Sold to the sheikh his i.., p.3
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       His Indecent Proposal, p.3

         Part #1 of Sold To The Sheikh series by Holly Rayner
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  Lenny was true to his word. Sitting in the waiting area, Mia barely had time to get through the stack of papers she had brought with her to grade when the shop owner came to let her know the repairs were almost finished. "It wasn't as bad as Rami had me believe," Lenny told her with a little shrug. "Though I did notice your brakes are pretty worn in the back." Mia blushed, too embarrassed-and too proud-to say that she hadn't been able to afford to get them fixed.

  "Yeah? I was planning on getting those done next," she said, fumbling with her papers and avoiding Lenny's gaze.

  "I gave Rami a call and mentioned it to him-said it probably happened in the collision. He said he'd be happy to pay for them as well, so I've got one of my guys out picking up a new set of brake pads for you." Mia nearly dropped the essays in her hands and stared at the older man in outright astonishment.

  "That's-are you sure he won't be mad? Won't he find out? Would he-would he sue you, or try and come after me?" Lenny shook his head.

  "Nah, he was only too happy to take care of it," Lenny said, brushing aside Mia's concern with a wave of his hands. "He won't even question whether it's possible for brakes to be damaged like that, or I wouldn't have done it." Lenny grinned. "I just didn't like the idea of you driving on those brakes-it's asking for another accident."

  "I really appreciate it," Mia said. "I was starting to worry. I knew they needed fixing, but?"

  "But you're a teacher and money's tight." Mia wondered how Lenny knew, and before she could ask he gestured at the schoolwork she had scattered around her, all of it in various stages of being graded. "It was my pleasure, my dear. Rami's got more money than sense-it might as well do someone other than him some good." Lenny left her after that, pausing only to tell her that her car would be completely finished within the hour.

  Mia went to her mother's directly afterwards. She didn't tell her mother about the accident; she didn't want to worry Amie, and with the repairs done with no trouble to Mia, there was no need to mention it at all. The new brakes were wonderful, though it took Mia the rest of her afternoon's errands to get used to them-if she tapped the brake the way she was used to doing, the car jerked to a stop, slamming her back against the seat with a jolt.

  As grateful as she was that Rami had taken care of her car, the incident faded to the back of Mia's mind as she spent the rest of the weekend helping her mother clean up the house, taking her to the grocery store, and making phone calls to confirm the next week's appointments. During the week, one of the neighbors, Karen, drove her mom to most of the doctors' offices, since it was next to impossible for Mia to get time off, but on weekends, Mia took over.

  As the days passed, Mia found herself once more embroiled in responsibilities: trying to keep her students motivated, going to meetings she didn't truly have time for, keeping in daily contact with her mother to make sure she was okay and hearing about the different treatments and updates on Amie's condition.

  Every so often, as the days since the incident became a week, and one week became two, Mia would stop short in the middle of something with the feeling like she had forgotten something. But each time she wracked her tired brain to try and remember what it could possibly be, she couldn't think of it. By the fourth or fifth time, Mia decided that whatever it was, it couldn't be that important-or she would have remembered it. Of course I'll probably find out in a week or two that it's some bill, or some prescription I need to refill for Mom, and everything will go to crap.

  When no disaster reared its ugly head, Mia went on with her life. Two weeks later, she had taken care of her mother's errands for the weekend, and had a little time to herself. Mia drove to the grocery store, doing her best to enjoy the mild afternoon sunshine; it had been a rainy morning, an absolute misery when she had first gotten up to drive to the pharmacy. There had been moments when Mia had been certain that she would hit someone: the driver who apparently didn't believe in using his headlights in a downpour, or the woman in the Lexus who nearly swerved into Mia in an attempt to make a fast, crafty lane change.

  Walking the aisles of the supermarket close to her house, Mia began to relax. "It's a sad statement on my life when crunching numbers in my head to figure out whether I'm going to eat chicken or eggs this week is relaxing," she murmured, as she looked at the per-ounce prices on the different packages of rice on the shelf. Maybe-just maybe-she could afford to buy a little carton of ice cream; something to treat herself after the stresses of the week. Her bank account was nearly empty, but Mia needed something, and was willing to savor every last mouthful.

  "Hey, Mia," someone said behind her, cutting through her thoughts. Mia nearly dropped a carton of milk in surprise, turning on her heel to see who was speaking. To her shock, Rami was standing just a few feet away, dressed in what she was sure were designer jeans, a pair of oxfords, and a button-down shirt that looked to be tailored-it certainly fit him like a glove, the sleeves rolled halfway up his forearms. Mia forced a smile onto her startled face.

  "Hi," she said, putting the cardboard carton into her shopping cart before it could slip from her fingers. "I didn't know you shopped here." Rami shrugged.

  "I was in the area," he said, a slight smile on his full lips. "I needed to pick up a few things, so I dropped in-and I'm glad I did." He looked her up and down slowly, though not so slowly that Mia felt uncomfortably exposed.

  "Imagine that," Mia said, her smile wavering for just a moment before she reinforced it, steeling herself against the nervousness she felt. "Oh-oh, God, I just realized I never thanked you for helping me get my car fixed," she said, blood rushing into her face. Mia smacked her forehead with her palm, closing her eyes as her embarrassment deepened. "I'm so, so sorry," she said, opening her eyes once more. "I knew I had forgotten something but my life's been pretty crazy this past couple of weeks."

  Rami nodded. "Don't think of it," he said, stepping a little closer to her. Mia noticed that he had a basket in his hands-but there was nothing in it. "I'm glad I ran into you, though. I hope Lenny did a good job fixing everything? He mentioned there was some damage to your brakes, too." Mia shrugged, feeling a little guilty as she remembered the subterfuge Lenny had used to get Rami to pay for the brake work.

  "It's looking great, working great," Mia said. "I hope it wasn't too expensive." She frowned, but Rami dismissed the idea with a gesture.

  "Not at all. Way cheaper than it was to get the ding in my bumper fixed," he said, his lips stretching into a broad smile. "I was hoping, actually-now that I've run into you-that you'd let me take you out for that coffee." Mia's blush deepened. She couldn't quite believe that he was asking her out again.

  "I-like I said, I've been really busy?" she looked down at her cart, biting her lower lip.

  "Aw, come on," Rami said, his voice taking on more warmth and charm than before. "Surely you can spare me an hour? Or are you seeing someone? If so, I apologize for being so pushy."

  Mia chuckled weakly. "No, I'm not seeing anyone," she admitted. "I haven't really had much time to date." She swallowed, wondering how her mouth had managed to become so dry so suddenly; hadn't she taken a sip from her water bottle only moments before Rami had appeared?

  "Then, won't you please give me a chance? I still feel terrible about running into your car, and I wanted to make it up."

  Mia shrugged. "I kind of feel like you did that by getting my car fixed."

  "But that doesn't make up for me being such an ass to you when it happened," Rami said. Mia gathered up her courage and looked at him. Rami was watching her, but there was nothing unpleasant in his gaze-he wasn't leering, or trying to undress her with his eyes. She took a breath.

  "Aright, if you insist," she said, weakly. "I guess I can't say no to a guy who's been so helpful in getting my car fixed." Rami's smile spread over his face and he came a step closer to her.

  "Thank you," he said, reaching out and touching her hand. "I promise, I just want to talk to you over coffee, that's all." Mia summoned a smile and turned it onto Rami, swa
llowing her pride, misgivings, and guilt that Lenny had lied to get him to pay for her brake job.

  "When did you want to meet up?" she asked. Rami raised an eyebrow and glanced at Mia's cart.

  "Well I'm free right now," Rami suggested. "I mean, I can wait for you to finish your shopping, of course, but if you're too busy?" the charming little half-smile came back and Mia found herself unable to think of anything to say in argument with his idea.

  "There's a little caf? in the plaza," she said, remembering a meeting she'd gone to with some of the other teachers at her school. "It's a really nice little mom-and-pop place. We could meet there once we're both done."

  "It's a date," Rami said. He touched her hand again and Mia felt a tingle of something work through her; a kind of hot and cold rush. She smiled and Rami wandered away, stopping after he'd gone a few steps. "You'll text me when you're done, right?"

  "I promise," Mia said, smiling in spite of her nervousness. "I won't stand you up." Rami smiled and raised one of his hands slightly in acknowledgement.

  "See you soon."

  Mia was half tempted to draw out her grocery shopping for as long as she possibly could, hoping that if she spent long enough walking the aisles maybe Rami would give up on their date in favor of something more immediate. But her list was too short, and it wasn't long before she was at the checkout. Mia paid for her cart, spending a dollar on a bag which would keep the refrigerated items cold in her car, before sending Rami a message to let him know she had finished. Almost immediately she felt her phone vibrate in her hand. As Mia pushed the cart out into the parking lot, she unlocked the screen with one hand and read the response. I will see you soon then! Can I order for you? What would you like?

  Mia unlocked the door to her back seat and contemplated the question more seriously than she would have wanted to admit. She loaded the bags into her car and tapped out a response. Surprise me! I'm not too picky. Mia smiled at the neatness of her answer. That way I don't have to feel weird if I pick something expensive, uncultured if I ask for something plain, or poor if I ask for something cheap. He can figure out how much he wants to spend on me for himself.

  Mia pushed the cart into the blocked-off parking spot set aside for them, made sure her car doors were locked and slipped her phone and keys into her purse. She walked across the parking lot in the direction of the little caf?, several shops down from the grocery store on the other end of the big strip. Despite the fact that she hadn't exactly wanted to have a date with Rami-and the fact that he had already seen her that day-she felt a little flicker of nervousness and looked over her outfit: a pair of soft, cotton culottes, a slouchy boat neck shirt, and a pair of well-worn boots she had bought in her last year of college, but had taken good enough care of that they had held up. She decided that, all in all, she didn't look absolutely terrible, and then wondered for a second why she suddenly cared so much.

  Mia smoothed her hair and stepped up onto the curb a few stores down from the caf?, glancing around furtively. She strode along the walkway until she came to the entrance of Le Petit Four, and took a deep breath to steady her nerves before entering. "Welcome to Le Petit Four," a teenage girl said from the hostess stand. "Would you like bar service or a table?" Mia smiled; she recognized the girl from her school, although she wasn't in her class.

  "I'm actually meeting someone, thanks," Mia said. She glanced around the seating area quickly, feeling a brief flicker of paranoia that Rami had set her up for disappointment; but after a moment she spotted him, seated near the window. "Ah," Mia turned back to the girl, giving her another brief smile. "Found him."

  She stepped carefully through the seating area, sidling where the tables were slightly too close together. Rami spotted her approaching and greeted her with a bright, charming smile, standing up to pull the other chair out for her. "I'm glad you agreed to meet me," he said, leaning in and kissing her on the cheek. Mia's cheeks warmed as she sat down with a slightly uneasy smile and spotted a drink waiting for her. "I ordered you a latte, I hope that's okay." Mia glanced down at the tall, white mug with its espresso-tinged foam at the top.

  "Thank you," she said, meeting Rami's gaze for just a moment before picking up the mug to take a sip. Her date had apparently ordered himself an espresso and a water. Does he really need the caffeine? Maybe that's why he was such an ass when he ran into me the other day.

  "It was so nice to run into you at the grocery store," Rami said, and Mia nodded politely, struggling to think of something to say. She realized it had been so long since she had been on a date that she wasn't used to making small talk.

  "I hope it wasn't too much trouble to get your car fixed," she finally replied, taking another sip and setting the mug down carefully. "With a car like that, there must only be so many people you can take it to."

  Rami shrugged. "It's still in the shop, on the waiting list," he said, before taking a sip of his water. "I have another car I've been using-not quite as nice as the Tesla, but it serves my purposes." Mia nodded.

  "It must be really nice to have a backup," she said, thinking just how screwed she would have been had another car been waiting in front of her at the stop sign. Her car would've been totaled, and she was in no position to buy a new one, even with the scanty payout that the insurance company would have offered her. "I don't know what I would have done if I had to wait weeks to get my car fixed."

  "Oh-if you'd had to wait, I would have just loaned you one of my other cars," Rami said, dismissing the concern. "I'd have insisted on it. The accident was my fault, after all." Mia frowned slightly in confusion, then took another sip of her latte to cover her expression.

  "One of your others?" she asked. She had known-it was obvious-that Rami was wealthy. But he was so young; how wealthy could he be?

  "Yeah, I have a dozen or so cars," Rami said, shrugging as if the actual number didn't much matter. "In fact, if yours had been too badly damaged to fix, I could've just given you one. I don't drive half of them." Mia wanted to ask: Then why do you have them in the first place? But she knew the answer already; he had them because he could.

  "That would have been too generous," she said instead, before changing the subject. "Have you been here before?" Rami shook his head.

  "It reminds me a little of this American-owned caf? I used to go to in Paris," he said, glancing around the little room. "Most of the caf?s are French-owned, obviously, but this one was a little off the beaten track." Rami met her gaze once more. "I studied there for a year; I didn't get too much studying done, to be honest, but I learned to speak some French." Mia nodded, wondering to herself if agreeing to the date with Rami had been a complete and utter mistake.

  "It must have been wonderful to live in Paris," Mia said. "I always wanted to visit, but just never really had the money to put a trip together."

  "Oh, it was great," Rami said, beaming. "I went out almost every night. All the best clubs-really exclusive places, full of models." Mia kept her smile on by sheer force of will, wondering why Rami felt the need to mention models to her. "I had this little flat in the middle of the city, threw parties every week and ate some of the best food of my life." Mia simply smiled and nodded-she had no idea what to say.

  "What did you study in college?" she asked, trying desperately to change the subject.

  "This and that," Rami said, shrugging indolently. "I went for Finance, with a minor in Art History. You?" Mia smiled.

  "English Literature and Composition, with a minor in Sociology," she replied.

  "So basically, you knew you wanted to be a teacher from the beginning?" Rami asked. Mia shrugged.

  "More or less." Mia considered. "My dad always used to-well, he encouraged me to write, and to read, and told me that no matter what, if I knew how to communicate effectively, I could accomplish anything. So I thought it would be good to give other kids that message."

  "My parents wanted me to go into finance because they wanted me to be an asset to the family business," Rami told her. Something ca
me over his face, an expression that Mia couldn't quite read, but it was gone so quickly she didn't have time to try and interpret it. "Mostly I just partied and hung out with friends." Mia tried again not to frown.

  It finally occurred to her who Rami reminded her of, and why her feelings towards him were so conflicted: he was exactly like the guys who had belonged to the most exclusive frats at college; boys who were heirs to family fortunes, living on trust funds; guys who never seemed to have a care in the world. Rami started into stories of his college years and Mia forced herself to listen, not wanting to be rude to the man who had paid to fix her car and asked her out on a date-even if she hadn't exactly wanted to accept the invitation. "Oh man, you should have seem my mom's face when I crashed the Lexus. She wanted me to go without a car for a month!" Rami shook his head, laughing to himself. "But my dad told her that it wasn't right for me to be seen walking around or taking the bus, it would bring the family's reputation down and people would think we were poor."

  Mia drained her latte as quickly as she could without appearing to gulp at it, feeling like she needed an excuse to leave as soon as possible. Why in the world does he think all this is going to impress me? Is he even trying to impress me, or does he just do this with everyone? Mia smiled and nodded at stories about the thousand-dollar bar bill that Rami had managed to accrue on his twenty-first birthday, the apartment his parents had bought and furnished for him when he graduated, the details of a life so opulent she couldn't begin to imagine living it.

  But as their conversation went on, Mia was surprised to find Rami's stories included some details she wouldn't have expected-not from the man who'd called her a stupid car-wrecking bitch, nor from the bragging man-child she'd sat down for coffee with. "Spring break of final year, I went on a trip with Habitat for Humanity," he said, when she had tried to open the topic of vacations, hoping that he would tell her something about his family rather than what he spent his money on. "I flew a bunch of the members of my frat down with me, and we spent a week seeing which of us could work on the most houses."

  "That's a good kind of competition to have," Mia said with a grin.

  "Well, we pretty much competed over everything-you know how guys can be, when they're in a group together." Mia nodded; she knew all too well.

  "How many did you rack up?" She asked, raising one eyebrow slightly.

  "Eight! More than one a day. I came in second to my friend Lachlan, but I got the second-place prize we agreed on."

  "And what was the prize?" Mia asked.

  Rami grinned wryly. "It was a pair of those water wings-you know, like they give to kids when they're learning to swim?" Mia laughed out loud.

  "OK? What was first prize?"

  "A spice rack." Mia shook her head at the silliness of the prizes.

  "The idea was that we were competing for the sake of it. The prizes were just a formality." Mia thought that with the kind of money the boys in Rami's frat had at their disposal, it was all well and good for them to compete just for the sake of it; they needed something to keep things interesting.

  "That's great," she said, laughing again. She had finished her latte, but in spite of her earlier misgivings, she suddenly didn't want to leave. "That's really?" she chuckled.

  "God I just realized I've been telling you all about me," Rami said, bringing a hand to his forehead. "I haven't asked a thing about you, sorry. Please tell me about yourself, Mia." Mia shrugged, startled by the change in tactics.

  "There's not all that much to tell," she began, fumbling in her mind for something that might be even a little relatable to the wealthy, somewhat spoiled man sitting across from her. "I've been a teacher for three years, working at the public school. Honestly, I don't really have a life!" Mia laughed nervously. "I don't know if you're aware how much time teachers end up working outside of school hours?"

  "Oh, it's a ton, I know," Rami said, nodding. "I had to get tutoring from one of my teachers when I was in high school, in order to get the grades I needed. The guy was just constantly busy." Rami reached across the table and gave Mia's hand a little squeeze. "I'm grateful that you took some time to sit and talk with me."

  "Well, between that and my mother?" Mia started to say, and then paused.

  "Demanding mother? Mine is, too."

  Mia shook her head. "No, she's very ill," she said quietly. "My father passed away when I was a teenager, and we've no other family around who can help her out. One of the neighbors helps her get to doctors' appointments during the week, but she's got a chronic illness which is really taking its toll on her." Rami frowned, looking sympathetic.

  "That must be really difficult for you, being torn in two different directions by your career and your mother?"

  "It is and it isn't," Mia said, taking a breath to push down the stress that just remembering her mother's condition stirred inside of her. "She-I feel like I really owe her. My dad, too. I was adopted when I was little, and I kind of-I almost feel like I owe them more than I could ever owe my biological parents, because they chose to take me in."

  "You're a good daughter," Rami said with a comforting smile. "I'm not such a good son." A troubled look flicked over his face, before disappearing in an instant. "My mom is fond of telling me what a disappointment I am."

  "She has high expectations for you, then. That's not-I mean, it could be worse."

  Rami nodded quickly. "She has high expectations of me. And my father? his idea of showing love is to buy me a car." Rami shrugged. "I don't think I've heard either of them say 'I love you' more than a handful of times in my life. Not to me, at least; maybe they tell each other all the time...." For a moment, Mia felt almost pity for the wealthy man; even if she had been struggling ever since her father had died, she had at least known that both of her parents loved her dearly.

  "Do you think you'll ever have kids?" Mia wasn't sure why the question occurred to her.

  "I've thought about it," Rami said. "I would want to give a child everything I never had-the love, the attention, you know?" Mia nodded.

  "It's sort of funny," she said, glancing around the room. "We sort of grew up with opposite problems. You grew up with more money than anyone could ever use, but not a lot of actual love, and I grew up with all the love I could stand, but almost no money."

  Rami grinned. "So you'd want to make sure your child could have all the things they ever wanted-the toys, the private school, all that."

  Mia shrugged. "It doesn't seem to have done you that much harm," she admitted.

  "It makes it harder to know how to feel about people," Rami said slowly. "I want to find someone to spend the rest of my life with-but I don't really know how to read people. So many of my friends are just interested in money, but I want someone who would stay with me even if something happened and I was broke next week, you know?" Mia considered the idea before nodding.

  "Yeah, I guess it could be kind of hard to live in that world," she agreed. Her gaze fell on an antique clock mounted on the wall and she realized that they had been talking for far longer than she'd expected. "Oh-oh God, I'm so sorry, but if I don't go now, all of my frozen stuff is going to go bad," she smiled apologetically. "I wish I could stay a little while longer, but that'd be half my money down the drain."

  "No, I understand," Rami said, getting to his feet. "I hope you'll have an hour or two to spare sometime soon, so we can talk again." Mia took the hand he offered; but instead of shaking it, he pulled her closer to him and she smelled the expensive cologne clinging to his skin as he kissed her first on one cheek, then the other.

  "I hope so too," Mia said, though she wasn't sure of how she felt about him, or when she would ever have any free time to spend on a date again. She made sure both her phone and wallet were in her purse before hurrying out of the caf? and to her car. She barely even thought about their conversation as her mind filled with all of the things she still had to do that evening.

  FOUR

 
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