The sheikhs secret princ.., p.14
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       The Sheikh's Secret Princess, p.14
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         Part #2 of The Sheikh's Every Wish series by Holly Rayner
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  going to live the rest of his life without regret, she was going to have to make him believe that there could never have been a future between them.

  “No,” his voice came back over the phone, defiantly. “No, I don’t believe you.”

  “Then you’re a fool! You think I could love you? You’re a joke. If anything, I’m almost glad your mother figured me out. I was beginning to doubt if being on the throne was even worth the misery of being your wife.”

  Another pause, and another response. This time, pleading. “Anita, don’t do this…”

  “It’s already done. There was never anything between us. It was all just an act. Can’t you get that through your thick skull? No wonder your own parents don’t trust your taste in women. You’re the most naïve man I’ve ever met.”

  She held her breath, wanting to hear his voice. She hated the idea that his pleading would be the last thing he would say to her, but at the same time she prayed he wouldn’t answer, because she couldn’t keep the act up any longer. Every spiteful, hate-filled word was driving a new dagger into her own chest.

  She heard him breathe in, preparing to speak again, and she did what she had to. She hung up.

  With the end of the call, so came the end of her act. And Anita was left alone in her room with the knowledge of what she had done.

  Huge sobs wracked her chest, as she thought of him; of what she had found, and what she had lost.

  FOURTEEN

  Anita cried into her mother’s dress, until the ivory silk of the bodice was stained with her running mascara. She hugged it hard against her, hoping that somehow it would summon her mother’s arms to wrap around her, and lift her up, and carry her away from the painful empty space that had opened up inside her chest.

  But no miracle occurred. She simply cried until she had no tears left, and her whole body felt sore. Then she felt a numbness set in.

  The numbness finally made her calm enough to make it from the floor to the bed.

  She tried closing her eyes, but sleep was elusive. Every now and then, her body summoned up new tears that spilled out over her cheeks. She had no control over them. She had no control over anything.

  Finally, something resembling sleep came, but it was haunted by the strangest dreams. She saw a palace, and a woman wearing the very dress she had been clutching. But she couldn’t be sure if it was a memory or made up. And then Hakim was there, and they danced and laughed together.

  But there was something wrong through all of it.

  The edges of her vision began blurring black if she looked at anything too long, and the darkness began closing in. She had no choice but to keep running.

  Anita ran until she couldn’t anymore, and she found herself back in Hakim’s condo. Everything was perfect, just the way it had been when she had been there with him. There was even the chakchouka they had been eating, there on the table.

  But then she walked to the window and saw outside a nuclear wasteland, with mushroom clouds going off in the distance, and fires dancing on the roofs of Houston.

  Everything was broken. Nothing was going to be all right.

  When she woke, she felt relief for just a second; she’d been set free from such an awful dream. For a moment, she forgot what had caused it.

  And then she remembered. And she cried again. Her throat felt raw and dry, and her head was pounding, but still she sobbed. Her stomach called out for food, but she knew that if she were faced with it, she would have no appetite.

  She was drowning.

  And then she heard Fadi, rustling around in the living room.

  “Fadi!” she called out. Her voice was weak, but surely it would carry through the walls. “Fadi, please!”

  She heard the noise in the living room stop abruptly. After a moment, she heard the faucet in the kitchen turn on, then her father’s footsteps down the hall.

  He opened her door, a glass of water in his hand. When he saw her, his face fell. It wasn’t the anger she’d feared, only sadness for his daughter.

  He came to her, and sat on the side of the bed, holding the water out to her. She put it to her lips uncertainly, then downed the whole glass.

  When she had finished, he took the glass back from her, and set it on the nightstand, then took her hand in his.

  “Tell me,” he said.

  And the words came spilling out. She told him about how she had met Hakim. How she had seen him against Fadi’s wishes. A flash of anger crossed his face, but it only lasted the briefest of moments. He was more concerned with his daughter’s state than anything she had done to disobey him.

  She told him how she had discovered the truth about who she really was, and the terrible choice she had been forced to make.

  “I don’t know what I’ve done,” she said. “I feel like everything in me is broken. Everything hurts, Dad.”

  And then the sobbing began again, and she felt her father’s arms wrap around her. He held her until the tears were gone.

  “I’m sorry, Anita,” Fadi said, when at last she was calm again. “I could have spared you some of this.”

  She shook her head. She wasn’t angry with him anymore, and it hardly seemed right for him to apologize.

  “No, he insisted, “it’s true.”

  He sighed, and got a faraway look in his eye.

  “Daughter,” he said at last, “I should have told you years ago. Sometimes, it was all I could do not to tell you.”

  “What stopped you?

  He took her hand again. There was a smile on his face, now, even in the midst of all the emotion, the sadness and the regret.

  “Your parents. In a way. When we were fleeing…” he paused, uncertain.

  “Go on,” Anita urged.

  “They made me promise that if they didn’t make it, I would never tell you about what happened. They wanted you to be safe, far away from the violence. And so I honored their wishes. I told myself it was better that way. Even in the years after the coup, it was very dangerous to be a member of the Al-Dalian royal family. Your parents were good people, but they were maybe a bit too trusting. There were those that they trusted with certain things in the running of the country. And they did… terrible things. Your father tried to fix it when he found out what they had done, but it was too late.”

  Once Fadi got started, the words flowed out of him like water from a bottle that had been corked under pressure for twenty years.

  “We knew the rebels were going to be coming for the palace. Your parents gave you to me, hoping they would be able to follow afterwards. As far as the public was concerned, I was their chef, so I wouldn’t be suspected or searched too closely if I was caught leaving the palace. But unknown to most, I was also a member of their protection detail. Being both allowed me to accompany them even on trips where hosts would object to the presence of a bodyguard.”

  Anita nodded slowly—remembering how she’d been in awe of his strength.

  “They gave me their bags, too. Your father’s ring, and some gold and diamonds. Your mother’s most valuable possessions. Her jewelry.”

  At this Anita cut in. “Her dresses.”

  Fadi nodded. “Yes, her dresses. And I went to the place where we were to meet. But they never came. And then I saw on the news that the palace had been taken, and…”

  Fadi’s composure broke. “I wanted… I wanted to save you the sorrow of ever seeing them like that. So I honored the promise I made to your parents. We went overland, until I could get us somewhere where I could sell some of the gold and buy us new identities. They weren’t perfect, but they were good enough to get us into the States. And then I came here, and used the rest of the money—everything I had left—to start the restaurant so we could live.”

  He looked lighter, once he’d said it all. But Anita sensed there was something more.

  “You said you kept it a secret only partially because my parents asked you to. What did you mean by that?”

  He hesitated for a moment, but had already said too much
to stop now. “I probably would have told you anyway, years ago. You deserved to know. But I guess… I was ashamed. As their bodyguard, I was supposed to protect your parents. And in that, I failed.”

  Anita laughed, in spite of the seriousness of the moment and her own aching heart. “There was a coup! Blaming you would be like blaming the gardener for a tornado that uprooted a tree!”

  He smiled, but there was a sadness in it. “That’s just the sort of thing your mother would have said.”

  The words warmed Anita. All her life, she had felt as though a part of her had been missing. Her parents had always been such a mystery to her, but now her memory of them was beginning to come to life.

  “You saved her dresses for me,” she said suddenly, remembering the realization she’d had the previous night.

  “Yes,” he said. “I saved the dresses, and the ring. It wasn’t much, but I wanted some part of them to always be with you.”

  In that instant, all the anger she had felt for Fadi faded. He’d done the best he could, under difficult circumstances. He could have left. He could have left her somewhere, taken the money, and run. But instead, he dedicated his life to fulfilling his promise. He’d given up a life for her.

  “I’m sorry I disobeyed you,” Anita said, but he waved his hand in the air.

  “Oh, no. Not that. Never that. I won’t have the daughter I chose regret falling in love! Not even if you know you can never be with the one you love. It is still a beautiful thing. Never let anyone tell you any different.”

  She wasn’t used to seeing Fadi like this. He was a stone. A playful stone, with her, sure. But anything to do with his personal life? Never.

  Anita had hoped that would change. He had always said that raising her was enough bothering with women for him, and why would he need more? But the look in his eyes as he remembered his life in Al-Dali told a different story.

  “What was it like?” she asked.

  He didn’t even seem to mind that she’d changed subject so abruptly. He was too excited to tell her. He described their homeland—a beautiful place. They had more water, he said, than most other countries in the region, and they put it to good use. Bougainvillea trees everywhere, and great tall palms that lined all the major roads.

  He told her about the palace he had lived in, there with her parents and their staff. He told her about the marbled halls and endless gardens, and the parties they would throw.

  And he told her about the joy that greeted the announcement of her birth. There were parties in the streets for weeks. Anita was welcomed into the world with as much excitement as a small nation could muster. Green banners, the color of her eyes, were hung around the capital until they became too faded by the sun.

  “What were my parents like?”

  Here, the endless flow of words ceased. Fadi looked careful. Thoughtful. Sad, even.

  “Your father was a kind man, and a just one. He treated everyone with respect. If he had a flaw, it was only that he was too trusting, and he allowed the wrong people too much trust, and they abused it. I never had any problem with the man. He was a fine king.”

  It was a good thing for Fadi to say about her father. He spoke about him respectfully, but there was nothing in Fadi’s words that made Anita think they were close enough that her father would have entrusted his
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