Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Sweet, sweet escapism.
I have always wanted to travel, and am able to do so in my books. The city airport has nothing on the boundless limits of one’s own imagination; and it’s cheaper, too! In Sand For Dreams, you are transported from England to America.The Red Sea, Egypt, and from Israel to the Khamis Mushayt Desert. How much further could you hope to escape—at least within the safety of your own home or waiting room?
Caine Garnette accepts his fate of being a murderer, long before he takes it up as a full-time occupation. His journey toward and away from the God he’d abandoned as a boy results in his desperate reach out of the mire of self-loathing for absolution. For love.
Our story finds our hero in 1921, after America finally signed the peace treaties to end world-wide tyranny and the U.S. Strategic officer’s service in the sands of Israel. Dogged by several sects who wish to have the head of desert bandit “Caine Ali Hakira,” Caine doffs his disguise for that of a European to await the steamship home.
An expert liar, he talks his way into the memory of a lovely English traveler by sheer suggestion, and she is too polite to admit that she cannot recall him. When the ship’s horn peals, Caine is able to board safely, thanks to her diversion, but he cannot forget their brief encounter.
In Washington, he learns that his friend, the British consul, has been murdered, his child kidnapped from his side, and taken with several other foreigners from the streets of Jerusalem. Caine resolves to return to Israel, this time as a civilian, to locate the stolen child. But he cannot do it alone.
Aided by Kasim, his long-time friend with an agenda of his own, Caine exhausts his resources to track the child. A Bedouin camp promises a rarity, a sun-kissed woman with eyes of blue gold. Caine agrees to see the rarity for himself—and he recognizes her instantly: the Englishwoman from the portside coffeehouse.
Virgilia Wessex has lost her spectacles, and she does not see the smooth-faced European gentleman who dined with her in Jerusalem in the goateed, mongoose-toting, Arabic-speaking American who claims to have purchased her—at an exorbitant sum—from a Bedouin merchant. But she has seen her kidnappers, the place of her imprisonment, and that of Samuel’s. Unwilling to return to England and a loveless marriage looming over her head, she agrees to aid the cryptic American and his sweetly-spoken friend: for Samuel is her student and she loves him dearly. Little does she expect to feel the same for her companions.
Caine doesn’t expect it, either, but as their party journeys further south, he discovers a friendship unlike any he has ever known and rediscovers his own faith. In wishes and dreams. In others… and in himself.
Here’s a sample…
He’d asked no more questions upon Kas’s softhearted insistence, while she devoured her food and politely asked for seconds at the campfire. The poor dove was exhausted, was his argument in discreet Arabic, half-starved and traumatized. Let her have a night’s rest on a full stomach and perhaps they could get more out of her in the morning.
As it worked out, the two men woke at dawn to panicked, feminine screams from the tent. Caine was on his feet before he was awake, reaching for the weapon he’d slept with and then tearing into the marquee—only to pitch forward on his face in the doorway as Trick shot between his ankles. The distraught animal flew out to safety like the blue streak that flew out of Caine’s half-drowsy mouth toward the bruise he could feel swelling his knee. He sat on his haunches and felt beneath the blanket tousled under him, pulling out a dog-eared King James Bible. He scoffed, contemplating briefly whether to chuck it after the troublesome mongoose, when he caught sight of the real dilemma across the tent. She was as white as a ghost, her hair standing out in corkscrew random, clutching her pouf to her chin. She looked like she had just witnessed something from which she would never recover.
“A rat!” she gasped in horrified explanation, her voice tremulous, frenzied. “Did you see it? Good heavens, it was enormous! It was—well, it was gargantuan! Did you see it?”
Caine stared at her, hard, then sat back with a wearied sigh while his knee throbbed dully, Bible in one hand, revolver in the other. “You scared the ever-loving—”
“Did you see it?” She shuddered with revulsion. “It was on my neck when I woke! Curled about me like… like—”
“He prefers to sleep that way,” Caine explained inadvertently, while she continued to search for a comparison. “He probably likes you.” He considered her a moment. “Or did,” he amended, recalling how he’d awakened, himself.
She was staring at him just like a helpless female trapped inside a tent in the middle of the desert with a lunatic. “What… what on earth are you saying?”
“Trick,” as if that explained everything. “You scared the daylights out of him. He probably won’t come around you much now. Very likely, he’ll break out in hives just looking at you.”
She’d been perched on the tips of her stockinged toes, he realized, when she fell back on her heels in disbelief. She glanced about the tent in stunned wonder, as though someone or something there would help her make sense of what she presumed to be the ramblings of a madman. When her gaze lit upon him again, it was narrowed with shrewd curiosity. “Do you mean to tell me, sir, that—thing—belongs to you?”
He gave a reckless shrug and hefted himself to his feet, dusted his loose Arab shirt. “I think he prefers it the other way around. Found me in Cairo.”
“He found you.”
“You,” she spoke slowly, trying to make sense of it all, “keep a rat for a pet.”
“A mongoose,” he corrected. “Native to Africa and too quick for a cobra.” At her open-mouthed silence, he added, “Don’t worry, he’s civilized enough. But I’d keep a close eye on my things, if I were you. He’s an incurable kleptomaniac.”
“He didn’t seem the least bit maniacal—I am the one here practically clinging to sanity by my fingernails!”
He watched her with utmost patience and enunciated each word clearly, as though she were partly deaf. Or wholly scatterbrained. “By kleptomaniac, I do mean he likes to make off with possessions which do not belong to him.”
She allowed his overstated, humoring tone to pass without comment. “You jest, sir.”
He thought of the many instances he’d barely escaped amputation in the Tel Aviv marketplace because some shiny bauble or other had struck Trick’s fancy. Thus, his groan was heartfelt. “I wish I was.”
He set the Book aside and dared to send her a half-smile, but she was no longer looking at him. He followed her gaze to the service revolver still gripped in his hand. When he looked at her, there was a new tautness in her, her face a few shades paler than anyone would deem healthy.
“We never established precisely what you intend to do with me,” she said suddenly. There was a tremor in her voice that had nothing to do with waking up to a polecat snuggled into her hair. Caine saw it again: that fear that had emblazoned itself on blue eyes which had smiled at him once upon a time… but this time, it was fear of him.
The sight humbled him, he thought. He couldn’t be certain. Humbleness wasn’t a fruit his spirit generally produced, but his gut did clench suddenly—as it would, perhaps, witnessing a baby rabbit caught in a bear trap. He slipped his weapon into the shoulder holster between the layers of his shirts and stretched his empty hand toward her in a gesture of peace; but she didn’t move, didn’t take those timid eyes off his face.
“Who are you?” she whispered into the silence. Her only answer was the rattle of the wind at his back and the lowing of a waking camel. “How do you know Sammy? What are you doing here, dressed for all intent and purpose as an Arab, yet speaking with the tongue of an American?”
He could tell her, he supposed. It would alleviate her fear somewhat and bring about the beginnings of amity between them. He could tell her a million things that would take the questions from her gaze when she looked at him… and a million things to put the fear back into it.
He could and he couldn’t. There was too much—far too much—at stake. Too much to lose, including Samuel, not to mention his own worthless skin.
“You’ll have to trust me,” he said, just as softly, lowering his hand unthreateningly to his side.
Despite her attire, her wayward hair, she held herself regally, more like the lady he had met last summer. “I do not know you, sir.” She shook her head and her eyes glittered. “How on earth can you possibly expect me to trust you?”
His lip quirked. “Well, I haven’t murdered you in your sleep, have I?”
It was the wrong thing to say; he realized it the moment he saw those eyes go green, but it came out wrong. Before he could amend it, she drew in a heaving breath and, in a blur of black muslin, sprinted for the door. Of course, she didn’t get very far, not with a man—two times her size and head and shoulders taller than she—blocking her path. He caught her about the waist as she made to shoot past him, the velocity spinning them both around a half-turn before she brought her legs up off the sandy floor to struggle in earnest.
“Unhand me!” she shrieked. “I’ll have you brought before the Embassy for this, you—you—”
“Gillia!” It was terribly difficult to keep the laughter out of his voice and his grip on her at the same time. He’d obviously misjudged the girl, for she was giving him quite a skirmish. “Listen to me! Will you just—ow!”
One of her flailing elbows managed to catch him in the temple with unexpected force, momentarily blurring his vision and slackening his hold long enough for her to wrench loose and give him a sharp jab to his bruised knee as she scampered out into the blinding radiance of the desert morning. Caine stumbled after her, hopping on one foot and blinking stars from his eyelids, while Kas roused from his bed by the dead campfire.
“Sabah alkhair,” he said cheerily as the girl darted past, her bare feet kicking up sand. He sneezed good-naturedly and added, “Lovely morning,” as Caine raced by after her.
He caught her at the base of a small sand dune, reaching out to snag her by the collar, filling his hand with dyed cloth and sunlit curls and executing a swift, downward jerk that landed her smartly on her bottom. She squealed in surprise and he nearly tripped over her before he could regain his footing. Even then, she would not admit defeat, instantly scrabbling to get up and continue her brave escape.
“Gillia,” he rasped, tightening his hold on her and keeping her there on the ground. “Stop th—”
“Let go of me!”
She struck out and up with her fist and attempted to free herself, but he’d learned from his mistakes and dodged her, ignoring the brief instant of pain as he hit his injured knees on the ground behind her to capture her shoulders in his arms. She kicked and squirmed, sending sand into both of their eyes and their mouths, but his grip was vice-like and impossible for a girl her size to budge. After several moments, she gave up, breathing in frustrated little sobs. He held her fast, barely exerted, smelling the orange blossoms that seemed to hide themselves in the unruly hair the breeze passed across his face. He managed to locate her ear in that golden mass and murmured, “Are you finished?”
His query brought about another fit of resistance, but it was shorter lived than the first. After another wasted moment, she slumped back against his chest in defeat.
“Now,” he said softly, “I will tell you this only once, so listen carefully.” He acknowledged her stiffening spine with a grim nod against her hair. “I am here, as you put it, dressed as an Arab and speaking with the tongue of an American, with the intent of finding Samuel Ambrose. To keep him from harm. To take him home.”
She shifted and, distrusting her as much as she did him, he loosed his arms enough that she could turn in them to meet his gaze. His remained steady. It was obviously the deciding factor to ease her mind on that score. But there remained another: “And what is your purpose concerning me?”
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Full of adventure, humor, emotion, and yet surprisingly clean, Sand For Dreams has been recommended by readers as a great rainy-day read. And the cover’s something even my grandma would approve of… well, maybe not. My grandma had a hidden cache of romance novels with covers that made me blush. Of course, that didn’t prevent me from stealing them!