to his feet with a grip on his elbow. "You will ride with me."

"Where? What about Zack?"

"I have instructed them to return him to our camp -- very carefully. They will see to him, do not be concerned. They have their orders."

Doyle stared at him, wondering at how a mere touch on his arm could cause him to react so strongly. His heart seemed to be pounding wilder than it had when he was facing Bodie's men. "And are your orders always obeyed?" he asked.

The beautiful mouth curved into the familiar, arrogant smile. "To the letter, English."

"I want to stay with Zack."

"No. They will go slowly to prevent the wound from bleeding more. We can travel more swiftly and prepare Cambridge for their arrival. Come."

Bodie whistled through his teeth, and the white stallion appeared, tossing his head and dancing.

"Shhh, Shaizar, be still." He caught the horse's bit and it stood like marble, with only the muscles rippling under the white coat to show its repressed energy. "You remember the English, yes?" He stroked the stallion's nose lovingly, then said to Doyle. "Get on."

Doyle looked back to where the men were fixing a litter to carry Zachery, then, seeing little alternative, reluctantly mounted the horse. To his surprise, Bodie swung up behind him on the saddle and urged the animal into a gallop; his arm snaked around Doyle's chest, holding him close.

Doyle sat stiffly, unwilling to lean back and relax against the broad chest. "How far to your camp?" he asked, the words whipped away by the wind.

Bodie heard him anyway, but leaned forward to speak into the other man's ear, breath warm against his skin.

"Not far. An hour's ride on Shaizar."

"When will they get Zack to camp?"

"Two hours perhaps."

Again the tickling breath stirred a prickle up Doyle's spine at the intimate feel. He decided to hold his questions; the answers were increasing his heart-rate. The arm banding his waist didn't improve the situation.

He told himself it was delayed reaction. So much had happened so quickly -- the guide murdered before his eyes, Zachery shot, the Arabs closing in on him ...

Doyle straightened, pulling as far from the figure at his back as he could. It wasn't far enough; the muscled thighs still nestled against his own, rubbing rhythmically with the smooth gait of the horse.

The sun was beginning to set now; light streaming at an odd angle through the mountains to the west, causing the sand to shift with shadows and colors of gold and red all around them. The wind cooled as the shadows lengthened and the night breeze was born. It fanned Doyle's burning cheeks, but did nothing to help his fevered mind, churning with doubts and strange feelings.

Bodie slowed the stallion suddenly, doing little more than tightening his knees and calling something softly in Arabic. The stallion tossed its head almost in denial and Bodie laughed softly. Doyle felt the deep chuckle in his bones -- the rumble of it in the wide chest plastered against his back. It was like the purr of a giant cat, sleek and satisfied.

"He is telling us he is not tired. He is too proud to admit that carrying two is more difficult than one -- even when one of them is as small as you, English."

Irritated, Doyle tried to pull even farther away, but Bodie's arm tugged him irresistibly back. "Be still, English. You will have us both off."

Doyle said nothing, afraid it would encourage the man to talk more, and the words were being poured in his ear like wild honey, the voice deep and melodious, the breath warm and darkly exciting.

"You are trembling," the Sheik remarked curiously. "Why?"

"I don't know," Doyle replied with pure truth.

Bodie's arm shifted slightly until his hand spread over the other man's stomach, cupping it, then sliding up over his chest in a smooth caress. "You trembled like this before...when I touched you. You cannot have forgotten. I have not."

Doyle squirmed uneasily. "Don't."

Lips nuzzled Doyle's throat just under the fall of curls. "Don't?" He mocked, gently teasing. He chuckled and once again the rumble ran through Doyle in sweet vibrations. "I did not wish to leave you that night. I wanted to return to you, but there were matters I had to attend to." His hand worked its way inside Doyle's loose shirt, easing open the buttons until skin touched skin. Doyle shivered.

"I had not forgotten you." Bodie whispered, moving up the throat to lick at the ear, teeth closing gently on the earlobe, making the other man jump -- but not in pain. "I would have sought you out again, you see. But for once fate has been kind and saved me the effort."

The searching fingers found Doyle's nipple and he gasped at the contact as if caught in a current of lightning.

"You like that, do you? When I touch you there? I remember how you reacted before. So eager...starving..."

Doyle could feel Bodie's smile against his cheek before Bodie turned his head with his free hand and brought his mouth down.

For an endless, drifting time Doyle knew nothing except the heat of the invading mouth, the bittersweet taste of turkish tobacco on the tongue that explored his, and the tingling delight of the hand that caressed his flesh under his shirt. His blood was pounding wildly through his veins, cock pulsing an echo in his trousers, feeling Bodie hard against him where they pressed together in the saddle. All he knew was that he was returning that kiss because there seemed nothing in the universe that could prevent it. Bodie's heat had caught him up and scorched him, melting him down so he wanted nothing more than to live with that mouth and that touch on him...and more...

When the Sheik finally released him, Doyle saw stars. It took a few seconds for him to realize they were real -- that the sun had set during those few blinded moments and the lights in the blue-black sky were more than the sparks that danced between them.

Bodie's mouth was on his cheek now, sliding back down to his throat, and he could feel that the other man's heartbeat was racing as madly as his own.

" is still there," Bodie purred. "The fire..."

The horse shook his head, jingling the bits of silver on the bridle like bells and prancing nervously, sensing the odd excitement of its riders and not liking it.

Bodie absently calmed Shaizar and reached again to kiss Doyle.

It should have been an uncomfortable position, but it wasn't. Doyle's head tilted back to meet the lowered mouth; their bodies plastered front to back, thighs rubbing with the uneasy movement of the animal, Bodie's groin pressed tightly against the smaller man's rump. In fact, the precarious position seemed to increase the allure, making every movement careful and balanced; Bodie's hands steadying both the stallion and Doyle, whose lust was rising as quickly as Bodie's -- knowing he needed more and not being shy about asking for it, too lost in the fever to understand or care what was happening to him.

Delighted, Bodie whispered hoarsely. "I knew you would be like this, my English. When I first saw you... saw those green eyes--"

Green eyes, Doyle thought, stunned by the phrase, remembering that less than an hour ago he had nearly been raped. And now -- Christ, now he was jumping at it as if it was something he really wanted. What the devil was happening to him?

He pushed Bodie away roughly. "Stop it...just stop it!"

"What is wrong?" Bodie asked in surprise.

"I don't want to do this. You've...well, just stop it, that's all. I want to get to your camp. Zack will be there. I...I shouldn't have left him, dammit! He's hurt, don't you understand!"

Bodie's eyes narrowed in the starlight; the thin sliver of the moon showing his annoyed expression. "I told you it will take them longer to reach the camp. He will be cared for."

"I want to see for myself," Doyle snapped. He pried Bodie's hand away from his chest, furious and confused by what he'd been doing while Zachery lay hurt and helpless somewhere in the desert.

"You do not trust my word?" Bodie asked coolly.

"Why should I? It was your man that shot him!"

"From what I gather, it was your intention to give aid to my enemy. Is that not justification?"

"Nothing is justification for cold blooded murder," Doyle retaliated hotly. "Or for shooting an unarmed man!"

"You are not exactly in a position to judge," was the cold reply, then, after a second he added crossly, "Zack....always you talk of this Zachery! What is he to you? Your lover?"

Outraged, Doyle drew back his elbow and belted the other man in the ribs, hard enough to take away his wind. "He's my friend, you bloody idiot!"

Bodie recovered quickly and wrapped his arms around Doyle, pinning down the dangerous arms. "Why you little--!"

Doyle, temper snapping completely, fought like a wildcat, but was unable to loosen the iron muscles banding his chest and arms. Instead, he kicked out, digging his heels into the startled horse, who was already skittish at the unusual actions taking place on its back.

Shaizar reared up, twisting wildly, hoping to rid himself of the whole problem.

He did. Bodie, concentrating on his captive, had lost control of the horse and wasn't prepared for this. They both tumbled off, with Bodie still holding tight to the spitfire in his arms. They continued the battle on the sand, although both had the breath knocked out of them by the fall. The horse galloped away, kicking its heels in disgust, but returned a few minutes later, drawn by curiosity to the two men rolling and cursing on the ground.

Bodie, by virtue of sheer weight and superior muscles, finally managed to pin the smaller man. It wasn't as easy as he expected, however, because Doyle was absolutely raging and didn't seem to realize that he was physically inferior.

"Stop it!" Bodie blasted out, having forced Doyle onto his back and literally holding him down by laying on top of him. "Be quiet!"

This was greeted by another wave of curses and another surge of resistance. It died down slowly until there was only an occasional ripple of defiance.

"All right, what is this nonsense?"

Doyle glared up at him. "Let me go!"

"No. You are fortunate I do not break your silly English neck. One minute you are warm and yielding, and the next you are--"

"Let me up," Doyle repeated between clenched teeth. Bodie took a deep breath, forcing himself to remember that, as tempting as the idea was at the moment, strangling the mercurial little beast wouldn't get him what he wanted at all.

Before he released Doyle, however, he couldn't resist kissing him again. To his surprise, after a violent second of protest, Doyle melted to him once more. Groaning with relief at the reverse in mood, Bodie reached eagerly to remove the clothes between them.

That was his mistake.

Doyle, shocked back to himself by the action, rolled away and stood. He was breathing heavily, but his stance was wary.

Bodie, still seated, wrapped his arms around his knees and regarded him with a mixture of bafflement and annoyance.

"What is it now?"

"I told you, I want to see to Zack. Don't touch me," he warned as Bodie got to his feet.

Taking a deep breath in exasperation, Bodie whistled to Shaizar, who came to him immediately. He stroked the animal's neck for a moment, speaking softly to it in Arabic.

"You should not have kicked him," Bodie reproved. "He is not accustomed to such treatment."

Uncertainly, Doyle took a step forward. "I'm sorry."

Bodie shrugged. "Very well, get on."

Doyle took the same step back. "Oh, no. I'm not riding with you."

"You would rather go on foot?"

He chewed his lip indecisively, but nodded.

Bodie smiled, bemused. "It is a long walk, English."

Doyle just looked stubborn. He had had enough of being close to this man. It was dangerous to his common sense, not to mention his crumbling self-control. Although his body obviously knew what it wanted, his mind and emotions were in turmoil.

"As you wish." Bodie swung up on the horse and turned it in the direction of the camp, holding Shaizar to a walk so Doyle could keep pace.

They travelled in silence for a time, Doyle finding that walking in sand was not a lot of fun; bits kept slipping into his boots, until he felt he was carrying half the bloody desert `round his ankles. He watched the Sheik surreptitiously, the perfect profile outlined in the moonlight. Through his artist's eye he saw the man was quite beautiful, and he couldn't help reacting to that. But he had known other beautiful men and women in his life, and had never felt this strange, mysterious attraction before.

Curiosity finally drove him to ask, "Have you lived here...the desert...all your life?"

Bodie glanced down at him. "Yes. I was born here."

Doyle wanted very much to know how a blue-eyed, pale skinned man had been born sheik of an Arab tribe, but sensed this wasn't exactly the best time to ask personal questions. Instead, he returned to an earlier puzzle. "Who is Cambridge?"

"He was my tutor." Bodie replied shortly. "Now he is my friend."

"The name is British," Doyle ventured. "There's a university--"

"Yes, I know of it. He taught there for some years. Cambridge is not his true name. Even I do not know what that is. He has only ever been called Cambridge."

"So he's British?"

"Yes. He taught my father in England and then returned with him to Arabia. He has remained with us since."

Startled, Doyle stopped. "Your father attended Cambridge?"

Bodie halted the horse. "My father was educated in England and France. We are not all the savages you think us to be."

"I never thought that," Doyle protested.

While the other man's expression was impossible to read, his tone lightened. "Perhaps not. Listen, English, this is ridiculous. It will take us forever to reach the camp at this pace. Will you ride?"

Doyle could see the logic, but still hesitated. Bodie chuckled. "Oh, my timid English, must I swear to be a perfect gentleman? Very well. I promise not to touch you. Ride up behind me, if that will make it safer for you."

Feeling silly at his caution, Doyle agreed. He accepted the hand up and swung onto the saddle behind the Sheik. Bodie immediately increased the pace to a slow canter, and Doyle was forced to grab the other man's waist to hold his balance. When Bodie made no move toward him, Doyle relaxed a little, allowing himself to enjoy the feel of power beneath him and the cool air on his face.

And the desert was exquisite at night; all starlight and silver-grey sand, the moon a brilliant crescent hanging above the horizon, spreading its pale shadows across the stark landscape.

The silent splendor tugged at his heart like a siren's song. "It's beautiful," he whispered, more to himself than to the man in front of him.

Bodie heard him. "Yes."

"But lonely," Doyle added impulsively. "So very lonely."

There was a long pause before Bodie answered, his voice strange, "Yes. Yes, it can be that as well."

For some reason, Doyle felt he had to explain that he hadn't intended the comment badly. "I was only thinking it reminded me of the moors of home. Endless and empty...yet so beautiful it can make your throat ache because...because you feel something must be there just beyond your sight...and maybe you can reach it if..."

Bodie's head lifted, listening with a sudden intentness that was almost tangible. "Go on," he encouraged. "Tell me."

A little embarrassed by his poetic outpouring, Doyle shrugged. "Nothing really. It's just...I used to ride out on the moors for hours and hours. Searching for something...riding faster and if..." He trailed off and laughed awkwardly. "Silly really. I probably wouldn't have known what it was if I found it."

Bodie didn't answer, but there was a sudden silent communication between them; an understanding they shared without knowing exactly what it was or why.

Impulsively, without even thinking, Doyle laid his cheek against the other man's back and held to him tightly. Fleetingly, Bodie's hand touched his, then abruptly he stiffened, shrugging him off.

"We will be at camp soon," he said brusquely.

Puzzled, Doyle sat up. For a second he had felt a closeness to this man he had never experienced with anyone. But Bodie obviously hadn't wanted it -- any more than anyone else had. Whatever he desired from Doyle physically, he was making it clear that was the extent of it. Doyle knew better than to be surprised, let alone hurt. It was just one more kick in the teeth that he'd been too blind to dodge.

The rest of the journey was completed in chilled silence. In fifteen minutes they came upon an oasis where the camp was located. It was very large, spread out among the palm trees. Doyle could hear the bleating of goats and the cheerful shouts of children as they splashed in the walled pool.

Their arrival drew an interested crowd, and Bodie spoke to them shortly before they dismounted Shaizar. The people regarded Doyle with various degrees of curiosity and/or contempt before Bodie led the way to a good-sized tent on the outskirts of the oasis.

The inner room was empty; the tent sectioned into separate areas. It was pleasantly furnished with light tables and cushioned sofas that could easily be taken apart for transport. The rugs and hangings were rich and colorful.

"Cambridge," Bodie called cheerfully. "Where are you?"

A curtain moved and an older man appeared, probably in his late fifties or early sixties. He was dressed in loose white trousers and flowing robe, similar but in contrast to the black ones the Sheik wore, but he wore no burnoose and possessed a neatly trimmed greying beard. His eyes were also grey, and keenly intelligent. The smile for Bodie was wide and affectionate.

"I have a task for you, Cambridge," Bodie announced airily. "There is a man with a bullet in him that needs your light touch."

"Indeed? How distressing." He looked at Doyle, eyes twinkling with kind humor. "You look far too healthy, young man, to be carrying around a bullet."

"No, it's my frien--"

"This is Doyle," Bodie cut in easily. "Raymond Doyle. You will like him. He is an artist."

Doyle glanced at Bodie, startled.

"An artist?" Cambridge's eyebrow shot up. "Interesting."

Doyle blushed. "Not really. I'm a...clerk." He licked his lips uncertainly. "Listen, Mr. Cambridge--"

"Just Cambridge. Mister is an abbreviation for `master', and I am old enough to realize no man is really master of anything."

"Uh...are you a doctor?"

"Heavens, no."

"But my friend is hurt and he needs--"

"I see, then it is your friend with the bullet. No young man, I hate to disappoint you, but I am not a physician. I am, however, the closest man in the area who doesn't believe you can cure warts by steeping them in camel dung and palm leaves."

Bodie laughed. "Do not be so modest, Cambridge." Then to Doyle. "He is quite skilled, actually. He has picked bullets out of me before -- not to mention other things."

Suddenly serious, Cambridge addressed Bodie. "How bad is it?"

"Shoulder wound. Hassid is bringing him in. They should arrive soon."

Seeing Doyle's worried expression, Cambridge patted his arm comfortingly. "He's right, my boy. I have done my share of patching work. I'm sure your friend will be fine."

"He's lost a good deal of blood," Doyle said, only a little reassured.

Cambridge glanced at Bodie who nodded.

"Well, I promise you, we'll do the best we can. What happened?"

Doyle's face darkened, remembering the scene all too clearly now.

Bodie spoke before Doyle could. "Hassid," he answered shortly.

Cambridge just sighed, understanding perfectly. "I see. Well, I'll gather my medical supplies and get everything prepared." He turned to Doyle. "I'll need someone to assist -- unless you faint at the sight of blood?"

"He does not," Bodie put in with quiet certainty.

Again, Doyle looked at him in surprise. Bodie seemed very sure of a lot of things about him. "No," he answered faintly. "I want to help."


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."

"Yes, but--"

"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 wives?"

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 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 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. "'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' 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?"

" 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 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.

"It tickles."

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."

" 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 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 to 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. "'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 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. 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.

"Oh Mother..."


"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."

"But why--"

"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?"

"No, but..."

"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."


The Sheik leaped off Shaizar and swept into his tent, ignoring the reminding twinge of pain in his leg.


There was no answer.



Deciding that Doyle must be with Cambridge, he started to leave but ran into his uncle at the doorway.

"So you have returned, nephew. Abdul tells me there was trouble."

"Nothing we could not manage. Fasik's men were well armed, but imprudent. They chose a poor venue for ambush."

Gaston rushed into the tent, his expression worried. "Monseigneur! They say you are wounded!"

Bodie sighed. "A scratch only, Gaston. It is nearly healed."

"But you must permit m--"

"Not now," Bodie pushed him off impatiently. "Where is Doyle? With Cambridge?"

"Oh, non. Raymond is riding."

Hassid grunted. "To our shame, your devil pet has the run of the camp. One would never know he was a captive. For all the freedom you have given the mongrel, he could as well be an honored guest."

Bodie ignored the comment to speak with Gaston. "Who is with him?"

Surprised, Gaston shrugged. "No one. He rides alone, Monseigneur."

"Alone!" Bodie grabbed his servant's arm roughly. "Why did you permit this, you fool! I left him in your care!"

The Frenchman's eyes widened. "I...I did not think there was a problem, Monseigneur. What is--"

Bodie released him with a curse. "You did not think at all! If he has come to harm, you will regret your carelessness. We saw traces of Fasik's men hardly a day's ride from here."

An expression of horror crossed the valet's face. "Mon Dieu! If Raymond is captured..."

The Sheik regarded him coldly. "Precisely."

Gaston looked more than a trifle ill at the ugly picture that came to his mind. The news of the Sheik's present infatuation with the English boy had spread as rapidly as any other sordid gossip. Passing caravans and traders would have had the situation in Fasik's ear within a week or two of Doyle's arrival. The idea of Raymond in Fasik's vengeful hands was sickening.


"When did he leave?" Bodie snapped, already moving toward the exit.

Hassid caught his arm and said slyly, "No need to worry, nephew. Your pretty green-eyed cat could well be a spy. The possibility should have occurred to you when he agreed to stay so easily. Why so surprised he rides alone? No doubt he is meeting with our enemies, giving them details of our arms and numbers. An escort would be most inconvenient, would it not? I warned you--"

"Be silent!" Bodie snarled. Sweeping from the tent, he grabbed Shaizar's reins and started to mount when Gaston called out, "Monseigneur, wait!"

He turned and looked in the direction Gaston indicated. Doyle was just in sight, his horse cantering casually toward the oasis.

Bodie closed his eyes tightly for a second, dispelling the horrible visions that had haunted his previous minutes. Praise Allah, Doyle was safe.

Following directly on the heels of relief was a fury so black Shaizar shied away from the odd vibration of his master. The stallion was familiar with the Sheik's quick tempers, but this was different, mixed with something that still smelled sharply of fear. The horse's ears flicked nervously at the nearly inaudible sound of grinding teeth.

As Doyle approached the oasis and spotted the Sheik, his face brightened, and he urged his mount to a faster gait. Pulling up beside the tent, he leaped off and moved eagerly forward.

"You're back! I was--"

"Where have you been?"

Doyle stopped short at the curt tone. "What?"

The blue eyes were cold, but there was fire scorching through the ice. "Why did you ride alone?"

Confused, Doyle stuttered. "I...I've always...what's wrong...?"

The strong jaw set tightly. "Go inside and wait for me."


"Do as I say!"

Doyle started to speak, noted Hassid's smug expression, and thought better of it. "Very well. Gaston, would you see--"

The Frenchman took the reins. "Oui, mon ami."

With a puzzled look at the Sheik, Ray went inside the tent.

"What will you do?" Hassid demanded. "You must force him to confess his treachery!"

Bodie closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "If he has done what you say, it can only be treachery if we believed him to be an ally, Uncle."

Hassid snorted. "And did you not? You have trusted him, despite my warnings."

Bodie opened his eyes but did not deny the accusation. He turned abruptly and entered the tent, his attitude making it clear he wanted no intrusion.

Doyle was standing only a few feet from the entrance, his face flushed, obviously having overheard Hassid's words.

"Bodie, what did he mean? Treachery? Why are you angry with me? What have I done?"

The Sheik stared at him for a moment. "You did not answer me. Why were you riding alone?"

"Why shouldn't I? Gaston was busy with--"

"Did you meet anyone?"

Doyle looked totally baffled. "Meet someone? In the middle of the bloody desert? Who could I meet? For god's sake, what is this all about?"

It was impossible to doubt the sincere, puzzled expression. Bodie rubbed his eyes tiredly. "No. It is not important. It seems my Uncle's qualms are infectious."

Doyle moved closer and reached out tentatively, touching the other man's shoulder. "I'm glad you're back."

"Are you?" Bodie dropped his hand and looked at him fiercely. Before Ray could reply, Bodie grabbed him and kissed him hard, greedily forcing open the startled mouth.

Doyle levered himself free, breathless, eyes wide. "You're still angry. Please, tell me what's wrong--"

"Nothing." Abruptly releasing him, Bodie turned away and went to the door of the tent. "Gaston, I want a bath and food. Now, if you please."

Turning, he said dismissively to Doyle, "I will deal with you later," and swept past him into the bed chamber.

Doyle stood there for a moment, stunned and hurt. Whatever he had tried to tell himself these past few weeks, his spirits had lifted at the sight of the Sheik. He wasn't at all sure of what he felt for Bodie, but he was at least ready to admit that he did have feelings for the man that ran deeper than he would have wanted. And he had even allowed himself to imagine that the emotion was reciprocated to some small degree.

Now he could see what a fool he was -- of no more consequence to Bodie than his other creature comforts ... bath, food and catamite ... in that order. Why had he ever imagined it to be anything deeper? Bodie had laid out the agreement quite clearly from the beginning. It was only his foolish heart that insisted on seeing more.

To Doyle's surprise, however, the Sheik was quite charming and even-tempered that evening. If it hadn't been for the new, perplexing glint in the sapphire eyes, Doyle would have relaxed and enjoyed himself.

"Did you find the horses you wanted?"

Bodie sipped his coffee and eyed Doyle over the cup. "A few likely mares, yes. Not as many or as choice as I would have preferred, but they should do. I did, however, bring a present for you?"

"For me?"

Bodie smiled and got up from his cushion. Finding his pack, he retrieved a bottle and returned to sit beside Doyle. "A trader in Bahrain had this and I thought you should like it."

Doyle took out the cork and smelled the contents. "Brandy?"

"A civilized drink, is it not? Try it."

Pouring some into a glass, Doyle sipped it; the taste excellent and very potent. "It's quite good. Would you--" He stopped as the Sheik's eyebrow lifted. "No, of course not. Forgive me, I forgot."

Smiling, Bodie lit a cheroot. "While I obviously do not hold true to many of the tenets of Islam, the ban on alcohol has always seemed wise. A man robbed of control becomes a child again."

Doyle frowned. "But you give it to me?"

"Different cultures, yes? There is no necessity for fostering my belief on others. I am a poor Muslim, but a worse missionary. Enjoy the brandy."

"Thank you." Doyle took larger sip. The flavor was sweetly seductive. He took still another, savoring the taste. It was odd, but he was in Arabia and things were different here.

Satisfied, the Sheik drew deeply on his tobacco, watching the other man through the blue curl of smoke. "And how have you spent your time in my absence? Painting?"

"A little."

A dark eyebrow shot up. "Just `a little'? I was looking forward to viewing your work."

Doyle finished the brandy with a sigh and leaned back on the cushions, feeling relaxed and slightly euphoric. "Were you really? You like my art?"

The Sheik reached out to brush back an errant curl from Doyle's forehead. The gesture was so nearly a caress that Ray shut his eyes and leaned toward it, the whisper touch like cool silk against his suddenly flushed brow. He had missed that touch.

"I am no true judge of art," Bodie said huskily, "and in this instance I am blinded by my appreciation of the artist."

Doyle's eyes flew open to meet the sultry midnight gaze, shaded to violet by the flickering torchlight and the ridiculously long veil of lashes.

"However," Bodie continued, moving closer, "Cambridge seems to feel you have real talent, and I trust his opinion on the subject. May I see your efforts?"

Mesmerized as much by the sensual look as the velvet voice, Doyle couldn't reply.

Bodie smiled, showing perfect white teeth and the hint of a dimple. "Raymond?"

"Oh! I...yes, but...I've only a few pieces..."

The Sheik frowned a little, raising his head. "But I have been away for weeks. I would have thought you had time to--"

"I had other things going," Doyle interjected, trying to sit up. His arms felt strangely weak, and there was a curling warmth in his stomach that made him want to fall back again on the cushions. It had been a long time since he had drank brandy, but this reaction surprised him. The wave of dizziness when he finally managed to sit up was too extreme to be explained by a few sips of alcohol. He rubbed his eyes in an effort to bring vision back into focus.

"Ah yes," Bodie said softly. "Gaston told me he had been teaching you a few of his French tricks. Very charming. Did you enjoy the lessons, English?"

Blinking, Doyle looked at him. "Do you object to my learning how to defend myself?"

Bodie leaned close, pressing him easily back on the silken cushions. "Object? On the contrary, I am very pleased, my pet. But it is not necessary. I always protect what is mine." Methodically, carefully, he removed the other man's spectacles and put them safely to one side.

A surge of resentment swept through Doyle at the words, but the feeling was somehow distanced, almost as if some other person was experiencing the emotion. He couldn't properly take it in and process the feeling at the moment; his senses too occupied with other matters. Like a spiral he kept wondering what he should be thinking and why he should be thinking what he was thinking and why he was thinking it.... And the thoughts faded to pure feeling. The cool softness at his back, the bright orange flicker of the lamps, the sweetly languorous sensation drifting through his bloodstream, making his toes curl with elusive delight. More striking among the soft, amorphous sensations, he was sharply conscious of the press of a hard muscled body along his side, and the heat and implied sensuality of their positions. The Sheik was above him, lean thigh rubbing rhythmically against his groin, one hand pinning Doyle's wrists above his head while the other methodically opened his shirt to bare his chest. For a second Doyle couldn't understand how or when this came to pass; it was as if he had skipped a minute or two.

With a muffled sound of confusion, Doyle tried to free himself. "What...?"

Bodie brought his mouth down to silence his protest, hard at first, then softening to slow licks of his tongue over the quickly accepting lips. "Shhh, pet," Bodie crooned. "Just relax, be easy... Enjoy..."

Out of the haze of sensation came one single burst of clarity. The pure shock of it, like a dash of ice water, gave him the strength to jerk free of the lax hold and push the other man back. "What is this!?"

Bodie grinned down at him ferally. "What do you think, little cat?"

"The brandy...?"

"Contained an opiate, yes. I understand the effects are rather pleasant if not taken to excess."

"Drugged? You drugged me? But why--?"

"I have waited long enough."

Doyle looked at him fuzzily. "What?"

"Surely you understand. We made a bargain, did we not? You agreed to acquiesce to my desires, and I in turn foolishly swore not to hurt you. Although you have held admirably to your side, my part of our agreement was difficult to obtain while you were so tense and resistant. The drug will accomplish both our goals. You will submit to my desire and the pain should be minimal."

Dimly understanding what was happening while feeling himself sliding back down into the uncaring well of pleasure, Doyle tried to move away. "No..."

Bodie's hand caressed the engorged sex through the material of his trousers, then ripped them open, easily popping the buttons. Doyle arched helplessly, reacting to the touch and the sudden ease of constriction.

"No? Surely, you are not refuting our bargain at this late date?"

"No...but not like this...not..."

"Not so you can enjoy it?" Bodie purred. "Oh, I am sure you would prefer being a martyr, my pretty English, but I will not give you that excuse. What I do you will enjoy. And remember. You are mine, English, and I do not choose for you to forget my possession of you. If you hate me, it can only be for forcing you to know your delight in that possession. You want it, I have no doubt of that. Accept it....accept...."

Any further protests were smothered both by Bodie's demanding mouth and the swamping waves of languor that lapped through his veins like sun-warmed honey, sweet and liquid, stealing his will. Vision blurred for a moment, and he wasn't certain if he was carried or floated into the bedchamber, but when he opened his eyes again it was to Bodie's face, intense and flushed with passion, eyes glowing like sapphires lit with pinpoint lights, diamond gold reflections of lamplight -- beautiful. So beautiful...

His head lolled back on the pillows and he smiled dreamily at the ceiling, amazed at the way the silver threads in the fabric glittered and ran liquid in bright sparkling streams as the desert breeze softly moved. Beautiful...

The air on his skin felt cool and pleasing as Bodie undressed him, and he moaned at the intense contrast of warm hands moving over his bare flesh. Every nerve quivered and reacted to the caresses, helpless and eager to respond, his own muscles refusing to answer his request for movement. It was easy to surrender to the feeling, to let all the sensations claim and possess him totally. Oh, this was good. No responsibility, no need for decision, just to float in a starry, silky universe of delight. No thought...only sheer pleasure.

The pleasure quickened and intensified, and the silver threads began to change color as his own sensations moved from languid sweetness to passion, nerves tightening like strings of a violin.

Somehow he knew the colors were unreal; born behind his eyes...silver to blue to red as the need made him whimper and twist on the silken bed. And somehow he knew it was Bodie changing the colors, working his helpless body as Doyle would paint a canvas, setting his own pace, building the feeling and passion with each stroke, delicate outlines at first, building and filling, slowly concentrating with an artist's intuition on the most vital areas and drawing a focus and center...

The pain was sharp and quick, and Doyle drew in a startled breath, but it was over before it could shatter the sweet enchantment, and the gentle hands and velvet voice soon sucked him back into the vortex of pleasure. There was more pain again...and yet again...but it was muted and softened by the colors that swirled brighter and closer and hotter... fueled by Bodie's words, whispers like silky sand in his exciting, so dark and dangerous and thrilling... "give me...give me everything". Oh, yes, he could give. That was easy. To give...and then there was a spark of scarlet touched deep inside that made him cry out and quiver with unbearable ecstasy. Never had such a chord been struck...nothing in his life had made him feel so... And then the secret scarlet place was touched again and his useless muscles came alive and he clutched wildly at the broad shoulders above him, digging in his nails and jerking up to the wonderful, incredible pressure, demanding the feeling again...that freezing/ melting/ terrifying instant of total brightness and exquisite one would die just to hold it a second longer...only a second....liquid red and gold and melting him splashing hot and wet inside and out...

And then scarlet faded to black...

Doyle opened his eyes and stared up at the roof of the tent, the silver lines of thread looked dull without the lamplight to give them life and sparkle. His head felt muzzy and there was a low throb of pain in his temple. For a long time he lay there, unmoving, staring at the ceiling. He was totally alone and knew he had been for a long time, sensing it was late in the day by the slant of the sunlight against the canvas.

He closed his eyes again, wishing he could sleep more and escape from the reality of the day. It was impossible, of course. His body was stiff and his bladder demanded attention. Beyond that, there was another minor discomfort he had no desire to acknowledge but was impossible to ignore. While physically less painful than his headache, it was infinitely more troubling. Oh, Bodie had been careful enough; even gentle, if one could call such an act gentle in any respect. But like a lock that had been picked, however skillfully, the result could not be forgiven. A theft remained a theft.

What am I complaining about, he thought sullenly, it was part of the bargain, wasn't it? Would I feel better if he'd ripped me apart?

Without notice, a sob escaped and his eyes prickled dangerously. He bit his lip and turned his head on the pillow forcing himself to swallow back the ensuing rush of emotions. He couldn't afford them -- not now. Not ever.

After all, this was the price he had paid for Zachery's life, and he could not regret that, whatever it made him. The fact it had been delayed changed nothing.

A single tear escaped and slid down his cheek, making him admit that it was not for that he mourned.

"Damn you, Bodie!" he pounded his fist into the pillow. "Damn you!"

His fury had no more effect on the pillow than the tear, and the hopelessness of his situation was never more plain. He wasn't even sure what it was he did want. Not that it really mattered. The only time he had even held the illusion his life was his own was those few weeks in Aden with Zachery. Illusion indeed.

Sighing, he sat up on the side of the bed, then winced as the previous night made itself even more apparent. Careful as the Sheik had been, the act was definitely making itself felt. It burned, a raw sensation with no memory of lov--..... with nothing to salve it. Drugged or not, he couldn't have forgotten it. Oh, he remembered it all too well. Foggy and uncertain as it was, there were some things that blazed in his mind...and some feelings he knew he would never be able to forget no matter how much he might wish to.

Gingerly, he stood and made his way to the bath. After relieving himself, he was surprised to notice the canvas tub was filled with water and that it was still only luke warm. He blushed suddenly, realizing that Gaston must have been in the bedchamber earlier and saw that he was beginning to waken. Why he should be embarrassed now he didn't know, except that by the Frenchman's very absence it was obvious he guessed there was something for Doyle to be embarrassed about.

He shook his head. Convoluted thinking. The water was cool because Gaston had seen he was sleeping late and didn't wish to disturb him. Why should it mean more than that?

And what the hell difference did it make? He'd been in the Sheik's bed for weeks. Last night was of significance only to himself. After all, he should be pleased; he had completed his side of the infamous bargain--

The vague nausea suddenly erupted and Doyle fell over the toilet, releasing what little was left in his stomach, then battling with dry heaves until he was weak.

It's the drug, Doyle told himself bleakly, and knew that was only partly true.

He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, still clinging shakily to the commode. "Oh, Bodie...why...?"

"Monsieur Raymond! What is wrong?" Gaston was there suddenly, holding his shoulders, concerned. "You are ill?"

Doyle pulled away and stood. "No...I'm fine. Really, Gaston. I'm all right."

The Frenchman's soft brown eyes surveyed him worriedly. "Non, mon petit. You are ill, I see this." He felt Doyle's forehead, but the younger man pushed him off impatiently.

"Stop fussing." He moved to the bath and stepped inside, settling down in the water gingerly and reaching for the soap.

"The water is cold. I shall fetch some more."

"No," Doyle said sharply. "This is fine. Just give me some privacy, if you please."

Instead, the Frenchman sat down on the edge of the tub and glared at him. "There is something not right, mon ami. You must tell me--"

"Please! If you are my friend, you will leave me alone!" Doyle bit his lip and stared down at the water, feeling ugly and horribly naked at that moment. He couldn't bear to see himself reflected in Gaston's kind, but all-too-knowing eyes.

Gaston touched his bowed head lightly. "Of course, mon petit," he said softly. "But do not be too proud to call me if you have need of me."

The resultant laugh was bitter. "Oh, I am not proud, Gaston. I am not proud at all..."

The Frenchman stared at him, heart catching at the brittle pain in the boy's voice. He started to speak, then realized he had no idea what to say. Instead, he just patted the bent head and left him alone, fury beginning to burn at the obvious cause of the boy's sorrow.

Gaston walked through the bedchamber into the outer room muttering dire curses just as the object of those curses swept into the tent. Hands on his hips, the Frenchman faced him squarely, eyes venomous. "You lowest bit of..." from there he waxed poetic in the darkest wharfside French profanity he could summon.

Stunned, the Sheik stopped dead still for a moment, taking it in. Long before Gaston was finished, Bodie's jaw had set into a stubborn, angry line. But he waited until the Frenchman ran out of breath before speaking.

"Well, that is plain enough. What has he been telling you? Or need I ask?"

"Bah! He has told me nothing! But, moi, I have eyes. I can see when someone has been mistreated, no?!"

"Can you indeed? And what, precisely, have you seen?"

There the Frenchman fell silent, for the pain he had seen in Doyle was not something one could point to. There were no marks on the bare body -- not even a bruise. But he wasn't giving up that easily. "You have hurt him in some way. I do not know exactly how or why...but me, I do not like it. He does not deserve such treatment--"

The Sheik's small reserve of patience was exhausted. Gaston stepped back reflexively at the black fury in the other man's expression.

"It is not your concern. If it offends your sensibilities to serve such a monster as myself, you have my leave to go."

Gaston blinked, shocked at the ultimatum. "Go? Monseigneur, you cannot mean this. I served your papa--"

"And my father would never have permitted such insolence!" Bodie snarled. "If you questioned him so, he would have taken a whip to you himself!"

The little Frenchman bowed his head to the truth of that. The Sheik approached him with the menacing tread of a wolf. "If you ever attempt to interfere in my affairs again, Gaston, you will find me even less agreeable than my father. Is that understood?"

Gaston glanced up at him, and for a split second he nearly spoke, but the icy blue eyes froze anything he might have said, and he realized sadly that he had not done Raymond any kind of service by his impulsive outburst. If anything, he had stirred smoldering coals, and all the curses flung on the young Sheik's head he now silently turned on himself. He was a fool. Any hurt done to the boy now, could fairly be laid on his shoulders, too.

"My apologies, Monseigneur," he said quietly. "I did not intend to--"

"Get out," Bodie said coldly.

Helplessly, Gaston complied, praying that Raymond would not suffer for his stupidly pulling the tiger's tail.

Bodie stood there for a moment, clenching his fists and gathering his temper under control. What was this Englishman? Devil or angel? The dichotomy could drive a man mad. Hassid demanded his death for treachery, while Gaston worshipped at his feet. In one ear was poured condemnation for his weakness toward Doyle, and in the other he was cursed for his cruelty. And as for himself...he only knew the Englishman made him uneasy. More than that, he troubled him in a way that was both exciting and deeply disturbing. All those weeks apart, Doyle had become an itch beneath his skin, a gnat that he could not bat out of his attention.

He had more or less successfully blocked the unwanted emotions he had felt for Ray that one unguarded night, deciding that it was nothing more than the attraction of an unattained goal that intrigued him.

But last night he had achieved his goal -- and kept to his damnable unasked for bargain with the perplexing little bastard. Yet, he felt unsatisfied, incomplete. The sexual reward had been fantastic, incredible, perhaps even better than he had dreamed it would be. And yet...there was a nagging sense of...guilt? He pushed the ridiculous thought aside. He had kept the Englishman with him and alive for only one function -- to please him. In a silly moment of weakness he had promised the impossible, and he had done his best to keep his word. What else could there be?

So why was Gaston so upset, no, furious with him? Unless he had hurt Doyle more than he realized.

Bodie stiffened at the thought, an arrow of fear shooting through him. Had he? He had been so cautious, careful of his ridiculous pledge. The drug should've helped that, at least from everything he'd heard. And Ray had seemed.... Of course, at the end he had been so wildly aroused, he hadn't been thinking very clearly ... Ray was so beautiful, so desirable ... but perhaps he had been too demanding...too harsh...

Heart in his throat, Bodie rushed through the curtain to the bedchamber. He paused at the entrance.

Doyle was sitting on the bed, fully clothed, his face buried in his hands. He looked up at the sound, then turned away pointedly.

Hesitant, Bodie moved to stand in front of him. "Are you well, English?"

"Quite," Doyle said flatly, refusing to look at him. "Kind of you to be concerned."

Feeling at a loss, Bodie said carelessly, "Your guardian angel is not happy with me."

Doyle's laugh echoed black with despair. "If I've a guardian angel, he should've been sacked years ago. He's managed a poor job of it."

"I meant Gaston. He seemed to think I abused you in some way."

The green eyes looked up at him dully. "I'm sure you informed him otherwise. You are, after all, the sheik."

Bodie hesitated, forcing himself to be calm and rational. "Are you all right?"

"What do you think?"

Steeling himself, Bodie scowled. "I think you are being absurd. I was there, remember? Do you pretend you did not enjoy it?"

Doyle laughed harshly. "Being drugged and humiliated? How could I not?"

"I promised only that I would not hurt you."

"Is that all you promised?" Doyle stared at him. "Is that all?"

Shaken by the forlorn and bitter expression, Bodie turned away. "What else? I held to my word. You were not in pain."

"Wasn't I? Oh, Bodie..." Doyle swallowed, then straightened his shoulders. "No, you are correct. There was little physical pain."

Bodie glanced back, frowning. "So I did hurt you...?"

Doyle closed his eyes and sighed. He stood and walked away a few paces, turning his back. "No more than was necessary, I'm sure. You kept your promise quite well. Congratulations."

For a second, the Sheik started to reach out to the slumped shoulders, but stopped as Doyle spoke again.

"Just don't do it again...please."

"What?" Bodie bristled. "Our bargain--"

Doyle spun around. "Blast the bargain! I'll keep the bloody bargain! No more drugs. That's all I ask. No more. Don't ever do that to me again!"

Startled by the emotion, Bodie offered, "It was easier for you--"

"No. It was easier for you. That's the real truth, isn't it?"

Bodie opened his mouth to answer, but found he had none. Because now he wasn't sure, and the accusation in Doyle's eyes stung him more than he had imagined possible. It angered him as well.

"Would you rather I had raped you?" he snarled.

The other man smiled sadly. "Didn't you?"

With a curse, the Sheik swept out of the tent.


If it would have been possible for either of them to answer honestly from the heart, both the Sheik and his captive would have been forced to admit that the next few weeks were the most perplexing and troubling period in their lives. Both were stubbornly determined to hold to their ill-fated bargain, and both were resentful of the secret hunger that made it impossible to do otherwise.

During the day, they avoided each other like lepers, but thought of little else. At night, they came together in a stern determination to prove how much they scorned the other by living up to what their dual natures demanded. Repeatedly the passion thawed the cold in short order, for neither could pretend or fake the heat when their bare flesh met; they quickly discovered the bed made a poor battleground. Knowing that, both would have preferred to avoid it completely, but pride and need brought them back each night, totally unwilling to admit what happened there meant more than the -- incredibly fantastic -- purely sexual understanding they had agreed to at the onset.

If they came to the bed clinging to a token reserve, as time passed it took less and less to lose it. After spending the majority of the day thinking of little else than the other, both burning with resentment and self-righteous anger, they hit the silk sheets with a heat that could only be tempered one way.

Unfortunately, once cooled, it was frost by dawn and solid ice again by breakfast. The remainder of the day was a repeat of the day before -- slow warm, simmer, and boiling point by bedtime.

Viewing the process from the sidelines, Cambridge found the entire situation amusing, but more than a little dangerous. While he could do no more than guess what went on in the privacy of the Sheik's tent at night, his powers of observation were keen, and whether either of them realized it or not, they were both almost indecently eager to retire each night. Honor alone did not require Raymond to be so antsy to finish up a chess game to return to Bodie's tent. And sheer perversity didn't quicken Bodie's breath or make his eyes sparkle with anticipation. Nor could such obsession be explained by something so superficial as physical allure. It was nothing that could be sated or dismissed so easily.

As he watched them, Cambridge began to worry. He knew Bodie was far too volatile to live safely in such a pressure cooker, and he alone sensed that Doyle's outwardly more timid nature masked a temperament only slightly less explosive and in some ways far more dangerous.

Whatever physical release they were finding, emotionally the pressure was increasing on both of them and sooner or later that volcano was destined to erupt.

Dissatisfied with the sketch he had been working on, and unwilling to spend any more time under Cambridge's amused and knowing gaze, Doyle sought out a relatively private spot to practice his knife throwing. He was quite good at it now, but as Gaston had pointed out, it was a skill that required constant polish. He didn't mind. In fact, he enjoyed having a harmless way to dispel some of his bottled aggression. Harmless, except to the poor, scarred palm tree.

The blade entered the tree trunk with a loud thunk, a hair's width from where he had aimed it the first three throws. This time he had thrown so hard it was a bit of a tug to work free from where it was buried in the wood. He was angry and didn't know who he was angry with.

Jerking the blade loose, he corrected the thought reluctantly. Oh he knew who all right. He just wasn't so clear on why.

Remembering the previous night was enough to make him throw the knife even harder. One shouldn't feel like that about someone you hated. Not the way he felt last night...and the night before and the night before... Do you kiss a man you hate? Do you love the taste of his tongue? The smell of his sweat? The hard planes of his chest? Was the flavor of his semen something to cherish?

Not easy questions. Not easy feelings. Everything he felt for the Sheik had another edge to it. A side he had no experience to understand. Even the sexual feelings were new to him -- at least the way they were with Bodie.

It was all heat now, no softness, little caution. But he found he liked that as well. It was exciting, dark, hungry. Their time in bed together transformed him into a different person. He had lost his shyness, the last shred of innocence stolen from him, and he no longer cared if or how he responded to the sensuality. How could it matter any more? It was no longer a case of happily giving, but of taking what he could get as well. No less than Bodie, he found pleasure in the swift, semi-violent grappling. Their skill in seeking the other's delight was growing. Almost a contest make the other be first to submit in a wash of pleasure. Oh, not the ultimate act -- that was still for only Bodie to have. But everything else was fair game and gave its own degree of dark power. The running was about even. Both had their moments of silent triumph and their moments of total surrender to the flesh.

It was only ugly when dawn rose and Doyle remembered what was at stake. Whatever he surrendered in the darkness, the light reminded him of who he was and what else he had to lose. He would not give his soul to Bodie, nor his heart. They were the only things he owned, even if of value only to himself, and he hoarded them close, like a miser with his last bits of gold.

But like water on stone, Bodie was wearing him down, because the feelings of the night haunted him; and the memories of Bodie before he went away teased him to believe it could be like that again. It frightened him that he wanted that so much. Just Bodie's kindness, his friendship. To many people it wouldn't be much to ask -- to Doyle it was the world.

That Bodie could be good to him, he didn't doubt. That he could ever love him was a dream he had smothered almost at birth. There was nothing of him to love except perhaps his body, and Bodie had that now. What mattered the rest? Who had ever cared for the rest? Only Zachery. And he was far away and (hopefully) safe. Perhaps Zachery would think of him kindly from time to time.

What scared Doyle the most was knowing how easily he could be bought. Bodie had nearly managed it before by simply being kind to him. There was the night before Bodie had left when Doyle would have given anything, everything freely. Some part of him wanted to love so badly. Anyone, just a person to love and be loved by. A romantic, silly dream. He recognized that now. A crush, a phase; not so much different than his feelings for his tutor, Phillipe -- only (obviously) far more physical.

Luckily, Bodie had rejected that. The drug had made it apparent Bodie didn't want reality either, only fantasy. A facsimile of emotion and feeling. Well, they had that in abundance now. Oh, the passion was real enough. Doyle had never been able to counterfeit that or pretend it didn't exist. But the feelings he held to himself. And he wouldn't feel, he wouldn't love, he wouldn't care -- whatever Bodie did to him. It couldn't be bought or bargained away. He wouldn't change that. He wouldn't!

Doyle threw the knife and missed the tree completely, eyes stinging with tears. Cursing, Doyle wiped his eyes and went to fetch his blade.

A series of shouts from the other side of the oasis where the horses were kept drew his attention. He noticed more people hurrying in that direction from other sections of the camp. Curious, he retrieved his knife and followed, wondering what the attraction was to pull such a crowd from their daily chores.

They were breaking a horse -- or trying to do so with little success. The animal was being held with much difficulty by three men, all finding it treacherous work to remain clear of the lashing hooves and gleaming teeth that sought to savage its captors. Twisting and lunging madly, the stallion needeed only seconds to dislodge the man brave enough to leap into the saddle. It took even quicker footwork to avoid being stomped to death by the stallion's vindictive attack.

There was a primitive fury and passion to the scene that captured Doyle's artist eye -- the dappled shade and light of the oasis, the sheen of sweat rippling on the horse's black coat as it fought for freedom, the strain of muscled brown arms as they struggled to hold the beast, the flowing robes black and white and stark against the shaded sand. Even beyond the visual stimulus, Doyle's adrenaline pumped wildly at the sharp smell of sweat, excitement and fear in the air, the noise of frantic shouts and cries of warning and encouragement.

A voice at Doyle's elbow made him jump. "You have come to watch ze sport, mon ami?"

He glanced at Gaston, then back toward the agitated circle of men. "Sport? What is this?"

"Ah...Monseigneur has decided it is time to finally break Shaitan, the devil. There is much money wagered on who has ze courage and ze skill for such a task."

"Surely there are better methods?"

"Non, mon petit, not for a beast such as Shaitan. He is a rogue, a wild one. Monseigneur captured him some months ago. Not long before you come to us. Beautiful, is he not?"

The animal was certainly that. The sensitive, diamond shaped head denoted intelligence; the wild, flaring eyes did not detract from the crafty manner he used to outwit his captors. The body was not large but heavily muscled in the crest and haunch, indicating he was not a young animal, but one well into maturity.

"He must be five or six years old. Surely it too late to train such a horse -- certainly not without gelding him first."

"But that would defeat Monseigneur's purpose, no? He wishes to breed from him if possible. He covets ze spirit as well as ze lines of the animal. His get would be strong and hardy, with excellent wind and power. Still, he must prove to be manageable to some degree, or his use as stud would be unwise."


"If his madness cannot be tamed, there would be always ze risk colts would inherit such madness. Spirit, it is good; but sooner or later they must learn to accept ze bit, no? It is not expected Shaitan becomes a trusted mount. You are correct; he is far too old to be trained. What must be discovered is whether he can ever be made to feel a man his master. A true rogue animal is far too dangerous to breed."

Intrigued, Doyle watched the tableau unfold before him. He had grown up around horses, watched them bred and trained in England. But never had he seen a truly wild horse, or imagined the savagery and viciousness involved in breaking one.

The stallion was coated with a lather of sweat, and blood ran down its flanks from spurs and whip; the foam from its mouth dripped red where it fought the cut of the bit.

Repelled and fascinated by the sight, Doyle watched and waited for the winner of this raw battle of man and beast.

Two more riders were dispatched with ease -- one with a broken arm and obviously crushed ribs, the other limping badly from a flying hoof that tore his leg open to the bone.

Doyle's enchantment with the scene rapidly switched to revulsion. It was no longer colorful and picturesque, but simply brutal.

"Why don't they stop this?" Doyle demanded, having seen more than enough. "It's pointless. Cruel."

Gaston glanced at him, frowning. "Cruel? Perhaps. Pointless? No, mon fils. You do not understand--"

"You're right!" Doyle snapped. "I don't. It's savage. Barbaric!"

For once, the Frenchman looked offended. "This is not a gentle land, monsieur. It cannot be judged by alien standards."

Doyle was unwilling to relent. "They are the only standards I have, I'm afraid. And this is...sickening."

The next man who mounted the animal was less fortunate than his companions. The horse reared up, higher and higher, over-balancing purposely until he fell backwards on his rider, then squirmed away and leapt to his feet. The man lay still, neck twisted at an awkward angle. He was carried away, limp and unmoving, as several men jumped forward to recapture the trailing ropes.

"Oh my god," Doyle said hoarsely, "he's dead, isn't he?"

Gaston didn't reply, his attention focused on the new rider. The Sheik had strode out into the circle, his expression black.

"He will put a stop to this now, won't he?" Doyle said anxiously. "Enough is enough--"

"Shhh!" Gaston hissed. "Now we will see an end to it of a certainty."

Realizing what was going to happen, Doyle grabbed the Frenchman's arm. "He's not going to try and ride him -- not after he just killed--"

Gaston shrugged him off impatiently, obviously anxious. "As I say, there will be an end to it now. Be silent."

The Sheik stood for a moment, hands on his hips, contemplating the animal as it struggled wildly with the men clinging to the ropes. Clenching his cigarette in his teeth, he flung off his outer robes and headdress until he was down to shirt and breeches. With a harsh laugh, he motioned the men to one side and made a leap for the saddle. The others fell back quickly.

Feeling the new weight on its back, the stallion twisted and bucked, then reared up furiously. The Sheik's fist came down solidly on the horse's head between the laid-back ears. The horse dropped back to all four legs and shook its head dizzily at the blow, then started fighting again, using all the tricks in its repertoire to throw off the parasite on its back. But every time it tried to rear, again the hammer fist would strike. Craftily, the animal tried a different tack, dropping down and rolling over, but the rider was too quick to be caught out, leaping free of the stirrups and then back up on the horse's back as soon as it regained its feet. The animal screamed in outrage and twisted and leapt furiously.

The minutes stretched, measured in a nearly silent battle of muscles and sweat and wits. There was a hush in the audience and the loudest sounds were the pounding of hooves and the tortured breath of man and beast.

Doyle watched, his own breathing quick and shallow, his hands clenched helplessly at the symbolism he saw acted out before his eyes. The Sheik bending a creature to his iron will, ruthlessly determined to win; less interested in the animal's welfare than the use it could be to him once its spirit was crushed. And crush it he would; that was soon obvious. His skill could not be faulted. Even the horse sensed the outcome, and although it still struggled and fought with the last ounce of energy, there was a different gleam in the wild eyes; a flicker of despair.

Surely I am imagining it, Doyle thought, struggling with the panicky sensation in the pit of his stomach. An animal cannot reason in those ways. But as the horse slowly, torturously began to accept its defeat, Doyle's horror grew. It is my spirit I feel being crushed. Robbed of independence and forced to serve a stronger will... What chance do either of us have?

He shut his eyes tightly, denying the thought.

"Raymond," a hand touched his arm. "It is over."

Doyle looked at Gaston blankly. "What?"

"Shaitan, he has surrendered."

"No...oh no..." Doyle's heart contracted, as if it was his own fate sealed. He looked to where the once proud stallion stood in the center of a circle of the cheering tribe, the long neck sunk down toward the disturbed sand, flecked with dark stains of sweat and blood. The horse's sides were heaving, lathered white and red with streaks of blood, legs trembling with exhaustion, everything about him showing he had reached his end, that there was nothing left to do, nowhere left to turn. Astride his back, the Sheik looked tired but triumphant, almost insulting in his acceptance of success.

"Wonderful, is it not?" Gaston said happily.

Doyle glared at him. "Wonderful for whom?" And stalked away.

Gaston watched Doyle leave, wondering at his sudden anger, then turned his attention back to the Sheik, who was dismounting the stallion. Bodie spent a long time at the horse's head, stroking it and speaking into the dispirited ear. At last, the animal lifted its head, having caught its breath, but did not pull away from the gentle touch.

Finally, Bodie handed the reins to someone else. "Rub him down if he will let you -- but be cautious, he has not lost all of his spirit. Do not punish him for that. He has earned respect."

Noting the Sheik's slight limp as he turned away, Gaston hurried to him. "Monseigneur is injured?"

Bodie wiped the sweat from his eyes and responded almost absently, "I am fine. How is Sahid?"

Another man answered, "Dead, master."

Bodie shut his eyes tight and dropped his head wearily. "As I thought. May Allah accept his soul. He was a good man." He opened his eyes. "And Mohamar?"

"Merely a broken wrist and two broken ribs. Cambridge is tending him. There is no problem. And Kalee has no worse than a sore rib, it is not cracked. Dahoud's leg will need to be stitched, but is not serious."

"Good. See that they are comfortable, and the first three colts from Shaitan shall belong to Sahid's widow."

The man looked startled, "But she has no children, master! There is no need for such--"

"Those are my orders! See that it is written."

"Yes, my lord."

Gaston followed the Sheik to the well where he doused his head in a pail of cool water and dropped down, exhausted, on the low rock wall bordering the nearby spring. Worried, Gaston sat down beside Bodie and demanded to see to his leg. The Sheik was too weary to argue and permitted the inspection. Eyes widening, Gaston looked up into the too-pale face. "It is not healing as it should, Monseigneur. Why haven't you said--"

Bodie jerked away impatiently. "It is merely a scratch."

"It was always more than that. The cut is not large, but it is deep, and now it is red and inflamed. You have not taken proper care--"

"Oh, leave me be!" Bodie snarled. "Am I a woman to pamper every nick and scrape? It will heal in its own time."

"Not without care," Gaston insisted stubbornly. "It is not like you to ignore something so--"

"I said leave it!" Bodie shouted, standing and pushing the other man away. "There are other matters to consider now. I do not have time for this nonsense."

Gaston remained where he had fallen in the sand, observing Bodie's stride toward the tent, and noting how he favored his left leg even as he tried to conceal the impairment. The Frenchman sat up, considering what he had witnessed and deciding it was time to speak to the only person who held much sway with the Sheik -- Cambridge.

Bodie entered the tent, wanting nothing so much as a hot bath and to sleep for ten hours straight. He couldn't remember feeling more weary to the marrow or more dispirited. He had known Sahid since he was a boy, and losing him was painful to his soul. Such accidents had happened before and would happen again, but they were never easy to accept. And accident it was, for Sahid was one of the most talented trainers in the camp, far more skillful than Bodie at breaking horses. The man's death had angered him, true, but not at the animal, at himself. Even if custom forbid it, the risk should have been his alone from the first; it was his decision to try the animal. Nor did he give himself credit for the final success. Sahid and the others had tired the beast before he ever touched the saddle. He felt little triumph now, only sorrow. And his leg hurt abominably. Gaston was right, he should have it seen to. The injury was small, but he knew better than to ignore the possibilities of infection. For some reason he had dismissed the discomfort, expecting it to heal on its own.

Or perhaps he was waiting for Doyle to comment on the injury. He smiled wryly. Small chance of that. Their heated nights together didn't extend to the minute examination below the knee, concentration was a bit higher.

After all, Doyle didn't see him as a vulnerable, easily damaged human, but as an enemy, cold, hard and easily hated. Just as well. That was precisely how he wanted to appear.

Bodie leaned back against the cushions and covered his eyes with his hand, feeling the dull throb of a headache building behind his eyes. All he wanted now was some calm and quiet. A few moments peace to regain his equilibrium.

Hearing the rustle of the curtain, he dropped his hand. Ray was standing against the doorway to the bedchamber. Bodie surveyed him with lazy appreciation, noting how long his hair had grown, touching his shoulders now, streaked copper and gold from the exposure to the sun. The hair was so alive, silky and bright and untamed, tumbling over his forehead to enhance the angry sparkle in the venomous green eyes. Beautiful.

Despite his weariness, Bodie felt himself react to the enchantment. Oh, there was something about this skinny little English. Some magic that made his blood race and his heart sing.

Smiling, Bodie held out his hand for Doyle to join him on the cushions. "Hello, English. What has upset you now?"

Doyle didn't budge, just stared at him with those witchy eyes.

Frowning, Bodie stood, favoring his leg, and moved to Doyle. He reached to touch the smaller man's cheek but Doyle grabbed his wrist, blocking the gesture.

"Your hand is still bloody."

Bodie glanced down, his quick wash at the well had been more cooling than cleansing. The back of his hand was still streaked with dried blood. "Yes, I see." He reached out again, meaning to do no more than hold the other man for a moment before seeking out his bath.

"Don't touch me," Doyle recoiled from the caress.

Startled, Bodie stepped back. "What?"

"It should be plain what I mean -- even to you! I can't bear to have you touch me."

Bodie took a deep breath, the warmth he had felt icing over rapidly. He wasn't in the mood to play games; not today.

"This is becoming tedious, English. Tell me, what have I done on this occasion to bring on your pique?"

"Pique, is it? After the performance I just witnessed, the proper term is loathing."

"Performance? Oh, do you mean the training--"

"Training! Yes, I suppose you might call it that."

The blue eyes narrowed. "Indeed? And what, precisely, revolts your squeamish British stomach more? The smell of blood, or the fact that so little of the blood is mine?"

"Perhaps I am just disgusted by cruelty. To man or animal. Of course, you could never understand that."

It took only a heartbeat for Bodie to assimilate Doyle's words, but all remaining traces of patience vanished in that instant. "Of course not," he said acidly. "I am, after all, a savage."


Bodie's hand lifted as if to strike him, but Doyle didn't flinch, and instead the Sheik's finger reached out to slide down the flushed cheek. "Permit me a cliche, but you are remarkably beautiful when you are furious. How very fortunate for your continued well being."

Doyle shoved the hand away. "I told you not to touch me, damn you! I despise you and everything you stand for!"

The last thread of restraint snapped in the Sheik. Following his original impulse, he backhanded the other man. "So you hate me? Good. Perhaps it is time I give you reason to hate me."

Doyle sat up slowly from where he had been knocked to the carpet, his glasses lost somewhere among the pillows. He swiped at the blood that trickled from the cut on his lip. "You bastard. You need to beat me, go ahead. Runs in the family, does it?"

Bodie stood over him, dark and menacing. "Beat you? Oh, no, English. There are other ways to prove who is master."


"Be silent! We are enemies, you and I. I made the mistake of forgetting that."

"So did I," Doyle snarled.

"At last we agree. Nevertheless...." Again the smile, ruthless and intimidating, but undeniably, damnably beautiful in the dark, perfect countenance. " have not, I trust, forgotten our bargain?"

Doyle's eyes widened, then narrowed in contempt. "Damn our bargain! Tonight I shall sleep out here. It makes me ill to even look at you, let alone touch you."

The blue eyes glinted dangerously. "But I want to touch you, English. And you, I think, are not the master here."

Ray looked away, unwilling to spar any longer. It hurt. More than the Sheik could know, it hurt. He needed time to think, to sort out the confusion this man heaped upon him moment by moment. "No, Bodie. I can't do this tonight. I have to think. Please, let me be alone."

Bodie had moved to the other side of the room and sat down, leaning back on the cushions. His harsh laugh startled Doyle a little. "Alone? Since when does a chattel make demands? In case you forget, my pet, I permitted you to live so you could serve me. And you have only one service to render."

"You bastard!"

There was a whirring sound and a solid thump. Bodie looked over to where his hand rested on the cushion. The blade of the knife protruded between his second and third fingers. He lifted his hand, watching the thin trickle of scarlet flow over his palm. He licked at the tiny nick absently as he eyed Doyle. "Gaston told me you were good with a blade, but he did not specify how good. Should I congratulate you on your aim or commiserate with you on your miss?"

"I didn't miss," Doyle snapped. "I meant to draw blood. No more. No less."

Bodie's eyebrow lifted. "Then I strongly suggest that next time you make quite certain I am unable to retaliate. Because your next throw will surely be your last."

"I realize that," Doyle said calmly. "Do you accept the reverse?"

Bodie smiled. "Oh, English, do you have any idea how many people have wanted to kill me?" He pulled the knife from the pillow and tossed it back, haft first.

Doyle caught it easily. "Any number, I should think."

"Quite right." The Sheik rose and walked over, kneeling close. He took Ray's wrist gently, turning the hand that held the knife, pressed the point against his breast and waited. "You had best do it now. You will seldom have a better opportunity."

The green eyes were pure poison. "I abhor easy targets." Doyle jerked free of the hold and the blade was thrown with deadly accuracy at the swirling center of the black and silver tapestry.

The Sheik bared his white teeth in a shark smile. "Yes, an excellent eye, even without your spectacles. Impressive. But do you really believe you can succeed where so many others have failed?"

"More pity to them."

"But they are with Allah now and have no need of our pity. I, however, am still tied to earth and you, English, are my houri until I reach that sainted paradise...or tire of you." He moved closer, fingers combing sensuously into the heavy curls at the base of Doyle's neck.

Despite himself, Doyle's breath quickened at the sensual voice and the ripple of cat-like pleasure at nails brushing his scalp. Angry and embarrassed at his body's instinctive response, he pulled away. "No, I told you, not tonight. Leave me alone, damn you!"

Almost effortlessly, the Sheik dragged him back and pushed him down on the carpet, pinning his arms. "Unless memory fails, our bargain was willing acceptance. Are you changing the rules, English? How does it go? `All bets off'? Is that really what you want?"

Feeling the heavier weight and the punishing grip on his wrists, Doyle knew it was useless to struggle. Especially when his own traitorous body was reacting against his will; it remembered only the gratification involved in close proximity with this man. His helpless arousal had to be apparent to both of them. But his mind was still his own, and he wasn't surrendering this easily.

"Take your hands off me, you bastard! I hate you and everything about you!"

The Sheik smiled down at him wolfishly, rubbing his own hardness against the other. "Do you, indeed? But we have both learned to relish this kind of hatred, have we not?"

Somehow, surprising even himself, Doyle managed to free one hand and strike out.

Stunned by the action far more than the blow, Bodie sat back. His nose was bleeding a little and he wiped it away, staring at the blood in a mixture of disbelief and amusement.

"The cat truly has claws. That's twice you've drawn blood from me today. You are tempting fate, English. I warn you, my patience has limits."

Doyle hadn't been sure if he intended to fight or not. All he wanted was time to himself to think. But Bodie was refusing to grant him that, was moving in again with grim determination.

Doyle slid back, trying to fend him off with caustic words. "Aren't you going to drug me again? Isn't that easier for you?"

The vicious smile deepened. "Oh, I do not think that will be necessary. You are hardly a tender virgin anymore, are you? Get up."

Doyle stood. Despair was swamping what remained of his anger. It couldn't be like this, not now. Whatever else had happened between them, there had never been this bitter, ugly wall. No true violence. He was sure Bodie hadn't meant to hit him and he had certainly never expected to throw the knife or strike Bodie. He had never intended to open that dangerous gate. Now that it had begun, he was afraid. Not just for himself, for both of them, because he sensed the blackness in himself, the buried resentment that was waiting for the right spark to ignite. "Bodie, please don't--"

Bodie grabbed him and crushed him in an ungiving embrace, taking the other's mouth in a way that was as much an assault as a kiss. Seconds later, he released Doyle only to drag him into the bedchamber and throw him unceremoniously across the bed.

"Undress," was the callous order as the Sheik stripped off his own clothing.

Doyle lay frozen, totally unprepared for that tone in the voice. He should have been; he had heard it before. But it had never been directed at him. Passion, impatience, even anger he had heard before; but never this chilled, heartless command. Strangely enough, it didn't frighten him at all, it infuriated him. This wasn't the Bodie he knew. Even the cold war of the previous weeks had not produced such bitterness. He recognized that the escalation was partly his own fault, that he had pushed it from the moment Bodie arrived. But he refused to accept the blame, because Bodie had been pushing him from the very beginning. From that day at the well in Aden. So arrogant, so sure of himself. Too sure.

Naked, Bodie approached the bed. Doyle felt as much trapped by the burning eyes as by his situation. Like the wild horse, he felt the cut of the bit, the sting of the spurs and knew he had taken enough -- more than enough. The spark was here now, flaring. Enough. Rebelling suddenly, he spat squarely in the other man's face.

The Sheik paused, staring down at him with eyes of blue ice and smoldering fire. Both the frost and the flame were so much a part of Bodie, it didn't register at first. The true danger of such a cold, dark fire took a couple of seconds to sink in. And then it was too late.

"Striking me was unwise, English, but not unforgivable," he said quietly, serene as a drifting leaf in the eye of a deadly storm.

Very slowly he straightened to wipe the spittle from his cheek. "But that, my pet, was a serious mistake."


The night was very silent; so much so that Doyle wondered how much had been overheard earlier. Enough perhaps that everyone had withdrawn to a discreetly safe distance from the tent. He remembered screaming at one point, when the pain was more than he could endure. No one, of course, would have dared to interfere. Doyle had overheard some of the confrontation between Gaston and Bodie two weeks ago, and had been grateful to the Frenchman, but even then he had known it was hopeless. Cambridge had warned him at the beginning that the Sheik held total power here and brooked no interference. Yet his total aloneness hadn't seemed so real or so unbearable until now.

A single lamp sputtered, low on fuel, hissing and crackling noticeably in the hushed air. In the dim flicker of light he could see the man beside him. He edged away to watch him as he slept, waiting for the resentment to grow; the seeds so purposely planted by the sleeper to sprout and flower into violence. Bodie had wanted to be hated and had succeeded wonderfully. God help him, right now, he did hate Bodie. Enough to...

His mind sought the image of the knife embedded in the tapestry in the adjoining room. Enough to take that knife and use it. Or either of the two carefully honed razors in the bath. He could do it now; it wouldn't be difficult. The throat was open and unprotected. One quick slice up toward the ear, and it would be over. His hand wiped reflexively on the sheet at the phantom feel of the warm spill of blood.

But he wouldn't, he couldn't. Beyond the outrage and resentment there was still something more. Perhaps the unwillingness to kill everything good about himself. Perhaps simply the instinctive knowledge that Bodie was in some strange way more trapped than he.

Doyle sat there for a long time, observing the sleeper, remembering all that had taken place in this bed -- not just that night, but so many other nights.

Still, the anger lived and grew, burning in him, choking him, pulling his hand into a fist as if to strike out and deliver some small degree of the pain he had experienced. Oh, Bodie had hurt him. Not just the bruises and bites and deeper aching invasion, but pain in a place the Sheik had never known he had reached -- his heart. The damage there went beyond the physical, and that pain was choking him, smothering him. He was sick with it.

He had to leave, get away. Forget his bargain, break his agreement. It didn't matter now. What was that against his desire for murder? And he would kill Bodie, he knew that. There were limits to his passiveness, to his ability to accept abuse, and the Sheik had crossed that border. He was dimly aware that the boy he had been only a few months earlier might have taken such use, head bowed, submissive, as if it were his due. But that boy was gone now. A few short months had forged the natural iron in him to steel. There were some things a man could not accept -- bargain or no bargain. For the first time in his life he knew he was capable, and even hungry, to take another life. Revenge was an ugly word in any language.

He must leave or kill Bodie. And he could not -- quite -- bring himself to do that. Not yet.

Better to leave now before the temptation proved too great. For his own sake as much as Bodie's.

It was embarrassingly easy to make his escape. Obviously no one had expected the attempt. That, too, was insulting and cemented his resolve to stone, determined to show them all he was more than they had thought, more than a sheik's toy. He stole a waterskin and bread and circled the oasis to the horses, called the mare with a familiar soft whistle. At this point, the idea of theft was not of primary importance. Putting distance and time between them seemed far more vital. He was terrified of what he would do to Bodie, and ultimately what that would do to his soul.

The Sheik rolled over in the bed, sensing he was alone even before his arm touched the empty sheet. He lay there for a second, fuming. Naturally the English had raced off to whimper on Cambridge's shoulder -- or Gaston's. The little devil had both fools so blinded they couldn't see the cunning behind those wide, oh-so-innocent green eyes. But he knew, and he'd made an end to the softness last night. No more catering to a sweet face and deceptive manner. Doyle pushed him too far; his insolence had been beyond bearing. The situation would be different now.

Strangely enough, the concept didn't appeal to him as much as it should have done. Instead, Bodie felt empty and vacant inside; sensing the loss of something he had hardly touched and never possessed.

Dismissing the disquiet feeling, he got up, wincing a bit at his own bruises and scratches -- Ray was more formidable than expected -- bathed and dressed, ignoring Gaston's silent disapproval. Obviously he was to be a villain in his own tent, so be it. Better that than to let the saucy little cat have free rein. A man had to be firm in his own household, didn't he? If the previous night had been excessive, it only made up for his earlier laxness. Everything would be proper now. Stricter, more straightforward. And he could afford to be ...kind... now that his rule was clear.

Cheered by the thought, he stood and stretched his muscles, ignoring the persistent ache in his leg. Kind to Doyle...gentle. That was a pleasant thought for it evoked sweet memories. The English responded so well to kindness; like a desert bud opening after a rare and precious shower.

Truth be told, he wanted that -- needed that. He wished it could be like before. Yearned for that gentle smile and the shyly happy gleam to those emerald eyes. The boy had a great capacity for happiness. It took so little to make him content. He would give him anything, everything to make Ray happy. Because after last night, he knew he could not bear to lose him.

He paused a moment, remembering the previous night. Some black memory took him and he sat back down abruptly, covering his face. Red and black. So much red....

He lay back on the bed, suddenly nauseous. Rape. It had been rape, and that thought had always turned his stomach. Oh Allah, had he really...?

No. It wasn't the same. Last night was....different. He was harsh, perhaps, but he would make it up to Ray. Jewels, gold, silks, horses, whatever he desired. He would make Ray happy somehow. He would never hurt him again. Would never let himself be goaded again. However necessary, such extreme reaction would not be repeated. He would find another way.

He wanted...

Red and black.

Disaster. Bodie sat up and shook himself mentally. He must control his wayward thoughts and accept what was safe. If that meant keeping his distance from Doyle -- except at night -- then that was what he must do. The only alternative was losing those nights completely and Bodie knew he couldn't do that. Not just yet. The pleasure was too intense, too perfect to throw away.

He had no appetite for breakfast; in fact, the thought of food turned his stomach. It was unusual for him, but he put it down to the heat. He was sweating already and the sun had hardly been up an hour.

Instead of going to the horses as was his normal routine, he detoured to Cambridge's tent. Not that he intended to make amends for the night before, of course, but he wanted to measure the level of damage done to their strange relationship -- and to Doyle himself, although Bodie hesitated to admit his concern on that matter.

Cambridge looked startled at the question. "Raymond? No, I haven't seen him since yesterday morning actually."

Bodie straightened, a shiver of unease racing up his spine. "Are you sure? Where could he be but here?"

Cambridge put down his pen and stood. "Bodie, you look terrible. Are you quite all right? Gaston was telling me the wound in your leg is not healing properly."

Holding onto the doorpost, Bodie fought a bout of dizziness. "I am fine. You are certain you have not seen Ra--Doyle?"

"No. I've been meaning to talk to you about Raymond, however. Bodie, have you never considered what you have done to the lad? I have held my tongue for a long time, but I think you--"

"I don't have time for this," Bodie interrupted. "If you haven't seen him, where has he gone?"

Belatedly understanding what Bodie was saying, the older man paled. "Are you saying he's not in the camp? That you can't find him at all?" He closed his eyes and shook his head, pained. "Dear God, is it happening again? Running from you?" He opened his eyes and regarded the Sheik darkly. "Have you learned nothing from the past? Are you really such a fool?"

"We do not know he has fled. Perhaps, he simply went riding..." But he trailed off, hearing the half-desperate sound of his own voice and seeing on Cambridge's face that he heard it as well.

"You don't believe that. He has run from you."

The breath left Bodie's lungs and the leaden weight in his stomach revealed the truth. Still, he couldn't accept. "He gave me his word..."

"Under duress," Cambridge reminded him brutally. "For the life of his friend. Yet he is a man of honor, I know this. So do you. What have you done to break this bond?"

Feeling defensive, Bodie snapped, "I merely taught him his place."

"I see. And what form did this lesson take?"

Bodie didn't answer.

Cambridge took a step forward and stopped. "Did you hurt him, Bodie? Did you?"

"I was provoked," Bodie retorted stubbornly.

"That's a poor reason, not an excuse."

Bristling, Bodie snarled, "A sheik of the Jafarr needs no excuse for his actions!"

Cambridge shut his eyes tightly. "Then you did hurt him. I had hoped... Oh, Bodie, what have you done?"

"I--" Bodie's voice faltered, reliving the violence, the cries echoing in his memory. You will never fear this bed. His own words mocked him, the lie sickened him. Whatever he had intended, he had hurt Doyle, used him viciously and turned his promise to ashes.

He let out his breath in a sigh. "I must find him. He cannot survive in the desert alone."

Before the Sheik could leave, Cambridge caught his arm. "And when you find him, what then?"

But Bodie pulled free and swept from the tent. Cambridge sat down tiredly and buried his head in his arms.

"Remember, my son. Please remember and take a different path."

Jasmine had long since played out, and they were walking now as the sun rose high in the morning sky. Doyle held the reins loosely in his hand as he plodded through the sand on foot. He had taken a bearing on their direction, but had purposely veered from the obvious route. By dawn the Sheik would have noticed his absence and started the chase. The odds were against out-running his trackers, but there was a chance he could outwit them. Instead of making directly for Aden, Doyle had chosen a different route, taking into account the oasis on one of Cambridge's maps. He calculated it would take him nearly a week to reach Aden on this route, but it would be more difficult for possible pursuers. If Bodie bothered to pursue him.

He had only enough bread for three days at most, and water for two. But he had learned a few things living in the desert these months, and he thought he could survive with luck. Suicide wasn't high on his agenda; although at the age of eighteen it was never ruled out entirely. It was still a romantic notion that wavered like a mirage in the back of his mind (and wouldn't he be sorry!). Life, however, still held a stronger attraction. He had no intention of dying out here if he could prevent it. Concentrating on reaching the first oasis, he blocked everything else from his mind.

By late afternoon, he was considerably wilted and had already depleted what he had figured was a two-day supply of water, sharing it with the lagging mare. When he spotted the shadowed hollow of the oasis, he whooped for joy and ran to it, leaving Jasmine to follow. It was small, only a dozen palms and a tiny pool of water, but Doyle wasn't complaining. He lay on his belly and gulped up the water thirstily with the muzzle of the horse sucking it up inches away.

Afterwards, he took off the saddle and chopped some palm leaves for Jasmine. She nudged them disapprovingly.

"Listen, love, I know you've been used to pampering, but until we get to Aden, this is the best I can do."

The horse snorted and wandered away, disgruntled. Doyle lay back in the sand, feeling much the same. He wasn't hungry yet, but he knew he would be. It should be a novel experience for he had never been truly hungry in his life. He tried to dredge up a fear of it, but came up at a loss. Having no experience, he didn't know what to expect. With the optimism of the very young, he dismissed the entire subject.

Thirst, however, he understood, and worried the problem for a time, realizing he hadn't brought enough waterskins to comfortably take him and Jasmine to the next oasis. He would have to be more careful on the next leg of the journey. Experience was the best teacher of all.

Propped against a palm tree as Jasmine rolled in the sand nearby, he watched the sunset and wondered what Bodie was doing in his absence. With night came a cold he was only vaguely familiar with, his previous nights having been spent in comfortable tents, first with Zachery and then later at the encampment. And usually enfolded in the Sheik's warm embrace...

He pulled his single thin blanket around him and burrowed deeper in the sand, trying to block the memory. He reminded himself firmly of why he had left, but for every painful image, a dozen sweet ones slipped past his defenses...Bodie smiling, a gentle hand cupping his cheek...the warm sound of his laughter....

No! The man was a savage, a monster. Heartless, cruel, unfeeling. He labeled the Sheik with a succession of hard names, all of which were quite accurate. None explained nor dismissed the other things he was. Yet those, too, were real and too strong for even anger to burn away. A tender touch, a thoughtful gesture, an insightful comment, eyes like a moon-bright midnight and lashes like a fringe of black velvet, skin like cream silk...

All the turbulent, unclassified feeling he had for the Sheik welled up and spilled over into the tears he had denied himself before. He saw it then for what it was, as much as he had tried to mask it with duty and obligation.

He loved Bodie.

Doyle wiped his wet face furiously, cursing the other man for making him feel such forbidden things. "Damn you! Damn you to hell!"

Honesty, however, forced him to turn his anger and disgust where it rightly belonged -- on himself. What must he be that he could love the man who had held him captive? Who had used him thoughtlessly for his pleasure time and again? Who had brutally raped him less than twenty-four hours past?

Yet up to a day ago, the Sheik had held to his part of their bargain almost religiously. He had promised nothing more than to take Zachery to safety. The second promise -- never to hurt him -had never been a thing Doyle had thought to ask, certain such a relationship necessitated pain and humiliation. Yet it had been offered freely by the Sheik to calm him and ease his fears. Certainly not the action of a sadist. And Doyle doubted if Bodie had derived much pleasure from the act of rape; fury had driven him, not lust. It could hardly compare to so many other nights in that bed.

He closed his eyes, recalling his own cruel words, his viciousness, purposefully needling Bodie to the limit and past it, perhaps unconsciously hoping for some final blow, for some reason to run from him, seeing Bodie's strained expression, the tortured, furious blue eyes. He had succeeded in his quest. Bodie had exploded, pushed beyond endurance. But there had been no hint of satisfaction in Bodie either before or after the attack. Only a blackness, a secret pain Doyle had been too hurt himself to acknowledge or accept at the time.

Doyle slammed his fist into the sand. What was this? Was he now making excuses for his rapist? There was no excuse! Such a brutal act could never be forgiven!

But was Bodie himself unforgivable?

How could he love such a man? It hurt to love him, a pain that tore like claws inside him. Love in the romance of his imagination was joyous. The feeling now held little joy, only a need that cut sharp as razors, an aching like homesickness for a touch that should by rights disgust him. Bodie had hurt him -- yet for every pain hadn't there been a thousand shivers of delight on other nights? It excused nothing, but despite the pain, his mind was swamped with memories of gentle pleasure.

Exhausted by the endless treadmill his mind ran, Doyle rolled over and buried his face in his arms, abandoning himself to the realm of dreams.

Cambridge looked up as Bodie entered the tent, upset more by the expression on the Sheik's face than his sudden appearance. He was deathly pale and the circles under his eyes were dark with exhaustion. The young man dropped down on the cushions and accepted the coffee thankfully.

"No sign of him?"

"None. If he traveled to Aden, there is no hint of his passage."

"And if he took a different route?"

"He would be mad to try it or..."

"Didn't care?"

The eyes were even more pronounced in the pale face, anguished. "I cannot believe that. Whatever I-- whatever his reason for leaving, he was not suicidal. No. Nor is he stupid."

"But there are other ways, longer but safe if one is cautious."

"No, not safe. The only other route with reasonable water..." He paused. "Ali Fasik's men have been seen in those areas."

"Do you think they are planning something?"

"They always plot and plan. Whether they have strength or not is something else again. It depends on whether the English have furnished the money for arms."

"And if they captured Ray?"

Bodie flinched from the idea. It was impossible to bear.

Doyle woke to a sword at his throat. Wisely, he didn't move. The man spoke in Arabic and Doyle understood it enough to reply.

"Doyle...I'm English, yes. Who are you?" Obviously, it wasn't one of Bodie's men, and as the man smiled with broken and blackened teeth, he rapidly regretted that it wasn't. The man lifted his sword, and Doyle tensed, ready to roll to one side and make as much of a fight of it as he could, when a voice called out, halting the arc of the weapon.

Doyle scrambled to his feet as the rest of the band rode into the oasis and dismounted. If he had thought Bodie's men rough and savage, he was now forced to revise his opinion. The sheer smell of this group could unman one -- goats, onions and sweat the most sweet odors they exuded. As the leader approached him, Doyle was even forced to appreciate Uncle Hassid's finer points.

"You English...Doyle English? Jafarr owned?"

It took a moment for him to decipher that and decide what to answer. His own Arabic was still unreliable, but he gave it a try. "I am English, yes. My name is Doyle. I belong to no man."

The Arab glanced at his compatriots and grinned nastily. He grabbed Doyle's curly hair and jerked his head back into a stream of fading sunshine through the palm trees.

Again in Arabic he said, "Green eyes, see? Red hair. It is English boy of Jafarr. Pretty prize, yes? Fasik pay much for."

Doyle eyed his captors and judged that this wasn't the time to break for freedom. They were obviously more eager for reward than causing him harm at the moment, and there were far too many of them to fight. He looked straight into the man's eye and said sharply in Arabic, "Take me to Fasik. I have a deal for him."

The man's eyes narrowed, then he nodded to one of the others. They brought Jasmine around and Doyle mounted, wondering whether he should make a run for it now. Jasmine could probably outdistance them all, but the only oasis within miles was this one, and he didn't have the water to try it. The other horses boxed him in quickly and the idea became moot.

They rode for some time. The sun set and the stars blazed in the black velvet jewelbox of night sky. Doyle's mind wandered as they cantered slowly across the sand, remembering other rides, the clean smell of a man he could never forget, tinged with nothing more offensive than turkish tobacco, horse and the musk of fresh sweat. One learned the difference very quickly in this company. The wind was not brisk, but it was enough to forcibly remind him of his captivity.

When they reached the camp, there were stronger differences. Trash tossed on the sand, tents haphazardly anchored, animals running loose through the living quarters, their waste obvious and potent. True, these were nomads and barbarians, but they bore no relation to the well-kept, almost fastidious encampment he had known for months. Having nothing to compare it with, he had thought the Jafarr camp primitive. Now he knew better. The few people he noticed peering out from the tents or hunching near the fires looked thin and frightened and/or diseased.

The leader growled at him to dismount and forced him at knife point into the largest tent. It was richly furnished, but gaudy and dirty, the hangings smoke-stained, the splendid oriental rugs splotched with spilled food and wine.

"A present, my lord. The plaything of Jafarr."

Doyle blinked, eyes stinging in the smoke of the poorly tended lamps. Assuming this must be the infamous Fasik, he wanted to see him clearly.

The man looked up from his dinner, chin still dripping grease. He was extremely fat. He might have been attractive once, for the bone structure buried in the fleshy face was good, but dissipation had long robbed him of it. What was left was greed and gluttony and lust. And intelligence. For all his apparent sloth, he was not a stupid man at all. And his eyes were still striking, liquidly dark, large and thickly fringed with long, delicate lashes. Brightness gleamed in those dark eyes as he surveyed Doyle shrewdly. His English was almost as unaccented as Bodie's.

"Ah, the little English captive I have heard so much about. I have longed to see what attracted my dearest enemy. He has despised the British so much, I was amazed he chose one for his catamite." He smiled, the teeth incredibly white and even, almost obscenely beautiful in the ravaged, pudgy face. "Then again, how better to degrade what we hate than to use them so? And I see Adu Bodie has not lost his eye for beauty. You are a tasty morsel."

Doyle stiffened. "If you know who I am, you know your ends would be better served to set me free. Sir Melvin favors your position and if you wish help from the British consulate--"

"Bah! Sir Melvin? Like all British his promises are cobwebs, spun to quiet the natives as he sucks out their life blood. The help he offered me was bait while the fat spider runs back home, safe and secure."

It was no more than Doyle had already guessed. Still, it was hard to accept. "You must know we were sent as a decoy for a gold shipment meant for you."

"Forgive me, my friend, but permit me greater knowledge than you on this point. I have heard this story and discovered the truth of it. You were sent to cover his own greed. The gold you speak of lines his own pocket. There was never a shipment to decoy. He kept it for himself with you as the scapegoat. You would die in the desert and no one would know the gold had not been taken by thieves or the Jafarr. Meanwhile Sir Melvin holds a tidy fortune, tax free as you British say. Oh, you are a clever lot."

Doyle remained silent. It was all very plausible. He had suspected something like this since they found the strongbox empty. He wondered now what had happened to Zachery when he returned to Aden. Sir Melvin would not have been at all pleased to have him return, very rightly expecting their murder at the hands of Bodie's people. Then again, Zachery believed their guide had robbed them. And since they were captured by the Sheik, it might fit Sir Melvin's scenario perfectly.

Worry for his friend was rapidly swallowed by concern for his own fate as he was shoved down on the pillows beside Fasik.

Fasik wiped his greasy hands on his robe as he eyed his captive. He gestured toward the guards and they salaamed and left the tent. Doyle sat up but didn't try to move away, sensing that the men were still close outside.

The coal black gaze raked over Doyle greedily. "The rumors about you are true. Green eyes. Very pretty. I can see why Adu Bodie held you so long. What little tricks did he teach you, I wonder?"

"Take me back to Aden and you will be rewarded," Doyle offered. "My family will pay for my safe return."

Fasik laughed. "Perhaps. Perhaps not. Your Sir Melvin would no doubt pay more for your silence -- have you not considered that small point? Yes, that is where the reward lies. I am not a fool. And while we wait..." His hand reached out to stroke the tangled curls. "There can be some amusement in your visit. I am not so proud that I cannot use something my enemy has enjoyed. Even if he has cast you off, you are still a lovely piece. Be nice to me and I shall be gentle with you, boy. A man of my years is easily satisfied. Adu Bodie is a young man, hard and cold from all accounts. His use of you must have been trying. You can please me in easier ways. I am not so least not at first." He brushed his thumb against Doyle's lower lip. "You have a most beautiful mouth. Demonstrate its talent and your stay with us can be made more pleasant."

Doyle's stomach lurched at the very thought. That last, hurtful night with Bodie seemed a thousand times preferable to anything this man could demand of him.

And the mere thought of Bodie brought with it all the images he had tried to purge from his mind -- the taste and scent and feel of the young Sheik. The love for him rose up like a new sun, and he could do nothing but laugh at Fasik's suggestion. What he had done with Bodie -- good or bad -- was not for anyone else to take. They might very well kill him first, but this was where he drew the line. And this was how the final certainty came. He loved Bodie, for better or worse, and while his anger at him was still keen, what he could endure from Bodie, he would die before accepting at another's hands.

"Bugger off," Doyle said bluntly.

Fasik drew back, surprised. "He did not train you well at all, I see. No matter. Giving pain is amusing as well."

His distaste and contempt for Fasik made him careless, and the man moved much faster than Doyle expected, trapping him under the immense weight, his hands eagerly exploring, brutal and stronger than imagined. For all his fat, there was muscle, too. Not so many years ago, Fasik had been a hard, dangerous man -- the same man who had defeated Bodie's father. Why had he forgotten that? One of the first rules Gaston had taught him was never to underestimate the enemy, and he had made that fatal mistake.

Immediately, Doyle went limp, mind swiftly reviewing the layout of the room and possible weapons, holding back the panic and letting the adrenaline work for rather than against him. Gaston had said `never let them get hold, but if you do, be of a limpness, like death -- a cat will step back to view its catch... and ze smart mouse will wait.'

Wet lips fastened on his neck, and Doyle shuddered but lay still, biding his time as the rough hands pawed at his clothing and stroked his body. He moaned a little and arched up as if to encourage the exploration, and Fasik chuckled.

"Perhaps I was wrong. You are well trained. So Adu Bodie likes a pretense of resistance, does he not? Good...very good."

Doyle waited, enduring the sweaty, ugly feel of thick fingers moving up his thigh to his groin, the smell of unwashed flesh making him gag. But the longer he waited, the more difficult it was to breathe, the heavy body crushing his chest. As red sparks danced through his vision, he knew he was close to passing out, and if that happened he was done for.

Reaching out stealthily, exploring blindly past the edge of the cushions, his hand finally grasped something solid. The leverage was poor, so the blow he managed to deliver only stunned Fasik, causing him to grunt and roll away, clutching his head. Doyle dropped the bronze seal and when Fasik growled and sat up, he used one of the tricks Gaston had taught him, kicking the man sharply just beneath the chin.

Making certain his adversary was out cold, Doyle took a moment to regain his breath before silently rifling through the tent for things he would need to make his escape.

He bound and gagged the unconscious sheik, draped the waterskins around his own neck along with a leather bag stuffed with bread and fruit, then, using the stolen knife, he cautiously slashed a small cut at the rear of the tent. Once sure the way was clear, he enlarged the opening enough to slip outside into the darkness. He could hear voices at the front, a grumbled argument and then a laugh. Not far away, he heard the sounds of hooves against the sand and the snort of a horse, answered by a soft whinny.

He would have to pass through several feet of torchlight to reach where the animals were tethered. He had to have a mount; on foot across the sand, he didn't stand a chance. Any horse would do, but there was only one he wanted -- Jasmine. She could easily outrun any other horse here, and she would recognize him. And she was his, a gift from Bodie. He wouldn't leave without her.

It was late and the camp was quiet except for the guards outside Fasik's tent and probably a few sentinels posted around the perimeter. Judging his timing to when the men were engrossed in their gaming, Doyle darted across the open space to the safety of the shadows beyond. He crept soft as a cat past one dozing sentinel obviously set to guard a line of weapons propped on a long rack. He paused, looking them over thoughtfully. From what he had seen of Fasik's band, they were no real threat to Bodie's sharply trained men. And yet, a gun in an idiot's hand could be just as deadly.

Doyle pressed tightly against a palm tree as the guard's snore turned into a cough and he woke, standing and yawning widely. Although the Englishman didn't move a muscle, the man must have sensed the watching eyes, for he stiffened and brought up his weapon, edging forward. Making a swift decision, Doyle stepped out from the shadows and kicked with graceful precision, landing lightly on his feet as the guard went down with no more than a startled umphm. Pleased at his success, Doyle took the time to pour a handful of sand in most of the rifle barrels, taking care to wipe the telltale grains from the bores so the tampering wouldn't be noticed immediately. They would give the bastards a nasty surprise when fired.

He moved on to the horses, approaching slowly so as to not stir them up. He gave a whistle almost under his breath, and a head bobbed up fighting against the rope. Reaching Jasmine, he put his cheek against her velvet muzzle, and murmured to the mare who nudged him lovingly. He released the rope and led her to the edge of the oasis. There were no saddles nearby and he wasn't inclined to linger long enough to find them, reckoning he had pressed his luck already. He slipped up onto Jasmine's bare back and sent her flying across the moonless sand with only the stars to light their way.

There was a decision to be made in the long pre-dawn hours after Doyle was comfortable with his escape and reasonably sure they would not catch him easily. He wrestled with the dilemma as Jasmine paced on in no specific route. Doyle could read the stars well enough to have a rough idea of where he was, but it didn't help him decide where he wanted to go. Aden was to the South, Fasik's men to the West, and Bodie to the North. He was traveling Southeast at the moment, but that was mainly because there was a tiny waterhole somewhere in that direction and it seemed logical to make a stop before choosing his final route. It shouldn't be this difficult to make up his mind. In the South was Aden, civilization and freedom. But the North meant Bodie and everything he had fled.

For one of the first times in his young life, there was no one to give him orders or even advice. He was free and reasonably confident that he could make his way back to the city barring another ambush or dismal luck. After that last night in Bodie's tent, he didn't think he owed the Sheik anything more.

Perhaps it was time to stop thinking in terms of debts and payment, and consider giving.

He could think of so many things he wanted to give.

"So we attack?"

Bodie didn't look at his uncle's eager face, nor across the expanse of sand to Fasik's encampment. He was too occupied with the increasingly difficult business of simply remaining in the saddle. He wiped the back of his hand over his eyes, ostensibly to brush off sweat, but actually in an attempt to clear the dizziness. His right leg was hot and swollen, pain shooting up his thigh in throbbing rhythm. The sword wound had never healed properly, and in his carelessness he had permitted it to fester. Now, it was infected, poisoning his bloodstream and building a fever that brought beads of sweat to his brow and weakness to his limbs. Gaston had been right -- he was foolish. He knew better than to let an injury go unattended. But he had done so, assuming he would heal as swiftly as he did usually. And now he had no choice. He had to continue, could not afford to relax and spend the time needed to heal. He had to find Ray.

"Nephew! Do we attack?"

Bodie started, amazed that he had momentarily slipped out of focus. "What?"

His uncle looked at him suspiciously. "Are you well? You are not--"

Bodie interrupted tersely. "Why do you think they are here in our territory?"

"Obviously they are scouting our defenses. There are no children in the camp and few women. It is a war camp."

Bodie agreed. "It must be. But why so foolish, unless they have superior arms?"

"Perhaps. Or they could be testing our strength."

"Are you certain Moshen saw Doyle in their possession?"

Hassid eyed him coldly. "Does it matter so much to you? Is it not enough that Fasik has trespassed on our lands?"

Bodie met his eyes coldly.

Hassid surrendered. "Yes, he followed the band for miles. Your pet was with them, bound."

"So it appears he is not the traitor you thought him." Again Hassid was loath to agree, but found no alternative. While Moshen remained at a discreet distance, the Englishman's resistance had been more than evident. Hassid chose to remain silent, however reserving his judgement.

Instead, he said, "If Fasik has him, he has used him. You know his tastes. By this time your pet is not worth salvaging -- if he is alive at all."

Bodie's jaw tightened. "Yes, we attack."

Although this was what Hassid had wanted, it was far from the reason he had hoped for. This English had an unhealthy importance that he had unsuccessfully tried to dampen. He didn't particularly object to the use of the English with the comely green eyes, but only to the liberal freedoms granted with a catamite. Now, he was not pleased that Bodie's reasons for attacking Fasik had more to do with saving or revenging the English boy than the inherited feud between their peoples.

And his nephew did not seem entirely well. Hassid looked him over worriedly, noting the clammy, pale skin and the feverish eyes. His affection was very real and his concern was honest. "My nephew--"

"Now, Hassid," Bodie snarled, eyes red with fury. He lifted his arm and the fighting tribe of Jafarr fell upon the oasis.

There was much smoke and blood and screams of horses and men, but oddly enough, many of the opposition's guns misfired, exploding in the owner's faces. Surprising as it was, it simplified taking possession of the oasis, and limited the casualties on both sides.

Bodie entered the Sheik's tent, sword drawn. Fasik stood facing him, his own sword unsheathed.

"So, at last I meet the whelp of Satan who rules Jafarr."

Bodie cocked his head, amused. "At last, indeed." He had only once before stood face to face with the murderer of his father, and a part of him was horribly disappointed. This was not the brutal monster of his vision, but a fat, dissolute man.

"There are changes in both of us, I would imagine," Fasik said, smiling. "The last glimpse I had of you was of a skinny, light-eyed boy who spit in my eye and tried to bite me as I took the livestock from your father's camps."

"And the man I remember was as worthy of respect as hatred."

"I should have killed you then. As I said, we have both changed, my pretty youth. Years of poverty and defeat can sour a man. We were friends once, your father and I. But his ideas of power did not agree with mine. Still, you may discover I am still worthy of some respect."

"The English captive?" Bodie demanded tersely, not interested in rehearsing the past. "Where is he?"

Fasik's eyebrow lifted. "At last I see your father in you. Such an appreciation of beauty."

Bodie's patience evaporated. "Where is he?"

"A pretty thing, was he not? I cannot fault your taste."

Bodie paused, unable to accept the implication. "We will find him--"

Fasik laughed. "You think so? You had much more than you suspected, my friend. A succubus, indeed." The older man chortled, lifting his greasy hair to display the crimson mark on his temple. "Your lovely little pet was well trained, Adu Bodie. He put up quite a fight before the end."

Bodie's sword dropped, stunned at the other man's matter-of-fact tone. "You...used him?"

"But of course." The fleshy face lit up reminiscently. "How can one regret paradise, yes?"

Images of what Ray must have endured flashed through Bodie's brain, tainted even more by memories of what Ray had recently suffered at his own hands. With a vicious scream the young Sheik leapt at him, hands fastening around the older man's throat.

Fasik fought him. He was stronger and heavier, and now that Bodie had abandoned the sword, the battle was more even. More than Fasik had hoped. When Fasik's weight landed on Bodie's injured leg, twisting and ripping open the festering wound, the young man fell unconscious.

Amazed by his good fortune, Fasik stared down at him. Outside, the battle raged on and would take a while to settle; perhaps even longer before anyone dared breach this tent.

In his hands was the leader of the Jafarr, lying helpless and limp. Fasik smiled. The battle could easily go against him, in fact, it would inevitably do so. As he had told Doyle, he was no fool, and this had never been intended as more than a scouting expedition. It would have remained only that except for this Englishman who had become so strangely important to Bodie. One took chances in life, and sometimes one lost. He was losing now; he knew that.

Now, however, for a brief moment, he had his young enemy in his power. And the man was unquestionably beautiful. The eyes were closed, but the lashes were as long and seductive as any female's. They quivered on the pale cheeks as he moved in his swoon. The face was exquisite, the body young and fresh. Even if he had been robbed of the pleasure the Englishman promised, this was far better. Before died, he would possess the power of this man, if only for a few moments, and the young Sheik would never forget.

Breathing heavily, Fasik began to strip the unconscious body, hungry to feel the soft flesh. Beyond the canvas walls there were screams of pain and outrage, the sound of guns and grunts of men battling hand to hand. Isolated inside was the soft moan of his captive regaining consciousness, as hands stroked over his body.


The blue eyes flickered open, soft and strangely yielding. Fasik grinned down into the startled eyes. "Ah, so that is how things are. Did you let him take you, this English? How odd. Then you should enjoy being taken by a man who rules--"

Bodie twisted and bucked upwards, fighting the iron hold. Fasik just laughed, careful this time to keep track of roving hands. His superior weight gave him total advantage in this position, the flesh only concealing the hard muscles beneath, and there was little Bodie could do but squirm beneath him.

"Your men may win outside, Adu Bodie. But in here, who will be master? They will kill me after, but once I have planted my seed in you, who will have truly won the battle? You will always remember my dominance. I loved your father. He could have been my ally, my beloved friend, had he chosen, as we were from childhood. You, I now have to enjoy just as I enjoyed your mother. Did you know that I captured her once, when she ran from him? She was so much like you. I seldom remember women, but when I look at you, I see her. That is why your father hated me, why we became enemies. Did he never tell you? We lived in peace until then. I found her after she ran from him. I could not resist her. She was so very lovely, so wild. She fought like a little animal -- just as you fight me now. It was exquisite. After that he swore to destroy me -- over a woman! Impossible! Idiotic, to battle over something so pointless. But he could not live with the thought that I possessed her. He could never forgive me. She was so beautiful, as you are beautiful. And I will take you as I had her.... and your English catamite."

For an endless second, Bodie was filled with panic, unable to grasp what was being said, terrified at the thought of being taken in such a way. Then, suddenly, sickly, he thought of Ray. Is this how he had felt? Helpless against hands on him that he didn't want, useless against a stronger will? Had he done this to Ray? Not only that last, terrible night, but from the very beginning? He found the thought almost as unbearable as his present position. Telling himself it was not the same did not help; in all essentials there was no difference. A loss of choice, robbed of dignity. Ray had tried to tell him that, but he hadn't understood. The last rape had at least honesty to its credit.

As the hands moved over him, Bodie swallowed his nausea and tried to concentrate on putting his confused mind to coordinating his weakened limbs.

Gaston's teachings had not been lost on Bodie after all. Relaxing totally, still feigning grogginess, he waited for an instant of preoccupation and brought his knee up into a brutal disruption of passion. Fasik cried out and belatedly tried to protect his groin. It was enough to enable Bodie to wrench free and turn the tables neatly. His own, rarely used knife, found its way to the fleshy throat.

"Where is the English?"

"I killed him," Fasik snarled, startled and resentful at how easily he had been bested -- again.

The blade pressed deeper. "You lie. Where is he!"

For the first time, fear glinted in the sunken eyes. "He...ran away. Escaped."

The wave of relief was so intense Bodie came close to passing out again. For once his fury was a blessing, anger flaring up again and saving him. "You hurt him?"

"Yes..." He gasped as the knife pressed harder. "No...he ran first..."

"You expect me to believe that, you pig?"

"Believe as you will! He took his horse, disappeared last night... Give me mercy!"

Someone swept inside the tent and Bodie didn't bother to turn, sensing the presence was friendly.

"How goes it?"

"They have surrendered. They say their guns were cursed by the captured green eyes."

Bodie smiled. "Perhaps they were. My father always said that the English seldom make comfortable enemies. He could have been right."

He looked down at the man beneath him, eyes dark and unfeeling. "My father tried to be your friend, but you betrayed him. You say you hurt my mother? And you brag about this? You tried to rape Ray? You ask mercy? You abuse what is mine -- try to abuse me, and you ask for mercy when you offer none? I refuse it."

He slit the Sheik's throat with a butcher's detachment and stood, wiping the blade on an oil-stained tapestry, ignoring the gurgling sound that rapidly stilled.

Swaying a little he demanded, "How many have we lost?" He located his torn shirt and pulled it on.

"Only two, my lord. Asher and Dezri." If he spared a look for the corpse, it was of contempt. "The rats' nest is cleared now. There are no other threats in the desert."

"Very well, we leave now."

"Now?" He looked surprised, having expected to gut the camp entirely. "Surely you don't mean--"

"I said now. Ray...the English is still out there somewhere. I must find--" Bodie broke off suddenly, swaying forward, and his uncle caught him.

"What is it? What is wrong?"

Bodie regained his own legs with difficulty and ran his hand over his sweating brow. "We must find Ray. He will be heading for Aden."

"You are ill, Nephew. You should--"

But Bodie was already leaving the tent and the cooling body of his enemy without a backward glance.

It was Shaizar, some hours later that signaled a halt to the search. The stallion slowed his gait to a canter then a trot and finally came to a careful halt, sensing his master's distress. The Sheik very slowly tumbled from the saddle.


Doyle surveyed the encampment from a safe distance. Even after coming this far, he was unsure of his ultimate course. It was still not too late to break away. While common sense urged him to reject this infatuation and run while he could, another, more powerful force, held him back. He had escaped his captivity, but he was far from free.

The mare made the final decision, scenting the other horses and eager to join them. Doyle smiled and gave Jasmine her head.

He was relieved that the first to greet his entrance into the camp was Gaston.

"Raymond! Mon Dieu! You have returned! You are safe, mon petit!"

Doyle slid down from his horse, a little startled by his friend's pale countenance. "Of course I'm safe. What is it, Gaston? What's wrong?"

The servant swallowed painfully, unable to speak, his dark eyes wide and troubled. "Monseigneur ... the Sheik. He is so very ill--"

Doyle ran to the Sheik's tent without waiting for details. Inside he met Cambridge as he emerged from the bedchamber. His drawn expression implied the seriousness of the situation.

"Cambridge, tell me what's happened."

He looked at Doyle blankly, too burdened with worry to concern himself with the young Englishman's abrupt reappearance. "It's about time you got back. We have an unpleasant night ahead of us, my boy."


"Be silent. I have a nasty task to perform; don't make it more difficult with questions."

Frozen in place, Doyle watched as Cambridge gathered his instruments onto a white cloth, then followed him meekly into the bedchamber.

Bodie was twisting feverishly on the bed. He was awake but obviously delirious. The blue eyes were wide and glassy with his body's burning. He didn't recognize either Cambridge or Doyle.

Ray paused at the entrance, shocked at Bodie's condition. "What has happened? How--?"

"The wound in his leg infected. It is poisoning his blood."

"Like Zack's wound?"

"Far worse than your Zachery."

"But when I left--"

"He was sick even then; it had not reached the critical stage yet. The young fool left it too long."

"What do you mean ... too long?"

"He was searching for you, of course. He wouldn't accept his weakness until he collapsed." There was no censure in the older man's voice, only worry and a dark resignation.

"Looking for me....?" Doyle swallowed painfully. "Please, tell me what I can do?"

"You will have to assist me. Hold him as still as possible."

Eyes wide, Doyle asked hoarsely, "Hold him? What do you mean? What will you do?"

"What I must to save his life."

Observing the instruments Cambridge laid out on the table, Shocked, Doyle's blood turned to ice. "You can't mean to--"

"What else do you suggest?" Cambridge snarled, his own pain and uncertainty apparent.

Gazing at the writhing figure, Doyle had no answer. The man was dying. What was a leg compared to life? But what was life to a man like Bodie maimed?

"English! Ray...Ray!"

Doyle moved forward quickly, kneeling by the bed. "I'm here beside you."

The Sheik's hand reached out and Doyle caught it, trying to soothe the distraught man. "I'm here."

Bodie nearly crushed his hand in his grip. "You can't leave me! I will not permit it!"

"Bodie, I'm here."

The Sheik calmed for a second, then said softly, "I'll lose him ... I'll be alone again."

The bereft look frightened Doyle; it was so unfamiliar and the vulnerability imposed on one so strong was more than he could bear.

"No, no, never, Bodie. I am here."

But the Sheik began tossing again, oblivious to any comfort Doyle could offer.

He had never known fog before, but he had imagined it must be much like this, thick and heavy, blurring his vision; a sensation of being lost. The mist swirled in his mind, hot and cold by turns, muffling sounds and sights, then telescoping them with crystal clarity, hurtfully sharp. Time slowed and ceased to exist. Sometimes the pain was the only reality, seizing him in its razored mouth and tearing, shaking him like a lion ripping its prey. Then the pain would ebb and the fog would swallow him down into darkness. The cycle repeated endlessly with only those sudden, incomprehensible bursts of clarity where he could see and hear and almost understand. Could nearly touch the reality beyond the fog.

He heard Cambridge's voice. Saw his troubled face. Felt his comforting hand.

And once he saw Ray.


But when he tried to rise, the fog sucked him back down, drawing his strength from him, as merciless as Bram Stoker's vampyre.

And Poe's Raven was there ... tap, tap, tapping....

And the Jabberwock with eyes that bite and teeth that catch....

And then he was lost in Chillion's prison, stumbling through stone dungeons, searching ... searching..

"Bodie, I'm here. I'm here."

He shivered at the sound of Ray's voice, happy Ray was not really in this place. He wouldn't like it here at all. It wasn't a good place. It was scary; dark and hurtful. But Doyle had run from him, escaped. Ray was safe. Not that it mattered. He held the keys, didn't he? He couldn't leave, but he would let Ray free. Wouldn't he? He wouldn't make Ray stay in this prison. It was cold here....and so hot. So lonely. No, he couldn't make Ray stay here in Chillion's prison. But if he let him go, he would be alone again. He didn't think he could bear it.

There were other things in the prison...uglier things. In the darkest, deepest part of the dungeon. He had seen them once.... black and red... and he wouldn't look again. It had something to do with holding Ray, keeping Ray.... He had the key. He knew he had the key. He could let Ray go, couldn't he? Save him.

But if he did, the loneliness would crush him.

To love or not to love, that is the...

He had to question himself. Could he afford to lose his heart? What price would be paid if he gave it away? Who would pay the price? Red and black. It was always there waiting. Someone would pay the price.

How could he bear to lose him?

But if he did keep him, would Ray, like the Prisoner of Chillion, learn to love his chains....?

Opening his eyes was strangely difficult. He was so immensely weary that even that tiny effort had to be forced. But the fog was gone. His vision was blurred, clearing rapidly as he blinked. The pain was still with him, like a constant companion, but at least it was confined to his leg again, not engulfing him.

His leg.

The thought brought a bolt of horror. Somewhere back in the fog-laden past he recalled the voices talking ... arguing ... almost shouting ... About him. About--

"No!" he screamed, jerking upright and almost passing out at the resultant flare of agony. Hands caught him, pushed him down.

"Shhh. Lay still, my boy."

Bodie turned his head, gasping. "Cambridge...." His voice sounded rusty, his mouth dry. A cup of water was held to his lips and he drank thirstily, momentarily forgetting his panic. He lay back, more exhausted than he could remember being in all of his life. But the fear returned and he had to ask. Had to know.

"My leg....? Cambridge, tell me...."

"It's all right, son. You're mending now. Slowly, but you're mending, thank god."

Eyes black with dread, he asked hoarsely, "You didn't--"

"No. No, my son. I was going to. God help me, I couldn't see any other way. He stopped me. Now I'm grateful, but at the time .... I was sure we would lose you. Do you understand that? Can you forgive me for that?"

"I am whole?" It was the only thing that mattered, having assumed that the "he" was his uncle.

"Yes. Perfectly."

He shut his eyes in the wash of relief. The next thought intruded automatically, as if waiting urgently for its turn. "Good.... I must look for Ray. I have the keys."


He was sinking again, but the fog was no longer dangerous. It was soft and welcoming, restful. "I can't let him go, but I have the keys. There's a way out.... Find him first..."

"Bodie, Raymond is here. Bodie, can you hear me? He came back."

But the effort sapped the last of his strength and he slept.

It was a long time before he woke again, and this time Gaston was beside the bed.

"Monseigneur! You are feeling better, no?"

"No," Bodie growled, head and leg both throbbing horribly. Yet he did feel better in some indefinable way. Still horribly weak, but his mind was much clearer.

The Frenchman beamed at him. "Ah, when you snarl like so, me, I know you are mending. You are always the ill-tempered one when you are healing. I have some good soup you must now drink."

Grimacing, the Sheik accepted a spoonful, then another, before pushing it away impatiently. "Where is Cambridge?"

"He sleeps. It is such a struggle I have to make him rest. Almost as insensible about ze necessity as Monsieur Raymond--"

Bodie's eyes had begun to droop closed again. Now they opened wide and focused sharply on the Frenchman. "What did you say?"

"I said--" Gaston paused uncertainly. "Is there something wrong, Monseigneur?"

Almost afraid to ask, Bodie stared at him silently, only his eyes questioning, demanding.

"But surely you remember...." Gaston trailed off. "I did not realize you did not know, Monseigneur. Raymond is--"

"Ra-- The English is here? He is in the camp?"

"He has been here since almost the beginning, Monseigneur. Only a few hours after ... after you fell so ill. For days he sits with you--"

"Who found him?" Bodie demanded coldly. "Who brought him back?"

Gaston seemed offended. "No one. He comes alone. When he finds you are ill, he is so very--"

The Sheik waved him silent. "Where is he now? Is he being guarded?"

The Frenchman's mouth tightened. "Non."

"Then order Abdul to keep watch. If he escapes again, someone shall suffer for their carelessness."

Torn between pampering his injured Sheik and defending his innocent Raymond, Gaston clamped his teeth down on any response. Now was not the time to put forward his own views on the situation. Blandly, he offered, "He has been very worried about you, Monseigneur. Shall I bring him?"

"No!" Bodie answered sharply, his own mind whirling, trying to make sense of it. He returned alone? But why? He needed time to calculate Doyle's game. Noticing Gaston's raised eyebrow, he hedged, "Not now. I am weary. Go now. Let me sleep." Let me think.


But there was no time to think. Doyle was there, at the doorway, glowing with delight. "You're awake!"

Their eyes met for one long intense moment. As the tension rose, Doyle's face fell. His gaze shifted nervously, and he flushed pink. "I thought I heard your voice. How are you feeling?"

Bodie considered a dozen possible replies, none having to do with his physical state. Instead, he said mildly, "As you see. Too weak to defend myself against Gaston's horrible soup."

Doyle relaxed a little as the Frenchman protested, "It is not at all horrible soup! It is very good soup."

"It is cold soup," Bodie said pointedly.

Gaston looked thoughtfully from one man to the other. "Quite right, Monseigneur. I shall reheat it." He picked up the tray and hurried out, casting a quick glance of reassurance at Raymond.

Doyle moved closer to the bed, but stopped awkwardly. "I'm pleased to see you better."

The Sheik regarded him without expression.

"Does your leg hurt a great deal?" Doyle inquired uneasily.

"Yes. And if I understand correctly, I have you to thank for it."

Doyle looked startled. "But I--"

"I hardly think you need to apologize for saving my leg. It was you, wasn't it, who stopped Cambridge from amputating?"

"Yes. I ... I couldn't bear ... I mean, I thought you would not ... But, if I had been wrong--" Doyle stumbled over his words, eyes downcast with guilt.

"You were quite right. I would have preferred death. Nevertheless, my survival must be a great disappointment to you."

"I didn't want you to die!" Doyle protested.

Bodie's eyebrow lifted skeptically. "Are you certain of that?"


Again, their eyes met, remembering in black detail the last time they had been alone together. This time, it was the Sheik who looked away.

"Under the circumstances, I find that difficult to believe." Voice laced heavy with sarcasm, "I have never found the English to be so forgiving."

"No one said anything about forgiveness."

The blue eyes snapped up. "And no one requested it!"

Doyle took a deep breath. "And I am not so foolish as to think you wanted to be forgiven. I know you too well."

Bodie closed his eyes tiredly. "Do you, indeed?"

Surprised, and not a little hopeful, Doyle sat down beside the bed. "Bodie--"

"Your trip in the desert seems to have brought you to no harm," the Sheik cut in coldly. "But I trust you now realize how incredibly stupid you were."

Whatever Doyle had intended to say faded before it reached his tongue. "What do you mean?"

"If you wish to kill yourself, English, there are easier and far less painful methods."

Doyle bristled. "You flatter yourself. For what you did, I wanted to kill you, not myself."

"You had ample opportunity for both," Bodie pointed out.

"And will again in the future," Doyle retorted, goaded beyond patience.

"In either case, permit me to lend you my pistol. It is far more efficient ... for either option."

"Shut up--" Doyle's voice broke and he swallowed painfully. "Just shut up. I don't want to kill anyone, damn you. That's why I had to leave, don't you see?"

Bodie's laugh was ruthless. "And you believe going off into the desert was not suicidal?"

"I can take care of myself."

"You are a fool. That proves my point. You think you know the desert now? There are a dozen deathtraps for every one you think you know, English. You worried about thirst? You would be thankful for that simple need if you ever drank bad water and your belly swelled with cramps and you vomited blood. You worried about sunstroke? Worry more about a sandstorm that rips your skin from your face like ground glass and clogs your nostrils until you suffocate. You worried about losing your way? There are places in the desert where the sand will suck you down like a starving mouth and drown you in minutes--"

"Stop it!" Furious, Doyle stood and glared down at the Sheik. "Are you trying to frighten me? Do you think I came back out of fear? Or that any of that would matter if I wanted to leave? Do you believe anything would stop me? Do you really think I came back because I was afraid? Do you?"

The silence was thick with emotion on both sides, neither ready to admit the truth that unwillingly pushed them to the present moment.

"Why did you return?" Bodie finally demanded, praying the answer would be something he could cope with in his current unsteady condition. Fortunately (or unfortunately), it was.

"We have a bargain," Doyle replied flatly. "I don't break my word." He abruptly turned and left the tent.

"Unlike me," Bodie whispered, fist clenching helplessly, remembering his shattered promise not to hurt Doyle.

If only he'd had some time to think before confronting Doyle, the meeting might have gone very differently. But his fear for the boy's safety had blocked out any softer feelings; the anger at his carelessness with his life uppermost in his mind.

Now all he could think about was how he had hurt Ray. It wouldn't happen again. Never. The private oath seared his mind. Even if it meant never touching him again, he would control his passion. His feelings for Doyle terrified him, they were too intense, far too deep. Avoid the danger --

The argument had taken what little energy he had gained, and he felt himself slide back into darkness, the pain in his leg was as nothing to the pain in his heart.


The young Sheik healed swiftly; within a few days he was strong enough to rise from his bed, in little more than a week he was walking with a crutch -- although cautiously. Before the end of the month he had only a slight limp to remind him of his nearly fatal brush. He was well on his way to forgetting he was ever ill and becoming quite annoyed when Gaston or Cambridge tried to remind him not to overdo.

During his convalescence, he and Doyle reached an uneasy truce that slowly became a comfortable plateau in their strange relationship. Absent the pressure of sexual tension, they oddly enough became friends. Confined at first to his bed and then to his tent, the athletic young sheik would have exploded out of sheer frustration had Doyle not discovered ever new and creative ways to keep him entertained. They read and talked for hours -- their conversation strained at first, but rapidly falling into their previous pattern of give and take, and soon moving on to something even more precious -- companionship.

Doyle worked on his art and even tried to teach Bodie how to draw, to the amusement and chagrin of both, since the Sheik's efforts were less than artistic even by the most indulgent standards. His portrait of Doyle, as the subject pointed out sourly, looked a great deal like a camel with curly red hair.

The Englishman's continued practice at knife throwing soon became quite a competition, with Bodie determined to match Doyle through sheer stubbornness if not natural talent. He never quite succeeded, but came close enough to make it a heated contest.

They played endless games of chess, and Doyle taught him how to play cribbage. Bodie taught Doyle some Arabic and read him passages from the Koran.

During this period, Doyle continued sleeping on a pallet Gaston had fashioned in the outer tent. Neither commented on the new arrangements, nor seemed to notice there was anything different from the old accommodations.

But as the days, then weeks, passed, it was Doyle who became restless. Having expected the Sheik's returning health to include a reinstatement to the inner sanctum, he was relieved at the absence of either an order or an invitation. Expecting the summons daily -- it was the basis for their infamous bargain, after all -- he was torn between reluctance and anticipation.

Then, as time passed, his uneasiness at returning to the Sheik's bed resolved into a puzzled disappointment, followed swiftly by a nagging, secret anxiety. Perhaps Bodie didn't want him anymore. Perhaps he was bored with him.

While that didn't equate with the Sheik's increasing demand on his time, his appreciation of his conversation, or the ever softer expression in the blue eyes, Doyle couldn't fathom Bodie's sudden reticence.

The evenings became an uneasy dance of manners. Once supper was cleared and the lamps lowered, the Sheik metamorphosed into a gentleman of the old school. Asking after his "guest's" comfort before awkwardly retiring with strained haste behind the safety of the dividing curtain.

In the first few weeks, Doyle chalked it up to the obvious -- Bodie's weakness from his illness. That excuse rapidly faded as the Sheik's health blossomed. Nor did it correspond with some of the inadvertent glances Doyle intercepted.

Confused, he lay awake one night on his solitary pallet pondering the significance of everything that had happened to him since he had come to Arabia.

While he had no brilliant flashes of insight into the meaning of life, he was positive of one very pertinent fact. He was sexually aroused and although his tried and true method of solitary relief would still work, it didn't appeal in the least.

He tried to think of Helga.

He tried to think of the pretty street women in Aden.

He tried to think of his ex-tutor, Phillipe.

He tried very hard not to think of the man separated from him by no more than a sheet of silk and canvas.

Infuriated, he called himself a myriad of names for becoming rock hard at even trying not to think of Bodie. What kind of person became stimulated at the thought of their rapist? What did that make him?

But he wasn't thinking of the rape. He was thinking of all the other times. And they wouldn't go away. Too many times. All so gentle, so sensual, so filled with unforgettable pleasures.

The pain of the rape would never be erased, but the balance was hopelessly tipping in favor of the other times. And despite his determination, the horror did fade. Perhaps because he knew it was not the true Bodie that inflicted it. A part of him, yes. A dark, ugly element that might exist in anyone if pushed to the extreme. Given Bodie's background and culture, his actions were not even particularly unusual. In fact, his previous forbearance with his captive was unexpected.

But it was still rape, whatever the excuses, whatever the provocation. And Doyle reluctantly admitted there had been some provocation. Acting on it was the sin, and having acted on it, the eternal question remained of whether the sinner was ever to be forgiven his transgression? Or was he doomed forever to be hated for his loss of control?

Doyle wrestled with the question, worried not so much about Bodie's soul as his own. Forgiveness was divine, but it had a sour taste. Understanding and forgiveness were in different pews.

He understood Bodie's rape -- he did not forgive it. It was violent and ugly and unpardonable.

Having settled that, he turned to his side, closing his eyes tightly. But he still burned. He still ached.

Why the hell didn't Bodie demand he return to his bed? He was tired of this uncertainty. Tired of waiting. Tired of--

And truthfully he didn't want the responsibility of asking.

Even now, it was difficult to admit what he wanted, but months of sexual satisfaction had conditioned him. He had fallen into the sensual pleasures easily, whatever his conscious reservations, and now his throbbing body was protesting the abstinence.

The memory of the Sheik's touch on his fevered skin was like that of his first oasis in the desert. The answer to a devouring thirst after being deprived for so long.

So if the crime was rape, who was being punished now? The perpetrator or the victim? Did Bodie even care?

Suddenly angry, Doyle got up and went to the curtained doorway separating the rooms. Refusing to think, he pushed it aside and stepped inside.

One firepot still glowed in the corner, spreading a soft reddish glow.

"English?" A silken rustle of sheet as Bodie sat up in the bed. "Is there a problem?" He was instantly alert, indicating Doyle wasn't the only one having trouble sleeping.

"Yes. No." Doyle swallowed and began again, suddenly feeling like a fool. "I mean .... I thought I heard something. Are you all right?"

Amused, Bodie replied softly, "I am no longer an invalid."

", of course not."



The dark figure approached him silently, outlined in the red glow of the lamp. Doyle's heart hammered wildly against his ribs.

The Sheik's hands unerringly found his face in the dimness. The kiss was sweet, passion held in oh-so-careful check, the fingers sliding with exquisite gentleness along his jaw and throat up into the curls at the back of his neck. Doyle's head fell back helplessly and he shivered at the sensuality of the familiar touch, stifling a moan of pleasure.

Bodie released him and stepped back. "Good night, English."

Doyle blinked, trying to bring the shadow into focus. "Bodie--?"

"Sleep well." The Sheik turned back to his own couch.

Left with little choice, Doyle went back through the barrier of silk curtain to his own solitary pallet.

"Where are we going?" Doyle asked curiously. He left the reins loose for Jasmine to follow the stallion up the tortuous rock trail, knowing his direction would be useless on such terrain.

"There is a place I know. Few have seen it. My father brought me here when I was a boy. Since he died, I come here often when our winter camp is near. Sometimes the seasons are unkind and it is better to go elsewhere. This is a good year."

"Your father showed you this? Like the bat caves?"

He could hear the smile in Bodie's voice. "Not exactly. I think you will appreciate this much more. My mothe-- It is more to an Englishman's taste, I think."

Pulling up Shaizar at a sheer cliff wall, he dismounted and began removing the saddle and bridle. "From here, we must climb."

Doyle's eyebrow lifted as he stared up the rock wall. "I hope you know where we are going." He dismounted and began removing the tack from Jasmine. Following the Sheik's lead, he placed it in a hollow of rock. The horses shook their heads and began grazing on the rich grass that grew along the rocky pathway and clustered wildly around the hint of moisture. A trickle of water moved down the rock face to a tiny pool.

"The spring goes underground at this point and reappears at the oasis where the camp is based," Bodie explained.

"Will we stay here?" Doyle wondered, glancing around at the few spindly palms and barren rocks. The size of the pool was hardly more than enough to satisfy the animals, although it bubbled down continuously from the cliff.

Bodie looked amused. "I promised you paradise, did I not? Does this look like your vision of it?"

"I was thinking of your vision, actually," Doyle admitted ruefully. "You're the Bedouin."

Bodie chuckled. "Even Bedouins have imaginations. Come, the animals will be happy here for a day or so."

"Will they stay?" Doyle asked doubtfully, even now more accustomed to tethering horses than leaving them free, as was often the case in the desert.

"Of course. There is water and enough grass to keep them occupied. Come," he repeated, shouldering his pack and taking a route through the cliffs Doyle had not noticed. Through a trick of the light and the position of the boulders, the pathway was like an optical illusion, invisible until you entered it. Hastily, Doyle grabbed up his own pack and followed. The path was narrow and treacherous, inclining steadily upward, occasionally almost impassible. Twice they were forced to climb straight up a sheer wall of rock with only a few niches for toes and fingers to cling to. Doggedly, Doyle followed the leader, determined to do at least as well as Bodie. He had no idea of where they were going or why, but he had infinite faith in Bodie's purpose.

Squeezing through the last barren jumble of boulders, Doyle stopped dead still, his mouth open in total amazement.

Before him was an Eden.

Walls of gray and rose-colored stone lifted around them in lofty heights, encircling and protecting this haven, the walls glittering with the sparkle of quartz. A fall of water gushed from an aperture in the eastern wall thirty feet above, pouring with a deep musical tone into a large, clear pool.

The sound echoed sweetly against the cliffs, a mist sparking a dozen rainbows in the streams of sunlight slipping in from the west.

There were tamarisk and juniper trees growing hungrily around the pool and in the large crevices of stone, some gnarled and ancient, but lovely in the strange and graceful shapes they had found in seeking moisture from the often unfriendly climate, their leaves emerald green, with white and gold buds falling in erratic showers as the soft breeze caught and moved the branches.

Close around the pool, peeking jealously among the water-smoothed stones and rapacious green ferns was a carpet of flowers, blossoming in brilliant flares of orange and scarlet, nature tinting the wild hues so they didn't clash but bled color back and forth in vivid, comfortable splendor, reflected double in the crystal pool. A dozen hummingbirds suckled nectar from blossoms entwined in vines on the cliffs, their wings glinting iridescent as they sprayed drops of moisture from the falls.

He couldn't speak; had no idea how to express the delight he felt. Only God could have landscaped such beauty -- primitive, wild, yet perfectly balanced and harmonious. Doyle had never been particularly religious, but he subconsciously gave thanks for the simple, soul-deep magnificence he was offered here. It seemed only proper.

"Do you like it?" Bodie asked, strangely shy.

Doyle turned to him, eyes wide, winded both by the climb and the unexpected wonder.

Bodie smiled. "There was a chance the flowers would be open. As it rained in the mountains this morning, I thought perhaps they ..."



But that was all Doyle could bring to mind to say. Just the name. It seemed enough. He shook his head and continued looking at the scene before him with awe. Then, belatedly, remembered the words he needed, "Thank you."

Pleased, Bodie said, "I hoped you would like it."

"How could you doubt it?"

Bodie shrugged. "After all the months in the desert, I thought perhaps a change would be welcome. It is not all so austere. There are places -- times, that are special. Not like your England, I know, but--"

"Bodie," Doyle interrupted, breathlessly, "I have never seen anything like this. Ever."

Satisfied, the Sheik tossed his pack aside and stretched out on the sun-warmed stone. He removed his headdress and ruffled his short locks contentedly. "It is quite comfortable here, is it not? Relax, English. Enjoy. It is only temporary. In a few days the flowers will close and the grass will brown, but for the moment it lives as it is. Nothing lasts forever, but sometimes only a moment is enough."

But the other man was too enthralled by the vision to trust its reality. He touched one of the red flowers, discovered it was a poppy, and trailed his hand through the crystal water, finding it unexpectedly warm. He looked a question at the Sheik.

Bodie smiled, understanding the quizzical glance. "There is a hot spring below. It mingles with the falls from above. The temperature is quite pleasant, depending on the season."

Impulse, for one of the few times in his life, impelled Doyle to begin stripping off his clothes. Casting a mischievous glance toward the Sheik, he asked, "Is it all right if I swim?"

Bodie's eyes narrowed, judging the fall of water. "As you like. But stay away from the southeast corner, or you will be parboiled. When the season is dry, I have seen this pool boiling. You are fortunate, it's been a wet year."

Doyle grinned and dove in, emerging a second later to swim toward the falls.

"What are you doing?" Bodie demanded, a little surprised at how quickly Doyle took him up on his permission.

"It feels wonderful!" Doyle called back, reaching the rocks and finding a flat base on which to stand. It was out of the main power of the fall, catching the side spray without jeopardizing his balance. The water off the mountain was very cold in contrast to the warmed pool, but it felt wonderful, invigorating, shameless. And the freezing water made him temporarily forget his yearning for Bodie. As the liquid rushed down over his body, all he felt was clean, pure and new. Untouched and inviolate as this secret place.

Tilting his head back, drinking in the clear water and letting it wash over his face and saturate his hair and body, he felt reborn. A new man, refreshed and stronger.

Then, glancing out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bodie, lying on the blanket, but up on his elbows, staring fixedly at him, the expression even from this distance, hungry and somehow troubled.

Doyle turned his face back up to the spray of water. A new man, perhaps, he mused, but the goals haven't changed.

It had been nearly two weeks since his abortive attempt to cross into Bodie's space. Two weeks of intolerable frustration.

Judging by the look on Bodie's face, he wasn't alone in that. While he didn't understand the Sheik's hesitation, he had enough of it. It was time to take the initiative. For the first time in Raymond Doyle's young life, he was quite positive what he wanted and was prepared to do what was necessary to achieve it.

Bodie tried very hard not to watch. He was not a masochist, and after his secret oath to himself, watching Ray and being unable to touch the golden flesh was a torture he would prefer to avoid. The temptation to peek, however, was irresistible.

He should never have brought him here. But how could he have foreseen Doyle's first act would be to strip naked and leap into the water? It was not a cultural tradition Bodie was familiar with. If it was British, he hadn't heard of it and certainly couldn't have foreseen the hopeless temptation it presented.

No, he thought resignedly, it was pure Doyle.

The boy had been impossibly, incredibly innocent when he first found him, but the unconscious sensuality was as much a part of him as his green eyes. Devil green eyes, as Hassid insisted.

Hassid knew too much by far.

Holding himself firmly in check, Bodie looked away, refusing to be tempted. Get thee behind me Satan.

It was easier said than done. He stood up and turned his back.

"Bodie! Come on, join me!" Doyle called out happily. "It's wonderful!"

Bodie, pretending to be busy gathering firewood, just shook his head.

"Why? Don't tell me you can't swim?"

"And where in the middle of the desert would I learn such a thing?" Bodie retorted, stung. Impatient at the suggestion of any lack of talent, he looked up. It was a serious mistake.

Doyle was standing beside the falls on a flat rock, a tiny spray of water rushing over his body. Shaking his wet mop of curls, the water droplets sparkled in the sunlight, glinting on his shoulders and hips and ... Bodie bit his lip on a whimper of need as a prism formed in the mist around Doyle, rainbowed light catching and reflecting like multicolored diamonds in the droplets in his hair and eyelashes and groin.

Bodie's breath caught in his throat and, exercising an iron will, he turned away from the sight, his heart pounding wildly. He was as violently and instantly aroused as he had been at fifteen with his first woman.

He concentrated on his task. The dead wood was sparse and not easy to locate.

He stooped to pick up a branch and straightened to find Ray by his side, still bare and gleaming, the green eyes glowing hotly.

Bodie stepped back, startled. He hadn't heard him approach against the low drone of the waterfall.

"Why?" Doyle demanded curtly.

"What?" Bodie dropped the wood and faced him. He tried to ignore the way the drips from the drenched curls slipped down the naked chest, finding an erotic path to the matching curls in the groin.

"Why don't you want me anymore?"

Stunned, Bodie forgot his promise to himself and looked Doyle straight in the eyes. Emerald eyes...exquisite eyes. But I can not touch, Bodie vowed again. And at that moment he hated Doyle. It hurt to want so much, and it was all Doyle's fault. He shouldn't look so entrancing, be so desireable...

"Bodie, why? What have I done?"

"Nothing... Why do you ask--"

Doyle cut short the weak lie. "Are you bored with me? Is that it?"

Vows be damned, Bodie took him in his arms and kissed him as a starving man, wild with the need to taste him, feel his heat and heartbeat.

Doyle moaned in his throat and melted into the kiss, matching the need with a hunger of his own.

It lasted no more than a moment before the Sheik thrust him away violently. Losing his balance on the discarded branch, Doyle ended up sitting on the sand, looking up with a stunned expression.

"No." Bodie said flatly, but he was shaking. "No."

Bewildered and frustrated, Doyle said helplessly, "No? What have I done? What--"

"Stop it! You are behaving like a cheap whore in the market!"

Doyle's expression transformed like magic. It skipped the emotions behind the change -- hurt, anger, rejection -- and became a mask of studied indifference. "But that's all I am, isn't it? Or so you've told me. Bought and paid for. I'd hate to ruin my reputation for services rendered."

To Doyle's amazement, it was Bodie who winced at the reminder. He turned away, unable to face Doyle. "How can you say such a thing? It is not true. It has never been true."

Shakily, Doyle stood, only now beginning to believe that his words had finally found a chink in the Sheik's armor. He could feel Bodie's fear like a prickle of electricity, and it enlivened him as nothing else could. Bodie afraid. Of what? Of me? Why?

He pushed his advantage without understanding it. "You took me as your whore. That was the deal, wasn't it? It was your choice, not mine. I agreed. I haven't backed out."

Disturbed as much by Doyle's nudity as by the conversation, Bodie tried to move away. "You are talking crazy, English."

"Are you saying I imagined the entire thing? Our bargain?" He caught Bodie's wrist and forced him to stop.

"No. But you are exaggerating ...."

"How can you say that? You told me what I was to you. What you wanted from me. Now I want to give it, and you don't want me? Is that it? Please tell me plainly. Isn't this what you wanted me to be?"

" No! Stop it, Ray."

"Oh no. It was a whore you wanted, and I'm willing now. I have no shame. You've awakened feelings in me that I can't ignore. Whatever that makes me, so be it. Teach me more. I'll be whatever you want. I'll be --"

"NO!" Bodie shook free of the grip and backed away. "Stop saying that. You are no man's whore. Forget this. Forget our damnable bargain! What you are to me is .... please, just stop this."

Doyle's shoulders slumped, confused and a little afraid of what Bodie meant. Did he want him to leave? Or did he want only friendship? That wasn't enough now, his heart and body in unison screamed it was not nearly enough. "So it's true. You don't want me. I'm sorry. All I want is .... please look at me ... please ..."

Reluctantly, Bodie lifted his eyes, as if a man facing an impossible task but resigned to endure.

Doyle bit his lip. "I just wanted you to .... touch me. If that's so .... If I'm so ugly to you--"

Bodie laughed harshly, "Ugly? No, you are not that, English."

"Then why won't you look at me? Why have you avoided touching me these last few weeks?"

"You wish to be raped again?" Bodie snarled, patience frayed to tatters.

Doyle stared at him reproachfully. "No, not raped. Not drugged. Not even because of our bargain. Oh, god, Bodie... isn't there another way?"

Bodie looked down at the sand helplessly. "And what way is that, English?"

"Perhaps that ... I want it, too. Want you. That we could want each other? That we forget everything....just for a little while at least? If nothing else, I'll settle for just a day where we can disregard the rest of it. In this secret place, just for the moment. Just for us, just for now. Is that too much to ask?"

Slowly, hesitantly, the Sheik looked up. "I have hurt you. Treated you-- How can you want....?"

Doyle flushed but held the other man's gaze defiantly. "I tried to despise you when you forced our bargain. To hate you when you drugged me. I wanted to kill you when you raped me. Now, all I can do is ... want you. Most terrible of all, I can't be ashamed of that."

Bodie took Doyle's face in his hands, searching it inch by inch, utterly tender. "There is nothing in you, English, to cause shame. I will hear no more talk of such foolishness. You bring only honor and beauty to anything you touch. You have honored me more than I can say."

Doyle leaned into the caress, drinking in the unspoken emotions. "Do you still want me, Bodie? Do you?" His words were less than a whisper, almost inaudible over the sound of the water. As was the Sheik's reply.

Somehow they were on the sand, the kisses deepening as passion supplanted affection. Doyle wanted so much, he wound up with very little as his excitement peaked far too soon. A second later he discovered the Sheik was no more controlled.

He pushed Bodie away petulantly. "Why did you do that? I wanted--"

Chuckling, the Sheik pulled him back into a tight embrace. "That was not me, that was youth. Now, we try for something more artistic."

"Oils or pastels?" Doyle muttered drowsily.

"How about on the blanket? After we wash off the sand."

The deep rhythm of the falls echoed in their chests as they moved together in the shallow water, touching and stroking like new lovers, soft with tenderness, then bold with passion. And this time Bodie asked, in a soft, hungry voice for Doyle's submission. It was granted eagerly, as Ray would have given long before if he'd had a choice.

The rainbows and sparkle of sunlight was long gone from the grotto, but still resonated through them both long after the moon had risen over the dark cliffs.

That night beneath the star-washed sky, lying on the rough blanket with his head pillowed on the Sheik's chest, Doyle came to accept something that he had long suspected and never wanted to believe.

He was in love with Bodie. Totally and unequivocally in love. Oh, he had thought he was in love that night alone on the oasis, but he had not known this feeling. The clawing, dark emotion that left nothing of his own ego, that accepted all the blackness and unpleasant sides of the loved one and still loved, still yearned. He had wanted to love someone and now he did and it had very little to do with happiness. None of the books said that.

Staring at the sleeping man's face in the dim glow of the dying campfire, the hopeful moon long set, the emotion that swept through him was bittersweet. All the volumes he had read, all of his vague imaginings of love, had not prepared him for this. It wasn't a happy feeling, the euphoria he experienced earlier dimmed like a lamp starved of oxygen. It was a coal lit deep inside and smoldering; warming him, but it hurt, too.

Blackly, he knew the feeling could never be returned. While he was sure Bodie was fond of him, how could he ever love him in the same way? Even if he was no longer merely Bodie's whore, he was still bought and paid for with Zachery's life. Bodie was a sheik -- a king among his people. What was Doyle? Nothing. Spurned by his family. An unworldly, ingenuous boy. Any relationship they had would be so unequal as to be laughable.

The most terrible thing was that he wasn't sure he even liked Bodie. Certainly he didn't like his savagery, his occasional cruelty. His unconscious vanity and arrogance that came with being born a prince. And yet, wasn't that all part of what he admired as well? Wasn't all of that, black and white, what made him love him so intensely?

Suddenly he recalled Bodie's own words on another night, "Even dark things can have a beauty to them." The ache in his heart made him sigh.

The Sheik awoke and draped an arm over him sleepily. "English?"

"Go back to sleep," Doyle murmured.

Bodie moved closer, lips nuzzling the other's throat. "Must I?" His free hand slipped down Ray's chest and paused at his groin. "Are you sleepy?"

His body's reaction was automatic and more intense for his sudden revelation. "No," he moaned, encouraging the hand with his thrust of hips, helpless as he had always been with their strange, erotic chemistry.

The Sheik chuckled appreciatively. "I did not think so."

Ray's doubts were subdued by the hungry touch. This was something he could offer. His heart and his body combined. All he had was here to give. And he could never again deny the pleasure of giving. Did true love ever ask anything in return?


Weeks later, in a new encampment, the grains of sand pelted against the tent in a steady, soothing rhythm.

"Sounds almost like rain," Doyle murmured sleepily, snuggling closer to Bodie's chest. He was content as he had never thought he would be, the days calm and satisfying, the nights incredibly sweet. He had never known such peace and, with the innocence of youth, was certain it must go on forever, his earlier ambivalence pushed blindly aside. He had found the happiness he had only dreamed of and had no need or desire to look beyond.

"Does it?" Bodie stroked down Ray's bare side, cupping the round behind possessively in his hand. "And what is it like?"

"Rain?" Doyle lifted his head to look at him. "You're never heard rain?"

"Of course. In season. But it is hard and fast and the sand swallows it before one knows it has been. What I have heard of England, it is different there. Softer, longer, sweeter. My mother told me she loved the rain. I think she missed it very much."

It was the first time Bodie had ever openly spoken of his mother and his tone was relaxed and wistful -- totally unguarded.

Ray kissed his shoulder, "The rain is lovely there ... but it rains a lot. Too much perhaps. People always complain about the weather."

"And you," Bodie said suddenly, oddly intense, "Do you miss it? Your English rain?"

"A little. It always made me sad, but it was a sweet kind of sadness, if that makes sense."

Bodie turned, pinning Doyle to the bed and looked down at him fiercely. "Do not be sad, Ray. Please. Do not miss the rain."

He kissed him then, and the weather was the last thing on Doyle's mind.

But the Sheik pulled away abruptly.

"What is it?" Ray asked, hungry and eager for more. "Come back..."

"No. Wait." Bodie sat up and turned away, leaving Doyle shivering in the night chill.

"Bodie! What is it?" Cursing under his breath, Doyle followed him into the other room, where the brazier still glowed hotly, trailing the blanket around him. The Sheik was sitting on the cushions before it, toying with the chain on his wrist.

Doyle tossed the corner of his blanket around Bodie's bare shoulders as he knelt on the cushion beside him, reaching past to stir up the coals with the poker. "It's freezing."


Feeling the goose bumps on Bodie's arms, Doyle began to scold, then fell silent at the expression on the other's face.

"Bodie... are you all right? Is there a problem?"

"The rain," Bodie murmured, turning the chain on his wrist. "Just the rain...."

"But it's not raining. It's a sandstorm. And it's cold. Why--?"

The clean snap of metal silenced him. The broken chain lay in Bodie's palm, gleaming in the firelight.

Doyle stared at it blankly. "Bodie?"

"Will you accept this from me, Ray? I can never give you rain, but ... please take this?"

Doyle took the chain, meeting the blue eyes in confusion. "But what does it mean? Why?"

The Sheik looked away, flushing. "A whim."

Studying the finely made silver links, Doyle hesitated. "There is no clasp."

"No. If you put it on, it is ... forever."

Even more confused, Doyle pointed out, "But you broke it--"

"It gets in my way with the horses; catches on the tack," Bodie snapped impatiently. "Do you want it or not?"

"Bodie...?" He looked down at the glittering links, sensing the emotion, knowing it would never be spoken -- yet knowing somehow that this was important.

Bodie glanced up, strangely shy. "Do you really want it, Ray? Do you?"

Doyle met the intense blue eyes, felt something very deep and sure inside him, scary and warm all at once. This was a vow. A pledge. Without words, he knew this, and knew it was a seal that already bound his heart. "Yes, I want it. Will you put it on me, please?"

"Yes, of course. Come here." He took Doyle's offered wrist, holding it tenderly. When the links were forged and cooled, he kissed the inside of Ray's wrist and then his palm. "It is almost too large for your wrist. I remember my mother wore it twisted to hold it secure. Yours is hardly much larger."

"I'll be careful," Doyle promised softly. "I'll never lose it. Never."


"It belonged to your mother?"

Bodie turned away, running his hands through his clipped hair, obviously uneasy. "Yes. But I didn't give it to you to start an inquisition."

Enjoying the sensual feel of the fine metal against his skin, Doyle asked quietly, "Why did you give it to me?"

Bodie laughed shortly. "It looks better on you, English."

"You won't tell me, will you?"

The blue eyes gleamed hotly, avoiding the question. "Shall I tell you what I want from you now? In detail? Shall I tell you how beautiful you are, turning blue from cold? Shall we return to bed and I will tell you all manner of lovely things to warm you."

The skillful hands on his naked flesh were already accomplishing that. Doyle moaned, happily moving with the sweet caresses. Oh, Bodie could warm him in a blizzard, let alone a desert winter. And his touch could always make him forget everything ... cold and rain and silver bracelets ... everything but the blissful, erotic moment.

Cambridge's tent was its usual mess of books and newspapers, more disarranged than usual because they had just received the newest shipment from Aden. Doyle ambled around, idly perusing whatever caught his interest as he waited for Cambridge to return for their daily chess match.

Bored, he pulled out his knife and cut open the binding on a stack of newspapers. He flipped through the first two and set them aside, then caught the headlines on the next.

He froze. It was almost a minute before his shaking hands could pick it up and read further.

By the time Cambridge breezed in, the color had returned to his face and he was furious.

"Have you seen this!"

Taking the paper, Cambridge read it without expression. "No. I'm very sorry, Raymond."

"Sorry!" Doyle jumped up angrily. "Did you know about this?"

"How could I?" Cambridge pointed out. "The caravan only returned yesterday."

"But this happened months ago!"

"The news of the world reaches us late--"

"Late!" Doyle exploded. "This is Zachery rotting in prison because we didn't know. I didn't know. Damn--" He started to turn away and Cambridge caught his arm worriedly.

"What are you going to do?"

"What do you think? I have to clear him. They've convicted him of stealing the gold. There was no bloody gold! We all know that. He's suspected of murdering me, for god's sake! The only reason they haven't hung him is because they didn't have a corpse to prove it! I have to help him." He jerked away from the grip and headed for the door.

"Raymond, wait!"

Doyle turned.

"What are you going to tell Bodie?"

Doyle looked surprised. "The truth. I have to help Zachery. I have to go to England and clear him."

"And do you think he will understand that?"

"Of course. Zack needs me."

Cambridge sighed as Doyle rushed out. He rubbed his eyes as the headache formed behind his brow. If Doyle believed things would be that simple, there was a storm brewing. Inevitable perhaps, but one Cambridge had hoped would be delayed until at least one of them was ready for it. This was too soon, and the outcome was grim for anyone in the vicinity.

Doyle found the Sheik with his horses in the training area, as he had expected at this hour. Surprised at Doyle's call, Bodie turned, smiling. He did that a lot when Doyle was near; the boy's presence made him strangely happy. And he was very beautiful standing there in the sunlight, hair glinting red-brown, his skin bronzed, his eyes very green.

Unusually indulgent at the interruption, Bodie waved for Ahmed to continue and met Doyle as he crossed the training area.

"Did you come out to watch?" Bodie asked softly, his hand moving up to tuck in a stray curl of the untrimmed hair. All he could think was how lovely it would be to take Doyle back to his tent and seduce him right now. It wouldn't be the first time; and he remembered how the afternoon light complemented the golden tint of Ray's skin, and the sinfully sweet beading of sweat on their bodies in the heat.

"I must talk to you," Doyle said urgently, oblivious of anything but the problem at hand.

"Yes?" Bodie's brow knotted as he took in the intensity of the request and Doyle's troubled expression. "What is wrong?"

"I don't know how to-- I must leave."

For a long moment, Bodie merely stared at him. It was apparent the words hadn't quite sunk in. He shook his head, his face blank. "We will speak later. I will--"

"No." Doyle grabbed his arm before he could turn back to his horses. "This is important. I have to leave now. Right now!"

Again, Bodie didn't speak, studying him. His features gave nothing away and again Doyle wondered if he had understood what he was saying. Finally, the Sheik freed himself of the vise-like grip on his arm and said quietly, "Wait in my tent. I shall be there soon."

Doyle started to protest, then realized he was being unreasonable. It was important to explain, and that couldn't be done here. He nodded and turned away.

Twenty minutes later, Doyle paced the tent. After a time he realized his urgency was wasted and dropped down limply on a cushion. Months -- nearly three months from the date on the paper. Longer, much longer since Zachery was jailed and indicted. Another hour or so couldn't matter. It couldn't help Zachery. And the Sheik -- Bodie -- deserved to understand why he had to leave. Doyle didn't even think he might not want to understand.

The Sheik swept into the tent and pinned Doyle with his eyes. "What is this nonsense?"

Doyle stood eagerly. "Zack is in trouble. There was a paper in Cambridge's tent. It-- Should I get it?"

"You tell me."

Doyle took a deep breath. "It seems they laid the loss of the gold on Zack. Accused him of theft ... and of murdering me to get it, although since they had no proof of that, they left it at suspicion. In any case, they shipped him back to England, tried and convicted him of theft against the government. They sentenced him to twenty years with no parole."

"I see." Bodie removed his headdress and ruffled his short hair, wiping away the sweat.

Gaston entered, surprised to find them there at this time of day. He looked from one to the other, puzzled at the very different expressions.

"Some tea would be pleasant. Tea, Gaston."

The servant nodded, glancing warily at Doyle. "Ou, Monseigneur." He left.

"I can't believe they've done this to him! Zack was the most loyal, honest person I've ever met--"

"And you have met so many," Bodie interjected, seating himself near the brazier.

Ignoring the interruption, Doyle continued, "--how they could have blamed him for what happened. I can't understand it. When he returned to Aden, he was wounded -- shot! That should have made it clear--"

"Has it taken you this long to understand, Ray?" Bodie said coolly. "Why do you think the lockbox was empty?"

Doyle stopped in mid-stride and looked at him. "Sir Melvin? It was a setup? Fasik was telling the truth?"

Bodie waved a hand at the obvious.

Doyle took a deep breath. "I had wondered, yes. I didn't like it from the beginning. It didn't make a lot of sense, actually. If he wanted to get the gold to Fasik, we were hardly the logical couriers ... we were totally inept. If you were in control of the passes, you would have caught us--"

"And the blame would have fallen on my broad shoulders," Bodie put in helpfully.

The green eyes were wide and dark. "And you would have been blamed for both the gold and our deaths. But since Zack survived--"

"And was foolish enough to say the lockbox was empty before touched by my hand," Bodie prompted.

"--they ...Sir Melvin, decided to blame him."

"The disparate stories were an embarrassment to your superior. It would have simplified matters tremendously had I killed both of you out of hand, as they expected. Your Zachery's reappearance must have been a terrible nuisance."

"Why didn't they believe him?" Doyle was stricken. "Zachery knew what happened!"

"He knew there was no gold. Somehow I doubt this is what Sir Melvin wanted proclaimed since it was undoubtedly already in his own bank account. With such knowledge, your Zachery is fortunate he lived to be put into prison. I am surprised this Sir Melvin did not have him killed out of hand. Since he did not, your Zachery would have been wiser to have said I stole it."

"Zack would tell the truth," Doyle snapped.

The Sheik's eyebrow lifted. "His stupidity is obvious."

"Stupidity! Because he told the tru--" He broke off at Bodie's expression. "All right! I see your point. I don't have to like it."

Doyle began pacing again, an angry light in the green eyes. "So Sir Melvin pockets the gold, sends us out as sacrificial goats, knowing we would be caught--"

It was Bodie's turn to be impatient. "But you must have known all this when you found the box was empty."

"Yes.... Or I thought it likely. I didn't want to believe it, but--"

"You English are so trusting," Bodie remarked nastily.

Doyle stopped and stared at him. "Sometimes. Is that so terrible? That I'm able to trust? That I want to trust?"

Bodie met his eyes squarely. "You tell me."

Doyle dropped his gaze and returned to his pacing. "I suppose I thought Zack would return to Aden, tell them what happened, and everything would--"

"What?" Bodie demanded. "Did you believe Sir Melvin would confess his crime? And your Zachery would be a hero?"

Doyle covered his eyes, unable to remember what it was he had expected. At first his only thought was of getting Zachery back, safe and alive. Beyond that...he hadn't even considered. And that was stupid and unforgivable.

So much of his life in the last few months had been Bodie-Bodie-Bodie, he honestly hadn't spared too many thoughts for Zachery at all. The guilt of that cut in him now. Maybe he should have realized what it would look like when Zachery returned without him; the position Zachery would be in explaining his absence. Zachery loved him too much to ever tell the complete truth of why he remained; would never sully Ray's name in such a way, had given his word not to seek his rescue. At the time, it had seemed the only solution. But that was months ago, and he hadn't even pondered the mess his disappearance might cause, so inured was he to being totally insignificant in the scheme of things. Obviously, this was one time when his presence might have made a difference.

And it wasn't too late.

Straightening, Doyle looked at Bodie. "So you understand that I must leave. I have to set things straight."

Before the Sheik could answer, Gaston returned with the tea tray. He set it down, poured out two cups, and sensing the charged emotion in the air, left immediately with a short bow.

Bodie added sugar to his and watched the other man over the rim of the cup as he sipped the hot liquid.

Doyle hesitated, waiting for a reaction to his pronouncement, and when he didn't get one, he sighed and joined the Sheik by the tea tray. He poured in goat's milk, wondering what Bodie was thinking, only now realizing that the idea of his departure might be a problem.

The controlled calm told him much. The total cold steel of expression told him more. The Sheik was not pleased by anything he had been saying.

He leaned forward, "You know I must go. I have no choice."

"No," Bodie agreed flatly. "You have no choice.

Torn between relief and chagrin that Bodie found it so easy to let him go, Doyle continued, "We are not so far from Aden now--"

"Mars is not so far from Aden as you are." Bodie's voice was cold and unemotional.

Doyle toyed with his cup nervously. "But you said... you admitted I had no choice but to leave."

"You misunderstand," Bodie said flatly. "You have no choice; this is true. The choice is made. You will go nowhere."

Doyle blinked. "What? But..."

"Again you forget who is master here. You make no decisions, you do nothing without my permission."

Heart sinking, Doyle put down his cup. "I apologize. I suppose I should have asked your leave. I was stupid enough -- blind enough to think we had gone beyond that. Very well, I need to go. I have to help Zachery. The reasons are very clear. If I return to England and testify, they will have no choice but to release him. As much as I despise my family, they do have a degree of weight. No one will dare call me a thief or a liar. Therefore, I ask--"



"The answer is no. You will not return to England. You will not go beyond this encampment. Would you like more tea?"


The Sheik ignored the stunned look and poured another cup, adding milk as he knew Ray liked it.

"You can't be serious."

The Sheik met his eyes directly. "Do you doubt it?"

Ray stared at him, appalled. "Bodie, please... you know what this means. A man is unjustly in prison. It's Zack, my friend. Are you saying you won't let me help him?'

"You will not leave here."

"But that's the only way--"

"Then he will suffer the consequences of his foolishness."

The tea tray went flying as Doyle's rage ignited. "You bastard! You know what's at stake. Zachery's in prison now, for god's sake!"

Outwardly unaffected by the outburst, Bodie lit a cheroot and sat back, smoking it. "So you have told me."

"And that doesn't matter to you? That an innocent man is in jail?"

"Not in the least."

"Well it matters to me.

"That changes nothing. You will be and do what I dictate. No more or less."

Their last weeks together were swept away as if nonexistent. Doyle stood, feeling as if something critical had been stolen from him -- his dignity perhaps. Silly to worry about something like that, things like self-worth and independence and love. Illusions, of course. Dreams he had let himself believe were possible. They had never existed for him before, why did he think they did now? Loving someone never changed them. It was a lesson he thought he had learned.

And none of that was important. He could only focus on Zachery and his crisis; his personal dilemma would have to wait.

Knowing Bodie, knowing it was useless, he still tried one more time. "Bodie, I have to help Zack. The only way is to go to England and tell them what really happened. At this point, they will hardly accept a telegram. You know that. I don't want to leave you, I have to. Please see that."

"Your altruism is admirable, but I do not share it. The subject is closed. Would you like one of the scones Gaston prepared? They're on the floor here, somewhere. He must have made them for you. I prefer the seed cakes."

Doyle said leadenly. "Even now, after.... even now you do this to me? Treat me like a possession? How? Why, Bodie?"

The Sheik leaned over and began picking up glass shards from the floor. "This was valuable china, you realize. Imported from your own country. Very careless of you, to destroy something of such great price."

"Bodie, why won't you listen to me?"

Bodie continued to pick up the pieces. "I have listened. You will not leave."

Doyle covered his face with his hands. "I wish you could see. Could understand. I'm sorry, Bodie."

"Sorry?" Bodie looked up from righting the tray. "For what?'

"I'm sorry you refuse to understand. What Zachery means to me, the importance of loyalty ... and that I cared for you. Loved you."

Abruptly, Doyle was gone and Bodie stared down at the wreckage on the carpet, the words echoing in his ears.

"Loved?" he whispered. It sounded very final. And in the past tense. As something finished.

He started to get up, then hesitated, kneeling there for a long time, staring into the red coals of the firepot, trying to unravel his feelings of possessiveness and jealousy from .... love.

He sat there for a very long time. And the dark side won.


There wasn't much time, but there was something he had to do. Tethering the mare outside, he rushed into the tent.


The old man looked up, not from a book, but a painting that he held in his lap. Doyle knew what it was -- or rather who it was -- and it made him hesitate.

"She was so very beautiful, you know," Cambridge said softly. "But not at all wise."

"I came to say goodbye," Doyle offered weakly. "I know you'll understand--"

"Oh, understanding. A lovely idea. But none of us do, do we? Understand, I mean."

" mean, I guess not. Listen, I wanted to thank you for--"

"Raymond, do you love him?"

Doyle stopped dead still. "I... Why do you ask me that?"

"Because I wish to know."

Doyle dropped down in a chair and rubbed his eyes tiredly. "I thought I did. But every time I'm sure of it he--

"Turns into someone you cannot love?"

Doyle looked up, startled. "Yes."

"That's a real problem, you know. These people one falls in love with. They keep changing. Growing. Living. It's a pity one can't put a stop to it. It would save a great deal of trouble."

Puzzled, Doyle wasn't sure how to answer.

"There should be some way developed to fix them at just the moment one likes them best. Freeze them perhaps. They can be so troublesome otherwise."

"Cambridge, I have to leave. He won't listen to me. He won't understand."

"Have you tried freezing him? No, I suppose not. It would make for domestic harmony, but an extremely chilly pillow."

Doyle stood, too shaken and distressed to listen to more of Cambridge's bizarre philosophy or unconventional lessons of life. Bodie would look for him soon, maybe try to stop him.

"I must go. I really am very grateful for--"

"Does he love you, do you think?"

Doyle shut up, staring at the old man, and it seemed his heart skipped a beat.

"No," he whispered, the pain of it stabbing through him. "No, he doesn't love me."

"Then what do you think that chain on your wrist signifies?"

Looking down at the silver bracelet, Doyle touched it, remembering the night Bodie had taken it from his own wrist and placed it on his. Strangely enough, it had been a serene and tender evening; the passion taking second place to the closeness they felt. The fireworks between them had for once been muted and had warmed rather than blazed. And he couldn't remember ever being happier in his life than he had that one special but unspectacular night.

Doyle toyed with the chain thoughtfully, then pressed it so hard against his skin it left the impression of the links embedded in his flesh.

"He won't tell me what it means."

"You're an intelligent boy. Perhaps you can figure it out for yourself."

"Possession, perhaps," Doyle replied bitterly. "It is a chain after all."

"And are you so dim? Is not possession a part of love? Not the most admirable part, but a need nonetheless? Insecurity forges the chains. But all chains can be broken. Isn't it only understanding and acceptance that makes wearing them bearable?"

"I don't know what you're talking about. Chains are chains. I can't be owned. Not and love at the same time. I've tried. I simply can't do it. Why can't you understand that? Why can't Bodie?"

"Perhaps because he's terrified you'll do exactly what you're doing. Run from him."

"Cambridge, I have no choice. I have to help Zachery."

"I see. But is that the only reason you're leaving, Raymond? You must know how this will hurt him. Make very sure you know the real reason you are going. Think, boy. Think beyond your excuse. See the truth, whatever it is."

Doyle stood, pushing away the words. "Excuse? It's Zachery's life! I can't think about any of this now. There's no time. I have to leave."

"That certainly makes it simpler for you. An admirable rationalization. So very noble of you."

"That's not fair!"

"Isn't it? Then why not wait a day or so? Talk to Bodie again. Sway him to your reasoning. You are not totally without power with him. It may cost you some time, but you know it would be possible. Convince him you will return. That he will not be losing you forever. That is what he fears. His fear is part of him. Unlike the bracelet, it is a chain he wears unwillingly. It was forged in his soul. Can't you accept that and help him break it? In your love, can't you find patience?"

"I can't wait. Because..."


Doyle turned to him, eyes dark and confused.

"Ah...Raymond. Can't you even see the truth yourself? Because you will not return to him. You know that. Don't you think he knows that as well?"

"But I--" Doyle swallowed the instinctive denial. "I do love him. I do."

"Yes," Cambridge said sadly, "I believe you do. But until you are free, neither of you will know for certain."

"And I'll come back. I'll come back to him."

Cambridge smiled and shook his head. "No, not you. A different Ray Doyle perhaps. But never you."

"What? I don't understand."

The old man stood and pulled him into his arms, hugging him tightly. "I wish you well, son."

Doyle hugged him back, frantically, sensing the truth in his words and afraid of their sting. He didn't want to face this now. He was running from so many things and he could not think about any of them. He couldn't afford to or he would never put one foot in front of the other. Cambridge could only see his fear of loving Bodie -- he hadn't calculated his fear of losing him. Or his fear of losing Cambridge and this safe, secure place. A place out of time, out of the stress and the harsh demands of life itself. A life Doyle had never truly been called upon to face until now. Cambridge had his blind spots as well; a fugitive no less than Doyle from all those very same things.

And now his decision was no less intimidating than that singular moment in front of Uncle Cedric's desk. The world was waiting and he was terrified.

"You forget," he whispered, "I've been happy here. Happy. Thank you. And sometime ... thank Bodie for me, too."

Jasmine set off across the desert at a slow canter. Her saddle was hung with waterskins, Doyle having learned his lesson. Even though they were within a two-day journey of Aden at this point, he was cautious. The desert was always dangerous.

He set aside the pain in his heart to plan what he had to do. He realized he would have to sell Jasmine to afford his passage to England. He wished he could shy from that grief as well, for it was too connected to Bodie -- but it was the only choice. There was no other way. Obviously going to the embassy would be pointless if Sir Melvin was still in charge. In fact, Sir Melvin would undoubtedly do his best to silence him, including murder. No, the only way was to go directly to England and use his family's influence and his own physical testimony to exonerate Zachery.

As the distance increased from the encampment, his eyes burned and stung. He wiped away the tears, ignoring their origin. He hadn't cried when he left England -- why should he cry now? This wasn't his home. So why was his heart breaking?

Jasmine snorted and tossed her head. She slowed her canter and danced to one side, sensing another horse behind them.

Doyle looked back. There was a rider following him, approaching rapidly. It wasn't difficult to guess who it was.

Unable to deal with this at the moment, he jabbed in his heels and pushed the mare into a run. He had said his goodbyes, such as they were, and he couldn't face any more.

Jasmine was faster than Shaizar, and she had a lead on him. With luck they could outrun them. For one of the first times in his life, Doyle dug in his heels brutally, instinctively knowing Bodie would not give up easily.

Time went by, air whistled by his ears, muffling the sound of hoofs on sand and the increasingly heavy wind of his mount. He crouched over the flying mane, refusing to look back, refusing to acknowledge his pursuer.

No, Bodie...please...don't do this....

Eventually, Jasmine's race slowed. She was faster than Shaizar, but she couldn't match his stamina. Furiously, Doyle dug in his heels, demanding more, knowing it was hopeless. He could hear the hoof beats close behind, narrowing the distance.

A voice called out. "Stop."

Doyle glanced over. Bodie was close behind; Shaizar's sides slick with sweat, chest heaving for air even more than his own mount. But Jasmine still had the better speed. And Shaizar had been pushed for a longer time. They could still outdistance them with luck. Desperate, Doyle slapped his hand hard against the mare's rump with a whispered apology. Jasmine sprang forward, beginning to leave the stallion behind.

"I will shoot the horse."

The Sheik's voice came over the meters between as calm and clear as if they were speaking across a dinner table.

Doyle looked back and saw the pistol in Bodie's hand, aimed at his horse's head. Across the short distance, he met the frozen blue eyes and knew it was no empty threat. Bodie loved Jasmine as much as he did, but he would, if necessary, cold bloodedly shoot the horse to stop Doyle's escape.

Even as he slowed Jasmine's pace, Doyle wondered dully why he was surprised. This man was a savage, after all. A warrior. He had captured him, held him, raped him. Now he was surprised he would kill a horse?

But I love him, some part of him protested. But now, so very clearly, he saw the part of him that could never love all of Bodie. He could never love this obsession, this irrational jealousy. Could never love the truly savage part of Bodie. Not now. Perhaps not ever.

The horses stopped, both winded, sides heaving with the extended exertion.

Doyle slid off, turning to face the other.

The Sheik did the same.

"When the horses are rested, we will return." Bodie said flatly.


"You have no choice."

"Yes, I do. I'm a man, Bodie, and I have a choice. I am going to Aden and then to England."

Bodie approached him slowly. "How easily you forget our bargain."

"The bargain is finished, Bodie. It was for six months, remember? You set the time yourself. I have been with you for nearly a year."

The blue eyes widened. "What--?"

"You've lost track, haven't you? But I haven't. Ten months, fourteen days. Whatever it meant to you, our deal meant something to me. I do keep my word."

Bodie blinked. "So why have you--"

"Don't you dare ask me that," Doyle cut him off, voice choked. "You know why I stayed. You know."

"But still you leave me now?"

Doyle bit his lip, fighting the betraying tears. "You know why I'm leaving. Why I must leave."

"I do not accept that. I will not permit it."

"You don't own me anymore. The lease is up. It is not your decision."

The blue eyes smoldered. "Do you think I care for bargains or deals? Do you think any of that matters to me? You are mine. You will never leave me, never!"

Doyle closed his eyes tightly. "I must. I'm sorry you don't understand. Whatever you think, it isn't easy for me either." He moved back toward the horse, but Bodie caught his arm and swung him around.

"I said, no. You will not leave me."

"Let me go."

"No. Never."

Tears burning his eyes, Doyle faced him. "Will you keep me in chains then? Bound hand and foot? For I will certainly leave you. You may keep me as a slave, but is that truly what you want? Is it, Bodie? Is that all I am to you?"

"And if I permit you to go, what will I have?"

"My gratitude. My love. Always my love."

The sharp blow snapped Doyle's head to one side. "You lie! You run from me. That is not love." A dark stranger looked from Bodie's eyes, a dragon on a broken leash. "You are mine!"

Doyle jerked free and swung around, using one of the moves Gaston had taught him and put the Sheik down in the sand. He stood above him, waiting for the countermove. One was made. Before Doyle could kick out again, Bodie caught his foot and twisted, sending him face first in the sand. Thereafter, the battle was in closer quarters, the result easily foretold. The Sheik outweighed him and was a more vicious fighter.

But Doyle fought on, blindly, hopelessly, unable to surrender what he knew would be his soul. He was so afraid of Bodie -- he was the only one who could take it from him. And if the fight continued, he would have it from him, one way or another.

Bodie found himself astride Ray, pinning him down, hands on his throat, choking...choking.... Even when the fight was gone from the figure beneath him, he pushed harder, harder....fury glowing red across his vision.

"You will not leave will not..."

And then something deep inside flared red and black and snapped like a chain wound too tightly. He stared down at Ray, whose face was gray from lack of oxygen, breath rasping and painful, and realized what he was doing.

His hands jerked away abruptly, as if touching fire.

"No... No, I cannot...." He moved to one side, stunned, ignoring the coughing and gasping of the other man as he regained his wind.

Shakily, Bodie stood and walked away, then fell on his knees, head bowed, clasping his face in his hands and moaning. His head hurt, his mind roaring and screaming with a million unwanted images. He beat at his head, trying to fight them back, push them away as he had so many times before.

But the image of Ray remained, helpless under his hands, dying under his hands....dying....

And the other scenes flashed back, like angry fireflies, brilliant flashes of insight, wasps that stung and cut and sliced at him. Truth that left him trembling and terrified.

He could feel the sand beneath his knees as he knelt in the doorway. He had torn his trousers again and he knew his mama would in turn scold and laugh as she always did, uncaring but taking the chance to tickle and hug him as if it was some dire punishment. His mother was so pretty, she smelled so lovely, and he felt so good in her arms. He was older now -- nearly seven -- and he shouldn't want to see her so much now that he was so old. But he did because she was special. More than the other boys' mothers who were boring and all covered up and always sharp-tongued. She was clever and fun and loving. Even his father admired her. Adored her. When they weren't shouting they always kissed and hugged a lot. Sometimes they sent him away to Gaston or Cambridge because they kissed so much.

They argued, of course, his mama and papa. But his father only fought with people he respected. Otherwise he just gave orders that were obeyed. But it was clear Mother was a person. Mother was important. Mother was not like other mothers. She would sometimes be listened to.

He smelled tobacco as he inched inside, and knew his father was there. If they weren't kissing too much, they wouldn't send him away. He'd have to wait and see. Sometimes they wanted to be alone if they were kissing a lot. He smiled, knowing his father would also smile at his torn britches, and would be proud when he found his son had achieved them trying to ride an unbroken pony. His father was strong and brave and perfect. He would hug him tight and throw him up in the air when he heard of his triumph with the half-wild mount. Gaston would tell Father how he climbed up again after being thrown and how the pony finally accepted him. Father would be pleased.

He stopped then, hesitating, realizing that his mother might be less happy with the risk taken. Before he could decide how to please them both, voices rose inside and he shrank back into the shadows, turning his attention to the brightly colored top Gaston has given him. Purposely shutting out the harsh voices, preparing to wait it out. When they were kissing a lot, he went away -- when they argued, he would wait, knowing he could come in and stop it if it was too bad.

So they were fighting again. It wasn't unusual. And in some ways it didn't even upset him. He settled down to wait for the end of the argument or the right time to interrupt it and turn their attention to him; a sure way to distract them both.

But he heard his name spoken in anger. Diverted, his attention in the toy was lost, concentrating on the words spoken, suddenly, inexplicably frightened by the tone. He had heard it before, many times, but there was something different now. Something that curled him up in a ball, wincing from the viciousness vibrating around him.

"--think he's happy? He belongs here? You're a fool! This is not his home. It is not my home."

"You are mine, Diana. That is my son. My heir."

She laughed bitterly. "Are you so sure of that? So confident? Of course, the virile, masculine sheik! But you're not sure, are you?"

"Be silent, woman!"

"I've been too silent for too long! I want to be free of you! I want my son free! Let us go! I want to go home!"

"You said you loved me."

"How can I know what I feel? Chained here, I've come to hate you! What choice have I had? What choice does Bodie have?"

"There is no choice. You are my wife. He is my son!"

"You fool! You are so blind. That's not true for either of us. I have never been your wife and even you are not so stupid as to believe he is your son!"

"Hold your tongue, woman! Do not--"

"No, admit it! You know the truth. Say it! Cast me off as an unfaithful woman. Cast him off! He's a bastard. He's not your son! Let us be free of you!"

"No..." The quiet, dangerous quality of his father's voice made Bodie whimper and pull in closer to himself, more terrified than he had ever been. He should go in and stop this, but he couldn't. It was about him this time. He had done something wrong. He didn't know what, but they were talking about him. He looked through the crack in the tent, too afraid to look away, certain that if he watched nothing really bad could happen. They kept bad things away, his mother and father. They made things right.

His mother was backed up against the opposite wall, her eyes wide but defiant. "Yes! Yes, see it! He's not your son. You're not man enough to have a child--"

Struck down by his fist, she still defied him, lost in her fury, ignoring the blood that ran from her nose. "--he's not yours...accept it..."

Bodie curled into a ball, swallowing his whimpers. "No, papa, no..." he whispered.

"You've said enough," the man cut in, a strange quiver breaking his voice. "Please... stop...Diana...please..."

"No! Give me my freedom! Let me go home or I'll tell everyone. Tell them all about Bodie. I'll tell Bodie the truth. Tell him you're not his father; that you're nothing to him! Let me go! Let me be free--"

Bodie had hidden his eyes in his hands, swallowing his sobs, terrified they would hear him and turn their anger on him. It was his fault. He knew that. They kept talking about him, and he knew it was something his father was ashamed of. He didn't belong... somehow he didn't belong. There was something not right about him. A secret. A bad secret. He had done something terribly wrong. And it caused this fight between them ... and for the first time he realized perhaps... perhaps he caused them all. It was him. The wrongness in him.

The sudden, violent explosion made him jump, shaking him. Looking into the tent he could see blackness splattered against the white tent. Black liquid bits that began to drip and slide down in streaks, turning red. And more red, brighter -- crimson and even wetter against the black of his mother's silky hair. It looked sticky; solid pieces amongst the red and black of her hair--

And she had no face. Her beautiful face was gone.

Then her head fell to one side and he saw it was only one side. Her other eye was untouched. Still open. Still very blue and quite surprised.

He watched his father drop the pistol; heard the animal sound of despair coming from his father's throat. It all happened very slowly. He watched his father fall to his knees, his grief exploding with terrifying force, his face dropping to his mother's lap, his fists clutching at her skirts, begging her to be alive, to wake up. Watched Gaston arrive, shocked and stunned by the sight. Watched Gaston close his mother's good eye and pull his father away, holding him, comforting him.

He stood and walked away. He would come back later. When they weren't fighting. He didn't like to hear them fighting. He would come back later....

"....he found me. Hours...I do not know...maybe a day later. I cannot remember... They forgot me at first. Understandable in the circumstances. And then, I do not think they knew what I saw ...."

"Bodie?" Doyle approached him cautiously, watching the emotions tear through the other man before he covered his face with his hands and collapsed, moaning. Doyle reached out his hand and felt his trembling. Impulsively, he took him in his arms, trying to understand what was happening. His throat still ached from the killing pressure, but he had recovered now, enough to know Bodie was going through something even darker. "What is it, please? You have to tell me. What is happening?"

Bodie sat up suddenly and took a deep breath. His face was streaked with tears but he seemed calmer. The violence of his emotions played out and exhausted. "He killed her. I did not remember that. That is very odd. That I forgot."

"Your mother?" Stumbling to find the truth, Doyle realized he had found it, and caught his breath at the horror. "Your father? He--? And you .... you saw it happen? Oh my god, Bodie..."

"They told me she had taken her own life. That is a sin, you know. Even in your Christian religion, it is an unforgivable sin. I hated her for it. Blamed her for... All these years I have hated her." He laughed harshly. "But murder is a sin, too. I can hardly win either way, can I?" He stared down at his hands, then wiped them reflexively against the sand. "The sins of the fathers..." Then he laughed again and there was an edge of wildness, to it. "But perhaps that is not a problem either." Bodie laughed again, the hysteria growing. "And I have dared to worry about their sins? There is true irony. Patricide. That is yet another sin. I killed him, you know. And it was not in battle, but from sheer hate, revenge. I killed him. I thought he had hurt you. Not for my father or mother or what he did to me, but for you. I cut his throat like a sheep. And I am not even sorry."

"Bodie!" Doyle shook him hard. "Stop it. What are you talking about?"

"It makes sense, you know. That he was my father. It is no surprise that I have felt...not right. I suppose I should not have killed him, but I was afraid he had hurt you and whatever else I could bear, I could not bear that."

"I don't understand. Fasik? You think Fasik was your father? How can you know that? Are you sure?"

Bodie's voice was tired and uncaring; he sighed wearily. "It is too late, you know. None of us sees until it is too late. He loved her and he killed her. He loved her so very much. And yet he killed her."

Worried, Doyle grabbed his hands and held them. "Bodie, what is it? Don't--"

Bodie blinked and looked at him. "She wanted to be free, Ray. And he gave it to her. Freedom. The only way he could bear to free her. But he did not want it to end like that. He was a good man. Do you understand that?"

Horrified by the blank expression on Bodie's face, Doyle shook him again. "Bodie! Stop it! Don't do this to yourself!"

Again, Bodie looked at him, and this time the eyes were clearer, returned to the present. He reached out and touched Doyle's face, stroking it tenderly. "I very nearly did the same." He shut his eyes tightly, then opened them, ignoring the tear that slipped from his lashes. "It is all right, Ray. You can go. I will not hold you. You are free. I have the key. I kept losing it, but I knew I had it. Now I understand."


"Go, Ray. Leave. I will not stop you. Not now that I understand."

"I can't leave you like this. Let's go back to the camp and--"

"No," Bodie cut in harshly, pushing away his hands. "Go now. For both our sakes, it is best you leave."

It was difficult to forget those hands around his throat, cutting off his air -- but his response was nonetheless honest, "You wouldn't hurt me, Bodie. I know that. I'm not afraid of you."

"You should be. I have hurt you before."

"No. You've always stopped. You're too harsh with yourself. Whatever has haunted you, you've always held back. You've hurt yourself as much as you've ever hurt me."

Bodie shook his head. "And when I raped you?"

"Even then. We both know it could have been so much worse. I've hurt you, too. Only now do I realize how much and why."

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?"

"No. Nor me either. Maybe just to understand. That's a start."

Bodie pushed him away again and stood. "Not a start. An ending. You are leaving. This is the end."

"No," Doyle argued, feeling a sudden panic. "It doesn't have to be like that. Not now."

"Have you forgotten your precious Zachery?" Bodie reminded him blackly.

"I'll return to you. When I've cleared him, I'll come back. We can start again."

"I do not want you back. This is over, finished. Leave me now."

The words stunned him. Running was one thing, being thrown out was another. "Bodie--"

The Sheik stood, pushing Doyle away. "Enough."

"Please, Bodie. I'm begging you, don't do this. You know I must go. I'll come back--"

"No!" Bodie's hand chopped off the rest of his sentence. "You will not come back. We both know this."

Doyle stared at him, and knew the truth. No, he would not return. He could not. Once free of this tie, he would find another life so very different. It was pointless to deny it. But it hurt.

"I love you," Doyle told him helplessly, truthfully. The one truth he knew while all else was confusion.

Bodie only looked at him, taking in every bit of him, hungry and sad and resentful all at once. "I wish you good fortune."

He turned and caught up Shaizar's reins. Mounting, he rode away without looking back.

Doyle remembered suddenly what the Sheik had said such a long time ago. If you loved me, I should have to let you go. If I loved you I would banish you....

While he had refused to say it, it had happened and they were both damned.


England, 1893

This was the first time he had ever beheld a prison, let alone been inside the bleak, dank walls. Doyle shivered, feeling the despair of the place sinking into his very marrow. He reminded himself that he was bringing salvation to one particular inmate -- and a very odd-looking saviour he must appear in threadbare sailor's garb and sporting the scruffy but first real beard of his life.

It had taken nearly ten weeks to return to England. He had discovered at the last moment that he hadn't the heart to sell Jasmine to the riff-raff that offered a reasonable price, unwilling to place her in hands that might be cruel or use her badly. In the end, he had turned her over to a caravan that regularly traded with the Jafarr. He knew the leader was a friend of Bodie's and, more importantly, that he would never dare fail to safely deliver the Sheik's property.

However such altruism salved his conscience, it definitely delayed his voyage to England. He had little else to sell except the silver bracelet, and he would die before that left his wrist. He made certain it was secure under his shirt sleeve, out of sight, further concealed under a wide strip of engraved leather from Jasmine's bridle. The remainder of the tack he did sell, and it brought enough for food and the bribe for the chief petty officer on an American freighter that would make port at Liverpool -- eventually. In the meantime, he worked. Scrubbing decks, shoveling coal, peeling spuds, and trying very hard not to be noticed by anyone. He had nearly succeeded. There were a few close calls, but the cook and the engineer were both older men with lads of their own hardly many years younger than Doyle, so they kept a watch on him and warned the others away.

Despite their paternal protection, there were a couple of nights, however, when Gaston's lessons with a knife saved his skin. He found himself explaining to the first mate why the boatswain had a four-inch slice in his arm. The first mate, being from Boston, didn't want to hear the sordid details, and sent Doyle rapidly back to the galley, warning him to keep himself scarce and to pray for his soul, as if it had been a seduction rather than an attempted rape. Embittered, Doyle did as he was told, keeping his mind on his goal, to return to London to free Zack.

He refused to think of his home in the desert. Of Cambridge, and Gaston and ... Bodie. It was lost for now. First, he must free his friend. He dared not think beyond that one goal.

He squirmed uncomfortably on the hard wooden chair, finding these last few moments of waiting unbearable. He had arrived in London from Liverpool on the five pound note the cook had generously given him, and the first thing he did was make for the prison where Zachery was incarcerated.

Before anything else, Zack had to know he hadn't been abandoned.

There was a chilling jingle of keys in a lock and the clank of chains. The heavy door opened and Zachery appeared, shuffling in his bondage. If he had been thin before, he was skeletal now, shoulder blades and ribs obvious even under the loose, frayed prison shirt.

Doyle's heart ached. This was his fault.

Zachery sat down in the chair before the mesh wire and looked up wearily, his entire demeanor listless and indifferent. Finally he looked up.

He stared at Doyle for a long time, eyes blank, all the eager light drained from them.

Doyle's fingers entwined in the wire, unable to speak, his heart breaking into bits. Oh Zack...

"Ray?" The voice was rusty, tentative, unbelieving. "Is it you, Ray?"

"Yes." Doyle choked on his tears and wiped his arm over his face. "It's me."

The dark eyes lit like spotlights, glowing with a flash of sheer joy, and his entire frame came to life. "Oh, you're alive! You're all right. I was so afraid for you! Oh, my dear friend, I'm so glad you're alive." His fingers came up to touch Doyle's. They were cold, but warmed as their fingertips caressed. Until the guard slammed his club against the metal frame and they were forced to move back.

"You don't hate me, Zack?"

"Hate you?" Zachery looked puzzled by the idea. "Oh, Raymond, I've thought of you every moment. Worried about you. You saved my life. How could I ever hate you?"

"But they put you in here because of me. It's been so long..."

"I'm sure you came as soon as you could have done. My only fear was that you would be ... unable to come. How could you ever believe I would give up faith in you?"

Doyle dropped his head in his arms and wept. Zack loved him so completely, so truly. Why couldn't he love this man as he did Bodie? He was far more worthy. His faith was total, his goodness and worth beyond question.

"Ray, please ... don't. There's no need. You're here now."

Doyle brought himself under control, snuffling back his sobs with an effort. He looked up. "I'll get you out of here soon, I promise. I've sent a message to my brother who's a member of Parliament. He's out of town at the moment, but they told me he'll receive the telegram tonight. And I spoke to the warden and he's sent word to the Governor. They can't release you tonight, but they're sending you to a more comfortable place until the decision is made. They can't keep you now. You'll be free very soon. I swear it."

With a glance at the guard, Zachery put his hand back on the mesh. Doyle met its warmth, entwining their fingers.

"Thank you, my friend. Thank you."

"Don't. This is all my fault."

"You know that's not true. Sir Melvin is to blame. Perhaps he will pay for his crimes now," Zachery shrugged philosophically, "or perhaps not. Politics being what they are." He studied Doyle intently. "But are you all right, Ray? Really all right?"

"Of course."

"You've changed," Zachery noted.

"I'm older."

The dark eyes watched him, filled with sadness. "No, not only that. You talk of guilt and blame, but I know what you did for me. What you offered for my life. That has been the hardest thing. I feel they should have hanged me for that if nothing else."

"No! The only thing you did was to be my friend. Please don't ever be sorry for that."

Zachery dropped his hand and his eyes. His voice was choked. "Every time I think about... Tell me the truth; did he hurt you, Ray?"

It was an impossible question. There were too many answers, all contradicting, all of them true. But he knew what Zack was really asking, the basic physical question and he could answer that.

"Not really. I don't know what to tell you to make you feel it's all right." He hesitated. "I'm afraid if I tell you the truth ... you'll think less of me."

Zachery merely shook his head. "Never. How could I?"

Doyle smiled sadly. "Once, you told me to follow my heart. I think I did -- for a while at least."

Zachery was silent for a moment, trying to comprehend. "I'm not sure I understand."

Doyle laughed shakily. "Yes, well, neither do I.

Zachery waited and when nothing else was forthcoming, asked softly, "Ray...? Are you saying that you... Did you love him, then?"

Doyle met his eyes, startled. He hadn't expected his friend to reach such a conclusion so swiftly. But Zachery's quick, if occasionally skewed, perception had always surprised him.

"Did you?" Zachery asked again, patient but insistent.

If nothing else, he owed this man honesty. He took a deep breath and replied, "Yes, I think I did. I still do. While you've been rotting in prison, I was having a love affair." He closed his eyes tightly. "So... do you hate me now?"

There was another long silence before Zachery let out his own breath in a heartfelt sigh of relief. "I was so afraid you were dead -- or hurt. Hate you? No, Raymond, I'm not sure I really understand, but if you are telling the truth, I have never felt more consoled in my life."

Doyle's laugh held a touch of hysteria, finding this see-saw of emotion impossible. "Don't you ever get angry with anyone, Zack?"

The other man considered it. "Well, I'm not half pleased with Sir Melvin at the moment."

"Well, there's a surprise."

The guard rapped sharply on the partition again. "Time!"

"I must go."

"I'll have you out of here soon."

"I know. I trust you."

Doyle found himself crying again. God, when would he learn to control his emotions? Still, there were tears of relief and happiness in Zachery's eyes, too, as he was led away.

Arabia, 1893

Bodie stood watching the muted sunset as the clouds moved in to swallow the last glitter of remaining light, listening to the prayers lifted up in the distance.

He felt more trapped in the desert now than he ever had in the past. Trapped and lonely and empty inside, without even the constant bitterness and hate that had warmed him before.

The voices of his people chanted their steadfast prayers that carried across the sea of sand, lost in that vast ocean of deepening twilight.

He had a prayer of his own, but it wasn't directed at any deity and he knew his prospect of an answer was even more remote than theirs. They, at least, had faith. He had nothing but regrets.

"Forgive me, Ray," he whispered, then shivered as an evening breeze swept over him.

England, 1893

Doyle stood in front of the desk and eyed his uncle, a reflective smile curving his mouth. Was it only a little over a year ago he had stood in this precise spot? It seemed a thousand.

That year had changed so much, not only in his life, but in his perceptions of life. His uncle seemed smaller, the power he had wielded over his fate appeared ludicrous now. The room itself felt smaller. Remembering the naive, timid boy he had been, Doyle's smile widened, sympathizing with that pathetic waif, but hardly able to conceive of the fear he had once experienced standing in this very position. It was like something read in a Jane Austin novel, and it seemed so long ago, he had trouble relating any of it to the man he was now. If he hadn't already seen the darkest face of the world, he had certainly been presented with enough to possess a vivid picture of the perils. And, more importantly, what he didn't know he was no longer afraid to face.

"So your friend is free and given a more prestigious post, despite his very ordinary background, and you are now a ... hero. Quite a surprise, I must say."

"I'm no hero."

His uncle huffed and searched for his pipe. "Well, we can agree on that much at least. Your brother, however, seems to want to make you an idol to boost his political ambitions."

"I'm aware of that. I told him to forget it."

"Very wise." Cedric struck a match and puffed busily on his pipe. "We don't want this story bandied about. Could cause a scandal if .... Umm. Hardly good for the family name. Pleased you realize that."

The younger man chuckled. "You think I give a tinker's damn about the family name?"

"I should hope you do! It's the only honorable thing you have left to you after the things you've got up to--"

Doyle laughed outright. "Pardon me, Uncle? You mean being a sheik's bedboy wasn't what you had in mind when you shipped me off to Arabia? You amaze me."

"Don't be absurd! What happened to you-- well, we won't discuss that. It's better forgotten. We must--"

"Oh no, we will discuss it. And loudly, unless you convince my brother to leave all of it alone. He wants me to play up my heroism and play down exactly what took place. I'm telling you right now, if he wants this public, it'll be a hell of a lot more public than any of you wish it to be. All of it. And why I was in Arabia -- against my will, incidentally. And who was responsible for my being sent there. Because I don't bloody give a damn!"

"You wouldn't drag your family down--"

"My family! You must be joking." He leaned forward across the desk. "I'm not ashamed of what I did to save a friend. I'm not even ashamed that I ended up enjoying it." Noting with intense satisfaction the flinch of distaste on his uncle's face, Doyle smiled ferally. "But you are mortified, dear Uncle. The very idea upsets your oh-so-moral guts. Not that you object to fucking a scullery maid or even the odd stableboy; it simply isn't proper to admit to it. And heaven forbid that a Doyle be put in the predicament of a lowly stableboy. Even less that he might relish the situation . . . or should I say the position?"

Cedric looked on the edge of apoplexy; he nearly bit his pipestem in two. "Shut your filthy mouth!"

"Not until I receive what is due to me from this house."

"I see. So it's money you want, is that it? I never thought I would yield to extortion, but with the family name in jeopardy, I have little option. How much? 5,000? 10,000?"

Doyle's expression hardened. "I want what is mine. My mother's legacy."

Cedric snorted. "Your mother had nothing--"

"My mother had her jewels. I want them."

"A few paltry pearls, a cameo, a..."

"A diamond brooch. Yes, I know. I want them."

"They won't bring you a fortune, whatever you imagine."

"They'll bring enough. Enough to get me out of the country. Isn't that what you want, too? What you've always wanted? To be rid of me?"

Cedric eyed him coldly, then abruptly went to the wall, turned to one side the head of a moose and opened the wallsafe behind it. He brought out a small, carved music box and handed it to Doyle with disdain.

"There, that's the lot. She didn't bring much to the marriage besides her wastrel father's debts. But that's the Irish for you. Trust me, it's all there. There isn't much worth pawning."

Doyle had never seen the box before, but as he touched it, he felt an unconscious kinship to it. He tamped down the sudden rise of emotion, unwilling to reveal anything in front of this hated man.

"So what more do you want?" Cedric demanded, returning to his pipe. "Out with it. How much? Obviously you don't care for your family's reputation and honor. How much to keep your silence?"

Doyle was still examining the box, fingers smoothing the intricately carved lid. "Family honor? No, I don't have a lot of that. This may surprise you, but it's worth nothing to me, and so I ask nothing. I have something more important, you see, but I doubt it's anything you will understand. You can't shoot it, or mount it on a wall, or invest it in a bank." He looked up, meeting the other's eyes. "Personal honor. Did you really think I came here to blackmail you? You never knew me at all, did you? You never even tried to know me."

"What was there to know? You're not a Doyle! There's never been anything of a Doyle about you!"

Ray laughed bleakly. "Oh, you would be surprised, Uncle. I once agreed with you. Even welcomed the thought. But I know myself better now. I don't particularly like my heritage, but I've stopped denying it. I can hate more bitterly than any of you. The sight of blood doesn't scare me in the least. And I can surely kill if pushed to it. I think that qualifies me to sit for the family portrait gallery. The only difference between me and you is that I am aware that these are not assets. They simply make me a human. A flawed human. And, god help me, they also make me a Doyle."

"You're talking nonsense again."

"Am I? Well, perhaps I need to illustrate my point in a more forthright manner. Subtlety is definitely not a Doyle trait. There have been enough misunderstandings between us. So, as a beloved teacher of mine once told me, if you're going to kick someone in the teeth, make sure it's for the right reasons." With a single, graceful motion, he put his uncle on the carpet.

The older man looked up groggily, wiping blood from his flowing nose.

"That's payment for destroying my paintings," Doyle explained simply. He smiled down blackly at his shocked relative. "See, there's a bit of the ol' Doyle bloodline in me after all."

Out in the lush garden, hidden by an overgrown lilac bush, Doyle sat on a stone bench and studied the box in his hands. It was a part of his past he had never been encouraged to think about, his first breath having signaled the end of life to the woman who had held this box before him. It had always been too difficult to look back and wonder about her, guilt for his own existence invariably foremost in his mind. But now he pushed that to one side and opened the box.

It was a waltz. Lovely, lilting and poignant. The tinny, melancholy notes twisted at his heart. Inside, nestled in faded red velvet, was a string of a young girl's first pearls, a cameo pin, a pair of garnet earbobs and a small diamond brooch. His uncle had been correct; none of them were worth a great deal. Even the diamonds were of poor quality.

It had been difficult to feel much of a tie to his mother, having her incessantly used as a cudgel to prove to him how little he was worth in comparison to the rest of the family. He had even come to resent her somehow. Resent her death -- even resent her life which brought him his own.

He picked up the strand of pearls and let them slide through his fingers. Had she ever been happy? When she first wore these at some grand ball, had she been thrilled and excited as she flirted with handsome, eager men who jostled for her hand in a dance?

The pearls dropped back onto the velvet with a clatter. He should have mourned her long ago. Having no memory of her in life, it was a bit late in the day to start now. Oddly enough, he had felt more touched and moved by the story of Bodie's mother than his own. The beautiful, stormy Diana, who had retained her dignity and defiance until the end, and imparted to her son all her beauty and dark, dangerous pride. In all honesty, he envied Bodie that splendid heritage.

His own mother had bequeathed him what? Passivity, vulnerability, weak acceptance?

For a second he nearly crashed the box against the flagstone walk. But he hesitated. How dare he judge her, this unknown young girl without even the options he possessed as a man? She had been barely seventeen when she was married to his father, almost the same age as when he left England. Had he been any braver than she? In reality, had his mother been less of a chattel than he had been in the desert? Or had she been offered any more of a choice than Bodie's mother ... or than he had? What was the true difference in their world between kidnap and polite barter?

Or a deal?

He laughed harshly, shutting the box and silencing the music. Was life really made of such things -- bargains, deals, theft? Was love always coerced or bought or stolen? Certainly in his life and Bodie's this had been the overwhelming rule rather than the exception. When had either of them witnessed anything else? His own heritage was hardly more noble than Bodie's.

Suddenly he saw his mother in a new, more tolerant light. She was only a young girl, unable to fight the tide that pushed her against the killing rocks of life. She hadn't even had the chance to fight, to claim what few, paltry rights a woman had in this society.

The wind picked up, tossing down a shower of lilac blossoms. He watched the clouds skip across the darkening sky as he opened the box again, listening to the waltz with a kinder and softer ear.

Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he had intended on returning to the desert -- to Bodie. The funds garnered from the contents of the jewel box would cover his fare. But now he realized it had always been a dream. He had somehow known that deep inside. He loved Bodie, but not enough to return to what he had been there. Cambridge had known that as well; he had said as much, but Raymond hadn't understood it properly. Now he did. Neither he nor Bodie knew how to love.

Despite all that, he would have still been willing to try, except....

Bodie had told him not to return. Had he not wanted him back because Bodie realized he would be different? That he couldn't accept Doyle might return as a man -- an equal?

And Doyle knew now he could return as nothing less.

His melancholy decision made, Doyle shut the box and stood, brushing off the lilac petals, and made his way out the gate into his future.


Arabia, 1894

Bodie entered the tent and hesitated, looking to Gaston for the truth.

"It is not good, Monseigneur. He is very ill."

"What happened?"

"He collapsed while teaching ze children. It is his heart, I think. He asks for you."

Bodie shut his eyes, fighting back his panic. This could be nothing. Just a spell, a spasm. The heat. Anything.

Anything but the chance of losing Cambridge: the man who had loved him, nourished him, taught him.

Steeling himself, Bodie parted the curtains and entered the bedchamber. Cambridge was on the bed, reclining on pillows. His face was waxy, his silky white hair matted with the sweat of pain.

Seeing the look of death on the old man's face, Bodie's strength left him. He dropped weakly to his knees by the bedside.

A thin, blue-veined hand sought his over the coverlet. "Bodie?"

"Yes...yes. How are you...?"

"I'm dying, my boy."

"No! No, you are ill, overworked. Tired--"

Cambridge chuckled. "I wish we had time to debate the point, but we don't. I'd be dead now if I wasn't so blasted stubborn. It's always been my greatest fault. Just ask them at the university."

Bodie gripped the thin hand tightly. "You will not die, Cambridge. We will take you to Aden -- physicians..."

"Doctors can do nothing for this, my boy. And I would prefer to die here in the desert, where I chose to live. I will die in peace once I've told you what I must. I must admit, I almost wish I'd simply written a letter, cowardly or not."

No matter how Bodie's jaw muscles fought it, his chin quivered and his eyes brimmed with blinding tears. "No, you cannot die!"

"Actually, it surprises me a little myself. I've never thought about death as much as I should have done, I suppose. It's such an abstract concept. But, please, don't sidetrack me on such esoteric issues. I've held on for a specific purpose and I simply don't have time to squander. I have something to say to you, boy."

Bodie lowered his head against the bed, fighting back a sob. "Oh, Cambridge--"

"Now, stop that. At least have the courtesy to wait until I'm dead to mourn. I want you to listen to me. Deathbed histrionics are distasteful enough without you making them more difficult."

Bodie pulled himself together and straightened. "Yes, I am listening."

"There is something I must tell you that may cause you to despise me."

"No," Bodie avowed, his heart breaking as he realized he was losing his truest friend and selfishly wondering how he would go on without him.

"Please, just hear me out; you may change your opinion. You know well the story of your father and your mother."

Bodie shut his eyes tightly. "Too well. Shhhh... This isn't important now--"

"Please, it's my deathbed. I'll decide what's important, if you please."

"Yes, of course. But you--"

"About your mother's death--"

"My father killed her."

Cambridge looked surprised. "How do you know that?"

"I remember it. I saw it happen."

For a long time the old man was silent, taking this in. "I'm so sorry. I wasn't aware of that. Why did you never say?"

"I only remembered...." He didn't want to tell him it was the day that Doyle left. He didn't want to think about either the memories that had flooded his mind or the loss of Ray. Even now, months later, it was a wound that would not heal. Now, with a new overload of pain, it was the last thing he wanted to deal with. "I only remembered recently."

"I see." Cambridge sank back in the pillows, voice noticeably weaker.

"You should rest," Bodie began again, but Cambridge shook his head.

"No time. This isn't something I wanted to tell you. In fact, I once thought I would never tell you. But now I know I must. For your sake, not mine. I've been very selfish, you see. I was so afraid you would hate me. And I was never sure it would change anything for you -- not for the good at least. Since Ra-- Well, now I have come to think it might make a difference."

"I do not understand."

"Bodie, Nassar loved Diana deeply, madly. And in spite of everything, she loved him."

"And he killed her."

"Yes. But you have accepted that, haven't you? I truly believe it was an accident. I cannot believe he meant to--"

"No, you are right. I saw. I know he did not plan what happened and that he suffered for his action. We both know he was never the same man afterwards. In truth, oddly, he was undoubtedly a better man."

"Ah. So you have forgiven him?"

"Forgiven him? No. Understood, yes. I can hardly do less, since I have seen the same evil in myself. A dark lesson, but one I grasped before it was too late."

Cambridge regarded him thoughtfully. "With Raymond, you mean?"

Bodie looked away.

"Please, I don't have time to be tactful. Were you afraid of what you felt for Ray? That you loved him too much?"

"Yes. To love like that is an insanity."

"And this is why you never loved? Why you were so afraid to love?"

"Please, Cambridge, you must rest--"

"Bodie, just tell me. I'm right, aren't I?"

"Perhaps. I have never thought about it. I just knew I did not dare feel ... certain things. And with Ray ... I could not stop the feelings."

"I've been afraid of this for years. And I have been loath to tell you everything, but you must know the truth now. That is not your inheritance -- to murder the one you love. I never knew you realized it consciously, that you actually witnessed -- but I've always known it has haunted you. The fear that you would share that jealous madness. And I saw with Raymond how you refused to accept your feelings. I knew the reason, and yet I was too cowardly to--"

"I did fear it once," Bodie interjected. "But no more. Please, just rest. There's no further need for concern--"

"Because you let Raymond go?"

Bodie almost laughed, but it came out more as a choked sob. "No. Ironically enough, I gave him his freedom because I understood at last that my jealousy was my own and there were no excuses. It was my own flaw and I could, in fact, control it simply because it was my own. I could no longer blame it on inheritance or kismet because ... Nassar was not my father."

Cambridge's breath caught in his throat and he clutched at the sheets.

"Cambridge! Are you in pain? Is it--"

The old man shook his head, regaining his breath. "No more than can be expected. Death is always painful in one way or another. This one is more generous than most. It's like...sinking down in stages. My heart is...slowing...I think. Forgetting to beat."

Bodie kissed the delicate hand. "Oh, Cambridge, I wish..."

"So you don't hate me, my boy?"

"Hate you? No, why should I hate you? I love you as I always have."

"But you said you realize Nassar was not--"

"Was not my father. Yes. I remember that, too. On the night he killed her, she told him as much."

Cambridge studied him calmly. "So whom do you believe sired you?"

"Fasik, of course. I know my mother fled. I know she was once captured by Fasik. Not that it is a knowledge I cherish. His blood in my veins is no honor to me. Fasik himself told me what happened, although I do not believe he realized what it meant. I can not believe even he would have tried ... I do not think he knew the result of his rape of my mother--"

"No, Bodie. He was lying."

Bodie stopped, staring at him. "But--"

"I remember what happened also. Your fath-- Nassar rescued Diana before Fasik could touch her. Fasik's luck has always been rather dismal."

"But if... how can... if Nassar was not my father, nor Fasik, then who....?" Bodie looked into the gray eyes and knew the answer, felt as if he should have always known. "You? But how? Why? No! By Allah, no! You loved my father! How could you betray him?"

"Betrayal," Cambridge sighed deeply. "Such a complex word. Life is seldom black and white. Truth is not so easy to grade. Yes, I loved Nassar. But I loved your mother, as well. How can I explain? How can you possibly understand?"

Bodie, fighting a war within himself, demanded hoarsely, "Tell me."

"What can I say to make you comprehend? There was only ever one night between us. Diana was ... how can I make you see? She was so beautiful, a saint could not have refused her. And I am hardly a saint. I loved her, for months I had loved her. What could I do? Repulse her? A stronger man might have done so, I could not. I know now that she was hoping I would help her escape; she was very calculating in her seduction." He regarded Bodie honestly. "I do not lessen my crime by saying so; only state the truth as I see it now. Nor does that knowledge alter or diminish my love for her in any way."

"But you have always said she loved my-- loved Nassar."

"She did. But she loved the idea of freedom more. She would have done anything to gain her freedom."

"Yet you refused to help her."

"I loved your father, too. I only hope you can believe that. It was impossible...impossible. And I knew she loved him. In my soul I knew this. It would have been so very different if she hadn't. She was fighting herself as much as Nassar. For that one, exquisite night, I thought, believed -- dreamed -- it wasn't so. That I could take her away. Make a life for us. That she could love me with a tenth of the passion she felt for Nassar. But it was never possible."

"Why? Why did you stop?"

"Because I saw her eyes in the morning. Eyes that would look to me for help and affection, but not desire. I was nearly old enough to be her father, and I think she viewed me in that light. She loved me, but never as she did Nassar. Do you know how devastating that was to accept? So I made my decision, and whether you choose to believe me or not, it was far more for her sake than mine."


"Do you hate me now, son? For all the years of deception? I have loved you as my son. And I loved your mother and your father. And he was your father ... in every way that mattered. You know that. Don't ever lose that feeling for him. All I ask is that you try to understand and don't hate me or your mother for our mistake."

Bodie stroked the silky grey hair, tears blurring his eyes. "I could never hate you. No, I will never forget Nassar. He was my father and he was good to me. I have been doubly fortunate, for you have also been my father, in all ways that matter. I love you, my dear friend. And I shall never forget you."

Cambridge took a deep breath and relaxed. "This is more than I ever hoped to hear. I am very content. The only advice I leave you, my son, is to let your heart rule your pride. Pride has been the ruin of so many of us. Please don't let it steal your happiness. And remember, you did give Ray his freedom. That is not insanity, that is love."

"Yes, Father."

Cambridge smiled. "Father. I thought I'd never hear--"

But there was no more. Only a quick intake of breath and then his eyes closed. His passing was so peaceful and sudden Bodie was still waiting for the end of the sentence when he realized it was the finish.

He rested his face against Cambridge's chest and wept, putting aside for the moment all the confusion and uncertainty and simply mourning for the man he loved so very deeply.

All his life Cambridge had been there -- from his first steps and first words to the present. The lies had been told with love, and even if they were lies, the love was true.

Bodie lifted his head finally, staring down at the old man, taking in the new truth and accepting it. It wasn't nearly so great a leap to see this man as his father rather than Fasik, the man he had executed. So he didn't have the blood of patricide on his hands after all. It was a relief of sorts.

And there was a greater relief. He loved and admired this man. He could not be ashamed to accept his blood in his veins. And considering what he had been thinking most of his life, it was a comfort. Yet it underlined other problems that had plagued him all his life.

He didn't belong here. In truth, he had never been part of the desert. This was the ultimate proof.

France, 1894

Doyle's French was quite equal to understanding the tirade hurled at him; he damn near had it memorized in all the various renditions. He could almost set it to music. No, they didn't need a dishwasher, cook, or even sidewalk sweeper. He was too skinny, too small, too young, too inexperienced and most of all too English. The last was punctuated by a hawking sound and a splatter of saliva on the pavement near Doyle's feet.

The British were not particularly popular in France at the moment -- as if they had ever been. The present antagonism was higher than usual. Englishmen spending money were tolerated; Englishmen looking for work were about as welcome as body lice. There were surely enough Frenchmen going hungry without being sympathetic to a foreign intruder from a country proclaiming itself the greatest Empire in the world. The French begged to differ on that grandiose status. Waterloo was ancient history and they had a few colonies themselves, merci beaucoup.

During the year he had been in France, Doyle had been informed of these trenchant facts in a variety of ways in numerous towns and cities throughout the country. Whatever the dialect, the message was eternal, and as his sparse funds eroded, so did the compassion and patience of the natives. The occasional odd job was few and far between, and the more destitute he became the less they were inclined to give him a chance. Manual labor was out of the question. Taking one look at his slender frame, the politest of potential employers (and this was France, after all, where politeness was a rarity) only laughed at him. More skilled work already had a score of applicants (all French, German or Dutch, and all held in higher esteem than the English).

So here he stood once more, back on the street. April in Paris. The scent of cherry blossoms and fresh baked bread laced the air. His stomach was empty, he had slept on a park bench the night before, and there were only two lonely sous clinking together in his pocket.

Doyle leaned back against the brick wall and smiled ruefully to himself. This, after all, was what Uncle Cedric had warned him about. Poverty, starvation. The judicious use of the proceeds from his mother's jewels had lasted him for several months, but eventually reached an end. While he'd managed to survive since then through luck and perseverance, both qualities had deserted him with a vengeance in the last few weeks. Wearily, he sank down the wall and rested his face against his knees.

Had he once boasted that he had never gone hungry? Well, it was beginning to be an all too familiar sensation. And it wasn't as romantic as he'd once envisioned. It was uncomfortable at best and at worst . . . at the worst, like now, it hurt.

Helplessly, he recalled the meals at the manor. Roast beef, broiled potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, pheasant, young peas, sweet-cream cakes...

Or even the food of the desert, exotic but sometimes surprisingly delicious. Tender roast lamb or kid, wild rice, kous kous, succulent fruit and honeyed dates....

He moaned, as much at the pain of the memories of who he had dined with as at the gnawing in his stomach.

Doyle sat up, refusing to think of that. It was pointless. Better to regret he hadn't blackmailed his Uncle Cedric. At this moment he knew the true meaning of the phrase "pride goeth before a fall." Well, he had finally hit bottom. It was nearly impossible to even remember he had come to France to be an artist. For one thing he had discovered quite soon that his devotion to art didn't extend to sacrificing his next meal in order to buy canvas and paint. Perhaps that signified he wasn't a true artist. Hopefully, it only meant he was an artist who simply didn't fancy starving to death.

Either way, it hardly mattered. The one unshakable imperative was to survive. In his heart, no matter what anyone labeled him, he knew he was a survivor. Somehow, someway, he would manage. He was hungry, he was depressed, but the spark of determination hadn't deserted him yet. The next step on the agenda was...what? Stealing? Yes, if necessary, he would consider that. At this point, his options had narrowed to a pinpoint.

Oh, Christ, he dropped his forehead back on his knees and sighed.

"Pardon me, Monsieur, are you quite all right?"

Doyle jerked upright at the voice. It was in French but had a distinctly British accent. "Yes... I'm fine, thank you," he automatically replied in English.

The man took a startled step back. "Oh. Excuse me, I thought you were French. I'm very sorry."

Doyle looked up at the man. He was in his late forties or early fifties, with a clipped mustache and an expensive suit. Doyle stood warily, wondering why the stranger was so uncomfortable with his nationality. "Does it make a difference?"

"No... I mean, you startled me, is all." For a second he looked as if he would bolt, but he hesitated. "Are you all right?"

Doyle smiled at him sheepishly. "Yes, of course. I didn't mean to snap at you. It's been a difficult day."

"Ah. That is a pity. And the weather so charming. It was raining buckets when I left Dover last week. Is there anything I can do to help, old chap?"

"No, thank you, though. I appreciate the thought."

The man paused again, uncertainly, as if still undecided about something but unwilling to relinquish his original impulse. His eyes swept Doyle from head to foot, lingering at spots on the journey. "Well, if you're very sure there's nothing I can do...?"

"No, it's kind of you to--" Doyle suddenly caught the expression, poorly concealed in the older man's gaze, and almost bit his tongue. The look was hot, hungry and slightly wistful. Doyle recognized it only because it recalled a similar admiration from a very different pair of blue eyes.

Sensing Doyle's awareness and lack of hostility, the man stepped a tad closer, his voice soft. "Are you alone here in Paris?"


"May I ask where are you staying?"

"I...I don't have a place...yet."

"Well, sometimes it is difficult to find a decent room if you have not booked in advance, yes?"

Some part of Doyle realized exactly what was happening; he wasn't that naive, not anymore. He'd had advances made to him in the last year -- crude, basic and easily dismissed or discouraged by showing his blade or utilizing other skills taught him by Gaston -- but this was quite different. This man was clearly a gentleman and couldn't possibly be doing what he thought he was doing. Not to him.

"You're a very lovely young man. Perhaps you would like to have supper with me? My name is Anthony, by the way. What's yours?"

Every alarm bell went off in chorus. Yes, it was exactly what he thought. He was being propositioned. There was nothing lewd or ugly about the request, however, and the man's class was comforting and familiar. He dimly recalled having belonged to it about a million years ago. As one segment of his mind upbraided himself for even considering the implications beyond the invitation, another part, around about his beltline, just happily clamored supper!?

He was amazed to hear himself respond calmly, "I'm Raymond. Yes, supper would be very nice, thank you. I've heard the hotel down the street serves an excellent coq au vin."

Anthony had been very kind to him and Doyle heaped no scorn or disgust on him. That he saved for himself.

Sitting on a park bench in the afternoon sun, Doyle considered his life and his prospects. Now, thanks to Anthony's generosity, he had five hundred francs in his pocket. Not to mention a full belly and a generous and sincere offer to remain with Anthony as long as he stayed in Paris on business.

Doyle had turned down the offer, not because he was unattracted to the older man, but because of his own confusion.

So he was a prostitute now.

He had taken money for sex.

Worse yet, he had actually enjoyed the sex.

Did that make him worse or better than an ordinary whore?

He had had sex with numerous women since he had arrived in France, and he had certainly enjoyed the encounters immensely. But no more or no less than he had enjoyed being with Anthony who had been the only man since Bodie. Still he had felt no particular need for the contact with Anthony. The interlude had been opportune, not to mention lucrative. However, the sexual sensations all seemed very much the same, male or female. Pleasure, a bit of human warmth and release of tension. For the life of him, he couldn't decide what that made him. If homosexual, surely he wouldn't have enjoyed the women as much. If heterosexual, how could he have savored the night with Anthony?

And none of them even came close to the complex and enigmatic euphoria he had experienced with Bodie.

Obviously his sexual orientation was warped beyond redemption. Not a particularly surprising result considering how he had started, but after his first time with a woman had been so satisfactory, he had been certain he would never touch a man again. And he had obviously been very mistaken. While part of him almost preferred to believe it had been hunger and the money that convinced him, self-honesty told him different. So where to go from here?

The money seemed to burn in his coat pocket, and he wondered if he would feel less damned if he had stolen it. Or if he had earned it by going against his nature rather than with it?

He shook himself mentally and tried to consider the situation logically. Anthony had been more than pleased and had literally pushed the money on him, ignoring the guilty protests. Weak protests. The money was in his pocket and he wasn't sorry it was there. In fact, his earlier depression had faded with the comfort of food and shelter the money represented.

And something more. He wanted to be an artist. He could only be an artist if he survived. He needed money to survive. He needed money to buy paint and canvas and time and a place to paint. No one was going to hire him because of his nationality, his build, and his inexperience. He possessed no marketable skills.

Except one.

Ah, there was the rub. After last night he reluctantly acknowledged the only skill he owned besides painting. And after a year under Bodie's eager tutelage, he was hardly inexperienced in that art.

Even the thought of Bodie made his heart contract painfully. But then it hardened, angered by a memory.

He was so pleased by my innocence!

Now that his innocence was lost forever, it was no wonder Bodie didn't want him back. There would be dozens of virgins available to a sheik. What use had Bodie of old goods? The shine and glitter had worn off.

Already hurt and troubled by his shattered relationship with the Sheik, guilty and uneasy at his own recent actions, it took little to convince himself that his situation was entirely due to Bodie's callousness. That of course he would have returned to Arabia if Bodie had asked him. Or, more importantly, he would never have found himself in this impoverished state to begin with (easily pushing aside the fact he despised his family and had sworn to take nothing more from them -- the reasons for which had absolutely nothing to do with the Sheik).

It was easier to let the resentment grow. His chin went up stubbornly, eyes narrowed with determination. For all Bodie had loved his innocence, there were others, like Anthony, who would appreciate his proficiency.

One art could nourish the other, so to speak.

Selling his flesh wasn't a new thing, Doyle reasoned blackly with his conscience, and Anthony had hardly been his first customer. He had served his apprenticeship in Arabia.

Doyle choked back the flood of emotions as he considered his own survival. What he could do to save a friend he could surely do for himself. After all, it was a little late to consider morality or the sin of his sensual appetites. They had already been developed and obviously would not disappear. What could it matter now? Who was there to care?


Paris, 1895

It was an extremely small room, dubiously enhanced by peeling, water-stained wallpaper and tiny dormer window. A totally cliched artist's garret, complete with drafts and paint-stained floorboards. Geoffrey was delighted. He hadn't seen anything like this for ages. Particularly not inhabited by anyone with real talent.


Turning, Geoffrey's eyes widened. The boy had reappeared from behind the screen, buck naked with a practiced come-hither look in his exotic green eyes.

It was difficult to retain his composure. "Oh my, and I thought you were going to show me your paintings?"

Doyle stretched his lean muscles like a cat reveling in the delightful feel of its body, then looked over his bare shoulder teasingly. "Is that all you want to see? Don't be so shy. I know my own countrymen. Openness is not easy for any of us, is it?"

Geoffrey swallowed uncomfortably and loosened his collar. "Obviously easier for some than others," he replied wryly. "But, on the whole,, I expect not."

Doyle smiled with practiced sweetness. "Don't you like what you see?"

Geoffrey looked from Doyle to the rumpled bed, scanned the inviting flesh, and then glanced down at his surprisingly agreeable groin. He shrugged. "Well, I'm only human, dear boy. You are quite ... uh ... alluring."

Abruptly all business, Doyle rapped out, "Three hundred francs."

Geoffrey just looked at him.

"Very well, for you, two hundred. But that's my final offer, and don't expect anything...strange. I won't do that for any price."

"Well, your subject matter is of course your prerogative. But I really must see the painting first. I would hate to cheat you. It might even be worth more. I'll have to see it first, before I make any guarantees."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Well, that is why I came here."

"You came here to see my paintings?"

"Well, of course. What else?"

Doyle blinked. "You really came to see my art?!"

"Well, that is what I said. Perhaps you weren't listening. I saw some of your work displayed on the sidewalk outside La Place and then your portfolio and the--"

"But why--?"

"Do put some clothes on. I'm not made of stone, you know. And you are a very pretty boy. Not to my usual taste, true, but you have a potent if basic charm. Still, I do prefer my wife. Gretta has some real meat on her bones. The most exquisite curves." He kissed his fingertips. He smiled apologetically. "Never marry a Swedish woman, dear boy. We've been married four years, we have four and a half children -- what can I tell you? She's a very sensual woman. It's a trial to me."

"Does she know this kind of thing?"

"Look for new artists--? Oh, you mean--? Well, I should certainly hope not! What a dreadful thought. No, I think it best I don't tell her about this afternoon, don't you? It might upset her if she thought I came here for ... well, for the reason you are implying." He regarded Doyle earnestly. "I mean, honesty isn't everything, is it?"

Totally bemused, Doyle pulled on a dressing gown and sat limply on the bed. "You don't do this often, I take it?"

"Well, just between me and you, I've never done it."

"What?" Doyle was obviously astounded. "Are you telling me you didn't come here for sex at all?"

Geoffrey looked stricken. "Well, I didn't want to hurt your feelings, dear boy. You did seem to have your heart set on it. But all things considered, I expect we'd better not indulge, don't you?"

Doyle covered his face in his hands, laughter erupting helplessly.

"I must admit, the idea is quite interesting. I've always wondered about this kind of thing. Not as irresistible as Gretta, of course, but very nice nonetheless. Tempting in a epicurean sort of way."

Recovering, Doyle looked up. "So tell me, why did you come here?"

"I already said, I want to see your pictures."

"They're not that good."

"How can you know? Some of them are. The landscape of the Seine against the sunset--"

"No," Doyle's eyes narrowed. "There are dozens as good as me. Better. So why me? What do you know about me?"

The green eyes were as sharp and incisive as a blade. For all his earlier pussycat demeanor, this was obviously one feline who had been abused by friend and foe alike, and was nervously wary of traps.

Geoffrey sighed, knowing only the truth would serve. "Very well, I have a friend. He asked me to check out your work. I did. I happen to like it."

"What friend? Why my work?"

"Shouldn't we discuss your art first? Don't you have some more pieces I can see?"

"I have more, yes. Who sent you here?"

"Isn't it enough that he believes your work has merit--?"

"No. Just save your breath and tell me who sent you, or get the hell out of my room."

"He said you were a nice lad. I'm beginning to think I've the wrong Ray Doyle," Geoffrey stood, provoked by the biting tone.

"Wait! All right, I'm sorry I was rude. Just please tell me."

Geoffrey hesitated. "Zachery Hart, if you must know. He's an old mate of mine. We went to school together."

"Zack?" Doyle sat down suddenly. "He's here, in Paris?"

"Yes. Working on some kind of trade negotiations with the embassy here. He returns to Arabia shortly. He wanted me--"

"How did he know I was here?"

Geoffrey ignored him and continued. "He wanted me to look at your art and see if it was something I could promote."

"Answer my question! How did he know I was here?"

"He saw you in the Montmartre the other night."

Doyle swallowed painfully. "I suppose I don't need to ask what I was doing or who I was with."

Geoffrey looked down at the floor, flushing. "He's worried about you. He wants to talk to you."

Doyle's hands covered his face. Muffled, he said, "No! He owes me nothing."

"Well that's neither here nor there. I think you have promise as an artist -- given the right direction and brilliant management, that is."

Doyle peeked hesitantly from his hands. "I can't see him like this."

"Not in your bathrobe, certainly. However, I promised to bring you for coffee or chocolate on the promenade."

"But I can't let him see what I've--

"You're an excellent young artist," Geoffrey said sternly. "Whatever else you've had to be is of little interest to me or Zachery. Get dressed or he'll think we're not coming."

Doyle was trembling a little, ashamed and shaken. "I can't--"

Geoffrey squeezed his shoulder. "Will you stop saying that! If you don't go, you'll break his heart. He wants to see you, Raymond."

Twenty minutes later they were in a sidewalk cafe. Zachery Hart was waiting at one of the tables by a wall overhung with a riot of golden flowers. He was toying nervously with a spoon.

Seeing Doyle, he leapt up, almost overturning the spindly chair. "Ray!" Ready and eager to embrace his friend, he pulled back after noting the reserved expression. "Please sit down. Geoffrey, thank you for bringing him."

"My pleasure. But I must tell you, he isn't nearly as nice a chap as you said he was."

Zack glowered. Before he could speak, Geoffrey laughed. "However, his art is far better. I'm surprised you even recognized his ability."

Pleased, Zachery leaned forward. "Really? Then I was right? He does have talent, doesn't he?"

"A great deal of talent, however his presentation leaves something to be desired. If we--"

"Do I have nothing to say in this?" Doyle broke in coldly.

Zachery and Geoffrey both turned, startled.

"Well, of course you--."

"I should say--"

"Good," Doyle cut them off. He looked directly at Hart. "Then I thank you very much, but no thank you. I told you--"

"When I was in jail," Zachery put in helpfully.

"--that you owed me nothing. I meant it. I appreciate the effort but--"

"Shut up!"

Doyle blinked. He'd never heard that note in Zachery's voice in all their time together.

Zachery leaned across the table and took Doyle's collar in his hand. "Now you listen to me, you little twit. You told me you were my friend, but I came out of that jail and you were long gone. How do you think that made me feel?"

"But you were all right," Doyle sputtered. "You were cleared. The charges were dropped. You were a hero. I know, I made sure of it. I read the newspapers. They made you first consul to the embassy. They recalled Sir Melvin. Why are you--?"

"And you were nowhere to be found. No congratulations from Mister Raymond Doyle!"

"Zack, that's not what--"

"Not a bloody word. No, he's too busy seeking his fortune. Forget the hurt that might cause his friend, being dropped cold without a word or a thought. Too busy making his own way in the wide world. Well, bloody good for him."


The grip on his collar tightened. "Now I'm going to ask you a couple of questions and you just answer yes or no, got it?"

Doyle nodded, eyes wide, totally astonished that this was Zachery Hart half-choking him across a Parisian cafe table. He had never imagined that Zachery could lose his temper, but looking into the furious eyes it was apparent this was an exception.

"If I hadn't been so fortunate when I got out of jail and I needed a job that suited my abilities, would you or wouldn't you be willing to recommend me to a friend for possible employment?"

"Of course, but--"

"Tut-tut...just yes or no."


"Good. And do you think I should resent you for that recommendation? That you...owed it to me?"

Doyle tried to think quickly around the question, but the hold on his throat was increasingly tight.

"N--No. No."

Hart released him with a smile. "Very good. So you'll listen to Geoffrey like a good boy."

Coughing a little, Doyle settled back in his seat. "You didn't need to do that."

"Didn't I? Listen, Raymond, I may be a mild mannered person, but there are times and places where meekness simply doesn't work. I've been worried sick about you. I looked for you for months. It was no more than luck that I saw you yesterday, and that scares me to death. I don't like depending on luck. I'm not sure if I can forgive you for that."

"Zack, I never meant for you to worry."

"Then what did you expect? That I would just waltz off and not give a damn." He tightened his grip on Doyle's collar for a second, then pushed him back in the chair.

"Ah, Ray, don't you see how selfish you were?"

Doyle lowered his eyes, understanding very suddenly exactly what Zachery was saying. "You're right, of course. It's just ... no one ever cared before. It didn't even occur to me."

His hand reached out across the table and Zack caught it and held it tightly. "I know you want to make your own way in the world and that is all very admirable. But part of that is taking advantage of contacts, as I've learned very well from politics. Your brother's support certainly did me very little harm when it came to my present position. Should I have turned his assistance down? Cursed him for daring to offer? Does accepting his help make me less able in my profession? Am I now a parasite in your eyes?"

"No, I never meant that. Of course not! You love your work and--" Chagrined, Doyle ducked his head. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be rude or ungrateful, it's just..."

"That you didn't want to depend on anyone else. I know that. And that's why I sent Geoffrey around. Trust me, he won't even give you the time of day if it won't make a penny for him."

Geoffrey was outraged. "Excuse me, I--"

"Shut up, Geoff. Remember when you sold my cricket shoes to Binksley after they tossed his in the sump pond?"

"Well, I made a profit, didn't I? We split it fair and--"

"You fellows were mates at school?" Doyle cut in.

Zachery grinned across at Geoffrey. "In a manner of speaking."

"Well, pardon me," Geoffrey snapped. "I'm telling you right now, Pooky, if he's as difficult as you to deal with, count me out. I simply don't need--"

"Pooky?" Doyle regarded Zachery in amazement, biting his lip to keep from laughing.

"Believe it or not, there are worse names to be labeled with in public school. Anyway, Gagsy, do you really want to walk away from Raymond's art and the profit you smell?"

Geoffrey made a face. "I suppose not. But I can't abide temperament, young man. You'd best get that straight right now. No matter how clever you are."

"You like my art?" Doyle looked from one to the other, searching for honesty. "You really do?"

"He pointed you out, Raymond," Geoffrey said huffily, "but I didn't have to pursue it. No one pushes Geoffrey Lynde around!" He hedged, "Well, not unless they have a great deal of money and/or a title. You -- nor Pooky -- have either. He might bully me into looking but he can't make me like it! The Queen herself couldn't make me -- well, maybe the Queen ... or somebody of royal blood, but mostly I wouldn't -- perhaps a duke..." He dismissed his fanciful reverie and shrugged, "You do have talent. I can't guarantee any more, because talent doesn't necessarily sell. But I can tell you it's worth my time in trying."

"Not just because of--"

Geoffrey's eyes narrowed angrily. "Because Pooky asked me to? You're talking about the man who dyed all my underpants purple. Exactly how much do you think I owe the sod?"

It took some time, but they were eventually able to convince Raymond that Geoffrey's interest was sincere -- and not overwhelmingly optimistic at that. Having worked in Paris for over a year, alternately starving and doing whatever was necessary to buy paints and food for nearly that long, Doyle was finally able to accept the cautiously propitious future.

Geoffrey left after an hour or so to return to his beloved plump Gretta and Doyle and Zachery sat alone in the sidewalk cafe, drinking still another chocolate, neither of them quite willing to part.

"I missed you," Zack said finally.

"And I you." Doyle sighed. "You know why I had to leave. My brother would never have let it rest while I was in England. He would have tried to make some kind of half-baked hero out of me to further his political career. Better that he use you. You were the real hero anyway."

"Rubbish. We both know better. All I did was get shot. You--"

"What I did isn't decent fodder for the Sunday papers, is it? If I stayed, I would have had to lie, and I couldn't do that."

Zachery was silent for a moment. "I wanted to see you, Ray. To be certain you were all right. It hurt that you weren't there. You could have left me word of where you were going."

"I'm sorry, I never meant to hurt you. But I knew you would be more worried about me than about your own future. I had to manage by myself. Don't you see? And it did work out well for you, didn't it?"

"Professionally, yes. But do you think that's what I wanted?"

"No, but it did you good, didn't it? You're as practical as any bedouin."

Zachery smiled. "Thank you."

"I do appreciate what you did with Geoffrey, sending him to see my work. It was kind of you."

"You're good, Ray. That's why I sent him."

Doyle looked away, his jaw tightening. Finally he looked back bitterly, "You might as well admit the rest of it. You didn't want to see me being a prostitute. That's the truth, isn't it? That's why you didn't speak to me when you saw me. Because I was ... with a customer."

"Are you saying that to hurt me?" Zachery responded after a long moment.


"Then why say it? You disparage yourself by saying it and that hurts me."

Doyle bit his lip. "The truth does hurt doesn't it?"

Zachery sighed. "You're right. I realized what you were doing, and I didn't know how to approach you about it."

"You were ashamed of me."

"On the contrary. Your greatest fault has always been your inability to see your strength. I'm not condemning you, Ray. I admire you too much. And envy you. I always have."

Startled, Doyle looked up. "Admire me? Why?"

Zachery smiled again and pulled out his watch from his vestpocket. "I've a boat to catch. I don't have time to list all the reasons, nor would it mean anything if I did. You have to figure them out for yourself."


Zachery stood. "I really must go. Please be as nasty as you can to Geoffrey. He's a complete toad. But he's honest enough if you watch him closely. I'm rather fond of him, actually. But I'll never forgive you if you tell him that."

"I don't-- God, Zack, there's so much I need to tell you. So much you've given me--"

"Raymond, if you start thanking me we'll be here all day. And if I start thanking you, we'll be here a month. We can't talk about owing each other anymore, can we? We're friends. Isn't that enough? Are you finally able to accept that as real?"

Throat tight, Doyle just nodded.

Zachery grabbed Doyle up in his arms and held him fiercely.

No one paid attention to two men locked in a fond embrace.

They were in Paris.

Arabia, 1895

Bodie rode far from the encampment with only the limitless desert spanning before him.

Back in the camp, all was safe and at peace. He had spent months training and grooming his heir, making the future of his people secure. A wise move in anyone's view -- even his doubtful uncle's. And made far more palatable by the fact it was Hassid's son, Omar, who was chosen to succeed. He was eighteen now and strong and smart and ambitious. Competent and eager to step into the shoes of power, young as he was. Bodie had been even younger and in many ways far less prepared. Omar, in fact, already had a wife and a child on the way. With their only real threat, Fasik, disposed of, the tribe of Jafarr was secure and would continue and thrive as it had for over a hundred years.

It was his own future that was ambivalent.

He reined in the stallion before a jumble of rocks and sat for a moment, trying to make the decision that had troubled him for months.

It was too early for the bats and his horse was more interested in the sweet grass that sprang from the cliff face than the restless murmur of sleeping wings from the caves. But the memory of this place was strong for Bodie. He remembered...

"My father brought me here..."

Now he knew it hadn't been his true father who had shown him this place. Nassar was just a man -- a decent man -- who had accepted and treated him as a son.

There was nothing of Bodie that belonged to the Jafarr. Even his name was alien, unfitting. It was not just his mother's blood that had made him feel so foreign. All of his blood was of the hated English. His rule here was a false one. Built on lies and false aspirations.

It was past the time he could lay blame for his situation. He faulted no one for it, not his mother or father or -- Cambridge. There had been no malice in the deception he had lived for over twenty-three years. It was no more than a truth that could no longer be denied. He simply did not belong here.

Bodie sought for anger in the thought, resentment, outrage, disappointment. But all that he could feel was a sweet, clean release from responsibilities he had never really desired.

More than that, for the first time in his life -- he was free.


Paris, 1895

"Raymond, there is someone you simply must meet!"

Doyle pried himself reluctantly from the lovely Celeste. "This better be good, Geoff."

"Well, of course it is!" His agent leaned close and whispered urgently, "She's only a model, drop her! I've got a buyer on the hook, you twit!"

"A buyer? What a novelty."

"Oh ye of little faith. I've sold four of your paintings already this evening."

"Oh, thank god. I'm bloody starving. Front me thirty francs--"

"Not until you give back the fifty I loaned you two weeks ago."

"Be fair! That was--"

"Forget it, Gretta's upset with me as it is."

"But I thought you said I was brilliant, a genius, a sure--"

"That was last month when you charmed the Russian countess. You ruined it last week when you insulted that rich Bulgarian count."

Doyle grinned nastily, "The Bulgarian count should've kept his rich, bloated hands to himself! I only broke his little finger. That's not enough to slow him down."

"Forget that. Will you listen for a minute, and pay attention? The man at the end -- I've heard he's a millionaire. And he seems interested in your work. Very interested. Now, will you pay attention?"

Doyle's eyebrows lifted. "I'm all ears. Whom do you want me to seduce now?"

Geoffrey glowered at him. "Will you behave yourself? I haven't asked you to--"

Doyle laughed. "No?"

"No... well, only that once, and you must admit we pocketed a hefty sum on--"

Doyle sighed. "Okay, Geoff. Which one? The fat one with the--"

"No, the other. The slender older gentleman looking at the Arabian picture. And seduction isn't in it. He definitely is not the type. He's been staring at the picture for ten minutes and he just asked to talk with the artist. I can sense it. It's a sure sale, Raymond!"

Doyle froze. "The Arabian... No, I told you, that's not for sale. I didn't even want to put it in the show."

"I realize that, and I insisted because it's one of your best works, Raymond, you know that."

"And it's not for sale."

"How hungry did you say you were? And when's your rent due?"

Doyle's jaw clenched remembering the portrait. "Not hungry enough and the rent be damned. Tell him it's not for sale."

"You're joking, yes?" Geoffrey was appalled. "You're not turning down a definite sale?"

"It's posted below the picture pas à vendre."

Geoffrey stared at him. "You're serious, aren't you?"

"I told you before I agreed to exhibit it. I meant it."

"I know, but...." Geoffrey hesitated, reading the determined green eyes. He sighed tragically. "Gretta told me I'd go broke as your agent." He headed off with the air of a saint relinquishing the sins of the flesh.

Doyle smiled, appreciating his sacrifice. Still, it wasn't just another picture. He wouldn't take ten thousand francs for the portrait. Not even twenty thousand. It was priceless to him. He hadn't wanted to display it at all, but Geoffrey had convinced him it was one of his best work and it would only add to the collection. He couldn't deny that, because the beauty of the piece still personally thrilled him. It was of Bodie and the wild stallion, Shaitan, as he remembered them long after the fateful battle. Both still wary and respectful of the other's power, both still beautiful and only partially tamed, ready to meet as partners of a sort in the game of desert survival. It was of the two of them against a backdrop of only sand, but the power of both figures carried the picture, balancing almost perfectly, despite the animal's larger bulk. There was something in the man's face and stance that pulled the eye and made it equal.

It was Doyle's only portrait of Bodie, the only one he could bear to paint before his regrets swallowed any more. He had realized he had to stop or his career would be spent painting a particular sheik. It wouldn't work -- for his peace of mind or for his art.

Nevertheless, this was a painting he was unwilling to lose at any cost.

Geoffrey returned, very flushed. "Raymond, my dear, you simply must talk to the man. He refuses to even consider another painting. He wants that one! He offered anything for it. Can you imagine? He said--"

Doyle shrugged, bored. "I told you, it's not for sale."


"Tell him a hundred thousand francs."

"I did. He accepted."

Doyle turned to him, astonished. "What?"

Geoffrey looked as stunned as he did. "I only threw it out as a wild figure of what you might accept thinking it would make him look kindly on the price of the other oils. I swear to the Holy Virgin, he didn't even blink an eye. He just said fine. But he wanted to meet you first."

"He's mad," Doyle responded, unable to believe it.

"Very likely. Isn't it wonderful? Come on." He grabbed Doyle's arm and dragged him across the gallery. "Monsieur Bodie, this is Monsieur Doyle, the artist."

Doyle stopped dead at the sound of the name and looked into a face he had never expected to see again. It was older, much older. The hair was grey, the eyes a few shades lighter blue and deeply lined with pain and worry. The nose was slightly larger and more Roman, the mouth less full and sensual. But it was Bodie in the autumn of his life. Still attractive and upright, but there was bitterness and disappointment marking this face that Doyle would never wish on the Bodie he had loved.

Like the Sheik, he was very abrupt and to the point. He acknowledged Doyle briefly, too interested in the picture to stray from the subject. "Where did you find the individual in this portrait, Mr. Doyle? Obviously it is not drawn from imagination."

Raymond managed to close his mouth and wet his lips despite the sudden dryness. "No, sir."

The blue eyes pinned him. "Where?"

"Arabia, sir. It was--"

"That much is obvious! Where? How?" The words snapped out curt and demanding, and Doyle had only to shut his eyes to hear the arrogant echo in a different land.

"I--" How could he answer? It wasn't difficult to guess who the older man was. Cambridge had told him enough and the name -- and more importantly -- the countenance told him the rest. This was Bodie's grandfather. Doyle didn't want to think about the serendipity that brought him here to this small gallery in Paris at this particular time. And he certainly didn't want to explain how and why he knew the man in the portrait.

Geoffrey, perceiving his inability to respond, jumped in helpfully, "It is an striking painting, but as I explained, this one is for exhibition only. However, we have some others that are--"

"No." Doyle said rashly. "He can have it."

Geoffrey's face lit up like Christmas. "Marvelous. Bless you, Raymond! A hundred thousand francs, wasn't it?"

"Pounds," the man cut in coolly. "100,000 pounds."

Geoffrey gaped, eyes wide, unable to speak, visions of a winter villa in Italy dancing through his mind.

"No," Doyle contradicted. "He can have it. Free."

Two pairs of eyes turned to Doyle, equally astonished.

Geoffrey found his voice. "Raymond, you can't do this to me! If the man is willing to pay--"

"I mean it, Geoff. It's his." He turned away and a hand caught his arm.

"Wait, I--"

Silence fell as their gaze dropped to the silver bracelet that encircled Doyle's wrist.

Refusing to release him, the older man stared at it for a moment, then looked up, his face flushed. "Where did you get this? First the portrait and now ... this." He looked stunned.

Gently, Doyle pulled himself free of the grip. "Don't you know? Can't you guess?"

"My daughter?"

"I'm sorry, no. She's dead. For many years."

"You know that for a fact?"

"Yes, I'm very sorry."

The older man nodded, closing his eyes. "As I thought." He opened them and regarded Doyle intently. "And the portrait?"

"Your grandson."

"My--" He paled and turned, gaze fixed to the portrait.

"Would you like a chair?" Geoffrey offered worriedly. "Some water?"

"No! Leave us!" The order was given and Geoffrey slipped away obediently.

Without taking his eyes from the picture, he asked hoarsely, "You say this is my grandson, my Diana's child. How can you know this?"

Doyle proceeded to tell the man exactly who and what his grandson was, and where he might be found, and the sketchy outline he knew of his past. It seemed the right thing to do, somehow, as if fate itself had pushed him to this point. Why else this meeting, after all? Or maybe even, why his meeting with Bodie? It could make some cosmic sense he supposed. Some good might come of it for someone.

For a second the older man trembled, visibly blanching. Doyle reached out his hand to steady him. But he straightened proudly.

"You seem very sure of all this."

"Oh yes, I'm sure."

"How can you be? I've searched for over twenty years and--"

"I've seen you and I've seen him. It was you who found the portrait. What do you think?"

He took Doyle's wrist in his hand, looking at the silver bracelet. "And this?"

"It was given to me."

The blue eyes froze to ice. "Impossible. You stole it from him."

Doyle jerked his arm away. "No one steals anything from Bodie. If you ever get a chance to meet him, you'll know that much."

"Do you understand what it means?" he demanded.

"I only know what it means to me."

The older man looked confused for a second, then his face hardened. "How much do you want for your information?"

Doyle fought back his rage, seeing the stiff-necked pride in the figure and recognizing it, not only in the Bodie he knew, but in his own family as well. Not a particularly admirable trait, but one all Englishman must share to one degree or another.

"I don't want your money, sir," he replied at last, forcing a calm he was far from feeling.

"But--" The older man looked at Doyle, then at the portrait. His face softened. "He is so very like Diana."

Shaken to his soul, Doyle slipped away, unable to face any more.

Later, he made certain the portrait was shipped to Sir Bodie, free of charge, ignoring Geoffrey's wounded protests.

He had seen too much of the Sheik in Sir Bodie and the reminder of what was lost was like a knife in his heart. But each sexual act was a reminder. Every lover's touch a hollow echo of Bodie's, often leaving him frustrated and bitter with his current lover, cold and even occasionally cruel. He wanted to be free of all of it and the portrait was his last tie to the past.

No, it could never be for sale but it could be surrendered. It had finally served the enigmatic purpose for which it had been painted. Kismet perhaps. It was bittersweetly satisfying to know that he had lost Bodie in the cause of revealing his existence to his own flesh and blood.

The last tie? Hardly the last. The bracelet was a different matter. It still weighted his wrist, still held its purpose by chaining him to the memory. But somehow he couldn't be free of it. He had sworn he would never take it off and it was a pledge he could not bring himself to break. He knew that it meant he could never really escape the memories -- but some deeper, more honest, part of him never wanted to lose them.

Arabia, 1896

Bodie had no idea how to react. The man in front of him was a stranger, and yet....

"You are very like her, you know. My girl--" The man's voice broke and he turned away. Somehow Bodie sensed this was not a man who was easily moved nor easily disturbed.

Awkwardly, Bodie stepped back. "Who are you? What is it you want?"

"Don't you know? No, of course not. How could you?"

But Bodie did know, suddenly, totally. "My mother's father? You are--"

"Yes. If your mother's name was Diana Phillipa Bodie. Yes, I think so."

Bodie swallowed and sat down on the side of the well. "How did you find me?"

"I had some information that you came to Aden the first day of the feast of Ramadan. I waited."

"There are many wells in Aden, how did you--" He stiffened. Memory flashing on another meeting on this very day some three years past. "English told you? But this isn't even the same well."

The older man also sat down, weary. "Then it was providence that we meet. Fate is kind for once. My information was very sketchy and these squares are similar."

"So it was Doyle who told you where to find me?"

"Did you give him Diana's bracelet?" the old man countered.

Bodie blinked, surprised at the question. "How do you know that? What did he tell you?" Bodie stood angrily. "Why are you here? What do you want from me?"

"What do I want?" The shoulders slumped and suddenly the man looked very old, very tired. "The past, which I lost. The future which is impossible. Everything. Nothing."

Drawn despite his will, Bodie sat down beside the old man. "My mother ... told me about you. She loved you very much. She never ceased longing for you."

The pale blue eyes looked up hopefully. "Truly? And she never--"

"She never blamed you for what happened to her, if that is your question. It was not your fault. And she was happy in her life."

Some dark weight shifted and the bowed shoulders straightened a bit. "She was happy? If I could only believe that-- My girl was happy, truly?"

Once more a lie seemed the best choice, the more merciful -- he understood Cambridge very well now -- and this time it was only himself to know it was a partial truth. He owed it to the memory of his mother, certain of what she would want him to answer. "Yes. All her life, she was happy. She missed her home very much, she missed you. But she was happy."

He stood and gathered up the reins, preparing to mount.

"No, please, don't go. Not yet." The man looked panicked. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean for you to be uncomfortable .... William, don't go."

"My name is Bodie," he snapped.

"Yes, your last name. Our name. But I know she would have named you William if she could have done."

Bodie started to protest and then realized he had no other name. He could hardly use his Arabic name any longer. And, strangely enough, he had never known Cambridge's surname. Not that it mattered. He had already decided to go his own way, and a name was the least of his troubles.

"I am sorry. I cannot be what you want of me." He mounted the horse and turned it away.

"Perhaps you can't be William, but you are my grandson. Is that so impossible? I lost my daughter, do you deny me that as well?"

Bodie looked down, feeling torn. "I do not even know you. How can I make promises?"

"You don't know what I want. Can't we just talk to each other? I've been afraid to face the truth for over twenty years. Can't you face it for a few hours?"

Bodie hesitated.

The few hours turned into a few days, then weeks and then time no longer seemed to matter.

Sir Bodie was very like Cambridge in many ways. He could be very convincing.

"Did you find him, son?"

"No, Grandfather."

"I'm sorry. So Cedric wasn't of much help, I take it?"

"Help? No, he was hardly that." Bodie noticed that the fireplace screen was slightly warped from the pressure of his hands. A little chagrined, he tried to bend it back, then propped it against the hearth.

"I told you Cedric was a pompous old windbag."

"And that must be one of his more charming qualities. It is fortunate for Cedric that England is such a civilized country. In the desert I would find it necessary to slice him to pieces and feed the offal to the jackals."

The old man regarded him with concern. "You didn't--?"

Bodie shook his head. "Do not upset yourself. I did nothing to the miserable wretch. I realized if I followed my instinct, it could reflect badly on you."

Alistair relaxed slightly, but a twinkle appeared in the blue eyes that so much resembled his grandson's. "What a shame. We haven't had a good, rollicking scandal in the family since your great-great grandfather, Sylvester Bodie, fought a duel over an opera dancer in 1809."

"I thought duels were legal then."

"Oh, that wasn't the scandal; it was the fact he later married the opera dancer, you see."

Bodie grinned. "So she was my great-great grandmother?"

"Indeed. That's where we get our blue eyes."

Bodie's smile faded a little. "In any case, I am quite sure that just my sudden appearance has raised enough sensation."

Alistair shook the young man's arm affectionately. "Nonsense. Much I care about prying gossips. But whatever did old Cedric say to you to rile you so?"

"Obviously the gossip hadn't reached Sussex yet. He was more than pleased to welcome Sir Alistair Bodie's grandson, but he was unaware that I had met Raymond before, or that I was the sheik--" He broke off and turned away, staring into the fire again. "Damn him, he knows nothing of Ray at all. I cannot believe Ray was reared in that house and still became the person he is. Cedric Doyle knows nothing of Ray's courage or honor or--" Bodie's jaw clenched, fighting back his renewed fury as he recalled the scene in Cedric's study. "Instead, he had the audacity to warn me off association with his nephew, as if Sir Alistair Bodie's grandson might be soiled by contact with such a bad lot as Raymond Doyle."

Bodie spun around. "He actually said that to me. There is irony, indeed. I nearly killed him then."

"But you didn't," the old man said gently.

Bodie blinked, some of his anger fading. "No. Ray would not thank me for it. I know him too well. So I simply left before the temptation became too great to resist."

"It sounds as though he's best away from his family in any case."

Bodie sat down tiredly in the chair and stared off in space. "When you saw him in Paris did he seem content?"

"I didn't really consider him at all, I'm afraid. I was too stunned at seeing your portrait. I wasn't clear on much else." He smiled ruefully. "Now that I think of it, I'm sure I behaved as badly as Cedric. Pompous was the least of it."

"No one can be worse than that son of a goat," Bodie replied fervently.

"A few weeks later I received the portrait with no return address. He had told me he would not accept payment for it, and I couldn't trace it back to the source to even try. An unusual man, your Mr. Doyle."

Man, Bodie thought, startled by the image. Yes, he is a man now. No longer a boy. But remembering the pain in the glorious green eyes the day Ray left the desert, Bodie knew that in any way that mattered, he had been a man even then.

Alistair squeezed his grandson's shoulder. "Is it so important that you find him?"

"I would like to talk to him again. Explain . . . some things. Yes, it is important."

"But not vital? We're scheduled to leave for New York in a week."

Bodie sighed. "No, not vital. Not now."

"Would you rather return to Paris and search again? I'm sorry I can't remember the gallery, but I was a little . . . distracted at the time, and there are so many. We can try again, if you like."

"No, it is all right, Grandfather, honestly. I will find him some day. I know I will."

"Son, I've never asked you this, but . . . I saw he was wearing the bracelet. Diana's bracelet. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to, but I must ask. Why did you give it to him? Did you ever know what it was meant to convey?"

He reached up and clasped the hand that rested on his shoulder. "I was told the meaning, yes."

"I see." The old man hesitated for a long moment, then said very carefully, "Have you considered the fact that perhaps he doesn't want to see you again?"

Bodie was silent for some time before he let out a regretful sigh. "I think that is quite probable. Nonetheless, I must know the truth."

Neither said more, but the strong grip of hands never lessened.


England, 1898

Doyle was bored. Once an affair such as this would have excited and delighted him -- the beautiful women in bright silk gowns and sparkling jewels, men in elegant tuxedos. Crystal chandeliers and champagne to match the twinkling flirtations and effervescent conversation. But after nearly five years in gay Paree, there was little in a London ball to rival the luxury and opulence he had enjoyed in Paris.

He stepped outside onto the terrace and lit a cigarette, watching the colorful swirl of dancers inside, wondering how soon he could make his apologies to his hostess.

A couple twirled past the window and Doyle froze, his heart skipping a beat.

It's impossible.

He lost sight of the couple in the rapid swirl of dancers, but he stood very still, searching the sea of people, until the heat of his cigarette seared his fingers.

"Ah, Raymond! So you're hiding out here, eh? It's such a squeeze inside, I scarcely blame you." It was his agent, as talkative and sociable as ever. "Still, dear boy, you must mingle. Your exhibition is less than a week away, you know, and they're all anxious to talk to you now that you've finally come home. If you present yourself correctly, we'll make a killing." He winked. "Especially with the ladies, you dog."


"What is it, old chap? You look as if you've seen a ghost."

Doyle laughed shakily and ran his hand over his eyes. "You're not far wrong. I thought I saw someone...but, it couldn't be."

Geoffrey looked worried. "Are you quite all right?"

"Yes, of course." Doyle took a deep breath. "Silly of me."

"Well I dragged you here for a reason, my boy. Won't you at least give it a try? Lady Tinsdale-Forbes is nibbling on the line, and it would be a sin not to hook her. Her husband's rich as Croesus and she's mad about art -- not that she knows a Van Gogh from first form fingerpaints, but there you are..."

"I wish you'd stop twittering about like a bloody fairy, Geoff. You make me nervous."

"It's all in the game, my boy. Art dealers are expected to be a bit light these days, don't you know? And it's not exactly painful for me."

"Please. Gretta's pregnant with the -- seventh -- isn't it?"

"Well, yes. But don't let's toss that around, shall we? Not good for business at all. Is it my fault my wife is beautiful and plump and sexy? And let me warn you, you've been paying far too much attention to those models and not nearly enough to the men. Mystery, my dear, mystery. Androgyny sells art! And despite your hairy chest, there are several men in there with big purses that think you're quite a dish."

"Bugger that."

Geoffrey frowned. "Crudity does not sell. Behave yourself!"

He forcibly led Doyle back into the ballroom where he introduced him to several people. Doyle nodded, shook hands and bowed on cue, but his mind was far away. In another country to be precise.

He glanced over the large, silk flower on the girl's shoulder as he waltzed her around the dance floor. "Someone mentioned Raymond Doyle would be here."

She looked up at him dreamily. "The artist?"


"Do you know his art?"

"I have seen it," Bodie replied shortly.

"It's all the rage in Paris. He's made quite a splash. There's a show of his work next week in the London Gallery." She fluttered her eyelashes at her partner. "There's some dark, romantic story there, I hear. He was some political hero a few years ago; exposed some dreadful embezzlement in the government or something of that sort. It was all very hush-hush but his brave, romantic image lingers. He disappeared, exiled himself abroad to prove himself or something of that nature. His family is very well placed, but he refused to play off their influence or his heroism. Wanted to make his way on his own talent. Very admirable in a vulgarly colonial sort of way. They adore him in Paris and Vienna. Or so I hear."

"As an artist?"

She dimpled prettily. "And as a man. They say he is quite the Casanova. Our mothers have all warned us against him. A lusciously dangerous fellow. And since he refuses to take money from his family, not a viable prospect -- although his art is selling for outrageous sums. But he is very pretty, I must say."

Bodie swung her around and stopped. "So you have seen him?"

"Yes. We were introduced earlier this evening." She looked up at him, puzzled by the intense tone.

Shaking off his reverie, he smiled sweetly. "Would you care for some champagne?"

"Yes, that would be lovely."

He obtained a drink from a tray and gave it to her.

"Aren't you thirsty?"

"I do not drink alcohol."

"How odd," she murmured, sipping hers, then she asked him curiously, "Do you know Mr. Doyle?"

"Perhaps. It was a very long time ago."

"Is he as dangerous as they say?" she asked coyly. "Would you warn me against him, Monsieur?"

"Quite possibly," Bodie replied absently, his gaze still searching the dance floor. "He is not ... easily forgotten."

"You sound as if you knew him well."

There was no response, her companion seemed entranced by the fizzles in her champagne glass, his blue eyes very dark and distant. She touched his hand and it took a second for him to return to reality. "My apologies, what did you say?"

He was so charmingly contrite she couldn't be offended by his lack of attention. Not to mention the fact he was so dangerously attractive. Her mother would have warned her off here as well -- except what would not be tolerated in a eccentric young artist estranged from his family, could be easily forgiven in the heir to a fortune and the well-respected Bodie name. No mama in her right mind would warn her daughter off that prospect.

"I was just wondering how well you knew Mr. Doyle."

"Not well enough."

"Oh, I wondered--"

"To be quite candid, he is the only reason I am here tonight."

"Really?" She looked up archly, fluttering her lashes just a bit. "And here I thought it was because of me."


The flat answer confused her. "Pardon me?"

Luckily, before he could offend her further, a man came up and introduced himself. Bodie's eyes and attention were solely on the man's companion, lost again as he had been so many years ago.


He almost said it aloud, the joy washing through him in dizzying waves. He had been told Doyle would be here, but seeing him in the flesh was still a kind of low-grade shock. Fortunately, he had a second to pull himself together before Doyle looked up and saw him. When their eyes met, all Bodie wanted to do was hold him close and kiss him. He remembered so well what that beautiful mouth tasted like, the softness of those curls.... The years between meant nothing.

But after the first electric moment, Doyle turned to ice. He offered a mumbled excuse and darted off into the crowd.

"I'm very sorry," the other man said, obviously puzzled by his companion's behavior. "He hasn't been back in London long and he really loathes these types of affairs. You know the French!"

"But he is not French," Bodie protested as the man started to move away.

"Ah, no, you're right. But he has been in on the Continent a long time. Living in foreign lands, you know. It spoils one for civilized contact."

Bodie smiled wryly. "That is quite all right. I am not civilized either."

Remembering abruptly who he was speaking to, Geoff flushed bright red. "Excuse me. I only meant--"

Bodie smiled. "No offense taken. You are his friend?"

"I'm his agent. And his friend."

"In that order?"

The dark eyes flashed in amusement. "It had better be in that order if he wants to make a living." He hesitated, eyes narrowing. "Excuse me, but have we met before, Mr. Bodie?"

"I do not believe so, sir."

"There is something familiar--"

"Bodie!" Tired of being ignored, the girl tugged at his coat sleeve. "Let's dance, shall we? This waltz is simply divine!"

Having decided he liked the man despite his rather silly airs, Bodie wanted to know more of his friendship with Doyle, but Geoffrey bowed politely to the lady.

"I'll let you two enjoy yourselves. My apologies again on Mr. Doyle's behalf."

Bodie started to call him back, but the blasted girl was clinging to his arm.

"Well, I must say, attractive as this Mister Doyle is, he is abominably rude!"

Bodie took her in his arms and swept her onto the dance floor. "Yes," he replied lightly, "but you were right. He is very attractive, is he not?"

Geoffrey had almost literally dragged the resistant Doyle around the ballroom, introducing him to likely clients and supporters. On his part, Doyle gave his noblest effort to stifle his boredom.

"Good evening! So pleasant to see you tonight. You're looking so very lovely. Raymond, this is Mary Anne Salforth, second cousin to the Duke of Salforth."

"How do you do?" Doyle said mechanically for at least the forty-third time that evening.

"And this is....Mr. Bodie, isn't it?"

Doyle had looked up at the name and froze, their eyes locking and holding. For an instant time stopped. The music hushed, the dancers seemed to halt their movement. All he could see was those intense blue eyes that arrogantly held his own. They could have been in a torchlit square in Aden. They could have been on the North Pole. Those eyes hadn't lost an iota of their power over him whatever the time or space.

With a force of will, Doyle broke the gaze, fighting the compulsive surrender to deja vu.

He jerked back his hand before it was touched.

Bodie nodded politely, "Mr. Doyle."

"Excuse me," he croaked in the vague direction of the lady and Geoffrey. "I need a bit of air."

The sound of Geoffrey's soothing apologies followed him out onto the terrace. He was alone in the cool night for only a few moments, when his agent popped up at his elbow.

"What was all that about then?"

"I'm sorry, Geoff, I just couldn't--" He turned and stared through the window at the party. Wincing at the pressure on his arm, Geoffrey looked from his companion's stunned face to inside the ballroom. The man and woman stood near the staircase where he had left them.

"Bodie? I didn't realize you knew him, seeing as how you only arrived in London this week. However, he's become quite society's darling in the last few months."

"You know him?" Doyle asked hoarsely. "How...? Why...? What is he doing here? Why didn't you tell me he would be here?"

Surprised by the vehemence, Geoffrey hissed, "They didn't send me a guest list, my dear! Let me get the blood back in my arm, and I'll be happy to tell you what I know."

"Oh...sorry." Doyle released him, but didn't take his eyes from the man inside.

Geoffrey regarded him worriedly. "I take it you know him, Raymond?"

" least, I did. But what is he doing here, now?"

"That's right, you wouldn't have heard the story yet, would you? It's really quite the romantic tale. All the ladies are in delight over it, as you can imagine. He's Sir Alistair Bodie's grandson. Poor chap lost his daughter, years ago, somewhere in some heathen eastern country, Egypt or Turkey or Persia or somewhere. She was all the family he had and it broke his heart. It seems he's never stopped searching and hoping to find her. Tragically, she had died, but he found his grandson. William Andrew Philip Bodie is his name, but for some reason he prefers to be addressed only by his surname. Sir Alistair located him in Arabia; he was an emir or a sheik or something like that, if you can believe it-- Oh, of course. So that's where you must've met him. You were there several years back, before Paris, weren't you?"

"Yes, that's where I met him," Doyle responded absently.

"In any case, he's become quite the rage. Le Sauvage, they call him, although he is anything but. Impeccable taste and manners. Still, there's that dark hint of danger that drives the females wild, don't you know. One must admit, he is a handsome devil."

Doyle did more than admit it, he found himself reacting to it on a very basic level. His mental picture of Bodie had dimmed through the years, and he had long ago convinced himself that memory had transformed Bodie into some perfect, idealized vision -- no more than a product of youthful fancy. The real Bodie would undoubtedly be crude and unappealing to his older and more sophisticated eyes.

His memory had played him false indeed. He had forgotten the blue-black shine of hair, the perfect tilt of the nose, the clean symmetry of the muscles, and the arrogant, princely carriage.

In a moment Doyle was hurtled back in time and felt like an awkward, painfully gauche boy again. All the old, hurtfully exorcised feelings rose up and engulfed him, snatching his breath and bringing tears to sting his eyes.

Oh, Bodie...

"Well, if you know him, perhaps he would be interested in your art. We can use another sponsor for your exhibition in Brighton next month. Raymond! Whatever is wrong, dear chap?"

Doyle blinked, regaining control of himself with an effort. "Nothing. Really, it's nothing. Too much champagne, no doubt. I'll be fine in a minute. Don't wait on me. Go back to the ball, Geoffrey."

His friend looked at him doubtfully, having seen far more than Doyle expected; despite his light-weight chatter, he was an extremely shrewd man, not only in business but with people, and he had been observing his protege closely. "Are you sure?"

"Positive." Doyle smiled at him. "I'll leave you to tout my artistic abilities, shall I? You're much better at it than I am. I'll probably scare them off. All these years in France have made me too impatient to suffer fools gladly."

"Then I really will present you as a French artist! No one expects better of them!" But he reluctantly accepted Doyle's excuse and returned to the ball.

Doyle lit another cigarette and leaned back on the rail, seeking a calm he was far from feeling. Inside the ballroom Bodie had disappeared again, and Doyle was relieved. He needed time to regain his composure. He had no intention of being at a disadvantage when he met the Sheik again.

"Excuse me, Miss Salforth. Mister Bodie, may I speak with you?"

Bodie turned to him, recognizing the man as Doyle's artistic agent. "Yes?"

The man smiled. "I think I introduced myself earlier? Geoffrey Lynde? I wondered if you have had the opportunity to view Mr. Doyle's work? He is an exquisite artist, as I'm sure Ms. Salforth or Lady Dibble will tell--"

"Doyle--?" Bodie took a deep breath. "He asked for me?"

"Well, he mentioned he knew you. As I said, I represent Mr. Doyle's work. Perhaps you would like to--"

"Where is he?"

"Actually, I left him outside on the terrace just now--"

"He's on the terrace?" Bodie interjected curtly.

"Well, he was a few moments ago, but--"

Bodie abandoned the two abruptly, leaving both of them offended at his abrupt departure, before reminding themselves that he was, after all, a savage and rudeness was no more than to be expected. Silently they recognized that he was far too rich to ever be censured for it.

Bodie stepped out on the terrace and found the man he sought much more quickly than he anticipated or was prepared to deal with. Doyle moved forward to stand in the light pouring from the windows.

"Well, this is a surprise. How does the cliché go? Fancy meeting you here."

For a moment, Bodie had no voice. Having been given little time to study him earlier, he could only stare at Doyle now. Whatever he had expected, whatever he had wanted, Doyle had changed. Only a little taller, he had filled out and matured. While still slender, the wiry, supple muscles were apparent even beneath the exquisite cut of his jacket. His reddish brown hair, disregarding fashion, was longer than Bodie remembered, although brushed into a sterner style. As an artist fresh from Paris he was at liberty to indulge such eccentricity.

The eyes were just as green and possessed the same exotic tilt. Larger and brighter than in memory, perhaps due to the gleam of light from the ballroom and the glitter of extreme emotion.


An eyebrow shot up. "Yes, we were introduced. I remember now. Mr. Doyle, to you."

Bodie bowed. "Mr. Doyle."

"And you are Sheik Bodie, I presume?"

The blue eyes wavered and dropped. "No. I am no sheik. Just Bodie is sufficient."

"Not Sir Bodie?"

"My grandfather is a sir, not I. Nor am I a sheik."

Doyle hesitated, all his sarcasm dried up in his mouth. "I don't understand. What happened? Why did you leave--?"

Bodie stiffened, unwilling to explain. "Is this your concern?"

"My apology. Of course not. It's just..."

"You were curious." Bodie sighed. He looked out over the garden, clutching the metal railing. "Perhaps you do have the right to know."


"You know my mother was British. But what you do not know -- what I did not know -- was my father."

"Cambridge." Doyle shut his eyes tightly.

Bodie turned to him, surprised. "How did you--?"

"I guessed. Whatever you believed, I couldn't accept Fasik was your father. Never. But Cambridge.... He idolized your mother. He loved you so intensely. Yes, I thought it might be possible. How is he?"

Bodie turned away. "Cambridge is dead."

Doyle felt it like a hollow pain in his stomach, remembering the kind old man who had treated him so gently, played chess with him, and challenged him to think and feel. "Oh. I'm sorry. I'm so dreadfully sorry. I loved him, too. What? How...?"

Bodie stared out over the gardens. "His heart. I left the desert soon after."

"He was an incredible man. I cherish his memory."

"Yes. A man who honored truth but lived a lie. He should have told me, long before. Who I was. What I was."

"And if he had, what would it have changed?"

"How can I know?"

Their eyes met and the intensity was too ambivalent and turbulent to hold. They both looked away hastily.

Bodie's emotions, however, were too violent to remain silent for long, the memories tearing at him. "Why did you leave?"

Doyle clutched the rail tightly. "How can you ask that?"

"I hated you for leaving me."

"I hated you for a score of things. I still do. You wouldn't let me return. I have certainly hated you for that."

"You could have come back...."

"As your slave, your chattel? No, I don't think so."

"You did not want to return to me. Do you think I was that blind?"

Doyle shrugged. "What does it matter? There must have been a dozen pretty boys after me--"

Bodie jerked him around, staring into his eyes. "You do not believe that."

Doyle looked deep and saw the truth. "Perhaps not..."

Bodie released him abruptly. "You were mine. You were important to me. I cared for you."

"You never said that until the end, when you knew I had to go. And you never said you ... loved me."

Bodie turned away, taking a deep breath. "Was it so hard to see?"

"Was it so hard for you to say? Even now?" Doyle countered.

There was no reply.

"Ah..." Doyle sighed. "Well, it was long ago. We were both very young."

"Nearly six years ago."

"I thought Bedouins ignored time."

Bodie laughed shortly. "And I thought I was a Bedouin."

The silence stretched, laced with the tinkling of music, the scatter of conversation and genteel laughter from the ballroom.

Bodie glanced at him. "You've done well."

"I make a living."

"A very comfortable living, from what I see."

Doyle laughed. "I'm invited to a lot of expensive, lavish parties, but that's not my life. This kind of luxury is still beyond my ordinary means." He leaned back on the railing watching Bodie. "Speaking of doing well, it looks as if you've come into a good thing. With your grandfather, I mean. Filthy with it, from what I understand."

"Yes. He is quite wealthy, and I am his heir."

It was no more than a statement of fact, there was not a lick of embarrassment or modesty about it.

Doyle's jaw tightened. Why should there be? He had been a king among his people, even this luxury was a come down of sorts. Bodie had known nothing but wealth and ease and power all his life. The easy serenity of Bodie's acceptance of that wealth irritated him beyond bearing. "You're still an arrogant bastard, aren't you?"

Bodie looked no more than amused. "We've already established that I'm a bastard. Would you expect me to duck my head in shame?"

"Don't be an ass. I never meant that and you know it." He paused.

"You are the one who sent him to me, after all," Bodie pointed out.

"Yes. Are you sorry I did?"

"Sorry? No. It has given me the opportunity to see much of the world, as I always wanted. No, I am not sorry."

"He's good to you, is he? Your grandfather?"

Bodie smiled ruefully. "I upset him daily and try his patience. Hardly surprising. But, yes, he is a good man. I am very fortunate."

"I'm happy for you," Doyle replied, his tone aloof.

"Are you?" Bodie challenged.

The emotions tore through Doyle, ripping at him, shaking him. "No. If you want the unvarnished truth, I wish you hurt like I've been hurt."

"What makes you certain I have not? What makes you think I changed you more than you changed me? Or that poor little Raymond is the only one who feels pain or rejection?"

"How dare you? After what you did--!"

Like a match touched to dry tinder, they were nose to nose now, both blazing with self-righteous fury.

"What I did? You were hardly kidnapped like a swooning maiden."

"I was kept--"

"You came there to destroy me and my people, or is your memory so selective?"

"It gave you no right to--"

"It gave me all the rights I needed!"

"And you took them, didn't you? Like the selfish, arrogant, spoiled--"

"You speak to me of arrogance? You were not invited into the desert. You came, imperious and vain and superior as the rest of this damnable race -- and Allah help me that I must accept it is my blood, too. And like all of the cursed English you took far more from the desert than you ever gave back!"



Their words caught in their throats as they stared at each other, the fury and passion racing through them, so intense they were both trembling with it. They were no more than a breath away from chucking it all, grabbing each other and clinging like orphans lost in a storm.



"Ah, so you found each other!" Before they could touch each other they were interrupted as efficiently as a dousing with cold water.

They jerked away at the sound of the jovial, affected voice, shaken and appalled at what they'd almost done, right here on Lady Petiffer's terrace. A kiss would have been the least of it once begun. Of course there was still enough violence threaded in the passion that murder might have been just as possible.

"Lovely party, isn't it?" Geoffrey gushed. Close enough now to read their expressions, he halted. "Oh...have I interrupted something?"

"Yes," Doyle snarled.

"Not at all," Bodie put in smoothly. "I was just telling Mr. Doyle how much I would love to see a self-portrait. Poor, big-eyed, abused little English boys are all the rage. And I do love fantasy."

Confused, Geoffrey sputtered, "Well, I really--"

Bodie bowed politely. "Good evening, sir. Mr. Doyle."

For a wild second, Geoffrey thought Raymond would pursue him, his eyes feral, his fists clenched. But Doyle stopped himself and kicked a potted plant off the terrace instead. It crashed against a piece of statuary on the lawn, neatly snapping off the cupid's head.

"Now that'll cost us a bit," Geoffrey observed sadly, wincing. Lady Petiffer was very fond of that statue.

"It was rubbish."

"But of course. She paid 100 guineas for it just a month ago. You remember Jasper Finch, don't you? Dreadful man, terrible sculptor, but he brings in a pretty penny--"

"Oh go ahead, say it Geoff."

"Raymond, what do you want me to say? It's happening again, isn't it? Is it him? Or should I say, was it always him?"

"What are you babbling about?"

"I thought the name Bodie was familiar, but I couldn't quite place it. There was a man, what, two years ago, three? that wanted to buy a picture. I can't believe I forgot it because it was one of the heartbreaks of my life. One hundred thousand pounds sterling, god help us all. Must've been hysterical amnesia, no doubt. Far too painful for me to recall. You gave it to him. Totally disregarding me and my starving children and my dear, long-suffering wife--"

"Oh, just stop it."

Geoffrey sobered. "Very well. So tell me the truth for once. It is him, isn't it? The man in the portrait was Bodie. The one who's been chewing at your heart all these years."

Doyle blinked away the burn of tears, too shaken to even think of an evasion. "Yes."

"Ah. Well, now I understand."

"You don't understand anything!" Another pot went the way of the first, and Geoffrey hastily drew Doyle back into the shadows before someone came out searching for the cause of destruction.

"Listen, my boy, don't you talk that way to me!"

"Oh that's right, how can I forget?" Doyle jerked away from the grip, still fighting tears and anger. "You found me in the gutter, selflessly took me to off the streets and made my fuckin' career, such as it is."

Geoffrey hesitated a moment, considering. "Yes, I like it. Very nice. Perhaps we'll use it for the next promotion. Lots of pathos. If only there was a way to conceal my wife and six children and insert a romantic angle, just a tad more sordid..."

Doyle looked up, startled, then his mouth quirked at his friend's quasi-hopeful expression. "Seven. Bastard," he added without heat.

"How ill-mannered of you to mention. And totally untrue. I don't believe the rumors, even if mama did dance divinely."

Doyle's shoulders slumped in defeat. "I don't know what to do, Geoff. I thought I'd never see him again and now..."

"And now you have. So what do you feel?"

Doyle's fingers tore at his carefully styled hair. "I hate him. him. God, I still want him. Mostly I think I want to kill him."

"I see." Feeling at a loss, Geoffrey turned to the one thing that always seemed to force Raymond to think twice before he acted. "And what would Zachery say?"

Doyle's head jerked up. "Zack?"

"Yes, Zack. What would he say?"

Doyle hadn't had a letter in weeks, but it wasn't difficult to hear the deep voice repeating the advice given years ago.

Doyle smiled. "He would say I should ... follow my heart."

Geoffrey made a sour face. "Why am I not surprised? Pooky always was a bloomin' idiot."


Thunder sounded in the distance and the sheer drapes on the windows billowed in a ghostly dance. Bodie lay on the bed and watched, unwilling to shut the windows to the balcony. The approaching storm mirrored his internal conflict, the ever-tightening build of pressure. Lightning flickered and spat on the horizon, sizzling with frustration and anger.

Seeing Doyle tonight had brought a tempest of emotion, most of which he'd managed to push aside for years. It mounted inside him now, not unlike the approaching storm.

Ray was so different. He was not the boy he had known six years ago, and Bodie wasn't sure he liked the changes, remembering the sweet, gentle lad he had been. The new Ray thrilled him certainly; the silent challenge, the unassailable masculine stance, the dangerous flash of the emerald eyes.

And the promise of youth had obviously been realized in abundance. The sinful mouth and every sensual move of the lithe body had exuded a hungry, potent sexuality. The boring female had been right about that much -- Doyle was someone to be warned about. Obviously a man accustomed to indulging his tastes ... whatever they may be now.

He, on the other hand, had been civilized.

Bodie smiled wryly to himself, watching the jagged spits of lightning. Oh yes, his grandfather had taken him in hand with a vengeance, making up for the score of lost years. Bodie was too fond of the old man to disillusion him. It cost him little to behave as a gentleman and it gave Sir Alistair much satisfaction to believe his near-success; ignoring the truth that it was all window dressing and most people sensed the fact and remained a bit nervous in his grandson's presence. Still, the facade was harmless and Bodie knew his true nature had been formed and sealed long ago. He didn't belong in the desert, but he even less belonged amongst the cream of society, whether it was New York or Rome or London. As always, he was alone. Belonging nowhere.

There had only been one brief moment in his life when he had felt complete and secure. But that was long ago and no more than a dream. He was twenty-seven now; too old for self-pity and far too old for such dreams. Tonight, seeing Ray again had closed the door on all of that for the final time. And while he had expected it to end this way, it hurt more than he had realized possible, recognizing how little control he had ever had on his life.

The uncivilized part of himself had wanted to scoop Doyle up and take him off -- ravish him, hold him, love him... But he was no longer a sheik, and Raymond Doyle was no longer anyone's victim. Despite himself, Bodie smiled at the thought. If Ray had been a damnably difficult captive at seventeen, it boggled the mind to conceive of what he would be now.

A cannon-roll of thunder startled him a little. The storm was very near. He could hear the first light patter of rain hitting the glass, wondering if he would ever grow accustomed to the erratic British weather.

He sighed, reminding himself he was civilized now, and got up to shut the doors to save the expensive carpet. A soft scraping sound froze him as he reached for the door. Another peal of thunder covered further noise. Curious, he stepped out on the balcony and looked down into the dark garden, the smell of damp mint and gardenias teasing

his senses. Black clouds raced across the face of the moon, spinning bizarre shadow tricks.

Turning back, he caught a movement at the edge of his vision. Before he could react an arm seized him, covering his mouth. The cool edge of a blade kissed his bare throat.

"Do not call out," a soft voice ordered.

A thrill raced down his spine as he recognized that voice. He nodded and the hands freed him, but kept the knife in clear view.

The silver glare of lightning confirmed the identity. "How did you get in? How did you know I was--"

"I climbed the wall, of course. Your grandfather's dogs are partial to raw beef."

At a loss for words, Bodie stuttered, "I... You... But why?"

"Why did I come? Our conversation was cut short this evening. There was more we had to discuss. Much more."

There was something eerily familiar both about this conversation and the situation. "If that was all, you could have simply made an appointment with my secretary," Bodie pointed out uneasily.

Doyle laughed. "No, I don't think so."

They regarded each other in silence. Doyle moved forward and touched the other's face. "You are still very beautiful. I had hoped you would be fat and greasy and stinking of goats by this time. I was wrong."

Bodie backed against the metal railing, wary of the knife. "I beg your pardon?"

"If anything, you are more beautiful. You have a face that is difficult to forget."

The elusive memory returned like a slap, taking his breath away. Another balcony, another night, half a world distant and million years in the past. Could he have said those things? Acted like this?

The answer and witness to both questions was standing before him, eyes gleaming wickedly.

"What do you want?" Bodie snapped, unwilling to remember, embarrassed and refusing to accept it.

"I did not realize I was being so subtle. I want you."

So Doyle was sticking to the script. Bodie remembered that, too; remembered how he had felt in that position. The excitement of attaining a difficult goal, the secret hush of the night, the heady smell of the blossoms and the madness of the moonlight. There was no moonlight now, only lightning and thunder and the scent of danger. Some part of him reveled in it, feeling more alive than he had for a very long time.

"You said ... you wanted to talk. Finish our conversation." He, too, could follow the script.

"I lied."

Bodie stepped forward helplessly, happy to continue. "Ray, I--"

The knife flashed up between them. "Oh, no. Not just yet."

Grimly, Bodie backed off. "So it's revenge."

"Maybe. What do you think?"

"You agreed to the bargain at the time."

"And I had so many options. Zack's death. Mine. Quite a bargain, indeed."

"So kill me then and be done with it!"

"That's odd, I think I said something of the same to you once."

It started raining again, a bit harder, and the rolls of thunder were closer now.

"Let's adjourn this inside, shall we?" Doyle suggested, jerking his knife toward the open doors.

Moving into the bedroom, Bodie eyed him thoughtfully, looking for an opening.

Doyle smiled, teeth gleaming coldly. "I wouldn't try it. I was well taught and spent some time on the back streets of Paris perfecting my skill."

"Being a whore, I suppose," Bodie snarled.

The green eyes narrowed. "Mais oui!" Doyle purred. "The years have given you a perception you sorely lacked. Unlike you, I didn't possess a rich grandfather, you see. But I had such an excellent teacher in the sensual arts. I have always given you total credit for my skill there, monsieur."

Bodie closed his eyes. "I did not mean that. I know it is not true. I know you would never--"

"Then you would be wrong," Doyle cut him off. "How do you think I existed when I first got to France?"

"Your family--"

"Do you think I would have taken anything from them? Ever? My uncle once told me I couldn't survive, that I was too weak. I even believed him. He was wrong. You were wrong, too, Bodie. In truth, I think I'm a better whore than an artist ... although I'm not certain it's not often the same thing."

"So you intend to kill me now, for what happened to you. For what you believe I did to you."

"Kill you?" Doyle considered it. "I have killed you. Over and over. I've cut your throat and mangled you and blown your brains out. But you keep coming back. You never stay properly dead. No, I'm not going to kill you." He hesitated and smiled drily. "Unless you push the point."

"So why are you here? What do you want?"

A loud knock on the door froze them both.

Doyle laughed, "Ah, history repeats itself yet again. Tell them to go away."

The knock came again, louder, and a voice, distinctly French. "Monseigneur, do you require anything else for the evening?"

Doyle caught his breath sharply. "Is that Gaston? He came with you?"

"But of course," Bodie growled.

Doyle grinned. "By all means, let him in. Gaston!"

The door opened and the Frenchman took in the scene with amazement. Doyle, dressed in black wielding a blade, Bodie a few feet away in his robe, very pale and stunned.

"It is wonderful to see you, Gaston," Doyle said cheerily, breaking the silence.

Gaston looked from one to the other, judging the electric atmosphere that had little to do with the storm. "You look well, mon petit."

"Thank you. So do you."

Gaston considered the knife. "You have kept up ze practice, I see."

"Like the dance, mon ami. One must work to retain the skill, no?"

Their eyes met and something flashed between them, a message, a plea and an understanding that Bodie was not privy to.

"If there will be nothing else?"

"Some brandy would be nice," Doyle suggested wickedly. "Yes, that would be just the thing, I think."

"You will find some on ze sideboard, Monsieur." Gaston pointed out helpfully.

Doyle glanced to his left and spotted the crystal decanter and the glasses. "Excellent. That will be all then, Gaston. Thank you. Please lock the door on your way out."

Gaston bowed. "But of course."

"Gaston--!" Bodie stared at the closing door, hearing the lock click in place, then glared at Doyle. "How do you know he will not summon help?"

Doyle chuckled. "Gaston has such faith in you. Could your pride bear it? A mob of servants to save you from ... me? Skinny, slight fellow like me? An artist of all things! Good god, you have been civilized, haven't you?"

"I've seen you throw a knife. You could kill me in half a second. Do you think I underestimate how dangerous you are?"

"You did once."

"I did many things once that I now regret."

Doyle regarded him for a long moment, unappeased. "I wish I could believe that. You're an abominable host, Bodie. Pour us both a glass of brandy, sl vous plait."

Shrugging, the other man complied, reaching out the glass.

"Thank you. Just put it on the table. And you've forgotten yourself."

"I do not--"

"Oh, how could I forget? You're a Muslim. Alcohol is forbidden! But you were drinking wine tonight. I saw you."

"You saw me holding a glass. It is easier than explaining repeatedly that I do not drink to people who think a Muslim is a kind of cloth."

"I see. Well, nevertheless, I think it's time you started. I, of all people, know this is not a stringent religious taboo of yours. What was it you told me... a loss of control? You're very right. So I suggest you drink mine."

Bodie looked up. "I do not--"

"Drink it!" Doyle demanded sharply.

Bodie glanced from the glass on the table to the other man. The green eyes flickered like a cat's in the firelight, unforgiving and witchy. He found himself more intimidated by the hot magic of the gaze than the knife.

He picked up the goblet and downed it, feeling it burn his throat. He coughed and took a deep breath, surprised by the efficiency of the liquor which warmed his stomach within seconds.

"And again."

Bodie blinked. "What?"

"Have another glass. And, please, be more generous. I realize it is very old Napoleon brandy. Very expensive, and very potent. But I expect you can afford it. Drink."

Bodie wet his lips, already feeling the effect of the first shot burning inside. He poured another portion.

"More," Doyle ordered harshly.

He obliged, filling the goblet nearly half full.

"Now, drink it. All of it."

Once more, Bodie met the ungiving eyes. He brought the glass to his mouth and took a sip.

"No, you can do better than that. Drink it."

Bodie drank a mouthful and choked, feeling it burn his mouth and throat. He swallowed it down, then hesitated, coughing. "I cannot--"

Implacable, Doyle ordered, "All of it. Trust me. It gets easier."

"I am not accustomed to--"

"Precisely. Unfortunately, I don't have any opium on me or we could use that. Brandy will have to do."

"Do for what? I do not--"

"Drink," Doyle insisted calmly, and while the knife was not threatening, it was in view and Bodie knew well what damage it was capable of wreaking on his undefended flesh. Still, it was expression in Doyle's eyes that made him comply.

He upended the brandy snifter, swallowing several times until he choked again, unable to continue. He nearly retched in reaction until his system adjusted and took it in. For a long time he stood, feeling the warmth curl inside him like hungry fingers, slowly relaxing his muscles against his will. The burning eased, bringing a lovely languor that began deep in his gut and spread outward.

"Are you satisfied?" he snarled, forcing himself to stand straight.

"No, not quite yet. Have another," Doyle instructed.

Glaring at him, Bodie did as he was told, unwilling to admit it was what he wanted himself. At this point the brandy was making its own demands and another drink didn't seem at all out of line. Nor did it burn this time as he took a swallow.

"Why are you doing this?" Bodie demanded; without thinking he gripped the side of the table for support.

"I want you," Doyle said flatly. "The liquor should relax you. And that, as you are well aware, is the best way to have you without damaging you -- too much."

"What?" Eyes widening, Bodie took a step back, almost tripping on the carpet, beginning to fathom Doyle's purpose and feeling a bolt of apprehension. The brandy snifter overshot the edge of the table and rolled, nearly empty on the rug.

"You have a very short memory," Doyle said softly. He reached the other man's side in an instant and held him tightly. "While I don't have the drugs at your disposal, my intention is no different."

His mouth found Bodie's and for a long moment they clung together hungrily, their lips and tongues eager. Then Bodie pushed him away, gasping, dizzy from lack of air.

The room was unstable, revolving in a slow spiral. He shut his eyes tightly, heart pounding, muscles languid. Was this drunkenness? And did it result from the brandy or merely from the taste of Ray?

Outside the thunderstorm had reached its apex, the curtains whipping wildly in the wind and rain beating a drumming rhythm on the balcony. Giddy, unsure of his footing, Bodie tried to move away, to recapture his equilibrium. Doyle caught him as he stumbled again and held him tightly, fingers bruising flesh.

"You know what I want. You know why I'm here."

Bodie took a deep breath. It did little to steady him mentally or physically. "Reprisal. Yes, I know very well what you want. Rape..."

Doyle released him abruptly, startled by the bluntness.

Bodie regained his balance and struggled to gather his thoughts. He managed to make it to the bed and methodically tugged at the tie on his robe. "It is only just, I suppose..."

"Bodie, I..." Doyle faltered.

Nude, Bodie sat on the bed, holding to the edge to keep himself steady as the alcohol made itself felt in a euphoric wave. He laughed, finding it suddenly difficult to be concerned about Doyle's intentions. Fifteen minutes ago he would have found it unthinkable to submit, to let another male possess him. But this was Ray. And his brandy-fueled conscience insisted it was only fair.

With difficulty, he focused on the other man. "I understand," he said with dignity. "If this will settle the debt between us, then proceed. You have haunted me long enough. By all means, rape me."

To his bewilderment, Doyle dropped to his knees beside the bed. "Oh, god, Bodie! That's not what I want. I do want... But if you refuse me, even now.... I'll leave. I'm not a rapist, no more than you."

"No more than me...." Bodie shuddered, remembering a time he had been no more or less than just that. He looked down, amazed to see two Doyles at his feet, both more entrancing and desirable than the other. Wildly aroused, he arbitrarily picked the one on his right and cupped the striking face. "Do you imagine I have forgotten or forgiven myself for what happened? How could I expect you to do so? I will not fight you." The skin felt cool, still damp from the rain. Heart aching even more than his body, he added simply, "I never possessed the strength to deny you; that was part of what I refused to face."

There was an eternity of absolute stillness, a gulf of time and space that was met in the center by both of them -- incredibly wide yet instantaneously crossed as Doyle reached up and took Bodie in his arms. They fell back on the bed and Bodie held to him frantically, terrified he would disappear again. It had been so very long.

Their kiss was deep and ravenous with the hunger and loss of six years. Then Doyle purposely slowed the pace, tracing his tongue down Bodie's throat. Bodie tilted his head back and moaned, the room spinning faster as the stimulus heated his mind and body. He clutched at Doyle's shoulders, frustrated to feel damp cloth where he desired warm flesh.

Taking the hint, Doyle levered himself up and began stripping, eyes caressing and transfixing him.

No longer the untutored boy, Doyle began loving him with a skill that left Bodie breathless with sighing ripples of pleasure, pliable and thirsty for more. As he closed his eyes to shut out the pirouetting ceiling, he was greeted with sparks behind his eyelids, flaring brilliant at every deft touch of his throbbing nerve ends. He was soon delirious and wanton, aching for the denied culmination.

"Please... please..." He hardly recognized the pleading cry as his own.

Doyle's voice was husky with need but still he held back. "Are you certain, Bodie? Is this what you want?"

Bodie's laugh was tremulous, strung tight with lust. "Hassid was right. You are a demon sent to taunt and torment me. Is this not why you came here, to take me?"

"Yes, I thought I could... I thought I wanted-- But--" Doyle's body was trembling with the effort to check his own passions, muscles tied into ropes of tension. "I find I don't want to hurt you after all. I can't. I must know you want it, too."

"Yes! Ray..." He clung to him, desperate, the carnal need surging like fire through his veins, igniting the brandy in his blood.

Doyle succumbed to his urging, crushing Bodie to him with a sob of relief and delight.

There was pain then, searing and shocking, but drowned by the unquenched desire, and beyond even the pain and passion, tender wisps of the past raced through Bodie's pleasure-fogged mind, an overload of images--

...jade-greed eyes glowing with pride and ire in a torchlit square... a slender wraith of a boy facing off a dozen armed men with nothing more than a quavering pistol and the courage of a lion.... the larger bravery of submission to save a friend.... rainbow sparkles on slick, tanned skin and the brazen eroticism of a harlot.... the tender warmth of affection under a blaze of desert stars.... and the splendor of spirit that refused a just revenge...

--crystal sharp in clarity and beauty, the visions of Ray coalesced and merged with the fierce radiance of orgasm, his mind consumed in the streaking starburst comet that poured from and into him.

The thunder was a dim, distant rumble on the horizon, echoing hollowly like the aftershocks of exhausted anger. The fire in the hearth was only embers, the room poorly lit by the gaslight lamp that still burned by the door. Dawn was beginning to battle the clouds, and there was a sudden, grey coolness that chilled them both. Rain spattered listlessly against the windows, feathery and petulant.

Doyle pulled away and Bodie let him go.

"It's nearly daybreak. I'd best leave."

There was no argument, Bodie busy working through what he had permitted to happen to him and why. Like the sky, his thoughts were overcast, clouded by lack of sleep and the after-effects of brandy. It was impossible to speak. Impossible to know what to say. Neither their passion nor pain lent themselves to words.

He watched silently as Doyle located his scattered clothes and dressed. He, too, seemed without words.

Bodie sat up, found his robe twisted in the cover at the foot of the bed and pulled it on. Stalling for time, he went to the hearth and added coals to the fire -- too many -- for after a few seconds the dying coals caught and flared up brilliantly, offering more illumination than either of them wanted.

They stared at each other feeling more distant than when the night began. At least then they had had a purpose. Revenge, closure, some kind of settlement of the past and where they stood in the present. Now those questions were answered.

They were equals. They no longer owed each other anything; all debts and obligations paid in full. The bargain was completed on both sides in all ways.

Before, they each had definite roles to play; captor and captive. Now the future stretched like a new world. And just like the explorers of the ancient past, they knew you could sail off the edge of the world into oblivion. They had reached unchartered territory without a map or guide for assistance. Nothing either of them had learned in the intervening years had offered a clue of where to go from here.

Doyle blinked and inhaled a shaky breath, then took a step toward the balcony door.


Ray turned back almost eagerly. "Yes?"

"You forgot this." Bodie found the knife on the floor and tossed it to him.

"Oh...yes." Doyle stared at it for a second, then tucked it in his boot. After a pause he said gently, "Thank you."

Knowing it wasn't for returning the knife, Bodie asked softly, "For what?"

"For pretending you were actually afraid of me. Christ, I know you too well for that."

"You underestimate yourself. I am certainly ... wary of you."

Doyle smiled wanly. "Rubbish. I couldn't kill you before. I haven't changed that much."

"What else?"

Studying the floor, it took a moment for Doyle to respond. "What do you mean, what else?"

"You thanked me for more than that. Why else did you thank me?"

"For admitting you regretted.... Well, it's all the apology I'm likely to get from you."

It was Bodie's turn to smile. "Apology? The only thing I regret, English, is letting you go. It was the greatest mistake of my life."

Doyle looked up, startled. "I had to go. I would have hated you if--"

"Oh yes. And you have loved me so much since. Your gratitude overwhelms me." Bodie fought to dredge up anger. It wasn't easy; all he felt was sorrow and a soul-deep longing. "In any case, what does it matter now? You have had your revenge, so go!"

"Revenge...? Reven--" Doyle's voice cracked and he bit his lip. Even in the dimmed firelight Bodie could see the glisten of tears. "Is that what you really think this was? Even now?"

"What else?" Bodie's voice was also shaky but neither of them were in a position to notice the other's unsteady composure, too entangled in their own misery.

"Damn you, I loved you. You know I loved you. I would have come back, but--"

"You never asked me to go with you," Bodie cut him off short. There was still enough alcohol in his bloodstream to enable him to express the greatest hurt. He blurted it out, and didn't regret it. "Why?"

Doyle was silenced, stunned by the words.

"You tell me you loved me, but not once did you ask me to go with you."

Doyle pulled himself together shakily, "I just didn't think you ... It never occurred to me you would leave...." And it should have done, Doyle realized with a shock. How many nights had they spoken of the world, how many times had he heard the wistful tone in Bodie's voice? If he had asked him to go, how different would things have been now?

"You wanted to be free, Ray. Free of me. So blame me if you will for what happened on the desert, but I decline responsibility for the rest. What happened to you, what you had to do or chose to do to survive after you left me was not my doing. It could have been very different -- for both of us."

Even accepting that truth, knowing in his heart that he had used Bodie as a scapegoat for years, out of habit as much as conviction, he still defended himself hotly, "Different how? If I would have returned I would have been 'your boy' until I was eighty. That would never have changed."

"Perhaps not. And if we had left the desert together, it might have been very different, too. And for that I blame you."

"Would it have changed the way you saw me?"

"Perhaps. I do not know. We will never know."

Doyle took a sharp breath, steeling himself for the question he was terrified to ask. "Did you love me, Bodie? Do you love me now?"

Bodie refused to meet his eyes. "You are still wearing the bracelet. You must know what it means. What it has always meant. You're mine."

Doyle looked down at the silver links, remembering what they'd meant to him, good and bad over the years. The times he'd almost sold it just to put food in his mouth. The times it had been the only thing that made him keep going out of pride, defiance, but most of all the unbanished memory of love.

Love was nothing without respect and honor and most important...truth. They had both made mistakes, he as much as Bodie. He could admit that now. But he had voiced his truth; if Bodie couldn't do the same, what honor and respect was in it? The rest hardly mattered. He was no longer tolerant of society's -- or Bodie's -- inability to express true feelings. His own mother had probably died because she didn't dare speak up for herself, undoubtedly too young and naive to even know what she wanted or needed. Bodie's mother had been killed because she lied about her true feelings in order to achieve a freedom she probably never wanted. Both had been possessions and both had died for not declaring what they really felt.

He had no intention of living with a chain holding an unspoken meaning. Chains were never good, no matter how lofty the purpose. And he could not base his future on unspoken pledges.

Doyle looked back up at Bodie, his gaze steady. "No, that's too easy."

Coldly, cleanly, he snapped the chain and threw it at the other man. "Symbols aren't good enough. I'm not chained to my family by a name. I'm not chained to you by a bloody bracelet. Say what you mean or forget it!"

He turned towards the door, emotions in a turmoil, too impatient to wait for an answer, afraid he would waiver, furious, tired of feeling like property. And he had, deep down in his mind for years, been Bodie's. No matter how many others he had been with, as long as he wore that chain, in his soul he had belonged to Bodie. But no more. Not if Bodie couldn't even say three bloody words.

Blinded by tears of fury and disillusionment, Doyle reached the balcony and paused to wipe his eyes and take his bearings before he started to climb down the way he had come up.

In the room, Bodie picked up the fallen chain still warm from Doyle's wrist.

He is leaving me.

He felt a sudden terror followed by a rippling, cold certainty that if he didn't do something now, the time for decision would be lost forever. And suddenly the edge of the world wasn't so foreboding. Not nearly so terrifying as this. The world, after all, was round. Which must mean one could always start again at the beginning.


For a bleak second, he thought Doyle had already gone. Then he saw the shadow at the edge of the balcony.

"Don't try to stop me," Doyle warned.

"No, not if you really want to go." Bodie paused, searching for the right words. The magic words to make it all right. Helplessly, he settled for the mundane. "It is still raining."


"You are getting wet.

"Yes. So are you."

Bodie moved closer and Doyle tensed.

"Don't. Please, Bodie."

"Do not what?"

"I can't--"

Bodie took him in his arms, holding him close. "Do not what, my English?"

"Don't....make me want you so much I--"

"I love you," Bodie whispered against the wet curls. "I love you. By Allah, I love you. If you leave me again, I cannot bear it. It nearly destroyed me before, can you not see that?"

Doyle's stiff body relaxed against him, arms surrounding his waist, face buried in his throat.


"Oh, English.... Raymond... Ray... I love you. It has a lovely sound, I will say it forever... I love you. I love you. My heart has been shouting it for years. I love you. I will sing it. I will--"

"No," Doyle chuckled, snuffling a little. "I think I'm happy with this much. Very happy," he added hoarsely.

They kissed, ignoring the light rain that continued to fall.

Doyle finally managed to pull away. "And what about the future? Your grandfather... my family ... society...?"

"My grandfather is a very adaptable man. He accepted a sheik as his grandson, did he not? He is also very rich. Your family are politicians and influential from what I understand. With such a combination, no one will dare question our friendship."

Doyle leaned back, brushing away a drop of rain from Bodie's brow. "Perhaps not. My family know enough unsavory things about me already and certainly wouldn't want to be indiscreet. But your grandfather will want you to marry and have chil--"

"No, I do not think so."

"He... doesn't care?"

"Oddly enough, unlike my Uncle Hassid, his goal in life is not breeding me like a prized stud. He is still too amazed and pleased at actually having found an heir at all to push me in that direction."

"But he may in the future.

"You forget how he found me, Ray. He saw the bracelet on your wrist. Of all people, he recognized its significance."


"Shhh. I love you. I love you. That is what you wanted me to say, is it not? Now I can tell you that, I offer you my heart, and still you quibble? How very English. Are you so terrified of happiness?"

"I'm afraid to expect it to be easy, yes."

"I never said easy. I said I love you. Now you tell me."

Doyle slid his hands through the short, wet hair and pulled the other man's face very close until their lips nearly touched. "I love you, Bodie. I love you so very much."

Bodie kissed him then pulled back. "Good, now can we go back inside? We are both soaked to the skin by the rain. I am still Bedouin enough to find the sensation uncomfortable."

Doyle hung back for a second, happy but uncertain and a little apprehensive. "What happens now, Bodie?"

Bodie looked down at the chain still clutched in his palm. He smiled widely. "First of all, this!" He threw it with all his might out into the garden. "No more chains. That part of our past is over, for both of us." He linked their fingers tightly. "This is the only chain we need."

"And now? What is before us?"

Bodie took their entwined hands and tugged him toward the warmth and light.

"The future, Ray. The future. Stop being so bloody English and just enjoy it."

-- THE END --

Originally published by Manacles Press, 1992

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