The sheikhs secret princ.., p.11
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       The Sheikh's Secret Princess, p.11
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         Part #2 of The Sheikh's Every Wish series by Holly Rayner
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  Hakim shrugged. “I’m powerless to stop it. Well, to stop it entirely, at least. But if I work fast, hopefully I can stem the damage. I’ll do what I can, but it’s still going to be extravagant—everything my mother does is.”

  He wasn’t ushering her out. Not exactly. It still felt like he wanted her to stay, but couldn’t keep her.

  He showered, and dressed, and Anita was mesmerized by the way his ensemble came together. From the perfect suit, to the careful selection of one of his many shirts that all looked similar to Anita, but which, if she looked closely, were all just slightly unique. And then there was the selection of the tie, and the cufflinks.

  He let her choose them, and Anita couldn’t help but feel both as though she were a little girl, playing with a paper doll, and like she was a grown woman, and they’d already settled in together, and this was just a part of the daily rhythm of their lives.

  It was strange how he did that, she thought – made her feel both like a delighted girl and like the woman she wanted to be at the same time.

  TEN

  As Hakim drove her back home, which felt less like her home, now, Anita began to think back over the conversation with his parents. If there was to be anything between them, Anita realized, at some point his parents would have to give their approval. Wouldn’t they? Hakim was upfront with them, and seemed to have a rebellious streak in him. But surely even he couldn’t resist the will of the king.

  “Don’t worry,” he said, as though he were reading her mind. “My parents can be stuck in the past sometimes, but that’s just their way. We’ll find a way, don’t worry.”

  She tried to believe him. She tried to find something that made sense in her mind.

  “It was like… it was like I wasn’t even there.”

  He nodded. “That’s what my parents do. If there’s something that they don’t like, they ignore it. They pretend it doesn’t exist. Usually, there are people who follow them around to make sure that very soon it doesn’t.”

  Anita smirked. “Should I be on the lookout, then? For people who will be coming to see that I very soon don’t exist?”

  He laughed. “You’re joking, and I’m glad you are. But twenty years ago… well, it was a different time.”

  He said it lightly, but Anita still wasn’t sure how to take it. She decided to change the subject. “Have they treated all of your girlfriends this way?”

  He became visibly uncomfortable. “No?” he said, like he was asking a question. “I mean, to be honest, I haven’t introduced them to any girlfriends before.”

  “I’m the first?” Anita made no attempt to hide that she was delighted, even as she saw that he was a little embarrassed about it. “Well, I guess they did kind of ambush us. You had no choice.”

  They had arrived at the alley around the corner from the restaurant, and Hakim stopped the car. Now that he was no longer driving, he had the chance to properly look at her. He narrowed his eyes, as if deciding something, and smiled.

  “Even if they hadn’t,” he said. “I’m glad they met you. I’m glad for all of it.”

  That same thrill ran through her body. It was the same one as when she had heard him call her his girlfriend, and the one when she heard him say that he loved her.

  It was happening. It was all really happening. She felt in a haze.

  But she couldn’t stay in one; she needed to go home, and Hakim needed to go to work. He kissed her again, once on her lips, and once on her forehead. And then, far too quickly, she was standing in the alley, watching his car disappear around the corner.

  When it was gone, and she was left alone in the alley, Anita found herself crashing. She hadn’t gotten nearly as much sleep the night before as she was used to, and without the brightness of Hakim’s presence making everything feel light and easy, the worries of her life and the problems of her situation began to creep back in.

  Anita’s feet felt leaden as she walked around to the back entrance of the restaurant. This time of day, there would be no one working, and Fadi was likely at the market.

  She checked her phone again: still no messages.

  She’d gotten away with it. Fadi still didn’t know. And he wouldn’t, now that she had gotten back up into the apartment unnoticed. She slipped out of her clothes and lay down in bed; it was still early enough in the day that she could get away with a nap, and could pretend to Fadi, once he returned from the market, that she’d only just woken up.

  But as she closed her eyes, she found sleep was elusive. Everything had felt so right the day before. But now, as she was thinking about it all, nothing made sense. Why was Fadi so against her and Hakim? Meeting Hakim’s parents had made her feel grateful that her own father wasn’t that way. He was a bit more enlightened… not so stuck in the ways of the past as they seemed to be. But if that was the case, then why was he so against her seeing Hakim?

  And what would Hakim do about his parents? What could he do? Even if he wanted to be with her, which, it seemed, he did. He was a powerful man, but surely there had to be some limits to his power.

  She mulled these things over in her head. There were just too many unknowns. As long as she was with Hakim, she could avoid thinking about them—he kept all her worries somewhere far away. But as soon as she was alone…

  She heard the sound of the front door opening and closing downstairs. Fadi was home, earlier than she had expected. She tried to set everything aside. This was her life. And she had responsibilities. She rose, dressed, and went to go help Fadi bring in the food from the market.

  ELEVEN

  Hakim

  Hakim was used to working at odds with his mother. He’d learned the trick to it: he had to circumvent her in what ways he could, without making it too obvious. He felt, in some ways, like a spy against his own family, but he didn’t feel like he had a choice.

  His mother’s preparations for the gala were for an extravagant party. There was nothing he could do about that, but he could, at least, shift the focus a bit. He could remove, or at least alter, the advertisement that his mother wanted in the papers, just to rub it in the faces of their now out-of-business competitors. And he could make sure that he himself would be able to speak at the event to help smooth things over. As a final touch, he made sure that the write up in the paper would be done by a journalist he’d worked with before, who he knew to be an intelligent man who would understand the best way to treat the delicate matter.

  And so, with that immediate problem solved, it was time for Hakim to turn his attention to another.

  He hadn’t been lying when he’d told Anita that it was the first time he’d ever introduced a woman to his parents. Until the past week, he hadn’t ever met anyone that he had felt the need to. But if he had, he wouldn’t expect it to go like that.

  Hakim’s mother, Zahrah, had a tendency to go a bit over the top. That was nothing new. But she was also, generally, pretty caring. Hakim wouldn’t put it past her to ignore Anita at first, when she could see from her clothes that she was what she would consider “below his station.” But the way his parents had stared and abruptly left, just after hearing that Anita was from Al-Dali…

  No, there was something else there. And he had to know what it was.

  He went to his parents’ suite at the Da Vinci, nodding at their personal security as he passed them.

  He knocked, and heard his father mumble something from within. He entered, and found his father sitting in a chair in the living area, reading an Arabic newspaper.

  “Your mother is in the bedroom. The tailor is with her.”

  Getting her dress fitted for the gala, no doubt.

  Hakim didn’t think his mother would mind if he came in and talked to her. Some of his best childhood memories of his mother were of talking to her while she was getting fitted for dresses. It was one of the few times she would be standing still long enough to hold a conversation, and wasn’t about to go dashing off to go do this or that, or be seen here or there.

  He decided to
try his father first. He sat down in the chair next to him.

  “Father, I was hoping for a word.”

  The old man raised his eyebrows and peered over his newspaper. “With me?” he asked. “What for?”

  For much of Hakim’s early life, he had thought his father a weak man. He never said much, and had a tendency to let his wife speak for him. But as Hakim had grown older, he had started to learn more about his father. He began to see the speeches his father gave, when it was really important. His mother was the host—she was the one who communicated everything with everyone—but his father wasn’t unengaged, as Hakim had first thought; he was just content to leave everyone so busy with his wife that they never saw him coming. When Hakim had asked him, at his college graduation, why he spoke so little, his father had said only that words were precious, and that the fewer of them you gave out, the more valuable they could be.

  “I wanted to know what you thought of Anita earlier,” Hakim asked him now.

  For a moment, Hakim’s father paused, as though considering saying something. But then his eyes shifted back to the newspaper. “You’d better talk to your mother,” he said, not even looking at his son.

  So Hakim stood, and went over to the door to his mother’s dressing room.

  When he entered, he saw that he had guessed correctly: his mother was being fitted for what looked like another Givenchy dress. That was her favorite designer, and she was never one to shy away from what she wanted.

  “Son. I’ve been expecting you. Please, sit.” She motioned to a chair not far from the full length mirror where she stood, the seamstress busy at work pinning her hem.

  “I’d rather stand.”

  Zahrah sighed. “So defensive. Always thinking you know best. That’s always been your way, hasn’t it?”

  Hakim was in no mood for her games, today.

  “I know you have something to say about Anita. You’re going to tell me she’s too poor, or too lowborn. If I’m to hear the woman I love insulted, I’m not going to do it sitting down.”

  His mother let out a dry, mirthless laugh. “Oh, I’m not going to tell you she’s too lowborn. Certainly not that.”

  This was wrong. Something was wrong about it. He’d expected that his mother would say something cutting, but it was like she knew something that he didn’t.

  “What is it?” he asked, his voice sounding thin and weak to his own ears.

  “She’s playing you, son.”

  Now it was Hakim’s turn to laugh. “You think just because her family is poor—”

  “No, I do not think this because her family is poor. I think this because I know who her family is. Or, more exactly, who they were. Can you say the same?”

  He couldn’t. He shut his mouth and waited for his mother to continue, even as he was seething below the surface.

  “Did you notice her ring?”

  He nodded.

  “Yes, of course you would have. But you were too blinded by her eyes, I’m sure, to put it all together. Her ring is a king’s ring. It belonged to her father.”

  Hakim sat down heavily in the chair he had refused before.

  “Yes, now you’re thinking. Now you’re remembering. Are you remembering the lost princess? The one who disappeared almost twenty years ago, during the coup in Al-Dali? Are you remembering her distinctive green eyes? Are you remembering that neither she nor her father’s ring were ever found?”

  Hakim wasn’t surprised, somehow. It made sense. Of course Anita was a princess. How could she be anything less?

 
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