FORBIDDEN: Romance in the Laundry Room

1-mosqueForbidden is packed full of suspense and really bad dudes. Every few chapters, I lighten the mood just a tad. It’s my practice to slip in a scene where the reader can relax. It makes those next ‘run for your life’ scenes so much more tantalizing. But even in the moments when the characters are not in harms way, they need to remain in a high degree of emotional tension. I had fun with Captain Sharif. Being a devout, albeit moderate, Muslim, he is not used to being around an impetuous woman. Eliza MacKay, in spite of being his quasi prisoner, pushes his strict morale code to the breaking point. This excerpt is one such example.

If you’re not familiar with my WIP, Forbidden is a suspense/thriller. The setting is the Middle East in year 2047. The two main characters, police captain Sharif and Habitat survivor Eliza, are trapped in a cover-up. He must keep her out of sight, which means, to his horror, she is to remain in his apartment (located within the police station).

Romance in the Laundry Room

1-iStock_000020518389_Large-001After the end of his shift and morning prayer, Sharif went to bed. After three hours of restless sleep, he lay awake listening to Miss MacKay’s efforts to clean the spotless apartment. Apparently, the windows needed washing today. He could hear the squeak, squeak as she scrubbed. Then she moved on to washing something else and he tried to identify the object of her ministrations. He gave up on the guessing game and with getting back to sleep.

He got up and put on his civvies – a pair of khaki cotton pants, black golf shirt, and sandals. He tore off his bedding, dumped his soiled clothes into the pile, and then went into the bathroom for the towels.

While busy picking out the fresh linen in his hall closet, he ignored Eliza’s trotting around the apartment, doing whatever. Not important, he thought. Just ignore the mouse. He snickered to himself at the sudden analogy of the woman to a mouse – hard to capture and just as hard to ignore its brazen invasion of personal space. And she loved cheese. He turned to discover his pile of laundry had disappeared. He glanced back toward Eliza to see that his sheets were disappearing with her through the doorway.

He raced after her. “Miss MacKay, what do you think you’re doing?” he barked at her as she trotted down the stairs. “You must not; I mean I don’t want you to ….”

She paused on the stairs. “Never mind, captain. I’m quite familiar with washing men’s clothes.” She continued to the exit door.

He followed her to the building equipped with laundry facilities, a vehicle wash bay and utility tub. She sorted through the whites and colored items, including her own laundry.

He stood with his mouth wide open. “Are you intending to wash your clothes with mine?” He tore his gaze away from a black lace bra among his dark clothing. First, the invasion of his privacy, now a woman handling his underwear. In a matter of six days, his life had shifted out of his control. Nothing in the Koran had prepared him for such an impetuous woman.

She glanced at him and smiled. “Relax, captain. Is it not true that Allah, the Most Generous, blesses those who respect the environment? I’m just trying to use less water and electricity.” She stuffed the light colored clothing and sheets into the mouth of the washing machine.

Sharif retreated to his office without another word. His mind hovered over the laundry room. A woman was pawing through his underwear. He Googled the local airlines for the schedule of departing flights. He eagerly flipped through the websites and noted a few possibilities. There was a nonstop flight out of the country to England at noon. However, by then she would have his underwear washed, dried, folded and laid out on his bed. In any case, mayor Aamir had instructed the airport security and immigration staff to arrest her if she showed up at the airport. A cold sweat erupted on his forehead.

An hour later, he returned to the laundry room. She glanced up at him as she pushed an armful of wet clothes into the dryer.

“I’m going to pick up some supplies. Is there anything you need?” he asked.

“Just milk, two percent please. Brown bread, free-range chicken eggs, cheese, not goat cheese, maybe some veggies. Fruit would be nice. Oh, and coffee.” She slammed the dryer door shut and turned to him. “Can I pay for my share of the groceries, captain?”

Sharif winced at the bruising of his pride. “Of course not. What are you doing this afternoon?”

“Follow me, please.” She led him to the police operation’s storage room. When she flipped on the lights, he stood speechless. The room for the police uniforms appeared spotless, the shelves labeled and all the items folded and placed in the shelving unit according to category and size. In the adjacent room, the flashlights, handcuffs, flak jackets, and helmets were arranged on shelves for easy identification and retrieval.

“Sergeant Omar and his squad helped me with the writing on the labels. All I need to do now is to organize the weapons room.” She wore a mischievous grin.

He put on his best scowl. “You’re on a first name basis with my sergeant?”

She shrugged. “My next project is to clean the vehicles. There’s an inch of dust on most of them.”

“You sure you want to do all that? I don’t expect you to work hard. Just keep yourself occupied to help pass the time.”

“I like to keep busy, captain. Have a nice afternoon.”

He watched as she headed to the area of parked vehicles. She swiped her fingers into the grime of an old white van, Sharif’s personal vehicle. He drove it on trips home, once every six or eight weeks. Grit had dulled the paint. He walked up and kicked the new tires. They provided enough safety for travel through the hazardous mountain pass.

He watched her peer through the coating of dust on the back window. If she opened the back door, she’d discover the big teddy bear his daughter Farah used as a pillow for long trips. She walked on to inspect the cab. The windshield had a long crack along its length. Captain Sharif turned to leave.

He took a couple of steps and hesitated. On impulse he turned back. A shaft of light caught the halo of dust swirling above her head. Though she kept her long hair tucked under the police cap, loose strands had escaped. She had smudges of grime on her black uniform and on her nose.

“Miss MacKay, how long would it take you to clean up?”

She swung around, wide-eyed. “Clean up?”

He hesitated to answer. He shuffled his feet a bit and shrugged his shoulders. “Shower, change your clothes. It would be easier if you selected your food at the market.”

She took a few steps toward him. Her delight shone in her eyes and a smile escaped on her lips. She pointed in the direction beyond the compound walls. “Out there?”

He cleared his throat. “That’s where the market is. How long?” he asked again, his voice tinged with impatience. This was nothing more than expediency, he told himself. The last thing he wanted was for her to think he was giving her special treatment. I’m going to regret this. I regret it already.