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Authors: Augusta Hill

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BOOK: Love Saved
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Chapter 9

I
n the morning
, Oren awoke with Kirk's arm splayed protectively over him. Usually after spending the night in bed with someone, he wanted to quickly slip on his pants and flee out the door, work already on his mind. This morning was different, however.

The heavy weight of Kirk's arm warmed his core, and he felt content to stay there for several minutes enjoying the safety he felt. They had survived a plane crash, a walk through hell, and a sandstorm - he figured he deserved a quiet moment with a good man.

A good man, who he was growing fond of. Which was really a problem if he was honest with himself.

It's not like anything can happen long term. We are just two strangers who barely know each other, and we've been thrust together on this crazy trip. It's like any other hook-up I've had, just a quickie for some stress relief.

Nonetheless, it didn't feel like a normal hook-up, and that had unnerved Oren. No matter how much he tried to convince himself otherwise, there was a connection he felt with Kirk. When they had first kissed, he hadn't even been able to hear the storm anymore. Everything had gone silent except for the beating of his heart. Oren had had some pretty great kisses in his life, but that was the first one that made his world stop.

Before he could dwell on it anymore, he heard the other travelers shuffling around outside, having emerged from their own tents. The perfect bubble of happiness was about to be popped.

"Kirk, I think it's time to get up," he said softly, stroking the dark arm that lay across his chest.

Kirk gave him a small peck on the cheek and then stretched his arms lazily. "Yes, looks like it. We'll have to be discreet about last night. I'll leave the tent first and chat with them. Then you can come out in a few minutes."

Oren nodded and curled on his side to allow Kirk some space to move about. Kirk got up, quickly putting on his dusty, well-worn pants and the dirty shirt he had been wearing since the crash. They hadn't had time to wash their clothes the night before, a fact Oren regretted. Once he was dressed, the pilot quickly left the tent, not looking back.

Oren felt cold as soon as he was gone and tried to snuggle deeper into his blanket. Outside he could hear the men chatting easily, as well as the deep snorts of the camels as they milled around.

I wonder where the camels hid out last night
, he thought idly to pass the time.
Do they just shut their eyes and tough it out? Was there a camel tent I missed? Now there's a new product I could send to my development team.

He counted to two hundred slowly while pondering how lucrative the camel rider demographic could be, giving Kirk enough time to mingle. He found it odd that it was the first time he'd thought about work in hours and hours. Usually, he and his business suit were fused into a single being, and he never quit thinking of ways to improve and expand his empire. However, he hadn't been tempted to fret about what was happening back at the office in over a day.

I wonder how things are being dealt with. My secretary has probably figured out I'm gone by now. She'll have tried to call the tour company twenty times, wanting to pass along messages about the company to me. And when she didn't get a reply? She'd form a search team of her own.

He smiled, thinking about the ambitious redhead who worked for him. Abigail could be a destroyer of worlds when she put her mind to it which is why he had hired her. She could run things fine in his place.

"Never thought I'd say that," he whispered with a grin, rolling onto his stomach. She had more than once pushed him to delegate more to her, but he had resisted. Not because she had done anything wrong, but if he wasn't pouring his soul into work than he didn't have much to do.

Well, that's enough depressing introspection for one day
, he thought, pushing himself off up off the ground into a kneeling position. From there he quickly slipped on his clothes, trying not to sniff them too deeply, and finger-combed his hair into something respectable.

At last pleased with his appearance, he opened the tent and poked his head out. The camp was filled with energy as the entire caravan worked together to pack up and tidy the space. He saw Kirk standing over the fire, pouring sugar into a small, steaming teacup. The old leader was next to him, explaining something with lots of hand gestures.

"Good morning," Oren said, walking up next to them. He tried not to stare at Kirk's face and how good it looked with the dark stubble that was growing on his chin.

The old man smiled at him in greeting and held out another small teacup. Oren grabbed it carefully and sniffed. Earthy black tea greeted his nose, and his stomach grumbled expectantly. The old man must have heard it because he shoved some bread into his hand next.

"They are telling me about the journey. We are lucky to have caught them. We'll be to the next town by tonight."

"Wow, that's great!" Oren smiled wide for the benefit of the old man. Inside, however, Oren felt his heart shrivel up just a little. He knew he had no right to expect something long-term with Kirk, but he had hoped for just a little more time with the calm, protective pilot.

"Would you like to see your ride?" Kirk asked, breaking into his thoughts.

"Sure. I've ridden plenty of horses before, so this should be about the same, right?"

"Sure," Kirk answered in a very unconvincing way.

Kirk led Oren over to where the animals were stamping around impatiently. They smelled terrible, and Oren wrinkled his nose. "I prefer horses."

"I thought you'd say that. Well, it's these or another long march under the sun."

"Fine, fine. I'm sure my camel and I will become best friends." Oren reached up to rub the snout of the nearest camel. It snapped its teeth at him in warning, eyes wide and angry. "Or maybe not."

"You'll be fine," Kirk whispered next to him, patting his shoulder reassuringly.

The unexpected touch immediately made Oren relax, as tension he didn't even know he had ran out of his neck and shoulders. Kirk had an effect on him he couldn’t put into words. It was an aura of safety that enveloped him whenever the handsome pilot was near.

I’m not ready for this to end
, Oren thought sadly to himself.
I want just a few more days of this feeling.

Chapter 10

R
iding
across the desert was vastly superior to walking across it, Kirk firmly decided. They had only been out on the camels for two hours, but the oasis was now far behind them and out of sight. On foot, they would probably still be several miles back, cursing the sun.

Plus, he enjoyed the easy, rolling gait of the camels and found it to be a fun way to travel. He couldn't say the same about Oren, however. The poor man was clinging on to his beast with a look of fear and disgust. Somehow, Oren had been gifted with the most flatulent camel in the group which was noisily making its away across the sand with great bursts of toxic smells.

"I've come all this way only to be fumigated to death," Oren groaned as the camel let loose another unholy smell. "It's killing me. And if I die now, no one will invent camel tents. This beast should feel guilty!"

"Camel tents?"

"Yes, I had an idea earlier today. Pop-up tents for camels, horses, and other pack animals to sleep in at night."

"That is ridiculous. No one will buy that," Kirk scoffed.

"People will buy anything. You just need the right marketing. I'm already thinking up a catchy jingle for the ad campaign."

Kirk laughed and looked over at the gagging billionaire. "You don't have a single hobby do you?"

"We've established that," Oren replied with exasperation. "I don't hear you talking about your hobbies, you know. As far as I know, you slept in that airplane."

"I have many hobbies! I like to play backgammon with the old men in the square. I'm pretty good at football. Wait, I think you call it soccer? And I love television and movies, especially horror movies from America. It's how I practice my English."

"Horror movies? Because living near this giant sand trap of doom isn't scary enough?" Oren flashed him a bratty smile, but it was quickly cut off as he began to cough wildly as his camel unleashed yet another stink bomb. Kirk and the rest of the caravan threw their heads back in laughter.

"It appears we picked the wrong camel for him," said one of the nomads, his crooked teeth shining brightly as he chuckled.

"No, I think it is definitely the right one," Kirk snorted.

"I know you are talking about me," Oren said primly, having finally regained his composure. "Some friend you are."

Kirk smiled, but the word 'friend' cut a hole through him. When they had started this long trip across the desert, he thought they would never be friends. In fact, he had thought there was a good chance they would strangle each other within hours. Somewhere along the way, that had all changed, however. Now he didn't just want to be friends - he wanted to something more, something deeper. He wanted to hold the billionaire close and keep all of the blonde’s anxiety at bay. He wanted to show Oren that a whole world existed beyond his office.

Not that there is a chance of that, I know it, he knows it. This is all just a game that will end very soon.

That was part of the reason he had fled the tent so early that morning. Waking up next to Oren had felt perfect. He couldn't remember a time when opening his eyes and seeing another face had made his heart skip up into his throat in happiness. The bliss he had experienced in that moment was sharply tinged with sadness, however. There couldn't be more mornings like that, and it tore him open. So he had gotten himself outside and as far away from Oren as possible.

"You really practice your English with horror movies?" Oren asked, pulling his camel up next to Kirk's and talking low.

"All the time. It is important for me to be able to communicate easily with clients, so I need to practice often. And horror movies make it fun. If I ever go to America, I want to see all the haunted houses I can."

"Yeah? Like where?"

"I really enjoy movies with voodoo. The big plantations with their spooky houses, and the cold swamps! I hope one day to travel to your Louisiana, just to see it before I die."

"Is there anywhere else you'd like to go? Say, New York, for example?"

Kirk looked over at Oren suspiciously, trying to determine what the other man was hinting at. He didn't want to assume too much and decided to answer coyly.

"New York looks quite large and overwhelming to me. My sister has always wanted to go there, though. She talks about seeing the art museums. But she wants to go to every art museum in the world, honestly. Paris, New York, London."

"Is she an artist?"

"Salma? Yes, and a very talented one. She paints beautiful landscapes of both the sea and the desert. You'd think these scenes would be boring and all one color. But she sees all the variations of texture and color, and she makes them come alive on the canvas." Kirk paused, slightly embarrassed by how he was rambling on.

Oren didn't seem to mind, however. He was leaning close, taking in every word with fascination. "I'd love to see her art someday."

Kirk's heart lifted in pride. Oren had the money to go to any museum or gallery he wanted. In fact, Kirk was sure the billionaire had many expensive pieces decorating his house. To own such masterpieces and still be willing to look at Salma's work made Kirk like Oren even more.

"Maybe when we get back to town I can have her show you some." He left the end of the sentence -
before you leave forever
- unsaid.

"I'd like that. I have a sister of my own, you know. Her name is Georgette. She is a complete nutter, but I love her anyway."

"A nutter? What does that mean?"

"It means she is crazy in a likeable way. She is constantly buying into some new fad diet or exercise craze. She is trying to find immortality or the meaning of life or some madness. All I know is that every couple of months, she forces me to drink kale smoothies until I want to die."

"All the money in the world can not save a man from his sister."

"Tell me about it. I think it's the only place in my life where I let someone boss me around. Except, well..." he trailed off then, looking straight ahead with a slight blush coming into his cheeks.

Kirk shifted uncomfortably in his seat, unsure how to answer. He hadn't known how to interact with Oren the entire morning, and their banter was only making things worse. Kirk knew things couldn't last, and the more they teased each other with the memory of those kisses or talked about seeing each other in the future, the more his stomach churned with despair.

"I'm going to go check when we are stopping for a break. I'll be back soon," he grit out, wheeling his camel around and moving towards the back of the caravan where the old man rode.

He could feel Oren's eyes on him as he left, but kept his own gaze forward. His affection for the other man was most likely already obvious to anyone watching closely. He didn't want to add any more fuel to the fire by looking like a lovesick teenager after a lover's quarrel.

I'll just ride back here for a while and let things cool down. I can't be beside him thinking about a future that's impossible. Fate doesn't work that way, and I should get a hold of my heart before it runs away on me.

A nagging voice at the back of his head told him his heart was already long gone.

Chapter 11

L
ate in the day
, with the sky darkening above them, the camels began to grunt and move with more purpose. Oren, who had been half asleep in the saddle, was suddenly jostled awake as his animal lurched forward and grunted.

"We're close!" Kirk called from ahead of him, whooping and slapping his camel on the rear to make it go faster.

Oren stood up on his saddle, trying to see further in the distance. However, they were currently working their way up a small hill, and he couldn't see over the top. After all he’d been through, the anticipation of being saved made his stomach churn.

"How far?" he called to Kirk, who had just crested the hill in front of them.

Kirk had spent most of the afternoon riding far behind or far ahead of Oren. They never got within ten feet of each other, no matter how hard Oren had tried. The rejection had stung deeply.

Maybe I did something to offend him,
Oren had thought as the day wore on.
Everything was fine until last night in the tent. Maybe he doesn't want me to get too attached. Well, it might be too late for that, and I don't know what to do.

"We're here. That is Khalas," Kirk said softly, as Oren finally pulled up next to him.

Below them sat a small town, the squat brown buildings spread out in a glittering ring in the twilight. On several of the rooftops, Oren could make out antennas and satellites, and his heart surged at the thought of calling home that very night.

At the sight of the town, the camels began to make louder noises, calling out their desire to reach the stables and treats. The group hurriedly began their descent just as the final rays of light were disappearing over the horizon.

"The nomads say there is a good inn at the center of town. It is next to the medical center which has a satellite phone for emergencies," Kirk said as they trotted along, the first houses now just ahead of them. "We will call for a rescue crew to come in the morning, and then you will be able to stay in a safe place this evening."

"I can't believe we'll be rescued soon," Oren whispered. His voice cracked with emotion, but he tried to play it off as the dust from the camel's hooves getting in his face. "It'll be good to go home," he finished, once he trusted his throat again.

Kirk nodded, keeping his eyes straight ahead. Silence settled between them, and Oren fumbled for what to say next. What was there to say? They had been through so much together, and now the end was looming before them.

Does it have to be the end? Can I convince him that we can make something work?

Oren knew there wasn't really a way to 'make something work'. They had an entire ocean between their lives. Oren couldn't ask Kirk to give up his job and join a man he barely knew across the world. And Oren couldn't run a billion-dollar company from seven time zones away.

Kirk broke into his thoughts, his voice quiet and reserved. "I'm glad we made it through everything. But I'm pretty sure my sister will kill me when I get home, so it's all for nothing."

Oren laughed in spite of his sadness. "Mine will smother me with kindness. I can already feel her love choking me as she makes me promise to wear a helmet everywhere I go now, just in case."

They lapsed into silence then, each wrestling with their own feelings about their impending goodbye. Few people roamed the streets this late and night, and the few who did made ample room for the clopping troop of camels.

One of the nomads called to Kirk who nodded in agreement. He then turned to Oren. "It’s just ahead. I’m sure you can’t wait."

Oren said nothing in return.

A
fter Kirk had placed
the call for them to be picked up by helicopter in the morning, the two men walked out of the medical center together. They bid goodbye to their nomadic guides, who refused every manner of repayment Oren suggested. When he tried, at last, to simply stuff money in their bags, the men had laughed and kicked their camels to ride down the street, melting into the darkness. This left Kirk and Oren alone, standing side by side with their arms barely touching.

"Well, you had better get to the hotel," Kirk said at last, keeping his eyes straight ahead, watching the blank space where the caravan had once stood.

"Where are you going to stay?" Oren looked over, studying the handsome man next to him. Kirk's sharp jaw and beautiful cheekbones were illuminated in the light from the medical center, and Oren wished he could run his hand along those lines.

"I have distant family here, on my father's side. I can stay with them."

"You could stay with me?" Oren asked, even though he already knew the answer.

"I don't think that would be wise. I find it best to keep a low profile out here in the fringe towns."

"Well, I'll see you in the morning then, at least. The helicopter arrives at eight, so perhaps we can get some breakfast first?"

Kirk's face remained impassive, and Oren's stomach dropped to the ground. The message was clear - they would not be seeing each other again. There would be no last night together, no breakfast, and certainly no long hugs at the airport.

Is it something I did? Maybe there is something I can say?
Oren thought desperately, wanting to cling to the moment just a little while longer.

"I hope this trip has not been too much of a disappointment," Kirk said, breaking their silence. "I'm afraid I have failed you as a pilot. But perhaps not as a...friend."

"Thank you for everything you've done, Kirk. This has been the toughest, most terrible time of my life. But I can't tell you how much I've appreciated having you by my side." Oren stopped, trying to fumble desperately for words. "And I plan to tell your boss that. I don't want anything to happen to you because of this accident. You've been the best...guide...I could have wished for."

"Thank you for that." Kirk reached out and squeezed Oren's arm once before letting his hand fall loosely to his side. "Well, I hope you have a much easier trip home. I must be going."

Kirk turned away, and Oren was sure the sound of his heart breaking could be heard a mile in every direction. Everything in his body rebelled from letting Kirk walk away.

"Wait!" he called, just as Kirk was several paces away.

Kirk turned and looked at him with haunted eyes, and Oren felt like he had been hit in the stomach.

This is all so unfair.

"Goodbye, Khaled. Thank you for everything."

Kirk nodded sadly, and then melted into the shadows of the street, leaving Oren alone in front of the hotel.

BOOK: Love Saved
13.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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