Bought by the sheikh his.., p.1
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       His Hired Bride, p.1
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         Part #1 of The Sheikh's American Love series by Holly Rayner
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Bought By The Sheikh: His Hired Bride


  His Hired Bride

  By Holly Rayner

  Copyright 2016 by Holly Rayner

  All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part by any means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the explicit written permission of the author.

  All characters depicted in this fictional work are consenting adults, of at least eighteen years of age. Any resemblance to persons living or deceased, particular businesses, events, or exact locations are entirely coincidental.

  Table Of Contents:


















  “Sheikh Rafiq Al-Zayn… Sheikh Rafiq Al-Zayn….”

  I repeated the name under my uneven breath, struggling on the step-stool. No matter what I tried, the final painting that needed to be hung for the exhibit just would not sit on the wall straight, and the task was chewing on my last nerve. It had been a long, exhausting day, and the most trying part of it hadn’t even started yet.

  Wrestling with the frame, I kept up my mantra until the name started rolling off my tongue. Arabic names had always been a challenge for me, and it took practice, but I certainly wasn’t about to embarrass myself for a client as important as this. The Sheikh had phoned the gallery early in the morning, asking about availability for a last-minute private function he wished to organize for some guests from out of town. What was supposed to be a normal, boring Tuesday had ended up becoming a gauntlet of work as I closed down the gallery to the general public in preparation to host the Sheikh.

  Rich clients only set up private viewings such as this if they were really interested in an artist’s work, and they usually left with at least one piece for their private collection. As it was, I couldn’t afford to refuse his offer.

  Finally, the last of the hooks caught the frame with a satisfying click. I came down off the step stool and did a final check of the levels until I was satisfied.

  The gallery space wasn’t much, but it was my whole world. The first floor of a pre-war building, the art space itself could only hold about fifty people max, but it was enough for me to fill easily enough on an opening night. The hardwood floors and track lighting kept me looking professional, even when my bank account said otherwise, and the old brick building was charming without looking dilapidated. In any other life, there was no way I could afford a space this valuable, but I had managed to rent it, and the studio apartment above it, at a steal, thanks to the landlord being a dear friend of my mother’s sister. Even with the networking hook-ups, though, being an artist wasn’t easy. Every month was like walking across a canyon on a tight rope, hoping I made it to the other side before a huge wind came and blew me into oblivion. So far, I had always made it. So far.

  Nights like tonight could go one of two ways: they could shake the tightrope, or they could turn it into a stable and comfortable bridge. I did everything I could to make it the latter, and crossed my fingers that the rest would fall into place. But rich art collectors were nothing if not unpredictable; they lived in a world that few people would ever inhabit or understand, and as far as my experience served, they had no idea what it was like to live in the real world.

  As if on cue, from around the dividing wall, the tiny bell of the gallery’s front door chimed, and my heart seized up in panic. I checked the dangling gold watch around my thin wrist; it wasn’t seven yet. Had the Sheikh decided to show up early? I wasn’t even dressed or ready for his party.

  “Evangeline?” A familiar voice carried across the empty space and hardwood floors as the door shut the door gently in its antique jamb. “Sorry I’m late.”

  Joel Perez, my best friend, came around the corner to find me staring at the painting, a backpack slung over one shoulder of his leather jacket. His jet-black hair was mussed up from the motorcycle helmet he had no doubt left out on his bike, and he gave me a charming smile when our eyes met.

  “How are you feeling? Excited?”

  Joel was certainly excited himself; the sparkling in his eyes betrayed as much, even from a distance, and I once again felt lucky to have him supporting me on nights like this.

  I took a deep breath and sighed. “I think I’ll be more excited when it’s over.”

  “Come on, now, that’s not the attitude to have!” said Joel. His Spanish accent gave his words even more sunshine than they already had. He walked over and put his arm around my shoulder, squeezing me into him. “Let’s get some happy in you. What can I help with?”

  With a glance around the empty gallery, I said, “The refreshments table needs to be set out still, and I have to get myself ready. I haven’t had time.”

  “I can handle the food, no problem. I’m sorry I wasn’t here earlier, Evie, I didn’t mean to make you hang all these by yourself…” he scolded himself.

  “It’s okay, honey, I didn’t have to replace all of them. And besides, you were at work!” I waved a hand at him. “How does it look? Do you think it will pop?”

  Joel dropped his backpack and wandered slowly around the gallery, spinning in slow circles, trying to get a full view of the exhibit. As my long-time friend, he had seen my paintings a million times, and from every conceivable angle, so he didn’t spend any time on the details. He knew exactly what I was asking of him. The collection had to look perfect for the Sheikh, and not just the paintings—the whole ambiance. Joel was always my second pair of eyes to keep me looking my best.

  “It looks very powerful,” he said. “I love how you’ve split up the darks and lights between the divider.”

  “It’s not too heavy-handed, is it?”

  “Not at all, it’s very subtle. He probably won’t notice it, but his subconscious will. Did he ask for any specific works?” asked Joel.

  I shook my head. “He barely asked for anything. He just wanted a private exhibit of my work set up for this evening. It had to be tonight, he said, so I thought it would be simplest to recreate the opening day exhibit with a few obvious substitutions. I still get compliments about it now.”

  “Very smart idea. I don’t see Clementine anywhere, though…” Joel said, holding his chin thoughtfully.

  I frowned, worried. The piece was a scene with more sexual charge than my works typically had, and at the last second, I had left it in the back room storage. Maybe my instincts had been off.

  “No, I didn’t want to offend him. Should I have put it up?”

  “Why would you offend him?” asked Joel.

  I shrugged and wandered over to stand next to Joel in front of Oceanic, a four-foot-square scene of violent blue-gray waters and the vague hint of monsters and mermaids in the shadowy sea.

  “I’ve never met a Sheikh before, so I didn’t want to take any chances. I don’t know what would offend him, I just don’t want to blow this opportunity.”

  Rich clients made my life as a painter possible, but their visits weren’t frequent enough for me to have any kind of security. Not that any serious artist would ever expect anything less than a life of struggle, of course. I accepted that, and knew how fort
unate I was to have the support of friends like Joel and to be successful enough to rent the gallery space in the first place. One mistake could cost me months’ worth of income, and my bank account was already starving to death. Things not working out tonight could pose a very big problem.

  Joel shrugged. “You’re probably good to play it safe, mami. You just know it’s my favorite. I love seeing it up.”

  “That’s just because you’re a pervert,” I said teasingly, resting my head on his shoulder with a smile.

  “How can I be a pervert for body parts I don’t even like?” he said and kissed the top of my head. Joel was gay, and he enjoyed the painting’s sexuality for totally different reasons, but I liked to give him a hard time about it, anyway. “Go make yourself beautiful; I’ll get everything finished down here.”

  “You sure?”

  “Yes, yes, go!” he said, shooing me toward the front door. “Time is wasting.”

  My apartment was upstairs, above the studio space, a small, open-plan place with just enough room for me to sleep and relax. Even though I had some room downstairs to paint, I couldn’t stop myself from keeping one corner of the apartment for work, and glanced with longing at my current, unfinished work sitting silently on its easel. Being an artist very often meant doing work other than creating art, and some days, I found it very hard to accept—but the pile of past-due bills on the counter wouldn’t be ignored, either. It wasn’t like I had a real choice. It had to be done.

  Less than an hour later, I returned to the gallery wearing my best dress and jewelry. It was a dark blue dress, cut in a vintage style with a high, tight waist and circle skirt that made my thin, pale legs seem even more doll-like. A square-cut bodice and thick straps completed the look. I let my long, shiny black hair stay down, but used a tiny faux diamond barrette to pull it away from my face. An equally delicate diamond on a white gold chain dangled from my neck, a gift from my grandma when I moved to the big city to try and make it as an artist. I wore it every time I had a showing. Simple black kitten pumps and some red lipstick polished off the clean but effective look I had worked hard to perfect over the years.

  Joel had come through, as he always did, wrapping up the tasks to get the night off to a perfect start. The gallery lights had all been properly adjusted and calibrated, arranged to bring out the light and color of each work. At the rear wall, a small table draped in an elegant black cloth was stacked with an expensive array of exotic appetizers, and three bottles of chilled champagne aside clean crystal classes which were waiting to be filled. Very softly, almost indiscernibly, Golden Age jazz music played from the overhead speakers.

  I had to stand there for a moment, just taking it all in with a big, deep breath and a smile. In moments like this, it seemed like all the terrible struggle of the artist life was worth it. Moments where I could stand and look at a sparkling gallery full of my work, all this pomp and circumstance to present it, all this beauty. It was so much work, but nothing made my heart happier. It made me feel like a real, bona fide artist. Joel would argue with me that I had been one of those for a long time—since I sold my very first painting, back in our hometown—but I don’t think he understood how easy it was to feel like a fraud in this world.

  As my heels clicked along the hardwood floor, Joel came out from the back of the gallery with one of the floor sweepers in his hand, ready to give the hardwood one more dusting.

  He gasped and smiled when he saw me. “Oh, honey, you look like a princess! Go on, give us a twirl.” He wound his finger in demonstration.

  Rolling my eyes but smiling anyway, I obliged him, and admittedly did feel very princess-like as the blue fabric of my knee-length dress spun around me. Joel cheered me on, making me blush.

  “Okay, okay, show’s over,” I said, looking at my watch. “We only have about ten minutes left.”

  “Dios mío, I didn’t even realize,” Joel said, as he rushed with the sweeper to the front of the gallery. “Did I forget anything?”

  I took a quick tour around and didn’t see anything amiss. Joel finished up sweeping the floor with only minutes to spare, and gave me a quick peck on the cheek before heading into the back room to get changed for the evening. While I waited for both him and my guest, I paced the gallery once again, eyeballing my paintings, whispering his name under my breath.

  “Sheikh Rafiq Al-Zayn, Sheikh Rafiq Al-Zayn….” I turned with a whimper to Joel as he breezed past me to put the sweeper away. “These private exhibitions always make me so damn nervous, Joel. At least in a crowd, the pressure isn’t entirely on me.”

  Joel stopped and turned back, dropping the sweeper on the floor. He opened up his big arms to me and held me in a tight, warm hug. Instantly my nerves started to calm.

  “You’ve done this a hundred times, mami, and for all sorts of rich and powerful people. They love you! Look at you. You are a charming flower they want to put in a vase and take home. Tonight will be no different.”

  “You’re the charmer,” I said. “Thank you. I don’t know how I would do this without you.”

  “Try the hummus before he gets here and eats all of it—it’s incredible.” Joel winked at me and picked up the sweeper, disappearing into the back room.


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