obediently followed him back to the table and slid into the seat across from Mutfi.
Uniformed men lit candles and torches, their actions filling the tense silence with a crackle of fire she wished would leap across the table and turn her into a pile of ash.
Finally, Mutfi spoke up. “When you are safely under my protection, you will not have to worry about coming in contact with men like Mr. Hastings.”
She started to correct him, to scream that it was Dr. Hastings, but decided there would be no gain to further souring her future husband’s disposition.
With perfect efficiency, servers loaded the table with an assortment of fruits, piles of thin brik pastries stuffed with meat, and enough steaming bowls of hot and spicy couscous to keep a harem of wives regular.
Mutfi ripped a stiff pita in half and dug into the slata michwaya , an appetizer of pureed roasted peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and spices. “Magdalena, I think you should resign from the residency program upon the announcement of our engagement.”
She snapped to attention. “But we won’t marry for at least a year. I don’t see why I can’t finish.”
“I’ll have no argument from you on this.” He turned to her father. “Omar, it will take me years to undo the way you have spoiled her.”
By now the sun had set, and the breeze had gained a noticeable bite.
“She’s worked so hard, Mutfi. Surely there is no harm in completing what she has started.”
“Her time will be better spent preparing for her wifely duties.”
Father’s brows were knitted together as he slowly reached for a lamb shank. “A long time ago a Sufi—a holy man—returned from a great pilgrimage to Mecca. When he saw this very hill, the one upon which we sit, he knew he must build this house. Word spread of healings that came from the Sufi’s hands. People traveled from far away so that he could heal everything from their scorpion bites to rheumatism.” Father breathed in deeply, as if he were inhaling remnants of the Sufi’s powers. “A doctor has lived here ever since.” His gaze slid to Magdalena, and she saw tears glistening in his eyes. “And so it shall continue to be, right, my daughter?” He waved the lamb shank in her direction. “Go, Magdalena. Find the man who loves my daughter, the doctor.”
T HE COBBLESTONE STREETS GLOWED in the lamplight as Magdalena hurried toward the Tophet. Shopkeepers, fresh from their afternoon naps, had pulled back the shutters and set their wares out for the onslaught of cruise ship tourists who frequented the cafés and shops in the cool of the evening.
As she neared the Tophet, the crowds thinned to a trickle, then vanished altogether. The growing distance between streetlamps meant she must rely upon the rising moon. She turned onto a gravel path. Moonlight dappled the loose stones crunching beneath her steps.
The graveyard of tilted stones had suffered years of neglect. In the far corner, she spotted the yellow glow of a lantern coming from a deep hole.
Magdalena made her way across the graves and peered into the coffin-sized opening in the earth. “Lawrence? What are you looking for?”
Lawrence started at her voice and lifted his head, dusting his hands, his eyes cautiously taking her in. “I could ask you the same thing.” He made no effort to come to her.
“Do you believe in destiny?”
“I believe we decide our destinies.” His eyes softened. “Have you decided yours?”
“Yes.” She smiled. “I don’t want to be safe anymore.”
A lopsided grin creased his face. “Have you been here before?”
“Every schoolchild tours the Tophet. But never at night.”
“Then I guess we’ll have to feel our way around, do the best we can, and let our imaginations fill in the gaps.”
She didn’t need to fill in gaps. She could see her life with Lawrence Hastings, one long, never-ending adventure, and she’d never felt so safe.
“Let me show you something.” He motioned her to the edge of the
Mari Carr and Jayne Rylon