The sheikhs twin baby su.., p.19
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       The Sheikh's Twin Baby Surprise, p.19

         Part #1 of The Sheikh's Baby Surprise series by Holly Rayner
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Lucie stared at the ceiling, unable to sleep. She wanted to call it excitement, but she knew it wasn’t.

  Jet lag. Something she’d never experienced before. Growing up, family vacations had always been trips to the lakeside campground a two-hour drive away. She’d never been far enough from home to have to deal with adjusting to a different time zone.

  But now, here she was. On the other side of the planet, and out of her element.

  The alarm on her phone went off and she sighed as she reached out to silence it. She pulled back the covers and went to the window. Pulling back the curtains let in the glow of dawn, illuminating the opulent hotel room where she’d spent the night, to try and get some rest before what would be the biggest day of her academic life, and very possibly the beginning of her career.

  She’d thought about Al-Brehoni a lot. She’d seen countless pictures of all the towns and all the historical sites, from all sorts of different time periods. Her focus, as a student of archeology writing a PhD dissertation on the small Middle-Eastern nation, had always been on ancient Al-Brehoni. But looking out at the city, still in the cool of the morning before the sun would bake the streets and make life more difficult for everyone below, Lucie couldn’t help but think that she could have stood to spend more time on the modern day Al-Brehoni, as well.

  The way the city mixed the old and the new was breathtaking. Harvard, where she’d spent the last four years, had its own kind of history. It had its own traditions, which it called ancient, even though the university had only been founded a few hundred years ago. In Al-Brehoni, history had a whole different scale.

  Outside her hotel, she could see from her window, was the ancient part of the city. She knew from historical artifacts that had been recovered there that it had been continuously occupied since before there was recorded history. The things that ground had seen…

  And yet, right next to it stood a cluster of skyscrapers; a testament to the strides Al-Brehoni had been making in recent years.

  Lucie might have stayed there, captivated by the view, for another hour or more. But she was interrupted by the ringing of the hotel phone.

  She walked over to it, simultaneously curious and a little afraid that something might have gone wrong. For all the hard work that she’d done to get here, sometimes she couldn’t help but feel like an imposter, afraid that at any moment she’d be chucked out of this opulent suite and sent back to the blue-collar neighborhood where she grew up.

  “Hello?”

  Her voice was groggy from the disturbed sleep she’d slipped in and out of during the night, but the voice on the other end of the line didn’t seem to notice.

  “Lucie! Are you awake?”

  Lucie rolled her eyes and bit her tongue to avoid saying something sarcastic.

  Ah, Zach. She’d been delighted when she’d heard that another of the Harvard PhD students was the son of none other than the esteemed Millard husband-and-wife archaeology team. But her excitement at having such a prestigious name as one of her peers had expired only a few minutes after actually meeting him.

  “Yeah, I just woke up. We leave in an hour, right?”

  She could practically hear Zach sighing over the phone. She could picture the face he was doubtlessly making: playful, patronizing, and well-rehearsed.

  “The plane leaves in an hour. We’re supposed to be leaving the hotel now.”

  Lucie’s heartbeat immediately accelerated. She pulled out her phone and looked at it.

  “But it’s five-thirty. I thought—”

  “It’s six-thirty. You haven’t taken your phone out of airplane mode since the last layover, have you?”

  Lucie’s heart sank. She hadn’t thought about it when they’d landed and checked into their rooms here. She’d just been so tired from the journey, and ready for some peace and quiet.

  But then, this was Zach’s world. He’d never make a mistake like that.

  “Don’t worry about it,” he was saying. Comforting words, if it weren’t for the condescension he’d managed to pack into them.

  Lucie didn’t want to hear it. This was the biggest day of her life, and she was already running behind.

  She hung up the phone and gathered her things at lightning speed. Then she rushed downstairs, right past Zach to the car that was waiting for them outside the hotel.

  “Hey sleepyhead,” he said, touching her shoulder as he slid in beside her and closed the door.

  She hated when he did that.

  When Lucie had been applying for her PhD, one of the things that had concerned her was how little she would get to work with other students. Previously, having classes in common had always allowed her to make friends, and what she had learned for certain was that making friends was a must when you were trying to make your way in a world you were not born into. But the more time she spent with Zach, the more she realized that spending time with other students could be very overrated.

  “I wasn’t sleeping,” she said, trying to defend herself as the car pulled out of the parking lot and into traffic.

  Again, the same playful glance from Zach, though Lucie hardly saw it. Her eyes were drawn to the city flying by through the windows.

  It looked different than it had from the high story window, and much different than it did when they were coming in last night in the dark. Last night it had been a mad rush of people. Like most countries in the region, Al-Brehoni had a shifted time-schedule in relation to westerners. People tended to rise much later, and stay out much later, too.

  This time of the morning, the streets were filled with tradesmen. Roving packs of uniformed men picked up litter and trimmed the topiary on the landscaped medians.

  Lucie was dimly aware of Zach saying something—she’d been too mesmerized by the world they were being whisked through to actually listen.

  “What is it?” she asked, perhaps a little too testily.

  “Oh, wow. I wouldn’t have pegged you for someone who had such a hard time with mornings.”

  He was mock offended. He was turning her annoyance into a game. Everything she said was just an excuse for him to create some little inside joke, like he was trying to build up a cache of shared memories that he could parade out in front of strangers to prove they had a connection.

  Lucie sighed. This was an important trip. She was so close to finishing her PhD that she could practically taste it. She couldn’t let her annoyance with her fellow student ruin it all.

  She turned to him, calling on the strategies she’d perfected to survive their run-ins over the years. She had to stay neutral. Give nothing away.

  She smiled graciously, but not too graciously.

  “Sorry, I guess I can be a bit tense in the mornings sometimes.”

  A lie, but a necessary one. If she admitted she was nervous, or that she’d been flustered by her mistake, he’d grab on to that.

  “What is it you were saying?” she continued. “I was a bit distracted.”

  “Distracted?” he asked playfully. “By what, the worker men? Is that what you go for?”

  Joking, presumptive, and just a tiny little bit crude—that phrase had Zach written all over it.

  She shot him back her best no-nonsense, not-amused face. “By the architecture.”

  And then, since she knew it was likely his next move to tease her about her lack of travel experience, she headed him off at the pass.

  “I’ve never been outside of the US before, so it’s all very interesting to me, as I’m sure you can imagine.”

  He was looking for a way to offer her advice, she could tell. She had to follow it up with something quickly.

  “And I hope you’ll forgive me, but, like you said, I’m not much of a morning person. And I’m so tired. Do you mind if I just take a nap while we drive to the airfield?”

  That did it. Her asking for permission in that slightly self-effacing way was a request he couldn’t refuse.

  Finally, some peace.

  They were going to a private plane, she knew. Before
today she’d only been on commercial planes twice, and now, she was going to be making the jump to a private plane.

  It felt like an extravagance, much like the hotel had seemed. But it wasn’t up to Lucie to tell the Al-Brehoni Research Assistance Fund how to spend their money. If they wanted to treat visiting students to a taste of the high life, well, that was hardly something she was going to complain about.

  She had expected security checks when they got to the airfield, but when she opened her eyes, she was surprised to find their car had parked right there on the tarmac.

  “Your chariot awaits,” Zach was saying, with the obligatory cheesy grin.

  She smiled in spite of herself. Sometimes, when Zach forgot who he was for a second, he could almost be charming.

  Almost.

  If they were running late because of Lucie’s mix-up no one said anything. Everyone was polite. An attendant ushered her up the stairs and into the cushy private plane.

  It was awkward for her, having everyone try and help her with things. She felt like she should stop them. She felt like an imposition. But the heat of the day, already ramping up, made her glad that someone was ready and waiting to take her bags for her.

  Zach, for his part, was comfortable in this role. And it showed. Ordering people around in exotic locales was more or less his natural habitat, and he seemed to have no squeamishness about the way everyone was scrambling to assist him.

  Inside the plane, Lucie was glad to see that there was plenty of room for her and Zach to have their own personal space. And yet, as she should have predicted, that was not to be. When she sat down at one of the tables in the back and began to dig out her books, she found that Zach had no qualms about coming right up and sitting at her table.

  “Nice plane,” he said. “A bit small. But I suppose it’s only a one-hour flight.”

  She noticed how he raised his voice just slightly, so that he could be heard above the noise of the crew speaking to each other in Arabic, preparing the systems for takeoff and running their final checks.

  “Yes…” Lucie said, and then shifted her eyes down.

  In front of her lay a reference guide for idiomatic Arabic in the Persian Gulf region. It was a good resource, and one that she intended to peruse for the duration of their plane ride to the site.

  She’d spent years working on her Arabic. It was a requirement for her degree—for entrance into her degree program, even. But when she’d started studying Arabic, she’d learned the variety spoken in North Africa, her justification being that she thought she would end up studying there.

  It wasn’t until later that she’d learned of the burgeoning archeological renaissance happening in Al-Brehoni, now that the crowned prince had begun opening up sites for excavation that had previously been off limits. Though she never expected she’d actually get to be involved in a dig here, she had jumped at the chance to shift her dissertation subject.

  So Lucie found herself here, with most of her expertise in the wrong variety of Arabic. She’d been retraining herself for months, but the differences were sometimes large, and she was grateful for this chance to review a few things before she could embarrass herself in front of their hosts at the dig site.

  But no sooner had she opened the book, then she saw Zach’s hand reach out across it, pulling it away from her.

  “Arabic?” he shouted, above the whirr of the engines warming up. “But your Arabic is great!”

  She couldn’t help herself.

  “Did you just accidentally give me an actual, normal compliment?” she said incredulously.

  She immediately regretted it. She was playing into his game. The back and forth. It was exactly what he wanted.

  Luckily, they were interrupted by a besuited man insisting that they fasten their seatbelts and listen to a brief security demonstration.

  And then they were climbing into the sky. Zach seemed almost bored with it all, but Lucie didn’t let that bring her down. She peered excitedly out the window, looking at the city fall away as a seemingly endless expanse of desert opened up beneath them.

  She wasn’t going to let Zach ruin this trip for her. She wasn’t going to let anyone ruin this trip for her. This was what she’d been working towards her entire life, and, come hell or high water, she was going to make the most of it.

 

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