The sheikhs secret princ.., p.12
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       The Sheikh's Secret Princess, p.12
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         Part #2 of The Sheikh's Every Wish series by Holly Rayner
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  Still, he searched through his mind for anything Anita had said that would prove his mother right or wrong.

  Zahrah waved her hand at him. “Oh, don’t bother trying to remember. After meeting her, your father and I had our team do the research. We asked your assistant where you met her, and the rest was easy. They came here eighteen years ago. She was three years old. A little bit of a gap, sure, since the coup, but it must have taken them some time to get here. The man from the restaurant—her ‘father’—his picture shows up in an article from a few years back. Amazing what a dead ringer he is for the Al-Dalian royal family’s chef. This ‘Anita’ is the right age, she has the right look, and she’s with a man who went missing in the coup along with her and that ring she wears so proudly.”

  Hakim stood. “I have to tell her.”

  Again, his mother let out a mirthless laugh. “Oh, my son. One day you’re going to be king, and you’re going to have to shed this naiveté. You think she doesn’t know who she is? You think she hasn’t known from the start?”

  Zahrah had been looking at her son, but she shifted her glance back to the mirror now.

  “No,” she said. “No, we defeated their family. We outlasted them. Long were they our enemies. I will not allow one of them to infiltrate their way in, just to get their hands on another throne. Not through you. Not by any means.”

  An anger rose up in Hakim that he had never known before. He’d been patient. He’d been dutiful. He’d done everything he could to be a good son, who would be ready when the time came to take his place in leading his people. He would not stand idle while his mother insulted him, and the woman he loved.

  He had no more words to say to her. Anything he might have said would only be something to regret later. He had to speak to his father. He had to get him to reconsider.

  “Ah, you’ve spoken to her,” his father said, folding up his newspaper when he saw Hakim come storming through from the bedroom.

  “It isn’t true,” he said.

  His father frowned. “The evidence…”

  “Yes, I know about the evidence. But I also know her character, and I know she doesn’t know the truth. She’s not tricking me. It’s not a con.”

  His father looked at him with a softness Hakim rarely saw in his eyes. “Yes, I don’t imagine that she is.”

  Hakim was confused. “So, you’re not opposed to her?”

  Slowly, sadly, his father shook his head. “No, I am still opposed. She is a princess, certainly. But she is the wrong princess. You have spent so much time away, son. You do not know our people. You do not know how much they hold on to their old values. To their old ways. If she had just been a common woman, perhaps it would have been possible. What is the western tale… Cinderella? But for you to marry the princess of a country that has been our enemy for generations…” He tutted. “No, that would be considered an alliance. And the people would not stand for that. They would never accept it.”

  Whatever little hope had been holding out in Hakim’s mind began to fade. “So you agree with mother, then?”

  His father tilted his head from side to side, as if deciding. “We have different reasons, but we have come to the same decision. That’s marriage. You cannot be with this girl. Not if you wish to remain Sheikh Hakim al Kamal bin Masfari, heir to the throne of Az Kajir. If you wish to become a different man—a poor man, with nothing and no one—then you may follow your heart with this woman. But if you wish to remain in your position, you do not have that luxury.”

  TWELVE

  Hakim got to his feet as steadily as possible. Outwardly, he thanked his father for being honest with him, but inside he was a chaotic mess of anger and confusion.

  He must not let his family know. He must not seem too emotional. In his mother’s eyes, and especially in his father’s, he knew that would read as weakness. And he would need no doubt in his strength or abilities if he was going to get this to come out right.

  But how could he? As the elevator reached the hotel lobby, Hakim was struck with the hopelessness of the situation.

  He didn’t get into his car. It would be dangerous to drive in this state, and he knew that he needed to walk to calm down. The day outside was hot, and he sweltered in the sun. But it didn’t matter. He felt like somehow the suffering of walking in the heat would help him. At least how he felt outside would match the suffering he was feeling inside.

  Slowly but surely, as he walked through the city, Hakim found himself calming down. Quite by accident, he found himself at the fountain where he and Anita had sat and eaten ice cream together only a few days ago.

  There was one thing that was good about the whole mess, he thought. He would be able to tell Anita who her family really was. Whatever reasons her father had for hiding it from her, Anita deserved to know. And, now, she would.

  And after he told her that, he would tell her… what?

  There were two ways his life could go now. He could either forsake his kingdom, his family, and his job to be with her. Or he could leave her. There was no middle ground.

  If he went with her, he wouldn’t be penniless. Not if he did it right. But he would also never be able to work again. If he was to run with any money at all, they would have to hide together. She would never be able to see her adopted father again, and they would never be able to come back to either Houston or their homelands.

  And he would miss working. He’d been nurturing this business for years. He’d been twenty-two, straight out of college, when his father had handed him the reins to more and more impactful strings of the family business. Hakim now had long-term plans in place for almost every aspect of their company. And he was intent, as few people in his position would be, on developing income streams in addition to fossil fuels. He was building a future for his people.

  There was no guarantee that whoever came after him would have the same focus. Neither of his younger brothers had shown the slightest bit of interest in ruling responsibly; they hadn’t shown much interest in anything other than spending money.

  So his prospects would be dim, if not uncomfortable. And his company and kingdom’s futures would be uncertain.

  As much as he didn’t want to, Hakim knew he had to consider the other path. The path where he told Anita who she was, but also that because of who she was, they could not be together.

  He knew this path well. He knew what it would be like. It would be like his whole life had been before a few days ago, when he saw Anita for the first time.

  And he had been happy. Or, at least, he’d thought that he had been happy. Now, looking back, he wasn’t so certain that he had ever really had a good idea of what happiness meant.

  No, maybe he was wrong. Maybe he knew nothing of what this path would be. Because nothing would be the same after meeting Anita. He wouldn’t be able to look at it the same way. The hollow satisfaction that he’d been able to gain from being a good son, and doing what he thought he should would not be enough if it was missing the new reason that he knew that building a future was actually important.

  And that was before he even considered the idea of finding another woman. Once he was king, an important part of his duty would be to produce an heir. He’d always known this, but now that he’d met Anita, the thought of it seemed obscene.

  Every woman before her had been… well, they’d been different. They’d been party girls, mainly. For a while, in his early twenties, he’d been very concerned with what other people thought he should do. So he’d dated the models they had suggested, and found them to all be… lacking somehow.

  But Anita… it was different with her. He’d seen it in her immediately. The way she held everything together, and remained calm under pressure. The way she’d improvised without a second thought, even when he’d been able to tell she was run ragged and busy.

  He’d seen how kind she was. How genuinely interested in what he had to say and how much she was concerned about how their relationship might end up hurting her father. She was kind, smart, and
capable. And brave, he might as well add, for seeing him against her father’s will.

  And yet, for all these things, she somehow didn’t seem to understand how special she was. She thought about herself the same way she thought about everybody. And maybe that was what he liked about her the most. She saw the best in people.

  Not to mention that she was exceedingly beautiful. The green of her eyes was so unexpected in her dark olive face, and it took him aback every time he looked at her. He’d almost woken her that morning, before she woke up naturally, just so he could see her eyes.

  As he thought of her, as he pictured her in his mind, Hakim knew that the choice was already made for him. There was no other option. Between a hard, anonymous life, and no real life at all, he would gladly become no one so that he could be with the woman who was everything to him.

  He stood and looked around him, the late afternoon sun beginning to turn the sky golden. He had to go talk to Anita. He had to go tell her. Their lives were going to be difficult if they didn’t hurry, so he needed to move quickly.

  He walked to Fadi’s Place. It was bustling, though not as crowded as it had been the first night he’d visited. He pressed his face up against the glass; the hostess was busy showing a party to their table, so luckily she didn’t see him. He scanned the restaurant through the window. He was leaving handprints on the glass, but he didn’t care.

  Finally, he saw her. And, in that same instant, he saw her see him.

  He hated that her initial instinct on seeing him was fear. She seemed panicked, her eyes darting around for her father. Hakim couldn’t help but wonder again why the man had never told Anita her true identity.

  He saw relief in Anita’s face. The coast was clear, apparently. He beckoned to her to come outside and talk to him, but she was already moving towards the door.

  When she was outside, she pulled him around the corner, out of range of prying eyes or ears. And then she kissed him, hard, against the wall. Where did she hide so much passion in that little body? Where did she put so much heart?

  When she drew back, he found himself lost, again, in her eyes. And he forgot everything. He forgot everything that would come from his choosing her over his family or his kingdom. He remembered only her.

  And, for a moment, he again felt the perfect happiness he had felt when he’d woke up that morning.

  “So, have you defeated your mother? Is everything going to work out OK, now?”

  With just those few words, everything was back. He looked around them for somewhere to sit where they would still be out of sight.

  “What is it?” she asked, but he was already wandering down the alley.

  “I have something tell you,” he said.

  “So tell me.”

  He spied the fire escape. “You’re going to want to sit down first.”

  He jumped up and grabbed the ladder, pulling it down so they could climb up it, the way he’d seen it done in movies.

  When he’d done it, he saw Anita had come close to him, and was clapping for him with a smile on her face.

  “I’ve always wanted to do that,” he said, in response to her unasked question.

  They climbed up to the fire escape just outside her bedroom window and sat down.

  “So, what did you want to tell me?” Anita asked.

  For just a moment, he didn’t want to tell her at all. From here he could catch a glimpse in at her bedroom. It was the bedroom of a woman who had grown up happy. There were pictures everywhere of a life that was probably better than his own, and certainly better than the life of a deposed, orphaned royal. The chef—the man that Anita thought of as her father—had given her a normal life. And with just a few words, he was about to destroy it all.

  As he looked in her face, Hakim knew that he had no other choice but to tell her the truth about who she was, so he did.

  She laughed at first, and didn’t believe him. Hakim took off his ring, and showed it to her. And he asked her to think about it.

  Her acceptance of the fact came slowly. He saw anger flash across her face. And then sadness.

  “I always knew my parents were dead. Fadi told me that much. But killed… murdered by their own people…”

  He wrapped his arm around her shoulder, half expecting her to cry. But she didn’t.

 
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