The sheikhs twin baby su.., p.16
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       The Sheikh's Twin Baby Surprise, p.16

         Part #1 of The Sheikh's Baby Surprise series by Holly Rayner
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  Mirah’s words rang in my head long after we parted to our separate rooms to prepare for the coronation. As my sons slept, Zaynab helped me get into the dress I had gotten for the occasion. I was in no place to go out shopping, so my wonderful assistant had gone into town for me and let me window shop via video chat on her smartphone. Together, we had found a flowing red dress that matched the ruby earrings Omar had given me on our first date. Zaynab had given the shop all my measurements, and the dress had been delivered a few days later in a beautiful box filled with tissue paper.

  Zaynab had her own new dress on; floor-length, in a dark blue color with white lace accents that looked like a smattering of stars in the night sky. She would be helping me to take care of the boys during the coronation ceremony, and she was excited to be attending something so historical and beautiful.

  Omar was incredibly busy, so busy that we couldn’t meet up to spend time together before dinner. With Zaynab by my side, I wheeled the stroller down the palace hallway towards the dining hall. The sun was setting, and the light was gorgeous and golden, the garden alive with the sound of birds. We had to stop every few feet, because the security guards all wanted to get a chance to coo at the babies and get their first glimpse of the future leader of Al-Thakri. It was almost too adorable to bear, watching these huge hulking men crumble into smiles and baby talk.

  We were only waiting a moment in the dining room before Omar arrived. He rushed over to me with a beaming smile and took me in his arms. He kissed me deeply, unconcerned with the small audience of security in the room. “How are you feeling, my love? How are the boys?”

  “Tired but ready for this feast; your sons are about the same,” I joked, gesturing to their sleeping forms in the stroller. They were good eaters and it wouldn’t be long until one or both of them were up and wanting a meal from the pre-pumped bottles Zaynab had waiting.

  Omar’s smile grew, and he separated from my embrace to kneel in front of the strollers and delicately stroke each of the babies’ cheeks. He stared at them like he still didn’t believe they were real.

  “They are already more handsome than me,” he laughed. “We’re going to have quite the line of eager ladies at the palace gates.”

  “Oh, Lord,” I replied with a hand on my forehead. “I’m still feeling labor pains; can we please keep the talk about them being teenagers to a minimum?”

  Omar chuckled and stood to kiss me again. “Are you recovering well? Is there anything you need? I’m sorry I’ve been so absent the last few days. I had no idea how much work this coronation business required.”

  “Don’t worry about it, honey.” I patted a palm on his chest lovingly. “You have a country to run; of course you’re going to be busy and absent sometimes. We’re doing just fine. I have everything I need to hand—except you, that is.”

  I meant it as a light-hearted joke, but Omar sighed deeply, his brow furrowing. “All I want is to spend time with you and my sons.”

  I ran a hand over his face gently. “We’re right here, Omar.”

  It didn’t seem to satisfy him, but as he leaned in to kiss me again, we were interrupted by a royal attendant barging into the dining hall to announce that Sajid and his family had arrived.

  Omar closed his eyes and took another deep breath, clearly annoyed. “Thank you,” he told the attendant in an even voice. He opened his eyes to look at me, their dark colors heavy with worry. “I’m going to send someone to fetch my mother. Will you greet Sajid and Alima for me?”

  “Of course.” I kissed him.

  He embraced me once more and left the room. Sajid and his family entered a few moments later, beaming happily as Alima carried their new son in her arms. He was awake but not fussy, staring in blurry-eyed wonder at all the fresh colors and sights in the room.

  Sajid was polite but stiff when he greeted me, while Alima was nothing but warmth and sunshine, kissing me on both cheeks and showing off her beautiful baby. He already had Sajid’s full head of thick, dark hair, and darker skin than my sons. He was truly gorgeous and I told Alima so. His three older sisters gathered around him like little nannies, fussing with his socks, rubbing gently at the soft hair on his head. They already loved him to pieces.

  Omar and Mirah came to the dining room soon after, and Mirah was overwhelmed at the sight before her.

  “My whole family, all six of my grandchildren… Six!” she cried happily, clapping her hands together. “Three boys, three girls. What more could a woman ask for?”

  “It warms my heart to see you so happy, mother,” said Omar as he put an arm around her. “You’ve endured so much this past year or so.”

  “And now I’m ready to endure more happiness than any person has a right to have,” she agreed, nodding with a teary smile. She insisted on sitting at the end of the table with her granddaughters and Zaynab, who was keeping an eye on all three baby boys as they slept away in their strollers and the portable cradle Sajid’s attendant had brought for his son. She was clearly very happy to be getting on with her life outside of royal duties.

  Throughout the dinner, Sajid seemed in happier spirits than I had ever seen him, and I thought it must be due to his newborn son. After all, Omar was the same. But as the night progressed, it became clear that it was something else. Once the kitchen staff had cleaned up the dishes from the main course, he decided the time was right to reveal it.

  Sajid cleared his throat and wiped his mouth with a napkin. Then he slowly pulled a piece of folded paper from the inside of his robes where it had been tucked. He opened it to reveal a language I couldn’t read, but which looked like an official document of some kind; I recognized the royal seal of Al-Thakri prominently displayed at the top.

  Omar’s face went dark. “What is this?” he demanded.

  Sajid’s good mood fell quickly like a hammer. He slapped the paper on the table and rudely shoved it across towards Omar and me on the other side. Omar gave me a concerned look and snatched the papers up. There was a portion highlighted almost a third of the way down.

  “You should know what it is, since you’re the man who presumes to be our future king,” sniped Sajid.

  “Presumes?” countered Omar. “Brother, you’ve just handed me the constitution of Al-Thakri, so you know well that I am not presuming anything. The throne is mine. Both the constitution and mother’s decree have been satisfied by the birth of my sons. How much longer are you going to try and raise the ghost of this issue?”

  The room filled with thick tension that seemingly even the security guards felt, shifting uncomfortably in their polished shoes.

  Next to Sajid, Alima was silent, eyes downcast. But Sajid only rose to his feet, slamming his fist on the table. “You are wrong, Omar. The throne will not be yours, and the constitution proves it. The law specifically states that any sheikh ascending to the throne must have produce one male heir.”

  Omar rolled his eyes. “Have I not introduced you to my two sons?” He sarcastically gestured towards the strollers.

  “Yes, your two sons. Two. The constitution says that the sheikh ascending must have one son, in the singular. That means the throne is mine. Dr. Green gave you twins, and blessings upon you for that as a father, but for Al-Thakri, it means you cannot be king. The throne should be mine.”

  At the end of the table, Mirah shook her head, thoroughly exhausted with the bickering. Unlike before, however, she said nothing to interrupt it.

  Omar was red with rage, his eyes darker and angrier than I had ever seen them. His breathing quickened, chest rising and falling as he absorbed his brother’s words.

  He was quiet for a long time—long enough that even Sajid started to grow uncomfortable with the silence.

  Finally, Omar stood up from his chair, throwing his napkin down on the table.

  “I’ve had just about enough of this,” said Omar in a voice that was both dark and quiet, yet somehow loud enough to echo off the walls. “Ever since we lost Father, you’ve become consumed with vying
for power, Sajid. Consumed, like you are cursed. It has been painful to watch and even more painful to endure. All our lives, Father trained me—trained both of us—for the roles we would one day take on. And his grave wasn’t even cold before you tried to do everything you could to upend that training, and upend father’s wishes… the wishes of Al-Thakri.”

  Sajid stared at his brother in shock, like a deer caught in headlights. This was not the fight he expected from Omar, and he hadn’t finished.

  “I thought with the birth of our sons that this had finally been put to rest, and that we could sit back and become a family once more. I thought we would raise our sons together, like we were raised.” His voice grew angry and he gestured wildly. “That they could be brothers and take care of each other as I took care of you. But I was wrong, wasn’t I? If this is you, Sajid, if this is how low you are willing to stoop to gain something that was never yours in the first place, then you know what? You can have it. You have poisoned everything about this I ever loved. I no longer want it.”

  It took a moment for everyone in the room to realize the weight of Omar’s words. At the end of the table, Mirah stood up slowly, her face shocked. Sajid straightened, his fists falling away, while the girls looked at each other curiously, waiting for someone to explain what had just happened.

  “What are you saying?” Sajid said slowly.

  “My son, think about what you’re doing!” cried Mirah. “Think of the country!”

  “I am thinking, mother. I’m thinking clearly for perhaps the first time since father died,” Omar replied evenly. He turned to Sajid with a stone expression. “If the throne means so much to you that you’re willing to cut your family at every turn in order to achieve it, then take the throne, Sajid. Tonight will not be my coronation; it will be my abdication. You can finally have what you really want.”

  “You are mocking me,” said Sajid, his face suspicious.

  “No,” replied Omar, shaking his head. “I’m done with games. I’m done with trying to best you or convince you that what you’re doing is foolish. Instead, I am going to heed the wise words of our father and realize that I have no control over fate. Fate is presenting me with a choice today. I can either stay here and spend my days trying to run a country that will always have problems to solve, protecting my throne from my power-hungry brother who will most likely challenge everything I try to do, while watching my sons grow up at a distance. Or, I can do what my heart really desires.”

  Omar looked down at me—completely surprised and without words to respond—and put a gentle hand on my cheek. “I could leave here with Carrie and my sons, and go explore the world as we both want. I can teach Roni and Zamir what the world really looks like, and let them decide for themselves where they want to be within it. I can spend my hours loving my family and making them happy.”

  Tears filled my eyes as I listened to Omar speak. My heart felt like it was ready to burst in my chest. All my sleepless nights worrying about what I was going to do when the babies were born, and I never once imagined an outcome like this.

  “I choose the latter,” declared Omar. “I love Carrie and my sons more than some petty title, more than this royal legacy that only we will ever remember. I don’t want a part of this anymore. I’m tired of fighting you, Sajid. The throne is yours—on one condition.”

  Still in a state of suspicious disbelief, Sajid folded his arms and snorted. “Yes, and what is that? A failsafe that you should be able to return and reclaim it whenever you decide you’re done being a globetrotter?”

  “No,” argued Omar. “The condition is that you meet with the royal advisors and amend the constitution so that this mockery will never happen again. Amend the constitution to include heirs of either gender. Had we had such an amendment, you would have taken the throne anyway, and none of this infighting would have happened. That a woman can act as queen regent and raise royal heirs, but not rule herself, is a stain on our country and will cause us nothing but problems. Fix it, Sajid. That is my condition.”

  I was so proud of Omar in that moment, it took everything to hold back my tears. At the end of the table, Mirah put her hands over her mouth, her face overwhelmed with joyful emotion.

  Sajid hesitated, silent a moment, as if he were trying to figure out if this was a trap of some kind. Finally, he nodded. “Fine. I agree with you. Our country would do well to fix this succession issue. It will bring peace to the royal family.”

  Omar nodded at his brother. “Good. Then the throne is yours. I suggest you begin your rule now by announcing to the press and waiting audience that there will be a major announcement at tonight’s coronation.”

  Sajid went to argue with him, but realized Omar was right. He started to smile as he realized that this unexpected turn of events was actually happening.

  He left the room to attend to the duties, and at the end of the table, Jarah began to cry. Alima, still in shock, got up to attend to her son.

  Omar sat down next to me, meeting my surprised expression with one of love and warmth.

  “Honey,” I whispered. “Is this really what you want? You’ve worked your whole life to prepare for being on the throne… Are you really just going to give it up?”

  He nodded and brushed a stray hair from my face. “I want to be happy, Carrie. Ruling has made me nothing but miserable, and I’ve barely started doing it. I would have been doing it right up until the day I died, just like father. No being voted out, like in your country; no returning to some normal life one day. Our lives would have been chaos, and not the kind an adventure-lover like you enjoys.”

  I grinned at him, even as tears streamed down my face. “I can’t believe this is happening. I was so scared that I was going to have to choose between you and my life… I couldn’t imagine leaving our sons.” I turned to check on them, and saw Mirah singing sweetly to them, awake and content in the stroller.

  “You don’t,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about anything anymore. I have money enough that we never have to come home. Our sons will see the world and be better men than I ever could be.”

  “I’m not sure that’s possible.”

  He smiled and kissed me sweetly. “And if we like a place enough, we could settle down there for a while. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding a local hospital to lend your skills to if you want, and I have plenty of friends who I would love to guilt into donating money to underfunded operations. We can make a real difference wherever we go.”

  It was all too perfect. I threw my arms around Omar’s neck and he held me tight against him. I closed my eyes and inhaled his beautiful scent. “I love you so much, Omar. Thank you.”

  “Thank you, my love,” he whispered back. “Thank you for my sons. And thank you for helping me see the truth. I’ll spend the rest of my life repaying you for both.”

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