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CASTLE PUBLISHING 

This is copyrighted material, and may not be sold, distributed, or reproduced, without prior, written permission from Castle Publishing. You are granted permission to save this sample on your own system, for evaluation purposes only.

Copyright 1999 by Rhonda Collins and Sandra McLaren

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

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Kahramaan
by Rhonda Collins and Sandra McLaren

***
Prologue

The English countryside outside her window was bright with the blooms of spring. With the promise of new life and hope. Amber drew the soft, damp, sweetly scented air into her lungs and wondered if she'd miss it. Glancing down, she was startled anew at her own hand. It seemed alien to her, somehow. So old, she thought with surprise. It's been so long. Yet, she felt no different now than she had then, so many years ago.

Some memories never die, nor do they fade, yet remain as fresh as the day they were made. No matter how carefully you pack them away or how long they stay hidden within the secret chambers of your heart, they sleep there safely until the time comes to take them out and hold them in your hands so you can breathe life into them once more. It's all gone now...the passion and the fire. Now, there are only quiet moments when I remember the love and joy which was ours. He no longer fills my life, but he's always with me, as close as a single heartbeat from my own. The warmth of his love settles around me, and I nestle into it like an old favorite blanket. Familiar and comforting.

It was only his body that had died. His love was alive within her. When he promised her 'forever' he truly meant it, for she'd never spent a moment of her life without feeling his love surrounding her. Protecting her.

We touched eternity together. I exchanged my heart for his, my soul for his, my love for his. They are all mine by right, just as mine belong to him.

She turned away from the window to survey the empty room. Her luggage stood by the door, awaiting her son, David, to come and take her to the airport.

Her soul was singing, for she was returning to Egypt. To Anwar. And her thoughts returned to how it all began....

~~~~~~~~~
The Beginning: 1958

Anwar bade his father goodnight, then carefully placed the receiver back in the cradle. Ever since grandfather died everything has been a disaster, he thought morosely. Even Nazeer, ever the optimist, was discouraged, fuming that, "Eisenhower thinks Nasser a 'dangerous fanatic' because he insists on a neutralist course!" 

Saud and Nasser were continually at each others' throats, and now Saud talked of summoning Faisal to act as Premier to get him out of the pit he'd dug himself. 

Nor did it matter that Nazeer didn't approve of Nasser any more than Eisenhower did. 

Old feuds, new alliances. It seems it's always one step forward and ten back with our people. Anwar sighed heavily and went to the window of his office to look out at the cold, damp English evening. The warmth of the desert was very far away, and at times like this he wasn't very fond of the life he had to live. He loved England, with her vistas of changing green that seemed to go on forever, but he tired of it and longed for the fierce desert heat and shifting sands of his homeland. 

If he'd had his way, he'd never have chosen commerce over life as a simple Bedouin prince...but he'd never truly had a choice. The most he'd been allowed to choose was between politics and commerce, and responsibility often weighed heavily upon him. A soft knock on the office door disturbed his homesick reverie. "Yes?"

The door opened and his secretary, Terri, poked her head in and asked distractedly, "Anwar...um...are you ready to go?"

"Go?" Puzzled, he tried to recall if there was some meeting, or party he was supposed to attend...then he remembered: he'd promised Terri that he'd fill in as interim pianist with her Amateur Operatic Society. Passing a hand over his shaven head, he said, "I'm sorry, Terri! I forgot." He gestured to his gallabeah, "I've already changed to go back to Hadleigh for the weekend."

"That's all right," she said with a relieved smile. "I'm sure no one cares what you're wearing as long as you can play!"

"Very well, then," he responded. "Shall we go?" As he followed Terri out to the garage, he felt his spirits lightening. At least he'd have the opportunity to play tonight. He loved his music. Not as much as he loved Egypt, but it came a close second. Playing always lifted his heart. It was certainly better than going home to Hadleigh alone.

***

It was damp and cool in the old church, but Amber was hot with her long, heavy hair down in her neck. She reached up and lifted it to let the breeze cool her a bit. At the advanced age of twelve-and-a-half, patience wasn't her strong suit. The stage floor was hard and her heels drummed a ragged beat on the old wooden panels under her feet as she swung them back and forth. As the hands on the clock reached ten past seven, Amber was wishing Mrs. Hilson back. She might've been a bit of a tyrant, but at least she was on time. She'd walk in the door with Tom, her husband and their producer, dead on the dot of seven, and by five past, she was belting out the notes on the piano and another rehearsal would have begun. 

But now that the Hiltons had retired and Terri taken over, things were a bit less rigid-which was generally fine with all of the members. But tonight everyone was anxiously waiting to see what Terri's boss was like.

The boys were pestering Amber again, but she ignored them as she watched and
waited. She knew that Terri's boss, Anwar, was a foreigner, very rich and powerful, and Terri seemed to like him well enough.


As the outer door opened, the chatter ceased, and even the boys stopped their horseplay as they looked toward the swinging doors at the other end of the church hall. I'll bet he's fat, balding and middle aged, and has no sense of humor at all, she thought with trepidation.

But the figure that came through the door was not at all what she expected. Her jaw dropped, and it took her a few moments to realize how foolish she must look, sitting there gaping. 

The man with Terri barely cleared the top of the door, and even then he had to duck his head, he was so tall. He was bald, all right, but he was anything but dull! 

Dressed in flowing robes, he reminded Amber of some huge genie with his dark skin and hooked nose. Surprised as she was, she couldn't help but notice how huge his hands were, as without a word he seated himself at the piano and played a few scales before settling into a piece.

As the impact of his strange appearance wore off, Amber began to notice other things. Things she wasn't sure she liked, despite the fact that he played very well, indeed. As he sat at the piano, he scarcely acknowledged the presence of anyone else in the room, and as she crept closer to see him better, he lifted his eyes and looked around the stage with such an arrogant glance that she couldn't help but feel he had far too high an opinion of himself.

She glared back, determined not to let him feel she wasn't as good as he was. As his eyes met hers, he frowned, pulling together bushy brows. It was then she noticed his eyes. They were blue. An incongruous brilliant blue-like bluebells or cornflowers-and fringed with thick, dark lashes. Yet somehow those fierce, beautiful eyes made him even more intimidating. At least to her.

After a long moment, he turned his gaze away from her and back to the piano, and began playing one of the pieces they'd been practicing. His music enthralled her. It made her feel as if she'd never heard the piece played properly before.

***

Anwar felt ridiculous as he entered the church. What am I doing here? he asked himself as he scanned the anxious young faces staring at him. I don't belong here. But he'd promised Terri, and...the piano stood enticingly alone beside the stage: a bright shaft of sunlight fell through the stained glass and drew him to the polished wood. He forgot for a moment the curious eyes and unfamiliar faces...the feeling of not belonging that never quite left him when he was among Westerners despite his many years among them. Smoothing his hand over the wood, he opened the piano, pulled his robes aside and sat.

Suddenly, he felt the stares again and looked up...straight into a pair of the loveliest green eyes he'd ever seen. Ancient eyes. Eyes that seemed to bore through him and into his soul. They belonged to a young girl with porcelain-pale skin and long, lustrous dark hair, and the passion and fire in her gaze froze him for a long moment.

Turning back to the piano, he closed his eyes to force his attention to the music...and began playing. But even as his hands and heart reached for the music, he could feel her eyes on him.

***

Amber stared out the car window as Terri took her home. If Terri noticed her silence, it wasn't obvious as she raved about Anwar's playing. "Doesn't he play beautifully?" she asked, then went on without waiting for Amber to answer. "I'm so glad he agreed to fill in for us. I think he's missed playing in front of people. You know, he was trained to concert level...." Terri glanced over at her, and Amber shrugged a bit...not certain what she was supposed to say. Terri frowned, but turned back to her driving. "You're awfully quiet," Terri noted finally. "Is there something wrong?"

Amber sat up a bit and tried to appear more interested than she was. "No. Nothing's wrong. He does play well." 

Terri smiled and continued with her praise of their new pianist. "He's studied music most of his life."

Realizing that Terri wasn't going to stop talking about her boss, Amber decided she might as well find out a bit about him, since they seemed to be stuck with him. "Why does he wear those robes?"

"That's how he'd dress at home, in Egypt." Terri explained. "He doesn't always dress that way, but that's how he's most comfortable. That's understandable, I think."

"I guess," Amber conceded. They were nearing her home, and Amber fell silent again. She didn't understand why she felt so ambivalent about this man...so certain that they weren't going to like one another, but she'd never before had such an uncomfortable and powerful feeling upon meeting anyone.

Terri chuckled a little. "He's really very nice, Amber, once you get to know him. Don't let how he looks frighten you. I know he's not exactly handsome, but...."
Surprised that Terri would think her frightened, Amber blurted, "He doesn't scare me. And he's not really ugly," she added as an afterthought. "Just...big. And he dresses funny."

Now Terri laughed out loud. "He is big. But how can you say he's not ugly, with that hooked nose and bushy brows?"

Amber remembered how the big man had looked when their eyes met. "He does have nice eyes, though," she said quietly. It rather confused her that she would be trying to say something nice about the man after she'd been sitting here thinking how they weren't going to like one another.

Pulling up in front of Amber's house and parking, Terri reached over and hugged her. "I guess he does, at that. And when he smiles, it makes him look much nicer, too. You'll like him. You'll see."

But as Amber watched her friend drive away, she sighed heavily. We'll see, she
repeated to herself.
***

"Who is she?" Anwar asked Terri the following day. They'd decided to lunch together so Terri could fill him in on the various members of the Society and tell him a bit about their individual talents. The one who interested him most was the lovely dark-haired girl who'd stared at him so aggressively. He couldn't get her out of his mind.

"Amber? She's the daughter of an old friend of mine. She's a very talented young lady, don't you think?"

Anwar sipped his drink before answering. "She has a good voice, but she's undisciplined."

"She's had a difficult time...had to grow up far too early, in my opinion," Terri commented.

"Why? What's wrong?" he asked, more curious than before.

"Nothing wrong, really. Her family situation has been less than stable..." Terri glanced up, seeming a bit apologetic. "Not terrible, you understand. But her family isn't well-to-do, and as attractive as she is, she started modeling recently to bring in more income for the household. It's difficult, I think, for one so young to have such responsibility thrust upon them."

"How old is she?" He lit a thin Egyptian cheroot and drew the sweet smoke in.
"She's only twelve..." Terri began.

"Twelve?" he asked, more than a bit surprised. "I would've thought she was at least fifteen."

Terri smiled. "She is lovely, isn't she? She won't be thirteen for another six months. I've known her all her life and I suppose I feel more like an older sister to her than merely a friend of her mother's. She spends a great deal of time with me...weekends, that sort of thing."

"I see," he said, still thinking of the child's age. He'd never thought the girl was so young. She was tall for her age and well-formed. Terri was busy chattering away as she ate, but Anwar scarcely heard her. He only managed to pay enough attention to make an appropriate comment here and there. Thirteen, he thought with a feeling of dismay. No...not even that. Only twelve. She was so young. 

Suddenly, he felt the weight of his own years. In forty-three years he'd done so much-seen so much-his experiences could have filled two men's lives. I could be her grandfather, he thought dismally. Yet, there was within her eyes something veiled. Some ancient wisdom-merely slumbering. Waiting to awaken.

Terri glanced at her watch. "Oh, dear. It's getting on. I suppose I'd best get back."

Brought abruptly back to the present, Anwar laughed and stubbed out his cheroot as he stood for her to rise. "Nonsense. You're lunching with the boss. There's no rush."


He rose, left money for the bill, and escorted Terri out to her car. It disturbed him that for the rest of the afternoon, he kept remembering the young siren's fiery green-eyed gaze.

***

Weeks passed, then months, and Anwar showed no signs of giving up his role as pianist. He seemed to have settled in and grown roots, and at times Amber resented the fact. Simply his presence in the same room was enough to make her feel sensitive and angry, and tonight as they practiced it was worse than ever. This time, Anwar lost his temper completely. He slammed the lid of the piano down with a crash, his fierce blue eyes flashing as he uttered a long string of unintelligible Arabic. Amber heard him telling Terri in a furious tone that he refused to play until "She" ceased to fool around with the boys and was prepared to consent to do some work.

I was just having some fun, Amber thought with resentment. She peered past the veil of her hair to where Terri and Anwar were engaged in heated conversation. We used to play around a lot and Mrs. Hilson didn't care.

Amber pursed her lips and pouted. It was frustrating and unfair. This was all supposed to be fun! I try, she thought to herself, trying to decide how to face Terri when she brought it up. I really do try! But he's harder on me than on anyone else.

It was true that Anwar was a hard taskmaster. When it came to music, he demanded the perfection it deserved. Amber recognized that at the same time as she resented it. The voices buzzed in the background as he and Terri argued...his like an angry bee, and Terri's coaxing and encouraging.

"Why did you give that child a part in this production?" he ranted at her. "I can't understand her! Have you seen the way she torments the boys? Take your eyes off her for a moment and she's giggling and whispering!"

"Anwar," Terri replied in a quiet, calm tone, "you have to understand that girls in this country aren't raised like they are in yours."

He glared at her, his face a mask of fury, and Amber shuddered a bit, glad that for the moment at least his anger was being vented on Terri. "That much is obvious!" he snarled, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "But the other girls don't behave in the same manner. They behave much more...appropriately."

Terri laughed at him then-which was a mistake because it only seemed to fuel his anger. Amber watched in fascination as Terri tried to placate him. "She's a normal teenager, Anwar. But she's attractive and talented, and not unaware of the fact. She's only having fun."

But Terri's attempt at explanation fell short of its mark as well. He paced the floor, gesturing fluently as he raged. "That's the problem! To her, it's all a game! One day, mark my words, she will fall foul of it! I tell you, she will!"

"Please, Anwar," Terri coaxed, "calm down. She'll hear you."

Anwar's voice was loud enough for his words to be easily understood. He obviously didn't care if she heard or not. Amber smiled a tiny, secret smile. She could tell that it was really bothering him not to be the boss. Here, Terri was boss, and he didn't like it much. Amber could see his jaw clench, then he said something she couldn't understand...something in Arabic. But his tone was softer, less angry. Then, he threw his head back and took a deep breath before telling Terri, "Perhaps she should hear! Someone needs to instruct the brat!" But when Terri started to respond, he laughed and shook his head, saying something too softly for Amber to hear.

Anwar turned to leave, and Terri began packing up the music. It was obvious that rehearsal was over for tonight, and she knew Terri wouldn't be pleased. I won't cry, Amber told herself as she clenched her fists.

Terri was very quiet as she took Amber home, but at least she didn't seem angry. As Amber gathered her things together to get out of the car, she mustered enough courage to tell Terri, "I'm sorry." Her voice shook a little, but she didn't cry.

"I know," Terri answered. She patted Amber's cheek. "I know. He's probably sorry, too, but you're both too stubborn to meet each other halfway."

"I'm not stubborn! And I'm not a brat! He's so unfair, Terri! He'll spend hours going over and over pieces with the others. With them, he's patient, but nothing I do pleases him." She felt the prickle of tears, and blinked them back. "Everyone can tell how much he dislikes me."

Terri had no answer for that. Because she knows it's true, Amber thought with a certain glum satisfaction.

***

Slamming the door behind him, Anwar called for Robert, angry that his personal assistant and chauffeur had been unable to pick him up in town. "Robert! Robert!"

There was no answer. Stalking down the hall, he surveyed his domain for someone hapless enough to cross his path, but no one obediently presented themselves. With a low growl, he crossed the expanse of rug to the bar and poured himself a drink. It's too damned quiet, he thought furiously. He knew that his entire staff was in hiding. Tossing the Scotch back, he settled onto the hassock and pulled off his shoes and headdress. Why do I let the little bitch get to me? This is ridiculous!

It had gotten worse with every rehearsal. Every time he saw her, it seemed she went out of her way to annoy him. She flashed those iridescent sea-green eyes at the young men, her smile lighting the room like a beacon-drawing them after her. 

Oh, she knew her power, the little vixen...but she had no idea what trouble it could get her into. If she were my daughter...my sister....his hands clenched...I would strangle her, he thought with venom. No woman should act so!

He walked to the door and opened it, standing for a moment looking out over the
garden and at the pool. The moon was surrounded by a nimbus of light and the air was brisk. 

Taking a deep breath of the cool air, Anwar went out to the pool and pulled his gallabeah over his head. The water was icy as it closed over him, but his body soon warmed as he cut through the water with sure, even strokes.

Eventually, exhausted and with all his anger worked off in physical activity, he pulled himself up onto the side, where Robert waited, holding a towel for him. Anwar glanced up at his chauffeur's face where a slight, silent smile was the only evidence of the man's amusement. As he dried himself, Anwar grumbled, "So what the hell was wrong with the car?"

Robert handed him his robe. "Flat."

"I suppose the spare was flat as well," Anwar muttered sarcastically.

"Yes, Sir."

Hopeless, these English, Anwar thought in disgust. He knew Robert was merely making excuses so he could avoid his master's foul humor, but he'd known Robert long enough to realize there was no point in arguing. Robert was quiet, but had a stubborn streak. "Where's Akhim?"

Robert walked beside him as he headed back to the house. "Akhim is upstairs preparing some of that nasty Turkish coffee you like so much."

"Good"

Just before Anwar started up the stairs, Robert asked quietly, "If you don't mind my asking, Sir, why do you continue with this...frustration...if you find no pleasure in it?"

Meeting the man's amused gaze, Anwar merely shook his head and shrugged as he felt the anger drain away. "Allah alone knows, Robert." He turned to go upstairs where his slave awaited him.

"Goodnight, Sir," Robert said gently.

"Goodnight, Robert."

***

The Awakening: 1960

Amber stood numbly watching as her grandmother was lowered into the earth. She wanted to throw herself onto the casket and wail...to scream in defiance of death itself. Mum stood beside her, holding one of her young twin brothers, the tears slowly tracing their way down her face, and her Dad stood beside her holding his other son. Amber felt as if they barely knew she existed. She felt excluded, though she knew they didn't mean to make her feel that way. I want to be held...comforted. But there's no one to comfort me. It was her grandmother she'd been closest to, who had still petted and babied her, never waning in her attention, even after the twins had been born. Amber didn't think she could bear it...living at home without Gran.

Too proud and stubborn to let anyone know how she felt, Amber refused to cry,
refused to let anyone know how deeply bereft she felt. I wish Terri were here, she thought. But she knew Terri couldn't have come. Tonight was the Society's first rehearsal for "Carousel," and she had to be there. With Anwar gone, there's no one else....

Amber wondered how Anwar's father was doing. The old man had suffered a stroke, and Anwar had left suddenly for Egypt. She hoped Terri would be able to manage without him: she'd become very dependent upon him, and the two had become a marvelous team. Amber was a bit surprised to realize how much she missed him