Sold to the sheikh his i.., p.5
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       His Indecent Proposal, p.5

         Part #1 of Sold To The Sheikh series by Holly Rayner
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  Mia sat in the waiting room at the OB/GYN Rami had enlisted for the complicated and delicate task of overseeing her pregnancy. She looked around at the other women, men-and a few children-waiting for their own appointments. Rami would be there soon, Mia told herself firmly as her heart fluttered in her chest. She no longer questioned why she felt better when Rami was around, especially for the appointments. At first she had told herself it was because she felt weird being in the waiting room alone, thinking everyone would assume her to be her some kind of unwed mother-which technically, if she successfully became pregnant, she would be.

  Thankfully Dr. Farber had put her at ease, making it clear to her that she didn't regard what Mia was doing as strange in the slightest. In her first meeting with the OB/GYN, the doctor had sat Mia down and said, "Rami has explained to me that you're a friend, and you've done him the honor of agreeing to be the carrier of his child. I think that's very noble of you-especially considering you could have asked for much more money than you did."

  As she waited for Rami to arrive, Mia tried to tell herself not to be disheartened by the fact that it had been three months and she had yet to become pregnant. It can take up to a year, Dr. Farber said. Or multiple years. At lunch after their initial consultation, Rami had told her that he was more than happy to continue paying, no matter how long it took for her to become pregnant. But Mia had set a deadline for herself: if after a year of trying she still hadn't become pregnant, she would end her contract with Rami. It didn't seem right to keep taking his money when she wasn't sure if she would ever conceive at all.

  While teaching had been stressful, it at least meant that Mia had plenty to occupy her mind; now that Rami's payments made it possible for her to spend more time at home, and with her mother, the only things she had to think about were her mother's illness and the fact that she wasn't pregnant yet. Mia smiled to herself when she remembered her mother's reaction to the news that the bills and debts were going to be a thing of the past.

  She had gone to her mother's house as soon as the first payment had deposited in her account. Mia had found her mother asleep on the couch, a faint rattle in her breath-the lingering effects of the pneumonia. "Mom!" Mia had tried to keep her voice quiet enough not to completely startle her, but Amie Campbell had nearly fallen off of the couch anyway.

  "Mia, baby," Amie had said, smiling at the sight of her daughter. "It's a little early for you to be here, isn't it? Lord, I should've set an alarm."

  "No-no, Mom, you're fine. I am early, and if anyone can see you in your nightgown it's me, right?" Mia's mother had chuckled weakly, sitting up with a struggle. "I have amazing-awesome-just?just great news," Mia had said.

  "Did you win the lottery or something? Tell me!" Mia had taken a deep breath to steady her rushing heart.

  "Something like that! Mom, you don't have to worry about the bills anymore. In fact, I think we can probably take you to that expert in New York, if you want." Mia had taken another breath. "I'm going to be making a hundred thousand dollars a month for?well, for a while."

  "What?! How are you going to do that, baby girl?" Amie's confusion deepened into a frown. "Please tell me you're not escorting or something?"

  "No, no, no-no, Mom, I'm not-I'm not doing anything like that," Mia had said, blushing. "I am going to be a surrogate mother for someone's child."

  "Whose child?" Mia had worried at her bottom lip slightly.

  "A really wealthy man by the name of Rami al-Hassan. He wants to have a baby, and he's asked me to carry it for him. He's paying all of the medical costs, and he's giving me a monthly payment for my trouble."

  "A hundred thousand a month is a lot of trouble," Amie had said, looking at her daughter dubiously. "And let me guess, you have to conceive 'naturally'?" Mia's blush had deepened as she shook her head.

  "No, we're going to do artificial insemination, or IVF. No?sex." Mia's mother had smiled slightly, giving her daughter a knowing look.

  "Taking the best part out of the situation, eh?" Amie had taken a deep breath then and exhaled, ending on a spasm of coughing. "As long as you're not doing something you think is shameful, I think it's a wonderful thing that you're getting paid to bring a life into this world."

  The door to the OB/GYN office opened and the bells attached to it clattered and chimed. Startled out of her thoughts, Mia looked up to see Rami walk in. He was as well dressed as ever, in a pair of designer jeans, oxford shirt, Ray Bans-which he took off as soon as he was inside-and polished, wingtip shoes. Mia had grown somewhat accustomed to the reaction of the other patients in the room whenever Rami arrived; she was sure that next to him she looked like the ultimate frump, dressed to a much cheaper budget, with no makeup, and her hair pulled back in a bun, ponytail, or braid; they were as mismatched a couple as anyone could have imagined.

  "How are you feeling?" Rami sat down in the chair next to her, looking her over quickly. To her relief, Mia didn't see even a flicker of disapproval in his glance.

  "I'm okay. A little nervous," she replied, smiling slightly. "What if?"

  "Nope, don't go there right now," Rami said, interrupting her. "We're going to see what Dr. Farber has to say. Just because it didn't work one way, doesn't mean it won't work another way."

  "I just feel really terrible," Mia told him. She pitched her voice lower. "If I can't get pregnant, I hate to keep taking your money." Rami shrugged.

  "It's an investment cost," he said, giving her a quick, charming smile. "My dad has had a bunch of investments that didn't pan out. It happens. Let's wait until we know for sure that you can't conceive to start feeling bad, hm?" Mia smiled in spite of her nervousness.

  "Okay," she said, smoothing her hair back from her face. "I promise I won't start feeling guilty until then."

  "How's your mother doing?" he asked. Mia's smile deepened.

  "Well, all her bills are cleared," she said quietly. "We're working on getting her an appointment with a renowned specialist in New York City." Rami nodded, smiling broadly.

  "If you're going to New York, then you'll need some new clothes," he pointed out, gesturing to her outfit. Mia blushed.

  "I can't-I don't want to spend the money on something like?"

  "Then I am taking you shopping after this appointment," Rami said firmly, with an air of absolute confidence. "We'll get lunch and I will make sure you're properly attired for a trip to New York."

  "Rami-you're already paying me so much?" Mia felt her cheeks burning as she looked around the room to make sure that no one was listening in. "I don't want to take more of your money." Rami shook his head.

  "I insist. It'll barely cost me anything at all, and I want to see you in nicer things." Rami smiled. "Not that you don't make these clothes look like they should be on the runway."

  "Oh hush," Mia said, rolling her eyes.

  "Ms. Campbell? Mr. al-Hassan? The doctor will see you now." Mia stifled a giggle as she stood up. Rami gestured for her to precede him through the door into the office proper, and Mia took a deep breath. Even if she was hesitant to accept Rami's offer to take her shopping, the conversation had helped distract her from her nervousness. They followed the MA back to Doctor Farber's private office, and Mia reminded herself that they still had plenty of options.

  Dr. Farber was a tall, slim woman with graying blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and a slightly hoarse voice from smoking through the first decade of her medical career. She rose as Mia and Rami came in, and Mia admired-not for the first time-the way her white coat looked over her simple but elegant crew-neck tee shirt and tailored slacks. "Good morning," the doctor said, smiling at them both. "Can you close the door behind them please, Alicia?"

  "What's the news, Doctor?" Rami asked as he sat down.

  "Well, as I'm sure you've both realized, our first attempts haven't taken," Dr. Farber said. "This does happen sometimes, and there's no one to really blame for it." Dr. Farber looked at Mia as if she had divined some of the guilty anxiety Mia was feeling. Mia thought that the older
woman had probably worked with enough women to predict their reactions before they had them.

  "Do you have any idea why it's not working?" Mia asked, trying to keep her voice level.

  "Sometimes it doesn't work and we don't know why," Dr. Farber said. "But your initial fertility tests show you're both plenty fertile." Mia suppressed the urge to worry at her bottom lip. "I want to keep things as slow as possible-it's better that way for both of you, and healthier. But the next step is IVF."

  Mia took a deep breath; when she and Rami had had their first consultation with Dr. Farber, after they'd each done their separate blood tests and other exams, the OB/GYN had said that she wanted to take it as slowly as possible with them; both Mia and Rami were young enough that more aggressive methods of conception were probably unnecessary. Mia's monthly cycle was fortunately as regular as a train schedule, so for the first month she had just charted her cycle, taking her temperature several times a day, every day, to pinpoint the moment she would ovulate. When the moment came, she had hurried to the doctor's office, calling ahead to inform the staff that she was ready for her first attempt. Once she was ready, they had put a catheter inside of her and flushed her full of Rami's semen. It was one of the most awkward, uncomfortable, and strangest experiences of Mia's life, but she had lived through it; at least it hadn't exactly hurt.

  When the first attempt didn't take, the doctor suggested that Mia could take some of the milder fertility drugs to increase the number of eggs she was producing. She had done as she was advised, and for two more cycles had gone to the doctor when she was ovulating and experienced the discomfort of having Rami's sperm flushed into her. Now that neither of the "enhanced" attempts at artificial insemination had taken, Mia had begun to wonder if there was something that the tests had simply failed to take into account. Not for the first time in her life, she wished that she knew something about her birth parents; some fraction of their medical history, something that might explain why it was apparently so difficult for her to conceive.

  "Now," Dr. Farber said, jolting Mia out of her thoughts. "IVF is a lot more intensive than regular artificial insemination. I'm going to need you to follow the directions to the letter, Mia, and it would be best if you can make sure you get as much rest as possible."

  "She's on sabbatical from work," Rami said. "But her mother is ill, and Mia takes care of her." Dr. Farber nodded.

  "I understand you feel obligated, but if you can afford it, try and see if you can find someone else to help her out for a couple of months," Dr. Farber suggested. "You need to have as little stress as possible in your life." Mia shrugged.

  "It's not-it's really not that big of a deal," Mia said. "It's not a major stress?and I think I'd be more stressed if I didn't take care of her myself." Dr. Farber hesitated, before nodding.

  "If you think it'll be easier for you this way, that's understandable" she agreed. "In the mean time, I want you to make sure you're eating well, and staying as healthy as possible. IVF can put a lot of stress on the body." Mia pressed her lips together and glanced at Rami, he was nodding along with the doctor's recommendations.

  "Okay," Mia said, steadying herself. "Let's go over what that is going to entail." She took a notebook out of her purse and listened as the OB/GYN began to explain the process, and what Mia would have to do. There would be more intensive tests, more medications to take-medications Mia would have to inject. The idea was less than thrilling, but looking at Rami, remembering how much he was paying her, and how much he wanted this child, Mia pushed aside her misgivings. She had already managed to pay off her mother's medical bills and her student loan debts in the space of three months.

  In another few, she would hopefully be pregnant and able to pay for her mother's treatments-maybe even put a down payment on a house. For that opportunity, she could handle daily shots, the blood tests and the ultrasounds. Imagine if you were diabetic, she thought to herself, writing down the instructions Dr. Farber was giving her. You'd have to inject yourself and stick yourself with needles every day and no one would be paying you for it-they certainly wouldn't be paying you a hundred thousand dollars a month.

  As they left Dr. Farber's office after setting Mia's next few appointments-appointments she would mostly be attending alone-Rami turned to her. "You didn't think that I was going to just forget about taking you shopping, did you?" Mia blushed.

  "How did you even remember that after that huge information overload?"

  "I'd already researched the process and kind of knew most of what she was going to say before she said it," Rami admitted.

  "We really don't have to do this," Mia said, brushing her hands against her skirt self-consciously.

  "Oh but we do," Rami said, grinning. "Especially since we just got bad news. A good shopping trip will take us out of the blues."

  "Are you even serious right now? Am I the type of woman you think can just spend money and feel better?" Rami looked at her in disbelief.

  "Every type of woman is that woman," he said, shaking his head. "And secretly every type of man is that man, too. Men just usually spend their money on different things."

  "Like expensive cars?"

  Rami grinned again. "Cars, stereos, tools?" He shrugged. "And for some, a nice suit here and there." Mia sighed as Rami held the door open for her.

  "If you're going to insist," she told him, rolling her eyes at the extravagance of it, "the least I can do is give in gracefully." Rami laughed.

  "So shall we go to Nordstrom first, or Saks?" Mia sighed, shaking her head with a little smile.

  "First I kind of want to eat. Then you can take me to as many department stores as you can stand."

  Mia followed Rami in her car, thinking about all of the things that would go along with receiving IVF treatments. She couldn't even estimate the cost. Artificial insemination alone had been so expensive-she couldn't imagine how much more the hormone shots, ultrasounds, blood tests and all the other elements of the more aggressive treatment would be. "But if he wants to pay for it, then that's his business," she told herself.

  Their first stop was at a tiny boutique restaurant; the kind of place Mia had rarely seen, let alone visited, before Rami had come into her life, but Rami always insisted on taking her to lunch after their appointments, and he was a man of expensive tastes.

  Hesitantly, Mia pulled up to the valet stand. Even after three months of valet parking, she still couldn't get used to it. She had her tip money ready, and handed it with her keys to the gawky young valet, averting her eyes from the inevitable questioning glance when he spotted what kind of car she drove.

  "You know, lots of rich guys drive clunkers," Rami said, as he greeted her by the restaurant's entrance. "It's not like anyone's going to notice." Mia smiled.

  "I'm sorry, I still feel weird handing over a mid-nineties Volvo to a guy in a suit."

  "Then don't drive a mid-nineties Volvo," Rami suggested.

  "Right, because it's totally responsible for me to spend money on an expensive car right now."

  Rami laughed, taking her arm and leading her towards the entrance. "Once you've had the baby, you can be as irresponsible as you want. And if you need more money?"

  "I am not going to ask for more money just to buy a car when the one I have is still perfectly functional," Mia said flatly.

  "I'm just saying, you could. Especially with this IVF stuff; it sounds like it's going to be really tough on you."

  "Rami, stop," Mia said, blushing as she started to feel more than a little guilty at his generosity. "You take me out to lunch after every one of these appointments, you're taking me shopping for clothes? I already feel like you're being too generous."

  "Lunch is nothing," Rami said. The woman at the hostess stand smiled warmly as they approached, and Mia saw her give Rami a long, appreciative glance. Rami turned to the woman and smiled. "I believe I have a standing reservation? Rami al-Hassan." The woman nodded and keyed Rami's name into the tablet in front of her.

  "I see t
hat right here, Mr. al-Hassan," she said, with a slightly smaller, but still polite, smile. "Just the two of you?" Rami nodded. "Right this way."

  Mia could never quite get used to the feeling of walking into a high-end dining room, even having followed Rami's lead into a more than a dozen of them over the course of their partnership. She tried not to feel too conspicuous and out of place as the hostess navigated them around islands of white linen, silver, and glittering crystal.

  They sat down, and the hostess gave each of them a menu-they had a choice of ? la carte items or a lunch-sized tasting menu. "How long do you want to be here?" Rami asked her.

  "Considering we were in Dr. Farber's office for over an hour and you didn't forget about going shopping, I don't think it matters how long we're in here."

  Rami grinned. "You're starting to figure me out!"

  Mia laughed. "Maybe a little bit," she admitted.

  "The tasting menu here is amazing. Seasonal, incredibly fresh-the chef is just a wizard." Mia looked over the fine calligraphy on the menu in front of her and saw a dozen things she barely recognized, names and cooking terms that she could parse mingled with others that she wasn't sure she could pronounce.

  "No wine, though," Mia said, glancing at the suggestions that accompanied the various dishes.

  Rami shrugged. "Have you really missed it?"

  Mia considered. "Not really. One of these days though, after this is all over, I'm going to do one of these tasting menus the way it's really supposed to be done." Rami chuckled.

  "You'll have a million dollars. You could do all of the tasting menus in the U.S. with that-wine included."

  The waiter arrived at their table and both Rami and Mia ordered the tasting menu. Out of courtesy for Mia, Rami got water with his meal. Mia relaxed as one perfect, tiny item after another arrived at their table: salads perfectly dressed with vegetables she must have eaten before, only they'd never tasted so good; game, meat and fish in three-bite portions, all cooked to perfection; sauces that danced bright, rich flavors across her tongue. Over the many courses, she and Rami discussed which shops they would go to, and their plan once inside each one.

  "At Nordstrom I will have to make sure my personal shopper is there. She is sure to know exactly what will be best for you even as you start to show-although, maybe we'd better go shopping again if you start to outgrow your clothes."

  "Rami," Mia said, blushing as she took a bite of medium rare filet of grass-fed beef, "No. I will buy my clothes with my own money from a maternity store if I have to. I am not going to let you take me on another shopping spree."

  "How are you going to stop me?" Rami asked with a little grin.

  "I'll refuse to go and by then I'll be so heavy you won't be able to make me."

  Rami laughed. "Fine. Only this once. But I think we'd better go to Macy's too, for some everyday things."

  "This was just supposed to be for New York! You are not giving me a whole new wardrobe, Rami. No, you're not doing it."

  "It's my money," Rami pointed out. "I can spend it how I like."

  "I don't want you spending it on me in the first place!" Mia looked around, taking a sip of her water to cover the embarrassment she felt at raising her voice. "I just?I'm not used to this, okay? I'll let you buy me clothes for New York because you're insisting on it, but please don't make me feel guilty by giving me a lot of clothes I don't need. No one ever sees me except you, my mom, Dr. Farber and the people at the grocery store."

  "Okay Mia, you win," Rami said, though a gleam in his dark eyes suggested that he hadn't quite given in on the idea of giving her a complete wardrobe. "So just Nordstrom and Saks, maybe Bloomingdales?" Mia sighed.

  "Fine," she said. "But I'm giving you a limit. You're not spending more than?a thousand dollars. Okay?" Rami shook his head.

  "Not going to agree to that; what if I find the perfect everyday dress for you and it's three hundred? That's almost a third on just one thing!"

  "You are not buying me an 'everyday dress' for three hundred dollars!" Mia insisted.

  "Let me use my judgment," Rami said firmly. "I won't buy more than you can wear in New York for like? a week. That's how long you'll be there, right?" Mia sighed, putting the plate in front of her aside.

  "Yes," she said. "Okay. A week's worth of clothes, that's it." She still felt weird accepting extra gifts and attention from Rami, but after three months of meeting with him on a regular basis, she knew arguing about it wouldn't get her anywhere.

  SIX

 
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