The sheikhs twin baby su.., p.20
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       The Sheikh's Twin Baby Surprise, p.20

         Part #1 of The Sheikh's Baby Surprise series by Holly Rayner
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  Lucie knew the duration of the flight was an hour, but as they prepared for landing, it felt as though it had been far shorter. She’d managed to get Zach to leave her alone so that she could revise the Arabic she so desperately needed, despite Zach’s insistence that everyone would speak English anyway.

  When the plane came in to land, Lucie felt her pent-up excitement come bubbling to the surface. She’d been trying to hold it down for the last few weeks, ever since she had received confirmation that she was going to be coming here. She’d been trying not to get ahead of herself, and to keep her expectations low.

  But now that she was here, she realized she needn’t have worried. It was incredible. It felt as though she had been transported through time. Yes, they were standing on an airfield, but it was dusty and remote, and basically just a flattened patch of earth. The nearest ramshackle building looked like it could have been built hundreds of years ago.

  The crew of the plane, their job now done, were already making moves to get going again. They tossed Lucie and Zach’s bags unceremoniously on the ground and were on their way. The engines had barely shut down before they were starting up again, and the plane was taxiing off towards the makeshift runway.

  Not that Lucie was sorry to see the shiny private plane go. It felt out of place here, where she could see more goats than vehicles.

  In fact, scanning the world around her carefully, she only saw one car.

  It was in the distance, and just looked like a dust-trail so far. She slipped on her sunglasses to protect her eyes against the harsh glare of the sun, but still had to squint to make it out.

  “Are they really just going to leave us here?” Zach asked, and Lucie sensed just a hint of uncertainty in his voice.

  “Oh, I’m sure we’ll be fine,” she said, the hint of a knowing grin on her lips. “Everyone speaks English, right?”

  The car heading towards them turned out to be a jeep, loaded down with three archeologists who pulled up to the airfield and greeted them. Much to Lucie’s annoyance—and Zach’s barely contained joy—they did in fact speak perfect English.

  “Did you have to leave the site to come get us?” Lucie asked, as she and Zach piled into the car. She was slightly dismayed at having interrupted their work.

  The head archeologist, Professor Hasseb, was a kind-looking older Arab man with a silver mustache. He shook his head as he started up the jeep.

  “We were just on our way back from town. There’s a possibility of storms later, and we wanted to make sure we’ve got everything we need at camp, in case the roads get blown out.”

  At the mention of storms, Lucie saw Zach scan the horizon, as though he expected to see a great billowing dust cloud coming right at them. It was just like him, she thought, to get concerned about the weather.

  All her life, Lucie had dreamed of being an archeologist. Her parents had been supportive, at first. Then, when she’d started devoting all her time to study, to the extent that she never got around to finding the man they expected her to marry or the grandchildren they expected her to produce, they’d gotten a little less supportive.

  Everyone had always talked down to her, as though they thought she’d just watched Indiana Jones a few too many times as a kid and gotten a little obsessed.

  She’d thought things would get better in academia, but they only marginally had. At Harvard, among those who spent their time writing papers on new interpretations of things already found in museums, her enthusiasm to get out into the field had largely been met with derision. She would learn, they’d told her. She would go out, and find that it wasn’t nearly so rosy as she had assumed. Not without a mountain of funding and a well-established team to make life easier, the implication always seemed to be.

  But now, as she listened to the three researchers talk about the day-to-day running of the camp they’d built, and plans for how they would go about gridding out the north-eastern quadrant of the site, Lucie knew: she’d been right.

  The archeologists were two Al-Brehonian men and one French woman, but they felt immediately like family to her. They talked excitedly about their work in a way Lucie had never heard anyone else do—other than herself. They talked about the people who had lived in the town that they were excavating as though they might have been their neighbors, or friends.

  Lucie belonged. Finally, she found, she belonged.

  But she didn’t get to bask in the warm feeling of having found her people for long. No sooner had they arrived at camp, and Professor Hasseb began introducing them to the other researchers working at the site, then an officious-looking little man in spectacles came up to Professor Hasseb and started speaking to him in quick, sharp Arabic.

  “What’s he saying?” Zach asked quietly.

  “Uh, he’s saying the storm is moving faster than they expected, and the weather report says it’s…”

  She tried to focus. He was hard to understand.

  “Something about categories. The sandstorm is a different category. Or something. He says the site’s going to be impossible to work with, and…”

  Again, she lost the thread of the conversation and wished that she’d manage to get in a bit more study of Gulf States Arabic.

  “Something about the city?”

  “Town,” said the French woman, whose name had been crowded out of Lucie’s brain by the flurry of introductions she’d just made. Was it Christine? Christina?

  “He said we’re all going to have to get out of here. The storm’s been picking up speed and it’s worse than we thought. We can’t wait it out here.”

  Lucie felt like the wind had been knocked out of her. There was mounting rush of activity occurring around them, as Professor Hasseb was directing everyone to pack up, but it felt to Lucie like the world was standing still.

  She only had a week here, and now it was being taken from her. She’d heard reports of storms shutting down sites for days, and rendering everything they left in their wake so hard to put back together that progress on site essentially stopped for weeks.

  This was the only shot she was going to get at getting the information she needed for her dissertation. She’d extrapolated, based on the location of fragments, that this place was a previously unknown center for pottery production. But without access to the whole site, and the ability to help in excavating further fragments, how would she be able to prove it?

  Zach was talking, but she tuned him out. She didn’t need to hear him right now.

  Professor Hasseb mentioned that he was going to wait out the storm in a hotel in the nearest town, and offered to take them with him. Zach accepted immediately, but Lucie hesitated. It would be giving up.

  Zach answered that Lucie would be coming, too, and the older man moved on. He was too busy to worry about a couple of students losing everything they’d been working towards.

  “Why did you do that?” Lucie heard the words creak out of her. They sounded guttural. Angry.

  She must have looked furious, because Zach seemed genuinely ill at ease. He stuttered, trying to find words to reply, but was interrupted when a luxury SUV pulled up next to them.

  The rest of the people in the camp hardly seemed to notice. They were too busy packing up ahead of the encroaching storm.

  The shiny black surface of the vehicle seemed out of place in the dusty, windy desert. Lucie’s attention was drawn by the figure of the driver climbing out. As out of place as the vehicle looked, this man only looked more so. Everyone else was wearing casual clothing. It was all khaki and T-shirts as far as the eye could see. But this man wore an official-looking uniform, with Arabic calligraphy on the epaulets, so ornate that Lucie couldn’t quite make it out.

  “Miss Milligan, Mr. Millard?”

  She sensed Zach nodding beside her as she found her voice.

  “That’s us.”

  The man gave a sharp nod, as though proud of himself for having correctly identified them in the hubbub of the camp.

  “You’ll be coming with me.”
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