The sheikhs accidental b.., p.21
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       The Sheikh's Accidental Bride, p.21
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         Part #2 of The Sheikh Wants A Wife series by Holly Rayner
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  Thank you for reading my work, I dedicate this story to each and every one of you. As promised, here are the first few chapters of my previous book, The Sheikh’s Make-Believe Fiancée

  The weather was typical for fall in Chicago. A little chilly, a little rainy and very windy. Guests milled around the Field Museum in their finest attire as Lily served them drinks from behind the bar. She handed champagne and mojitos out to CEOs and hotel heiresses, wiping her hands on her black apron between rounds.

  Lily looked around and took in the beautiful surroundings of the museum. Her eyes lingered on artifacts and artwork that just weeks before she had been responsible for maintaining and cataloging. Her parents had been so proud of her when she had landed the job as Junior Curator at the Field Museum just a year before. They had known when she left their small town in Missouri for college that Lily probably never would return for good.

  Lily had always seemed like a child that was destined for bigger things. She had grown up in the cocoon that close families and small towns provide. But even as a young child, she had fought hard to break free and fly on her own. As a freshman in high school, she dove headfirst into college prep courses so that she could earn a scholarship. That was when she discovered her love for history and art. She began searching different scholarship programs and found one for a Bachelor’s in Museum Studies. She soon found that she adored being immersed in a world where history, science and art come together.

  Lily was her parents' only child; they always supported her choices and tried to give her everything, but they were a blue collar family. Her mother, Betty, worked at the local dry cleaner’s and her father, Stan, was a truck driver. Despite their best efforts, they couldn’t afford to help Lily out financially, and this only caused their daughter to work harder. By the time she was a junior in high school, Lily had completed several dual enrollment courses and had chartered her course. When she graduated from her tiny high school, she did so with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree from the university.

  She had left home and moved into the college dorm where she disappeared into her studies. Lily had little time for what college life offers young people – parties, friendships and romance. She worked hard to learn everything she could so that she would be in a position to find a good job upon graduation. She was determined to support herself and move further away from her small town and into a big city, wherever that might be.

  After completing an internship at a local museum in Missouri, Lily got the call she had been waiting for. The Art Institute of Chicago was looking for a teaching assistant. She jumped at the opportunity and moved to the big city, falling in love with it immediately. The lights, the sounds and the smells were so different from anything Lily had experienced before. In her usual style, she dove headfirst into her work and within a few short years, had moved up the ranks at the Institute. Her work ethic began to get her noticed by others in her field and soon the renowned Field Museum offered her a position as one of several Junior Curators. Lily loved her job at the Institute, but knew that they couldn’t offer her something similar. So after much deliberation, she bid goodbye to her colleagues and began working at the Field Museum.

  At first, the job had been challenging. Lily knew a lot about her industry, but moving from an art institute to a full-fledged museum required a different set of skills. She had to get retrained in several areas, but within a month, she started feeling comfortable in her new position and thought she had finally landed the job that she would have forever. At just twenty-six years old, she was making a comfortable living, had a nice apartment in the West Loop and had made a small, but close-knit group of friends. In all rights, she was happy. Until the cutbacks happened.

  They came suddenly and completely out of the blue. One day, Lily was detailing the history of an ancient Mayan artifact in her office, the next she was unemployed searching for jobs online.

  “What happened?” her mother had asked, just as confused as Lily.

  “I don’t know,” Lily had told her, trying to hold back the tears that threatened. Lily prided herself on being strong. Maybe even too strong. “They just said they had to cut back and that since I was the last junior curator hired, I would be the first to be let go.”

  Lily spat the words out as if they hurt her tongue. Betty sighed heavily into the phone. “I’m so sorry dear. But you know your dad and I are here for you. Whatever you need.”

  Lily appreciated her mother’s support. But she also knew that it meant she could only have whatever she needed if she came back home to Missouri. Her parents couldn’t help support her financially. And Lily wouldn’t dream of asking.

  After letting the news of her redundancy sink in for a few days, Lily got busy looking for another job. But she soon found out that jobs in her field were hard to come by. She had never had to actively seek out employment in the museum and art world and now, looking at the slim prospects, the task was daunting. But Lily tried. She spent weeks filling out online job applications and submitted her resume to the hundreds of museums and institutions. She figured she’d start close to home because she really didn’t want to move. Lily had fallen in love with Chicago.

  Before long, Lily had realized that she would have to make a decision. She hadn't gotten any offers from local museums and her savings were dwindling. She knew she had to choose between looking outside of Chicago for work, or find another line of work to tide her over until something in her field opened up.

  After a long walk along the Burnham Harbor, Lily had decided she wasn’t ready to give up her life in the city. She went back home, swallowed her pride, and took the only job that she knew she could get. One of her good friends from the gym, Jill, worked part-time for a catering company and had told Lily that she could get her work if she ever needed it. Lily called Jill and the next day, she was wearing a white dress shirt, black pants and black apron and serving canapés to pretentious housewives at a craft party.

  Lily hated that she wasn’t doing what she loved, but she was determined to make it. She worked with Jill for several months, banking every penny she made just so that she could stay in her apartment. The event at the Field Museum had come as a complete surprise. She had been looking at her schedule for the week, looking up the addresses of the events and punching them into her phone so she would be ready to arrive in plenty of time. When she had gotten to the address for the ball, her hands had frozen. She knew that address. It was for the Field Museum. The place where she had been working until just months before.

  “Jill, I can’t do the ball,” Lily had said in a worried tone.

  “What? Why not?”

  “I just can’t. I’m busy that day,” Lily had said.

  Lily could hear her best friend's sigh through the phone. They had known each other for a few years, and their bond was uncanny. “You liar. You’re just afraid to do the ball because it’s at the Field Museum.”

  Lily let out a long sigh. “Jill, I can’t go back there, I can’t. Not as a server. There’s just no way.”

  “Listen,” Jill said, in the best firm tone the blond haired, bubbly farm girl could manage. “You are better than them. You don’t have to worry about any one of those stuffy shirts. Because I bet you, if any single one of them got fired, they would go crawling back to their mamas and papas. But you didn’t. You stuck your chin out and did what you had to do to support yourself. You have no reason to be ashamed of that.”

  Lily had finally agreed to go to the event. The ball was for dignitaries and wealthy people from a variety of industries. It was not an uncommon event at the Field Museum. Lily remembered the museum hosting Christmas parties, birthday parties and even Bar Mitzvahs for famous people back when she worked there. Rubbing shoulders with people of that stature didn’t intimidate her, but serving them cocktails did. She knew better than to feel less than them, but she was pretty sure they saw her that way. What scared her more, what really intimidated her about the ball, was the chance of running into the people she
used to work with.

  Lily reached out and handed a champagne flute to a beautiful woman with honey-blond hair. She extended her long arm to Lily, grabbed the glass with her perfectly manicured fingers and then floated away, her green ball gown trailing behind her. Lily watched her walk across the room to where a tall, dark, handsome man was waiting. Lily guessed he must have been of Middle-Eastern descent. Probably some oil tycoon or rich playboy, she thought.

  Khaled took the glass from the woman in the green gown and smiled politely as his brown eyes danced playfully. He looked down at the woman, then his eyes wandered above her head and meandered about the room, stopping briefly on every woman that caught his eye. If the woman in green noticed, she didn’t let on. She slipped her arm through Khaled’s but he pulled away before she could get it all the way through. As if he had done it a million times before, he turned effortlessly and left the woman standing with the three other people they were chatting with. When she turned to look for him, he had disappeared into the crowd.

  TWO

  “Your highness?”

  Khaled heard the voice and stopped eyeing the cute Indian woman he had been flirting with. He turned to face one of the members of the board of directors for the museum.

  “Sheikh bin Mahmoud al Halam? We’re honored you could make it,” the man stuck his hand out to shake his hand.

  “Please, call me Khaled. And the pleasure is all mine.”

  “Your father was such a huge supporter of our work here. I’m so sorry for your loss. He will be greatly missed.”

  Khaled’s brown eyes went black and he stiffened. The man kept talking, encouraging Khaled for further donations to the museum, but Khaled didn’t hear him. His thoughts were lost in a grief he hadn’t yet dealt with.

  Khaled’s father had died just six months before, leaving a host of loose ends in the process. One being the benevolent work of the monarchy of Al-Zumayn, the Middle-Eastern country that Khaled was from. Khaled was a distant heir to the monarchy on his father’s side. His father had inherited an oil empire that was worth millions, and during his lifetime, he had grown it into the billions. When Khaled was old enough, he began to work for his father. But Khaled was spoiled. He didn’t have the desire to work in the business. He enjoyed partying too much.

  In order to keep his son out of trouble, Khaled’s father decided to have him act in a sales capacity rather than in any principal role within the organization. But Khaled found a way around that, too. He flew to exotic destinations to drum up new business and rather than spending his time in stuffy board rooms or sales meetings, Khaled conducted business on yachts and in nightclubs.

  When his father died, Khaled’s freestyle world had been turned upside down. He had spent his entire life being given everything and knew nothing about real work. The shock of losing his father, as distant as they might have been, was immense and Khaled had still not fully absorbed it. He had begun to tire of his playboy lifestyle and was eager to learn the business and make his father proud. But there was one thing he was still having a hard time dealing with.

  Khaled’s father had left specific instructions in his will. One was that Khaled had to be married as, in his culture, unwed men were seen as immature and irresponsible. Khaled was already twenty-nine and the will stipulated that if Khaled wanted to inherit the business, he had to be married by the time he turned thirty.

  The second condition was that his bride had to be of royal lineage. Khaled’s mother was now responsible for ensuring that the woman Khaled chose met this condition. Khaled trusted his mother completely, but wanted to select the woman himself. Even though he wasn’t really ready to settle down, Khaled knew that he must obey his parents’ wishes if he wanted to fulfill his business ambitions and take over the family oil empire.

  THREE

  Lily scoffed at the coldness of the woman in the green gown. Couldn’t she even say thank you? Would it have killed her to smile? Lily poured another drink and held the anger at bay. She was tired, hungry, angry and lonely. Those were never good things to be all at once.

  Even growing up as a kid, Lily had kept to herself. She didn’t have any siblings but had always wanted them. In school, she had been a bit of a loner and made friends with figures from history rather than her classmates. In college, she worked so hard to get ahead that she never made time for friendships. When she got to Chicago, she did make a few good friends, but she never dated. In fact, she had only been on a handful of dates her entire life. It usually didn’t bother her that much, but when she was hungry, angry and tired, the lonely part kicked into high gear.

  Lily poured another drink and handed it to another smug party goer. She wanted to scream something like, “Hey! A thank you would be nice! I’m a human being, you know!” But she held it in.

  “Cabernet,” the voice said. Lily reached for the bottle and began pouring without looking up.

  “Well, isn’t this appropriate?”

  Lily looked up and saw one of the professors she had worked with in her teaching days at the Art Institute of Chicago. He was wearing a black tuxedo, white shirt and the stupidest bowtie she had ever seen. It had little sea turtles on it. Not now, she said to herself. Please don’t say another word, Professor.

  “Finally, a job that you’re perfectly suited for.”

  Lily felt her hand tighten on the bottle as she finished pouring the drink. Oh, how she wanted to launch the contents of the glass right at his stupid bowtie. Breathe, just breathe, she told herself.

  The Professor smiled a satisfied grin and walked away just as Lily felt the sting of the tears in the corner of her eyes. She looked around frantically, hoping that no one else she knew saw her. She dabbed the corner of her eyes with her apron and looked around for her manager, regretting the fact that Jill wasn’t working this event. Lily spotted the shiny bald head and made her way past the other servers.

  “Mr. Jacobs, I’m really not feeling well. I think I need to go home.”

  Jacobs turned his round, sweaty face away from the chafing dish and looked at the guests in front of him when he spoke.

  “No, can’t do that,” he said, barely acknowledging her presence.

  Lily persisted. “Mr. Jacobs, I think I’m really sick. I have to leave.”

  Jacobs turned his face toward her and she saw the anger in his beady eyes. “Listen, Bailey, we’re swamped here. You’re not going anywhere! Now get your skinny little butt back behind that bar and start pouring!”

  Lily felt the anger rise in her. “Can’t go home?!” she asked, infuriated by the ignorant little man. “You won’t let me go? Well in that case… I quit!”

  Lily ripped off her apron and threw it on the ground. Before Jacobs could say another word, Lily moved past him and walked out on the dance floor, toward the staff exit. Her long dark hair fell loosely over her bare shoulders and the straps of her slim fitting black cocktail dress. Her brown eyes bore holes through the crowd as she made her way quickly across the room. The tears dried quickly on her cheeks and she hoped they were unnoticeable to the guests as she passed them.

  She moved as quickly as she could, but got delayed by the throng of people on the floor. Large, puffy gowns and servers with trays obstructed her every move and in seconds, Lily found herself looking around, taking in the beautiful couture and elegant surroundings. She moved slowly toward the exit and before she could get to the door, a server carrying a gold tray offered her a glass of champagne. Lily was about to refuse and then paused. She looked at the server and realized that she didn’t recognize him. She smiled politely and took the glass as she watched him disappear in the crowd.

  She stood still and let the bubbly champagne tingle her nose and tongue. The feel of the fine crystal in her hand was different when you were drinking and not serving. Lily watched the crowd. She didn’t recognize any of the guests, except for a few museum board members who stuck out like sore thumbs. The rest of the crowd was a mix of musicians, artists, and the international elite. Lily was certain the
y were benefactors of the museum; the museum often held lavish events in the hopes of coaxing more money and donations out of them. And it usually worked.

  Lily finished her champagne and before she could set the glass down on a nearby table, another server replaced it with a fresh glass. She had all but forgotten about quitting her job and moved around the room, listening to bits and pieces of conversation as she sipped on the champagne. Lily knew enough about the art world to make small talk with the guests. Every time the conversation turned to what she did for work, she politely excused herself and joined another conversation.

  After a few glasses of champagne, a tipsy Lily decided she needed some time away from the crowd. She walked out of the main room and down a hall that led to one of the Middle-Eastern exhibits. The quiet of the museum after hours always brought Lily peace. When she worked there, she would stay long after the museum closed and walk the halls, just admiring the art work and the exhibits. She felt like she could study them and really get to know the history behind them when it was just her and them. It was almost as if they were speaking directly to her.

  She rounded a corner and entered a gallery containing some of the museum’s more valuable pieces of Middle-Eastern artwork. She walked along the marble floor, the click of her heels the only sound. As she neared the end, Lily stopped when she realized she wasn’t alone. Standing next to a bronze plaque on the far end of the gallery was a tall man with dark hair. He turned to face her when he heard her gasp in surprise.

  “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, standing a few meters away from him. “I didn’t mean to interrupt you.” She knew that many people got lost in their thoughts when looking at art; after all, she was one of them.

  The man’s handsome face softened in a smile. “Not at all,” he said, his dark eyes twinkling.

  Lily felt her heart jump. She looked at the man and thought she recognized him, but wasn’t sure where from.

  “Please, join me,” he said, extending his arm in invitation.

  Lily smiled back and nodded politely. He must think I’m another guest, she thought. She decided to play along for a little while. After all, this exhibit was one of her favorites.

  “What do you think?” the stranger asked as Lily stood next to him, head cocked as he looked at the plaque. She breathed in and let the musky scent of this stranger fill her and her skin began to tingle.

  “It’s early Arabic, 12th century,” she said, matter-of-factly. Then she realized she would blow her cover. “I think,” she added hastily.

  The stranger smiled down at her, admiring her tall, curvy frame and beautiful soft features. “Yes, you really know your art.”

  “My father was diplomat for the region and I’ve been to nearly every museum in the Middle East,” Lily lied.

  The stranger nodded. He knew she was a guest from the ball. But now he also knew she was from a prominent family. And her olive skin and dark features told him she was probably of Middle-Eastern decent.

  He turned to her and held his hand out. “Please, allow me to introduce myself. I'm Sheikh Khaled bin Mahmoud al Halam.”

  Lily turned and smiled, trying to hide her shock. She placed her long hand gingerly in his and he lifted it to his lips and kissed it gently. Lily felt a shock ripple through her when his lips touched her skin. She blinked several times and smiled.

  “Lady Lillian Bailey,” she said, adding a little fluff to her name to keep up appearances. She had met several royals in her time, but never one as handsome as this.

  “And this is your family’s plaque,” she said, pointing to the bronze plaque on the wall.

  “Yes,” Khaled said, shrugging off the electric feeling he got touching Lily’s hand. It must be the champagne, he said to himself. “I’m the eldest son of Sheikh Khilnar’ak bin Mahmoud al Halam.” He paused for a moment. “The late Khilnar’ak.”

  “Oh, I’m sorry. That’s right, I heard about your father,” Lily said, placing a hand on his shoulder. She felt the warmth of his strong body through his suit and felt her blood tingle.

  Khaled was surprised to hear that this woman had heard about his father’s death. She must be part of the royal network, he thought; his father was not that well known outside Al-Zumayn and the surrounding areas. He felt his mood shift as Lily put her hand on his shoulder.

  Lily realized that she had lost her job shortly after Khaled’s father died. With his passing, the family had stopped donating to the museum, and now a ball was being held to entice Khaled to continue the donations. His father’s death that was also the reason Lily’s job had been eliminated. When the donations stopped, the budget had been slashed and Lily’s position had been one of the first casualties.

  She looked up at Khaled and realized that even though his family was the reason she was no longer employed at the museum, it might not be Khaled’s fault. He may not have been involved at all. But what did she have to lose by trying to find out?

  Khaled turned and looked at Lily, feeling his heart race as he looked into her dark, inviting eyes. He felt a spark that was undeniable. He had always been attracted to beautiful women. And he had no problem flirting with them. But this was different. He couldn’t identify exactly what was happening. But he wanted to find out.

  “Would you like to dance?” Khaled asked, holding his arm out to Lily.

  As she slipped her arm into his, Lily realized this was the same man who had dodged the woman in the green ball gown. And now, here he was, asking her to dance.

  “I’m afraid I’m not that good a dancer,” she said, not wanting to lose the opportunity to get to know him better.

  “Don't worry, I’ll lead,” Khaled, smiling as he walked her back to the ballroom.

  FOUR

  They made their way through the crowd and onto the dancefloor. People moved all around them as the music played and Lily began to feel more and more swept up in the grandeur of the evening. Khaled’s strong body pulled her in close while his arm rested on the small of her back, supporting her as they moved across the dance floor. Lily was lost in thought as her body reacted to the closeness of Khaled. She felt instantly drawn to him and her heart raced as they danced.

  Khaled was an excellent dancer. He moved expertly and brought Lily along with him, never allowing her to get out of step. She smiled as he pulled her along gracefully and within minutes, they were standing at a table on the side, trying to catch their breath between their laughter.

  “How about a drink?” Khaled says, holding Lily’s hand in his.

  Lily nodded and they began walking toward rear bar, mercifully the one she hadn’t been working at. Before they got there, Lily spotted the professor again, standing in line. She turned and saw the woman in the green ball gown coming from the other direction. In a panic, she grabbed Khaled’s head and whispered in his ear.

  “You want to get out of here?”

  Khaled’s face erupted in a smile and he nodded quickly. They turned toward the front exit and ran hand in hand toward the elevator.

  “No, this way,” Lily says, pulling Khaled through another doorway. She pulled him down several hallways until they were at a bank of unmarked service elevators. The doors opened quickly and they got in, smiling silently as the elevator whooshed to the top. The doors opened again and they stepped outside onto the roof of the museum.

  “How’d you know about this?” Khaled asked, curious at just who this woman was.

  “I told you, I’ve been to a lot of museums,” Lily laughed.

  She walked across the rooftop and stopped, looking out across the Chicago skyline. Khaled still held her hand as the cool night air sent a shiver through her. He immediately took off his tuxedo jacket and walked in front of her, moving to slip the jacket over her shoulders. Lily looked up at him as he draped the jacket over her and then pulled her close. Their eyes locked as Khaled brought his lips down to meet Lily’s. She felt the warmth of him on her and pulled her body close to his. They kissed long and slowly, their lips gentle and meaningful.


  Lily pulled back, shocked at what had just happened.

  “I’m sorry,” said Khaled. He must have misread the look on her face. He was a playboy and used to fast women. But this woman was different. He hoped he hadn’t moved too quickly.

  Lily blinked a few times and then smiled coyly as she looked up at him. “Don’t be, that was nice.”

  Khaled breathed out a sigh of relief and then pulled Lily in close. They found a concrete bench and sat down, Khaled’s arms wrapped around Lily to keep her warm.

  “Isn’t the city beautiful?” Lily said, remembering how much she loved the city lights compared to the barren sky of her hometown.

  “Yes, I love the lights,” said Khaled as he stroked Lily’s arm. “Have you ever been to Al-Zumayn?”

  “No,” Lily responded, revealing as little as she could.

  Khaled exhaled and kept stroking her arm as he talked. “Well, it’s a small country, but we have some of the most expensive buildings in the world there. It is a playground for the rich and famous, they say.”

  Lily leaned into Khaled and felt the rise and fall of his chest as he spoke. She felt butterflies in her stomach.

  “My family is not exactly royal, but we have access to many of the same privileges as royalty. I have been to many exotic and beautiful places, and there are few that rival the skyline of my country. But New York and Chicago come very close.”

  “What about Dubai? What about Paris?”

  “Dubai?” Khaled laughed when he spoke. “Dubai is highly overrated.”

  Khaled pulled Lily away and looked at her. He breath caught in his throat when he saw her face lit softly by the evening lights. She looked even more beautiful than she had in the museum.

  “Now you know about me, tell me about you.”

  Lily swallowed and smiled. She felt there was something happening here, but wasn’t sure what it was. She hadn’t felt this way in a long time. Maybe it was the champagne, but whatever it was, she didn’t want it to end. She had to keep playing along.

  “Well, I already told you my name…but my friends call me Lily.”

  “Lily,” Khaled said, nodded in approval. “I like that.”

  “And I’m a lot like you. I have royal blood in my lineage,” Lily said. She knew that practically everyone could trace their family tree back to someone who was royal, so that wasn’t entirely a lie.

  “And my father traveled a lot.” True again. He was a truck driver and traveled all over the country. “I’ve been to many places and seen many great treasures from all over the world.” True and true. This wasn’t so bad, Lily thought. “But of all the places I’ve lived, I like Chicago the best.”

  “You live here?” Khaled asked, sounding rather surprised.

  Lily caught herself and recovered quickly. “When I’m in the United States, this is my favorite place to stay.”

  Whew, that was close, she thought. Even though she felt bad about being less than honest with Khaled, she wasn’t outright lying.

  Khaled smiled, feeling more confident that this spur of the moment meeting could turn into something much more. He knew the clock was ticking to find a bride. And so far, everything about this woman seemed to fit the conditions his parents had imposed. Khaled felt like he wanted to get to know her more. He didn’t think she needed to know anything about the pressure he was under to find a bride. He would just see where this went and then take it from there.

  “Thank you,” Khaled said as he pulled her close again.

  Lily lifted her face up to his. “For what?”

  “For interrupting me in the museum,” Khaled said as his lips parted into a smile.

  Lily’s heart skipped a beat and she smiled back, bringing her face even closer to his. “Thank you for letting me!”

  Their lips met again and this time they lingered, the heat passing between them and igniting a fire neither one of them had felt before. When they separated, they looked into each other’s eyes and felt electricity pass between them.

  “This is crazy,” Lily said, the enormity of what she had just done finally sinking in. Not only was she sitting on top of the museum that she was fired from months before, she was kissing a man she had met just moments before. And not just any man, the son of the benefactor who was responsible for her losing her job at the museum. And he was a Sheikh! She broke eye contact with Khaled and looked away, her mind racing.

  “I know,” Khaled said. Escaping to the rooftop with her was proving to be exhilarating and crazy and Khaled was enjoying every second of it. He didn’t want it to stop. “So why not make it even crazier? What are you doing for the next two weeks?”

  Lily looked at Khaled as if his hair were on fire. “What? Why?”

  Khaled turned and grabbed both of Lily’s hands in his. “Come away with me!”

  “Now you’re the crazy one!”

  “I know,” Khaled said as the adrenaline pumped through his veins. “I know we’ve only just met. But I feel like meeting you is a breath of fresh air. You’re so different from the other society girls downstairs. You’re so different from all of the other girls I’ve met. I want to get to know you!”

  Lily’s mind raced. Of course she was different because she wasn’t a society girl. Although it was insane, she wanted to get to know Khaled better, too. And since she had just quit her job, she really didn’t have any plans for the next two weeks. This was the opportunity of a lifetime. She could get away and see how the super-rich live. And who knows? Maybe she could convince Khaled to start donating to the museum again so that she could get her old job back.

  “Yes,” she said, hardly believing the words that jumped out of her mouth. “Yes, I’ll go away with you!”

  Khaled drew her close and planted another deep kiss on her lips. They sat for a while longer until the chill in the air was too much. After a few more long, exploring kisses, they walked hand in hand back to the elevator and down to the museum entrance.

  “Thank you for a lovely evening, Lady Lillian Bailey,” Khaled said, bowing slightly to Lily.

  Lily smiled back and curtsied. “Thank you Sheikh Khaled.”

  He drew her in for one more kiss before parting. “My car will pick you up. Just give me your address and my driver will be there by eight in the morning.”

  Lily’s mind raced. Her address? She couldn’t give Khaled her address. She had a nice apartment, but it was in the West Loop not in Old Town or Gold Coast. If he saw her old warehouse conversion apartment, he would know instantly that she wasn’t royalty.

  “I’m staying at the Hotel Arcadia,” Lily spouted out, coming up with the first luxury hotel she could think of. “I’ll be in the lobby at eight.”

  “Until then,” Khaled said as he bid her goodbye. He turned and walked back toward the ballroom, leaving Lily alone in front of an ancient Egyptian exhibit. She watched his tall, lean body disappear down the hall and let her breath out when he was finally out of sight.

  She walked toward the bench at the end of the exhibit hall and slumped into it. What had just happened? Just a few hours ago she was serving drinks to people in stuffy suits and ball gowns. Now she was being picked up at an upscale hotel and whisked off for a two-week vacation with a man she had just met! And not just any man, a Sheikh! She rubbed her temples as the events of the evening and the residual effects of the champagne pounded in her head.

  Lily, Lily, what have you done? Not only was it bad enough that she had quit her job, now she was going away for two weeks and wouldn’t have any income during that time. That was really bad planning on her part. Actually, she laughed ironically, for someone who had always planned so well, it was incredibly reckless. And yet something had made her want to do it.

  She had felt drawn, almost pulled to Khaled when she first saw him. And then, when he kissed her, all her resolve had melted away. She knew there was something special going on between them, she just didn’t know what it was.

  “Well, kid, you’ve never let yourself do something crazy b
efore. So why not?” Lily smiled as she thought about seeing Khaled again. She walked around the ballroom and entered the staff room through the back door. The ball was still going on and Lily quickly grabbed her coat and purse and disappeared back out into the cool night air.

  FIVE

  “You did what?!” Jill’s voice rang through the phone.

  “I know, I know. It was stupid, it was crazy, and I shouldn’t have done it,” Lily said, pacing around her apartment like a wild animal. In the two hours since she’d left the museum, she had gone back and forth about her decision. During the cab ride home, she had been excited about getting to know Khaled. But when she arrived home, reality kicked in and she feared she had made a terrible mistake.

  “No, no, no, no… It was exactly the right thing to do!” Jill squealed with delight. “Girl! You never do anything spontaneously. I’m surprised you haven’t booked the date you’re going to fall in love! Sometimes you gotta throw all that rigidity to the wind and fly by the seat of your pants!”

  “Yeah, I know, it’s just that what if—”

  “No ‘what ifs.’ Just go with it. That’s what being spontaneous is all about. You take what’s coming and enjoy the ride. And from what you’ve said about this guy, it sounds like it will be an enjoyable ride, indeed.”

  “But I wasn’t completely truthful with him,” said Lily.

  “How untruthful were you?”

  Lily exhaled. “I kind of gave him the impression that I’m from a royal family.”

  Jill laughed through the phone. “Wow! Did you come right out and say that? Or did you just say things that could have been construed that way? There’s a big difference, you know.”

  Lily thought about the semantics of what her friend was saying. “Well, I didn’t make it clear one way or the other.”

  “There you go!” said Jill. “You weren’t entirely untruthful. You just told a little white lie. Heck, it probably wasn’t even your fault. And besides. Who cares? It led to the invitation of a lifetime! Seriously Lily, when will you ever get the opportunity to do something like this again?”

  Lily vacillated as she watched the city lights twinkle in the distance. From her West Loop apartment, she was able to glimpse the Aon Center and Two Prudential Plaza, two of Chicago’s tallest buildings. The lights danced in the wind and she remembered the chill she had felt sitting on top of the Field Museum. She thought about how she had misled Khaled. But then, she thought about how she felt when they kissed and the warmth of his embrace.

  “Okay, okay I’ll go,” she said with a newfound resolve.

  Jill yelled happily through the phone. “That’s what I’m talking about, girl! Ever since I’ve known you, all you’ve done is work like a dog. You’re so concerned with everyone else, with making them happy, with not inconveniencing them, that you forget that you need to take some time for yourself. You deserve happiness, too, you know.”

  “I know,” Lily said, but she didn’t really believe it. She didn’t know why, but she never felt like she was meant for fairy tale kind of happiness. She knew she could achieve whatever she set her mind too. And she had no doubt that with her intelligence and perseverance, she would go far. But love? Like, head over heels, sweep you off your feet sort of love? Lily always thought that was for other people. But a vacation? She could handle that.

  “Thanks Jill,” she said to her friend. “I’ll keep you posted on what’s going on. In the meantime, can you swing by and water the plants while I’m gone?”

  Jill laughed at Lily’s request. She knew that Lily didn’t have any live plants. She might have been a master history buff, but a horticulturist she was definitely not.

  “You mean pick up the mail?” Jill asked, knowing that’s what her friend had meant.

  “Yeah, thanks. You’re the best. I’ll text you when I get wherever it is I’m going.”

  “Okay. And Lily? Remember to have fun. This isn’t an assignment. It’s a vacation.”

  Lily smiled and said goodbye to Jill. She put the phone down and gazed out at the Chicago night. The trees lining her street were shedding leaves quickly as the wind spun them wildly. She turned back to her apartment and went to her bedroom to pack. But what was she packing for? She didn’t even know where she was going? She figured she’d hope for the best – warm weather, maybe even tropical – and plan for the worst.

  She took her suitcase out of her closet and heaved it up on her bed. She unzipped it and stopped when she saw the card lying in the empty suitcase. Lily picked it up and looked at it. She hadn’t used the suitcase since she going home for her grandmother’s funeral the previous year.

  Lily’s grandmother Dora was her hero. She was an adventurer who had traveled the world and defied all female stereotypes of her time. Lily had been very close to her grandmother and Dora had spent many afternoons telling Lily wild stories about her travels. That was when Lily had felt the first twinges of wanting to get out of her small Missouri town. Grandma Dora introduced her to so many amazing sights, sounds and experiences through her stories. Lily wanted to experience it all.

  Dora had been an activist in the women’s lib movement of the 1960s. She went to rallies, protested against war and traveled the globe with the Peace Corps. She married a Vietnam vet and they had Lily’s mother, Betty. But that didn’t slow Dora down. She learned to fly a plane when she was in her forties and when Betty was grown and Dora’s husband had passed, she flew to Costa Rica and took up surfing. She lived a while there, returning for brief periods to Missouri to visit. It was during these visits over the years that she and Lily formed an untenable bond.

  When Lily left for college, Dora had just returned from three months in Africa. She didn’t know it at the time, but it was to be her last trip. While there, she had contracted a virus that progressively sapped her strength. Over the next few years, her health had declined. Lily had kept in touch with Dora while at school and in Chicago, but Alzheimer’s had set in and Dora was not always Dora. The last time the two had spoken had been a week before Dora died, just after Lily lost her job at the museum.

  “Now you listen here,” Dora had said, a hint of her previous spark returning momentarily. “Don’t you let this get you down. It’s a setback, just a setback, you hear me?”

  “Yes, Gramma, I hear you.”

  “When I was getting my pilot’s license, I got delayed three times. Did I ever tell you that?”

  “Yes Gramma, you did,” Lily said politely, but that didn’t stop Dora.

  “Well, I’m gonna tell you again. The first time was when I was tending bar. I had a big event to go to and I was supposed to take my test the next day. I had to take a bus back from the event and the bus broke down. So I missed the test. The second time was when your mother got sick. I think it was right after you were born. She got the flu so bad and your daddy was on the road. So I had to come take care of you.”

  Lily swallowed hard. She had loved it when Dora told those stories. Even though she had been a baby when this occurred, she swore she could remember Dora taking care of her that time.

  Dora went on. “The third time, the third time they told me that I didn’t have enough flying hours. They just didn’t want a woman getting her pilot’s license. But I did have enough hours, I did take the test and I passed it!”

  Lily listened as Dora’s tone reverberated with excitement. She was so grateful to have Dora in her life, she was inspired by her.

  “Just keep your chin up, Peanut. And don’t ever stop living your life.”

  Those were the last words Dora had said on that phone call; the last that she ever spoke to Lily.

  Lily lifted the memorial card out of the suitcase and looked at it. The front held a picture of Dora in her mid-fifties, standing next to her bi-plane. On the back of the card was a copy of her obituary, which read like an action adventure story.

  “Don’t ever stop living your life…” Lily said out loud as she took the card and placed it on her nightstand. “Don’t you worry, Gr
amma, I won’t.”

  Without further ado, Lily turned around, went to her dresser and started packing.

  SIX

  The Hotel Arcadia was one of Chicago’s oldest landmarks. Built in the 1920s the building boasted neo-Greek architecture with touches of modern. The two marble columns that flanked the entrance of the five story building gave it a distinguished air. A royal blue carpet ran up the two steps and along the sidewalk in front of the hotel. Glass sliding doors had replaced the large wooden doors decades before, but the lobby had been maintained in nearly its original condition.

  Lily arrived at 7:30 wearing her best pair of slacks, a silk blouse and a wool blazer. The weather was sunny but brisk, a perfect fall day in Chicago. She had her long brown hair pulled back tight and away from her high cheekbones. She walked into the lobby, rolling her suitcase behind her, hoping none of the bellhops would ask if she needed assistance. Once inside, she found a seat in the café just off the lobby and ordered a coffee.

  The server smiled politely and Lily purposefully smiled back and thanked the young girl. She knew what it was like to deal with snooty customers, and at this hotel, the server probably had to deal with many.

  She wrapped her chilled fingers around the cup and brought the steaming coffee to her lips. She blew on it and then sipped, letting the dark brew warm her insides as she closed her eyes and listened to the quiet morning chatter around her.

  Lily checked her belongings again, making sure she had her phone, her wallet and her keys. She had forced herself to leave her laptop at home. She knew she was unemployed and really needed to find work, but she had promised Jill, and Dora, that she would enjoy this time away for what it was: a vacation. Once she had resigned herself to that fact, she had actually started feeling excited.

  When Lily was packing, she had reached deep in her closet and dug out some sexy clothing she hadn’t worn in a long time. She pulled out a silk nightgown, a skimpy bathing suit and a few other simple pieces that revealed just enough without being too risqué. She had no idea what would happen with Khaled, but she knew there was something between them and she was getting excited about finding out just what that something was.

  The server came by and asked Lily if she would be having breakfast.

  “No, thank you. I’m waiting for a ride.”

  “Okay. Can I give the front desk your name so if when your ride shows up they will know where to find you?”

  “Sure,” Lily said, smiling. Then she remembered the name she had told Khaled. “Miss Lily Bailey, Lillian Bailey,” she corrected herself, trying to sound more formal.

  The server smiled politely and then disappeared, leaving Lily to her coffee and her thoughts. She wondered what it would be like spending time with Khaled. In her role as Junior Curator, she had met with several people of royal lineage, but it was always very professional and for business only. This was different. This was definitely not business.

  “Miss Bailey?” the server’s polite voice returned. “Your car is here. Can I help you with your bag?”

  “Oh, no thank—” Lily stopped herself. How would royalty act in a situation like this? Royalty certainly didn’t wheel their own bags to the car, and Khaled thought she was royalty, so she better start acting like it.

  “Yes, thank you,” she said, smiling uncomfortably. The server was not much younger than she was and Lily was honored that she was treating her so nicely. I guess this is how royalty must feel, she thought as she giggled to herself.

  Lily followed the server into the lobby where she handed the bag to a man in a black suit and black driver’s hat.

  “Lady Lillian Bailey?” the driver asked holding out his white gloved hand.

  “Yes, that’s me.”

  “My pleasure to make your acquaintance. His highness the Sheikh is waiting for your outside. Is there anything else I can do for you, m’lady?”

  Lillian looked around and wondered if anyone was staring at her. She felt like a princess. She blushed slightly and smiled back at the driver.

  “No, no thank you, uh…”

  “You can call me Jesper, m’lady.”

  “Thank you Jesper, that will be all.”

  Lily was proud at herself for her royal behavior. She smiled and walked past him, through the sliding doors and stopped as soon as her feet hit the blue carpet. She stopped so abruptly that Jesper almost ran right into her.

  “Is everything alright, m’lady?” Jesper asked from his place by her side.

  Lily stood frozen, looking at the limousine. It was magnificent. She knew Khaled was sending a car. But a limo? She looked at Jesper and saw something in his eye. Oh no, she thought. Act cool. Act like royalty.

  “No, everything is fine. It’s just…” she didn’t know how to get out of this.

  “His highness is waiting for us at the airport,” Jesper said, helping her out of her sticky situation.

  “Oh, of course. That’s perfect,” said Lily as she slid into the soft leather seat of the limousine.

  Jesper gave her a nod and closed the door. She heard him put her luggage in the trunk and then get into the driver’s seat. An intercom came on and his voice came over it.

  “We should be there in just about thirty minutes. Is there anything I can get you in the meantime, m’lady?”

  Lillian scanned the contents of the limousine. Seats ran the length of the interior and a bar sat on one side. There was a silver coffee service with fresh pastries laid out on a small table jutting out of the side of the bar. A glass pitcher of orange juice stood next to that, along with a selection of magazines and books.

  “No, thank you. I’m fine,” she said, trying to act the part.

  “Very well, then.” Jesper’s voice went out and the intercom went silent.

  Lily looked around at the controls and found the one for the window. She cracked it just enough to see out of it and watched the city roll by as she sat back and ate her croissant.

  The limo pulled up to the tarmac and stopped just outside of the boarding area for the small private jet. Lilly had watched the airport come into view, but hadn’t seen the jet yet.

  Jesper brought the car to a stop, ran to the back and opened Lily’s door. She smiled politely and placed her coffee cup down. After straightening her hair and her blouse, she slid across the wide seat, took Jesper’s hand and stepped out of the limousine. She walked around the front of the car and then suddenly stopped short.

  Lily’s eyes were frozen on the sight in front of her. She had never been this close to a private jet before, and this one was sleeker than any she had ever seen, even in movies. Standing by the stairs was a very casually-dressed Khaled, his hair neatly combed back and his face brimming with a smile. In his hand he held a bouquet of fresh cut flowers.

  “Lilies for Lily,” he said as he walked over to greet her. He bent in and kissed her delicately on the cheek, inhaling her perfume as he did. He felt a tingle run up his spine. He wanted to take her in his arms right there on the tarmac, but he knew better than that. The paparazzi were everywhere, even at private airstrips, just waiting for him to do something brash.

  Lily tried to keep her balance as she felt Khaled’s warm, delicious breath on her cheek. She smiled back and held onto his arm as he escorted her up the stairs and into the belly of his family’s private jet.

  Oh my gosh, Lily thought. This was really happening. It was one thing to get caught up in a kiss at a ball. But this? This was a Sheikh for God’s sake, picking her up in jet to take her off to, to, she didn’t even know where! She felt her stomach flip-flop and wasn’t sure if it was nerves about the wealth that surrounded her or if it was from being so close to Khaled again.

  “I’m so glad you could make it,” Khaled said with a smile as he escorted her into the main room.

  Lily smiled up at him, noticing again how incredibly handsome he was. Was his hair thicker, his smile brighter in the daylight? She couldn’t be sure.

  Khaled smiled back at her and placed his hand on
the small of her back as he showed her to a seat.

  Lily tried not to look impressed, but thought she must be failing miserably. She tried to focus on Khaled and not notice the glitz and gold surrounding her. Every inch of the plane oozed money. There were flat screen televisions, fine crystal, marble, gold, even platinum decorations and accents. She wanted to open her mouth and scream, “Wow!” But she knew she couldn’t or she would blow her cover.

  “Are you okay?” Khaled asked, sensing something was off.

  “Yeah, I just get the jitters when I fly,” she lied.

  “Oh really? That must be awful. I assume you have to fly all the time. How do you handle it?”

  Realizing the mistake she had made, Lily thought quickly. “I usually take something to settle my nerves. But this time, I have your company to do that for me.”

  Yeah, she thought. That was good. And she meant it. Even though she was astounded at her surroundings, she also did get jittery on planes. At least she had the two times she'd ever flown.

  Khaled’s face melted into a wide grin. This woman knew exactly what to say, he thought. It was amazing how much they clicked. And how attracted he was to her. He couldn’t take his eyes off her face. She had worn her hair down the night before and even though it looked gorgeous, it had hidden parts of her that he could now see.

  His eyes wandered along the sharp line of her jaw and down her long slender neck, stopping at the bit of collarbone that was revealed in the neckline of her blouse. Khaled felt a stirring in his stomach and knew that he had to take it slow. He wanted to kiss Lily again, in fact, he wanted to do so much more. But there was something telling him to take it slow and get to know her. And now that she had agreed to go away with him, he would have the opportunity to do that.

  Khaled and Lily buckled into their seats as the jet took off.

  “So, where are we going?” asked Lily.

  “To one of my family’s estates in the Bahamas. It’s on an island that they’ve owned for nearly a hundred years. In fact, funny story there. My great-great-great grandfather won the island in a sword fight, believe it or not.”

  “A sword fight? You’re kidding me,” Lily said, laughing at the thought of it. But she knew it was the truth. In her ancient history studies, she had learned much about the battle customs of many different civilizations and cultures. Sword fights and duels were actually still a big part of Middle-Eastern tradition.

  Khaled shook his head and put his coffee down. “It’s the truth. He was fighting a man who owned the island and whose ancestors had built a palace there. The man had stolen treasures from my great-great-great grandfather that they had jointly discovered in the Caribbean. When they got in the fight and my family won, my ancestor went to collect the debt only to find it had been squandered. The only thing the family had to offer was the island and palace on it. So it's been in our family ever since.”

  Lily smiled, listening to Khaled recount the story that she knew so well. It was actually one that she had read about during her undergraduate studies and it had stuck with her for some reason. And now, here she was, on her way to spend time in that same historical palace. Her brain started to spin with all of the artifacts and treasures that must be held there. If her memory served her correctly, the palace had never been open to the public. A new wave of excitement washed over her as she thought of all the wonderful things she was soon to discover.

  The Sheikh’s Make-Believe Fiancée is available now

  Other books by Holly Rayner:

  Sheikhs and Princes:

  Bought By The Sheikh

  Stealing From The Sheikh

  The Sheikh’s Captive Woman

  Marrying The Sheikh

  The Sheikh’s Make-Believe Fiancee

  The Sheikh’s Accidental Bride

  Merry Christmas Romance:

  The Billionaire’s First Christmas

  The Sheikh’s First Christmas

  European Billionaire Romance:

  An Heir For Alexandros: The Greek Billionaire’s Baby

  A Baby For Kristos: The Greek Billionaire’s Surprise

 
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