The sheikhs secret princ.., p.13
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       The Sheikh's Secret Princess, p.13
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         Part #2 of The Sheikh's Every Wish series by Holly Rayner
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  “Thank you for telling me,” she said, in a slightly formal way.

  Hakim felt a distance between them that he didn’t like. She would have to learn to accept this, he knew, and there was little he could do to help her.

  But, still, there was more that he needed to tell her. Anita sensed it without him having to say so, and pushed him on it.

  He told her of his mother’s suspicions—that she had known about her true identity before they’d even met—and she laughed.

  “That isn’t true,” she said. “That’s absurd.”

  “I know,” Hakim said, as he felt her take his hand. “But she won’t be easily convinced. And anyway, it isn’t just her—my father thinks the same. They told me I can never inherit the throne if I want to be with you.”

  Again, he saw anger flash across her face. “So, you tell me this, only to leave me? Only to tell me that you can’t be with me?”

  He brought his arm around her tighter. “No, Anita. I choose you. Now and always, I choose you. You’re a princess who has never lived the life of a princess… I’ll be a prince that isn’t a prince. We’ll do it somehow, but out best bet is to disappear. I’ll clean out as many of my accounts as I can, and we’ll just go somewhere. Somewhere with a beach, maybe. Or somewhere in the mountains. I don’t know, you choose. Choose anything you want, from here on out. Anything and anywhere, as long as we’re together.”

  The next few seconds were the longest of Hakim’s life. Time seemed to slow down, and his heart seemed to beat louder than helicopter blades.

  And then, she gave the slightest of nods.

  “Really?” he asked, excitement overtaking him.

  “Yes,” she said. “Yes, I will go with you. Wherever we go, I will go with you.”

  And then he kissed her, hard, and felt his joy and hers, multiplying back and forth.

  They would have a life together. Whatever it was, they would find their way together. And that was all he could ask for.

  THIRTEEN

  Anita

  Hakim told Anita that he would be back later, when the restaurant was closed. They’d flee in the night.

  It wouldn’t be the first time Anita had done that: leaving everything and everyone she knew in the middle of the night to start a new life far away. But the last time, she hadn’t known what was happening. She hadn’t even known until just now.

  Now, going of her own free will, with a man she had only just met but felt she knew with all of her soul, leaving was a much more exciting prospect. And a more terrifying one.

  She couldn’t let Fadi suspect. All of the day he had seemed a little suspicious. He hadn’t caught her coming in, sure, but he’d noticed something about her was off, and she was terrified that he would put it together.

  So she bid Hakim farewell at the bottom of the fire escape, and she went back to work.

  She was an actress, playing the girl she had always been. The girl who was compliant and happy to help, always ready to step in and take an order or show a party to their table.

  It was the role of her life, because Anita wasn’t that girl anymore. How distant she felt, now, from the person she had always been. How different the restaurant felt, now that she had decided to leave. This restaurant had always been the world to her. It had been the center of her home. The center of her work. Even the center of her social life, as her friends had tended to congregate there for the cozy atmosphere and the food Fadi made them. But now it felt like a prison that she was escaping.

  The worst of it was interacting with Fadi. She’d loved him all her life. Since before she could remember, he’d been her father. He’d been her protector, her provider, and her friend. Whenever anything went wrong, she could always count on him.

  And he’d been a liar.

  That whole time, he’d known who she was. He’d known she was royalty. And he’d hidden it from her.

  She’d always thought that her parents had been his friends, and that he hadn’t wanted to talk about their deaths because it had been too painful for him. How wrong she had been!

  Things would have been different, Anita thought, if she’d known the truth. She could have learned about her parents. She could have looked them up, and seen pictures. She could have heard stories. She could have felt close to them.

  And she would have felt closer to her kingdom. It felt odd, even to think that, but it was true. Her kingdom.

  And Fadi had robbed her of it, just as surely as the rebels had.

  She didn’t know how she made it through her shift without yelling at him and running away, but she did. She had to. And, when it was all over, she cleaned the restaurant with him, closed everything down, and said goodnight.

  And then, up in her room, she began to pack.

  Anita was no stranger to packing in a hurry. Every summer, when she was growing up, Fadi had saved up and sent her to summer camp. And she’d always put off packing until the night before.

  She knew it well, running through her room, trying to get everything she needed. She was doing it on autopilot, going here and there, and bringing this shirt, not that one. The only difference was that this time, the things she didn’t bring would be things that she would be leaving behind forever.

  As a finishing touch, she grabbed a picture of her and Fadi from on top of her dresser, taken on the day they had gone to Austin. Then she zipped up her bag and threw it over her shoulder.

  She was about to head to the window to climb down the fire escape and go to the corner where Hakim said he would meet her, when she realized the last thing she had thrown into her bag, out of habit rather than as a considered choice.

  And suddenly it hit her. What she was giving up.

  Anita sat down hard on top of the chest at the foot of her bed. What was she doing? She’d been so angry at Fadi for the whole day. She’d thought him a liar. She’d thought he’d taken so much from her.

  But he’d also given her so much. When, she asked herself, had he ever shown any indication that he didn’t want what was best for her? When had he ever done anything to stop her from living the best life he could give her?

  She didn’t think of him as the man who had adopted her. He was her father. He had always been her father, and he always would be. Even if she left tonight, with Hakim, Fadi wouldn’t stop being the man who had danced with her before sending her off to prom, and who had given her princess dresses to dress up in when she was—

  Anita froze. The memory was there of her when she was young, swimming in seas of jeweled fabrics. At the time she hadn’t thought anything of the fact that Fadi could somehow afford to buy her fancy dresses to play with, even though they were struggling just to survive, but now she was beginning to piece it together.

  She got off of the chest she was sitting on and turned to face it. She got down on her knees and opened it slowly, almost as if she was afraid of what she might find in there.

  When she’d grown up a little, and had been trying to make more space in her room, Anita had wanted to throw away her old dress-up clothes. Fadi had refused, telling her that one day she would understand why. Today, it seemed, was that day.

  There, in the chest, Anita saw dresses she now realized had once belonged to her mother. Picking up the dress on top of the stack, she ran her fingers over the jeweled embroidery—Anita had always assumed it was just costume jewelry, but looking at it now, she realized the truth.

  There had been times growing up when money had been tight. Selling these jewels would have made their lives easier. But Fadi had never done it. He had held onto them, and kept them for her.

  She still didn’t understand why he hadn’t told her about her family beforehand, but she knew now that it had meant a great deal to him to keep her parents close to her, whether through her father’s ring, or her mother’s dresses. She knew then, as she had always known, that Fadi had put her first.

  She held the dress close to her chest. In the end, wasn’t that what family was? And could she really give that up?

/>   That simple question opened the gateway to a thousand others. She’d been in a haze, so swept up in the excitement of the moment and the sheer romance of running away with Hakim that she hadn’t let herself consider it all properly.

  But she thought now of Hakim’s world. Everything had been easy for him. She’d caught a glimpse of it. The way he never had to struggle with the most basic of things allowed him to focus on bigger projects. The passion he showed for his work… the way he cared about it…

  It wasn’t just that he would be giving away a greater fortune to be with her. It wasn’t just that he would be giving away a royal reputation, or palaces. If he ran away with her, he would be giving away his purpose. And whether he realized it now or not, she knew that would destroy him. Anita had only known him for a short time, but already she knew him well enough to know that.

  She tried to slow her mind down. She didn’t want to think what she was about to think. She didn’t want to go down that road. She wanted, with everything in her, to be who she had been only a few minutes before. She wanted to be wild, excited and free.

  But time doesn’t go backwards. And she couldn’t un-think what she had just thought.

  She took her phone out from her pocket. It felt so heavy in her hand. She turned around and slumped against the still-open chest, still clutching the dress, the fabric from it draping around her like the world’s most expensive blanket.

  The cowardly part of her wanted to send him a text. “The plan is off. I’m sorry.” Something like that.

  But that wouldn’t do. He wouldn’t believe it. He’d come looking for her.

  So she hit the button to call him, and held the phone to her ear, praying with every ring that he wouldn’t answer.

  He did.

  His voice, so full of joy and excitement, almost made Anita change her mind. But she couldn’t. Not for his sake, and not for hers.

  She told him that the plan was off: she wouldn’t be coming with him. She said it in as even a tone of voice as she could manage.

  Anita felt disconnected from her emotions completely. Now she had only one mission. She needed to make him believe her. She needed to make him believe she didn’t care.

  “Your mother was right.”

  She hadn’t planned to say that, but the words just came spilling out of her. The most effective, and the most hurtful.

  “What?” he asked, his voice catching.

  She swallowed hard, committing to the lie. “I set it all up. It was a con. Fadi told me who I was years ago and… I was angry. I thought it wasn’t fair that your family should still get to rule, and I should not. So I decided that I would rule. You were my target. I knew that you were in Houston, and you would eventually come to the restaurant, so I made sure that I was serving you when you did.”

  Even as she said the words out loud she felt her plan was ridiculous. But she had to keep going.

  “I seduced you. I did my research, and said what I thought you wanted to hear. I became the woman I knew you wanted.”

  There was a long pause. Then, finally, Hakim spoke. He sounded far away, and his voice was laden with equal parts sorrow and rage. “You said you’d leave with me.”

  Anita had to think fast. “You had me cornered. I said what I needed to just to get you to go away. If you’re not the prince, then being with you won’t give me the throne I deserve. And if I don’t get that, that kind of misses the point, doesn’t it?”

  She was being cruel. She didn’t want to be, but leaving even the tiniest speck of doubt in his mind wouldn’t be kind either. If Hakim was
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