The sheikhs secret love.., p.45
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       The Sheikh's Secret Love Child, p.45

         Part #2 of The Sheikh's Baby Surprise series by Holly Rayner
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FIVE

  The four new housemates spent only a few minutes more in the living quarters before Ayman gave Sophie a significant look, as though considering something, and then dismissed his guards from the room. He instructed them to guard the exterior of the building, as well as to contact the police and send them to The Palais to question the owners.

  “You’re having two men guard an entire compound?” Sophie asked with some sass in her tone.

  The Sheikh chuckled. “No, the other buildings are full of soldiers, actually,” he said with ease; his expression indicating that he was deciding what to tell her and what to keep to himself.

  It was funny how the entire atmosphere shifted as soon as the guards had left the area. Ayman seemed calmer, more relaxed; more human.

  She was watching him. She didn’t mean to, but every moment she wasn’t fixated on leaving or on how strange her new circumstances were, she was watching the ruler. She stared at his big, beautiful lips and became transfixed, wondering whether they were soft, or talented.

  Her face went a healthy shade of crimson and she stared back down at her hands.

  He told her that the other bunkers contained apartments much like the one they were currently in, only the others were full of bunk beds and armory rooms. She tried to imagine what the soldiers did to fill up the hours in the day. Work, she supposed. Guard; keep watch. All to protect the nation’s ruler.

  “Well,” Ayman began slowly, suddenly seeming flustered. “What would my new houseguest like to do to pass the time?”

  Her eyes widened and she looked around the room awkwardly. Whether he meant to or not, that definitely sounded like a come-on. Or, maybe she just thought so because she thought he was cute. She exhaled slowly and composed herself.

  “Well, what is there to do?”

  Ayman bit his lip and frowned playfully. He gestured toward a cabinet in the living room and she made her way over to it, crouching down as she opened up the cupboard.

  Inside, she saw a large collection of American films, as well as an unhealthy amount of board games. She thumbed through the selection and decided on a classic. Chess.

  She brought the board to the coffee table and Ayman quickly followed, each of them taking a spot on the carpeted floor to sit at chest level with the table.

  “We might as well get to know each other a little better seeing as we’re going to be down here for who knows how long,” she suggested dryly.

  “And how shall we get to know each other?” Ayman asked, looking over at her from across the table as she set up the board.

  “Probably by starting a natural conversation that doesn’t involve interrogating me?” she quipped.

  “Right,” he offered a polite laugh and moved his first pawn. “Sorry about that.”

  “You don’t do this often, huh?”

  “Do what?”

  She grinned at him and raised her eyebrows as though the answer should be obvious. “Um, talk to women?”

  “Not as of late,” he said. “As you can imagine, my fortified bunker doesn’t exactly scream dream date.”

  Sophie giggled. “Good point.”

  Ayman stared down at the chess board and the two of them continued to make their moves. “So you go to Yale?” he said finally, breaking the silence.

  She nodded enthusiastically, unable to contain her pride for the school she had worked so hard to get into. While she wouldn’t share this with the Sheikh, she hadn’t exactly been Yale-bound in high-school. Her mother worked in a small coffee stand inside the local mall and her father had been a plumber for 40 years. Despite her modest start in life, however, Sophie had always made fantastic grades. The summer before her senior year she had worked two jobs and saved every penny she earned. She had applied to Yale, her dream school, on a lark. But between becoming valedictorian, making perfect grades, and getting five scholarships, she had been accepted and made her way to Yale.

  Deep down, Sophie knew she should be proud of her hard work and determination, but she couldn’t help but feel embarrassed by how hard she’d had to work for everything—for how much money had been an issue for her growing up. Part of the reason she worked so tirelessly at everything was so that she could take care of her father when the time came; she wanted to make sure that money was never an issue in their family again.

  “Ah, Yale. Jonathan Edwards, Paul Newman, several US presidents…”

  Sophie blinked. “Sorry?”

  “Yalies!” he exclaimed cheerfully. He leaned in from across the table and laughed. “Notable alumni!”

  “Oh,” she said slowly. She smiled and nodded. “Yalies. What about you, Mr. Know It All, where did you go?” she asked curiously, moving her bishop across the board and trying not to look too smug at her perfect move.

  “Columbia,” he said bashfully. “Not as fancy as Yale, but prestigious.”

  “Columbia!” she repeated excitedly. “You studied abroad?”

  The Sheikh nodded and seemed to delve inward somewhat, with no explanations as to why.

  “Did you love it?” Sophie asked, deciding to lead the conversation elsewhere.

  He narrowed his brows and grinned at her. “It’s New York. What’s not to love?”

  “Alumni, quick!”

  “The Roosevelts, of course—Franklin and Theodore.”

  “All the greats,” she quipped.

  “Obviously. Jane Jacobs, tons of musical artists, actors, more presidents and their relatives.”

  The pair locked eyes as the Sheikh responded to Sophie’s move with another tactical maneuver.

  She stared into his brown eyes and began to giggle uncontrollably. “You’re weird,” she noted. Who memorizes university alumni? Shaking her head, she finally asked, “What did you study, anyway?”

  “Oh... a little bit of everything.”

  “What was your major?" she said, intrigued.

  He smiled. “I majored in Film, but I also took classes in American Studies, English, German, Economics…”

  “You speak German?”

  “Ich spreche ein bisschen Deutsch,” he said with ease.

  She laughed and slapped his arm from across the table. “You are full of surprises!”

  “The woman I was seeing back then…” he blushed and shrugged slightly. “She was from Germany. We were both studying at Columbia and I planned on going back and forth to Germany to be with her.”

  “From Al-Duyan?”

  He shook his head. “From New York, after we graduated. Young love and all. Ah… I don’t know why I would ever need it now,” he laughed and rubbed his arm. “But there it is all the same.”

  She thought on that sentiment for a moment. He’d been living in New York? She wondered if it was just for school or if he had lived in the United States for some time. Her studies in history and Al-Duyan had literally consumed her adult life. Her passions were all in the Middle East. It was beyond her as to why anyone would want to leave.

  “All that for love, huh?” she teased.

  “Hannah,” he offered. “We met in class.”

  “That’s nice,” she said quietly. “You didn’t make your way to Germany, I take it?”

  “Not quite.”

  “Care to elaborate, mystery man?”

  Sophie wasn't sure exactly how she should feel about that sentence. She realized there was just a tinge of jealousy in her heart as he spoke of his ex-girlfriend.

  “We worked together, actually. We volunteered at hospitals. He father was a doctor, you know? I loved it. I even thought about going back to school and applying to study Medicine.”

  “And give up your love of film?”

  “I’d never give that up,” he winked. “Plus, I would be terrible at it. I’m not really a scientist at heart. As for Hannah, she quit; couldn’t stand working with the sick. I think she started to resent that I stayed. She said I kept going just so that I could feel better about myself.”

  Sophie stared. What an awful thing to think of someone. She didn’t know what
to say and so she said nothing.

  The Sheikh raised a brow and smiled to himself as if answering his own question. “She saw right through my bull humanitarian actions to the real man below, I guess.” Suddenly, he seemed amused. “Of course, I’d never admit that to her. I told her she was full of it.”

  “But still, I mean, come on… You volunteered despite all of your wealth?” Sophie cocked her head to the side and smiled. “Not a lot of wealthy people are willing to help the afflicted—not when there’s no obvious benefit in doing so.”

  Ayman shrugged and was quiet for a moment before his cheeks went red. “Wow. You complimented me and I haven’t even attempted a ‘thank you’. You probably think I’m rude now, don’t you?”

  “Yep, but that opinion really hasn’t changed from five minutes ago.”

  “You gave me a compliment,” he repeated with confidence. He gave an exaggerated bow and tipped an imaginary hat to her. “Thank you.” He closed his eyes for just a moment. “As you seem to have gathered from my humble abode, I don’t really get to talk to a lot of people anymore. Especially not one so lovely.”

  “I don’t talk to many people anymore either,” Sophie giggled in a strange, sad way. “Although probably not for the same reasons as yourself.”

  “Solitude by choice?”

  She gave a noncommittal shrug and stared at him, hoping he would say something to change the subject. Funny, she thought, how she suddenly cared so much about how she presented herself.

  “Well… I loved volunteering. Unlike seemingly the rest of the city, I couldn’t ignore those people. I don’t think I could’ve been happy without trying to help in some way. I guess I just wanted to do something that mattered.”

  “What you do now matters,” she said with some sense of finality. “You’re the ruler of a nation. You can make all the difference in the world.”

  He snorted at that. “If the Red Hand doesn’t get me first.”

  She stared at him, blinking uncomfortably.

  “Too soon?” he asked.

  “Too soon.”

  The pair continued talking for hours. Despite how dire Ayman had made their situation sound, they somehow couldn’t help but glow in one another’s company. Still baffled as to why he would ever want to leave Al-Duyan in favor of the States, Sophie marveled at the fact that she was playing chess with the man whose nation she’d made it her life’s work to study.

  After some time, their game ended, Sophie having graciously lost. She returned to his collection of games that spanned across two cupboards and regarded him with a strange look. “What’s with all the board games, anyway?”

  “An excellent way to pass the time with family and friends,” he answered quickly.

  Sophie looked around the room and painfully obvious lack of family or friends present. She gave him a pointed look, thinking better of spelling it out.

  “Hmm,” she murmured, once more thumbing through the massive collection of games. “Favorite one, pick!”

  “Life!” he shouted back.

  She grabbed The Game of Life off of the shelf and wiped away a layer of dust.

  The Sheikh joked that with that game he could be anyone and do anything, all with a roll of the dice. He said that no matter what life he was given, no matter the family or career he ended up with in the game, it would always be easier than real life. His monologue on the subject was all charm and jokes, only endearing him more to her, but Sophie couldn’t help but think his humor might all be rooted in a dark reality.

  The game looked old but well taken care of. Most of the games did. She wondered if they were trinkets he’d brought back from the States, or if he’d just collected them over the years.

  “Look how old this is,” she laughed, raising the box to his line of vision.

  “Consider it an example of my fondness for history,” he paused. “I just don’t show it the same way you do. Why do you love history, anyway? I mean, where did your fascination with my land come from?”

  Sophie shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s just always been my thing.”

  “History, or specifically Al-Duyan?”

  She laughed. “History in general. I love learning where we came from as a society; what shaped us. You can’t learn from the past unless you learn what the past is.”

  “For sure,” he nodded.

  She knew he could tell she’d just given him her stock response; the same answer she would give to anyone else who asked on a whim.

  He raised his brow and encouraged her to keep going; to reveal a more personal version.

  “Did you know out of the six major historical landmarks in Al-Duyan, five were built because of love? And four out of the five men who built them were actually betrayed by their lovers, but went on to build grand monuments to those women anyway.”

  “Oh teacher, tell me more!” he joked. “So, you love the heartbreak behind it?”

  “I guess what I like is… the history of love and forgiveness. This is where people first started forming a civilization, and it was all based on the simplest of human emotions.”

  “And look at us now,” Ayman breathed. “Where’d all that love and forgiveness go?” He stared down at his empty car in the board game. As if in a daze, he spun the wheel, prompting his game piece to get married and invite a pink peg into the plastic car. He raised his brows in mock surprise and directed his attention back to Sophie. “So, you’re fascinated by love?”

  She pursed her lips and was too proud to say he was right. “I love history.”

  “Ever been in love?” he asked pointedly. His expression was cool and collected, but his eyes said he desperately wanted to know the answer.

  “Maybe.”

  Seeing that Sophie would continue to be non-committal, Ayman chuckled and pointed to her game piece. “Well, you’re about to get hitched so… one hopes you’re not just marrying for money.”

  She gave a hard laugh and inserted a blue peg into her plastic car as she considered his words. Maybe the Sheikh was right; maybe she was fascinated by love. In truth, she’d never felt it. Not as others suggested it was supposed to feel, anyway. She’d never felt like she would give up something truly precious for a boyfriend, or like she would die for someone. Her parents, maybe, but no one else.

  Real love, according to history, was a be-all and end-all expression of faith. It was something to be made into a statement; a grand gesture.

  Sophie wouldn’t admit it to anyone else, especially not to any of her hardcore feminist girlfriends, but she wanted that.

  When the game ended, hunger beginning to gnaw at them, the two made their way into the kitchen and set to making dinner. Ayman chopped up some root vegetables and onions and put them into a roasting pan, sliding them into the tiny oven. Sophie grabbed two chicken breasts and began pounding them flat with the back of a pan, while Ayman looked on in mock terror.

  “Remind me never to make you angry!” he laughed.

  She widened her eyes and pounded again at the chicken. “Am I scaring you, sugar?”

  It all seemed so easy; so normal and relaxed. Being with Ayman in his kitchen, cooking an amazing meal, laughing and sharing common interests. If the world were in peril outside, it certainly didn’t feel like it.

  Sophie listened attentively as they sat at the kitchen counter, eating the finished product of their hard work. By the end of the meal, her face was so sore from smiling that she nearly managed to forget about her mother’s watch.

 
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