Today’s book is getting some ah-mazing reviews, with readers calling it “face-paced”, “intense”, and “exciting”. Check out the first chapter below and then go get your own copy!
Veiled by Privilege
Radical Book 1
by Anne Garboczi Evans
CIA field officer Joe Csontos is desperate to discover Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula’s next target before thousands of Americans die.
Atheist grad student in Middle Eastern studies, Kay Bianchi needs a dissertation project riveting enough to pass muster with her capricious professor. When Kay illegally travels to Saudi Arabia under a false identity, she has no idea the passport holder is betrothed to a high-profile terrorist, or that the passport holder’s male relative intends to marry Kay off in seven days.
The moment Joe meets Kay he is attracted to her, but she’s some tree-hugging liberal who doesn’t even believe in the Second Amendment. When the terrorists jeopardize both their lives, they have to work together.
Will Joe and Kay stop the terrorists in time? Can Kay’s love of Islamic culture survive an encounter with Al Qaeda, and if it does, can a leftist and a right-winger fall in love?
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Wednesday, September 28th, 3:05 p.m.
“I will not do it.” The black-clad female catapulted up from the metal bench in Harvard University’s Yard.
Shifting toward the thin woman, Joe Csontos, CIA Field Officer, extended the USB drive again. “We are prepared to offer you a green card if you send us intelligence about Abdullah El-Amin’s terrorist affiliations after you become his wife.”
“After?” Mariam Al-Khatani’s voice went shrill. Her sweater slapped against her bony arms as she gestured. “How many weeks or years after marrying a man whom I have no wish to marry?”
Joe swallowed. The crisp autumn air stung his throat. Poor woman. He handled her uncle, Muhammad Al-Khatani, a Saudi informant. Her uncle’s unfortunate choice to betroth Mariam to an Al-Qaeda operative had put her on the CIA’s radar. “My boss didn’t say.”
Mariam whipped her hand through the air, sending her long skirt flapping against the yellow and orange leaves that littered the grass. “You know how the Kingdom is. A woman needs her male guardian’s signature to leave the country. Green card or no, this man I am to marry will never grant me an exit visa.”
Standing, Joe closed the distance between them. He rested one hand on the bronze foot of the massive statue of some pretentious socialist that towered over Harvard Yard. As the chill air whistled past him, a weight descended on his chest. Mariam calculated correctly. The state department issued travel warnings to even native-born U.S. women marrying Saudis, telling the women they’d never make it home.
Mariam clenched her fingers, digging her nails into the visa rejection letter. “Abdullah El-Amin wants me to become his third wife. I refuse. USCIS rejected my grad school visa, but I’ll file for a work visa.”
Joe coughed into his shirtsleeve. The pressed white fabric lent credence to his undercover identity as a technical specialist looking for interns at the Harvard job fair. “My boss spoke with Citizenship and Immigration Services, Miss Al-Khatani. He had them blacklist you.” Burning a source based on his boss’s orders. He clenched and unclenched his hand. Back in his Green Beret days, he’d never have tolerated doing this to an indig.
“You work for the CIA. You could get me extension, but you don’t care.” The hysterical woman spat. “My uncle will force me to marry this man. You are aiding rape. Does not that bother your American principles?”
Fallen leaves whipped across the empty yard, their shriveled bodies brown as the dirt beneath the bench. He’d tried to get Mariam an extension, spent hours appealing to the powers above him. His old boss might have bent, but Brian Schmidt, the chief of station at the Saudi Arabian embassy, wanted a new source following Abdullah. If that meant forcing an innocent girl to marry a known terrorist, Brian didn’t care.
“I’ve converted religions.” Mariam wrung her chapped hands, her voice frenzied as her Arabic accent made her rapid words almost unintelligible. “I am Christian now. You know the penalty for that in the Kingdom. Would you do this to your sister?”
Hand on the cold metal of the statue base, Joe moved his gaze across Mariam’s face. She reminded him a little of his twin sister, the same desperate look in both their eyes.
Joe dragged his finger across the toe of the statue’s boot. He couldn’t defy Brian and help Mariam defect. He’d lose his job, his security clearance, even go to jail for mishandling classified assets.
Also, he couldn’t suggest defecting for fear Brian would find out. At least, he couldn’t directly suggest defecting. Joe studied her. “Don’t do anything stupid like try to disappear into the U.S. without a visa.”
She looked up, surprise in her brown eyes.
“The CIA would track you down.” Joe gripped the metal base of the statue and prayed no Patriot Act device recorded this conversation. Brian had Mariam’s entire apartment bugged.
Mariam twisted a brilliant oak leaf between her fingertips, her face as expressionless as the grave.
“I know Canada’s only a four-hour drive, and if you left your identifying documents behind, you could disappear into Canada.” Paralipsis, the rhetorical device of saying without saying. He’d lost sleep learning that word for his online rhetoric class while camped out in the Iraqi desert.
Mariam widened her eyes.
“We would still find you with the tracker on your phone though, so don’t try illegally immigrating to Canada.” Joe brushed his fingers against the concealed Glock inside his jeans as he said the words, face stern enough to please Brian Schmidt.
Would she try defecting?
His guts churned. Perhaps he shouldn’t have given her that idea. If the CIA caught her defecting on an expired visa, things would go even worse for her.
Heels clicked down the sidewalk.
A girl as lovely as Pyramus’ Thisbe turned the corner. “Coming to the international student dinner tonight, Mariam?” She spoke in flawless Arabic. “Your fiancé Hamed is invited too.”
Joe couldn’t help but stare. Those tight jeans and the tattooed letters peeking out from a deeper v-neck than any Koranic sura would recommend did not signal a Saudi girl, yet she spoke faultless Arabic. Know how many times he’d met a non-coworker American girl who spoke Arabic? Never.
“I can’t, Kay.” Mariam shifted her feet on the asphalt, swishing the leaves with the edge of her dress. “Hamed and I, we need to talk.”
“You look shaken.” The woman glanced at him, brilliant-colored lips pressed together as if she considered blaming Mariam’s woes on him. She spoke again in Arabic. “Do you want me to take your shift at the refugee advocacy center? I’m taking this crate of diapers over there.”
Were those partially exposed tattooed letters six inches below her neck Greek? What did the letters spell? Joe tilted his head and made out an epsilon letter. Was that a sigma after it?
On second thought, she’d probably get the wrong impression if he kept staring at that part of her body. Neck heating, he jerked his gaze to the face of this woman who was skilled in Arabic and Greek.
“Thank you.” Mariam clasped the girl’s hand with both of hers. “You are a good friend.”
“It’s nothing.” The girl shook off Mariam’s hand. The sunshine shimmered on hair the color of midnight. “Pass the word that we need more children’s clothes, boys’ size six to twelve especially.”
“I will.” Mariam lifted her floppy sweater collar and dabbed at her eye. “The refugees need more housing too.”
“I could probably take in a family. I have that extra bedroom.” The woman’s face possessed an air of mystery, an other-worldliness in her every movement. Her dark eyes held an intelligent light, an almost imperceptible asymmetry in the lines of her face that made one unable to look away. Rumi, the Sufi mystic of thirteenth-century Afghanistan wrote a poem about a girl with a face like that.
Her boot heels plunged into the sodden grass as she walked on without a backward glance. Even her stride had grace.
“Who was that?” Joe looked to Mariam and said in English. He’d never revealed his Arabic fluency to her.
“Kay Bianchi, a PhD student in Middle Eastern studies.” Mariam wiped at her nose. “I have not told her anything.”
“American citizen?” Joe held his breath as he watched Kay’s departing back. Her walk possessed vigor, an intriguing attitude in the way she held her shoulders. The border of her shoulder blades just showed through the yellow fabric of her shirt. CIA operatives weren’t allowed to date foreign-born nationals.
“Yes.” Mariam brought her chin down.
Do you have Kay’s phone number? Joe stiffened. No, he pondered insanity. He knew nothing about that woman.
How often did one meet an American fluent in Arabic? How often did one meet a woman who liked Greek? Had she read Aristophanes? Euripides? Sappho? Though incomplete in its preservation, Sappho’s “Love Shook My Heart” still ranked among the most captivating poetry he’d ever read.
Joe shoved the thoughts away. “I need to see you tomorrow morning, Mariam.”
“I am busy.” Mariam drew in her thin elbows.
“Your uncle sent you a plane ticket for two days from now. I need to see you tomorrow night too. Six-ish?” Brian Schmidt had ordered him to keep an eye on Mariam. When she did end up in Saudi Arabia, he would do as he promised and try to get her that American green card ASAP. A weight descended over Joe. Brian wouldn’t want to give up such an essential operative as the wife of Abdullah El-Amin, the man who ran most of AQAP’s Yemen terrorist camps.
“I have Bible study with my friends.”
“Text me the address.” Joe pulled out his phone and swiped open the calendar app. Kay was Mariam’s friend. Did Kay come to this Bible study? Please, dear God, let Kay come to that Bible study. God’s views on romantic relationships with non-Christians about equaled the CIA’s view on dating foreign nationals.
Wait, was Kay even single? He tightened his thumb against his phone screen and looked back up. “Hey, Mariam. Is your friend—”
But Mariam Al-Khatani, niece of intelligence asset Muhammad Al-Khatani, and soon-to-be third wife of terrorist Abdullah El-Amin had walked on.
Thursday September 29th, 2:15 p.m.
Kay leaned over the table as Professor of Middle Eastern studies and graduate chair Dr. George Benson spoke. A stack of index cards slid under the pressure of her arm.
“Today I will decide which of your dissertations are worthy of this university’s estimable reputation.” Dr. Benson turned his thin lips up. No matter how many books he’d published or grants he’d won, technically the other three professors sitting on this PhD committee all had equal say in accepting or denying her dissertation prospectus. Ha. With all the accolades Dr. Benson had earned, he could intimidate even the dean.
Sweat moistened her white collar. Would Dr. Benson approve her dissertation? Kay bit into her nail. She had only her mother’s unending persistence to thank that she’d gotten back into this PhD program after the idiot decision she’d made.
Kay shook her head, suppressing a tear before it could well up to smear her mascara. She’d never fulfill her dream of becoming a professor at Harvard now.
Dr. Benson brushed his graying hair back. “Every year I tell students to write something exceptional. Every year I am appalled. Nevertheless, let’s hear your offal.” He waved his left forefinger.
Today marked the single most important day of her entire academic career. A tight feeling banded Kay’s chest as she gripped the index cards. Rumi, the Islamic poet, encouraged his followers to embrace what they loved. She loved making a difference for impoverished women and fighting discrimination such as with her work with refugees and at the domestic violence shelter. This PhD would give her the standing to do that.
The dim overhead lights shone against the room’s dark paneling. Dr. Benson’s administrative assistant had slotted her for the second presentation. She had half an hour and ten PowerPoint slides to condense months of work. Each year, Dr. Benson rejected more students than he let graduate.
Dr. Benson clasped the lip of the podium on either side. “I will recommend the graduate with the best dissertation for a teaching position here.”
A teaching position at Harvard? Her heart thumped against her shirt. Ink rubbed off from her note cards onto her slick palms. After last year chasing Felipe, a Berkeley-educated planetary scientist, and his pot-inspired visions of a world beyond what she could experience with her senses, she’d thought she’d lost all chance to follow in her parents’ footsteps as tenured professors at Ivy League universities. Kay steadied her hands on the desk. She had to write the best dissertation.
Dr. Benson issued a summons and a dorky-looking thirty-year-old removed his deerstalker hat and bumbled up to the podium. Alex.
The committee members, all graduates of Ivy League schools, swiveled toward him.
Sweat trickled down Alex’s pimpled forehead. He extended the PowerPoint remote. Click. Slide one glared on the overhead screen, showcasing the curled letters of Arabic words.
A handful of Benson’s other PhD students sprinkled the room. No sound penetrated the mahogany walls.
Alex’s swallow reverberated. “I will analyze poetical meter in the Koran and compare it to the Biblical Psalms. In this slide—”
Dr. Benson snorted. “Fail.”
“Shouldn’t we listen to his presentation before deciding?” Dr. Colbert touched the table and his watch slid down his substantial wrist. His yellow sports jacket scuffed against the chair back as he slid his thick shoulders uneasily.
“No.” With a may-you-rot-and-worms-devour-your-carcass glance, Dr. Benson turned to Alex. “Transfer your credits to some Podunk Midwestern university. You are not worthy to have the Harvard seal on your diploma.”
Gut rolling out of his suit, Alex slunk off the podium, shoulders stooped.
“He could try again next semester.” Dr. Colbert toyed with his watch. Like mere jackals appearing before the king of beasts, the PhD committee members turned their meek-eyed gazes to Dr. Benson.
Dr. Benson twitched his thin nose. “Or the dean can learn to no longer assign me inferior students.”
Kay gulped. Fear tingled through her fingers. Surely Dr. Benson would like her presentation better? She’d not so much as had a drink with friends for six months as she labored over it.
“Ms. Bianchi.” Dr. Benson pointed at her.
Steadying her hand on the bench-like desk, Kay pushed herself to a stand. Each tap of her heels against the stone tiles sounded loud as a drumbeat. Sweat soaked her stomach, her blouse sticking to her skin.
Dr. Benson handed the remote to her.
The white plastic slid between her trembling fingers. If Dr. Benson took a dislike to her dissertation, he’d ensure she never graduated from Harvard. All her hopes and dreams hinged on today. She clicked slide one, her voice raspy. “I have translated a collation of Princess Wallada bint Al-Mustakfi’s work and am contrasting it to the Canterbury Tales.”
“A comparison of medieval Sufi poetry to Chaucer, really Kay?” With a sneer, Dr. Benson pointed behind her to Alex. “At least his comparison to a religious book introduced some element of modern relevancy.”
What? Kay shook.
A woman shifted in the front row. “I know my slot’s not until 4 p.m., Dr. Benson, but may I take Kay’s time since you’re throwing her out of the program anyway.” An oversized plaid suit hung on Sandra Herrick’s gaunt ribcage. Her flat hair descended in strings around her shoulders.
Kay’s heels wobbled beneath her. The scent of books and old wood stuck in her throat. She had to convince Dr. Benson to give her another chance.
“Depends, will your topic lull insomniacs to slumber?” For Dr. Benson, that sounded respectful.
Sandra straightened her glasses on her thin-bridged nose.
Kay dug her teeth into her lip. Rumor had it that Dr. Benson had his eye on Sandra for a professor post. His recommendation carried so much weight with the dean it might as well be a job offer.
Laying both hands on her desk, Sandra spoke with the confidence of one who’d been the valedictorian of her class since kindergarten. “I volunteer at the Refugee Advocacy Center and plan to write about the historical roots of hospitality in Middle Eastern culture versus Western culture.”
Volunteered? Kay choked back a snort. Sandra had made a token appearance at the refugee center twice. Every time she’d asked Sandra for donations for the refugee food drive, Sandra said people who can’t feed their kids shouldn’t have children.
“I work at the refugee center several days a week, Dr. Benson.” Kay tried to put confidence in her mumble.
Dr. Benson turned to Sandra. “Now that, Ms. Herrick, is exactly what I’m looking for. Real, gritty, truly engaging the intricacies of Middle Eastern culture.” Dr. Benson’s voice held admiration. “Looks like I can tell the dean to start etching the name sign for the office by mine. Clear the floor, Ms. Bianchi.”
No! Kay dug her fingernails into the PowerPoint remote. A teaching position at Harvard was her family legacy. Her mom was on the senior faculty of women’s studies at Yale, Dad taught Western literature at Albertus Magnus, and her grandparents had been educators too.
“Please, Dr. Benson. Let me finish the presentation. My dissertation does have ties to modernity.” Her throat constricted, barely passing air. If Dr. Benson rejected her from Harvard, she’d never get into a half-decent grad program anywhere. She’d never get to do research to fight discrimination and improve the lot of Muslim women in America.
All eyes turned toward the classroom door.
Dr. Benson allowed no one to interrupt his classroom, not even the dean. When the state of Massachusetts had issued a tornado warning two years ago, his administrative assistant had shaken in fear to cross that threshold.
The crystal knob twisted. Dr. Benson glared at the swiveling mahogany.
Sucking in breath, Kay pitied whatever new hire hadn’t gotten the memo. More to the point, she pitied whatever PhD committee member earned Dr. Benson’s wrath by the new hire’s summons.
A woman stuck her face through the doorway. “Kay.”
Mariam. The remote fell from Kay’s hand. Slowly, she turned to Dr. Benson.
“Not satisfied with suggesting a dissertation project worthy of a middle-schooler, also need to disrupt everyone else’s intellectual pursuits?” Dr. Benson drew his nose into a pointed line.
“But Dr. Benson, surely I can rework this dissertation. I’ll include modern Middle Eastern poets.” The strength of desperation swelled Kay’s voice. “What if I compared the princess’s personal life to modern women authors?”
Dr. Benson pointed to the door.
Her pearl necklace turned to lead around her throat, the weight yanking down her neck. Her knees quivered. Years she’d gone to school for this PhD.
A cough sounded from the PhD committee table. “I always review my students’ dissertation ideas beforehand. Give them a chance to succeed.” The bags under Dr. Colbert’s eyes sagged.
Nails bearing into her skirt, Kay hung on Dr. Benson’s response.
“Fine.” Dr. Benson let out an exasperated huff. “Submit a new one paragraph idea to me by 6:00 p.m. tonight. I’ll give it a look.”
Kay’s shoes cemented to the ground. Tonight? Dr. Benson planned for her to fail.
“Now, go.” Dr. Benson pointed to the door, his outstretched arm unwavering.
Her brain thumped against her skull. This couldn’t be happening. Kicked out of Harvard? What would her parents say? Kay scrambled off the podium, through desk aisles. Sandra sat at the foremost desk, smugly contemplating her success. Kay fisted her hand. She’d volunteered at the refugee center, not Sandra—
Her shoe caught. She stumbled over Sandra’s leather laptop bag. Feet sliding, she plummeted toward the floor.
The stone tiles came up at her with a thwack and slammed against her hip. Her shoes slid off her feet as her pencil skirt trapped her twisted legs. Her Ann Taylor blouse rumpled up above the waistband of her panty hose.
“I believe you’ve entertained us quite enough, Kay.” Dr. Benson stared down from his podium. He’d had the same disdainful look the day she sat in his office with her mother post-Felipe and begged him to allow her back into the PhD program. Now after all her work, would she fail?
Despair sagged through her. She reached for the edge of Sandra’s desk. The stone felt cold against her stocking-clad legs.
The door creaked open further. A man moved past Mariam.
He reached down and gripped her hand. “Okay, there?” Strength radiated from the pressure of his hand and the muscles that swelled out the sleeve of his polo shirt looked far too impressive for anyone who’d passed high school.
“Um, sure.” She struggled upright. The man touched her back as she attempted to maintain balance while jamming her feet into kitten heels. He’d cut his blond hair so short as to lose all character, like those punk rednecks who aspired to join the Army someday.
As her twisted ankle throbbed, Kay glanced into the man’s eyes. His blue eyes lent intensity to his fair skin. His blond eyebrows cut across his face in a line and he had square cheekbones worthy of movie stars. She’d seen him with Mariam yesterday.
Dr. Benson’s peeved voice rose. “Feel free to ogle each other, outside.”
A sick feeling overtook her. Kay shook off the man’s arm and shoved past him to the hallway before she started bawling like a middle schooler. Her hair caught in the Velcro of his windbreaker.
Pain shot through her scalp as her hair ripped. Touching his chest, she pulled at her hair. This guy did pump iron. He even felt like iron.
“Sorry about that.” He smiled at her as she got the last strand out.
Grabbing his arm, she hustled him out of the door and away from her entire PhD committee’s diversion.
The door swung closed, shutting off Dr. Benson’s disapproval and the dissertation mess she’d made inside. Five feet down the hall stood Mariam, head down, hyperventilating.
“What’s the matter, Mariam?” Kay brushed at her now tangled hair.
Mariam glanced around her. “Shh. No one must record this.”
What? Outside, the frosty wind bent the colorful tree boughs as it hissed through the open courtyard, bringing rain. Kay patted Mariam’s back in what hopefully was a soothing manner. “It’s not legal to bug rooms. Tell me what’s wrong.”
“Since the Patriot Act?” Arms folded, the man leaned back against the picture window. He stared straight at her cleavage.
Casting a glare at him, she yanked her blouse straight, white fabric sliding over her black tattoo.
“He knows.” Mariam lowered her voice to a whisper. Only the faintest sheen of Chap Stick colored her trembling lips.
“Knows what and who is he?” Kay gave the man, who for some unknown reason was tagging along after Mariam, a sideway inspection. While she’d told Mariam for the last six months that she thought Mariam was rushing things with Hamed, this new man of hers seemed even worse.
Mariam inclined her head and gestured toward the man. “Kay, meet Josiah Csontos.”
The man held out his hand.
With a groan, Kay shook it. “Pleasure to meet you.”
“I received this.” Mariam held out a sliced-open envelope. A creased plane ticket protruded from the paper, the words Saudi Arabia Airlines emblazoning it in black ink.
“Going to visit home over Fall break?” Kay attempted an encouraging smile. If only she could go instead. A few weeks in Saudi Arabia would certainly give her material for a dissertation rooted in modernity.
Shoulders slumping, Kay glanced back at the classroom. What kind of dissertation idea could she come up with by 6 p.m.?
Casting a nervous glance at Josiah, Mariam switched to Arabic. “My Uncle Muhammad has ordered me home, but I thought I would get a visa for grad studies. The State Department denied my extension.” Mariam pressed her hands together.
“Oh.” Kay glanced at her again. On closer inspection, crusted streaks ran down Mariam’s cheeks and her eyes looked bloodshot. Perhaps she should hug her friend? No. She patted Mariam’s shoulder. “Don’t stress. I’m sure there’s another way. An H1B visa, a J1? I’ll go down to the Citizenship and Immigration Services office with you tomorrow.” Modernity, Dr. Benson had said. Could she write about Yemen’s economics?
A cell’s ring exploded from behind. Punk redneck extracted his phone and walked away from them. If only she’d chosen Sandra’s topic, but now that Sandra had announced it, Dr. Benson would never let her do a dissertation based on her work with refugees.
“My uncle says when I return home, I must marry a Muslim. He will not allow me my faith.” Mariam dropped her head to her hands and started sobbing.
Sighing, Kay attempted an awkward side hug. “I’d be a little more worried about the arranged marriage, than freedom of religion. Anyway, I’ve helped dozens of refugees with visa issues. We’ll get this fixed.”
Unlike her PhD. Now Dr. Benson would be looking for a reason to reject her. What could she come up with in four hours that would convince him to let her stay in the program? Also, the thirteenth-century Sufi poet Rumi had beautifully expressed the Islamic tolerance of all forms of religion.
“None of the Saudi men see women like you do. It is your Jesus here, his book teaches Americans to respect women.” Slipping her hand into her skirt pocket, Mariam held up the faded New Testament she carried with her everywhere.
“Ha! Christianity’s chock-full of patriarchal garbage. Saudi Arabia’s probably more feminist than Southern Bible culture.” Kay re-tucked her blouse into her skirt. Her head pounded. In four hours would she really lose everything she’d tried for since her parents had enrolled her in the dual-language elementary-school Arabic program?
“You do not know what it is like.” Mariam lifted her head up from tear-soaked hands.
Poor woman. Pathetic how America treated immigrants. Kay picked up her purse. “I’m sorry I’m distracted. It’s school stuff. Anyway, don’t fret. Go home, take a warm bath, read a book. I’ll fix it all for you tomorrow. I’ve got to get home and write.” Make one last stand, try to gain Benson’s approval as she sympathized with the three hundred at Thermopylae.
Mariam shrank into her oversized sweater. She didn’t wear the hijab anymore, but she’d pulled her dark hair back tight against her scalp. Her light hands trembled. “My uncle will be so angry. I have refused to obey his order to come home for six months.”
“The guy’s in Saudi Arabia. What’s he gonna do? Spam you with emails?” Kay studied the worried lines of her friend’s face. If only she had time to sit with her friend tonight. Working with USCIS could stress out the most sanguine mind, but she had to at least attempt this thesis before Dr. Benson’s timeline expired.
Something moved behind her. Punk redneck had returned. Seriously, the guy could give Channing Tatum a run for his money in the looks department. Why did all the hot guys have to be dumb pervs? She’d swear he’d just glanced at her cleavage again.
Kay looked to Mariam. “I’ll get you a new visa tomorrow. Promise.” Tugging her Android out of her purse, Kay typed in “dissertation ideas.” Desperate try. That hadn’t even worked for Isla Fisher in Confessions of a Shopaholic.
“May I stay at your place this afternoon?” Mariam shifted a wary glance to Josiah. “It’s important.”
“Of course.” Kay pulled her extra key off her key chain. “I just have to type up this dissertation idea, then I’m completely at your disposal.”
A wan smile rose through Mariam’s tears. She took the key.
Crisis averted, now she needed a dissertation project. If only she had a ticket to the Middle East like Mariam did. Only Saudi Arabia didn’t grant tourist visas, ever. Kay glanced up. She’d picked up that fact last year when she’d dreamed of visiting the birthplace of the female poet Al-Khansa who’d written the beautiful poem I See Time about how death comes to each and every one.
Still standing, arms crossed, Josiah looked at her.
What kind of name was Josiah anyway? It sounded like something from a religious freak show set in Alaska. “Don’t you have a job to be at?” Instead of eavesdropping on her conversation with her friend.
Mariam turned bright red. “He works here.”
Josiah startled, as if he didn’t expect Mariam to say that.
“You’re a professor?” Kay stared skeptically at the man’s knit shirt.
“He’s a …” Mariam ran the tip of her tongue over her white teeth, her breathing rapid.
“I don’t work here,” Josiah said. “I’m a technical—”
“Security guard.” Making a little jump, Mariam beamed as if she’d just recalled an answer from a test.
“What the heck is a technical security guard?” Kay looked from her friend to Josiah.
He clenched his jaw.
Lifting her shoulders, Mariam gave him a helpless look. “I forgot.”
He sighed. “Let’s just say security guard.”
“Well, nice to meet you.” Kay summoned a respectful tone. She truly did value blue collar workers, and had marched in protests before for those suffering from income inequality. “Dr. Benson’s been looking for someone to unlock the basement storage area for him. Though what he needs with fertilizer and flower seeds, I don’t know.” Maybe she’d earn some brownie points helping Dr. Benson with that.
What was so wrong with analyzing Princess Wallada bint Al-Mustakfi’s work? She had worked for months on that idea. She wasn’t an idiot. Then again, only an idiot would have run off with Felipe like she did. Maybe Dr. Benson judged her correctly. The heat of tears squeezed against her eyelids.
“Perhaps he’s building a fertilizer bomb to teach his students a hands-on lesson on original Islam.” Josiah stuck his thumbs in his pockets.
“What are you, a Fox News anchor?” She glared at him. “Jihad is in the heart, a spiritual experience. The only people who say differently are hick talk show hosts.”
“And actual Islamist jihadists.”
“I’ve achieved meritorious grades in a PhD program in Middle Eastern studies. I think I know a little more than a security guard about Islam, Josiah.” Standing tall on her kitten heels, she gave him an incinerating glare. Earned meritorious grades before failing the entire program, that is. She was such an idiot. A scratchy lump formed in her throat.
Josiah took a step closer. “We should get together again. We can talk Islam.” He flashed a smile, showing perfect teeth.
“Um?” Her heel scraped against the tile. Was he asking her out? She didn’t date biased rednecks who thought of all Muslims as terrorists.
“Mariam and Hamed’s Bible study meets tonight. Will you come? And I go by Joe.” He smiled again, a sparkle in his blue eyes.
“Thanks—” She took a step down the hall. “I’ll think about it.” Never. She hadn’t darkened a church door since she was dedicated as a baby at New Haven’s Unitarian Universalist.
What could she research for her dissertation project? Cost didn’t matter anymore. She’d try anything.
Anne Garboczi Evans writes intellectual romances set in unique locales and eras.