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The Sheikh's Accidental Bride, Page 15

Holly Rayner

There was no more to say, and no less. She folded the note in half, and carefully stood it next to him, where she should would still be lying if her heart had its way, and where he would find it immediately upon waking.

  And then she left. She walked quickly and silently through the suite, only stopping momentarily in her own suite to gather her things and slip into her traveling clothes.

  It wasn’t until she was in the elevator that she felt like she could breathe again. But no sooner could she breathe, it felt like she was breathing too much. The air ripped in and out of her, far too much of it, too quickly. She felt dizzy and sick. When the elevator got to the bottom, she was sitting on the floor of it, but had no memory of falling.

  A bellboy helped her up, asking gently if there was anything he could do for her. She told them there wasn’t, and had to put him off when he asked if her fiancé would like to have his suit jacket and tie sent up to him, after leaving it with reception the night before.

  She wasn’t sure what she told them, in the end. The words left her mind as soon as they left her mouth. They had more questions for her, but she couldn’t understand them. Why did all of these people insist on referring to half the things in the world by their French name? It made no sense at all.

  People were starting to stare. She must have looked a mess. It was mid-afternoon, and she had panda eyes from sleeping in her makeup. She had to get out of there. They were offering to call up to her room. She did her best impression of a woman who was all right, and walked out of the lobby as quickly as she could.

  When she was back on the street, it felt like she had come back down to earth. It hit her hard. The pavement beneath her feet came up to her shoes too fast and too firmly, like the world was trying to beat her up.

  To the subway. She needed to go to the subway, and take it to Penn station. Take the train to the suburb. Call her sister to come get her. The plan was simple, but she’d only gone half a block before she knew she wouldn’t make it.

  It wasn’t until the fourth cab she was able to flag down that she found a driver willing to take her all the way to her sister’s house. The other three just laughed and drove on. And this man, a middle-aged Pakistani with kind eyes, looked like he was about to do the same, until the desperation in her eyes called up his pity, and forced him to agree. Thankfully, he didn’t ask her what was wrong. He didn’t make any conversation. He just drove.

  Their progress was slow as they headed uptown. It was a beautiful, if sweltering, day, and everyone was out. Traffic was stop and go. Nadya couldn’t help but compare it to how everything had been with Salman. He’d flown over traffic. If he ever did have to wait, it was in a carefully maintained limo, with a built in flat screen and high-speed internet access. He’d never find himself in this position. How could he?

  Nadya thought ruefully that she could use that TV now, chirpy voice recognition software and all. She needed something to distract her; anything to keep herself from thinking of the person she hadn’t known she’d needed until he was there in front of her, but impossibly out of reach.

  She dug her phone out of her pocket and turned it on. The battery was low, but the driver let her plug it in to the charger in his cigarette lighter – another byproduct of sympathy, she supposed. She hadn’t had much call to look at her phone over the last couple days. She hadn’t charged it at all, and it had been pretty low to start with. But now she was trying to find something to put her mind off things.

  She ignored the notifications for calls and the texts which sprang up again. She would look at them when she got closer to her sister’s; she couldn’t face it now. She needed to see something else. She needed something to push Salman out of her mind. She searched Twitter, and found a link to a YouTube video. Some late-night comedian talking to a politician. No, that wouldn’t do. Too real.

  She needed something fake. She needed fantasy and emotion that wasn’t hers.

  Scrolling a day back in her feed, she found a cluster of tweets about the finale of a show she hadn’t watched in a couple of seasons, but had once liked. It had been the season finale that week, and people were discussing it like it was a TV event they would tell their children about one day. Nadya found that surprising, because she remembered the show, Date Roulette, being silly, overblown, and needlessly overdramatic. Perfect. She loaded it up on the network’s app, praying her data connection would be strong enough.

  She let the show carry her away, laughing too loudly at the jokes, and nearly crying at any hint of emotion. It wasn’t that good, she was sure, but it was an escape. As long as she was watching, and had something to focus her mind on, she wasn’t thinking about Salman.

  After the episode was done, she went back to the one before it, and watched that one, too. The taxi had finally gotten out of the city, and things were getting greener and less crowded. As the second episode finished, Nadya was feeling almost ready to face the world. She loaded up the messages on her phone and saw that they were almost all from her sister, with a few from her mother, and one terse, badly-spelled text from her father that basically amounted to “tell these women where you are already; they’re driving me crazy.”

  She felt all right until she began to read the timestamps on them, and couldn’t stop her mind from piecing together where she had been when each of the messages had been sent.

  It was too much. At the slightest bidding, the full memories of the last few days sprang up into her memory. Everything was suddenly in full color. She could feel his hand in hers, and smell the freshness of the forest by the home he had said she would share with him. Her cheeks practically stung from the dawn breeze on the top of the building, and her eyes narrowed at the memory of the glare from the windshield of the helicopter.

  She went back to the show. She’d have time for another episode before the cab got to her sister’s house. She needed it. Just one more 42-minute span where she didn’t have to be herself, and didn’t have to feel what she was feeling. They arrived at her sister’s house just as the third episode was drawing to a close. It was the climax of the episode, but she turned it off easily. She didn’t really care what happened.

  Nadya paid the fare with a credit card, praying that it cleared. By some miracle it did, and she thanked the driver profusely. As she was leaving, dragging her bag with her, he spoke the only words he’d said to her other than that “OK” he would take her and that she could use his charger.

  “It will go,” he said, with an accent so heavy she had a hard time understanding what he meant.

  By the time she understood, he was already speeding away. His words hit her hard. He meant it as a kindness. He meant to encourage her that the pain would pass. But he couldn’t have known.

  She didn’t want it to pass. She couldn’t. Even if it meant that she had to sit in this shame, and this pain, she didn’t want to let go of it. Tears began falling from her eyes and rolling down her cheeks.


  She heard her sister’s voice behind her. It wasn’t angry the way her texts had been at first, or anxious, the way they had been in the end. It was soft, the way Jasmine had always been growing up.

  Nadya didn’t want to turn around and face her. She didn’t have an explanation ready; how could she tell her what the last few days had been? But when her sister came around in front of her, placing her hands on her shoulders, Nadya realized she wouldn’t have to explain anything.

  Her sister’s hug happened quickly, but it was strong. She was rocking her back and forth and saying words that Nadya couldn’t quite make out. She felt safe, and loved, and with that feeling of safety came the freedom to let it all go.

  She began to sob, hard. Her breath came in ugly, jagged gasps, and her body shook like she was trying to shake off Jasmine’s embrace. But Jasmine wouldn’t let go of her little sister, and she held on to her until the sobs subsided, and she was, again, just a damp puddle of a girl, standing in a driveway.

  “Let’s get you inside,” Jasmine said, when Nadya had sobbed all s
he could. Then she scooped up her sister’s bag, and led her into the house.