JAY LATIMER EXHALED in frustration for the hundredth odd time in the last hour. She muttered something incoherent even to herself, leaned her head on her taxi’s window and forced her gaze to take in the vista zooming by, the slice of heaven on earth that was the sprawling pavements and central divider of the most spectacular highway she’d seen in Damhoor so far.

It didn’t work. Not even the breathtaking sights of man-engineered beauty of parades of lush palms, immaculate lawns and explosions of flowers and the nature-endowed magic of azure skies and golden sand-seas meeting at the horizon could ameliorate her irritation at having to succumb to this abuse of power.

Just what the hell did Damhoor’s Ministry of the Interior think they were doing, ordering her to this interview? Making it sound as if they were profiling a foreigner of questionable nature and intentions? Why didn’t they just check her credentials and history and be done with it? If half the things she’d heard about their limitless reach and power were true, they probably had dossiers on her from the first moment she’d wailed her indignation at coming into this life. They were reputed to have those on everyone who set foot on their land. So why inconvenience as well as insult her by decreeing this interview?

And that was exactly what they’d done. Decree it. She’d received an honest to goodness summons, at six am no less, specifying the time of said interview only two hours later, and on the far side of Halwan, Damhoor’s capital, when they must know it would take her at least two hours to get there. They didn’t deem her worthy of even an offer of transportation.

All that when she was here volunteering her services.

She hadn’t dreamed anything like this would happen when her application two days ago to Global Aid Organization to join the mission that would tour Damhoor’s fringe communities and impoverished neighbors had been approved in two minutes flat. She was GAO’s dream aid worker after all, packing years of emergency medicine experience and promising them open-ended dedication.

Then in had stepped the Ministry of the Interior, over GAO’s officials, decreeing it was they who’d decide if volunteers to the mission Damhoor was subsidizing were up to standard, conveniently forgetting that they’d begged for GAO’s presence in their region, counting on their experience and logistical clout in humanitarian services to achieve what the kingdom’s endless money and resources hadn’t been able to.

And here she was, scampering to have some pampered sheikh interrogate her as if she were a suspicious character, to decide if she, her skills and motivations would pass the test of his oblivious, patronizing, over-privileged-from-birth standards!

She exhaled again, trying to bring her temperature under control.

This would be over in no time, she tried to convince herself. This was just a show. Of bravado. Looking a gift horse in the mouth was their way of showing GAO that they didn’t really need such gift … Argh.

Her rationalizations only made her angrier. Of all the imperious rubbish.

But what did she expect of a land where every higher official belonged to the extensive royal family?

On every level, it seemed her long-held dream of coming to Damhoor was turning into a huge letdown. She’d had nothing but difficulties and rejection since she’d set foot …

She slammed against the window.

The driver had made a sharp swerve. Her heart zoomed into full panic mode as the car careened sideways then crashed into the high sidewalk, coming to a deafening, bone-jarring halt.

In the stillness that consumed the next seconds, she forced herself to breathe, consulted her body. It transmitted one all-important message. No injuries.

Her next thought was for her driver. Her eyes sought him and her heart surged in dismay. He was unconscious, his face covered in blood. Oh, God …

Her shaking hands tore her seat belt off and her door open. It was then she saw it, receding in the distance. The reason for their accident. A convoy of three limousines, tearing along the almost deserted highway. Her driver must have lost control over the car while making way for them …

No time for fury. See to him.

She snatched his door open and examined him with eyes and hands. Her searching fingers located the source of his profuse bleeding, a five-inch gash that ran vertically from his scalp, down his forehead and alongside his nose, which was clearly broken. He must have rammed his head on the steering-wheel.

She snatched off her long-sleeved cotton jacket, rummaged in the back for her handbag, grabbed scissors then cut bandages from the jacket. She stemmed his hemorrhage, considering what to do next. With him unconscious and bleeding retronasally, his airway was in imminent danger. He needed to be intubated and ventilated, ASAP.

She had no idea when a highway patrol would pass, what the number for the emergency services was or where the nearest hospital was. And none of the few drivers at this early hour was even slowing down to offer help, beginning with the bastards who’d driven them off the road. If she wanted help, it seemed she’d have to find it herself.

She improvised a cervical collar out of the rest of her jacket then struggled to transfer the man to the passenger seat, taking every care not to exacerbate any spinal injuries.

With her lungs burning and muscles protesting, she took the wheel, started the engine. Yes. It was still working.

She floored the gas pedal. She’d make those unfeeling idiots offer the help they hadn’t thought they’d owed.

As she hit a hundred miles an hour, she almost slowed down, fearing she’d cause another, this time fatal accident. Only the man who could be choking to death beside her made her maintain her speed. She was about to catch up with the convoy anyway.

It was only when she started overtaking them and waving frantically that they slowed down. About time!

But it was only the lead and rear car that slowed down while the middle one shot forward. Then the cars that had slowed down encroached on her, forcing her to the side of the road. She came to a full stop, her heart hammering as eight huge men dressed in black suits came pouring from the two cars trapping her taxi.

Before she could move, her door was snatched open and she found guns waved in her face and barked orders crashing down on her. They all mostly consisted of “En’zeli”. Get down.

Get down? As in get down on the ground, like an apprehended criminal, hands above her head? Then she realized. In Arabic you got down from a car, not out of it. She guessed that Arabic couldn’t always be literally translated into English.

This was one of the hurdles she’d had to leap over before she’d made headway in learning it. The biggest hurdle remained the huge difference between the formal and colloquial forms, the latter being the one being barked in her face right now.