Nadqan, Saudi Arabia . . . one year ago.
The cruel sun beat down—its malevolent eye unblinking, and the sky—its co-conspirator, offered not even a wisp of cloud to soften the harsh rays.
“Finish up,” the guard growled behind them.
Joanne looked at the women, huddled together in an effort to maintain some modicum of decency as they relieved themselves under the ever-watchful eyes of the ten guards. Worse than the lack of privacy, was the fact that the women were filthy and smelled of sex. They looked defeated and demoralized, with their shoulders hunched and eyes fearful of what lay ahead of the rolling dunes.
“Enough! Get back on the fucking truck,” the guard bellowed.
He grabbed the woman closest to him by her hair and shoved her in the direction of the vehicles. She tripped with her panties still around her ankles, drawing derisive laughter from the men. Their hungry eyes glimmered when the loose tunic drifted above her hips as she tumbled to the ground, exposing her naked buttocks to their leering gazes.
“Forget that. There’s no time,” Tarik warned the two guards who yanked her to her feet and started fondling her breasts.
“Why the fuck not? What’s the rush?” The other guard, named Butros, grunted.
Joanne had been careful to keep her face blank. If they knew she understood Arabic, it might put them on guard even more than they already were. It had become evident that the Bedouin Sheikh of the Qara Tribe had paid millions of dollars for the group of twenty women—to serve as sex slaves for him and his friends.
She hadn’t participated in the conjecture by the other women on their fate. As a professor of anthropology, she knew better than most, what that would be—especially in a country such as Saudi Arabia. A cash-rich land, thanks to oil interests, the country was home to sleek, modern cities and technological advances, yet religious law governed all aspects of Saudi Arabia’s culture, making this nation a study in contradiction. Their rich culture was shaped by Islamic beliefs and its historical role as an ancient trade center, but there was the other side of the coin. There was no freedom—political, religious, or of speech. In fact, it was deemed as one of the most repressive regimes in recent history. Women had little or no rights whatsoever.
What chance of survival did any of us have? We’ll be treated like dirt, used without dignity and respect; Slaves for perverted sexual pleasures of the rich.
It is well documented that in Saudi Arabia, women are considered second class citizens and treated like children, rather than adults. They’re required to dress in black from head to toe, and need permission from a male guardian to work, to marry, even to simply leave their home.
Gmphf, I guess as sex slaves we’re not classed at all, which is why we’re dressed in these fucking transparent smocks!
“The sheikh wants us to deliver his merchandise by tomorrow morning. We can’t delay any further.” Sneering, the guard yanked her out of her reverie. She had to scramble to avoid the sting of his crop as he continued to herd the women toward the truck.
Joanne was aware that the Saudi Arabian Peninsula was the home of Bedouins—nomadic tribes of the desert—but was surprised that there were some still residing in the desert. Many had given up life in the sand dunes and opted for a more modern lifestyle in the cities. Joanne had been trying her best to keep the women from falling into complete despair and keep their spirits up. It hadn’t been easy, considering she was the only one in the group to have miraculously escaped getting raped by the guards, who had been gorging themselves every night on the defenseless women.
She settled in, shifting around irritably. They’d been driving for days. They were bruised from the bumpy ride and covered in a layer of sand and sweat. Her listless eyes found a lizard that had taken shelter in the shadows of a rock, where the sand wasn’t hot enough to roast him. She sighed, wishing that the guards had enough humanity to cover the back of the truck with a canvas at least, to offer them some protection from the sun.
I guess we can count our lucky stars they prefer a modern mode of transport. It would’ve been twice as bad on the back of camels.
The thought did little to soothe her when the truck pulled away with a jerk to continue the monotonous journey, surrounded by the rolling sand dunes.
Soon, the scorching sun beat down on them mercilessly. Joanne felt the sweat rolling off her nose and she lapped at the salty moistness. Her eyes stung from the blaring streaks of the sun.
“Fucking hate this heat,” she mumbled as she pulled at the smock which felt overwhelmingly hot. The dry desert breeze offered little consolation as it blew sand into her eyes. Her hair was sweaty and felt brittle.
“Bastards didn’t even give us water,” Morgan, one of the women who refused to be broken by the guards, complained.
Joanne didn’t respond. She had learned to preserve every drop of moisture she had; talking diminished the spittle in your mouth. Her tongue felt like it was coated in fur. She ran her tongue over her lips and shuddered at how chapped and dry they felt.
“What I wouldn’t do for a glass of crystal clear, cold water,” Morgan moaned, which a number of the women echoed; others, just stared blankly ahead.
* * * * * * * *
Two weeks later . . .
“How much longer, Dabir?” Kasim Ansar, Vizier to Sheikh Lufti bin Qara, barked. “The sheikh is losing his patience with your inability to tame his slave.”
Dabir glared at Joanne where she hung weakly in the chains hooked to the rafters of the underground cell. She’d been strung up with her feet off the ground. Her arms felt like they were about to be torn off their sockets. Her hands were cramping, trying to alleviate the strain on her wrists as her body weight kept pulling her down. She’d been bound since their arrival at the surprisingly neat and modern compound at Nadqan.
“She’s weakening. It won’t take much more to break her spirit. Tell my brother he can have his aphrodisiac cocktail in the meant time. This bitch will spread her legs willingly for his sword before the end of the day.”
“She better. He paid the most for this one and he’s tired of waiting. He said it doesn’t matter if she is half-dead when you bring her, just to make sure she accepted that he is now her master.”
Joanne noticed the cruel excitement that lit up her tormentor’s black eyes at the leniency the sheikh had just granted him. She’d suspected her defiance had been the reason she’d been ‘softened’ in this way and not drugged into submission like some of the other women had been. From what she’d overheard, the demented sheikh wanted her as wife and therefore desired her consent. It didn’t matter that it was forced as long as she bowed freely to his will.
“Then so it shall be,” Dabir cackled gleefully as Kasim left. He picked up a cat-o-nine tail whip and cracked it in air.
Joanne winced as she detected the sound of metal connecting. She realized that the whip’s lashes were tipped with metal balls, intended for maximum pain. She licked her lips as he walked around her, snapping the thongs softly against her naked skin, already covered in blue welts due to the constant whippings and floggings he’d subjected her to. She was weakened, but not as much as Dabir believed her to be. She still had enough strength in her to fight him—if she could get out of the fucking chains.
“No, please. Not that. I’ll stop fighting! I swear. I’ll be whatever the Sheikh wants me to be,” Joanne managed to shriek in a thin voice, her eyes wide and begging, with her body shuddering in the restraints.
“I’m not so sure I believe you,” Dabir snorted. He pressed his face into hers. “Do you really think I’m going to deny myself the pleasure of watching you buck and scream under my whip? Especially now that I know how much you fear this one.”
“I’ll tell the sheikh! Do you really think he’ll be happy to know you gave him a bloodied body when he could have had a willing wife to ride his cock like he desires?” Joanne countered him.
She’d overheard enough during her capture to know that Dabir feared his brother. She didn’t blame him. The rumors she’d heard were enough to make her shudder. Sheikh Lufti wasn’t known for being benevolent. Hah. But, since she’d overheard that he wanted to make her his fourth wife, it began to make sense why the Sheikh Lufti hadn’t chosen to ‘tame’ her himself. In some demented way, he believed she would be more susceptible to her fate if he wasn’t the one dishing out the cruelty. The sheikh had made it clear that she had to remain untouched by the guards and brought to him pure. She’d almost laughed aloud listening to that, wondering what had given him the idea that she was a virgin.
Dabir hesitated and glowered at her. “You’re trying to trick me. It won’t work, bitch.”
“No, please. I’ve had enough,” she whined fearfully, bearing back as he swung the whip in her direction again. Her breath wheezed out of her throat as this time the thongs connected with a lot more sting. “I swear I will be willing. I’ll do anything he asks of me!”
“I’m warning you, if my brother isn’t satisfied with your performance, there won’t be any skin left on your body when I’m done with you.”
Joanne shook her head and sobbed. “I’ll be good, I swear. Please, I beg you.”
Dabir fisted her hair and yanked back her head. He spat into her face, “You better be and be warned, slut, Lufti has decided that you are to be his bride. It’s an honor that others would kill for. That’s why he doesn’t want you unwilling. He wants his people to believe in your willingness and purity. Is that clear?”
“Yes, I’ll do whatever the sheikh asks of me.”
Dabir stared at her. She could see he was debating whether to believe her or not. She intensified her sobs, forcing tears to roll down her cheeks. He nodded in satisfaction.
“Very well. Tarik!” he shouted at the head guard, who came running immediately. “Get her down and take her to the washroom. Make sure every inch of her is clean. She’s broken, but I don’t trust her. Make sure the guards keep watch while the women attend to her.”
“Of course, Ustaaz Dabir,” he said as he unshackled Joanne’s wrists. She slumped weakly against his chest. He bent forward and lifted her over his shoulder.
“And Tarik, make sure she has no hair on her body. Not one tuft anywhere. That task is yours to personally take care of,” Dabir ordered with a smirk.
“It’ll be my pleasure, Dabir,” Tarik cackled as he carried Joanne toward the bathing chamber in an adjacent wing of the mansion.
Joanne wondered why they still found as much pleasure in debasing her; especially as she’d been naked for weeks and had been subjected to their greasy hands all over and inside her body. She felt bile rise in her throat at the memory of Tarik’s thick fingers pressing between her labia to ‘test’ if she was big enough for their mighty sheikh.
“Ah, the sheikh is going to have a tight and wet ride with this cunt, Dabir,” Tarik bellowed as he plunged his fingers inside her. “She’s as tight as a holed-up desert snake.”
She spat in his face, which earned her a hard backhand across her cheek.
The slap had been so hard, it took more than a week for the swelling to go down.
Tarik lowered her to her feet. Joanne whimpered as her legs gave way and she crumbled to the floor. She was weaker than she’d thought. Maybe getting clean and fed first would give her limbs some time to recover. She needed to gain enough strength if she wanted to fight her way out of this hellhole.
If any of these bastards think I’m going to spread my legs for their filthy, rotten cocks, they’ve got a surprise waiting for them.
Joanne had trained in the art of Krav Maga, alongside her brother, Jack and his friends for years. Of course, she’d trailed after him wherever he went, and he’d made sure she knew how to defend herself. She was one of the few top female masters of Krav Maga in the US. If she hadn’t been chained from the moment she’d woken up from the drug they’d slipped into her coffee on the plane, hell would have broken loose. She wondered if the FBI was looking for her. Surely, they would know by now that she never made it to São Paulo in Brazil for the undercover investigation of mistrial cases. The forensic team had been implicated for manipulating results for letting the murderers walk away free. She was supposed to infiltrate the forensic department as an anthropology intern.
She cringed, recalling the lie she’d told her parents and brother at the time. The special agent had detailed the story and created a paper trail, in case anyone didn’t believe her. The lie they’d fabricated for family and friends was that she had taken a sabbatical from work. Her family didn’t question the sudden impulse to pursue a couple of months of relaxation and indulge in a childhood dream to sing on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean.
Yeah, Joanne Blackmore, Jack taught you to be street smart! She sighed heavily in self-recrimination. If only I had been more alert on that fucking plane. She’d been calling herself all kinds of fool for not being suspicious when certain passengers were directed to a different plane at the last minute. But she’d been too upset by the knowledge that Jack and Max were off having fun—or rather sex—at Crystals BDSM Club― than come to the airport to say goodbye. She’d sunk into the seat and immediately fallen asleep.
She got yanked back to present when Tarik bellowed out orders to the women, who scattered to fill the jacuzzi-sized bathtub with steaming water.
“Make sure she’s properly fed. She’s going to need a lot of strength to keep up with the Sheikh Lufti tonight,” he finished with a smirk. “I’ll do inspection before she’s presented to him, to ensure there isn’t any hair on her body. Be warned, sluts, if there is, you will suffer for it.”
* * * * * * * *
“Is she ready?” Butros barked from the doorway.
Joanne felt a smirk form around her lips. She hastily took a sip of cold water to hide it. Butros was one of the weaker guards. He was small and had been the only one to tie up the women he’d raped on the way there. It would be child’s play to overpower him—even in her weakened state—provided there was no one around on the way to the Sheikh Lufti’s chambers.
“I thought Tarik was supposed to fetch her,” said the old woman, who had overseen Joanne’s bathing and feeding.
“Tarik is busy. C’mon, slut, it’s time to meet your master.”
Master, my fucking ass!
None of Joanne’s thoughts showed on her face as she rose and demurely walked toward Butros. He snorted and pinched her nipple. She was naked apart from a white chiffon veil that revealed more than it covered and a pair of white lace-up sandals.
“I see Dabir had a field day with you.” He laughed boisterously when she cried out in pain as he squeezed the tip between his fingers. “Walk, and don’t give me any trouble or you’ll be sorry.”
The bathing room was toward the left side of the ‘palace’ as they called the sheikh’s mansion. Butros guided her through a number of hallways. Joanne was relieved to notice there was no one else around.
“It’s very quiet,” she said softly.
“Everyone is at dinner. Like I should be, so keep walking,” Butros grumbled, clearly irritated that he’d been tasked to take Joanne to the Sheikh.
Butros shoved against her back. It was what she’d been waiting for. She pretended to stumble and fell to her knees. The moment he reached for her, she kicked back, hitting him in the V under his ribs where the sternum ended. It paralyzed his diaphragm, leaving him gasping for breath. Joanne was on her feet and ready when he doubled over. She yanked his head further down with a hard push. Her knee connected with his face. She felt his nose break under the force. Joanne tightened the hold she had on hair through his keffiyeh and spun around, slamming his head in the wall. The sickening crack echoed in the quiet evening air. He grunted and went limp. His eyes rolled back in his sockets as he slowly slid to the ground—lifeless.
Joanne didn’t feel an inch of regret as she stared at his dead body.
“That’s for everything you did to the women, you motherfucker.”
She didn’t bother to hide the body. They would come searching soon enough when she wasn’t delivered as expected. She had to get away from the compound as far as possible before that happened.
Ten minutes later, Joanne was already a couple of miles away from the town of Nadqan. She glanced at the fuel gage of the jeep she’d stolen just outside the compound wall.
“Thank god for the full tank,” she muttered and shrugged into the shirt she’d grabbed off a washing line as she made it outside through the maze of hallways inside Sheikh Lufti’s mansion. “Pants will have to wait. At least until I can find a safe place to hide.”
She was heading west, toward Yabreen. She’d overheard Tarik mentioning that it was the home of Sheikh Juhayman bin Muhammad, leader of the renegades, who were opposed to the corrupt government and its supporters. They had been trying to overthrow the reigning royal family for centuries, hoping to bring their own to the crown.
Sheikh Juhayman was an enemy to Sheikh Lufti bin Qara and she hoped to find protection in their small town. She slammed her fist on the steering wheel.
“Think Joanne! Not even a renegade leader is going to protect an American woman.” She gazed toward the horizon, deep in thought. “Traditional dress! Yes, that’ll do the trick.”
Everyone in the country covered their heads because of the hot and arid climate, further supplemented with religious obligations. The majority of the men at the compound she’d just left wore modern clothes like jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers or boots. Some wore the traditional kaftan called the thwab and keffiyeh—a checkered scarf to cover their heads, secured by a rope ring called Agal or Aghals.
A plan began to formulate in her mind. With her olive skin color, no one would notice she wasn’t one of them—if she could pull off the disguise.
An hour later, a lean young man walked into the rowdy tavern in Yabreen, wearing baggy jeans, black sneakers, and a checkered shirt underneath a flowing thwab. The black-and-white checkered keffiyeh on his head fitted in with the rest around the room. A pair of dark sunglasses rested on his nose. It was all courtesy of a young man who had been paying for a cab and had left his luggage behind him on the curb. He didn’t even notice Joanne grab one of his suitcases.
“Kapsa and kimaje, please,” Joanne ordered, the traditional chicken, rice and flatbread dish, in flawless Arabic dialect. She thickened her voice and although it didn’t sound overly manly, it also didn’t sound feminine. The server nodded and scribbled the order down. “And laban to drink, please.”
Her vernacular was flawless. No one would’ve guessed she wasn’t an Arab, least of all, a woman.
Joanne glanced around. She had no idea how she was going to get out of the country. They’d confiscated her passport, and obviously, she had no money. She’d overheard too many snippets to trust anyone here, even the US Embassy. Ultimately, she was doomed. The few riyals that she had found inside the cubbyhole of the jeep would be enough for a meal and maybe even to rent a room for a day or two.
She was listening to a group of men at the table next to her when a plan began to form. She had fighting skills and if she could keep her gender a secret, she might just find a way to survive until she could find a way to get out of the country without endangering anyone else. The thought of trying to make a call to her brother flashed across her mind. She stifled it―albeit with difficulty. She couldn’t leave. Not yet.
“I have to find a way to save the other women. One way or the other, I will get all of us out of this shithole.”