The Sword and the Sheath
An Egyptian warrior cursed with the Sight, Fatima must guard her friend, Tarik, who is next in line to lead her tribe, and as desire rages between them, she must choose between duty, honor, and true love.
From a young age, Fatima knew she must do battle. She knew this, her destiny, because every fiber of her body cried out for it--just as every fiber cries out for Tarik, the impossibly handsome "White Falcon," her friend and next in line to lead her tribe. She has been trained by her father to be the future sheikh's bodyguard. Yet, women of the Khamsin are not warriors, and the sons of sheikhs do not wish to have their lives saved by women any more than they wish to fall in love with childhood friends. Tradition be damned; she will fulfill her destiny. And Tarik will love her forever.
"With its vividly detailed setting in early-twentieth-century Egypt, and a sizzlingly sexy and danger-rich story, the latest in Vanak's Warrior of the Wind series is refreshingly different and wonderfully entertaining." —John Charles, BookList
"A rousing adventure of highest order, THE SWORD & THE SHEATH is passionate, richly detailed, action packed and fun, all rolled into one. Tarik and Fatima are antagonists that just won’t give an inch; neither wanting to reveal their feelings and give the opponent an advantage. They are well matched; the sparks leap off the pages whenever they are together. The author makes the Egyptian sands come alive on the pages in a way few can; allowing this reader to step back in time on a grand adventure. I highly recommend this book, and will gift several friends with a copy. Bravo!"
—Letticia, Historical Romance Writers
"THE SWORD & THE SHEATH is the fifth book in the Egyptian series, and totally stands alone as a dynamic, vibrant read. For one of the most interesting reading experiences you can have, read THE SWORD & THE SHEATH this month."
—Carolyn Crisher, Romance Reviews Today
"Known for stirring romances set in exotic locales that sweep readers into another time and place, Vanak has a gift for creating exciting stories, memorable characters and a passion hotter than the Middle Eastern sunshines." —Kathe Robin, RT BookClub
"The Sword & the Sheath is another well-written story from Ms. Vanak. She has the ability to create a setting, characters, and story that enable the reader to be transported into the pages... They (plot and characters) exude a strength that will pull readers in either one direction or another*. Trust Ms. Vanak to continually keep the reader on their toes. Her stories never fail to beguile and surprise, nor do they fail to demand your participation and attention." —Connie, Once Upon a Romance
"The latest Sahara Desert historical romance is a great thriller, perhaps the best in the series, due to Fatima, a unique heroine with an obsession to protect her people which means entering an exclusive male only guard. The story line is fast-paced and filled with action adventure while allowing for strong characterization and a deep sense of time and place. Readers will taste the sands as Bonnie Vanak provides an energetic, vivid yet entertaining tale." —Harriet Klausner
"The Sword and the Sheath is a passionate novel filled with action. There is humor and plenty of romance. I enjoyed the way that the author tied together some aspects seen in previous novels and brought them to a finale in this book She did it in such a way that a new reader to her novels will not feel like they are missing key information, but it will encourage them to discover her backlist." —Paula, A Romance Review
Eastern Desert, Egypt, 1903
He could not make her cry.
Not her. Fatima refused to weep before the mighty heir to the Khamsin’s desert throne. Not from his taunts or arrogance.
“You can’t be sheikh and that is final,” Tarik stated.
“I can too be sheikh,” ten-year-old Fatima blurted out. She glanced at her twin brother, signaling for help.
Asad’s large, expressive green eyes, the same color as hers, blinked. He shrugged. “Let her, Tarik.”
“Never. A girl cannot be sheikh. That’s my final word.”
At eleven, the only son of Jabari bin Tarik Hassid radiated confidence. His mother, Elizabeth, said he could “charm the wool off a sheep.” Bold and intrepid, Tarik always thought of the best places to hide, the most adventures to have. Unlike her shyer, more timid twin, he never hesitated to climb the rocky crags surrounding their home and jump, pretending to be a falcon. Or what Fatima liked best; sneak into the warrior exercise grounds and spy on the men training for battle.
Fatima adored his daring. She hated his stubbornness.
“Let me be sheikh. It’s my turn,” she put in.
He shook his shoulder-length blond hair. “Girls can never be sheikh or even Khamsin warriors of the wind.”
“I can too be a warrior.”
Tarik let loose an adult-sounding snort of derision. “Women cook and weave and have babies. Not fight.”
The twins and Tarik were playing sheikh of the desert as they scampered across the flat, grayish sand of Egypt’s imposing Arabian Desert. The Khamsin camp marched across a sandy plateau, row upon row of black goat’s hair tents. Tall date palms and sprawling acacia trees provided slim shade. Towering mountains of rock sheltered the valley on either side.
Fatima couldn’t imagine a better place to live. Not even her grandfather’s mansion in England compared to the wide desert she adored. Who wanted the stuffy indoors of a big house when there were crackling bonfires at night, and her father’s stories to share by them? Often she’d ride her mare, turn her head up to burning yellow sun and gaze at a bird soaring across the piercing blue sky. Sunsets cast the towering cliffs in brilliant shades of sienna. Fatima loved exploring hiding places in the rocks with her brother, Asad’s best friend, Tarik, and Tarik’s closest cousin, Muhammad.
But since his eleventh birthday, Tarik began evading her. He told Asad his twin was too slow. Destined to become Tarik’s Guardian of the Ages, Asad shadowed his friend, not Fatima.
Such rejection stung Fatima. In all her 10 years, Asad never left her side. Ignoring her, Tarik, Asad and Muhammad scampered off, leaving Fatima behind. Often they’d split up, using Muhammad as a decoy while Tarik and Asad sped off in a different direction.
Determination loaned her stealth and speed. She chased them relentlessly. Today, after hearing Muhammad was sick, she easily caught up with them and decided to change tactics. Fatima suggested a new game. Slave girl.
Tarik liked the attention she gave him, pretending to serve him grapes, bowing in admiration. Tarik did make a handsome sheikh, she reluctantly admitted. He had his father’s black, snapping eyes, as fierce and intense as the sheikh’s. And his father’s regal bearing and dignified carriage that loaned credence to his clan’s symbol, the proud falcon.
Other children teased Tarik about what he inherited from his American-born mother, Elizabeth. They called him “The White Falcon” because of his lighter skin and wheat-colored hair.
Fatima privately admired his unusual looks and publicly defended Tarik. When the name-calling started, she had dramatically spread her arms and announced in a solemn voice that the spirit of his namesake, the great Tarik the Warrior Sheikh, would send snakes into their beds in retaliation. Khamsin children nervously peeped under the covers and stopped calling Tarik names. She, Asad and Tarik had howled for hours.
Fatima liked Tarik. That is, when he wasn’t being as stubborn as a donkey about what mattered most to her.
“All right. You be sheikh. Let me be a warrior and defend you,” she offered.
Tarik’s thin chest heaved with laughter. “Defend me?” His ebony eyes sparkled with good humor. “Don’t be so silly.”
Fingers rapping on his chin, he considered. “You serve me well enough. Perhaps I will allow you to be my wife. I would even let you kiss me.”
Such a generous offer! Fatima pursed her lips as if he offered her a lemon to suck. The sheikh’s son sprang forward. Two warm lips brushed hers, like a butterfly landing gently on her mouth. Fatima hovered a minute, enchanted, then recoiled.
“Eeeeww! What’d you do that for?” She scrubbed her mouth with an angry fist.
“You looked like you wanted a kiss,” Tarik protested.
Fatima started to object when her vision blurred. Oh God, please, not again! Dizziness gripped her. Tarik and Asad became fuzzy images in white skullcaps, indigo trousers, cream-colored kamis shirts and short indigo jubbes. Pressing her hands to her spinning head, she surrendered to the Sight.
She lay on silken sheets besides Tarik, a man grown. He was longer and broader than the skinny boy. Bare-chested, sheet tugged up to his lean waist, he stared at Fatima with an intense look she’d seen her father give her mother. The dream Tarik took her into his arms and kissed her. Then he said in an deep voice, “Mine. You are now mine, Fatima. Forever.”
Fatima’s eyes flew open. Her mouth wobbled. As always after a vision, she felt disoriented and drained.
They looked at her, Asad with alarm, Tarik with concern. The sheikh’s son placed steadying hands on her shoulders. Tarik led her to a boulder, helped her sit. Asad joined her, sliding a comforting arm about her waist.
A gift, her mother called it.
A nightmare, she had replied.
“Tima, did you have another vision? Was it very bad this time?” Tarik asked, holding her hand.
His gentle concern only made it worse. She suppressed a shiver. He must never know. Ever.
“Yes,” she shot back, pushing aside his hand and springing to her feet. “I had a nightmare of what your poor wife will have to suffer kissing your she-camel lips.”
Shock, then anger filled his dark eyes. Tarik stood up, scowling. “I do not have she-camel lips!”
Jumping off the rock, Asad peered at his friend’s mouth. “Well Tarik, your bottom lip is large, like a she-camel’s.”
Tarik silenced her twin with a scathing look. His slight shoulders pulled back with pride. “It is an honor being the sheikh’s wife and having the privilege of kissing me.”
She glared. “I’d rather kiss a stinky goat. I want to be a warrior. I could even be your Guardian of the Ages.”
“But Tima, I’m supposed to be his Guardian of the Ages,” her twin protested.
“Well, two Guardians are better than one. You can watch his left side and I’ll watch his right,” she reasoned. Fatima raced to a nearby thorn tree to pick up a dead branch as a sword. Cradling it in her palms, she waved it in the air.
An odd prickling raised huge gooseflesh on her arms. She heard herself say in a faraway voice, “You need me as your Guardian, son of Jabari bin Tarik Hassid. You must not die as your mother’s babies did.”
Blinking, she focused on their shocked faces. Anger twisted Asad’s features. Tarik looked wounded.
“That was mean, Tima,” Asad lectured.
Flustered, she started to apologize and stopped. Words had power. So did her Sight. Destiny called her for a greater purpose than being a girl. If this were a gift, why couldn’t she use it to become Tarik’s Guardian? Who better to protect him?
Respectful of her Sight, Tarik would relent. In a slightly pleading voice, she stated her case.
Tarik and Asad exchanged glances. Her heart sank.
“My Guardian of the Ages is my loyal defender who would give his life for me. He is the tribe’s fiercest fighter. True, you have the gift of vision, Tima. But you could never be my Guardian because you are a girl. Girls don’t fight,” Tarik stated quietly, his voice edged with a deep note as if he had taken a step into manhood.
Fatima drew away at the hard resolve in his dark eyes then remembered. She was the daughter of Ramses bin Asad Sharif, the fiercest of all the Khamsin warriors. And like her father, she didn’t shirk from a challenge.
“I can protect you better than Asad. I’m a better warrior.”
“You will never be a warrior of the wind,” Tarik shot back.
The truth stung so grievously he became a red haze in her vision. “I could too! I’ll prove it!”
Fatima grabbed hold of Tarik’s silky golden curls and yanked. He reached up with a balled fist to swing. Fatima ducked and dove to the sand with feline grace. As she rolled, her left foot shot out, hooked around Tarik’s ankle and pulled. He tumbled down. She’d seen her father perform the move while spying on him practicing.
He lay on the sand as she jumped on his stomach. Tarik grunted with surprise.
“Give in,” she panted, capturing his arms with her hands and pressing them against the sand. He scowled and struggled, but her weight pinned him down. Like her brother, Fatima was taller and heavier than Tarik.
“Fatima, stop it,” Asad snapped. Fatima ignored her twin and dug her heels into Tarik’s sides.
“Surrender, infidel. Admit defeat,” she ordered.
The horrified shock in her father’s voice gave her pause. With a guilty start she saw him approach, accompanied by a tall, handsome man clad in an indigo binish. Oh no. The sheikh, Tarik’s father. Fatima turned her gaze back to her prisoner, but caught the gleam in his eyes too late. The blow was sharp, stinging and landed squarely on her lower lip.
Fatima fell off him, sprawling on the ground. Pain laced her mouth. She touched her bottom lip, drew away scarlet fingertips. To her horror, tears spilled down her cheeks. Tarik struggled to his feet with a look of intense satisfaction.
“Tarik!” The shock in the Khamsin sheikh’s voice was deeper than her father’s.
“She jumped on me like a caracal. Fatima should learn the consequences of attacking a Khamsin warrior,” Tarik snarled.
“And you are not a Khamsin warrior… yet. You need to treat her with the respect a Khamsin maiden is due. Do you forget yourself?” his father asked in a quiet voice laced with command.
Tarik gulped. Fatima knew Tarik worshiped his father and feared him a little, as most Khamsin children did. Everyone but her. Jabari had a soft spot for her, as Fatima had been the only girl among the two-close knit families for the longest time. She felt a warm hand squeeze her palm and looked up at her father’s somber face as he pulled her upright.
“Tarik, apologize now to Fatima,” Jabari ordered.
Tarik shuffled his feet and muttered, “I’m sorry.”
Mutiny glittered in his dark eyes. He was not sorry. Not one little bit.
“Now go get the camel crop,” the sheikh said sternly.
Tarik’s tanned face blanched. He swallowed hard, large black eyes widening. Suddenly he went from swaggering braggart to little boy. His brows furrowed into a pleading look. Jabari’s stony expression gave no quarter.
Resolutely, Tarik marched back in the direction of his tent. Fatima felt alarmed. The sheikh had never been so angry.
She tugged at his indigo binish. “Please sire, please do not punish him. It was my fault. I started it. I did.”
Jabari’s black-bearded mouth softened into a smile. He squatted down. “My dear Fatima, it does not matter. Tarik needs to learn that it is not permissible to hit women. Khamsin women should be protected, loved and respected. As long as I am sheikh, and Tarik after me, such abuse will not be tolerated.” Anger tightened his face as his gaze settled on her cut lip. She drew back. Jabari smiled, opening his arms.
“Now stop crying. Come give your uncle Jabari a big hug. How long has it been since you hugged me?”
Relieved he was not angry, she stepped into his embrace. Jabari hugged her. She inhaled the clean, spicy, masculine scent of him, so much like her father. He released her and stood.
“She is very much your daughter, Ramses,” he said, chuckling and she was glad to see his good humor restored.
But her father did not smile. He merely looked at her sternly. “Too much,” he muttered.
Tarik returned, carrying the long stick. He walked straight and tall. Without flinching, he handed it to his father with a solemn look. Fatima felt a sudden, unexpected spurt of pride.
“I am ready for my punishment, Father,” he said quietly. “What I did was wrong. I should never have hit Fatima.”
Approval shone in the sheikh’s dark gaze. Tarik stole a sly glance at Fatima. “You’re correct, Father. Khamsin women should never be hit. They should be protected and cherished, for they are the weaker sex. They can’t fight, ride into battle or become… warriors of the wind.”
Choked laughter rumbled from her twin. Fatima glared at him. Tarik had the final word, after all.
“Come Tarik,” Jabari said firmly, but the hand he laid upon his son’s shoulder seemed steady, not steely.
The sheikh hauled his son toward the warrior training ground. “I hope he beats your bottom raw,” she muttered.
“Oh, our sheikh will. Tarik’s never gotten a beating before. And it’s all your fault. You should have left instead of fighting him.” Asad shot back, scowling.
Deeply upset, she drew back. Her twin never sided against her. Never.
“Quiet, Asad,” her father said sternly. “Tarik should not have hit her. It is against the Khamsin code of honor.”
“Papa, are you going to punish me like Uncle Jabari is doing to Tarik?” she asked.
Her father hunkered down. He touched her cut lip. Fatima winced, although his touch was absolutely gentle. “Sweetheart, I think you have been punished enough.”
“Just because you’re a girl,” Asad muttered.
That remark, made under his breath, rankled her pride. “I can take it. I’m as tough as any boy,” she declared.
She looked hopefully into her father’s frowning face. “Should I get the camel crop?”
Her father scratched his short-trimmed dark beard. “No, Fatima. I wish to talk with you. Asad, return to the tent.”
She watched him stride off, his hair glistening blue black in the sun. Grief pinched her chest. Once Asad was her best friend. No longer. Tarik had taken her place.
Fatima headed for a large, flat-surfaced boulder and plunked down on it. Her lower lip trembled as she struggled to contain tears of betrayal. She looked up into her father’s wise amber eyes. He touched her hand.
“Asad doesn’t like me anymore, Papa. Why?” she whispered.
“That is not so, sweetheart. He is merely growing up. Do not begrudge Tarik his company. He needs his friend right now. It is a sore thing to his pride when a son receives punishment from his father.”
Swallowing past a lump clogging her throat, Fatima looked away. “Asad is always with Tarik. He never wants to be with me.”
“It is only natural. Asad is my first-born son,” he reminded her gently. “He is destined to be Tarik’s Guardian of the Ages, just as I am to his father. When Asad turns 13...”
She waved a hand. “I know, I know. He will receive the initiation of manhood and take the Guardian oath to guard Tarik with his life and be tattooed with the falcon, the mark of Tarik’s house, upon his right arm. Asad talks of nothing else all day. I’m so tired of it!”
“Fatima, you must accept it, just as you must accept the fact that Tarik will become our sheikh. What you did to Tarik was wrong. You shamed him.”
“But Papa, I can beat him! Tarik teased me. He said I am weak just because I am a girl. And I have to marry and learn to cook and have babies and I can never be a warrior.”
He sighed deeply. “Fatima, he is correct. There is no place for a woman warrior in our tribe. It is everything against our laws, our way of life.”
“But you taught me how to fight!”
“I should not have,” he muttered. “It is my fault.”
A pout puckered her mouth. “It’s not fair. I hate being left out just because I’m a girl.”
“You are growing up quickly, my beloved daughter. I talked with your mother. You need to start spending more time with girls. I forbid you to follow after Tarik and Asad.”
Stung, Fatima stared. If he had beaten her bottom with the camel crop, he could not have hurt her more. “Please Papa, I am sorry. I will not hit Tarik ever again. I promise. I promise.”
Usually her pleas softened her father. But this time, his face was set in hard rock. His determined look frightened her with its intensity. He would not give in.
“It isn’t fair,” she whispered. “Why can’t I be a warrior of the wind like you? I want to be like you, Papa.”
Her father’s handsome face softened. He reached over and cupped her chin, raising her eyes to meet his gaze.
“Please sweetheart, please understand. This is for your own good because when you get older, you will only be disappointed. You cannot be a warrior of the wind. Or a Guardian. I know it is not fair, but you are a girl and it simply is not done.”
Her father gave his jovial smile again. “You enjoy Alhena’s company. She’s only a year younger than you, and has a new china teaset your grandfather sent from England. Alhena is a treasure, helping out with her new baby brother.”
She would, Fatima fumed. Alhena was such a goody-goody. She had a sweet, giving nature. Fatima did like her cousin. But babies? Ugh. They smelled of sticky spit-up and made stinky messes in their napkins. She would rather swing a make-believe scimitar or jump on her horse’s back, riding across the desert, pretending to fight unseen enemies.
But a small part of her knew she had to conceal these thoughts from her father. “Yes, Papa,” she muttered.
He jumped off the rock, turned and opened his arms wide. “Well Fatima?”
Her spirits soared at the invitation. Fatima raced to her father, holding her arms up, begging. “Twirl me Papa!”
Clutching her wrists, her father spun around. Sailing like a spinning top, Fatima shrieked with joy, secure in her father’s grip.
Slowing down, he laughed, then set her on solid ground again. “You are getting too heavy,” he teased, hugging her. She watched with shining eyes as he strode to his mare, grabbed her mane, swung into the saddle. She adored watching him mount this way. Indeed, she had even learned it herself. He winked at her, clucked to Fayla and galloped off. Clouds of dust rose in the air from the mare’s pounding hooves.
Fatima watched, plans forming. There were chores to perform... and other means of escape. She would learn. She would be a warrior and learn to fight. Nothing would get in her way.
As Fatima watched her father ride off, she touched her fingers to her heart and then her mouth in the traditional Khamsin gesture of honor before battle. A soft undulating cry, the Khamsin war call, purred between her lips.