The sheikhs secret love.., p.19
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       The Sheikh's Secret Love Child, p.19

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

  Two Months Later

  Rosie, her mother, and baby Zak sat in the back of a sleek limousine as it rushed them from Zaymari International Airport. It had been a long plane ride, but Zak had been surprisingly calm—only crying a bit, his face like a tomato, when the air pressure had changed. Rosie had cradled him in her lap the entire way, surprised by how much he’d grown in the past two months. When his father had first met him, at sixteen months old, he’d weighed a few pounds less. Now, even more black hair had swamped over his head, and he was starting to learn more words. Soon, she knew, he would learn to say “Daddy.” She could hardly wait.

  “How long is the ride?” Clarice asked, her eyes wide with nervous anticipation. She’d never left the United States before. When Rosie had convinced her to come to Zaymari and live at the palace with them, her only family, she’d been imagining a terrible place. But it was clear, from just a peek out the window, that the tropical landscape, the bright, turquoise water, was more like heaven on Earth.

  “It’s not far, Mom,” Rosie whispered reassuringly.

  As they neared the palace, people began to notice the limousine, jumping up and down with “Welcome” signs. Rosie knew, all at once, that she would fall for Zaymari, and its people, in an instant.

  Hakan had met his son the same night he’d cut the ribbon on his new television station. He’d rushed directly from the ceremony at the Edgewater, not caring to stop at a single after party or business meeting, and arrived on Rosie’s steps in Capitol Hill. Tears still lingered in his eyes from their triumphant reunion earlier that evening. She’d held baby Zak on her hips, and he’d wrapped his strong arms around both of them, wordlessly, as he had in her constant daydreams. He’d stayed the night with them that night, and the following three, never wanting to move from their sight.

  She smiled to herself as she remembered the first time she’d watched Hakan and Zak playing on the floor together. Hakan had held the toddler on his stomach, his back flat on the floor, and thrown him high into the air. The baby’s squeals of joy had radiated through her. She hadn’t stopped smiling for days.

  And yet, they couldn’t put reality off forever; Hakan had had to return to his home country, and Rosie had had to return to work. Immediately, they had started making plans, figuring out exactly what they were going to do about their family.

  “Don’t worry about it,” Hakan had whispered to her on their last night together in Seattle. “I’ll figure it out. I always do.”

  Rosie had worked a few weeks more at the hospital before ultimately quitting her job. Amy had warned her several times that she was making a big mistake, but Rosie knew in her soul that this wasn’t correct. In the break room one day, she’d placed her hand over her best friend’s fingers and squeezed them, telling her she was going to be all right this time; that she didn’t need to be watched over anymore. And Amy had wept.

  Just two weeks before Rosie was scheduled to move to Zaymari, Amy had gone into labor, and Rosie had rushed back to the hospital after her shift, eager to help her friend deliver. She’d seen Josh in the hallway, looking pale and angular. She’d marched up to him, jabbing her finger into his chest, and said the words: “If you don’t sell that stupid condo and return to your wife, I will destroy you.” And then, she’d rushed past him, back to her screaming, sweating friend.

  Later, she’d learned that Josh had done just that. He, Marco, Amy, and their new baby, Mackenzie, had settled back into suburban life, with promises that they would come visit Zaymari as soon as Mackenzie was old enough to fly.

  In her heart, Rosie already missed them. But she knew she had made the right decision, joining her family in the Middle East. It was the greatest adventure of her life.

  The limousine swept up in front of the palace, before halting. Rosie couldn’t believe her eyes. She’d seen photos of the palace before, online, but nothing could have prepared her for what she saw before her.

  The palace was huge and ancient, with many circular roofs, all staggered in height. Bright blue tiles flooded the façade, and gigantic columns out front created a massive entryway—one, Clarice said, that was fit for a queen. Rosie knew her mother was referring to her in that moment.

  The limo driver leaped from his seat in the front and rushed to open the door. As they prepared Zak to leave the car, Rosie saw Hakan rushing down the steps toward them, dressed in one of his many perfectly-tailored suits. His smile crept across his face. God, her heart broke just looking at him.

  He reached them just in time, bringing his face down toward Rosie’s and kissing her warmly, before wrapping his arms around his son and swinging him in the air. A crowd had formed outside the palace in the wake of the limousine, and, as the baby flew up, they fell into great, resounding applause.

  Used to the attention, Hakan turned toward them with Zak, who was dressed in a Baby Gap sweater, and flashed them that signature smile. In that moment, Rosie understood that the public loved him just as much as she did. He was their strong, confident leader. And they would go wherever he took them.

  Hakan wrapped his free arm around Rosie, then, and the crowd went insane—leaping up and down, waving their signs.

  “So, I take it word got out about Zak and I?” Rosie asked, laughing. She could hardly hear her own voice above the roar.

  “Well,” Hakan murmured. “I’m certainly not as big of a celebrity around here as you are.” He leaned in to her and kissed her cheek, and the crowd continued to blare, clearly obsessed with the love the Sheikh had for his new girlfriend.

  Clarice snuck out from behind the car, then: wearing an Upper Northwest sweater and her white tennis shoes, looking completely out of sync with her surroundings. But her eyes were flashing, and a smile had crept across her face. “I just can’t believe this,” she murmured. “I just can’t believe it.”

  At once, an older gentleman, also dressed in a suit, swept toward them and ushered them up the steps of the palace. “Please,” he said sternly. “We must get you inside.”

  The man’s eyes were warm, trustworthy, and Rosie found herself striding back toward the palace alongside her mother and Hakan, who carried Zak.

  The crowd was relentless, but the sound dimmed as they crept up the steps and into the echoing entrance chamber. Large doors, two stories high, opened for them, the ancient wood creaking, and then they were standing on the inside of the miraculous palace. Overwhelmed, Rosie felt, for the first time in what had been a tumultuous few weeks, that she might cry of exhaustion.

  She turned to Hakan, then, who was speaking in his mother tongue to the man who had led them indoors. After a brief nod, Hakan grinned warmly at them.

  In Hakan’s arms, Zak cooed, his eyes blinking around him. He swept his finger up to his royal father’s ear and stabbed it inside, making Hakan’s eyes water—a gesture Rosie knew as Zak’s new sign of affection.

  “Hakan,” Clarice said then, taking a step forward. She opened her arms. “I’m so pleased to finally meet you. You have a lovely home.”

  Hakan stepped into the hug and kissed Rosie’s mother on first one cheek, then the other, causing her to blush. “Please, don’t think of it as just my home. You’re family, Clarice, and this is where you live, now. I can’t wait for you to meet my mother.”

  Clarice brimmed with happiness. She gave her daughter an approving look.

  A moment later, a female member of staff appeared and informed Clarice that she would be leading her to her new quarters.

  “Quarters?” she asked Rosie. “You mean I get more than one room here?”

  “Nearly an entire floor to yourself,” Hakan affirmed, wrapping his free arm around Rosie once more. “Don’t think I was going to let you live in poverty around here. You’re the mother of my beautiful girlfriend and one of our son’s caregivers. You mean so much here.”

  “It’s just a lot to take in,” Clarice admitted, her face blushing. “But I suppose I can get used to anything.”

  Hakan laughed heartily. “T
rupti will take care of you,” he said, gesturing to the woman behind Clarice. “She’ll help you get settled in after your long journey. Take care, now, and we’ll see you at dinner. I hope you’re hungry.”

  Clarice bowed her head slightly, making final eye contact with her daughter before disappearing up a grand staircase.

  Hakan bounced Zak on his hip and finally turned his attention to Rosie, whose eyes were dry and tired after the long flight. “You, my darling, look absolutely gorgeous.”

  She scoffed, tossing her head back. “If this is the best I’ve looked, after a fifteen-hour flight, then I better work harder in general. I’m living in a grand palace, now. I can’t just wear scrubs all day anymore, can I?”

  Hakan waved his hand. “You can wear whatever you want—they already love you. You should see how they’re reacting to you in the media. And they haven’t even received my press release yet.” He grinned, even as Zak tried to puncture his eardrum again. “Being a parent involves constantly getting hurt, doesn’t it?”

  Rosie giggled. “I think you’ll get used to it. Look at you. You’re a natural.”

  Hakan led them to the royal quarters, then—up a different grand staircase, through a hallway that was lined with ornately-framed paintings. One painting, of a man wearing the traditional royal garb of Zaymari, standing next to a young boy, also wearing traditional dress, caught her attention almost immediately.

  Rosie pointed to the boy. “I’d recognize those eyes anywhere,” she murmured. “Look at you.”

  Hakan laughed. He held his son up to the portrait, gazing at the resemblance. “He does look like me. But in some ways, I think he’s got his mother’s good looks.”

  Rosie’s heart swelled with pride at these words.

  A moment later, Hakan opened the door of their quarters, which made the presidential suite at the Edgewater Hotel look like a dive. Rosie’s breath caught in her throat as she looked around, tapping her shoes on the cool marble. More paintings lined the walls, alongside countless bookshelves. A living room area was off to the right, complete with antique furniture and tapestries that hung from the walls.

  As they continued, Rosie spotted a tiny kitchen.

  “One that we can use for Zak,” Hakan explained. “Sometimes I like to use it—”

  “When you want to cook for yourself?” she teased, remembering how he’d said he liked to live like regular people. “Keeps you humble I guess.”

  “Sometimes, I just crave macaroni and cheese. What can I do, pretend like I didn’t live in America for ten years?” he grinned. “I want this kid to have the best of both worlds. Which means you’ll have to teach him everything you know from your past, and I can teach him everything I know from mine.”

  Rosie smiled deeply, contentedly. They were going to raise their child in this palace. He was going to grow up learning two languages, two different ways of living. And for that reason, he would begin his life with so much more than she had. Her heart swelled.

  Hakan opened a side door, then, and revealed a large nursery. Light from the windows shone directly on the crib in the center. The crib looked old, yet sturdy—perhaps one that had been in the family for decades. An official, royal crib.

  Rosie swallowed. “Do you think I can keep his toys in here?” It didn’t seem right that his dinosaur toys could stand in this antique nursery.

  But Hakan just laughed. “We can do whatever we want. This is our home. And, if I know anything about kids, I know that he rules this home. At least for the duration.”

  “Well, he’ll go from ruling us, to ruling this country,” Rosie laughed.

  “Do you want to see the bedroom?” Hakan asked, his voice suddenly sultry.

  Her stomach flipped over at the thought. They hadn’t been intimate since he’d left the States two months before, and she’d been craving his body, his kisses, his scent.

  She grinned and nodded, and Hakan opened the last door in the hallway, bringing the stunning view to light: the bedroom they would share.

  The single room was twice the size of her Seattle apartment, Rosie realized, except it was completely open, without wall breaks. The windows stretched from floor to ceiling, the breeze tickling the long, ruby-colored drapes. The gleaming floors were multi-leveled, leading down to the bedroom, where a massive bed stretched across that side of the room, opposite a cozy nook which featured a fireplace and several couches.

  Rosie’s face broke into a massive smile. She’d never seen anything more beautiful.

  As she roved around the apartment, Hakan meandered to their bed, where he lay with their son, tickling him ceaselessly. He giggled, sending tiny baby squeals to echo against the high ceilings.

  Rosie watched as Hakan opened the baby’s shirt, gave him an explosive raspberry, and laughed with his son on their million-dollar bed, on sheets that were probably used once and never given life again. What kind of luxury was this?

  In that moment, as Rosie watched them, she felt incredulous. She was reminded of the sleek, red Lamborghini that had nearly flattened her on that street in Seattle. God, she thought. Fate was such a strange, bizarre thing. She wondered how many cars in the history of the world had had to be destroyed so that beautiful things could grow in their place.

  Rosie lay beside them, then, in the midafternoon light. The baby cooed into a nap, and she and Hakan slept beside him, their hands linked together between them. It was like they were one unit, breathing ever as one.

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