The sheikhs triplet baby.., p.11
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       The Sheikh's Triplet Baby Surprise, p.11
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         Part #3 of The Sheikh's Baby Surprise series by Holly Rayner

  Aziz didn’t say anything for a moment. He readjusted his arms on his chest, considering her. The space between them was tense, awkward. Amity wanted to rush from the scene and eliminate any memories from her mind.

  “Well. I have to say, I’m shocked,” Aziz said. He shook his head sadly. “And sad that you’ve come to this decision—”

  Behind Aziz, one of the maids appeared. She gestured down the steps. “Miss Winters! Your taxi has arrived!” Her voice cut through the tension, killing the moment.

  Amity shrugged her shoulders and grabbed her suitcase, rushing past Aziz and down the steps, willing her body to carry the heavy load. She could rest her weary eyes on the plane, she reminded herself. She could find solace as the days passed, as she pushed further away from this moment.

  Seconds later, she burst from the mansion and found the waiting taxi. The driver opened his arms to her suitcase and greeted her with a curt hello. She felt her legs and shoulders jittering, shaking as she pushed the strap from her body and handed it away. She could feel Aziz’s presence behind her; she could sense that he’d followed her down the steps and into the blistering sunshine. Could she push into the taxi and abandon him like that?

  No.

  She lost her head; she refuted any thought of professionalism. And she spun on her heels, back toward the mansion, where Aziz was standing with lost eyes. He opened his arms to her, but she stopped short, blinking at him. Behind her, the traffic revved full-force. Merchants screamed in Arabic. The world kept spinning.

  “This is off the record,” she said then. She cleared her throat and made earnest eye contact with him. She felt alive. But she kept her distance. “Do you remember what you told me the first morning I was here, in the desert?”

  Aziz cocked his head but didn’t speak.

  “You told me that you’re nothing like the man that the public thinks you are. And it’s completely true. You’re not like that perception of you—and you’re also not like anyone in the world.” She swallowed, feeling the brevity of her words. “And that’s why I’m leaving. I’m leaving because there’s nothing I can really do here. You don’t need me. You don’t need a PR rep; you don’t need anyone to arrange your words for you. You just need to be yourself, wholly and truly, and the public will love you.”

  Behind her, Amity could hear the taxi driver clear his throat. His impatience was mounting.

  “Anyway. I just wanted to—to tell you that. That you don’t need me.”

  But I need you, Amity thought hopelessly, swallowing once more, using every last shred of restraint to keep herself from throwing her arms around him. Keep it together, Amity, she told herself. Keep it together.

  Aziz sighed once more, clearly exhausted. He placed his fingers to his temples and slumped his shoulders. “Wow, Amity. What a whirlwind that was.” He shook his head, giving her a mischievous grin. “But okay. I respect your decision. There’s not much more I can do than that, is there? I can’t convince you to stay, can I?”

  “I know where I belong,” Amity said, her eyebrows high. “I suppose I’ve always known.”

  Aziz stretched his arms out, then, and reached gently around her shoulders. Amity hugged him roughly, feeling his beating heart against her cheek and wanting to reach up, to kiss him. She felt the tension between them; she felt the chaos of her mind. She longed for it to calm, to fall away. And she knew it would, the moment she entered that taxi. And so, fighting every impulse in her body, she pulled away, swiping at her wet cheeks.

  “I’ll tell your employers it was my decision to send you back,” Aziz said firmly. “I’ll tell them what you’re telling me. That I don’t need a PR rep. I’m not sure what they’ll say. Probably that I’m crazy.” He laughed warmly. “But I’ve always been a bit that way.”

  “I like it,” Amity said wistfully. “I do.”

  She couldn’t tell him a single thing more. She held her tongue, yanking it back toward her throat. She felt the moments tick. Finally, Aziz spoke once more.

  “You know, you’re welcome to come back here any time you please. I hope you do, one day.”

  Amity gave him a slight, confused grin. She felt her stomach flip over. It was a one-time thing for him, wasn’t it? That was the unspoken agreement?

  “And I’ll make sure Flora gets home in one piece,” Aziz added, chortling.

  Amity allowed her head to fall back in a high school laugh, an easy giggle. For a moment, she felt like she could laugh with him on the corner, in front of that mansion, for all of time. But it was time for her to go. And so she bowed her head, thanking him once more, before backing into the taxi and giving him a strained, single-swoop wave.

  She forced herself to face forward, not to look back as the taxi swept away. And she told herself, continually, as she passed through the airport sensors and ticket-takers, that she’d made the right decision. She was no more supposed to be in Al-Mabbar than Aziz was supposed to be with her. They had been like two ships in the night, passing each other for only a moment, before going their separate ways. For a moment, deep into their passionate lovemaking, it had been beautiful. And then it had been over.

  The pilot launched into his well-practiced speech, explaining that they’d have sixteen hours to cover across the ocean. Amity shoved her earplugs in, pulled an eye mask on, and bid Al-Mabbar a final goodbye. She wasn’t one to linger on past feelings, and this wouldn’t be any different.

  THIRTEEN

  “Just a tall macchiato,” Amity said, her expression blasé, looking down at her phone as she spoke. The line at Starbucks had been mortifyingly long, but since Flora—who, miraculously, was still her intern—hadn’t been available to fetch her coffee, she was multitasking herself through the afternoon.

  “What’s the name?” the barista asked her. She chomped at her gum, looking at Amity with dead shark eyes.

  “Amity,” she muttered.

  She waited to the side, typing up a brief email to one of her clients—an eighteen-year-old actress who had recently gotten drunk and streaked down Hollywood Boulevard. Amity thought she could probably help her using some of her normal tactics: forcing the girl to volunteer her time at an animal shelter, or an orphanage. Anything that sounded good in a news anchor’s voice.

  Whatever worked, Amity thought.

  She clutched the latte and marched back into the searing L.A. sunshine. It was late August—the end of summer already—and the heat was at an all-time high, pushing her from air conditioning unit to air conditioning unit. She sighed and entered the hallway of her office building, her mind rushing with the emails she needed to send, the errands she needed to run.

  It was true that she’d pushed herself full-force back into work life the minute she’d returned to LA. She really didn’t have a choice; she knew that unless she got stuck into new projects, she would drive herself crazy with thoughts of the Sheikh. Her bosses had been fine with her premature return—hearing from the Sheikh that he’d opted to take a different route. But because she hadn’t succeeded in overhauling his image back in Al-Mabbar, she hadn’t been given an option to go to New York. And so, here she was: back to square one. And she hated square one.

  When Amity entered the office, she tripped lightly on the start of the carpet. Her latte sloshed up on her shirt and she bashed her shoulder against the wall, startling herself. She blinked rapidly, realizing that none of her coworkers or interns had noticed. They were bent over their screens, lost in their own affairs, their own early-twentysomething lives.

  Frustrated, Amity stomped to the office kitchen to find a paper towel. She leafed one from the pile and began to dot at her blazer, kicking herself. This was the last thing she needed today—especially given that her upcoming meeting was with a fashion client.

  As she dabbed, she noticed Flora standing in the corner, her forehead pressed against the window. She was staring out at the office floor, her hands on her hips.

  “You seem intent,” Amity said, her voice light. “What’s up?”

&nbs
p; Flora spun toward her, surprised. Her blond hair was loose, messy around her face. She looked as if she’d been crying.

  “I’m sorry, Amity,” she murmured, wiping at her face. “I’ll get back to work now.”

  Amity realized she needed to use softer words, a kinder face. “What’s wrong, honey? What’s going on?”

  But she was sure she already knew. Flora had arrived back from Al-Mabbar about a week after Amity had. And, if Amity had dived into her work to disguise her heartache, Flora had done just the opposite: wearing her pain on her sleeve and on her face and in the manner in which she walked, without a thought for her work.

  “It’s just Rama,” she cried out, clenching her fists. “He hasn’t called me in over a week. I thought we had something special, you know? He talked about me coming out to visit him at the end of the summer. He talked about—he talked about me potentially moving there.”

  Amity swallowed slowly, focusing on the young girl’s tragedy. “Well, Flora,” she began. “Did you say he was seeing a lot of other women?”

  “Not after the first week,” Flora whined. “He said he only wanted to see me.”

  Amity frowned, remembering the clientele at the club she’d gone to with Flora and Aziz. It didn’t seem like the club had been popular with the “settling down” kind.

  “Well, what’s stopping you from calling him?” she asked gently.

  “Maybe I should,” Flora said, her voice flubbing with tears. “I know he feels something for me. I know he wants me. I know we’re meant to be together. Why should I allow the distance to destroy us?”

  Amity nodded along, all the while knowing this was a terrible idea. If he wasn’t willing to call her, it was clear that Rama didn’t want to speak with Flora. The same way it was clear, in the back of her mind, that Aziz didn’t want to speak with her. So it was best to leave well enough alone.

  Amity ended the conversation with a warm hug, sending Flora home early to “think things over.” She knew she was going to have a serious conversation with her soon—after all, she’d bounced between being completely unreliable and being a complete wreck every day since she’d been hired—but seeing the pain in the girl’s eyes, she couldn’t quite bring herself to do it.

  Back at her desk, Amity ruffled her hair, wishing the hours away. She slipped her ear buds into her ears, the music concealing the office gum chewing, and rested her chin on her palm. She could sense that her mind was going to spiral to Aziz, and she almost wanted it to. She wanted to linger on the way he smelled, on the scent of his skin. She wanted to imagine the way he called her name during sex. She wanted to imagine their life together—in an alternate reality, in another world.

  She hated that she often dreamed of him. She couldn’t control that part of her life. Deep in her unconsciousness, she and Aziz had that pure kind of happiness—the stuff of love songs. They walked together by European rivers and danced all night in clubs, kissing on corners. And they lived together in that great mansion, working their way through his movie collection, through the days of their lives. Everything they did, they did together.

  These dreams naturally left the rest of her day ruptured. The moment she woke up from them, she felt her stomach bottoming out; she felt her skin peeling from her face with stress. She dressed slowly, repeating a mantra to herself, over and over: “It wouldn’t have been that way. It wouldn’t have worked out. It wouldn’t have been that way. It wouldn’t have worked out.”

  The words soothed her, reminding her that even if she had stayed behind—to “see what would happen”—the results would not have been stellar. She would have driven herself mad, just thinking about him all day, and she wouldn’t have finished any kind of PR agenda. She would only have killed her career, breaking her heart in the process when he inevitably tired of her and moved onto the next girl.

  Beyond anything, she knew that Aziz was unattainable. He was a rich and powerful man—a billionaire with royal blood. He was meant for someone great, and she—a Midwestern woman working her way up the ranks—was simply not it. It was almost hilarious that she’d considered it for even a moment.

  Flora rushed up to her desk, then, and Amity lurched her head up, blinking rapidly.

  “Did you fall asleep again?” Flora asked her. She looked like a deer in headlights, her purse strapped over her, anxious to leave. “You’ve been doing that a lot recently. Are you overworking yourself again?”

  “Probably,” Amity admitted, breathing evenly. She shook her head roughly, checking the clock. It was true. She’d passed out for nearly twenty minutes, just sitting at her desk. Her latte macchiato cooled beside her.

  “Maybe you should go home soon, too,” Flora said, chipper, before she marched away, past Mark, her ex, and into the simmering August heat.

  Maybe she should go home, Amity thought. She rose from her desk and nearly collapsed back into the chair, physical exhaustion aching through her. She’d been working too hard, and she knew it. She was racing the clock, taking on as many clients as possible, trying to keep her mind busy. She owed it to herself, and to her career. But the stress was taking a toll on her body.

  Amity rushed into the bathroom, then, and peered at herself in the mirror. She looked awful. Bags lined her eyes and her skin was rough, red. She placed her palm over her forehead, feeling the clammy skin beneath. She bounced from left foot to right, thinking. She hadn’t gotten
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