The sheikhs triplet baby.., p.20
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       The Sheikh's Triplet Baby Surprise, p.20

         Part #3 of The Sheikh's Baby Surprise series by Holly Rayner
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  ten planes deep.

  We idled for a moment at the gates as we were identified by an intimidating man at an equally-intimidating security booth. He told Terry my transport was ready and waiting, and directed him to our destination. An imposing steel arm lifted, opening the driveway to us, and Terry guided the limo inside and across the open concrete.

  We stopped in front of a gorgeous red-and-white jet glistening on the tarmac, stairway lowered. Two staff members were waiting with bright smiles at its base, wind whipping at their hair. Terry immediately hopped out of the car to open my door for me. I slipped on my sunglasses and hat and watched him head for the trunk for my bags.

  “Miss Wood?” came a voice. One of the flight attendants, a beautiful young woman with dark hair and olive skin, approached with an outstretched hand. “My name is Nareem. I'll be taking care of you today, along with my associate, Raj.” She gestured to the other attendant, who bowed and smiled. “Was your drive pleasant?”

  “It was fine, thank you.” I nodded, shaking her hand. “Nice to meet you both.”

  “Wonderful. Please, follow me, and we’ll get you comfortable before take-off.”

  Nareem led me up the stairs and into the plushest private jet I had ever been on, and that was saying a lot. I had traveled with movie executives, A-list celebs and even a few tech moguls who liked to feel cool and connected. The Sheikh's plane blew them all away. Every detail was personalized, and the interior was decorated with what I could only assume was the art style of his country, with sweeping calligraphy and patterns interspersed with imagery of people and animals and plants. The upholstery was beautiful white leather. There were four chairs arranged around a polished table for business purposes, several recliner-style chairs near the windows, and even a lounge area against one side of the main cabin with a couch and coffee table.

  Nareem led me to the rear of the plane and showed me a cozy cabin complete with a queen-sized bed with plush white bedding that matched the upholstery. A tiny chandelier dangled above the bed, its crystals quivering with the rumbling of the engine.

  “Per the instructions of His Highness, you are free to use the cabin as you wish,” said Nareem with a smile. “Make yourself at home. Your luggage will be stored in the main cabin should you need it. We have a menu for you to select your drinks and meals. You need only let me know when and what you would like to eat, and it would be my pleasure to serve you.”

  I might have been a movie star for years but even I was struggling not to be blown away by this level of treatment. I had never had the option of comfortably sleeping my way on a flight around the world with gourmet meals at my beck and call.

  “Thank you, Nareem... This is all so generous.”

  “The Sheikh is a generous man,” she said, her eyes glowing.

  Curious, I prodded further. “Do you work for him year-round, or did he hire you solely for this job?”

  She nodded gently. “We are the Shekih's full-time flight staff for this jet. He insisted we show you the same treatment as we would him. He wants you to be as comfortable as possible.”

  I wanted to be happy and flattered by the news, but I cut my teeth in Hollywood, and I knew that this kind of hospitality rarely came without a quid-pro-quo.

  Conscious that that wasn't Nareem's burden to bear, I flashed my best smile. “I don't think he has to worry about that. I might just sell my place and move in here instead, it's so comfortable.”

  Nareem laughed, her cheeks flushing a pretty red as she did. “Make yourself comfortable, Miss Wood. I'm going to check that preparations for takeoff are moving smoothly. We should be departing in a matter of minutes.”

  SIX

  Once Nareem had disappeared into the front section of the plane, I threw myself dramatically onto the plush bed and sank into the clean linens with a sigh. The quiet hum of the engines was comforting as I lay there with my eyes closed, breathing deeply. This deal might have been an odd, sketchy idea, but so far, I was enjoying the perks. Katherine hadn’t been kidding when she called this guy loaded. Who else would bother with the decadence of a chandelier in his plane cabin?

  I missed this. The A-list treatment was addictive, and being here made me realize how little of it I had received in the last few months. I had movie star treatment when I went out, sure, but there was richness in the way the A-list lived that was easy to lose. Being on the Sheikh's plane made me realize just how much I had already lost, and how much was slipping away every day. Maybe I was shallow for wanting it, but who wasn’t? And I was talented enough to earn it, even if my industry wished I was younger.

  Thoughts of the Sheikh's quid-pro-quo rang in the back of my mind. I would be his companion for twenty-four hours, and he was already treating me to luxuries of great expense. There was certainly value in being seen with someone of my level of fame, but this man was already rich and famous; I doubted he was lacking in esteem from his peers or countrymen. He probably just wanted me around for personal reasons. Sometimes people in power were lacking in human contact because everyone around them just wanted to suck them dry, enjoying the perks and pretending to be friends or lovers in order to stay close. Power and money were isolating.

  Maybe he wanted the chance to seduce a movie star, sweep her off her feet, and make it impossible for her to reject him. It was how some of the very wealthy operated. Society pretended to hate gold-diggers, but blindly ignored how a man's drive for riches and success was often just so he could impress women. No matter how unattractive or boring a personality, money would get him a wife. It was just how things operated.

  There was every possibility that the Sheikh was no different. He was giving me a taste of what he could offer his romantic partners, probably because that’s what he wanted me to be.

  But I reminded myself of my personal promise: I wouldn't be blinded by all this glitter. I would set my boundaries and I wouldn't deviate from them. Sheikh or not, my body was not for sale.

  I kicked my heels off and lay there until I heard footsteps approaching on the soft carpet.

  Nareem's voice sounded from the doorway. “Miss Wood, we are fully prepared for takeoff. You will need to strap in safely for this portion of the flight.”

  “Of course,” I answered cheerfully.

  Before I could put them back on, Nareem tucked my shoes into a one of the drawers lining the bottom of the bed, and winked at me. “No need for those if you don't want. It's twelve hours of flight time, plus a short layover to refuel in Germany. Make yourself comfortable.”

  I smiled. “I like the way you think.”

  I took a seat in one of the recliners. It felt like a marshmallow under my body—supportive and yet impossibly plush, and somehow smelling of jasmine. I strapped on my seatbelt and watched as Nareem and Raj did the same on the other side of the cabin. Together we watched out the windows as the plane began to taxi on the small airstrip before making a smooth takeoff into the bright blue California sky.

  Between Nareem and Raj, I didn't want for a single thing during the flight. They served me mimosas, decadent chocolate cake, and silver trays of fresh fruit. After eating much more than I normally would, just for the sake of the mini-vacation, I retired to the plush bedroom cabin. I was going to ask for access to my luggage, but a set of blue silk pajamas had been provided, and I happily slid into them. I curled up under the down comforter, watching the fluffy clouds pass by the windows as I drifted off into a deep sleep.

  Nareem woke me up gently about two hours before landing, apologetically telling me that she wanted to ensure I had time to prepare myself for the Sheikh. I took my sweet time rolling around in the bed, watching the sky, which had turned as bright as a jewel. I walked to one of the windows to get a view of Al-Dali, the home of the Sheikh, a place I had never even dreamed of going. The view was spectacular, with the hazy yellows and oranges of desert sands interspersed with glittering cities and lush, irrigated farmland that defied nature herself. A great blue river churned, cutting its way south, lined on both s
ides with ancient greenery. I had never seen anything like this view, and wondered just what it was like to rule a place with such beauty and history.

  It took me only a moment to change back into my summery red outfit, and Nareem was kind enough to bring me my personal bag so I could touch up my makeup and reset a few of the blond curls that had gone flat during my nap. I rejoined the crew in the main cabin after I was finished, and Raj immediately brought me a cold glass of exotic juice with a glowing smile.

  The capital city of Al-Dali approached outside the windows, growing closer, its skyscrapers tall and magnificent, gleaming in the desert sun. I knew Al-Dali was one of the richest nations in the world, but I didn’t expect the elegance—and extravagance—of its presentation. Scattered throughout the modern steel were temples and ruins, a testament to the millennia-old history of this region of the world. The Sheikh was only the most recent in a long line of titans; his ancestors had conquered half the world and invented things like algebra and medicine. His city perfectly showcased this ancestral pride alongside the achievements of its modern sons.

  The scratching sound of the pilot’s intercom broke through my thoughts.

  “We’re beginning our descent to the airfield,” he said. “Will passengers please make sure you are buckled in. We’ll be touching down in ten minutes.”

  Suddenly, my nerves skyrocketed as I realized I was minutes away from meeting Sheikh bin Alaman for the first time, still without any idea as to what this job entailed. Was I going to ride in some parade with him, a famous American girl to be a spectacle like some enormous cartoon-character balloon? Would he have some urgent plea for me to help his country? Or was this just a simple case of a lonely, isolated leader with endless resources who decided to live out a fantasy and go on a date with a movie star?

  Whatever it was, I didn’t have long to prepare for it.

  SEVEN

  We touched down smoothly on the tarmac of an airfield just outside the heart of the city. As the engines slowly shut down, I realized there was still a faint roaring sound outside.

  “What’s that noise?” I asked the crew, unbuckling my seat belt.

  Nareem and Raj exchanged knowing glances and Nareem gestured to the other side of the plane. “See for yourself.”

  I got up from my seat and carefully moved over to the opposite bank of windows. Outside on the tarmac, a crowd of people—several dozen rows deep—was waiting behind velvet ropes which protected a gorgeous red carpet. The crowd cheered, some of them holding signs in either English or Arabic.

  As if reading my mind, Raj’s voice piped up next to me as he looked out the window. “That one says, ‘We love you Julianne!’ The pink one says, ‘You are my idol, my queen.’”

  Shock washed over me and my skin tingled. I felt the familiar rush of adrenaline as it coursed through my veins, making my heart beat faster and my face flush pink. A smile erupted on my face.

  “They’re waiting for me?” I asked, even though the answer was right there in front of me. It had been so long since I’d had fans waiting to greet me. Memories of movie premiers, blinding flash bulbs and an endless din of cheers and chatter came nostalgically to the front of my mind.

  “The Sheikh could not wait to announce your arrival. He made a speech as soon as you accepted his offer,” said Nareem. “Your fans in Al-Dali are very eager to make your acquaintance.”

  “My fans?” I said, genuinely curious. “I honestly had no idea I had any fans this far around the world.”

  Nareem and Raj laughed as if I had told the funniest joke they’d ever heard.

  “Of course you do!” said Raj, gesturing out the window as if to drive home the point. “We love your work. So does the Sheikh.”

  Yeah, but which parts of it, exactly? I wondered, but the sour thought couldn’t ruin the mood of the scene in front of me.

  The pilot opened the doors, then, and lowered the staircase. Suddenly the energy of the crowd was in the cabin, carried on the hot desert wind. It felt like home.

  “They’re waiting for you, Miss Wood,” said Raj.

  I checked myself in the mirror one more time, and carefully put on my sunhat and sunglasses. Another last touch-up of my red lipstick, and I was ready.

  As soon as I stepped outside the plane, the crowd lifted in excited cheers, hitting me almost as hard as the sun above my head.

  I ate up the moment, waving and blowing kisses as I carefully descended the staircase and made my way down the red carpet. Photographers popped up on the edges of the crowd to take shots, and I obliged them with a few quick poses. Every few feet, adorable little girls and teary-eyed young men held out their hands, some with pen and paper, and I stopped to give autographs and pose for selfies. It felt like old times.

  There was never enough time for everyone, though, and it wasn’t easy to hear the disappointed groans of the people I couldn’t get to as I finished the red carpet walk. But the Sheikh was waiting for me, I knew, and it wouldn’t do to be late on our first meeting. I talked to as many fans as I could before I began to worry about the time. With a hearty wave and a few more blown kisses, I yelled out an apology and a thank you to all the fans for coming out to welcome me to their country so sweetly.

  At the end of the red carpet waited an entourage of three people—two men and one woman—whom I could only assume were the staff of the Sheikh. Two of them smiled warmly at me as I approached, while one of the men kept a stone expression, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses.

  “Miss Wood,” the woman said warmly, her hand outstretched. She was
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