The sheikhs secret love.., p.29
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       The Sheikh's Secret Love Child, p.29
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         Part #2 of The Sheikh's Baby Surprise series by Holly Rayner

  FOUR

  Nicole could feel warm sunlight pouring across her pillow, and she rolled over, stretching languidly across her bed. She loved having a queen-sized bed all to herself. It wasn’t like she had time for a love life, so she figured she might as well enjoy the perks of being single.

  She cracked open an eyelid and stared out at the city, already awake and bustling. Glancing at her clock, she saw that she had thirty minutes to prepare for their excursion.

  Not having packed for anything other than work, Nicole dug through her suitcase as she searched for anything to wear that might be suitable for a day of sightseeing. She combed through the suits and skirts until she came across a white dress with blue flowers—an outfit she must have packed with hope for a break but never had the chance to wear. Nicole had learned never to fully unpack her bag, and to always have one ready, since Bahir loved to change his mind about when she would be traveling and where.

  It was not his most endearing quality.

  She washed up and slid into her dress, eating a protein bar as she headed out the door, purse on her shoulder, ready for adventure. She felt lighthearted and giddy, trying to take in the fact that she might have very little work to do over the next eight hours. What a concept!

  As she stepped into the lobby and out the door, she was surprised to see a long, black limo parked by the curb. The driver stood at the door waiting for her, and he pulled it open as she approached. Bahir was grinning at her from the inside.

  “I thought you said you’d pick me up in the car,” she said, staring pointedly at the elaborately stretched limousine.

  Bahir shrugged, his grin infectious.

  Nicole crossed her arms and tried to look annoyed, but by his expression she could tell it wasn’t working.

  “This is a car, it’s just a little longer. If we’re going to take time off, we might as well do it in style!”

  Nicole sighed. “You are nothing if not subtle, Mr. Al-Jabbar,” she said, sliding into the limo and sitting across from Bahir, who was already pouring two glasses of champagne. She was surprised to see him looking casual in slacks and a T-shirt, when she had never seen him without an immaculately tailored suit on. It suited him, she thought.

  He handed her a glass flute as the limo pulled away, and she took it, purposely avoiding his fingers.

  He held up his own glass to her. “Cheers, to a day off!” he said, and Nicole clinked her glass against his, unsure of how to handle this version of Bahir. She had never seen him like this. He was so involved in his work that she had never even considered that he might know how to enjoy himself.

  “Cheers,” she agreed, taking a sip of the bubbly drink, and feeling excited.

  She gazed out the windows as the city passed them by, before looking back at Bahir, whose gaze darted away from her. “How much are you thinking about work right now?” she asked with a teasing gleam in her eye.

  Bahir cleared his throat. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said, his glance darting left and right, then finally down at his pocket, where his smartphone was tucked away.

  Nicole peered at him over the rim of her glass as she sipped on the drink. “You’re wondering how many emails you have this morning, aren’t you?” she asked.

  Bahir huffed, though the sound was playful. “I’ll have you know I woke up early and checked my email already, so today’s business has already been dealt with.”

  “But now you’re wondering what they’ve said back. Has that task been completed? Is the next contract ready? What other slave work can I get Nicole to perform?”

  “Slave work!” Bahir laughed, setting his drink on one knee. “Finally, she speaks the truth! I knew you couldn’t keep your silence about the stresses of this job forever. You, Nicole, are a gem,” he said, taking another sip.

  With a fairly empty stomach, Nicole could already feel the alcohol taking effect, and she set her glass down. There was no way she would ruin her only day off by getting too drunk to enjoy it. Her mind drifted to her other potential job offer, but she brushed the thought aside. No need to think about that on a day like today.

  “So, are you going to check it?” Nicole asked.

  “Check what?” Bahir said.

  “Your email.”

  “Oh. No…” he said, his gaze darting back down to his pocket, the expression of longing evident on his face.

  “I won’t judge you, you know.”

  “But then no one can say that I can have fun, too,” he said.

  “I won’t tell,” Nicole replied.

  A look of relief washed over Bahir’s face as he pulled out his phone, unlocking the screen.

  “It’ll only be a moment,” he said, his expression apologetic.

  Nicole wondered why he would even feel the need to apologize. After all, she was in his employee. Doing some work on the way there was in no way untoward. She watched him as he scanned through emails, opening them up and typing lengthy answers with his thumbs.

  His face had relaxed as he focused on the many projects he was juggling at once, and Nicole smiled to herself as she gazed out the window once again.

  The crystal-clear waters of the Persian Gulf sparkled in the sunlight as they drove down a long stretch of highway along the coast. Buildings became sparser, in favor of desert countryside dotted with palm trees. Bahir continued to work in silence for a while longer before he finally put down his phone and took another sip of champagne. When he glanced over at Nicole, she wore a bemused expression as she stared at her own phone.

  “What is it?” he said, and she looked up at him.

  “You wouldn’t happen to know a woman named Cassandra, would you?” she asked, and Bahir frowned.

  “Maybe. Why?” he asked, cautious.

  Nicole smirked. “For some reason she thinks that she can schedule an appointment with you at your office this afternoon. It says, and I quote, ‘Bahir is expecting me for a very important business meeting, and it is imperative that you schedule me in this afternoon. Please advise as soon as this is scheduled.’”

  Nicole looked up at Bahir, waiting for him to answer, and he squirmed under her stare.

  “All right, all right, so we kind of dated. I don’t think we’re dating anymore, but apparently she disagrees.”

  “Bahir,” Nicole said, her voice admonishing. “Not another one.”

  “Another one! I haven’t dated that many women, Nicole,” he said, defensive.

  Nicole held up a hand and started counting them on her fingers. “There was that Australian woman, the one who you asked me to send flowers to, and write the break up card for, if I remember correctly. Ah yes, she threw a rock at my window after tracing the address back to our building. That was fun. Then there was the woman from Hong Kong. She was a real treat. Now it would seem dear Cassandra is not taking the boot very well either. I wonder what she’ll decide to throw at my window when I tell her there will be no meeting today?”

  Bahir smirked, his expression guilty. “I do find it a bit of a struggle to hold down a healthy relationship,” he admitted, and Nicole grinned.

  “Maybe stop dating crazy people, and then you might find a good match.”

  “I don’t think I have a good match,” he said, his expression suddenly serious.

  Nicole’s eyebrows furrowed. “What are you talking about? You’re a rich, handsome businessman. You’re everyone’s type.”

  “Maybe…but no one is my type. You more than anyone should know that love involves more than money and good looks. It requires someone you can confide in. Someone that accepts your lifestyle. No woman is willing to accept this part of me,” he said, waving at his phone.

  It was true that Bahir probably spent fourteen to sixteen hours of every day working, rather than sleeping or going out with friends or living a life. He spent his life in the office, and Nicole could see how that would get in the way of romance.

  “Maybe you should consider giving some of it up,” she said
, and Bahir looked aghast.

  “I beg your pardon?” he said.

  Nicole shrugged her shoulders. “Something’s gotta give, right? If you want someone willing to give you their time, to love you as you deserve to be loved, then you should be willing to provide the same. If your business is your biggest love, then you shouldn’t bother wasting these girls’ time. It’s an empty promise.”

  Bahir stared at her then, until she had to look away. When she glanced back at him, he said, “You’re very annoying. Do you know that?”

  “I’ve been told so by my brother from time to time,” she said, excited that she’d just created a reason to talk about her brother.

  “No, but really, when did you get so honest? And how do you know so much about relationships? I’ve never once seen you with a man, or known you taking time off to go on a date.”

  This time it was Nicole’s turn to squirm.

  She held her phone back up and clicked Reply. “I guess I’ll just tell Cassandra that you’ll be unable to meet with her for an indefinite amount of time then, shall I?”

  “You’re deflecting.”

  “Yep,” she said, her fingers tapping out the message that would continue to break Cassandra’s heart, wherever she was. Nicole hated being the bearer of bad news, at least in this realm. At least in law there were reasons to back up one’s case. Just because my boss doesn’t feel like it anymore didn’t ring as true as something she could look up in a book to use for leverage.

  She finished typing out her email and tapped Send, looking out the window to avoid talking about relationships anymore.

  Nicole had dated in the past, of course. She’d had a wonderful college boyfriend who had landed a job in New York just as she was offered hers in Seattle. The break up was amicable, if sad. It was one of the reasons she deeply abhorred silence. There were too many things to think about, and taking a break allowed for that to happen. Even now, as they drove through the beautiful countryside, she was already allowing those thoughts to invade.

  She glanced over to Bahir, who had taken her cue and hopped back onto his phone to follow up on more emails. What did he think about in his own free time? Probably just work, she thought wryly, gazing back out the window as a small fishing village appeared ahead. The waters were crystal clear, little boats dancing along the waves as fishermen made their daily catches. It was so peaceful compared to the hustle and bustle of the city.

  The limo squeezed between cars on winding country roads until it pulled over by the docks and Bahir looked up from his phone.

  “Ah, we’re here!” he exclaimed, his eyes lighting up.

  It was a whole other side to Bahir that Nicole had only ever caught glimpses of. This was going to be one interesting day.

  The driver opened the door, and Nicole slid out, breathing in the scent of sea air and fresh fish. It was a salty combination, but one she found she enjoyed. It reminded her of the pier back home.

  Bahir slid out after her and stretched his arms high into the air, some of his tanned, flat stomach peeking out from his raised shirt.

  Nicole looked away, not wanting to gawk.

  “Let’s go check out the sights!” Bahir said, striding off down the dock without waiting for Nicole to catch up. She was used to this, of course. He did it every time he left a meeting or decided he had something more important to do than whatever he was working on at the moment. She caught up to him easily, falling in stride by his side.

  The bay was bustling with fishermen and townsfolk buying their wares. Most of the people seemed not to notice them, but they had only been walking for a few minutes when an older woman bustled up to Bahir and grasped his hand, speaking to him in rapid Arabic.

  Nicole watched as he smiled warmly at the woman, placing his other hand around hers, and speaking to her in his native language. It was fascinating to watch. Nicole had heard Bahir speak Arabic a few times before, but generally he tended to conduct business only in English.

  He turned to Nicole and in English, he said, “This is my associate, Nicole Calvert. Nicole, this fine woman is Akilah. She owns a little restaurant not far from here that my family and I used to frequent when I was a child.”

  Nicole waved, and the woman smiled.

  “Hello,” Nicole said.

  “It is a pleasure to meet anyone who is a friend of the Sheikh. Please, you would honor me by coming to the restaurant and having a bite. The food is just as delicious as you will remember, I am certain! My husband is still the chef,” she said with a wide grin. She was missing a few teeth, and her skin was deeply wrinkled with old age, but her youthful exuberance shone through.

  As if on cue, Nicole’s stomach rumbled at the thought of food. Her face turned bright red, and there was a pause as she glanced from Bahir to Akilah, then the two of them burst out laughing.

  The woman gestured for them to follow her. “You have already answered my question. Come, follow me. Don’t get lost in the crowd!”

  Bahir turned back to look at Nicole with a glint of humor shining in his eyes. He was way more handsome like this, she thought, when he was relaxed and having fun.

  Nicole found herself seeing Bahir in a totally different light, and tried to remember that he was her boss, and that this was only a snapshot in time. The next day he would likely be right back to business as usual.

  He held out his hand for her to take. “No getting lost,” he said, his gaze full of challenge.

  Was it appropriate to hold the hand of her employer? Glancing down at his outstretched hand, Nicole found that in that moment she really didn’t care. Let tomorrow come when it came, and today would be a fond memory she could hold onto when the work got overwhelming once again.

  She placed her hand in his, and felt a small shock of electricity shoot straight to her heart.

  Bahir didn’t seem to notice. He grasped her hand and led her through the busy streets, trying to keep an eye on Akilah as she pressed on toward a small white building off the main road.

  The restaurant was filled with locals, though it didn’t feel crowded; just comfortable. Akilah led them to a table near a corner and gestured for them to sit down.

  “Sit, sit! I will bring you some bread and oil while Abdul cooks you up some of our best delicacies!”

  A young woman in a purple hijab approached the table with some glasses of water.

  “Bahir, this is my daughter, Farah. She is very pretty, yes?” Akilah said.

  The girl blushed as she peered at Bahir from beneath lowered lashes, and he gave her his most debonair smile.

  “It’s nice to meet you, Farah,” he said, accepting a glass from her.

  The girl set down Nicole’s glass with a curious stare before returning all her attention back to Bahir.

  This was another thing Nicole had gotten used to. One didn’t spend time in the company of an eligible bachelor and not get accustomed to being completely ignored at every turn. That was just part of the job description.

  Akilah spent another minute praising her daughter before they both left the table. Farah returned shortly after with a basket of bread and a shy smile for Bahir.

  “Do you ever get used to it?” Nicole asked, tearing off a piece of warm flatbread and dipping it in oil before taking a bite.

  Akilah was right. The food was delicious. Of course, the fact that Nicole was starving and rarely ate an actual meal could have also contributed to that fact.

  Bahir looked at her, taking his own piece of bread. “Used to what?” he asked, tucking in.

  Nicole blinked, trying not to get lost as she gazed at him. “The adoring public. Being treated like a god everywhere you go.”

  Bahir scoffed, taking another bite and swallowing. “I am not treated like a god. People are simply nice to me. They always have been.”

  “Are you really so naïve as to think that it’s because people are inherently kind?”

  “What, you think people are inherently evil?” he countered.

&
nbsp; Nicole frowned. “I think people are born with the capacity to be good or evil, and each person makes that choice over and over again as they age. Saying that, I don’t think you see how much better you are treated than the general public.”

  Bahir shrugged. “Well, I’m not the general public, am I? I was born into privilege and with that comes a certain level of treatment. That is not my fault, and I think that in turn I am kind to those around me, wouldn’t you agree?”

  Nicole thought about that for a moment. It was true that while Bahir was generally treated better because of his good looks and status, he had never really taken advantage of the fact. He hadn’t let it get to his head so much that he treated others poorly, knowing that they had to be nice to him either way. In spite of being born into wealth and building an empire, Bahir wasn’t a snob.

  “How did you manage it?” she asked, unable to resist prying a little.

  “What, being kind? Not everyone who comes from money is a jerk, Nicole. Now who’s the snob?”

  “Just speaking from my own experience,” she said, tearing off another mouthful of bread.

  It was nice getting to know Bahir—the real Bahir, behind the businessman—and she found herself greedy to know more. Before she could ask another question, however, Farah and Akilah were back with plates full of hot, fragrant food.

  “You will love this, I assure you,” Akilah said with a big smile. She patted her daughter on the shoulder before they left Bahir and Nicole to eat again, and Nicole tried her best to be as delicate as possible as she scarfed down the best meal she’d had in months.

  “You think I should ask Farah out?” Bahir asked, wiggling his eyebrows, and Nicole laughed.

  “I think that would be cruel of you. Leave the poor girl alone—you have no intention of giving her the love she deserves.”

  “You don’t know that,” Bahir said with a furrowed brow.

  “Don’t I? You said earlier that no one can take the place of work in your heart.”

  “You’re putting words in my mouth, Nicole. I said that I wish I could meet a woman who could accept my lifestyle.”

  “Yes, but your lifestyle includes all of your free time. At first a woman might be able to accept that—seeing you sparingly, living her own life of luxury while you spend your days and nights at the office. But that would fade in time. A woman wants to be loved. She wants the one thing a man can give that doesn’t cost a thing: his time. She wants to know that she is worth more than the fame, the glory and the empire.”

  “Really? Because in my experience a woman wants money, and that’s the end of it.”

  “You can’t mean that. What about your mother?” Nicole asked.

  Bahir’s laugh was brittle. “My mother cared more about our estate than she did about my father. As she stood over his cold body, all she could think about was maintaining her lifestyle.”

  “Not all women are like that, Bahir,” Nicole said flatly.

  “How do you know?” he shot back.

  “Because I’m not from your world. I know what it’s like to value things beyond the material, and to take advantage of them when they are there. I’ve seen what toll it takes on someone to have their world stripped away.”

  Bahir stared at her for a moment. “What happened?”

  Nicole stared at the table, not wanting to answer. Still, her little outburst deserved an explanation, and Bahir’s eyes were open and free of judgement.

  “When I was seven, my parents’ house burned down. It was a kitchen fire that I started. We lost everything because of me. My brother was blind. We had to drag him out of the house because he couldn’t find his own way. In one day everything was taken from me—my possessions, my parents’ trust, a life free of guilt. One stupid mistake and it was all gone.”

  “You can’t possibly blame yourself for that, Nicole. You were a child.”

  “And you wouldn’t blame yourself, if you’d burned down your father’s estate. You wouldn’t live the rest of your life seeing the resentful stares? I had to learn to place value in other things, Bahir, because in the space of a few hours, my family lost everything. So don’t tell me I don’t know a woman who can value love above possessions. When you lose everything, sometimes love is all you have left. My family never blamed me for what happened, and I’ll be forever grateful to them for that.”

  They sat in silence for some time. Finally, Bahir sighed.

  “Thank you for sharing that with me. Sometimes I forget that the world is a much bigger place than I can fathom, and that every story is different.”

  “Well, it helps to be so busy I never have time to think about my problems, so I guess I have you to thank for that,” Nicole said.

  A little voice in her head told her she should stop talking. She was rambling about love and nonsense.

  Bahir sighed. “You can just say I’m overworking you, Nicole. There’s no need to beat around the bush about it.”

  “What?” she asked, not expecting that answer.

  “You shrugged off my question about your love life because you don’t want to admit that I don’t allow you the time you need to find someone. Admit it,” he said, pointing a fork at her.

  “This isn’t about me,” Nicole deflected. “This is about you and your paramours. I’m just saying you should leave that girl alone, because she expects more from you than you can give. Stick to business, and maybe then you’ll stop leaving behind a string of broken hearts for me to clean up.”

  They ate in silence for a few moments, collecting their thoughts. It was the most honest conversation they’d ever had, and Nicole wondered just how far she would have to go to get him to fire her. If he did, would the other firm give her an offer in time? Was there really anything she could say to push him over the edge? Bahir, the unflappable businessman?

  Bahir sighed. “Well maybe I should just marry her. My visa situation is a mess and I might not even be granted access to America again. Maybe I should just settle here; buy a boat and fish for the rest of my life.”

  Nicole laughed at this, picturing Bahir in a fisherman’s overalls, casting lines out to sea. She took another bite, her belly starting to feel full.

  “You know you’re rich, right? I know we just talked about it, but you’re used to getting your way, Bahir. Yes, this might take some time, or maybe a little creative thinking, but with your kind of money, you can make anything happen.”

  Bahir stared at her, then, a funny expression on his face.

  Nicole’s hand shot up to her lips. “What? Is there something on my face?” she asked.

  The corner of Bahir’s lip twitched, his dimple threatening to come up to the surface. “No, there’s nothing. It’s just—”

  Bahir didn’t get a chance to finish his sentence. Abdul the cook had come out from the kitchens to say hello.

  He turned to Nicole after shaking Bahir’s hand. “This young man used to come to our restaurant every summer with his family. Very nice people, the Al-Jabbars, very nice. You eat on the house today. We’re grateful for your patronage!”

  Bahir put up his hands. “Absolutely not. I would find it a great insult if I could not provide payment to you for your exceptional service. Please allow me to feel that my gratitude has been adequately received.”

  Akilah grinned. Nicole could tell that was the answer she was hoping for, and Farah pulled a bill from her front apron, placing it on the table.

  “Whenever you are ready then, Bahir. Remember, you’re welcome back any time, and bring lots of friends!”

  “I will,” Bahir promised, though Nicole wondered just what friends he had to bring; she had never seen him with anyone other than business partners.

  When they left the table, she reached out to grab the bill, used to handling these things while Bahir kept the conversation flowing. Her hand collided with his. Glancing up, their gazes met and held, as their hands continued to touch.

  “What are you doing?” Nicole asked.

  Bahir smi
rked. “Can’t a guy buy lunch, every once in a while?”

  “Technically you buy lunch every time,” she pointed out, and Bahir broke the contact by swiping up the check and placing a hefty pile of bills on top of it.

  “Humor me, then,” he said as he stood, and Nicole rose as well, waving farewell to Akilah’s family as they exited the establishment.

  As they walked down the street, Nicole’s phone started beeping furiously, indicating a quick succession of emails.

  And just like that, the spell was broken.

  Pulling out her phone, Nicole read that a crisis was spreading across the office in Dubai. The legal team were missing documents that only she had access to, back at the computer in her apartment.

  “Damn,” she said.

  “What is it?”

  “It’s the Monroe case documents. The legal team needs them now and I have them saved on my computer back at my apartment in Dubai. I’ve got to get them back today.”

  “I’ll come with you,” Bahir said, and she held up a hand.

  “No,” Nicole said, not used to contradicting him, but not wanting to be around him at that moment. He was too mesmerizing, and she needed to clear her head. “There’s nothing you can do. Besides, you’re actually taking time off to enjoy yourself. I’m sure you know other people in the village, maybe even some family you might want to visit?”

  Bahir looked reluctant. Ah, there he was. The annoying boss micromanaging her every move.

  “Bahir, I’ve got this. I’ll keep you posted, but it should be an easy fix. I’ve just got to take care of it now.”

  “Well let’s get back to the limo…” he said, heading in that direction.

  Nicole passed him and waved down a cab on the small side street. The driver pulled over, waiting for her to get in.

  “I’ve got it. You enjoy your day, and I’ll give you the update this evening,” she said, not allowing him to argue as she hopped in the cab and gave the driver directions to her apartment. He balked at the distance back to the city, but when she showed him a pile of cash, he happily whistled as he drove on, leaving Bahir behind them in the dust.

  Nicole knew she was running, but she didn’t care. Her feelings were irrational, and she needed some space to think, away from Bahir. Had she really just confided her darkest secret to her boss?

  All the talk of love and commitment was going right to her head, when what she really needed was to get back into work mode. Bahir Al-Jabbar was too tempting to resist. Checking her email one more time, she frowned as she saw no reply from Simon and Jenkins Associates.

  She needed to get her thoughts in order, fast, before she did something she regretted.

 
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