The Widow and the Sheikh – Excerpt
Kingdom of Qaryma, Arabia, Spring 1815
It was late afternoon. He had travelled all day through the unrelenting heat of the blazing desert sun, barely stopping to rest, driven on by the knowledge that his destination was within touching distance, anxious to complete both the journey and the unwished-for task which awaited him. A difficult, potentially painful task but one which would provide its own reward. Ten years ago he had left and vowed never to return. This time when he departed, it truly would be forever.
Azhar brought his camel to a halt and shaded his eyes. The view of the desert was never static. The rippling sands shifted continually, as if the landscape itself were alive like some vast writhing serpent, as the bone-dry winds constantly reshaped and remoulded the dunes. Today, the colours varied from gold, to burnt orange, to a deep chocolate brown where the sun cast shadows in the valleys between the vertiginous cliffs of sand. The sheer vastness of the landscape, the vibrant celestial blue of the sky, and the searing, white-gold heat of the sun, filled him with awe and a painful nostalgic ache. His trading missions had carried him across many a desert landscape throughout Arabia, but there was none that tugged on his heartstrings as much this one.
Had once tugged on his heartstrings. Ten long years ago, he had exorcised this place and its people from his heart. In the intervening period, he had refused to allow himself to think of it, to remember it, to allow it to impinge on the new life he had carved for himself, the life that now defined him. His business gave him independence. He was beholden to no man. He was accountable for no-one and to no-one. Concluding matters here in Qaryma would finally make him free..
Far below, nestled in the valley, lay the Zazim Oasis, the contours of the lagoon delineated by the belt of lush vegetation which surrounded it. The perfectly still pool was silvery-green, reflecting the ridges of the highest dunes with the clarity of a painting. Though it was a forlorn hope, for the oasis was a well-known respite for weary travellers, Azhar had hoped for one last night of solitude before discharging the obligation which had led him here. Consequently, as he descended into the valley, the unmistakable evidence that he would not have the oasis to himself irked him profoundly.
The sole tent was pitched at the far end of the lagoon, in the shade provided by a grove of palm trees. It was constructed in a similar manner to the one his own mules carried, a mix of heavy wool blankets and animal skins stretched over a simple wooden frame, but this tent was larger, more akin to the type used by Bedouins, not a man travelling alone. It was then that he noticed the absence of any signs of life. No one would abandon such a precious possession willingly. The thick quality of the silence left him in no doubt that there was neither man nor beast here, but if experience had taught him one thing, it was always to be prepared to expect the unexpected. As his camel, the string of mules in train behind it, began the slow descent, Azhar’s hand went instinctively to the hilt of his scimitar.
Julia Trevelyan awoke with a start, sitting straight up on her bedroll. Her heart was beating so rapidly it felt as if it were in her throat. Her linen shift clung to her skin, damp with sweat and gritty with sand. It was stiflingly hot. The air was so dry it hurt to breathe. The bright glare of the desert sun glinting through the seams and gaps of the musty tent told her it must be well into the afternoon, but that was quite impossible.
Her head was pounding. The inside of her mouth felt as if it had been coated in camel hair. Reaching for the goatskin flask of water she kept by her bedclothes, she struggled to undo the cap, her fingers were shaking so much. She drank greedily, so desperate to slake her thirst that the precious water trickled down her chin onto her chest. The ache in her head flared into a searing stab of pain . Her brain felt like it was on fire. She tipped the remaining contents of her flask over her head in an effort to cool herself. Hanif, her dragoman guide, would be horrified at such flagrant waste of a precious resource, but Julia was beyond caring, and besides, the oasis where they were camped had a plentiful supply.
Where was Hanif? Why had he not woken her? What time was it? Julia fumbled for Daniel’s pocket watch, which she kept by her bedroll, but it was not there. She must have set it down somewhere else. It was not like her to misplace such a precious object. She frowned, causing the band of pain around her head to tighten. She couldn’t even remember going to bed.
The silence struck her then. She listened intently. Nothing. Not a rustle. Not a voice. Neither the shrill bray of a mule nor the plaintive bleat of a camel. Despite the stifling heat, she shivered. She was being foolish. Hanif and his men were being very well paid for their assistance. They would not have abandoned her here.
In the middle of a desert.
A wave of panic sent her heart pumping wildly. She was being ridiculous. Julia pushed back the blanket and got to her feet. Too quickly. The tent swam. She staggered. Shooting stars of light sparked before her eyes. Was she ill? Too much sun, perhaps? Not enough water?
She lurched to the front of the tent, sticking her head through the gap between the goatskin flaps. The sun cast a blinding white glare over everything. The day was well advanced. In utter disbelief, she gazed at the space where the encampment had been. There was nothing left, save the cold embers of last night’s cooking fire. All of the camels were gone. All of the pack mules were gone. The water of the oasis lay completely still. Not a frond on the shady palm trees stirred. She was alone, quite alone.
Anger and confusion dissipated the worst of her fear. Why had she not woken sooner? Hanif and his men could not have packed up the entire camp in silence, and she was a notoriously light sleeper. Why hadn’t she heard anything? Only now, turning back into the tent, did she notice that her clothes were strewn all over the floor. The large leather-bound trunk in which she kept them lay open, empty. Julia’s stomach lurched. Where was the other trunk? The trunk that constituted the sole reason she was here, so far from home, so far from England. She almost couldn’t bear to look. ‘Please, please, please,’ she whispered, as she made her way to the rear of the tent.
It wasn’t there. But it must be. It must be somewhere. Her knees shaking, she stumbled into the darker corners, but there was no sign of it. Frantically now, she began to search, pulling up her bedroll, shaking out her pillow, casting petticoats and skirts into the air in a fruitless attempt to find the small trunk and its precious contents. But it was gone, and with it the drawings of desert flowers she had so meticulously made, the plant specimens she had so painstakingly collected, labelled and neatly stored. She had almost completed her quest, her notebooks alive with colour, the tiny drawers of the trunk almost full. The pledge she had made was so near to fulfilment, her freedom finally within reach. Now, all was lost.
She couldn’t believe it. This simply couldn’t be happening. Please let it be some awful nightmare from which she would awake. Sinking down onto the sand, Julia struggled to hold back the tears. She never cried. She could cope, she told herself firmly. Hadn’t she been coping exceptionally well all these past months on her own? She had been in worse situations before. Once, the barge she and Daniel had been travelling on had sunk in the middle of a fast-running muddy river in the depths of a jungle. They had floated, the two of them, clinging to the wreckage as it tumbled downstream, she remembered, until the waters had become shallow enough for them to wade ashore. They’d lost everything then. No, not quite everything. Daniel’s watch and his purse had been secured to his person. Practical as always.
Her purse! Julia retrieved her pillow from the corner into which she had tossed it in the frenzy of her search, but no amount of probing and pummelling produced the leather pouch filled with gold coins. They must have taken Daniel’s watch too. A tear sprung to her eye. They had been right here, standing over her sleeping body, wreaking carnage in her tent, and she had not awoken.
‘Dear God, what else had she slept through?’ Somewhat belatedly, Julia checked her body for any signs of molestation. The relief when she found none was palpable. She began to tremble, thinking of what she had been spared. They could easily have slit her throat.
That way lay despair, and she had no time to despair. ‘No point in imagining the worst,’ she told herself firmly. ‘Time to take stock, not give way to a fit of the vapours.’ She was unharmed. Her gold was gone, her only cherished memento of Danial – his watch – was also gone but hopefully her secret stash of bank notes was safe.
A soft thud of hooves on the sand outside the tent prevented her from checking. They had come back, realising the error of their ways! Relief flooded her, quickly followed by fury. She had been far too complacent, far too accommodating. It was time she made it clear who was in charge here, reminded them whose money was funding this expedition.
But Hanif already had her purse and everything else of value. He had no reason to return. In fact, he had every reason to flee. Catching herself in the nick of time from storming out of the tent, Julia instead eased open the flap a mere inch and peered cautiously out.
The lone figure sitting on the high boxed seat of a camel trailing three pack mules was just a few yards away, and a complete stranger to her. His head and most of his face was covered by a white keffiyeh held in place by a braid of dark-red scarves, leaving only his eyes, a pair of high cheek bones and the bridge of his nose exposed. She could only guess at his age. Not old. Five-and-thirty, perhaps less. He wore a long, loose tunic in the same dark-red as the agal which held his head-dress in place, a cloak she knew was called an abba, made of unbleached cotton or muslin. His long brown riding boots turned up at the toes. The simple attire, which was slightly dishevelled and covered in a fine coating of dust, suggested he had travelled far. Despite her apprehension, there was something about the man that held her attention. Was it his easy command of that highly-strung beast that gave him such a forbidding presence? The hooded hawk which perched beside him on the saddle? Or the way he sat, shoulders ramrod straight, surveying the desert as if he and only he had a right to be here?
He clicked his tongue and the camel dropped obediently to its knees allowing him to dismount fluidly, his billowing robes hinting at an athletic body beneath. His hand was on the hilt of the lethal-looking scimitar which hung from a loose belt on his hips. Now, Julia thought, while he was occupied with hitching the three mules, now would be the time to run for cover in the shrubs surrounding the lagoon, or even into the lagoon itself.
She was about to melt back into the protective gloom of the tent, planning to crawl out from under the rear of it, when she saw the rangy silver-grey Saluki hound. Unfortunately the dog spotted her at the exact same moment. The animal’s ears pricked, its sleek body quivered as it turned towards her. Julia retreated hastily, but even as she tried to create an opening at the base of the tent, the front flap was thrown open and first the hound, and then its owner entered.
Grabbing the first weapon that came to hand, she turned to confront the intruders. The dog was close enough for her to feel its breath on her bare feet, its hackles raised, teeth bared. ‘Stay where you are,’ Julia ordered, waving her weapon at its master. ‘If you value your life, you will not take a step further.’ She spoke in Italian, the language she had used to communicate with Hanif, for her Turkish and her Arabic were rudimentary at best. Certainly not up to the dire situation she currently found herself in.
The nomad ignored her and stepped further inside. He had not drawn his sword, but wielded a wicked-looking dagger. Julia’s blood ran cold. He was at least a head taller than her, and at five foot six in her stocking soles, she had been the same height as Daniel. ‘I mean it,’ she said, brandishing her weapon and, in her terror, lapsing into English. ‘If you take one step further, I will…’
He didn’t take one step, he took several, and all of them so quickly that she had no time to move before he had closed the gap between them. A firm hand covered her mouth, preventing her from screaming. A powerful arm clamped around her waist, binding her tight against a hard and unforgiving body. The dagger on the end of that arm looked sharp enough to scythe through metal, far less clothing or delicate flesh. The hair brush she had been rather preposterously wielding dropped to the sand as Julia struggled frantically, wriggling and kicking with all her might. The dog barked, but made no attempt to savage her.
Seemingly utterly indifferent to her efforts to free herself, the man lifted her effortlessly off her feet and held her against his side while he made a quick tour of the tent. Only when he had assured himself that it was empty did he release her, pulling the keffiyeh away from his face and clicking his fingers to send his hound obediently back to guard the doorway of the tent.
Night-black hair, cut very short, showed his stark bone-structure to advantage. A wide brow, high cheek bones, a surprisingly clean-shaven chin with a small cleft in the middle, drawing attention to the perfect symmetry of his face. His thickly-lashed eyes were golden-brown in colour, rather like a setting sun. His nose was strong, but the austerity of his countenance was offset by the sensuality of his mouth, which on a less masculine face would have looked too feminine. All of this the artistic part of Julia’s brain absorbed in seconds. He was one of the most striking men she had ever seen. Under different circumstances – very different circumstances – her fingers would have itched to draw him, capture his potent and haughty demeanour, his languid physical grace.
He picked up the hair brush and handed it to her. ‘What were you planning to do with that, comb me to death?’ he demanded with a curt laugh, although his eyes betrayed no sign of amusement. ‘What are you doing here? Why are you alone in the desert?’
He spoke in perfect English with a soft accent, unmistakably Arabic but equally unmistakably cultured. This man was most definitely not the poor nomad she had taken him to be. Julia took a step back, eyeing the open doorway of the tent.
‘I do not recommend it,’ he said. ‘I can easily outrun you. And even if I couldn’t, Uday here of a certainty could.’ The hound’s ears pricked up at the mention of his name. ‘His name means fleet-footed, and he is. Very.’
The dog bared it’s teeth, almost as if it were smiling contemptuously at her. He and his master were well-matched. Julia moved, not because she doubted that the animal would live up to its name, but because she could think of no other viable course of action.
Two steps only, she had taken, before he caught her again and set her down well inside the tent. ‘Madam, you will come to a great deal more harm running in the heat of the sun without a hat or shoes or water, than you will endure at my hands.’
He was right. She hated that he was right. She was not armed, while he was armed to teeth. She couldn’t outrun him, she couldn’t overpower him. She had no option but to somehow brazen it out. What she must not do is show her fear. Clasping her shaking hands tightly together, Julia glared at the man. ‘I have no intentions of running away. I am not the trespasser. This is my tent, my property. You have no right to be here. I demand that you leave. Immediately.’
He stared at her in astonishment.
‘I asked you to leave,’ Julia repeated, this time in Italian.
Still, he made no move. ‘I heard you,’ he replied in the same language, before reverting to English. ‘This tent may be yours but this kingdom is not. You do not belong here. I repeat, what are you doing here?’
Julia bristled. ‘That, with respect, is none of your business.’
A flash of anger illuminated his countenance. ‘Do you have official papers? Who gave you permission to travel here?’
Though he spoke curtly, he had tucked his dagger back into his belt. Julia’s fear began to recede, allowing indignation to take hold. The arrogance of him! She crossed her arms. ‘Naturally I have papers, and they are in perfect order.’
‘Show them to me.’
He held out a peremptory hand. She was on the brink of informing him that he had no right at all to make such demands when it occurred to her that he could well be some sort of official, and it would not be prudent to antagonise him any further, especially if she wished to ask for his help. ‘If you will give me a moment, I’ll look for them.’
Thanking the stars that she had had the foresight not to keep her papers with the rest of her valuables in her dressing case, which had of course also been taken, Julia slid her fingers anxiously into the tiny slit cut into the lining of her clothes trunk. To her immense relief, the very slim packet of papers were still there, along with the equally slim stash of bank notes, which she decided to leave in the hiding place for the moment. Smoothing out the creases of her papers, she handed them over. ‘All present and correct and, as I think you’ll agree, in perfect order.’
The man frowned. ‘These relate to the kingdom of Petrisa.’
‘Exactly. Signed by the appropriate authorities,’ Julia agreed, ‘including the British Consul in Damascus.’ Who had recounted, as had Colonel Missett, the Consul-General in Cairo, several hair-raising incidents of robbery and murder designed to deter her from undertaking this journey. As it turned out, their dire warnings had proven to be all too accurate, but they had failed to dissuade her because they had underestimated her overwhelming motivation for accepting the risks – principally because she had chosen not to appraise either of the august gentlemen of the precise nature of her quest. It was her business, not theirs. Her life, not theirs. ‘Well?’ Julia demanded. ‘Satisfied?’
But he was still frowning. ‘As you said, your papers are in perfect order. There is only one problem, and I’m afraid it’s rather significant. This is not Petrisa. This is the Zazim Oasis, in the kingdom of Qaryma.’
Julia’s jaw dropped. He was mistaken. Or he was lying, for some reason. Punishing her for being rude, perhaps. ‘Nonsense,’ she said stoutly, ‘I’ve never heard of Ka – Kareem…’
If he was right, then she was in deep water. She had no valid papers for this place, no permissions, which made her the trespasser, not him. She must not panic. Trespass was only a crime if it was committed deliberately, wasn’t it? Julia cleared her throat. ‘They told me – my dragoman said – are you certain this is not Petrisa?’
‘I could not be more certain.’
His tone was implacable. He was just a touch intimidating, but her instincts told her he was telling the truth. She had no choice but to believe him. She was quite alone, and, through no fault of her own, quite in the wrong. ‘It seems,’ Julia said carefully, ‘that I owe you an apology. I appear to have strayed over the border quite unintentionally.’
‘You must have had a guide, a translator, men to pitch your camp. Where are they?’
His tone riled her. Julia wrapped her arms tightly around herself. ‘I have travelled half-way across the world relying on my own initiative. I am not some helpless and witless female.’ Though she was, for the moment, almost completely without resources. ‘I have no idea where my guide and his men are,’ she admitted reluctantly. ‘They left abruptly in the night.’
‘And your camels, your mules?’
‘They took everything.’ Saying it aloud made her feel like an absolute fool. Mortified, she glowered defiantly at the intruder. ‘There was nothing I could do to stop them, I think they put some potion in my tea last night.’
His hand, Julia noticed, went to the hilt of his sword, and he said something vicious under his breath in what she assumed was Arabic. ‘Did they harm you in any way?’
Her cheeks flamed. ‘No. I – no, they did not. Not in any way, if I understand your question correctly.’
‘For that, I give thanks. I am deeply sorry, Madam, that you have had to endure such barbaric treatment. I assure you no citizen of Qaryma would behave so abominably towards a foreigner. Those scoundrels may not have violated you, but they have violated the sovereign borders of Qaryma with impunity.’
He looked both furious and puzzled by this fact. Consulting her papers again, his frown deepened further. ‘You really are travelling alone, without any companion?’
‘All the way from England,’ Julia said, with a small smile.
The man did not seem to share her pride in her achievement, but rather looked aghast. ‘You are married,’ he said, pointing at her wedding band. ‘Your husband, where is he? Surely not even an Englishman would expose a woman to the dangers of travelling without protection? If I were married, which I am not, I would most certainly not be so cavalier with my wife’s safety. It is a matter of honour, to say nothing of…’
‘…the fact that we are the weaker sex?’ Julia finished for him. ‘Fortunately, my husband did not share your views.’ Which wasn’t strictly true. Daniel’s quiet assumption that he was in every regard her superior had been one of the few things about him which had irritated her. Though when it suited his purposes, which invariably meant something which would be beneficial to his research, he was amenable to acknowledging talents and abilities he had hitherto denied her possessing.
‘Actually, I was about to say that it was a matter of upholding the promise your husband made on his wedding day, to protect you.’
‘I am more than capable of protecting myself,’ Julia declared. A raised eyebrow, a sceptical look around the ransacked tent, made her flush.
‘You said your husband did not share my view.’
‘What of it?’
‘You spoke of him in the past tense.’
‘That is because I am a widow.’ Julia replied. ‘Daniel died of a fever contracted in South America over a year ago.’
‘My sincere condolences.’
‘Thank you.’ Back in Cornwall, she had grieved for the loss of the man she had known all her life, as a friend, a botanist colleague of her fathers, and for the last seven years, as her husband. She still missed the friend, the botanist, the companion, but the husband? Distance and time, six months of solo travel, had given her a very different perspective of her husband.
The fact that Daniel had been, just as this man suggested, cavalier with her safety, was none of his business, just as the surprising fact that such a striking man was unencumbered was none of hers. What she needed from him was his help, not his history. In fact, she couldn’t believe she had wasted so much precious time before seeking it.
Julia smiled in what she hoped was a conciliatory manner. ‘Now that you are appraised of my situation, you will understand why I must crave your assistance in pursuing the men who betrayed my trust. They cannot have travelled too far, and – and you see, they have something of mine that I must – I simply must retrieve it.’
But he was already shaking his head. ‘Oh, please,’ Julia interrupted when he made to speak, the anguish she felt evident in her voice, ’ I beg of you. I don’t care about the mules or the camels. I don’t even care about the money or jewellery they stole, other than Daniel’s fob watch, which is of enormous sentimental value to me. But there is one other precious item that matters more than all my other possessions put together. They took my gold, but I still have access to other funds. I can reward you amply, if you will only…’
‘I am not a dragoman, Madam, and I most certainly neither want nor need your money.’
The look he gave her made her flinch. ‘I beg your pardon, it was not my intention to insult you, only I am desperate. I cannot tell you how – how vital it is that I…’
‘No.’ He unpicked her fingers from his sleeve. ‘It would be a fool’s errand, mark my words. Whatever they have taken will already have been sold off in a market somewhere. Stolen goods are always moved on quickly, and there is always an unscrupulous buyer willing to ask no questions in return for a bargain.’
‘I myself am a trader – a reputable one I might add, but I know how these vagabonds operate. I am sorry. I wish it were otherwise, especially in relation to the watch, but I’m afraid you must give your possessions up for lost.’
His tone was firm and quite unequivocal. Forced to accept the truth of what he said, Julia felt quite sick with disappointment. She pictured Daniel’s trunk being haggled over in a souk. The specimens, so valuable to her, would most likely have been deemed worthless by the thieves, cast out of the drawers to wither in the heat of the desert sun, Her paints, her little trowel would be sold too, but her notebooks, her drawings – no, they would mean nothing to those men. They would have no idea of their enormous significance.
Anger made her absolutely determined not to be defeated. If she could not recover her precious work, she would simply have to find a way of starting again. There was no way on earth she was returning to Cornwall without having completed her task. She had come so far, had triumphed over so many hurdles on the way, she would not – she absolutely would not! – allow a treacherous band of Bedouins to best her.
‘Very well,’ Julia said briskly, ‘if you will not assist me in pursuing these thieves, perhaps you will help me to employ a more reliable dragoman? All I ask is that you escort me back over the border to Petrisa, assist me in exchanging some bank notes for local coin, and then I can purchase new camels, mules…’
She trailed to a halt, for he was once again shaking his head firmly. ‘I am afraid there is no prospect of my doing any such thing. There is no question of my going back. I have critically important business of my own to attend to here in the capital city, Al-Qaryma.’
Julia stared at him in dismay. ‘You mean you will leave me stranded here, without valid papers, without the means to make my way back to Petrisa? What on earth am I expected to do?’
It was an excellent and very pertinent question Azhar thought, eyeing the English woman with a mixture of irritation and curiosity. She was older than he had thought at first, perhaps twenty-six or seven. Not in the first bloom of youth, but too young to be widowed, and certainly far too young to be wandering about alone in a foreign country, no matter how competent she thought herself.
Though he had to concede that she must be more intrepid than confident, if her claim to have travelled all the way from England alone was to be believed, and he had no reason to doubt her – there was honesty as well as intelligence in those wide-set eyes the colour of palm fronds. She may lack judgement, but she had courage, and she had resilience. In spite of his annoyance at this most unwanted distraction, Azhar couldn’t help but find her – in her own unique way – appealing.
She was not beautiful exactly, her face was too long for that, her brow to high, but she was memorable, with that thick mass of dark-red hair and those big green eyes. Her body, under the hideous nightgown she wore, would be deemed too thin and too tall here in the east, but Azhar found her lean suppleness alluring. The colour of her hair spoke of a fiery temper, a tempestuous nature. And that mouth, when it was not set in a firm line, had a hint of sensuality about it.
Appalled at the carnal direction his thoughts had taken, he dragged his eyes away. As if he did not have enough to concern himself with, now he must take responsibility for a complete stranger. For he had no option but to do so. He most certainly could not abandon her to her fate. His anger flared again at the thought of the miscreants who had robbed and abandoned her. That the reprobates she had employed had had the temerity to breach Qaryma’s borders with impunity astounded and infuriated him. The situation must have changed radically since he was last here. Ten years ago, no- one would have dared treat the kingdom with such disrespect.
Azhar sighed heavily. One problem at a time. He turned his attention back to his most pressing dilemma. ‘I cannot in all conscience abandon you here, but neither can I escort you back across the border. I therefore have no option but to take you with me to Al-Qaryma.’
She looked dismayed rather than delighted. ‘But I don’t have the correct papers. I’ll be thrown into gaol.’
A fact Azhar himself had pointed out. He should have held his tongue. ‘Fear not, I will have your papers validated when we reach the city.’
‘How can you promise such a thing? I thought you said you were a trader?’
Why couldn’t she simply say thank you! ‘I am, and a successful one. As such I have many high-ranking contacts. Do not fear, I am not without influence, Madam…?’
‘Trevelyan,’ Azhar repeated slowly. ‘It does not sound typically English.’
‘That is because it’s not English, it’s Cornish. Both my husband and I are natives of Cornwall, which is quite the most beautiful county in England, Mister – Sayed…?’
Sayed, the common formal form of address to which he had answered for many years. It was how he had defined himself, a nameless and rootless sir. ‘You may call me Azhar.’
‘Azhar,’ she repeated carefully.
‘It means shining, or bright.’
‘My name is Julia. I’m afraid it doesn’t mean anything in particular, though I expect you think I should be called Burden or Encumbrance.’
She crossed her arms, inadvertently lifting her breasts higher under her cotton shift. To his annoyance, Azhar felt his blood stirring. Desire, which had departed entirely with the arrival of that fateful summons which had brought him here, returned now at this most inopportune time. He could not afford to be distracted. He most certainly had no time to be intrigued, far less beguiled by this English widow, especially since she was actually the complete antithesis of everything those words implied.
‘What you are, Madam Julia Trevelyan, is a devilish inconvenience,’ Azhar said. ‘The day marches on. I am going to hunt for some food and then prepare a meal. You are welcome to join me. I will not drug you, though I may inadvertently poison you, since my culinary skills are somewhat rudimentary. I shall, however, endeavour not to. A dead English woman is the last thing I wish to have on my hands.’
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