breath of the desert

Breath of the desert

Captured as a slave in North Africa, her father killed; there was little else that Aubreigh could imagine to make her life worse. When she’s sold to a man she never sees, there is only one reason she must have been purchased. Just the sound of his voice was enough to make her forget she offered herself to him to prevent incurring his wrath, but he refuses her outright.  Only when they are thrown together on a trek across the Sahara does she start finding out the man’s secrets. Everything she knows of life changes in the presence of Alaeddine ibn Manad.

Morocco, 1803


The fog and clouds that cloaked the ship Aubreigh Archer was taken from lifted, leaving only the bluest sky she had ever seen. Everywhere there was color. Hundreds of white sailboats zigzagged across the equally blue water. Round domes rose above the flat-topped roofs. High walls, austere without windows, broke up the expanse. Men in long, gray and white striped djellabas with pointed hoods hid their faces. Women in ankle length black robes and thick veils showed only large black eyes. Here and there were others, though. Women whose faces could be seen beneath heavy silver jewelry bright with precious stones. Men in curious hats carrying water jugs.

Herded like cattle down the ramp, Aubreigh stepped foot in Sale, refuge to the Barbary Pirates. The ship should have been safe; the Portuguese had been waging war on the pirates. Obviously not enough. They all stood in heavy shackles and chains like animals, surrounded by guards wielding wicked looking curved swords. It was an unnecessary precaution. Where on earth could they go? They could not speak the language, did not know the land, nor did they know the customs, not to mention that the Moors had taken their clothes. They were as much prisoners as any man in a cell.

There was hardly a chance for the sweat to start pouring off her face before a man came walking down the line. A servant went before him checking the teeth of each captive. Barely starting his task, when another prisoner spit at the man. Without a word, a sword was drawn and the prisoner’s head was severed from his body.

Another Moor started yelling, arms flying through the air. Only the arrival of a man on horseback stopped an all out war ensuing. With a strut and an uncaring finger, the man continued pointing at this man and that, and without a pause they were dragged away. No one dared object with the man lying beheaded in their midst.

Aubreigh looked down the row. It was the first time she’d been out of the hold with light to see anything. Clear enough she was the only woman among them. The crew of the Kairi—the ship her father captained—for the most part, stood around her. A few faces from another ship perhaps, but where was her father?

“They killed the cap’n, Miss Archer, when he protested them taking you,” a voice whispered.

She couldn’t see who spoke as tears started streaming down her face. She fought to not make a sound; the others had been punished for it.

“You be careful, Miss Archer. A good looking woman like you, you’ll end up in a harem first thing. You remember Charles; he’ll get you through this,” Boyd whispered, his voice distinctive among the crew.

“If she’s not raped first. Bastards killed her father for nothing more than putting up a fight and our miss has always been hot headed. Be telling her to be careful; the harem is the least of her worries,” the first voice replied.

Aubreigh closed her eyes, a pitiful protection from death.

A yell silenced them. The voice sending men to an unknown fate drew closer. Only the sun being blocked from her closed eyelids told her she was next. Aubreigh felt a finger lifting her chin, surveying the goods. Slowly she opened her eyes. The world swam for a moment, but when the tears cleared, the half grin from a new man on horseback was answer enough.

He was a bulldog looking man with drooping jowls. His eyes unleashed a glare that penetrated right to the back of Aubreigh’s skull. She wouldn’t be sent to work. The bugger was dressed all in silver and maroon silk, a large white turban on his head topped with a large gem. A man rode along side of him carrying an umbrella, keeping him from the sun. He looked like one of those aristocrats the French chopped the heads off of, compared to the rest of the men with obviously not enough to eat. No, he made it quite clear where she would be headed as he looked her up and down, caring for much more than her teeth.

Which option the two men had given was the only question now as he climbed off his horse. Face to face, he was shorter than her own five-ten. The rip of fabric was the only clue that the shift she wore had been torn from neck to hem. Aubreigh alone was allowed her shift, and only allowed that because the crew was distracted too much. She had heard them quarreling, gesturing, and staring in her direction.

He said something to his companion that she didn’t have to understand to not like the sound of. He couldn’t keep his eyes off her, and damned if Boyd couldn’t either. None of her father’s men would dare lay a hand on her, but that hadn’t stopped them from looking hard. She could imagine the bugger’s words even if she couldn’t understand him.

She overheard the crew often enough when they thought she wasn’t around. “Would you look at those tits? What about those legs wrapped around you riding her hard. What about her lips, damned full lips wrapped around my… She might not want you. A good beating would take care of that, she’ll come begging for me to tup her then.”

“I won’t go!” Aubreigh screamed as he reached for her.

“Hush, Miss Archer,” Boyd hissed without even seeming to open his mouth.

The man yelled something she couldn’t understand as he grabbed hold of her. Aubreigh dared to strike him. Hard enough she brought blood to his lip. The collective gasp was loud enough to tell her she had made a very big mistake. “They killed my father and they want me to just go with them without a fight! I’d rather be dead.” Only as the words escaped did she catch sight of the headless man lying there in the dirt. Hell! A backhand to the face sent her reeling to the ground.

His sword being pulled free was hard to ignore, but another voice filled the dock. She didn’t understand the words, but even the man in front of her turned. The newcomer was not like any others on the dock. Tall, willowy, and covered in indigo robes, only his eyes showed and what dark skin they could see was stained blue from the dye of his clothes. As he moved closer, many of the men—even the guards—stepped back, if only slightly.

They were afraid. The man she struck retreated, and he looked like he stepped aside for no one. Not a good sign. She would have, too, if she were able to move. The newcomer wore a long two-edged sword, a dagger strapped to his forearm, and even more menacing was an iron lance some nine feet long. Aubreigh watched the man in blue hand over a large bag of coins as if it was nothing; her price was certainly not cheap. The man she had struck snarled at her as if the mere action would make her burst into flames. What he said made her skin crawl and she didn’t even understand it.

Aubreigh felt the men that had served her father strain against their bonds as if to help her when the blue man took hold of her and dragged her away. They were horny pricks, but loyal ones. Fighting this man never even crossed her mind. What was the point? He would have her and if not him, then the next. She couldn’t slap them all without getting killed, but at least this one didn’t leer at her as if she was a whore.


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