Layla stirred in bed and slipped out of a dream. Distant thunder rumbled. Her eyelids fluttered open. She turned to look at James, who was still sleeping soundly.
A peek outside the curtain at a cloudless dawn sky made her decide she’d only dreamed of thunder. She rolled over again to look at James asleep next to her. This was no dream. Her face warmed at the rush of memories from last night. Their entangled limbs, the blurry view of the Nile outside her window as they made love—the second time—on the divan.
Her gaze traveled to the trail of clothing strewn across the floor: her heels, his jacket, her full-skirted dress, his pants. Her bra had been flung halfway across the room, to the small desk by the window. Since she’d packed her own utilitarian underwear back in New York, never dreaming she would be hooking up with anyone in Cairo, she’d been glad to fling it aside before James could see it.
Now she caught sight of something else beneath the bra: the accordion file with documents from Pierce. Her ongoing homework assignment of updates on black market antiquities dealings. That was not for James’s eyes, either.
Gently, she moved his arm aside, slid out of bed, and grabbed the accordion file. She stuffed some stray documents back into it, tiptoed to the kitchen, and shoved it deep inside a drawer of never-used cooking supplies. It would be safe there. Whipping up a big tagine dish was not high on her to-do list.
She paused by her purse, remembering that the flip phone concealed in an interior pocket had insistently buzzed at her late last night. Pierce’s texts had been vague, typo-ridden, middle-of-the-night messages about checking in. Layla didn’t know how seriously to take them; they had the tone of someone texting under the influence. Layla stretched and yawned, then slid back into the warm sheets. Pierce could wait. She was hitting the pause button on life. Her only plan was to linger in bed with James as long as possible, and let the rest of the world carry on. Here in her apartment, on a Sunday morning, she felt insulated from Pierce, from the whole operation, and even from Mackey, though his ominous warning to stay away from the Rothkopfs still reverberated deep within her.
She rested her head against the smooth skin just beneath James’s shoulder. He murmured something indistinct, smiled, and held her close. She pressed her body against his. Her feet couldn’t reach his toes. She lay there blissfully watching the sunrise leak in through the window and climb, across sheets, up his legs and torso and finally to his face, turning his skin to gold.
James opened his eyes. He reached out to stroke her cheek. “Hey, you,” he whispered.
“Hey, you,” she whispered back. “Some night.”
“I know. That was—” She faltered.
He sighed contentedly, gazing at her. “I love how it never feels like work, being with you. Everything feels so easy.”
A chill ran through Layla. James was work, technically. A part of her work. And a huge distraction from it.
“You suddenly look thoughtful,” he said.
“Mmm.” She pulled him close for a kiss. “No thinking. Just being. Okay?”
The call to prayer from the mosque outside jolted them both out of the moment. James groaned and put the pillow over his head until it passed. When it was over, he reached for her again, only to pull away once more when a riot of sirens raced through the streets below.
They both laughed. “Okay, I give in. This must be God’s way of telling me to go and take a shower,” said James.
Reluctantly, Layla let him go, allowing her fingertips to slide off him slowly, as if afraid to lose contact. When he disappeared into the bathroom, she slipped on a robe and started a pot of coffee. Fleetingly, she pictured them in an apartment in New York doing exactly this. He’d go out to get the Sunday paper and walk the dog. A Yorkie. She’d make some coffee and—
She shook her head, tried to snap out of it. She was getting way, way ahead of herself. Was she even the kind of person to have a home, a Sunday paper, a Yorkie? Were such things possible for someone like her? She’d always chosen the harder path, the unconventional path. The dangerous path. It left little room for normal.
Mackey’s words came back to her. I’m giving you one chance to walk away.
His eyes had blazed when he uttered those words. And yet, now that some hours had passed, in the light of day, the words didn’t seem so charged. She’d thrown caution to the wind her whole life, and it had served her well enough. She wasn’t going to stay away from James, or Bennett, for that matter, just because some hired thug decided he didn’t like her. Mackey worked for Bennett, Bennett liked her, and Mackey was just going to have to get used to her being part of the family.