Brian Shearer returned home, expecting to pick up his life where he left off, after spending eleven years as an Iraqi POW from the first Gulf War. Little did he know that he had been declared dead and his wife was now married to another man and had a family. Memories of his wife and the life they shared were all that kept him going in captivity, and now he feels like he has nothing left to live for. While contemplating suicide on a Texas beach, the ghost of Zayed, the old Marsh Arab who had died while aiding his escape appears to him. Zayed tells Brian he has not yet met his soul mate and the mystical necklace he had gifted Brian as he lay dying will help Brian find the mystery woman who is meant for him. Brian heads back to the Middle East to work in the Kuwaiti oil fields for a sheikh who is the brother-in-law of his employer. There he meets the sheikh's sister, a fiery, independent woman who inflames his desires like no woman ever has before.
Alina el Rashid earned her medical degree in the States and has returned to Kuwait to help her people. While in the US, she not only received an education, but also a healthy appreciation for the independence western women enjoy. She wants a man who appreciates her passionate nature and will treat her as his equal. Between that and her non-virginal status, it is difficult for Alina to find a Kuwaiti man who wants her and who also lives up to her expectations, but because she caused a bit of a scandal, her father is eager to marry her off. When the handsome Brian show up at her brother's home, Alina thinks she may have found the perfect man, but due to his conservative upbringing and their cultural differences, Brian seems reluctant to get involved with her. Alina vows to do whatever it takes to seduce this gorgeous man in hopes that he will fall in love with her.
Zayed's Gift is an erotic romance novella with just a touch of the paranormal in the form of a ghost who is looking out for the hero and helping him find his soul mate. The ghost is that of Zayed, the old Marsh Arab, who died helping Brian and another prisoner escape from an Iraqi POW camp in the novella, Entrapped. As he lay dying, Zayed gave Brian a necklace with special powers that will help the wearer discern when he has found his soul mate.
Brian is a broken, tortured soul. After his fighter jet was shot down over Iraq during the first Gulf War, he spent eleven years as a POW there. Memories of his wife were all that kept him going, until he finally escaped. He was looking forward to getting back to his old life, only to find out his old life no longer existed. Brian was declared dead and his wife moved on with another man and now has a family. Brian is contemplating suicide when Zayed's ghost appears to him, giving him hope that there is someone else out there for him. He heads back to the Middle East to work in the oilfields of Kuwait, where he meets Alina, and begins a passionate affair. For an ex-military guy, Brian is a very sweet hero who kind of leans toward the beta side, in my opinion. Due to his extremely conservative Christian upbringing, he has some hang-ups about sex and is also rather inexperienced. He never slept with anyone but his wife, and she was even more prudish than he was. This resulted in their marriage not being nearly as fulfilling as he would have liked from a sexual perspective. Alina is the one who pretty much takes charge in their relationship, and Brian places himself under her tutelage much like a virgin hero would. He does have fantasies though, and Alina fulfills every one of them plus some he didn't even know he had.
For a Middle Eastern princess, Alina is very independent and progressive-thinking. She's a doctor who earned her degree in the States, where she got away from her own conservative roots. While she was in college she had an American lover who refused to marry her and go back to Kuwait with her. Since then, she hasn't been able to find anyone who stirs her passion in the same way, and after having a taste of freedom, she has no desire to put herself under the thumb of a sheikh who believes in the old-school ways. When Brian arrives, she thinks she's found the perfect man for her and is determined to seduce the straight-laced guy, no matter what it takes.
Overall, I liked these two characters. Brian is definitely my kind of guy, and while Alina was perhaps a tad too forward for my taste, I'll admit that with Brian's shyness, her seductive skills were what was needed to get the job done, so to speak. These two share lots of steamy sexual encounters, hence the erotic designation, but aside from the mention of some sex toys and slightly more explicit language, the love scenes were on par with most steamy mainstream romances, nothing I'd call kinky. I perhaps would have wished for a little longer story to provide more insights into these two great characters before they burned up the sheets and made their declarations of love, but the author created just enough of an emotional connection between them to believe in their HEA.
Zayed's Gift brought together all of the previous heroes and heroines I've read about so far in the Black Gold series. Jake and Kate (Firestorm) had brief roles, with Jake and his company being Brian's employer. They also attended Brian and Alina's wedding, during which Kate gives birth to their first child. Jamil and Leila (Entrapped) are present in the background but don't have any actual scenes. Alina is the sister of Dahoud aka "Bear." I'm now convinced that he and Shana (Love Slave, Forever Enslaved) must be Ann Jacobs' favorite couple (I can't blame her; I love them too), because they've gotten their own love scene in every story of the series so far. It was great to see them still so madly in love and passionate for each other thirteen years after their first story and about to have their fourth child.
Overall, Zayed's Gift was an enjoyable read, and a nice way to finish the Black Gold series. I ended up reading this series completely out of order, because at the time I started it, there wasn't any good information on the correct order. Ellora's Cave now has them ordered, and it appears this is the last book of the series, not the fifth as I had originally assumed. At least, I can say there were no spoilers in this one for the two books I haven't read yet. For the most part, I've liked this series so far, and I look forward to reading the two books I missed soon. Zayed's Gift can be purchased as a separate e-book and can also be found in the print anthology Mystic Visions.
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