The sheikhs secret love.., p.31
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       The Sheikh's Secret Love Child, p.31
 

         Part #2 of The Sheikh's Baby Surprise series by Holly Rayner
Juliette raced quickly through the halls. Her legs were slight, like the rest of her, and she was making good time, but wasn’t sure if it was good enough. Her messy blond hair, that she’d thrown into a quick bun on top of her head, bounced with every purposeful step.

  She passed a clock on the wall, and looked at it fearfully.

  Five minutes. She had only five minutes to go, and a three-minute walk in front of her through crowded, end-of-term university hallways.

  She picked up the pace, narrowly avoiding a student she’d almost run into when she’d looked at the clock. Her very last assignment of her university career—a piece of Italian to English translation—felt heavy in her hands, as though its importance to her had somehow transformed into a physical weight.

  Excited Italian phrases bounced off the walls around her. Even after three years in Naples, Juliette still found the language enticingly beautiful. Somehow, diving deep into its intricacies day after day, month after month hadn’t dulled the music for her.

  Her eyes glanced up to another clock as she passed it. Three minutes.

  Finally, she got to the main office for her discipline. There, in front of her, was the turn-in box. She breathed a sigh of relief as she saw that there was still a thick stack of papers there, left by her fellow students. The deadline was any moment, but she hadn’t missed it.

  A teacher’s aide appeared from the back and looked at the stack, tired and run ragged as everyone was from the end of the academic term.

  “Are you turning that in, Miss Combs?”

  Juliette nodded and placed the paper on the top of the stack just in time for the aide to pick the papers up and whisk them away.

  And, just like that, it was over. Her entire university career. Done.

  She felt relieved. At least, she thought this was what relief felt like. It was so mixed together with melancholy that it was hard to tell.

  She headed for the city. A walk through the historic streets was just what she needed, she thought, to clear her head.

  She’d spent the last few months looking for jobs in Naples, having started her hunt the moment she realized that without one, she’d be forced to leave the country she’d fallen in love with over the last three years. But no one was hiring. So she’d expanded her search to all of Italy. But still, no one wanted to hire an American girl who would need to be sponsored for a work visa and was straight out of college with no experience.

  She’d considered going in for further study, but just the thought of it tired her. She felt like she’d made it through the last of her studies by the skin of her teeth. She was burned out on academic work, as much as she hated to admit it.

  So she was going home.

  Home. That word was supposed to mean Wisconsin. For the majority of her life, it had. And she had never thought much about it. She couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment that home stopped meaning Wisconsin, and when it started to mean Italy.

  She could only be completely certain it did, because every time someone asked her when she was going home, and what she was looking forward to about it the most, she had a moment of confusion, followed by a deep sense of heartache.

  She gave them the answers they expected—it wasn’t worth getting into what a thorny notion the thought of returning was. She told whoever was asking that Italy was wonderful, but there was nothing like Wisconsin cheese, her beloved sports teams, and the wide open spaces that only the Midwest of America could really provide.

  What she didn’t tell them was that her job prospects there were even less enticing than they were in Italy. She didn’t tell them that she would need to move back in with her parents, whom she loved dearly, but who would always see her as their baby who had been sent to a foreign land at great risk of losing “who she really was”.

  She just wasn’t connected to any of it anymore, and didn’t see any chance of that changing. Maybe, she thought, if she’d never left, she wouldn’t know any better. But the fact was, she did leave. And she had seen all of the things that would make living back where she’d come from impossible.

  Impossible if she wanted to be happy, anyway.

  As she walked along the streets on the way to downtown, she noticed dozens of flyers on the lampposts. These were for big, commercialized end-of-term parties, put up in this area to lure the endless stream of students that walked this way.

  The parties weren’t really her scene. But she’d been invited to a couple of them and had considered going. She’d be able to drown her worries, and escape from it all for a little while, in theory.

  But that was just it: it was only in theory. In reality, she knew herself well enough by now to know that she’d just be sullen company the whole night. She wouldn’t get any relief from the sad realization that she was soon to be leaving the beautiful place that she’d grown to love.

  And what was the point of going to a party if she was just going to be miserable anyway?

  No, she’d been right the first time. A walk through the city. That would do it. That would clear away the cobwebs and give her one last night, communing with the city that she may never get to see again. At least, not freely. Not like this.

  When she was past the student route, she began to relax more. Here, the people seemed more normal. There wasn’t the frantic end-of-term rush and abandon that permeated everywhere frequented by students around this time of year.

  No, here it was just another day. Just another Friday.

  As she went, Juliette watched the businessmen and women in their suits walk by with a spring in their steps as they realized they were free for the weekend. She watched tradesmen on their way home, with only little telltale signs to show what it was they did for a living. They were free men until Monday.

  She looked down at the streets. She’d been walking these cobblestones for three years, but still, they amazed her. Who was the first person who had walked across them? How different had their life been to the one she led now? Had they enjoyed the silky quality of the sea air as much as she was enjoying it now?

  And then she looked up at the buildings. They were all history, in their own way. Some old buildings, some refurbished, some new. It was the new nestled next to the impossibly old that made the city so intriguing, she thought. The past was always with her, here. The past was always with everyone.

  Wisconsin didn’t have that. Wisconsin wouldn’t ever have that—not for hundreds of years, at least. She’d be long dead before anything in the land of her birth could muster the kind of gravitas that Naples was steeped in.

  When she got to the Fountain of Neptune, she stopped. She was wearing sandals to keep her feet cool in the early summer heat, which had seemed like a good idea before she’d planned to walk around the city all day.

  So she sat down at the edge of the fountain, and watched the people go by. She’d miss them. She didn’t know many of them, but she’d miss them, all the same.

  As she sat, people watching, one man caught her eye. He was different from the others somehow, though she couldn’t put her finger on what it was that made him so. It was something about the way he seemed carefree, above and beyond the way the other people had their Friday glow on.

  It was more than that, even. He felt familiar in a way Juliette couldn’t quite place, even though she was now staring at him.

  It wasn’t because he was handsome. Well, at least Juliette wanted to tell herself that it wasn’t because of his tanned olive skin, thick dark hair and deep brown eyes. She saw him reach his hand up and run his fingers through his hair, and in spite of herself, Juliette felt her breath catch in her throat.

  He looked like the kind of man she would imagine in an expensive suit, even though his clothes at that moment were casual—an open-necked shirt and jeans. She wondered where he was going like that, early on a Friday evening. She couldn’t think of anything in the direction he was heading.

  And then he shifted direction, and Juliette was even more at a loss.

  He was headed towards the fountain.

&nb
sp; She averted her eyes, and tried to downplay the fact that she’d been obviously staring at him. She swallowed. He was going to walk right by her, and stand and look at the fountain, like so many tourists did.

  But he didn’t. Instead, he headed right for her.

  Her heartrate quickened as he got closer. She was torn between wanting him to walk right up to her and ask what her name was, and wanting him to stay away, lest she embarrass herself in front of a man so far out of her league. There were those who said she was attractive, sure. But compared to him?

  She didn’t know whether to smile or blush when he stopped right in front of her, sliding his hands into his pockets in a casual pose.

  “I’m Nico,” he said with a widening grin.

  “I’m Juliette.”

  So far so good.

  But then he leaned down closer to her, moving as though he was about to whisper something in her ear.

  “Your shirt is inside out, Juliette.”

  He leaned back having said the words, and Juliette could swear it was just so that he could see her blush.

  She glanced down, confirming what he had said with a cursory look, although she had no reason to doubt him. The seams on her shirt were easy to mistake, and she’d been in an almighty rush changing out of her all-nighter clothes into something more presentable to go turn in her final assignment.

  But that didn’t seem like the kind of thing to tell a handsome stranger who was looking at her as though he expected a perfectly good explanation. An American student, about to head back to the States to an uncertain and uninspiring future didn’t seem like someone worthy of his attention. And, now that she had his eyes on her, she realized how certain she was that she did want to keep his attention.

  So she shrugged, as though it barely mattered.

  “Easy to do with this shirt,” she said, glad to hear that her voice sounded more confident than she felt. “I had back-to-back meetings all this morning and afternoon and no one noticed, so I think I’m in the clear.”

  Happily, she saw his grin change from satisfied to bemused.

  “Oh, are you?”

  She shrugged again, a little worried that she’d done that too often already, but it was too late to do anything about it.

  “Well, except for you, eagle eyes.”

  He gave her a look of mock confusion and put his open palm on his chest. “Nico,” he said. “My name’s Nico. I thought we covered this.”

  Something about his commitment to her own silly little joke made Juliette forget herself for a second and laugh, clear and strong.

  She was always the girl you could pick out in the movie theater by her laugh. It wasn’t that it was unpleasant. If anything, she’d gotten a lot of positive comments about it. But it was loud, and bright, and undisguisable. Usually, when she was nervous, she tried to shy off laughing. But now, she couldn’t help it.

  Nico’s eyes twinkled. “You sound like you’re celebrating something, today,” he said.

  Juliette tilted her head. “I suppose I am,” she said, though she was still certain as hell she wasn’t going to tell him what.

  His eyebrows raised. “That’s quite a coincidence, really.”

  “How so?”

  He shrugged. “It just so happens that I’m celebrating, too.”

  A look crossed his face, then, as though he’d just thought of something. Juliette could tell that he had, in fact, had this thought a while before, but he was good at making it seem like a spur of the moment invitation.

  “What do you say we celebrate together?”

  Maybe it was the casual, playboy way he found of oh-so-casually asking, but Juliette couldn’t help but sweat him out a little longer, even though she had to stifle her body’s instinctive response to stand and follow him wherever he wanted to lead her.

  “Well, I don’t know… I think I’d have to know what you were celebrating first.”

  He leaned back on his heels, and considered.

  Too long, said a voice in Juliette’s brain. He’s thinking too long about it. Something isn’t right.

  “Oh, well, I’ve just been laid off by my boss, so I’m celebrating that,” he said finally, as though he didn’t know that it would raise more questions than it would answer.

  “Why would you celebrate being laid off?” Juliette asked, too curious to find some clever or flirty way of saying it.

  “Well, I guess you’ll just have to come have a drink with me to find out.”

  And with that, he had her.

 
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