The sheikhs secret love.., p.21
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       The Sheikh's Secret Love Child, p.21

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

  Not including the three-hour delay on her flight from Seattle, she’d been traveling to the Dubai office for more than a day, and the time change was something she could never seem to get used to. Now, her black heels clicking across the airport floor, she stifled another yawn as she made her way down the escalators and toward the long line of drivers. Her name was printed on a large white sign held by a dark-skinned gentleman in a very sharp suit.

  “Miss Calvert?” the man said as she approached, and Nicole nodded.

  “Yes,” she replied, her voice weary.

  The man nodded back at her and lowered his sign, gesturing for her to follow him out of one of the sliding glass doors.

  The city was baking in the hot desert sun, and Nicole tilted her head up ever so slightly to catch a few rays on her pale skin. To bare one’s face in the Middle East was sometimes considered a bad move culturally, but Dubai was different. It was the perfect blend of East and West, and while Nicole didn’t exactly appreciate the time it took to get there, she couldn’t fault the city for it.

  Her driver approached a sleek black car and opened the rear passenger door for her.

  “Miss,” he said, standing back and taking her bag to place in the trunk as she slid inside and shivered under the air conditioner’s blast.

  Nicole enjoyed the cold. She was a Seattle native, and had had no other choice growing up—either you liked clouds, or you moved. Still, she traveled to Dubai twice a month, and her body never ceased to complain as it fought time and time again to adjust to the unforgiving desert heat.

  She reached into her purse and pulled out a hair tie, running her slender fingers through her long blond hair as she pulled it away from her face. Taking a deep breath, she leaned into her seat, and tried not to think about sleep. Pure, beautiful, peaceful sleep. In a big bed with duvet comforters and fluffy pillows…

  Stop it, she thought, chiding herself.

  She dug a manicured nail into her arm to keep herself awake, trying to think about anything other than the sheer bliss it would be to close her eyes and dream of an easier life.

  Nicole hadn’t always been a personal assistant. She had passed the Bar the previous year, before landing a coveted spot on the legal team of Futurescapes International. It had been an exciting few weeks working for one of the fastest-growing tech companies around, and Nicole had loved every minute of settling into her new job.

  One day she’d been walking down the hall of the company’s Seattle offices when she’d run into the CEO himself.

  “Oof!” she’d uttered as she collided with Bahir Al-Jabbar.

  The man wasn’t even thirty years old yet, and his olive skin and honey-colored eyes made him disconcertingly handsome for a company boss and one of the world’s youngest billionaires. That was the man gently holding onto her arms, keeping her coffee from spilling all over the floor.

  “I’m so sorry, sir. I’m such a klutz…”

  Bahir’s eyes were intense as he looked at her, and Nicole winced as she waited to be fired. Bahir had a reputation for being a fair and generous business owner, but she knew that so early into her contract, one mistake could be it.

  The CEO released her arms and crossed his, staring at her with a thoughtful expression. “Nonsense, I wasn’t looking where I was going. But now that you’re here in front of me, would you mind coming into my office for a moment?”

  His voice was like warm milk.

  Nicole blinked. “Yes, sir,” she said hesitantly.

  Bahir laughed. “Let’s tone it down with the ‘sir’ stuff, OK? Call me Bahir.”

  “Yes…Bahir,” she said, the foreign name sounding awkward on her tongue.

  Bahir strolled ahead of her down the clean, sparse hallway. His office took up a whole corner of the thirty-second floor, surrounded entirely by floor-to-ceiling windows, and Nicole could see the Space Needle the moment she stepped inside. She had been working at Futurescapes for several weeks already, but had never set foot inside that office before. She held in her gasp of amazement; the view was incredible.

  Bahir slid behind his desk, sinking into a large leather chair. The desk was enormous, but felt appropriate considering the size of the room. He continued to stare at her, and Nicole shifted from one foot to another in her heels. Finally, he spoke.

  “How long have you been with us, Ms.…?”

  “Calvert. Nicole Calvert, sir. I’ve been on your legal team for three weeks now, sir,” she said, hoping she wasn’t sweating. She clung to her paper coffee cup for dear life, though the liquid had already gone cold.

  Bahir grinned, a small dimple gracing his left cheek. “Nicole, I’d like to be frank with you, and I can’t do that if we’re sticking to formalities,” he said.

  Nicole cleared her throat, not sure what to say.

  “Is there anything I can do to make you feel a little more comfortable?” Bahir asked, and Nicole let out a laugh.

  “Maybe just be a little less rich and powerful,” she said—what she didn’t add was “and a lot less handsome.”

  Bahir’s grin deepened as he twirled his chair around to look out at the Seattle cityscape. “Well that I can’t do, but I think you’ll see that I’m just a regular person, in time.”

  “Regular for who? Prince William or the President?” Nicole replied with a nervous laugh.

  He could call himself normal all he wanted, but there was nothing “regular” about Bahir Al-Jabbar. He had been raised the son of a powerful Middle-Eastern sheikh, and given all the best the world had to offer. He’d converted his first-class education into a successful career as a tech entrepreneur. He enjoyed a world of yachts and islands, beautiful resorts and corner offices with panoramic views. To the average person, Bahir was more god than mortal.

  As he turned back to face her, Nicole tried to remove that comparison from her mind. The man wanted to be treated as an equal, at least to some extent. Nicole would try and give him that.

  “I can assure you, Ms. Calvert, princes and presidents are also just regular people. They take showers. They like bagels. Sometimes they might wear the same pair of jeans more than once,” he said with a glimmer in his eye.

  He was teasing her, Nicole thought, and she allowed the tension in her shoulders to ease just a notch.

  “Well then, if we all like bagels, I suppose there’s no reason why we can’t all get along,” she said lightly, pushing down her trepidation.

  Bahir leaned in and placed his forearms on his desk, and Nicole took a small, subconscious step back.

  “All right then, Nicole. Now that we’re on the same level, I was hoping you could accept a promotion.”

  Nicole blinked. “A what?”

  Bahir sat back in his comfortable chair, his gaze intent, even as mirth shone through his eyes.

  “A promotion? You know, like a raise and an elevated position?”

  “But why?”

  “I’m sorry?” he said, his brow furrowed.

  Nicole couldn’t help but be honest.

  “Why would you give me a promotion? I’ve only been here three weeks, and you just met me five minute ago when I nearly bulldozed you in the hallway. What possible reason could you have for promoting me?”

  Bahir reached out for a pen and twirled it between his fingers as his penetrating stare continued to bore into her.

  She could see then how he won out negotiations with business competitors and industry experts. His presence was strong and imposing, all while being somehow warm at the same time.

  Finally, he set the pen back on the desk, breaking his stare.

  “I like you, Nicole. You’re honest, and I don’t get a lot of honesty around here. As you mentioned, people are intimidated by my position of wealth and status, and tend to hold back around me. The reason I’m offering you a promotion is because my personal assistant has decided to abandon me and leave me helpless. Just now I ran into you, a competent, capable employee, and voilà: new personal assistant!”
  Nicole stared at him for a moment before replying.

  “You want me to be your…assistant?” she asked, dumbfounded.

  Bahir sighed. “That’s what I just said, isn’t it?”

  “And how is that a promotion, exactly?” she asked, taking a seat in a plush, leather sofa across from the desk. Her feet were killing her in her heels, and she couldn’t keep thinking straight standing up. What was going on?

  Bahir raised one perfectly-arched eyebrow. “I should think it’s quite obvious. You’ll be working directly with me at all times, traveling with me, ensuring that business is conducted successfully. I can increase your salary by fifty percent, and there are excellent perks.”

  “Does the job require a degree?”

  Bahir waved a hand dismissively. “I don’t know, probably. You already have one, so we’re good there.”

  Nicole leaned in, capturing his gaze and not letting him look away.

  “I have a J.D. in International Business Law, sir,” she said, nearly hissing out the last word. “I think my time is worth more than running errands and currying favor for a billionaire. Besides, do you even know what I earn?”

  Bahir shrugged. “No. Why, you think I won’t double it? I’ll triple it. Please, Nicole,” he said, leaning in, his eyes beseeching.

  Nicole felt her heart speed up at those words. It felt strange to be begged by such a rich and powerful man. Her boss, no less.

  She thought about it for a moment. Of course she could use the money. Her education had cost more than a house, and with triple her salary she could pay off her loans in no time, if Bahir was good for his word. But at the same time, Nicole was a lawyer. She had worked relentlessly hard to become one, studying for night after sleepless night, determined to succeed. Could she really give that up to be his little errand girl?

  “How long?”

  “How long is what?” he asked with just a flicker of a smile, and Nicole felt herself blush even as she pressed on.

  “How long would I work this position before I could go back to the legal team?”

  Bahir shrugged. “I’m sure we can find a replacement soon—in a few weeks, perhaps. You know the hiring process can take some time. I’ll ask you one more time, Nicole, and I’m not a man used to begging, so please put me out of my misery here.”

  His tone carried a slight edge this time. It was almost enough for Nicole to balk, but then another thought caught her mind.

  Her younger brother would be graduating from Stanford in a few short weeks. Maybe she could pass the job on to him, and kill two birds with one stone. Failing that, at the very least, she could hopefully get him a job in the company. Being this close to Bahir could increase her chances of helping him. It was enough to sway her decision.

  “I’ll take double my salary until I am reinstated on your legal team,” she said, and Bahir flashed her a very bright and charming smile.

  “Fantastic. It’s yours. Now, here’s a list of things I need done by six o’clock tonight,” he said, immediately back to business.

  He held out a messy pile of papers and folders to Nicole, who took hold of them haphazardly, trying not to spill everything on the floor. Staring at the pile, she could see a jumble of handwritten notes and typed up memos.

  Bahir was already looking back at his computer. “Can I help you with anything else, Nicole?” he asked, his tone dismissive.

  She cleared her throat, straightening her pile and heading towards the door. “No, thank you, sir,” she said, not knowing what else one said when they’d just had their salary doubled.

  “Bahir,” he said, still looking at his screen as he started typing.

  “Bahir,” she agreed.

  As she was exiting the room he called out her name one more time. Turning, she raised an eyebrow at him, waiting for him to speak.

  “Your new office is right next to mine, there on the right. Feel free to move in at your convenience.”

  “Oh…thanks,” she said, trying not to sound as disappointed as she felt.

  Nicole clicked back down the hallway, feeling even more uncomfortable in her heels. When she reached the legal offices she was surprised to see everyone’s face turn up to look at her. Her supervisor stood up.

  “Nicole, can I see you in my office, please?” his tone was curt.

  “Of course,” she said. She knew he was about to reprimand her for being so late. Boy, was he in for a surprise.

  “Nicole, I know you’re new here,” the supervisor began, sitting in his chair and gesturing for her to sit across from him. “But coming in thirty minutes late is completely unacceptable. We have high standards in this department, and I would hope that you follow them moving forward.”

  Nicole sighed. “I would love to, Perry, but I’m afraid I’ve just been transferred to a new department,” she said, suppressing a smile as she watched his eyebrows shoot up to his hairline.

  “What?” he asked. “Who sanctioned that, and why wasn’t I informed? This is extremely unprofessional behavior, Nicole, going over my head like this. Who is trying to steal you out from under me?”

  “Mr. Al-Jabbar. I can only apologize, but I think you’ll agree that he has the right to do pretty much whatever he wants.”

  Perry stared at her. “Perhaps you should tell me exactly what happened, just so I can be clear.”

  Nicole told him the edited version of what had happened—that Bahir was in search of a new personal assistant and had liked her work ethic, offering her the job on the spot.

  “As you can see,” Nicole finished, holding up her untidy pile of paperwork. “I already have my work cut out for me.”

  Perry’s expression was dull as he looked from the pile back to her face.

  “It’s only temporary,” Nicole added, her voice rushed. She didn’t want to burn any bridges here. “Mr. Al-Jabbar was very clear on that. He is searching for someone to fill the position, but asked me to work as the replacement in the interim. Trust me, I can’t wait to get back here, Perry.”

  After another pause, Perry sighed. “Well, I hope for your sake that it is temporary, Nicole. You’re an asset to this team, and personally I think your time is worth more than fetching coffee.”

  “You and me both,” she mumbled, and Perry grinned, rising.

  He held out his hand for her to shake, which she did.

  “Good luck then, Nicole. Not that I’m one for gossip, but that position has seen a lot of turnover over the years. I’m hopeful they can find someone soon so you can get back to what you’re good at.”

  “Thanks Perry,” Nicole said with a wry grin. “I hope to see you soon. He’s asked me to move offices for now,” she said, thinking back on her conversation with the CEO.

  She cleared out the meager piles of knickknacks on her desk and headed over to the office next to Bahir’s. It was more spacious than her old desk space, but Nicole still didn’t like it. It felt too big. Too impersonal.

  Setting down the pile of tasks on her desk, she gazed out the window at the city for a moment, processing the dramatic change to her daily life that had occurred out of the blue, before turning to her desk and getting to work.

  That was six months ago.

  Now, as she sat in the cool air of a fancy car, driving through a chic, metropolitan city, Nicole wondered for the millionth time if Bahir would ever replace her. Since that first day, she’d worked nonstop for him, round the clock. He’d asked for her cellphone number and since then had never ceased to call and text her at any time, day or night, asking her to schedule things into his daily routine. At first she had hated every minute of it—until she had gotten her first paycheck. At that point she had realized that the hours justified the money she was making, and had placated the voice in her head telling her she should just quit.

  That had worked for a little while longer, but as Bahir’s demands had increased, and she’d found herself constantly jetlagged, she’d started asking him how the search for a new personal assista
nt was coming along. He’d brushed her off every single time. His excuses were lame, paired with a charismatic grin meant to shut her up. Shut her up it did, but Nicole had reached her breaking point. She was tired of being tired. She wanted a regular job, in America, where she could get used to one time zone and maybe pull a few late nights here and there, but not every single day.

  She was burning out, fast, and Bahir was so wrapped up in his work that he didn’t seem to notice, or care. Nicole pulled out her cellphone and opened her email. She rubbed two fingers along her closed eyes, trying to find a way to scratch out that sandpapery feeling of exhaustion. The email was still there.

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