The sheikhs secret love.., p.3
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       The Sheikh's Secret Love Child, p.3
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         Part #2 of The Sheikh's Baby Surprise series by Holly Rayner
THREE

  The hours passed far too quickly in an anxiety-ridden day, and suddenly Rosie found herself preparing for the date. She hadn’t dolled herself up in ages—certainly never for work, where sweat rolled down her back, and where she couldn’t get away with anything but a ponytail and scrubs.

  Rosie scrubbed her face and hair before folding herself in a luxurious towel and taking body creams to her skin; if anything came of the evening, she wanted to be soft to the touch. Her body sizzled at the thought. She hadn’t been intimate with someone in months and months. Did she even remember how?

  She donned a green dress; one that highlighted the deep red of her hair. She swiped lipstick over her lips and checked her teeth with a clown smile. Everything was going to be fine, she told herself, her heart bumping in her chest. Taking one last look in the mirror, she realized with a jolt that she had cut herself shaving, and a slice of bright, red blood was drawing down her leg. God, why couldn’t she get it together?

  Rosie took an Uber to the downtown French restaurant, not wanting to muss her hair in the bus. She’d passed the place many times before; with its high ceilings and chandeliers, it had always been clearly off-limits, especially with her current salary. In the past, she’d gazed at the diners, wanting to press her nose against the window and become a part of their foie gras and fromage world of finery. This was, perhaps, the only time she would feel such a level of luxury. She vowed to eat every bite, to really experience the meal, without feeling nervous about eating in front of Hakan.

  She entered the restaurant, bowing her head slightly, as if recognizing that the other diners knew she was an outsider. She should have worn more expensive perfume, maybe. Or just called him and told him she was too ill to go out.

  She stood by the door, waiting for the maître d’, wringing her hands slightly. Where was Hakan?

  Her eyes swept the room, taking stock of every person, nibbling baguettes with perfect teeth. She was a bit early still, and yet she was terrified that she might have been stood up. It hadn’t happened to her before, and yet—somewhere in the back of her mind, she almost expected it to.

  Suddenly, the maître d’ approached her. Her face grew red, tomato-like—akin to baby Marco’s—and she felt herself stuttering.

  “Hello,” she began, uncertain.

  The man bowed slightly, ever cool. “Bonsoir, mademoiselle. May I request your name?”

  Rosie looked at him with deer-eyes. “Um, yes. It’s Rosie. Rosie Lund.”

  The maître d’ nodded, gesturing. “Please, follow me, won’t you?”

  “I’m waiting for someone—”

  “His Highness is already here,” the man said softly. “He’s waiting for you upstairs.”

  His Highness?

  Hardly able to breathe, Rosie followed the man to the back of the restaurant, where they entered a private elevator. Rosie watched sadly as the doors slid closed, secretly wishing they could sit with the rest of the diners in that glorious room.

  Her eyes lingered on the maître d’s face for a moment, trying to figure out what he was thinking. Did he think she was good enough to be seated with Hakan? Did he do this kind of thing for rich people all the time? Part of her wanted to lean toward him, to tell him she was normal, just like him.

  But then, the elevator door opened to the roof. Rosie’s eyes widened as she walked out, taking in the beautiful, panoramic view. The terrace was decorated sumptuously, lit with flickering tealights and peppered with countless roses. Rosie grinned inwardly as she gazed out from the roof, seeing the exquisite view of her city below. Behind her was the water. She tried to make herself feel calm with the sound of the waves.

  Beneath the tealights stood a table, decorated in the same finery as those in the dining room downstairs. Seated at the table was Hakan, who, upon seeing her, sprung to his feet, his dark eyes blinking quickly.

  She walked toward him, her eyes assessing his immaculate suit, his deep maroon tie, and his perfect five o’ clock shadow. It made him look older, edgier. Something turned over in her stomach, and she felt herself smile at him.

  “Hello,” she whispered. Around them, it seemed that the world had stopped.

  Hakan met her by the side of the table and kissed her cheek, giving her a brief hug. “It’s good to see you again,” he murmured. “You look absolutely exquisite.”

  She’d never been called that before. Cute, maybe. But exquisite?

  She smiled up at him. “And you look great.” Great wasn’t a word that did him justice, but she went with it, instantly wanting to kick herself.

  “It’s a wonder what you can do when you haven’t just been in a car accident,” Hakan said, making that playful smile stretch across his face once more. He chuckled, catching her off-guard in a joke.

  And she loved it, shaking her head ruefully. She gestured toward the view. “Was this really the best you could do?”

  Hakan took her elbow and led her to the chair. “I was pinched for time, you know. But I came up with something. I hope you like it.”

  Rosie couldn’t kid any longer. She flung her head back, wringing her hands through her hair. “Hakan, it’s gorgeous! I can’t imagine the last time I saw such finery. Not on any vacation I’ve ever taken.”

  Hakan shook his head slightly, fessing up. “As it happens, I had a slight advantage: I own this restaurant.”

  Rosie’s jaw dropped. “You own a restaurant in Seattle? Even though you live in New York?”

  “Restaurants are kind of a side passion of mine,” he explained, eyes gleaming. “I have some over in California, just this one in Seattle, and five scattered all over New York. It’s not anything I know so much about, the restaurant business. But I like being able to come to them and experience, say, the finer things. Like this. With you.”

  In that moment, a waiter approached them, swinging a red wine bottle from behind his back and filling Rosie’s empty wine glass just a finger high, so that she could taste it first.

  Rosie sipped it with tight lips, very aware that the two men were watching her. She paused for a moment, allowing the liquid to roll around her tongue, before nodding. “It’s good,” she murmured. Who was she kidding? She didn’t know anything about wine.

  Hakan looked pleased. “I thought you’d like it. It’s one of my favorites, straight out of Washington. I always have it when I’m here.” He lowered his voice, then, his tone conspiratorial. “I know this must seem like a lot of grandeur, but I wanted to go all out for you. In reality, I like to live like everyone else. Burgers and fries, pizza, beer. Trust me, I can be very, very boring.”

  Rosie doubted that.

  The waiter filled their glasses with expensive Washington wine, and Rosie felt herself loosening at Hakan’s words. “I thought you might think I’m some kind of plebian,” she joked, sipping it. Liquid courage would do her good.

  “Of course not,” Hakan laughed. “I just wanted to impress you on our first date. And cheers to that, by the way.”

  They tipped their glasses together, and the sound tickled Rosie’s ears. She grinned inwardly. “So, are we going to be having French food? I don’t know so much about it…” She shrugged, sensing she could be honest in front of him.

  Hakan shook his head. “While this restaurant produces some of the best French cuisine in the States, I’ve asked them to prepare a different menu for us this evening. You see, I’ve been a bit homesick lately. And given that you’ve probably never been to the Middle East, I was thinking we could dine on some of the things I’m missing. It’s all enormously good,” he said, coaxing. “I promise you’ll like it.”

  Rosie couldn’t imagine that he would ever lead her wrong. “Of course,” she grinned, nodding. “I’m open to everything today.”

  “Good,” Hakan said. Their eyes connected over their wine glasses, and the night hummed around them. It seemed like something big was about to happen. “We’ll start with the hummus platter.”

  Rosie told herself to stop fidgeting with he
r hair. She pressed her thighs down over her hands and blinked up at him, feeling her stomach rumbling. She waited, eager for him to take over the conversation. Somehow, despite the fact that he’d already revealed true compassion, she still expected him to be a stereotypical, egotistical rich man.

  But then, Hakan asked her a question. “So, how were things on the obstetrics floor today?”

  She was shocked to find that he looked eager to know.

  Rosie’s eyebrows pulled high on her forehead. “Well, today was my day off.”

  “A much-needed break, I can imagine.”

  She nodded, her muscles relaxing. “Lately, it’s been crazy. It seems like my co-nurses call in sick far more frequently in the summer, and I’ve been working a great deal more. I need the money for rent, of course, so I usually accept extra shifts.” She looked down, conscious that Hakan probably didn’t care about this.

  “But it must wear you out,” Hakan said softly.

  “More than I can say. Especially since my friend Amy went down to part time, I’ve been questioning what I’m doing there. Like, she’s gone, so there’s a gap for me to think. Which is dangerous, you know? I mean, I loved getting into nursing when I was a student. I thought that this was the only thing I wanted to do. I wasn’t interested in art or music or anything like that. Beyond anything, I liked taking care of people. And I’ve never been squeamish, either. When I fell on the ground as a kid, like off my bike or something, I remember looking at the blood pouring from the skin and not being afraid. I wondered how it happened, how the scab formed, everything.”

  “Were you one of those kids who yanked off their scabs to see what was below?” Hakan asked.

  Rosie laughed. “Of course I was. I was so weird.” She shook her head.

  “I don’t think it’s weird. I think, so often, who we are as children are who we grow up to be. We fight to be something else for a while, something that could please our parents, our friends or our lovers.” He paused, clearing his throat. “But in the end, we’re just kids who yank off scabs. And we become nurses.”

  It was beautiful the way he said it, Rosie thought, like he actually saw who she was, and accepted it.

  As the pause grew between them, the waiter placed the hummus plate on the table, and they turned their attention to the food. Rosie ate enthusiastically, without shame, knowing that Hakan just wanted her to appreciate the food that had come from his youth.

  “This is delicious,” she murmured, taking another bite, allowing the unusual texture to course over her tongue. “I can’t believe I had to grow up on hot dogs.”

  Hakan laughed appreciatively. “I really miss this stuff. You can get it everywhere, of course, but it doesn’t always taste like what my mother prepared.”

  “Wait, your mom still cooked?” Rosie asked. “Even though your parents were—” She trailed off before reaching the word “billionaires.”

  He nodded, taking a long sip of his wine. “She did, but let’s not talk about that. I’m so interested in your work, Rosie. I haven’t spoken to many nurses in my life. It must be amazing knowing that your life has meaning. Every day, you go to work, and you help babies to be born. That’s—that’s absolutely insane.”

  Rosie blushed. She’d never heard anyone speak about her job this way.

  She didn’t want to talk much more about work, however. She was starting to realize it was the only thing she had going on in her life, that most of her friends were moving to the suburbs, having kids and moving on. Rosie just went to work, came home, watched a movie, and repeated. She couldn’t very well flourish that into a glorious tale.

  “It’s a beautiful thing, at least at first,” Rosie affirmed. “But I think you get used to it somehow. Like the miracle of life becomes, well, normal.”

  “I can imagine that, I suppose. Everything about my life, even as I work hard and am able to live this way—” He gestured at the tealights, at the dinner, at the city below them. “Everything about it can grow mundane, if I allow it to. I think that’s the necessary trick of life. That you have to stay present for it. Or you might miss something.”

  “Or you might hit something,” Rosie murmured. “If you hadn’t been present yesterday, you might have run me over flat.”

  Hakan laughed, then: a deep, pleasant laugh that erupted from his stomach. “Good point. Very, very good point.”

  Their second course came, then: vine leaves, stuffed with meat and rice and covered in spiced oils. Rosie cut at hers with a knife and fork, watching as Hakan’s strong arm lifted the wine bottle and poured them each another drink.

  “But you’d grow tired of being normal, surely,” she started, then. “You’re the head of one of the biggest media agencies in the world, and you’re incredibly powerful. People know your name.”

  He shook his head, as if knowing that this topic would eventually come to light. “I’m only happy if people like you know my name. People who actually care about me, who ask me questions. The people who ‘know my name,’ as you say, are only interested in money and power. That’s exceedingly uninteresting, don’t you think?”

  “I suppose so,” Rosie said. She felt that they were whispering together at the top of a mountain, after climbing from opposite sides and completely different worlds. Somehow, they could still speak the same language.

  Hakan put his fork down, then. “I want to be completely honest with you, Rosie,” he murmured. “I don’t see any reason not to be…”

  Rosie felt her throat closing. He was going to tell her that he was married, wasn’t he? How hadn’t she read the signs? How hadn’t the internet told her? God, it was just like that ex-athlete all over again (albeit with better wine).

  But then he began. “In just a few days’ time, I’m meant to fly back home to my country, Zaymari.”

  Rosie tried to picture the country on the map, but couldn’t. She had never been a master of geography. “Zaymari,” she said, feeling the word on her tongue. It dripped with honey, much like everything Hakan said.

  “When I arrive back in Zaymari, I’m going to be crowned the constitutional monarch of the country. Which, I realize, sounds insane.”

  Rosie nearly dropped her fork. Constitutional monarch? “So you’ll essentially be king of the country.”

  He nodded, sighing. “Essentially, yes. I always knew that I would one day have to return to my country and assume the throne. I thought it wouldn’t happen until I was older, but my father died a few months ago, and that brought things forward slightly. I’ve had some time to prepare for it, but the fact that it’s finally happening, is, truthfully, quite terrifying.”

  “I’m sorry about your father,” Rosie said meekly.

  “He was ill for a long time,” Hakan said quietly. “And now, I must return for good. The reason I’m in Seattle right now is because I have a few last-minute business meetings before I must make Zaymari my primary base.”

  “Since you’re the monarch, shouldn’t you be able to change the rules to suit your needs?” Rosie asked, knowing her voice sounded childlike. Why was she already trying to cling to him, somehow? To keep him in her life?

  Hakan shook his head sadly. “I love my country, Rosie. I grew up there, and I love it more than I love the United States, even though I’ve lived most of my adult life here. And my mother is there. I want to be by her side, to help her into old age. And I want to work for my country, while keeping control of my media agency.” He shrugged. “I want everything, I suppose, because I’m selfish. So unlike you, as a nurse.”

  Rosie burned inwardly. She had never asked for much in this life, and yet Hakan seemed to seek everything. Perhaps asking for things meant that you were more likely to find them.

  Above all, however, Rosie was slowly realizing that this wasn’t the kind of relationship that was going to go anywhere. As it was, Hakan needed to move back to Zaymari in just a few days. She would be his last bit of America. And she would have to be fine with that.

  “So, you only have
a few days here, right?” Rosie worked herself up to say it, after a brief pause.

  He nodded. He’d hardly touched his vine leaves. The air had changed.

  “And you truly believe that hanging out with me, of all people, is the most enjoyable thing you could do?” she asked, laughing slightly. She heard her voice break. She felt like she was being dumped before anything had even begun.

  Hakan put his knife and fork down again. He gave her a quick, mischievous smile. “Can I ask you a question?”

  Rosie nodded, unsure.

  “Okay. Do you believe in fate?” he asked.

  Rosie brought her napkin to her mouth, shocked at the word he’d chosen. Was her vine leaf making her choke?

  “Fate? Huh.” She paused, allowing the word to roll around her head for a moment. Fate meant you had a final destiny, a lasting purpose, right? She shook her head slowly, watching the disappointment grow in Hakan’s handsome face. “I don’t think I believe in it. No.”

  Hakan raised his eyebrows. “Don’t be so quick to turn it down,” he said. “Fate has led both of us here, together. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for fate. I truly believe that.”

  “Well, when your fate is that you’re a king, I’m sure it’s quite nice to believe in it. It’s already on your side,” Rosie laughed.

  But Hakan shook his head. “Think about yesterday, Rosie. I was driving back to my hotel, completely unaware that a gorgeous woman named Rosie Lund, obstetric nurse, was out there in the world. And then, all at once, she walked diagonally through my path. And I had to swerve and crash so I didn’t kill her.” He shrugged, his eyes searching. “And if it weren’t for those tiny moments, all coming together like pieces of a puzzle, we wouldn’t be here together.” He brought his hand over the table and placed it over her slim fingers. She shivered. “Something strong brought us together. And I think you feel it, too.”

  But Rosie didn’t want to feel it anymore.

  She swallowed dryly. Sure, she felt their intense chemistry. She felt almost physical pleasure when she looked at him, when she saw him grin at her. But he was going to leave in just a few days. It was better not to get attached, she knew. It was better to enjoy this time, and then seal the envelope on this portion of her otherwise boring life, never to speak of it again.

  Rosie shrugged, then, realizing she needed to speak. “Well. I can’t say it was fate that brought us together, Hakan. Not when what really brought us together was my abject clumsiness. Trust me. It’s famous around here.”

  At that, Hakan let his head fall back and laughed, deeply, making her giggle along as well. In moments, they were laughing like children, on top of the world. Nobody else on earth would have understood the joke.

  “If you say so, Rosie. If you say so,” he chuckled.

  After the next course, Rosie excused herself to go to the bathroom. She wanted to ensure her lipstick was still stellar, that she didn’t look like such a lush after so much wine. It was lolling around her head, causing her to feel dizzy as she spoke.

  In the mirror, she eyed herself warmly, tapping at her cheeks. She was twenty-nine, but looked younger, she thought. She hoped she would retain her looks into her thirties. Especially if she was ever going to get married. Perhaps this date would be the first of many encounters. A girl could dream, couldn’t she?

  When Rosie returned to the table, she was surprised to see someone other than the waiter hovering by their table, speaking in harsh tones to Hakan.

  The Middle-Eastern man, dressed in rich, earthy colors, was much older than Hakan, perhaps over seventy, and had wrinkled hands and beady eyes. His hands moved quickly as he spoke, creating a sort of spider dance. Rosie hung back until he noticed her, and immediately eyed her suspiciously. What was going on?

  Soon, the man righted himself. Hakan thanked him for the information with a slight bow of his head, and the man acknowledged Rosie silently.

  Rosie sat back down, her eyes questioning.

  “One of my aides,” Hakan explained. “He can be a bit like a guard dog at times. Always watching out for me, certain that everything I do will ruin both me and the family.” He laughed. “Please, don’t let him bother you.”

  “I won’t,” Rosie promised, feeling assured. Of course Hakan couldn’t choose the way all of his staff acted. And everyone was just human, after all. She decided to let the strange feeling pass.

  Although she was full, she was more than ready to taste the next course. The spices and textures were incredible, transporting her to another, almost alien world.

  They continued their meal, chatting blissfully about her work, about his expectations for when he arrived in his home country, and also about little things. Their favorite foods. Their favorite music. If she thought she might want to get married someday. Every topic was open to them, if only because Rosie knew they would never see each other again. She imagined, somehow, that she was just practicing for another date. But she couldn’t quite shake what he’d said earlier, about fate.

  The waiter removed their empty plates and Hakan stood, extending his elbow for her to take.

  Rosie did so, feeling herself teeter with the wine as she joined him. She placed her free hand over her mouth, dabbing at her lipstick. “I shouldn’t have drunk so much wine,” she murmured. “I’m more of a lightweight than I used to be.”

  “Did I get you drunk? That was never my intention,” he said devilishly, winking at her afterwards.

  She shook her head, again feeling that insane electricity between them.

  As they boarded the elevator, they heard the last of the hubbub of the city below, and Rosie tried to memorize the gorgeous scene: the decorated table, the roses, the tealights, everything. She sighed into Hakan, leaning her heavy head on his chest. She longed for him, suddenly—feeling closer to him, to his body, than she had to anyone in years.

 
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