The sheikhs secret princ.., p.17
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       The Sheikh's Secret Princess, p.17
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         Part #2 of The Sheikh's Every Wish series by Holly Rayner
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  sometimes old sentiments linger on past the time when they should have died out. And I admire the concern you have for your people, sir…”

  She swallowed hard, not wanting to say the words that she knew needed to come next.

  “As I said, I have only just learned who my parents were. I have only just found out that I am a princess. I have dreamed all my life that one day I would learn who my family was, and that I would be able to claim my identity, and live without secrecy. But if losing who I am is what I need to do in order to be with the man I love, then I am willing to do it.

  “I will be Anita from Houston. Just Anita from Houston. To your people and to the world. I will never breathe a word of who I am. I swear to you. I will never travel to visit the kingdom that would once have been mine to rule.”

  There was a long pause. Anita didn’t look at the queen. She knew she wouldn’t be happy, but the fact that she hadn’t said anything was good enough for Anita to assume she no longer held quite the same objections.

  The king made her wait a long time before he spoke.

  “You would give up your father’s ring?”

  Anita looked down at her hand. Her father’s signet ring looked out of place with her delicate formal outfit, but it had never occurred for her for a moment to take it off. It was a part of her.

  But it was a part of her she could not have, if she was to have any chance of being with Hakim.

  She put her clutch under her arm and brought her right hand to her thumb. Her fingers were shaking as she began trying to remove the ring. It had been on there so long that it was stuck. She began struggling with it, trying to get it over her knuckle.

  “Stop!”

  Anita’s eyes darted up as she heard Hakim’s voice. She thought she must be hallucinating. This couldn’t really be him. This wasn’t in her plan.

  But there he was, larger than life, stepping around from behind the curtain.

  Anita tried to read his face. She tried to judge from it if the damage that she had done in pretending to betray him had been permanent.

  He was walking straight towards her, as though his parents didn’t exist. And when he reached her, Anita braced herself for anger.

  But instead, he lay his hand on hers.

  “Don’t take your ring off,” he said. She could hear the exhaustion in his voice, but there was something else, too. Hope, maybe? Happiness?

  “You are who you are, Anita, and no one in the world should ever take that from you. And the world should know it.”

  “Hakim, I—“ she began, but he stopped her with a finger to her lips.

  “I heard everything. What you have said just now is all I need to know.”

  Then he turned, and put his arm around her, and they faced his parents together.

  “Mother,” he said, “Father. I have found a woman that I love. I didn’t think it would ever happen to me. Not the way that I have heard it happen to others. But Anita is and always will be the woman who has my heart.”

  The queen opened her mouth to speak, but Hakim kept going.

  “You may think that you can disinherit me, or discredit me. But the truth will be what it is. I will tell the world about who I am, and who she is, and what happened. And if there’s one thing I know that people want to hear about, it’s a love story.

  “Father, you gave me two choices. You said that I could either follow my heart, and be disowned, or I could deny myself the only true happiness I could find in this life, and continue living a hollow life in her absence. But that is not a choice at all.

  “And so, instead I give you two choices. You can either have your kingdom be known as the nation that betrayed and abandoned its own prince, simply for falling in love with a woman you didn’t approve of. Or, you can have your kingdom be known as a land that was willing to set aside the petty disagreements of the past, to pursue peace in our time and greater harmony within the region. The choice is yours.”

  Anita could hear nothing but her own breath. In and out. In and out. She could see nothing but the stone features of the king’s face, set in an indecipherable expression.

  “Son,” he spoke at last. “I have loved you since the moment you were born. But…”

  Anita felt like her whole world was collapsing in on itself. She listened with rapt attention to what was coming next.

  “I don’t believe I truly respected you, or understood what you are capable of, until this moment.”

  Before she knew it, Hakim was sweeping her up into his arms, and planting kiss after kiss on her face. Her whole body was buzzing like a live wire, his every touch setting off sparks.

  Then he was down on one knee, speaking words she was too far above the earth to hear.

  “Yes,” she said, over and over. “Yes, yes, with all my heart, yes.”

  He didn’t have an engagement ring, so he gave her his own signet ring. It was too large for her finger, but she held onto it, keeping it in place.

  Anita looked at her hand, now adorned with two heavy golden rings.

  “Well, would you look at that,” she heard the king say. “Princess of two kingdoms.”

  His voice sounded warm, and kind, in a way she hadn’t expected. Even the queen embraced her.

  And then Hakim took her hand, and led her out on stage in front of the crystal curtain. She’d promised Mr. Farr a story, she thought absentmindedly, but she hadn’t expected to actually deliver.

  As Hakim announced their engagement to the crowd and to the world, Anita didn’t look at them. She didn’t even listen to his words, sweet music though they were. No, she only looked at the features of his face. He was happy. Truly happy, and overflowing with love for her.

  This was the face of the man she loved. It was the face that she would wake up to every morning. It was the face she would see before going to sleep every night, for the rest of her life.

  Nothing could have prepared Anita for the complete peace and satisfaction that thought gave her. And as the crowd applauded and Hakim turned to kiss her, Anita knew one thing for certain: of all the places she might rule, his heart was the only one that truly mattered.

  EPILOGUE

  Being back in the ballroom of the Da Vinci hotel after so many months, Anita couldn’t help but remember all that had happened there. The fear, the joy, the struggle… After all the events of these past months, Anita couldn’t help but feel that that time was both so far away, and so close.

  And here they were at another gala. Only this time, they weren’t celebrating a business milestone. It was December 31st, and they were celebrating the end of an old year, and the beginning of a new one. And Fadi was there, sitting in a place of honor at the Sheikh’s table, there where he belonged.

  She had been sad that he could not attend the royal wedding in Az Kajir, but he said there were too many people he might run into from his past life that might cause problems for him. But instead, they’d thrown a small informal ceremony at the restaurant, just for themselves and Anita’s friends from Houston who would not be able to travel overseas. And for all the extreme pomp and celebration of the day that would legally bind Hakim and Anita together for the rest of their lives, she still considered that small ceremony beforehand to be the moment when she truly became Hakim’s wife.

  Recently, time had seemed to move so quickly, when it had moved so slowly for the first twenty-one years of Anita’s life. Now she had a shimmering ring on her finger, and a whole new kingdom and identity to learn about.

  She and Hakim divided their time between Az Kajir and Houston, where the business was going well and Hakim had managed to bring many of the best employees from the bankrupt American company on board. Business was thriving, and public opinion was moving more and more to accept Hakim’s company—and the fact that he had married a woman raised in Houston certainly hadn’t hurt.

  When midnight approached, the champagne was poured, although Anita refused it, opting instead for sparkling grape juice. The whole party—Hakim and Anita, their family,
and all their guests—headed up to the roof of the Da Vinci, to watch the fireworks.

  As the sky lit up with colors, and midnight struck, Hakim turned and kissed her. Fadi was making a toast. Anita could hear him. But she was only interested in one thing.

  She put her lips close to her husband’s ear and whispered.

  “Pregnant?” he said, and his face lit up as bright as the fireworks above him.

  Anita nodded. Their future looked bright, indeed.

  Holly Rayner

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  As promised, here are the first few chapters of my previous book, The Sheikh’s Irresistible Proposal.

  ONE

  The burgundy mermaid dress hugged Hannah’s slender frame perfectly, but as she stood looking at her reflection in the the mirror, she wasn’t sure if it was a good choice with her long, wavy red hair. Wear it up, she thought. Nope, down. She tried it both ways, and finally let it fall loosely on her pale shoulders, shaking it out to give it extra body. Hannah scrunched her nose up and her green eyes sparkled back at her.

  “Down, definitely down,” she said to herself.

  “Yep, makes you look like Jessica Rabbit,” Chloe’s voice chimed from the other side of the room.

  Hannah looked in the mirror and pursed her lips together. She turned from side to side and sighed. “If I had curves, maybe. But I think I’m a little smaller here,” she said, grabbing her butt. “And here,” Hannah squeezed her slim chest.

  Chloe walked over and draped a long brown arm over Hannah’s shoulder. “Yeah, you’re a skinny little Irish girl. But you still rock that dress!”

  “Thanks Chlo’,” Hannah said to her friend, flashing her a nervous grin.

  Hannah returned to her dressing table and added some bright red lipstick and a pair of dangly earrings. She took another look at her face, making sure it didn’t show the wear of the twelve-hour shift she’d just finished at the catering company. She dabbed a little more makeup on and stood back, giving herself a satisfactory nod.

  “Wish me luck,” Hannah said.

  She heard Chloe reply as she walked out of the room, “Knock ‘em dead, girl!”

  The back rooms of the Blue Moon were not designed to be as musty and dark as the main room of the club, but they were. For decades, the Blue Moon had been one of the finest jazz joints in New York City. Hidden away in a Lower East Side alleyway, it had seen the likes of greats such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and rumor had it that Amy Winehouse had even played a show there, before the place had started going downhill.

  In recent years, the club had begun to lose its appeal. The owner, Harvey, had taken the once great club to a whole new level. In the six years Harvey had owned it, the Blue Moon had gone from a respected jazz establishment to a club that only second and third rate singers would even consider. The once sought-after Friday and Saturday night tables were now available without reservations.

  It wasn’t that the club had gone downhill. It was that Harvey had
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