The sheikhs secret princ.., p.10
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       The Sheikh's Secret Princess, p.10
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         Part #2 of The Sheikh's Every Wish series by Holly Rayner
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  Well, good, she thought. One of them would have to be.

  She did find a robe, though. It was dark blue, impossibly soft, and when she slipped it on, she felt like she was bringing the comfort of the bed with her.

  The floors were warm beneath her feet, although the air conditioner was keeping the place comfortable. Anita didn’t doubt that her own room, back at the apartment, would by now be a little too warm to be bearable. But she didn’t want to think about that. She didn’t want to think about the world that had been all she knew up until this moment.

  She found Hakim in the kitchen, wearing a smile as bright as the sun streaming through the lightbox windows. Wordlessly, he drew her up into his arms and kissed her once on her lips, and once on her forehead.

  “Why did you leave me?” she asked, her voice too fuzzy to sound annoyed.

  “I didn’t want to,” he said. “but I also didn’t want you to wake before breakfast was ready. I’m trying to sell to you here, you know that?”

  They swayed back and forth together, there in the kitchen, like they were dancing to some private song that only the two of them could hear.

  “Selling me what?”

  He kissed the top of her head. “Me.”

  A giggle started low in her body and came spilling out her mouth. “Hasn’t anyone ever told you to stop talking once you’ve made the sale?”

  His smile was as wide as hers. “Oh, will you tell me how to do business? All right. No more talking. Only breakfast. And kissing. Aaaaand…”

  She laughed. “OK, let’s start with breakfast.”

  He’d prepared chakchouka, prompting Anita to ask him why he had ordered it at the restaurant if he could make it himself.

  “It’s comfort food,” he told her. “Comfort food is always best prepared by someone else. Preferably someone who loves you, but, hey, I figured I would take what I could get.”

  Love. That was a big word. A big word that he seemed to be throwing around far too easily.

  It was too soon. It was too soon to imagine him saying those words to her, and yet just having heard the word come out of his mouth, Anita could suddenly imagine nothing else.

  Sure, it was too soon for all of that. But the time since she had met Hakim had changed everything about how she saw the world so completely, that it might as well have been much longer. It might as well have been months. How could anyone feel more intensely in months than she felt right now?

  He could see her thinking. At least, that was what it seemed like. And he had a bit of a grin. He cleared his throat to speak, and Anita’s heart quickened at what she couldn’t dare to let herself imagine might be about to happen next.

  DING DONG.

  As one, their heads jerked to the doorway.

  DING DONG.

  The sound of the doorbell echoed through the apartment again.

  Anita shifted her gaze back to him. “Were you expecting someone?”

  Hakim’s face was blank for a moment. And then, understanding broke. “It’s probably my parents.”

  “What?”

  Anita blanched; if he was a prince, that meant his parents were royals. And here she was, just some girl wearing his bathrobe.

  No, this was not how she wanted any of this to go. She was halfway back to the bedroom before she heard Hakim stand to answer the door. There was one disadvantage of this condo: no back door. Nowhere for her to get away, as long as his parents were here.

  Well, if she was going to be trapped, she’d better be trapped dressed, she thought. With a sigh, she slipped out of the heavenly robe, and back into her clothes from the night before. They’d been fine then, but now they felt like sandpaper on her skin.

  A bit like her whole life was about to feel, really, she thought morosely.

  And suddenly, just like that, the bubble Anita had been in for the last night—for the last several days, really— seemed to pop. Now her Hakim had been replaced by Hakim the son and prince, and she had no place in that life. She never would.

  Her clothes now on, she went to the door to listen; if Hakim were going to try and get rid of his parents so that she could escape, she figured it would be best that she knew what was happening.

  The voices were a little bit muffled, but she could make them out well enough.

  “Was the Da Vinci not sufficient for breakfast?” Hakim was asking.

  A female voice with a strong accent and condescending tone answered him. “Yes, the Da Vinci is a perfectly adequate hotel. It always is. We’ve been visiting it since you were a child, Hakim, as I’m sure you’re aware.”

  Hakim’s voice when he answered contained an undercurrent of frustration that took Anita by surprise. She’d imagined him as a perfectly dutiful son, providing nothing in the way of rebellion. Without ever really even thinking about it, she’d just assumed that he would keep his family relationships the same way he kept his apartment: spotless and simple.

  “Of course, Mother. I only ask because I thought there must be something wrong, for you to come over without warning and interrupt breakfast with my girlfriend.”

  A thrill started at the tips of Anita’s toes and travelled upward through her body until it felt like every piece of her was vibrating. He’d referred to her as his girlfriend, when just a moment before she’d assumed that he was going to hide her like a dirty little secret.

  “Oh.” That was his mother’s voice again, putting more disdain into a single syllable than Anita had ever heard. “Your father and I wanted to discuss with you your plans for the gala. It’s highly unusual that you’ve been so unavailable to speak with us about it.”

  “Ah, yes. In a moment, I’m sure. But first, wouldn’t you like to meet my girlfriend, since you’ve interrupted our breakfast?”

  Again, with the bluntness. But Anita didn’t have any time to think about that, or why she found it so odd. He was calling for her—asking her to come out and meet his parents.

  She took a deep breath in, and let it out slowly. Then another, and another. It was Fadi’s advice for dealing with nerves. Although, he’d never had to do it more than twice, as far as she knew.

  After a fourth breath, she stepped out. She felt awkward, like a baby calf learning to walk. It felt like, in the presence of these two people who were both heads of state and the parents of the man she found she had the audacity now to think of as her boyfriend, she’d forgotten even how to put one foot in front of another.

  They looked very much like Anita had imagined. Hakim’s father—the king, Anita thought to herself—was dressed in traditional Middle-Eastern wear. The queen was in a black dress, complete with a headscarf that was bejeweled within an inch of its life and set back on her head so that Anita could see strands of her black and grey hair beneath it. The King wore a huge, magnificent watch on his wrist, and the Queen’s wrists were dripping in bracelets that sparkled in any stray rays of sun that fell across them.

  Anita felt weak, and lightheaded. But then Hakim put his arm around her and she was solid again.

  “Mother, Father. This is Anita.”

  She looked back and forth between their faces, not sure what to expect. But she definitely didn’t expect the complete lack of response.

  “As I was saying, about the gala…”

  Hakim sighed, and shot Anita a look of apology. He didn’t need to; she was just happy to get to stay with him a little longer, even if it was in the presence of his parents.

  He offered them coffee, then they went to sit in the living room, where his mother made him pull down the shades to block the sun a bit.

  “At every turn,” his mother said, once they had all gotten settled, “you are telling me that you do not want this, or you do not want that. How, then, am I supposed to throw a gala worthy of our twenty years of work here?”

  Hakim spoke to her as though he were trying to soothe a spooked horse. “Mother, I have told you this, but you will not listen. The American company that had the lease on the wells we just absorbed has gone out of busine
ss. With that unfortunate timing, throwing a lavish party now will only seem…”

  “What?” his mother snarled. “It will make it seem like we won? Good. We did.”

  “It’s not like that.”

  It was like he was trying to reason with a runaway train. He just kept trying to tell her that they wanted many of the people who worked for the American company to come work for theirs; they had the experience with those wells, and would be an invaluable resource. But his mother would give no ground.

  “This is the problem with your generation. You are too soft. Even in victory, you want to act like you were defeated. When Al-Dali fell, do you think we refused to celebrate a holiday? No, of course we didn’t! We celebrated in the streets, and they didn’t just suspect it was because of their failure. They knew it was.”

  “Mother!”

  Hakim looked at Anita.

  “No, it’s fine. Really, it is,” Anita said. She tried to head the argument off at the pass, but it was not to be.

  “Mother, Anita is from Al-Dali. And if you want to generalize about what is wrong with an entire generation, then I suggest you look no further than yourself. You celebrated while the homeland of the woman I love fell apart.”

  Anita reeled. He’d said it. He’d actually said the words. But she couldn’t focus on that now, however much she wanted to revel in the moment. That was being stolen from her by Hakim’s mother, who was looking at her now, as though for the first time.

  She was looking her up and down. “What did you say your name was again, child?”

  “Mother, please. Her name is Anita. I just said it. And you don’t need to patronize her…”

  But the woman was already standing up. “Hakim,” she began, apparently deciding that Anita was no longer worth her interest, “I expect that I will no longer be challenged on this matter. Your father and I are still the largest single shareholders of this company, and though we give you a lot of free reign in its operations, there comes a point where you must be expected to toe the line.”

  And then they were both gone, with little in the way of goodbyes.

  Anita felt like a tornado had blustered through, tearing up everything that the morning had been. She looked around the condo, as though expecting it to show physical signs of the emotional roller coaster that had just taken place.

  “I’m so sorry you had to see that,” Hakim said.

  She could feel him taking her hands up in his, his long fingers winding around hers and reminding her of how close they had been last night.

  “No,” she said. “They’re just old fashioned. The same way Fadi is old fashioned. I can’t promise he would behave any better if I introduced the two of you.”

  And she meant it. But there was something more than that. The way his mother had looked at her… it was as though she saw through her.

  “The gala…” Anita asked. “Is that really happening, then?”

  She didn’t have to have Hakim’s business sense to agree that the party was a bad idea. She only knew a few people directly affected by the closing of the old company, but there were a lot of people who very much did not want to see another company succeeding where theirs had failed.

 
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