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Vere looked through the window of his office in the palace of Dhurahn, thinking not of the beauty of the gardens that lay within his view, which had been designed by his late mother, but of the desert that lay beyond them. The familiar fierce need that was stamped into his bones was currently possessing him. He wanted to put aside the cares and complexities of rulership of a modern Arab state and enjoy instead that part of his heritage that belonged to the desert and the men who loved it.
Which in one sense he would soon be doing. In one sense, maybe, but not wholly and freely. On this occasion it was his responsibility to his country and his people that was taking him into what was known as the 'empty quarter' of the desert, to the boundary they shared there with the two of their Gulf neighbours.
As he crossed to the other side of his office to look down into the courtyard, where his household were preparing for his departure, the remote and aloof air that was so much a part of him, which those who did not know him thought of as regal arrogance, was very much in evidence. Vere felt the weight of his responsibility towards the birthright he shared with his twin brother very deeply. He was, after all, the elder of the two of them, and his nature had always inclined him to take things more to heart and more seriously than Drax, his twin.
To Vere, ruling Dhurahn as their father and mother would have wished was a duty that was almost sacred.
There had only been one previous occasion on which his longing for the desert and the solace it offered him had been as strong as it was now, and that had been the time following the tragic death of his parentshis mother's passinghaving hit him particularly hard. That thought alone was enough to fill him with a savage determination to tighten his control over his current feelings, which he saw as a wholly unacceptable personal weakness.
It was unthinkable that his physical desire for the carnal pleasure afforded by one of those western women who came to the Gulf ready to trade their bodies for the lifestyle they thought their flesh could buya woman ready to give herself on the smallest pretext, shamelessly openlyshould have driven him to the point where he felt his only escape from it could come from the same place where he had sought solace for the loss of his mother. It was more than unthinkable. It was a desecration, and a personal failure of the highest order.
It was more than half his own lifetime ago now since the death of their parents, but for Vere as a teenager, struggling to be a man and ultimately a ruler, with all the responsibilites that meant, the loss of the gentle Irish mother who had supplied the softening wisdom of her love against his desire to emulate his father's strength, had been one that had taken from him something very precious, leaving in its place a need to protect himself from ever having to endure such pain again.
Some men might think that for a man in his position the answer to the sexual hunger that was threatening to destroy his self-control was to satisfy it via marriage or a mistress.
His brother Drax was, after all, already married, with his wife expecting their first child in the near future, and Drax had hinted to him that he would like to see Vere married himself.
Vere frowned as he watched the four-by-fours being loaded for the long overland drive to the empty quarter.
The initiative prompted originally by the Ruler of Zuran, to investigate and if necessary redefine the old borders that separated their countries from one another, and from the empty quarter, was one he fully supported. They all in their different ways held certain territorial rights over the empty quarter, but by long-held and unwritten tradition they tended to ignore them in favour of the last of the traditional nomad tribes, who had for centuries called the empty quarter home.
The Ruler of Zuran wanted to bring the small band of nomadic tribespeople within the protection of the opportunities for education and health welfare he provided for his own people, and to this end he had contacted his neighbours: the Emir of Khulua, and Vere and Drax.
His initiative was one that was very close to Vere's own heart, provided it could be accomplished without depriving the tribes of their right to their own way of life. The Emir, not wanting to be excluded even though he was a more old-fashioned and traditional ruler, had also indicated that he wanted to be involved in the project, and as a first step the Ruler of Zuran had funded the cost of a team of cartographers to thoroughly map out the whole of the area.
It had been the Emir who had suggested that whilst this was being done it might be a good idea to reassess and establish their own individual borders with one another, which met at the empty quarter.
It was a good idea that made senseas long as the Emir, who was known for his skill at adapting situations to suit his own ends, did not make use of the re-mapping to claim territory that was not strictly his. During private talks with the Ruler of Zuran, both he and Drax had agreed to keep a very strict eye on any attempts the Emir might make to do that. As part of their agreed preventative measures against this it had been decided that each ruler should take it in turn to be involved 'on the ground' with the project, and now it was Vere's turn to drive out to the border region of the empty quarter.
A movement on the balcony above him caused Vere to look upwards, to where his twin brother Drax and his wife Sadie were standing. The sight of their happiness and their love for one another touched a place inside him he hadn't known existed until Drax had fallen in love.
As twins they had naturally always been close, but the car accident that had killed their parents when the brothers were in their teens had made the bond between them even stronger. In the eyes of the world he, as the elder twin, was the one to step into their father's shoes, but both he and Drax knew that it had always been their father's intention that they would share the rulership and the responsibility for Dhurahn. However, every country was expected to have a single figureheadand that duty rested with him.
Up until recently the duty had never been one he considered irksome. Where Drax embraced modernity, especially in architecture and design, he preferred to cling to tradition. Where Drax was an extrovert, he was more of an introvert. Where Drax enjoyed the buzz of busy civilisation, he preferred the silent solitude of the desert. They were as all those who knew them best often said, two halves of one whole.
Like many cultured Arab men, Vere revered poetry and studied the verse of the great poets, but just recentlyalthough he hated having to admit itthe beauty of those words had brought him more pain than pleasure.
Normally he would have welcomed the chance to spend time in the desert, embracing the opportunity it gave him to be at one with his heritage, but now the knowledge of how close the desert was brought him to those things within himself that he felt the most need to guard. It was making him feel irritable and on edge.
Because he knew that being in the desert would exacerbate that sense of emptiness and loss that lay within him, and with it his vulnerability?
Vere swung round angrily, as though to turn his back on his own unwanted thoughts. His pride hated having to acknowledge any kind of flaw, and to Vere what he was experiencing was a weakness. He wanted to wrench it out of himself and then seal it away somewhere, deprived of anything to feed on so it would wither and die.
But, no matter how hard he fought to deny it any kind of legitimacy, every time he thought he had succeeded in destroying it, it returned like a multi-headed monster, infuriating him with the mirror it kept holding up to him, reflecting back his faults.
Generations of proudly arrogant male blood ran through Vere's veins. The moral code of that blood was burned into him by his own will. He came from a race that knew the value of self-control, of abstinence, of starving the body and the spirit in the eternal battle to survive in a harsh desert environment. Real men, the kind of man Vere had always considered himself to be, did not allow uncontrolled hungers of any kind to rule them. Not ever.
And certainly not in a hotel corridor, with an unknown woman, and in such a way that
He wheeled round again, his body tight with anger, ignoring the harsh glare of the sun as it fell across his face, highlighting the jut of his cheekbones and the searing intensity of his gaze. Not for Vere the protection of designer sunglasses to shadow and colour reality.
Lust must surely be the most despicable of all human vices. It was certainly the cause of a great deal of human misery. Vere had always considered himself above that kind of selfish weakness. As the Ruler of Dhurahn he had to be. And yet he could not escape from the knowledge that for handful of minutes he had been rendered so oblivious to his position by his own senses that nothing had mattered more to him than his desire for the woman he had held in his arms.
Another man might have shrugged his shoulders and accepted that he was a man, and thus vulnerable to the temptations of the flesh, but Vere's pride refused to accept that he was could be so vulnerable, so prone to human frailty. He had fallen below the demands he made upon himself to meet certain standards. Others might not condemn him for doing so, but Vere condemned himself.
He wasn't entirely alone, though, in his belief that a man needed to prove he could withstand the most rigorous of tests before he could call himself a man and a leader of other men. There was an 'other' to share his belief, and that 'other' was the desert.
The desert had a way of drawing out a man and highlighting both his strengths and his weaknesses. Normally Vere looked forward to the time he could spend in the desert as a means of replenishing his sense of what he truly wasbut right now he wasn't sure that he wanted to submit his current state to that test. He had found himself wanting, and he feared that so too would the desertthat he would no longer be at one with it, just as he could no longer feel at one with himself.
More than anything he wanted and needed to dismiss the woman and the incident from his mind for everand then to deal with the damage she and it had done to his pride.
But the truth was he couldn't. The memory of her was branded into him and he couldn't seem to free himself from itno matter how much he loathed and resented its presence. And her. He hadn't slept through a full night since it had happened. He didn't dare to let himself dream too deeply, fearing that if he did his dreams would be filled by her, and the ache of need he managed to control during the day would overpower him when he was asleep. It was bad enough having to acknowledge that every time he let his concentration slip the memory of her was there, waiting to taunt him. At its worst, that memory had him mentally lifting his hands to her body, determined to push her from him as he should have done all along, but knowing that in reality he would end up binding her to him.