The sheikhs secret love.., p.11
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       The Sheikh's Secret Love Child, p.11

         Part #2 of The Sheikh's Baby Surprise series by Holly Rayner

  The following afternoon, Rosie found herself counting down the hours until she would meet Osman at the Ballard Locks. She’d been up most of the night, puking into the toilet and gazing at her pale, stressed reflection. What was she getting herself into? She had called Amy at three in the morning and sobbed down the phone. Amy had been strong, a pillar, telling her that whatever Osman said, she could deal with it. She was Rosie Lund, and she was one of the strongest women in the world.

  But this didn’t feel particularly true. Not one bit.

  Rosie changed into street clothes after she clocked out, her legs loose in her jeans. She knew she’d lost some weight from the vomiting, from the stress. She would need to take a bus she didn’t frequent, and she was feeling nervous—worried she wouldn’t make it in time to meet Osman. Would he leave the moment he realized she was late?

  She boarded the bus and took a seat next to an older woman whose stooped shoulders brought her nose close to the back of the seat in front of her. The woman was dressed in an old sweatshirt and maroon pants that were far too big for her, like she’d lost a great deal of weight all at once. Something inside Rosie made her want to drape her arm around the other woman, to tell her it was all right. But the bus chugged on, taking both of their sad souls further north. The woman finally got off the bus, making the driver wait much longer than normal, each of her footfalls seeming to take longer than the one previous.

  Finally, the bus arrived at the stop nearest the locks, and Rosie took a deep breath and hopped off of the bus. Overhead, the sky had turned a terrible gray, and the wind had picked up—just another sign that October was coming, that the winds of change were upon them. Rosie wrapped her coat closer to her thin body, thinking only of her baby. If she were cold, could her baby feel it, too?

  As she neared the locks, her eyes swept her surroundings for anyone who looked like he might be waiting for her. Closer to the gleaming water, she saw an old, stooped man lurking by a small shack. She drew back slightly, recognizing the man at once. He had been at the French restaurant—the guy who had looked at her suspiciously. God, she hadn’t thought she would see those beady eyes again. They frightened her now, just as they had that night.

  She raised her hand into the air as she neared him, giving him a somber wave. He waited for her with his hands behind his back. As she grew closer, she began to see how aged he looked compared to the previous month. His eyes were drooping, and his skin looked sallow. She realized, all at once, that he had probably traveled from Hakan’s home country, Zaymari, in the hours since they’d spoken on the phone. He hadn’t slept.

  She came close to him, and he brought his hand out to shake hers, but she refused it, waving her own in the air. “Where is Hakan?” she asked harshly. Her eyes swept left, then right. “I assumed he was coming with you.”

  Osman bowed his head. “He is not here.”

  “Well, I request to meet with him personally,” Rosie said, her voice quivering. “I cannot deliver this information to anyone but him. It is exactly half of his information. It is exactly something he should care about.” She said this impatiently, feeling like a child in front of this old, Middle-Eastern man.

  “My lady, the Sheikh is far too busy with responsibilities at home. We ask that you respect that. You were a very brief part of his life, and it’s not fair to make him pay for it. Not like this.”

  “Pay for it?” Rosie asked harshly. “Pay for a beautiful night we spent together?” She felt her anger rising higher. “You were there, Osman. I remember you on the rooftop. You were speaking with Hakan, and you looked at me—you looked at me like you thought I was up to something.” She took a step closer, placing her hands over her stomach. “I don’t suppose you thought I was trying to get pregnant by the Sheikh, do you?”

  Osman took a step back, almost as if he were recoiling. “That isn’t what I thought. I was concerned that the Sheikh was wasting his last moments in the States, when he should have been meeting with some important people in Seattle. He missed several appointments in order to take you to dinner that night. He knew there was a chance that you would need to part ways forever, the following day, yet he just wanted to spend those hours with you.”

  Osman shrugged his shoulders sadly, his beady eyes looking up at her. He was shorter than she was, and she felt like a bully, pointing her finger at him.

  “I’m sorry,” Rosie said then. “Why is it that you came all the way here, if I cannot tell this news to Hakan himself?”

  “I’ve spoken with His Highness about this, shall we say, dilemma,” Osman began, his voice slimy. “He has come up with a solution that, I think, you will find very generous. You see, as the Sheikh, he cannot raise a child born out of wedlock in Zaymari. And he cannot take you, an outsider, as his wife. You understand that, don’t you?”

  His tone was patronizing, like he was trying to add insult to injury.

  Rosie nodded, unsure of what else to do. She felt blood rise in her mouth; she’d been unconsciously biting her tongue.

  “And so, he’s instructed me to make you the following offer. Please consider it readily, Miss Lund,” he continued, his voice stern. “We are prepared to offer you a payment of one million dollars per year, once the baby is born.”

  Rosie frowned, thinking that, surely, she hadn’t heard him correctly. “I’m sorry?” she whispered.

  “One million dollars for every year after the baby is born. In return, you aren’t to mention to the world that the Sheikh is your baby’s father. You are not to tell anyone, beyond the friends you’ve already told, and you are to explain to them that discretion is of the highest importance. Do you understand?”

  “You want to give me hush money,” Rosie said hotly. “You want me to stay far away and pretend like none of this ever happened,” she scoffed. “For a million dollars.”

  “Per year,” he corrected. The wind had picked up around them, blowing harshly at his beard. “I think you’ll find that reasonable. In addition, you are never to call the number on your little card again. It would be better for you and your child if you could destroy it. Do you understand?”

  “I speak English. I think I understand the definition of all the words you’re spewing at me,” Rosie said through clenched teeth. In her mind, the beautiful image of Hakan had already changed, altering him from a handsome, joyous man—someone she could have loved—to something of a con artist. She felt used, like a pile of trash left behind.

  “And what if I don’t accept your hush money?” she said then, piping up. “I can work. I can provide. And I can tell the world that this is Hakan’s baby, if I want to.” Her mind was revving. “There wouldn’t be a thing you or Hakan could do about it.”

  Osman gave her a seedy grin. “I see. Well, just so that you’re aware, if you do that, your beloved Hakan will be dragged through the dirt. With this baby, the child growing inside of you, a national scandal will break out. The Zaymarian people are resound in their hatred of Americans, and they would never accept a half-American baby as their prince.”

  Rosie frowned, thinking that all of this didn’t sound so bad. So what if Hakan’s name was dragged through a bit of mud? He deserved it for leaving her pregnant, with only an old man to speak to.

  But Osman continued. “There’s a very good reason for Hakan not to have met you in person. If he had, he could have put his life in danger. There neighboring countries that would turn against him if they knew he’d been intimate with an American woman.

  “I had to do much covering up while the Sheikh was living in America. If they’d discovered that he was dating this supermodel or that movie star, his path to the crown might have been compromised. Not only that, but these people might have gone so far as to murder him in his bed.” At this, Osman brought his hand high, into a fist, and growled at her. “I’ve been assigned to protect Hakan since he was a young boy, and I will give my life to uphold that. Do you understand?”

  Rosie took several steps back, feeling the anger of the
man before her. Tears spit from her eyes as she realized the truth: this was a world she could never understand. She was never going to mean anything to Hakan, not really. She was just one in a line of several covered-up scandals, just as she’d feared. And now, like the others, she was being dealt with. She shuddered, hoping her tears weren’t obvious.

  As moments passed, she felt caught in her memories of Hakan, like a bug in a spider’s web. He’d been so compassionate, so kind, asking her questions about her as if he truly cared. He’d spoken about taking the crown as if it were a duty he was proud of, one he needed to fulfill to satisfy his family. And she’d been impressed by his commitment to that lineage.

  And yet: his lineage lived in her stomach, now, and he wanted her to disappear.

  Rosie felt that the worst thing was, of course, that Hakan hadn’t even deigned to tell her the truth himself. Rather, he’d sent this crooked old man, who looked at her as if she were a piece of meat to beat down cold.

  Osman stuck his hand out once more. “So, it’s decided,” he said gruffly. “You’ll accept one million dollars per year, after the birth of your child, and you will stay away from Hakan. You will not mention to anyone that he is your baby’s father. And you will not try to contact either of us in the years to come. This is the end of our time together. Do you understand?”

  Rosie kept her hands over her stomach, hating herself for speaking the quivering word: “Okay.” She refused to shake the man’s hand.

  Osman brought his hands up, toward his face, splaying out his fingers. “That’s fine, Miss Lund, if you want to play it that way. You don’t have to be respectful about this.”

  “Well, he isn’t. And neither are you.”

  “I’m just doing my job, Rosie. Something I was certain you would understand. We can all be adults here.” He cleared his throat. “I’ll be in touch regarding the payment. Just remember: you’ll never have to worry about money again. You can get a better place, you can live the life of luxury, just like the one that Hakan showed you. Aren’t you pleased you stepped in front of that Lamborghini all those weeks ago? It’s almost like fate swooped up and planted you into a new life, isn’t it?” He was grinning at her toothily, showing her three gold teeth on the left side of his mouth. “Maybe it’s just fate.”

  Rosie took several steps back, hating that fate felt like a brick wall on which she was banging her head, over and over. She spun away from him and started marching back toward the bus stop, even as the wind rushed up again, spewing raindrops. She’d covered some ground before she remembered something, spinning back around.

  “Apparently,” she began, catching Osman’s attention once more, “I’m no different from that wrecked sports car.” She shook her head, her hair flapping in the wind. “Just like that insanely beautiful, dead vehicle, I’m something to be left behind; to be dealt with using cold money. I suppose that’s just the Sheikh’s way, isn’t it?”

  She spun back around and ran full-force to the bus stop, then, but not before she caught a sly grin spreading across Osman’s face. It was clear that deep in his crooked soul, he was enjoying her misery.

  Rosie boarded the bus when it arrived, raindrops dribbling down her nose and mixing with her tears. She took a seat near the back, hoping nobody would sit with her as the bus ran down south and back into civilization. Outside, gray and black cars swept by in a sad procession, on a continuous search for what came next. She checked her phone, realizing that Amy had called her five times since she’d arrived at the Locks. She couldn’t call her back. Not yet.

  The baby that stirred in her belly, gaining new cells all the time, was half Hakan’s. And yet, that baby wasn’t wanted by him, the man who had filled her world with sunshine for only a moment before disappearing into the Seattle clouds. She wondered where the Lamborghini was right at that moment. It was probably rotting in a garbage dump somewhere nearby, each of its pieces asking the universe what had gone wrong. In her life, she had learned to fix things with people, to make compromises, and not to just thrust things and friends out of her life. It was why she was a loyal friend. It was why her friends stuck by her, as well, no matter what. Relationships had meaning.

  The bus drove to Capitol Hill, and Rosie sighed as she stepped onto the sidewalk, looking at her shoes. A million dollars per year, every year after her baby was born. This was a hefty number. She looked up and down the streets as she walked, realizing she would be able to rent any apartment in this, her favorite neighborhood. Heck, she could even move somewhere new and start over. Perhaps she could change her name. This was exactly what Hakan wanted, apparently: for her not to exist.

  But money had never been her motivator. When she’d chosen to become a nurse, she’d been aware that it paid rather well, but that you had to earn it, and that it didn’t always feel worth it. Her mother had suggested that she become an engineer, but she’d scoffed at the idea, knowing full well that her mother had only her monetary interests in mind.

  Rosie arrived at her apartment, then: the one she’d rented when she started her job, as soon as she’d scraped enough money together. It was the first place where she’d lived by herself. It was her very heart, her very own.

  She moved from the dining room to the living room, wondering whether or not a child could reside there, growing from baby to man. She imagined herself rocking a baby on the couch; she pictured herself feeding a teething baby in the dining room, the baby splattering peas all over the wall. She imagined that they’d come to appreciate one other as the only other important person in their lives.

  And when the issue of a father came up, Rosie knew she wouldn’t be able to tell her child the truth. Not if she accepted that money.

  She swung her legs onto the couch, blinking at the empty television screen, and crafting her life scheme. She would, of course, “take” the money from Hakan. But she wouldn’t put it toward anything. It would be a side account, a very large reminder of all that came before. And beyond that, she would carve a life out for herself and for her child. Here.

  She picked up her phone, then, and dialed a number she used all too rarely. The phone rang a few times before she heard the familiar, syrupy-sweet voice on the other end, all the way in rural Washington.

  “Momma?” she said. She felt herself falling to tears. “Momma. I have something to tell you. And I think, actually, that it’s wonderful news. Absolutely wonderful news.”

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