Read an Excerpt
Sara walked quickly, keeping her eyes down, focussed on the sidewalk, not wishing to draw attention to herself. She was unsure if she was breaking some kind of law just by being here, in this part of the city, away from the malls, the tourists, the families of women and children. Life in Riyadh confused and upset her, but if she went home she would be admitting defeat, endangering her marriage further, and Chris would undoubtedly stay behind. Things had been cooling between them during the six weeks they’d been in Saudi, the initial excitement of fucking on the cool marble floor of their apartment, knowing the housekeeper was in the next room, having faded. There’d been a shift between them. He had become distant, monosyllabic, cool.
She heard footsteps. They were keeping pace with hers. She didn’t dare turn round. Her abaya swished against her thighs as she walked. The sidewalk was deserted; locals avoiding the oppressive heat. Tourists weren’t common on this side of the city. It wasn’t really an area to go off the beaten track. That meant something different in Riyadh than it did in Madrid, say, or Paris.
‘I love you,’ she’d whispered last night in bed, stroking his back, which was turned to her. They were both naked; in defiance of the layers they were forced to wear throughout the day. She needed him. Wanted him. And she thought she was right in saying she loved him. He didn’t reply. She reached round his waist and took his cock in her hand, feeling that, as his wife, she had the right. It hardened under her familiar touch and she began pulling on it, slowly at first. His body was responding to her at least. She pressed him onto his back, opening herself to his cock, guiding him inside her. He didn’t resist. His eyes were closed. She straddled him, felt his hardness ease into her. His hands were raised above his head; he made no move to touch her. But still she felt herself respond as her cunt engulfed him and she began to rock, moving to please herself as much as Chris. His face began to contort; to an outsider it may have looked as though with pain rather than pleasure, but they were alone, and Sara knew her husband was close to orgasm. Sliding her fingers from his belly she parted her lips and felt for her clitoris. It was apparent he wasn’t going to touch or satisfy her. She pressed her palm against her shaven mound and flicked her fingers over her hardened nub, feeling her cunt tighten around Chris’s cock. Her left hand felt for her breast, pinching and tugging at her dark nipple, massaging the soft flesh around it, craving his mouth and teeth to be there instead. But she wasn’t going to ask. To demean herself; and allow him the space to smile and refuse. So her fingers moved more urgently, she bit her lip, raising her body from him, then grinding down, twisting turning, forcing him to explore every fold of her cunt as her fingers, in turn, drew her climax closer.
‘Faster.’ Finally he spoke, urging her to increase her pace. And it suited her. She rode him swiftly and hard, her movements frenzied, feeling the pressure of him deep inside her. She heard herself cry, a disembodied sound, and then she shuddered to orgasm, convulsing around him as he filled her with come.
They fell apart, dropping onto the exquisite embroidered cushions, their bodies gleaming with sweat and their mingled juices. She shivered, the coolness of the evening a sharp contrast to the heat of the day, and pulled the embroidered covers over her, feeling his come ooze from her. She glanced at him, he appeared to be asleep already, but she suspected he was feigning it. Something had shifted between them since the move here. She’d tried to engage him in conversation many times, to tell him a story about her trip to the Souk, her encounter with the housekeeper, but he was disengaged, rarely listened or replied. He seemed edgy and jittery, and she thought she knew why.
Last night he hadn’t told her he loved her in return. In fact he had only spoken that one word. By the time she woke the next morning he had left for the office. He wouldn’t return until well after nightfall and she would be alone, but for the cook and driver supplied by the bank. There would be virtual silence. They rarely spoke to her, although she had spotted the driver eyeing her with curiosity when he came to collect Chris each morning.
Sara had few choices. She could stay in the sumptuous apartment with nothing to occupy her mind, just wander from room to room, catching her reflection in the elaborately framed mirrors. Or she could leave her prison, which is what she knew she must do, no matter what risks that meant she was taking. She needed time to think, space to walk off her frustration and make plans.
She picked up her pace, and the footsteps matched hers. The heat of the sun pierced her abaya. Soon it would be too hot to remain outside and she was far away from the many malls. She was avoiding them, bored of the shops selling luxury goods she neither liked nor desired. She brushed a mote of dust or sand from her face. The desert wasn’t far from here, although its proximity was well-masked by the glossy palm trees and glistening sidewalks of the main shopping streets.
‘Stop, lady.’ A man’s voice. A hand tugged her embroidered sleeve, and she pulled it away, beginning to break into a run, her heart pounding. The strangeness of this city frightened her, though she was loath to admit it. A car drew alongside, keeping pace with her. The windows were mirrored, then one slid down.
‘Mrs Palmer, please.’ She knew the voice. Jay, their driver. She hesitated. ‘Please, allow me to take you home,’ he called. She was quick to make her decision, and reached for the door, opened it and stepped inside, into the cool air-conditioned interior, falling onto the cream leather seats, foolishly relieved.
‘Thank you,’ she whispered. ‘How did you know where I was?’
‘I followed you. I am sorry, but I was worried. You seem too bold for this city. Especially as a woman.’
She glanced out of the rear window. A man was standing on the sidewalk, watching as they pulled away from him.
‘I don’t know who he is,’ Jay said. ‘Mutaween, maybe. Religious police. Or just a pest.’
Sara caught Jay’s eyes in the rear view mirror. His look was unfathomable, but his dark eyes shone. He knew this city better than her, originally from Delhi, but having lived here for five years, and as a man. He understood the rules, knew when and where he could shop, eat, and stop as others prayed. She didn’t, not yet, and thought she never would, that she’d always be an alien here. Her hands fell into her lap, and she held them tight together to prevent them shaking. A lock of hair had strayed from her headscarf. She pulled the scarf away and shook her hair out. Jay was watching her still. She wondered if he found her attractive, or intriguing at least. She pulled her blonde hair back from her face and smiled at him. His eyes kept straying to hers as he worked his way back to the compound. He was an attractive man, pretty almost. Clear skinned, high cheekbones, almond eyes. A sharp contrast to Chris, strawberry blond and freckled.
They pulled into the compound and he parked in the underground car park. He held the door as she gathered the skirts of her dark abaya and stepped out, her arm brushing against the crisp white cotton of his shirt. He smelt of musk, dark and spicy. She touched his hand, saw him tense.
‘I will see you safely inside, Mrs Palmer.’ He pulled his hand from under hers.
‘Please call me Sara.’
‘Sara, then,’ he said. ‘I have never known a woman called Sara before. It must mean fearless.’
‘Not sure about that. I was glad to see you today.’
‘In this city you must recognize your limits,’ he replied. They were waiting for the lift. ‘You must limit the risks you take. You are bored. Am I correct?’
Sara’s eyes stung. Chris had never asked her this. Never checked with her what she had done throughout the day.
‘You need time to adjust. It isn’t easy. Especially if you are …’ he held her gaze and smiled.
‘What? Reckless? Stupid?’
He muttered something she didn’t catch.
‘Please, join me for tea.’
He shrugged, looking uncertain. She opened the heavy door and stepped into the apartment, inviting him to follow her. He hesitated, removed his shoes, then stepped over the threshold and pushed the door shut behind them. She felt the warmth of his breath as she passed him, and he followed her down the hallway.
She joined him in the living room with a laden tray. The apartment was empty, for now; the housekeeper had finished for the day.
‘You know we are breaking the law, don’t you?’ he asked.
She nodded. She knew she must not be alone with a man who was not a close relative. Although a blind eye was often turned in the compounds. But still, she was taking a risk, on Chris’s behalf as much as hers. She sat next to Jay on the low sofa.
‘It is dangerous for both of us,’ he continued. ‘If I am caught here with you I face punishment, I will be beaten – you may be deported.’
‘My husband is fucking someone else.’
He was silent; then took a sip of his tea. The sun slipped from view and they listened to the call for prayer. Sara was encouraged to continue by his silence.
‘It’s happened before. Two years ago. I discovered them together. I forgave him. But I think it is happening again. He’s cool and distant; it’s more than working too hard. There have been phone calls, text messages. He shrouds his work life in secrecy.’
‘You have a story for me, Scheherazade?’ Jay smiled. Sara thought he was beautiful. And it was rare she had someone prepared to listen to her.
‘Scheherazade. One thousand and one Arabian nights. I used to love those tales as a child, but never understood their significance. I just saw them as stories – didn’t see that she was trying to stall her husband, hoping to avoid being executed like the wives who had gone before her. Makes me shudder to think of the danger she faced if she failed to entertain him.’
‘But she didn’t fail, did she? And I doubt you would either. You have a beautiful voice,’ said Jay. ‘I would love to hear more.’
‘Nothing I have to say would interest you. I am dull, my life is dull. I bore myself with my thoughts.’
They sat in silence for a few moments, then reached forwards together to replace their cups on the glass table. Their hands brushed together.
‘He’s a man. My husband’s lover. It was a man before and it is again.’
Jay’s eyes widened almost imperceptibly.
‘He is taking a huge risk, here,’ he said.
‘Yes. At home it thrilled me. It taught me to raise my game, not to take things for granted. Here I think he is being foolish. And I think he is a little afraid.’
‘You are a risk taker too, Sara.’ His voice was soft, seductive. She turned to him, took his hand and held it to her cheek. His hand was warm, soft. He left it there for a moment; then allowed it to trail around her chin, down her neck to the embroidered edge of her abaya.
‘And you, Jay, do you take risks?’
She leant in and kissed him. He responded, welcoming her tongue inside his mouth, pressing against her, his hands resting on her shoulders. For the first time since she’d arrived in Riyadh she began to feel alive. The curtain separating her from reality was slipping away, and her body-heat was rising, but from desire, not the intense heat of the day. She wanted this man and she would have him.
‘Is it safe?’ He finally pulled away from her.
‘Yes, he won’t be home for hours.’