Sarah Pendleton was born into a life of wealth and privilege, raised in the shadow of her famous soprano mother and her father, an equally famous composer. Shy and retiring, and treasuring her anonymity, Sarah has left behind the world she grew up in to make her own life in the coastal town of Santa Barbara, California.
A visiting University professor of Arabic literature from the small oil-rich country of Taqara, Khalid Al Mansour is the eldest son of an ambassador and an independent American artist. He's never settled down in one place, but that's because he's never found what he wanted... until one evening he sees the lovely bellydancer at a small, smoky cafe downtown.
SwanSong by Allie McCormack
©2019 by Allie McCormack
Bright sunlight hit her face. Sarah dragged the blanket over her head with a groan. It was ruthlessly pulled back, and she heard muffled giggles in the background. She opened her eyes but, wincing at the light, closed them again, throwing her arm over her face. More giggles, and masculine laughter.
“Come on, sweetheart. Rise and shine.” Khalid.
“Go away,” she muttered, trying to grab the blanket back.
“Good morning, sunshine.” Amusement threaded his deep voice. “Time to get up.”
“We're going to Disneyland.”
Her eyes flew open. “What?!”
Sarah would have bolted upright, except what really happened is that she struggled... rather painfully... up onto one elbow, squinting into the obnoxiously cheerful light to glare at Khalid, standing beside the sofa. About that time the signal made it through the layers of fog to her brain that she hurt. Every muscle, every joint ached. Even her fingernails hurt. The only decent alternative was interment. She looked forward to it. Giving up the struggle, she sank back into the depths of the sofa.
“You're out of your mind,” she told him.
His deep laughter sounded heartless. He grabbed her hand, pulling her up to a sitting position.
“Oh,” she groaned, stretching out the kinks in her back by collapsing forward and reaching down to grab her toes, letting her head rest on her knees. “God, that hurts.”
“Here is tea.” The gentle voice was Fatima's.
Sarah squinted up at her. She was fully dressed, as was Noura, standing right behind her. Both wore wide smiles as well.
“You're all nuts,” she grumbled, but pulled herself upright and took the cup of tea.
She took a cautious sip, letting the soothing liquid flow down her poor throat, raw from shouting and laughing at the festival, and the hours in the smoke-filled restaurant after that.
She glanced up at the charmingly innocent faces before her, then slanted a look sideways at Khalid, now sitting beside her on the sofa.
“Tell me you were joking,” she pleaded.
He shook his head solemnly, although his eyes danced.
“Disneyland,” he reaffirmed. “They haven't been. Nor I. Omar, Samir and Mousad are on their way here with the other girls in my SUV, and bringing a change of clothes for Fatima and Noura.”
“But I can hardly sit up!” she wailed piteously.
He appeared unmoved.
“It's seven a.m. Tell me that in two hours you weren't planning to be on that stage in Oak Park, waiting for the music to start.”
Well, he did have a point. He stood, taking her cup from her and setting it aside before holding his hand down to her.
“Come on, up you get. You'll feel better after you've had a hot shower.”
Sarah let him pull her up, grabbing onto his hands for support as the muscles in her legs and back screamed in protest. He steadied her for a moment, then stepped back.
“Unless you'd like some help?” he inquired, a wicked gleam in his eyes.
“Khalid!” Scandalized, she glanced at Fatima and Noura, who were collapsed in giggles.
“You have about fifteen minutes before the others arrive,” he said, consulting his watch.
“Yes, lord and master,” she muttered under her breath, marching into her bedroom.
After a very, very hot shower, she did indeed feel a lot better. Her muscles still ached, but she could at least move without active pain. Since she wouldn't be dancing, she opted for slacks, pulling on a pair of loose crepe trousers in an off-white. Of course, nobody in their right mind wore white slacks to Disneyland, but it was her life and her slacks, and she felt like wearing white. So there! She added mentally, refraining from sticking her tongue out at her reflection in the mirror.
She was going to have to work on her attitude.
She slipped on a top she’d picked up at a little Indian shop downtown. It was tunic-length, of sapphire blue gauze muslin, with exquisite embroidery and tiny mirrors sewn on. She added the wrought silver necklace with matching earrings that she’d bought at the festival yesterday. After braiding her still damp hair into a long, loose braid that swung to her hips, she was ready. Sort of. Oh geez, Disneyland?
A sharp increase in the noise level beyond her bedroom door informed her that the rest of Khalid's entourage had arrived. She opened the door and walked into the living room, and almost turned around and walked right back out again. Apparently the good news had spread, for there were fully fifteen young Arabs crowded into her living room. She closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them again. Yep, they were still there. Well, if any of them had been to Disneyland before, they could split the group up once they got there.
She held up her hands for silence.
“Has anyone here been to Disneyland before?”
There were no welcome nods. Good grief. Well, tour groups managed, so she supposed they would. But Khalid owed her. Big time. She whispered that to him as they all trooped downstairs to the street and split up into the various vehicles that would take them the hundred miles south to Disneyland.
He paused on the sidewalk, facing her, and lifted her hand to his lips. She shivered as his mouth pressed warmly on the back of her hand, a warm glow in the depths of his dark eyes.
“When we are alone, habibti, we will discuss the terms of... repayment,” he promised softly.
Heat shot through her, setting her blood on fire. They might have been alone on the sidewalk for all they noticed those around them. She wished with all her heart that it was just Khalid and her right now, alone. The raw hunger she saw burning in Khalid's eyes told her that he felt the same.
It would not, however, be right now. Good-natured catcalls brought their attention back to the others, and with a sigh she and Khalid moved apart. The party split up into various cars. Samir was elected to drive her minivan... no way would Khalid hear of Sarah driving separately from himself, and she wasn't about to object. They wound up with a nice little convoy of Sarah’s minivan, Khalid's SUV, which Omar drove, and of course the Austin-Healey. It was a beautiful sunny morning for driving with the top down. Fatima and Noura went with Sarah and Khalid.
That they did not, in fact, wind up making it to Disneyland was due to her spotting, forty-five miles south of Santa Barbara, a distant formation of silver in the sky. She pointed it out to the others.
“Look, The Air Force Base must be having their air show!”
“Really?” Fatima and Noura peered upwards. “Look how close they fly!”
Khalid glanced into the rear view mirror.
“The others have seen them as well. The air show only comes once a year. Shall we stop and take a vote?”
Samir was, in fact, already flashing his headlights at them.
“Samir is going into the Air Force once he graduates and returns home,” she told Sarah. “He won't want to miss something like this.”
They all pulled off at the next exit, and reconnoitered in a gas station parking lot. Absolutely everyone wanted to see the air show.