The sheikhs twin baby su.., p.9
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       The Sheikh's Twin Baby Surprise, p.9

         Part #1 of The Sheikh's Baby Surprise series by Holly Rayner
 
Never in my life had I been so nervous getting ready for a date. I took Omar’s advice and spent most of the rest of the afternoon shopping in the luxurious downtown district of Al-Thakri’s capital, where the blistering desert heat was offset by shady green trees and giant misting fans to keep the shoppers cool. Queen Mirah made an appointment for me at her spa, and it was clear to me why she recommended it so highly. Even though I only got a few services, including a facial, a manicure and a massage, I felt like a queen myself by the time I left.

  From the window of one of the boutiques, a soft flowing dress called my name. It was bold pink with a hem that fell just above the knee and a gorgeous layer of sheer fabric over the shoulders and back. After excitedly trying it on, I got the pink dress, along with some beautiful gold gladiator sandals with a tiny kitten heel, wondering vaguely when was the last time I had bought a piece of clothing that wasn’t purely functional.

  Back at the palace, I took a relaxing bath before getting dressed. My nerves got worse with every passing hour and it took me more than a few tries to put on the sparkling ruby earrings Omar had gifted me. Once they were on, though, I was almost taken aback at my own reflection. They glittered like fire on either side of my face, lighting up my eyes.

  Omar asked to meet me in the royal gardens, one of his favorite spots—and one of mine, truth be told. To have an oasis so deep in the desert sands meant a great deal to the culture of Al-Thakri, and that love and respect lived deep within Omar's blood. Every step I took down the palace hallways made my heart pound faster and faster.

  Remembering what the doctors had said, I instinctively raised a hand to my belly and rubbed gently, concerned. I slowed my steps and took deep breaths to calm my racing heart, and it worked. By the time I arrived at the beautiful sandstone archway that led to the gardens, I was feeling much more like myself.

  That only lasted for a few seconds, however—until I saw Omar, handsome and dashing in his casual white linens, waiting for me with a beaming smile. He had picked one of the tropical flowers from the garden and held it out to me as I approached.

  Blushing deeply, I took the bloom and brought it to my nose. The scent was clean and sweet. “This is beautiful,” I said to him.

  “As are you,” said Omar, eyeing my flowing pink sundress. “I don't think I've ever seen you wear something so bright before. It suits you.”

  The feeling of his eyes wandering over my body made me flush anew. “There's not very much about a dress like this that says 'professional'. I never wanted to seem out of place in your entourage.”

  “That's because you are a woman of integrity,” smiled Omar. He lifted his hand, beckoning silently for mine. I placed my hand in his and he brought it to his lips, planting a gentle kiss on top. “It's part of what makes you so attractive to me.”

  “Really?”

  “Truly,” said Omar with a nod. “So few people live with integrity. That’s one truth you discover very quickly when you are born into power. Some people only care about themselves, or what they can scam out of a person. But you aren't like that, Carrie. You only care for how you can help people.”

  I shrugged, my heart fluttering at this unexpected attention. “I don't know what to say. I just try to do the best I can with what I've got.”

  Omar smiled at me, as if my response only proved his point. “Come,” he beckoned, offering his arm to me. It was the same gesture he made the night we arrived home from his mother's gala, and yet, this time, it felt so much more significant.

  I slid my arm into his and he led us slowly through the stone walkways of the garden, pointing out some of his favorite flowers and teaching me their proper names. We were surrounded by blooms unlike any I had ever seen, save on exotic nature documentaries.

  “Part of me never wants to leave this garden,” I said to him. “Something about this place just makes me relax.”

  “Good,” replied Omar, squeezing my hand gently. “We need you relaxed. You shouldn't be concerning yourself with anything except taking care of yourself.”

  “Well, that's a little hard for me,” I admitted with a sheepish laugh. “You may have noticed I'm a bit of a workaholic.”

  Omar chuckled. “It had crossed my mind, yes. I saw the panic on your face when the doctors suggested you take some time off. After all, only a workaholic would accept a position like this in the first place, being on-call constantly for a royal family.”

  “Yeah,” I agreed, blushing. “You got me there.”

  “Saying that,” added Omar, “even though we've spent so many hours beside each other, there’s still so much I don't know about you, Carrie.”

  “I guess getting to know each other is what we're supposed to do on a first date, right?” I said, and he grinned warmly. “I don't really know where to start. My family is a pretty typical Midwestern bunch. I've always been kind of a restless person. I drove my parents crazy when I was a kid, getting into trouble and refusing to be clamped down. They wanted me to be more like my older sister, who loved school and following the rules.”

  “You mean you’ve experienced sibling rivalry as well?” laughed Omar with wide eyes. “I suppose that makes watching this nonsense with Sajid much more understandable.”

  “Oh, yes,” I giggled, leaning my head towards him. “I understand completely. I'm just glad my sister and I never had a kingdom to fight over—we had a tough time just sharing the treehouse. I decided to go into medicine because I figured it would cure my restlessness with the crazy hours and the adrenaline that comes with saving lives. Signing up for Doctors Without Borders was always my goal. I knew I wanted to be out in the world where I could do good for the people who needed it most. And, selfishly, I knew I wanted to travel as much as I could.”

  Omar's face lit up at that. “You love travel too?”

  “More than almost anything,” I said.

  “Me too,” replied Omar. “There are so many beautiful places on this planet. I remember my father taking Sajid and I on occasion when he would make diplomatic visits. Those are among my favorite childhood memories—when I was encouraged to take in the world around me in wonder. Father nurtured my curiosity; he wanted me to be excited about new cultures and places. He knew it would make me a more compassionate and informed ruler. It’s something I want to instill in our son.”

  The memory was touching in ways I didn't expect. To hear Omar talk of what he wanted to give our son made my heart ache.

  “That's beautiful,” I said quietly. “I wish everyone could travel. I think they would all get along much better once they realize everyone is just trying to make it the best they can, same as us.”

  “I couldn't agree more,” said Omar.

  “So why don't you travel more? We haven't had a single trip outside the kingdom since I've been here.”

  Omar sighed, and I felt immediately guilty for turning the mood of the date. “Things have just been hectic since father's death.”

  I gave his arm a gentle, loving squeeze and changed the subject as we rounded a corner and came upon a huge aviary tucked within the greenery. Exotic birds began to caw and flap their wings at the sight of us. One of them talked back to Omar when he spoke to it in Arabic, and he smiled at me, impressed with himself.

  “Just like Doctor Doom,” he said.

  I laughed. “What?”

  “That character from your country that can speak to animals.”

  “That's Doctor Dolittle,” I corrected with a teasing smile. “Doctor Doom is far less nice than him.”

  “I did think that was a strange name for a veterinarian,” he laughed.

  Omar led us through the aviary as we the conversation moved to lighter fare. We discovered we had much more in common than might be expected of a sheikh and a western doctor. Both of us had grown up restless, taking part in sports and any activity we could be a part of to stave away the dreaded specter of boredom. We both had huge soft spots for animals, and cared passionately about the rights of the oppressed and the working class—some
thing Omar had demonstrated many times in his official work for the kingdom.

  I couldn't believe that my date with the Sheikh was swiftly becoming the most successful date I'd ever had. The chemistry we’d been fighting for so many months flowed out of us like a river in spring runoff, surging and full of life.

  I realized how foolish I’d been to not see it before; Omar had been holding feelings for me just as long as I had held feelings for him. It was an endless relief to know I hadn't just been holding a candle in the dark, waiting for a day that was never going to come. All that time, Omar had been thinking about me, too. He had dreamed about me like I’d dreamed about him. And we were both so happy to finally come together and say it.

  When we reached the garden's intricate fountain, there was already a table set out for us. A selection of Mediterranean delicacies had been spread out over pure white dishes; meats and cheeses, olives, figs, fresh-baked bread, grapes, and dipping oils beckoned to us. Two bottles of wine chilled in a silver, ice-filled bucket, and a small but decadent-looking chocolate cake waited enticingly under a glass dome.

  “I know the doctors said to cut back on alcohol, but I figured since you’re not pregnant, a glass of wine might do wonders helping you relax,” said Omar as he lifted one of the bottles out of the ice bucket. “May I?”

  “Please,” I said, grateful for the nerve-calming alcohol.

  Dinner was a playful affair. Omar told me stories about growing up as a royal son, and I shared with him the gory details of working my way through college and medical school. For some reason, he was enchanted by my stories about growing up in boring old Ohio—stories I usually kept out of my repertoire because they were so mundane. But for someone who had grown up on the other side of the world, learning how to rule a country, hearing about carefree summers catching bullfrogs and climbing trees was like hearing a fairy tale.

  “Do you know how I got interested in medicine?”

  “No, tell me,” said Omar, a hint of tipsiness teasing his expression.

  “I started collecting animal bones I would find along the train tracks outside of town, trying to rebuild the skeletons. Of course, most of them ended up abominations because I had the wrong parts, in the wrong places. Mom hated my collection—she thought it was terribly macabre—but I was just trying to understand how the animals were built so that one day I could help them. Eventually, I decided I cared about helping people more than animals.”

  He seemed delighted at that anecdote. “You truly are a scientist at heart.”

  “Or maybe I was just a morbid little kid,” I joked.

  “Well, if it brought you to such an honorable calling—and to me—then I’m glad for your morbid childhood,” laughed Omar with a wink.

  “It certainly got me the hell out of Ohio,” I said, sighing heavily and gazing up over the tall façade of the palace as a flock of white birds passed by overhead, sparkling in the sun. “It’s brought me to some amazing places. I can’t wait to start traveling again.”

  Omar’s wine glass was halfway to his lips when he paused suddenly and lowered it, deep in thought. He looked almost sad.

  “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Did I say something?”

  He shook his head insistently. “You did nothing wrong. I was only thinking—wishing, really—that travel was still an option for me.”

  “Why do you say that it’s not?”

  “This,” he said, waving his hand toward the palace. “My kingdom needs a constant, steady hand to guide it, or she will fall into disrepair and millions of people will suffer. Their leader cannot be gallivanting around the world, appeasing his own whims. He has to be here, supporting and living among them, attending to all the duties that keep everything running.” Omar sighed. He looked sadder than I’d ever seen him. “Carrie, I fear that when I become king, I will never be able to leave my country again.”

  “That’s not true,” I said, desperate to comfort him. “What about diplomatic missions, like the ones your father used to take you on?”

  He scoffed. “That isn't traveling. It’s just business negotiations in faceless meeting rooms.”

  I couldn’t help but laugh hollowly at that. “I’m sorry, Omar. I feel awful hearing you say things like that. I want you to have what you want.”

  He looked at me softly, studying the details of my face as if he were trying to memorize them. After a few moments of silence, he spoke quietly. “What I want is to travel the world with you.”

  I couldn’t take it any longer. The feelings I’d been trying to hide for so long bubbled up too strongly, and there was nowhere left for them to go.

  Without warning, I leaned forward and smashed my lips against Omar’s. He moaned in surprise for a moment, but then melted into the kiss, pulling me into his lap as his tongue pushed gently into my mouth.

  And suddenly, the feelings we’d been holding inside came bursting out. Omar wrapped his strong arms around me, holding me close as he passionately kissing me, both of us moaning into each other’s mouths. One of his hands tangled itself carelessly in my hair, bringing my face closer to his as if he wanted to meld us into one body.

  “Carrie,” he whispered against my lips. “I’ve dreamed about this so many times.”

  “So have I,” I replied, my voice deep with lust. “So many nights I’ve wanted to feel your lips against mine.”

  Omar smiled and kissed me again, holding me tight. In one sweeping motion he stood up and brought me with him, holding me like a fairy-tale princess and making me squeal in girlish delight. I didn’t care how silly we looked to the entourage of guards stationed all over the garden, I was just happy to finally be in Omar’s arms.

  Moments later, he was carrying me into the palace where, hand in hand, we rushed back to his royal suite as fast as our legs would take us.

  NINE

 
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