The sheikhs secret love.., p.47
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       The Sheikh's Secret Love Child, p.47

         Part #2 of The Sheikh's Baby Surprise series by Holly Rayner
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For a secret bunker designed for stealth, everything in Sophie’s new home sure was loud. She’d laid in bed for hours, staring at the ceiling, working out the details of her escape plan. She listened intently to the Sheikh’s movements in the living room, hoping that he might come in.

  It was early evening now and the sun had finally gone down. Driving through the night had exhausted both of them, and while Sophie had tried her best to nap, her adrenaline wouldn’t allow her to.

  She’d been surprised by the Sheikh’s personality. He was hardly the brusque, dismissive ruler she’d expected him to be. While he was nearly ten years her senior, he hardly seemed it. He was just so easy to talk to; it already felt like they’d known each other for far longer than just a day.

  She ran her fingers along the sheets for about the hundredth time in the last hour and finally stood from the bed. She opened the bedroom door as quietly as she could and made her way back into the living room. The plan was simple: lure Ayman into the bedroom, lull him to sleep, and sneak out the hatch.

  She stopped cold, however, when she saw him sleeping, his toned frame sprawled out on the soft fabric of the couch. In the state of sleep he looked so calm, so deeply, effortlessly handsome. His eyes flicked back and forth beneath his eyelids, like he was having an intense dream.

  Without meaning to, he’d allowed her to escape.

  Sophie stopped in her tracks to look at him before making her exit. One little glance couldn’t hurt, she thought.

  She crouched down in front of him and watched his peaceful slumber for a moment more. Something about the sight of his body on the couch made her want to crawl up next to him.

  She couldn’t believe how enamored she was with this man. There had been guys back home—Yale men, library guys—who flirted with her off and on. But on some level, the idea of relationships had always terrified her.

  The only thing Sophie’s limited experience with relationships had taught her was that she had no idea where the line between love and bored comfort should be drawn. She found flirting exhausting; the very idea of trying to tempt someone in with her womanly wiles seemed disingenuous. Or, maybe she only thought as much because of how terrible she was at it. The fact that she’d been able to make the Sheikh laugh was a rare feat. She was an introvert and had been her whole life—Men had never really been her strong suit.

  She had only had two brief relationships before, and her experience with those guys had never come anywhere near the fire she felt when talking to Ayman. They had met under the most bizarre circumstances, and yet she felt an instant connection with him that was finally making her understand what every middle-school girlfriend with her first crush had been going on about.

  Just as Sophie began to feel the start of a blush on her cheek, Ayman opened his eyes. He stretched out against the fabric of the sofa and his eyes went wide as he looked up at her; his lips breaking out into a broad smile.

  “You seem to be… staring at me?” he teased, bemused.

  “With affection,” she added playfully.

  “Oh, well, as long as it was with affection then I feel flattered.” He grabbed the pillow from under his head and sat upright, rubbing his eyes the way a child might after a long nap. “Did you sleep at all?”

  So much for her escape plan.

  Sophie took a seat next to Ayman and pressed her lips together, shaking her head. “I couldn’t stop thinking about my watch.”

  “Ah, this infamous watch.” Ayman raised his brows so that they wrinkled his forehead. “Is it designer or something?”

  “Sentimental.”

  “Ah,” he sighed.

  “The bracelet broke at the theater,” Sophie said slowly, moving her hand along her wrist and thumbing over the spot where the watch used to sit. “I know this is kind of a stupid request, but do you think it would be possible for me to go see if it’s still at The Palais?”

  Ayman pursed his lips; his ‘no’ forthcoming.

  “What if I promise to come right back here?” she pleaded.

  The Sheikh sighed again and shook his head. “I’m sorry, Sophie.”

  Her mind desperately flicking through possibilities, she tried another tactic. “Would it be possible for Dabir to go get it, maybe?”

  Ayman’s eyes widened and he covered his mouth in mock surprise. “You would send poor Dabir into the lion’s den all for the sake of a watch?”

  “I’d go myself, but you won’t let me,” she laughed dolefully.

  “He’s not your man-slave,” he teased. “In fact, I specifically remember hiring him to protect me. So, unless you care to pay half of his salary, then…”

  The Sheikh was all smiles and laughter as he made his quips, and while Sophie was tempted to join in his playful banter, her heart just wasn’t in it. “You dragged me here and told me I am going to be stuck living underground like a mole for who knows how long, and you won’t even try and help me get my watch back?”

  He stared at her, his eyes tracing her outline. He looked back and forth from her blue eyes and frowned. “Sophie, I said I was sorry. Yes, I told you we would keep you here, but only to keep you safe. It’s just too dangerous to return to the city, and I couldn’t send Dabir or any of my other men out there in good conscience.”

  Swallowing hard, Sophie wasn’t sure what else to say.

  Likely sensing the pain behind her eyes, Ayman rubbed his hand over hers. “Hey,” he cooed. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll buy you a new one that minute we get out of here.”

  She shrugged sadly, offering him a polite smile that her eyes just couldn’t go along with. The gesture was sweet, sure, but it wasn’t what she needed. “No thank you,” she said. “You see, it was my mother’s watch.”

  “Oh,” he nodded. “She’s going to be mad at you?”

  Sophie shrugged helplessly and didn’t know how to say no, so she just said it. “No, she died.” The words came out with such surprising ease that it almost hurt. “It was the only thing I have left of her here,” she added, spilling over into sobs as she reflected on what she’d lost.

  “Hey, hey, it’s okay,” he hushed, rubbing his hand along her arm and pulling her closer to his chest. “I’m sure the cinema will hold onto it for you.”

  She sniffed. “You don’t think they’ll sell it?”

  He shook his head. “The Palais needs all the customers it can get. I don’t think they would risk losing one of their most loyal patrons.”

  She laughed at this, which brought a smile to Ayman’s lips.

  “Besides, I know the owner,” he continued. “He’s a good man. He’ll have it in storage for you.”

  “So good he sold you down the river to the Red Hand,” she murmured hoarsely.

  Ayman’s eyes widened and he seemed to become lost in thought for a moment, staring at nothing in particular as he contemplated her words. “Maybe,” he said slowly. “But it would be no fault of his if so.”

  “That’s great if it’s true.”

  “Hey, hey,” he whispered, rubbing her shoulder encouragingly. “Don’t be so cynical!”

  Sophie’s chin quivered and she took a steadying breath, now resting her head on his shoulder. “I know you won’t really understand it but… It’s like when I broke up with a boyfriend a few years ago. He wasn’t a great guy, but that’s beside the point; we broke up and suddenly I had all of this affection that I didn’t know what to do with. So I bought a hamster. I carried him around the house with me, I set his cage on my sofa while I watched movies, and I set him on the breakfast table so we could start our day together. Basically, all the love I had was transferred over to this animal.”

  “So if I’m following you correctly,” Ayman pursed his lips, raising an eyebrow playfully. “Your mother, in this scenario, is a hamster?”

  She laughed. “No! I’m trying to say I put everything I felt about my mother into that watch. Everything was transferred into that little trinket. I couldn’t take her with me, and I couldn’t protect her, but I could with look a
fter her watch. Or…” she shrugged sadly, “at least, I thought I could.”

  “I understand. I’m still a little freaked out by your hamster scenario,” he winked. “But I understand.”

  “You do?” she asked, almost daring him to say yes.

  He sighed heavily. “I lost my parents, too.”

  Of course. Why hadn’t she thought of that? For the past few minutes, he’d been trying to comfort her, and all she had done was resist him, mentally scolding him for trying to understand or compare their feelings. But he was right. He had suffered loss, as well. And a very public one, at that.

  “You’re right. I’m sorry,” she said, grimacing slightly even as she spoke the words. She hated when people told her they were sorry. Why should they be? It wasn’t their fault, after all. The phrase irked her to the core, and yet here she was, apologizing to this man as though she had nothing better to say; no better way to express her understanding of the pain he’d been through.

  “Thank you,” he said graciously. “You know, I think our situations are similar, on some level.”

  “My mom died in hospital,” she offered. “Not exactly a mirror image of your loss.”

  “Yes, but, like you with your mother, I have nothing tangible to remember my parents by. Besides my title and a drove of empty palaces, that is.”

  “A drove of empty palaces?” Sophie raised her brow teasingly. “I’d better start feeling sorry for you soon.”

  He laughed hard as he removed his arm from around her. “Well that’s up to you,” he said. “But I’d gladly give it all up to have everything back the way it used to be; to taste my mother’s cooking and talk to my father about films again.”

  “I know what you mean,” she replied sadly. “So… what do you do when you miss them?”

  “I just, miss them, I guess,” he said simply. “But I try to think of the moments with them that made me happy. Cooking with my mother, tasting her pastries, licking the spoon, and all of the wonderful advice she gave me about women and love. That way, at least her words can live on.”

  The Sheikh’s answer touched her and she could feel tears welling at the corners of her eyes, her throat tensing with emotion. Why couldn’t she do that? Whenever she thought back to her mother, she was filled with pain. She tried to recall the memories that didn’t involve trips back and forth to the hospital, or the sound of the machine monitoring her mother’s heart rate crashing and echoing through her hospital room. The good memories were always crowded over by the awful ones.

  “What’s the best advice she ever gave you about women?” Sophie asked, attempting to move the conversation towards something lighter.

  He chuckled and his face reddened slightly. “Always be charming,” he nodded. “She never meant it in, like, a sexist way. She just wanted me to be polite, I think. Open doors, make people laugh, throw my jacket over a puddle once in a while—that type of thing.”

  “Wow! You really have watched one too many Westerns,” Sophie laughed.

  “I’m yet to lose a coat to a puddle, I’ll admit,” the Sheikh said, chuckling along with her. “She was a smart woman, my mother.”

  “I’ll bet.”

  Sophie stood from the sofa and began to pace the room. She was a born researcher. Even as a child, she preferred spending summers reading books and taking trips to historic buildings to going to the beach or having sleepovers. Why, then, was it so hard for her to recall more positive memories of her mother?

  “Can I ask you something personal?” she said, thumbing through the Sheikh’s expansive DVD collection; it was so massive that she figured she wouldn’t get bored even if she stayed here for a year or more.

  “Go for it.”

  “I hope this doesn’t come off as cold…” she started.

  Ayman smiled at that. “That’s not a great way to begin.”

  “I know, and I’m sorry to bring it up, but something’s bugging me about your parents’ deaths. Why it happened, how it happened—”

  “That isn’t a great start either,” he said, his smile fading.

  She exhaled heavily and pursed her lips. He was right. She wasn’t exactly sounding empathetic, despite how sweet he had just been. Stop being such a researcher, Sophie, she inwardly chided herself.

  “Sorry,” she said quietly. “All I meant was, it was your parents’ personal bodyguards who, you know…”

  “Murdered them,” he finished bluntly.

  She nodded awkwardly, turning from the DVD collection to face him properly. “Those men guarded your parents, day in, day out, for years. They played the long game and then they betrayed them without hesitation. After seven years of friendship and loyalty.”

  “Thanks for the reminder.”

  “I know, and again, I’m sorry. I just don’t understand how it is that you can trust your guards,” she finally blurted out. “How can you, after all that happened? You seem so close with Dabir. I mean, from the drive over and from the way you joke with him, it’s clear that you view him as a dear friend. How is it that you aren’t lying awake every night terrified that he isn’t playing the long game as well?”

  “Dabir?!” Ayman said incredulously. “No.”

  “See!” she half laughed. “Why is it you trust him the way you do?”

  “I just… I know I can.” The Sheikh paused for a moment before making a ‘come hither’ motion with his finger.

  Sophie moved closer, leaning her ear towards his mouth.

  “He’s my cousin,” Ayman whispered.

  Sophie frowned and backed away. “Impossible,” she said firmly. She’d been reading about the Al-Zebayat family for years and had never even heard whispers of any extended family still living after the assassination. “Are you sure about that?”

  Ayman stared at her for a moment before his humor returned. “Pretty sure, yeah,” he grinned.

  “I’ve never heard about this!”

  “It isn’t exactly public knowledge,” he said with a shrug. “We were both shipped off to New York to be educated. It was too dangerous to be here as members of the Al-Zebayat family.”

  “I just don’t understand…” she frowned.

  “Yes!” he chuckled once more. “Believe it.”

  “So you had your degree, and you were volunteering at a hospital. What was Dabir doing? And why did you come back here at all, when you knew how dangerous it was?” The questions were flooding out of her now.

  “Dabir was a cop in New York for a few years, before he got hired as a private bodyguard for a politician there. As for why we left the States…” Ayman stared down at his hands, his eyes glinting with memories. “As you’re aware, ten years ago my parents were murdered, and I had no choice but to return and accede to the throne. I had a duty to my people. I was just a few years out of college, then; my whole life ahead of me. Now, well, here I am.”

  Sophie blanched. She had no idea how she would have handled such a giant change. To her, the thought of reigning over a nation that was so steeped in history had sounded like it came right out of a fairy tale; hearing about the reality of being hunted down by rebels brought down the wow factor quite a bit.

  Ayman explained that once he knew he had to return, Dabir had insisted on going with him. The two of them had been best friends since they were kids, and the concept of one leaving without the other had been unfathomable.

  “My father paid for his education and put him up in the States. I insisted that he didn’t owe me a thing, but he told me he would return to Al-Duyan with me and defend me with his life. I have never once doubted his loyalty, not even for a second.”

  Sophie blinked, awestruck by the tale. She was quiet for a moment before she shrugged and conceded, “Well I guess that’s a good enough reason to trust him. What about the other guy? What’s his deal?”

  “My other bodyguard?”

  She nodded and began gesturing with her hands as she continued. “Dabir is like ‘blah, blah, blah’, all chatty all the time, but the other guy—”
<
br />   “—Ramey,” he interjected.

  “Ramey is as quiet as a mouse. No, he’s quieter than a mouse. He’s like…” She pointed to the little blue man on the Life board and laughed. “He’s like that blue peg, only with more muscles!”

  Sophie’s eyes widened as she heard the unmistakable sound of someone very pointedly clearing their throat.

  “Oh my God… He’s standing outside that door right now isn’t he,” she gasped, horrified.

  Ayman grinned broadly and Sophie reached across the table to whack him playfully on the arm.

  “Why would you let me say that?!” she demanded.

  “I like watching you at your rudest,” he chuckled. “It’s very cute.”

  “This is how you treat me after I deliver your twin boys?” she flushed, pointing fervently at the Game of Life board.

  “Don’t be jealous that I rolled for kids while you ended up with a medical degree and a husband who fell out of the car an hour ago!”

  The two laughed hard at that, a sensation that seemed to put Ayman more at ease than before. His laugh faded as he looked into her eyes, his smile melting into something different.

  In an unexpected move that made Sophie’s cheeks burn, the Sheikh reached over and fixed a loose strand of blond hair behind her ear, his voice dropping to a whisper once again. “You are charmingly beautiful, you know.”

  She made all efforts to play it cool and only shrugged in return, pointing to her Life piece. “Too bad I’m married.”

  “And a doctor,” he said, again referring to the game. “Definitely not my type.”

  The Sheikh’s Captive Love can be bought from retailers now.

 
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