Holy Pilgrimage, but lost all his deeply held beliefs in honor and
nobility. Captured in battle, he is sold as a slave into the home of
Alif Al-Rasheed, a wealthy Genovese merchant who has converted to
Islam. Bereft of faith, imprisoned in a foreign land, Henry has lost
hope in his ability to love again—until he lays eyes on his
captor’s beguiling daughter.
proud daughter of Cairo will not be won so easily. Divided by
religion, language, and culture, Ayla has little in common with the
disillusioned Englishman—and yet he has vowed to protect her life
in exchange for his freedom. As they embark on a perilous journey to
safety, their bond will grow—and be tested—in ways neither can
anticipate. For their greatest challenges will arise where Henry
least expects. With threats conspiring to divide them, will he find
the strength to stand by Ayla—and together will they find a common
ground on which to build a future?
A mix of dust, goat, and spices of a hundred evening cook fires infused the air. Cumin, coriander, and cinnamon twined together and made English’s mouth water. Sunset splashed the sky above Cairo in burnt orange, growing brighter closer to the fiery ball sinking behind the soaring minaret. He tried to remember the name of that mosque, but his head didn’t work like it used to.
After herding a small flock of goats into their pens for the night, he ended his working day with the soft click of the latch.
From the city beyond the walls came the wail of a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. “Allah is great; Allah is great.”
The inner courtyard emptied as people sought their prayer mats. “I bear witness that there is no divinity but Allah.”
English bore witness to no divinity, and he did not pray. At one time, in another land and to another god, he might have.
Drawn to the heat the stones gathered during the day, he pressed his aching back to the wall and waited.
Like him, she did not pray. The girl on the wall. He knew her name as Alya, had heard it called often enough, but to him she remained the girl on the wall.
Curtains fluttered at the open doorway on the roof balcony. Here she came. For certain, she remained unaware of him concealed in the deepening shadows and watching. To be caught with his eyes on her now would mean Bahir and his whip. Still he waited, would not move from this spot until he saw her.
There. A slim figure shrouded by her hijab.
The girl on the wall stopped at the parapet and faced the street. She
pushed aside the niqab, which concealed all but her eyes. Then, she lifted her hijab and shook her hair free. It spilled down her back as she raised her face in a silent blessing to the day that passed. Dying sunlight rushed to pay tribute to her loveliness. Her hair dark and lustrous as the wood of the wild cherry that grew in a thicket he had once walked, her skin like crushed almonds.
Not that he could see from this distance, but her eyes above her niqab were lighter than he would have expected. A mix of green and brown that he had only glimpsed in passing before she hastily lowered her head. He wouldn’t call her beautiful in the way of other women now hazy in his mind. Her chin held too firm a jut, her nose slightly hawk-like. The strong slash of her cheekbones bore testament to her mixed blood. She had a strong face, fascinating, and in her private moment on the rooftop her elemental fire drew him like a starving man to a feast. Her very essence called to that barely living part of him that remembered life in abundance. In her evening ritual, she discarded the modesty she showed during the day. She believed the rest of the household to be at prayer and in these forbidden moments before she would be called in, or admonished by the older woman who always accompanied her, English became a man again.
* * * *
“Come in, Alya.” Nasira beckoned from beyond the curtains. The old woman knew Alya well enough to end her prayers early and drag her back inside before anyone else saw her. Creases on Nasira’s craggy features meant another lecture on the way.
As Alya reached the point on the rooftop garden where her hoarse whisper could be heard Nasira started. “You show your face like a street woman.” Nasira shook her head. “What will people think when they see you like so?”
“Nobody sees me.” Alya pushed the gauzy curtains aside. A stiffening evening breeze sent them dancing around her. “I only do it when nobody else is about.”
“Somebody is always about.” Grabbing a brush, Nasira motioned for Alya to sit. “Especially now.”
“Why especially now?” Nasira’s tone gave Alya pause. She tried to turn and look at her.
Nasira rapped her on the head with her brush. “Stay still. Your father has called for you to attend him after prayers.”
“He did?” They always ate the evening meal together.
Huge frown creasing her brows, Nasira nodded. “There has been trouble, habibti. In the suq today.”
Trouble in the suq hardly deserved the look of doom Nasira’s face. Trouble blew perpetually through the suq. One merchant squabbled with another, buyers quibbled over prices, and the constant thieves threaded through the place like snakes, always looking for the chance to strike. “What happened?”
“I will let your father tell you, but it is bad. Bad.” Nasira lowered her head in obeisance. “Enna lillah wa enna elaihe Rajioun.”
“Did someone die?” Alya swung about on the stool, wincing as Nasira’s hold on her hair tugged at the roots.
“You ask too many questions.” Nasira grabbed her shoulders and turned her about again. “Your father will tell you all you need to know.”
Her nurse should know better than to think she would leave it there. “But someone did die?”
“Come.” Nasira bustled to her clothing and grabbed a fresh tunic. “I sent the boy for water, you must wash and attend your father.”
A new tunic meant the news her father bore was weighty. She washed and dressed quickly, flinging her veil over her shoulder as she trotted out of her chamber and down the stairs to the small, inner courtyard shaded on one end, where her father and she shared their evening meals. The table lay set for their meal but her father sat beside a small pond, staring into the water.
His skin was so darkened by the sun, a stranger could never tell he had not been born in this land, but had come from somewhere beyond the sea. “Alya.” Holding his hands out, he smiled and drew her forward for a
kiss on both cheeks. “Nasira tells me you have been on the roof again.” “The sunset was particularly beautiful today.” She could always get
around him with a bit of teasing. He smelled as he always did of silk and spices, and fruit tobacco from his hookah.
Tonight, he turned from her and went back to his study of the pool. “You need to be careful, Alya.”
“What happened in the suq?” Father dressed, ate, spoke, acted and even prayed as a son of this land, but he had raised her differently. Nasira warned his indulgence of her would come to no good, but Alya had always been encouraged to speak openly with her father.
“A merchant was killed.” Father trailed his fingers through the water. Flashes of light glimmered beneath the surface as fish darted away from him. “A foreign merchant. He was murdered.”
“Why?” Alya sank to the low stone lip of the pond. Her father acted not
as himself this evening. Dread prickled across her skin and sunk deep into her belly. “What are you not telling me?”
“The tension between the local merchants and the foreigners grows worse.” With a sigh, he sat beside her and rubbed the back of his neck. “And the Sultan does nothing to aid the foreigners. What, with the same battle taking place in his palace, his hands are tied.”
“You know why?” Father looked up at her. She had her eyes from him, a mix of green and brown that marked them clearly as not from here.
Alya nodded, she did know why. “The army of unbelievers.”
Even now, years after the Nile had risen and forced the invaders to flee, the distrust lingered.
“You must be more careful than ever.” Father captured her hand and squeezed. “Eyes are everywhere and looking for a way to discredit us.”
When dripped with venom from the wrong tongue, her simple act of freedom on the walls at sunset could take on the worst of connotations. She nodded. “I will be more careful.”
“Let us enjoy our dinner.” Father smiled but the worry lingered. “And then I must see Bahir.”
incurable case of wanderlust. Her match? A Canadian engineer, whose
marriage proposal she accepted six short weeks after they first met.
Together they’ve made homes in seven different cities across three
different continents (and back again once or twice). If only it made
her multilingual, but the best she can manage is idiosyncratic
English, fluent Afrikaans, conversant Russian, pigeon Portuguese,
even worse Zulu and enough French to get herself into trouble.
Mimicking her globetrotting adventures, Sarah’s career path began
as a gainfully employed actress, drifted into public relations,
settled a moment in advertising, and eventually took root in the
fertile soil of her first love, writing. She also moonlights as a
wife and mother. She currently lives in Colorado with her teenage
daughters, two Golden Retrievers and aforementioned husband. Part
footloose buccaneer, part quixotic observer of life, Sarah’s
restless heart is most content when reading or writing books.
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