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Page 13


I fell asleep and knew nothing, no dreams, no memories. Only Hunter’s arms and his smell and his strength.

  I woke up gradually. I knew from the coolness of the air and the silence that it was still night. I felt something rough yet gentle sliding along my back. Hunter, touching me. It was a comforting touch, not a sexual touch. As if he merely wanted to know what I felt like. I wondered sleepily if he wanted me closer the way I want to be ever nearer to him. I want his touch.

  My fear is not that he will hurt me. I know by this point that he will not. My fear is that once I let him touch me, once I let him do what he wants, that he will not want me any longer. He will go away, and leave me alone again. He will expect me to be the whore for him, to be Sabah for him, rather than Rania.

  I am afraid of how much I want him to keep touching me. It is a strange, unnaturally powerful desire. I do not want things. I have what I need to stay alive, and that is all. The only thing I have ever wanted is to not have to sell my body anymore.

  Hunter cannot give me this. No one can. I will be a whore until I am too old and too ugly for men to want me, and then I will starve to death as I should have so many years ago.

  I am frozen, unable to respond, unable to stop his exploring hands.

  My leg is draped over his, casually intimate. I want to draw it back to myself, gather my feet beneath me and run into the night, away from this desire burning through my body and soul like fire consuming paper.

  Soon, my will to resist will be ash in the wind.

  Allah help me, he is caressing my leg now. Just above the knee, still innocent enough, but growing more daring and familiar with every centimeter his palm glides higher.

  I have to fight myself to retain the lie of being asleep. Breathe in; breathe out; slow and steady, deep breaths. Perhaps I will be able to merely lie here and let him touch me. I do not have to return his affection. I can resist. My desire does not have to dictate my actions.

  Oh, I am a fool to think thus. Now his hand is resting frightfully, tantalizingly close to my backside. The edge of his hand is brushing the underside of my left buttock, and Allah, Allah, I want him to move it higher. I want him to touch me intimately, sexually. I do. I must admit the truth to myself, if only to myself.

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  I must also admit that I am afraid, for so many, many reasons.

  I should not let him. I should not let myself. But I am going to, am I not?

  There is no point in pretending any longer, is there?

  No, indeed not.

  I squeeze my eyes shut tighter, cursing myself for being a thousand times a fool. Then I open them and look up at him. His profile is so handsome, so strong. His hair is thick, black as deepest shadows, and getting a bit long, curling around his neck and sweeping across his brow. He is not looking at me; his eyes are closed, squeezed tight, as mine were. He, too, is struggling for control, I think.

  We are both fighting this, battling ourselves. He looks down now, meets my eyes, and I know I have lost my battle to resist this American warrior. His eyes are shining in the moonlight, the blue washed into silvery orbs, his tanned skin like marble.

  I have not prayed in years. I have called on Allah, blasphemously perhaps, in moments of pain or fear. But not since I was a girl did I speak to Allah as an entity or god who might care, or hear. I do now.

  Allah, the all-merciful and all-compassionate, hear me now. Protect me from myself. Protect Hunter from the foolishness of what I am about to do. You see that I am weak, Allah. You see, and if you care, be here now.

  I feel childish, foolish, for praying in this moment. I am helpless to stop myself now, for I feel the decision in my body, in my heart. My mind, my reason and logic, they tell me I am a fool, a weak little girl to be lying in this man’s arms, to be letting him touch me so with such familiarity Even more so to be considering the intent that is swirling in the fire of my blood.

  All this time, Hunter’s eyes are fixed on me, watching me. I know if I were to make clear I did not want his hand on me, he would respect that wish. I nearly ask him to stop touching me, simply to test my theory, but in the end I do not need to. I know.

  I have not been breathing, and my lungs protest. The decision to throw myself off the edge into the abyss of desire flows through me like flood waters through a wadi, and I suck in a stuttering breath, searing my burning lungs with cooling air.

  I snake my hand out from between our bodies and up to touch his stubbly cheek. His hand slides down my leg, the wrong direction, and then back up, and I feel my breathing grow shallow, panicked panting. He stops at the outward bell of my bu**ocks again, once more waiting for me to demur. I lift my chin slightly, a silent gesture of permission. Or perhaps daring him to touch me.

  No, that is not it. I am daring myself. Let him touch me, the lift says. He does. My heart hammers madly as his hand burns a hot trail over my bottom, cupping and caressing. I could weep from the pressure of pleasure his touch causes.

  “Rania, I—” he begins.

  I touch my fingers to his lips, silencing him. I do not want words, in any language. I want the language of touch. He would argue, he would discuss, he would try to convince me why, convince himself why not. I care for none of that any longer. I know what he wants, and I know what I want.

  I run my fingers down the front of his body to the buttons of his camouflage pants. I am afraid of this moment. So much fear of so many things. It is nothing I have not done a thousand, thousand times since I first allowed Malik to have his way with me in exchange for food. But…this is different. I want Hunter’s comfort, I want his touch, and this is the only way I know to make sure he does not push me away. I must give him what he wants.

  I steel my resolve, feeling the hardness forming in my stomach. It is the hardness of doing what I must. Yes, this is different, this is to get something I want rather than something I need, but…

  Enough.

  I move to undo the first button, but my fingers are imprisoned by Hunter’s. His eyes are probing me, looking into me. His fingers tangle with mine and move them away from his privates, back up his body, placing my hand on his cheek once more.

  I do not understand. I thought this was what he wanted? To be touched? To achieve release?

  I said I did not want words, but I feel my mouth opening to ask him what he wants from me. Instead, he kisses me. I want to cry, but I cannot. This pleasure is pain. His lips on mine are hot and wet and hungry, devouring my mouth as if he were starving. His hand cups my bottom and explores it. I cannot help the moan that slips up from my throat. It is a sound of desperation.

  How does he know what I want? Can he read my mind? My fear is gone, evaporated by the heat of his kiss. All I know is his body hard against mine, his mouth searching mine, his hand on my flesh, inciting such fiery desire that I will be soon consumed by it.

  He pulls back to look at me, but that is not what I want. More kisses. More. I need him. Allah, help me, I need him. I do not know what to do, what is happening. All I know is his mouth on mine is more happiness than I have ever known, and I do not want it to ever, ever stop.

  I move to kiss him, but he pulls away, teasing me. What is this new game? I dislike it. I want his lips. He laughs at me, amused by something I cannot understand. Then he kisses me again, to quiet the questions he must see bubbling up.

  I drown in his kisses. It is like nothing so much as falling, surrounded by him. Enveloped by him. I moan again, and I feel his body respond. He wants me. I know what the desire of a man feels like. He does nothing to alleviate his desire. He only touches me, slips up my back, down my leg, caresses my bottom, one side and then the other, so tenderly. His touch calms my worry, buries my panic beneath the fires of lust and something else, something softer and more potent than mere desire.

  We pull apart again, and his eyes, oh, Allah, they contain so much. I cannot put names to the emotions I see in his eyes. I dare not. That would