The sheikhs accidental b.., p.19
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       The Sheikh's Accidental Bride, p.19
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         Part #2 of The Sheikh Wants A Wife series by Holly Rayner
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  SIXTEEN

  Jasmine dropped her out front at LaGuardia, and after they hugged goodbye, Nadya wandered inside alone. She had her noise canceling headphones, her traveling clothes, and her ticket in her hand; all the same things she’d had when she left Seattle to come to New York, but somehow, now, only three days later, she felt like she had infinitely less.

  The airport had its usual annoyances, but Nadya had a hard time being bothered by them. Nothing mattered much. There would be troubles, but they were nothing like what she had already faced.

  She’d checked in online from her phone, and with no bag to check in she started heading directly to her departure gate. As she passed through security, she couldn’t help but smile at the memory of Salman’s well-rehearsed escape plan from his own security detail. But the momentary joy of the recollection was immediately replaced by a pang of regret and sadness.

  Would it always be like that, she wondered? Would every time she thought of him bring up again the same emotions? She’d had breakups before, but they’d never been like this. It was one thing for things just not to work out, or for two people to grow apart. But this…

  She put it out of her mind. She tried, at least. She had some episodes on her phone to watch, still working her way backwards through the series she’d started in the cab. That’s how she’d do it – she’d bury herself in fiction until she could bear the starkness of the reality that she’d done Salman wrong.

  As she neared her gate, Nadya saw that something wasn’t right. It took her a moment to place it, as nothing she saw around her wasn’t normally something you’d see in an airport. Then she put her finger on it. What was a chauffeur with a sign doing at a departure gate? And why was he wearing the gray suit that all of Salman’s servants wore?

  Her pulse quickened as her pace slowed. She walked towards him cautiously, her eyes darting around the room, looking for the trap. The sign had the same detailed, elaborate calligraphy as the one that had lured her in to the whole situation three days ago. In fact, it was the same sign.

  Nadya A, it said.

  Nadya walked up to the man, clearing her throat. “My name is Nadya,” she said, making her voice as level as possible. “Nadia Anderson.”

  The man gave a huge, albeit very artificial, smile. “Yes, Miss Anderson. If you could just follow me…”

  He took off at an aggressive clip, weaving through the crowd at such a pace that Nadya had her work cut out for her keeping up with him. When he stopped at last at the door to a private lounge, she was out of breath. He opened the door, which squeaked on its hinges, and motioned her inside.

  She walked in, eyes darting around, waiting for the police, or maybe just Salman’s private security to jump out and tell her she’d been caught. The lounge was dingy, apparently abandoned. Most of the lights were out, and the room was dark, except for in the center of the room.

  She saw no police. She saw no security. Instead, she saw a man in a bespoke suit, seated on a utilitarian sofa with upholstery straight from the 80s, facing away from her.

  “Salman?” she said, her voice husky.

  He stood, and turned. His face was impossible to read.

  “Where’s your wife?” Nadya blurted out the question, her voice betraying an unjustifiable anger she didn’t know she was carrying, buried under the sadness.

  “I don’t have a wife,” came the immediate reply. Salman got to his feet, putting his hands in his pockets. He seemed casual, but she thought she saw him sway just the tiniest bit.

  “But I saw you,” Nadya said, her tone accusing.

  “You saw what, exactly? You saw me there, outside of my home?”

  “While the wedding was happening!”

  He raised his hands, as if to defend himself. “That wasn’t my choice. I called the wedding off three days ago. But my family… they thought I might change my mind. They told my assistant not to make any of the cancellations, just in case. And then, today, when I’d finally decided that I needed…” He cleared his throat, and looked down for a moment before continuing. His hands slid back into his pockets. “I thought the helicopter was going to Hastings-On-Hudson.”

  The words couldn’t mean that. The words couldn’t possibly mean what it sounded like they meant.

  “You mean they tried to trick you?”

  Just the hint of a smile graced his lips at the lifting of her accusing glance. “They thought if they got me there, with all the people, and all the plans, and with my family’s reputation on the line, I’d change my mind.”

  Nadya stepped forward, involuntarily. “But it didn’t work?”

  His smile grew wider, now. “Honestly, it might have. Before I met you. When I thought that there was nothing more noble than obeying my family. But no, it didn’t.” He looked down again, this time shifting his weight on his feet, as thought to downplay his giant grin. “Why did you think I was sitting outside, when everyone else was inside?”

  Nadya’s heart, that she’d tried so hard to keep from hoping throughout the entire exchange, leaped in her chest. But a stray thought sent it crashing back down to earth again.

  “Wait,” she said, her accusing tone back with a vengeance. “You knew who I was? This whole time?”

  Again he raised his hands, but this time he also stepped forward. “I did, and I’m sorry I didn’t say anything. I wanted to tell you. I tried to tell you, so many times. But I didn’t have the words. I wanted to get to know you. More than anything. And while we were both under that illusion…”

  Nadya tried to piece it all together. None of it felt like it was making much sense. “But we weren’t both in that illusion. No one was under any illusions…” She felt the guilt lift, first, before she could begin to let the joy in. “How did you find out?” she asked. “When did you find out?”

  He was talking quickly now, as though he’d been holding the words in all this time.

  “Right after we met, actually. When you went to the bathroom to freshen up, I got the message that my betrothed had been delayed, and wouldn’t get in until the next day. And it was like… it was like when you need to make a decision. And you flip a coin for it – not because you want to let chance decide, but because you’ll know, when you flip it, what side you’re hoping it lands on.”

  He raised his hand, and gestured, as if illustrating a point. “And with you, the moment I saw you… ‘Thank God,’ I thought. ‘Thank God this is her. A woman that I feel an instant connection with. I couldn’t marry her if she wasn’t.’ So when I found out you weren’t actually my betrothed, I knew in that moment that I couldn’t go through with it. I sent a message to her family saying there would be no wedding.”

  She stepped closer to him. He’d been speaking loudly, to cross the distance between them, but now she was close enough that he could lower his voice. “And I also knew I wanted to get to know you. Whatever I needed to pretend so that I could get to do it.”

  She took another step towards him. “You knew who I was?”

  He nodded. “I figured it out. I figured it all had to have started with an honest mistake. By the second day, I already knew that much about you. And there was only one Nadya A. that flew into LaGuardia that day, around that time.”

  He leaned into her, conspiratorially. They were close, now. Closer than two strangers would ever stand. “Don’t ask me how my family has access to that information. Best you don’t know,” he said, as an exaggerated whisper.

  Nadya laughed, the sound echoing through the large, empty room.

  “So you forgive me?” he asked.

  “I do. But do you forgive me?”

  His smile could have split his head in half. “Of course.” Nadya felt his hands reach out to hers. “So what do you want to do now? New York’s our oyster… Well, the world is, really. We’ve got a jet…”

  She leaned in, slipping her hands out of his, and bringing them up to his shoulders, draping them around his neck. “You know,” she said, “I think I’d really love to go bowling.”
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  “So,” he voice was so quiet, now, filling only the tiny space between them, “a night at home it is?”

  She nodded, smiling. “That sounds wonderful.”

  A thrill ran through her entire body, starting at her lips, when she felt the soft electricity of his kiss. She felt his arms wrap around her, holding her tight, never to let her go, and she could have sworn, somehow, from somewhere, she could smell just a hint of honeysuckle.

  ***

 
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