The sheikhs secret love.., p.42
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       The Sheikh's Secret Love Child, p.42

         Part #2 of The Sheikh's Baby Surprise series by Holly Rayner
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  For a Saturday, the cinema was strangely empty.

  She would blame it on everyone else’s lack of love for American Westerns, but that fact was it was a common occurrence whenever she made her way into this particular movie theater for there to only be one or two patrons around.

  There were only three other attendees for the John Wayne classic—a record even for The Palais. Of course, they had taken the middle seats, better known as the best seats in the house. Sophie had debated with people in the past whether the best seats in a theater were the ones in the middle or in the back, but she had always thought the sound balanced out the best in the middle. She quietly made her way into the row in front of the other spectators, taking the empty middle seat. If these guys ended up kicking her chair, there was going to be a huge problem.

  Or, probably not. Sophie wasn’t the best at confrontation. She couldn’t even leave a passive aggressive note on the lunches the other university researchers kept eating. Still, if they ruined the movie for her on this night of all nights, she didn’t think she would be able to put up with it.

  Sophie loved Westerns. There were several feminist friends of hers back in the research department she would never reveal that to. They thought women weren’t allowed to be swept off their feet or find rugged, raw masculinity appealing, but Sophie liked the movie, regardless. Angie Dickinson was brilliant, Dean Martin was hilarious, and John Wayne was riveting.

  Unfortunately for Sophie, it seemed like she wouldn’t be able to enjoy the last half of the film, after all. As predicted, the three men behind her decided they wanted to have a conversation, instead of watching the movie. It started as mild whispers and grew to just out and out talking. She turned around to give them her best withering stare and was immediately caught off-guard by the man sitting in the middle seat behind her.

  She recognized him. She wanted to place the strangers face. He wasn’t a part of her university group, and he didn’t frequent her favorite coffee shop. Did he own a business in the city square? She bit her lip as she tried to think.

  Then she got it. She recognized him from, well, here, actually. He’d been at The Palais a number of times before. Usually, he sat alone in the back row, but today he was flanked by two heavyset men who looked like forces to be reckoned with. She couldn’t tell if they were legitimate bodyguards or if they were just bikers or something. Either way, they certainly seemed out of place in the humble cinema.

  Sophie thought better of her withering stare and quickly turned back to the screen with a pout. This is why she never confronted people.

  The man behind her wore a T-shirt and jeans, and sunglasses. Always sunglasses. Like he was one of those too-cool-for-school hipsters, or someone sporting a permanent hangover. One night she’d almost gotten up the courage to ask him which it was, telling herself she was going to summon up whatever female charm she could muster and approach him, but, as ever, he had disappeared as soon as the movie was over. She supposed tonight wasn’t going to be an ideal time to ask him, either, considering what his two friends looked like.

  The men rolled along with their chatty momentum. Although now annoyingly audible, she still couldn’t make out exactly what they were saying. She gave a loud huff and shuffled uncomfortably in her chair, hoping the men would take a hint.

  They didn’t.

  After twenty minutes of not being able to hear the film, and several more exaggerated huffs of annoyance, Sophie had taken to loudly snapping the clasp on her watch. It was a tic she often found herself turning to when she was frustrated about something, but unable to do anything about it.

  The antique gold watch was a family heirloom, which her mother had been given by her grandmother when she turned 18. Sophie’s mother had grown up poor, making this elegant wristwatch the most precious thing she owned. The watch was small and round, with tiny diamonds around the face. Some of the diamonds had faded or been chipped over time—a couple had even fallen out—but she didn’t care. She felt like the missing pieces just showed how well-loved it had been over the generations. Besides, it had been her mother's. What could make it more valuable than that? The band was thin and dainty, with simple gold links. Inside of the watch was an inscription that read “D&S, 1915”—her great-grandparents’ initials.

  The snapping of the watch clasp rang like an irritating pen-clicking throughout the cinema, and within a few moments, Sophie could practically feel the men behind her cringing. Fighting off the inward urge to burst out laughing, Sophie’s victory quickly became short lived as, with a cringe-inducing squeak, the antique metal snapped, and a piece of the clasp came away in Sophie’s hand.

  She stared down at her wrist in horror. The unfastened bracelet slipped off her arm and she could hear the loose and broken chains falling to the ground only to be lost beneath her chair.

  She couldn’t believe it. This watch was the only piece of her mother she had in Al-Duyan. And now because these jerks couldn’t keep their mouth shut during a movie it was broken, just like that? Deep down, she knew they weren't truly at fault for having broken the watch—that was her own doing—but Sophie couldn't bring herself to take responsibility for destroying the last thing of her mother's she had left.

  Feeling for the watch in the darkness under her chair, Sophie felt her face going hot with anger. She could hear the men behind her go quiet for a moment, registering that something had fallen on the floor, before quickly resuming their loud whispers.

  Without a second thought, and in a move that was completely out of character for her, Sophie stood and whipped around at the men. She furrowed her brows and clenched the watch in her fist, shaking it at them as she yelled, “Are you guys that lost during this film that you need someone constantly explaining it to you, or are you just talking for the fun of it?” She scoffed. “You’re probably the same jerks who like to text during movies and wreck it for everyone else. I get it. But, could you please acknowledge that there is someone at the movies besides yourselves and just, oh, I don’t know, shut up?!”

  The two large men looked startled by her sudden outburst, but didn’t respond. Their expressions were hard to read, but Sophie could feel a distinct tension in the air. She was usually far from rude and definitely the last person to make a scene in public, yet as the words spilled from her mouth she suddenly realized she had no control over them. Much the same feeling she experienced as she realized she was snatching the sunglasses off of the quiet man sitting directly behind her.

  “Did you hear me?!” she snapped, tossing his sunglasses on the ground.

  Taken by surprise, Sophie gasped and suddenly realized why the man with the sunglasses seemed so familiar. He was handsome, with short, dark brown curls and olive skin. His eyes were bright and kind. In fact, it was the same man whose picture she and her co-workers had been ogling in the paper the other day. Sheikh Ayman Al-Zebayat, monarch of Al-Duyan.

  You just had to open your mouth, she thought, her stomach lurching. Before she could fully comprehend the gravity of what she had done, however, the two heavy-set men jumped up from their seats and vaulted the row of seats in front of her. They gripped her arms and twisted them behind her back, as though all 115 pounds of her needed restraining by all 380 pounds of them. She felt panic rise up inside of her, her arms beginning to tremble as she struggled in vain against the men.

  “Who are you working for?!” they yelled, one after the other, in thick accents.

  “Who do you work for?” the man to her right said slowly, his voice dripping with suspicion. He leaned in closer to her ear and began whispering something in another language as his partner continued to scream at her, demanding to know who she was working for.

  “Nobody!” she yelled, terrified. “I’m not working for anyone. I’m sorry! I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize who you were!”

  “Who is he?!” the guard demanded. “Who is he to you?”

  “Nobody!” she reiterated, her legs now giving out in fear. “Just the Sheikh!”

Just the Sheikh?” the man repeated, sounding somewhat disgusted.

  She locked eyes with the chattier of the two bodyguards and suddenly they all went silent as a loud series of bursts could be heard outside the cinema. The first crack was unfamiliar, like someone dropping a bowling ball on a hard surface, but as more shots rang out Sophie realized it was gunfire.

  Shots raged outside of the cinema, and by the sounds of it, they were getting closer. Sophie was still being held by two burly bodyguards—having been mistaken for someone else, no doubt. She breathed heavily as the gunfire got closer, unable to tell if the source of the gunfire was the Sheikh’s forces, or people who wanted to shoot him.

  The Sheikh made eye contact with Sophie only briefly before giving a signal to his bodyguards. They released her instantly and she began rubbing her arms to restore circulation to the spots where they had gripped her.

  She breathed only a brief sigh of relief, however, before one of the guards grabbed her hands and bound them together in handcuffs. The man looked to the Sheikh, Sophie screaming in terror, and the men exchanged a look she couldn’t quite decipher. Before she had the chance to beg for mercy, a black hood was placed over her head. Then she went quiet.

  All she could feel was the fabric pressing against her face; her breath hot as she looked around for any source of light peeking through the mask. She could hear the gunfire drawing even closer now and didn’t fight when she felt one of the men scooping her up like a child before breaking into a run. She could hear the combined footsteps of the men in the cinema and suddenly it dawned on her: the gunmen outside weren’t the Sheikh’s men. They were after his life.

  She should have just gone to the fair.

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