The sheikhs accidental b.., p.7
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       The Sheikh's Accidental Bride, p.7
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         Part #2 of The Sheikh Wants A Wife series by Holly Rayner
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  SEVEN

  Nadya lost the bowling. She thought she might have room to say she was still taking it easy on him, but that would be a lie. She didn’t take losing too hard, since she was looking forward to seeing what it was he wanted to show her.

  There was a large area around the house that was landscaped, as was the expectation with residences this grandiose. Out beyond that, however, Salman had left the remaining land as raw forest. It was a stark contrast to the carefully protected, meticulously cared for garden in the courtyard.

  “It’s about 350 acres, altogether,” he said, answering her unasked question, as they wandered through the trees.

  Nadya wished that she had worn her Chucks after all. Her sandals were new, bought for the party, and they were going to give her blisters if she wasn’t careful. She was torn between thinking that she should insist they go back, and wanting to keep going.

  “And you want to show me all 350 right now?”

  He chuckled. “No, don’t worry. I just wanted to show you the lake.”

  It took them nearly fifteen minutes more to reach the lake. Nadya thought for sure they’d lost their way once or twice, but every time she looked over at Salman, she saw no trace of confusion or uncertainty. They weren’t following a path, really, though she could see some places, just here or there, where it looked like people had walked before.

  They came upon the lake suddenly. There were trees all around them, and then in an instant there was just water. There was a grass lip, with a curve down to a small silt beach. The lake itself was alive, just the way she felt the house had been. It wasn’t theirs alone. It had a life all its own, with a bird’s nest out a ways and the occasional ripple from fish below.

  “It’s beautiful,” Nadya said. She realized once she said the words that he had been looking at her, waiting with rapt attention for her to give her verdict.

  “Isn’t it? I’m glad to hear you say that. My father wasn’t sold on the property at first. He didn’t understand why I would choose to live in America, when there’s a palace back home. It was always his idea that I would come back, after my studies were done. But now that they are…” He ran his fingers through his hair. It was a habit he had, Nadya noticed, when he was thinking of something that bothered him. “Anyway, I showed him this, and he understood.”

  Nadya slipped out of her sandals again, as she had on the cool slate back in the courtyard. It didn’t seem like an odd thing to do, but she felt like it should be. In front of a man so powerful, and particularly in the strange, precarious and deceitful position she’d found herself in, it seemed like she should have been careful not to get too comfortable.

  But she wanted to be comfortable with him. And she found that the more he spoke to her, the more she found that it was impossible not to be. Just as long as they stayed far enough from the riskier topics, so that she could keep the tight wire she was walking out of her mind.

  “Not many lakes in Al-Ahradi, I take it?” she asked, and he shook his head emphatically.

  “We’ve got a little bit of coast. Just a little. The palace is near it. But it isn’t really the same. The waves are always crashing. It’s beautiful, but it’s never still.”

  He wandered a little bit closer to the water, if only to come a little closer to Nadya, who was standing with her toes right on the edge of it, now. “Everything in my life moves, it seems.”

  She looked back at him. “Well, whose fault is that?” she asked. It didn’t seem like such a bad thing. Better than everything staying the same.

  “I’m not just marrying for him.” He said it like it was the continuation of what he’d been saying just then, and not a call back to their talk in the bowling alley.

  “Aren’t you?” Nadya asked, not looking back.

  “No. I mean it. Everything in my life feels like it’s moving. My family keeps going, on and on. My sisters all have their own lives and my father has the kingdom. I think I’d like it, to get pulled in. Just the thing you’re so afraid of, I want.”

  There were so many things she wanted to say. She wanted to try and tell him that he didn’t need anything to be arranged for him; that maybe it would be better if he just went looking on his own. But she couldn’t say that if she didn’t want him to realize the truth. She certainly couldn’t say that and keep going on pretending that she still wanted the wedding. And if she didn’t want the wedding, then why was she still there?

  She felt sweaty from the walk, and her feet, while glad to be out of the sandals, still felt warm at the pressure points, where before much longer her skin would have turned to blisters. It was better out here, as far as the heat went, but it was still summer, and she still wanted to escape it.

  She stepped forward, into the water, letting out an involuntary cry at the temperature.

  “Nadya?” Salman said, and she could hear the concern in his voice.

  She turned around to look back at him, simultaneously stepping a bit further out, and a bit deeper in. “It’s colder than I thought it would be,” she said, a smile on her face as she saw his consternation.

  It wasn’t easy to bother him. He wasn’t easy to tease. He was too solid, and too sure of himself, generally. But he didn’t want her out in the water.

  She took another step backward, pretending to nearly lose her footing, and saw him instinctively reach out as though to grab her. She steadied herself easily and laughed. “What, can’t you swim?” she asked him, and he frowned.

  “Technically, I can. I’m a good swimmer. My swimming teacher told me so.”

  Another step back. The hem of her dress was well soaked, now, but the fabric was light, and resisted being drowned in the water; as she went further out, the water lifted it up, making it look like a flouncy teacup-shaped skirt. This, more than all the people calling her “Your Highness”, had a way of making her feel like a princess.

  Nadya’s obvious joy was eroding his concern, but he still wasn’t quite ready to go along with it.

  “You look ridiculous,” he said, undercutting his own words with a smile.

  She gasped. “You’re right. Halfway in is no way to be.”

  To his protestations, she let herself fall backward. The cool water sent a rush of adrenaline through her system. The world was all crisp and disorienting, but the insufferable warmth of the day was gone, and her feet felt soothed.

  She came up, and saw him looking back towards the house, as though someone was going to come and rebuke them.

  Nadya’s dress was soaked through, now, and she had to look down and check to make sure it wasn’t completely transparent. Probably something she should have done beforehand she thought gleefully. But it had turned out fine. She floated in the still water, feeling joyous.

  She began paddling backward, out into deeper water. “That’s your problem, you know,” she called back at him.

  “I don’t have a problem.”

  “Sure you do. Everyone has a problem. You said that, yourself. Last night.”

  Even from here she could see the moment of confusion and the moment of recognition.

  “That wasn’t exactly what I said.”

  “Close enough. Anyway, do you want to know what your problem is?”

  She noted that he was as close to the water as he could get, now, without actually touching it.

  “Ok, what is it?”

  “You can’t let go. We’re miles and miles and miles away from your family, and you still care more than anything about what they think. You’re worried that they wouldn’t approve.” She dipped her head under the water, so she could smooth and control the unruly wet hair that had escaped her braid. “It shouldn’t matter,” she said.

  He shrugged. At least he didn’t refute it, she thought.

  “Come in with me!”

  “No!” He said it loudly, like it was a kneejerk reaction. But he didn’t really seem to disapprove anymore.

  “It’s better out here!”

  She splashed water across the surface of the
water at him, but he was too far away to be caught by it.

  He didn’t move. He just watched her, smiling. “Then you enjoy it!” he said.

  She pushed off, swimming out to the middle of the lake. She wanted him out here with her. She hated that he wasn’t. But even if she had to be by herself, it was still an amazing feeling. She came up for air, now and then, and felt the warmth of the sun on her skin, and the balmy air. She was weightless, careless and free.

  She didn’t know how long she swam for. She just knew it was long enough to cool off, and release the tension that any conversation about Salman’s impending nuptials brought up in her.

  When she felt ready to come in, she looked back to the beach. He wasn’t there.

  Nadya gasped. She had a sudden terrifying vision of her out alone in the lake. Maybe he’d heard something. Maybe her identity had been revealed, and he’d just been so angry that he’d left her out here, with no way to get back. She had a sense of what direction the house was, but only a vague one.

  “Nadya!”

  She heard his voice to her right. There was a rock formation on a little peninsula out into the lake. And there was Salman, sitting on a rock that was only just higher than the water.

  He waved and motioned for her to come to him. She obliged, swimming as quickly as she could. She found the water next to the rock wasn’t shallow like the shore. It was deep, and she tread water there, unable to touch the bottom with her feet.

  “Enjoying yourself?” he asked, though it was obvious. It was equally obvious that he was enjoying himself, too, sitting in the sun on the rock, with his feet in the water, watching her swim.

  “I’m sorry Salman, the wedding’s off. I’m a lake woman now. I’m never coming out.”

  He sighed with exaggerated despair. “Well, I guess it was bound to happen. I’ll make sure someone comes out to feed you now and then. But if you’re planning on giving me a magical sword so I can become king, you don’t need to bother. I already have a kingdom.”

  “What, really?” she said, as though all her best-made plans had been undone.

  He nodded sadly. “Oh, well, I guess there’s no point, then.”

  She reached her hands up towards him, and he grabbed them. Wordlessly, he pulled her out of the water and up onto the rock, as easily as if she weighed nothing.

  When she’d been in the water, Nadya had thought there was no way that Salman could possibly be enjoying himself as much outside of it as she was. But now that she sat, dripping wet on the warm rock, she reconsidered. The heat of it on her wet skin was wonderful, and the sunlight on her cheeks, and on her dripping hair was working wonders.

  She closed her eyes, and didn’t speak. Neither did he. She lay down beside him, drinking it all in.

  The day had been eventful so far, and it was still early. She’d thought there was nothing she could love more than the hotel, but then she’d seen the house. She’d thought there was nothing she could like more than the courtyard, but then she had seen the bowling alley.

  And then there’d been this. Here, Nadya felt like herself. Her nerves were settling. The stillness of the water was calming.

  “Thank you for coming, today.” She could tell by the sound of his voice that it was having a similar effect on him. “I was important to me that you got to see it. It makes… it makes you feel like family.”

  She didn’t answer. His words started a warmth in her heart that spread through her entire body. She reached out her hand, and set it on his back. It felt comfortable. It felt like they’d been together for a long time.

 
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