The sheikhs twin baby su.., p.25
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       The Sheikh's Twin Baby Surprise, p.25

         Part #1 of The Sheikh's Baby Surprise series by Holly Rayner
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SEVEN

  A servant led her to the room where the Sheikh was waiting. He looked up when she entered, and shot her a long, lingering look. He didn’t seem surprised to see that Zach wasn’t with her.

  The room they were in now had not been an interior part of the original castle. It must have been the top of a rampart, Lucie surmised. She could see how part of the wall had been blown away—probably in battle, if she had to guess.

  The area had been transformed into a sitting room by encasing it in glass, and adding a huge fireplace in one corner. A fire crackled in it, now, with a glow just low enough so as not to encumber the view of the stars.

  Lucie could see out across the desert from here, and the whole of the perfect, star-laden night sky. It was breathtaking, and again made her conscious that she was, in a very real way, in the middle of nowhere.

  “For a man that’s in love with the past,” she said, “you sure seem to have a love for the modern, as well.”

  He smiled at that. “I try not to limit myself.”

  There was no furniture, and the room was empty save for the fire, a few floor cushions, the bottle of alcohol, and the two of them. The tiled floor was covered by a thick, luxurious rug, alive with bright and intricate patterning.

  Lucie slipped off her shoes. The carpet was a piece of art, and subjecting it to shoes seemed wrong. Something about the combination of her bare feet and the slinkiness of the dress made her move with delicate, smooth movements. She felt like a dancer. She felt like the room, and the night, and the man before her had somehow transformed her into the kind of graceful, sophisticated lady that her life had never led her towards becoming.

  As she settled down next to the Sheikh, she felt like the stars were settling in around her. It was the strangest combination; feeling exposed to the night air, while still being cozy with the cushions, the soft rug and the warm fire.

  “I’m sorry about Zach,” Lucie said. She didn’t pass along his excuse about jet lag, feeling it would be disrespectful to be so blatantly dishonest. “I find it hard to understand the way he acts sometimes—we come from very different places.”

  “As do you and I.”

  He left it at that, and poured her a glass of the alcohol Zach had been so fond of. With the liquor in her glass, Lucie could see it had a faint murkiness to it that she hadn’t noticed before.

  She took a sip, and grimaced at its strength, making Abdul laugh in surprise.

  “I thought you’d be a bit of a drinker. I don’t know why.”

  She rolled her eyes dramatically. “You all think the underclasses just have to drink to make it through the day, don’t you?”

  Somehow, the booze seemed to have attacked her inhibitions right on. She was playfully joking with a ruler, who before she’d been almost afraid to directly address.

  She took another sip, this time expecting the hit.

  “Is that honey I can taste?” she asked, and the Sheikh nodded. “Is this what I think it is?”

  His smile was wider, now that it didn’t have to be hidden. “That depends entirely on what you think it is.”

  She took another sip, again grimacing at the burn, trying to see past it.

  “I thought they stopped making this years ago.”

  He topped up her glass as he replied. “Centuries. I’m trying to revive the practice, actually.”

  Lucie could feel a tension releasing in her shoulders that she hadn’t even realized was there. She leaned back a little on the plush cushion she’d selected as her seat.

  “Well, Zach certainly approves.”

  She regretted bringing Zach back up again. She wanted to forget him, and focus on enjoying her time with the Sheikh. She hoped Abdul would just ignore the reference and move on, but she had no such luck.

  “Tell me, are the two of you together?”

  Lucie didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at that.

  “We’re travelling together,” she answered flatly.

  “And nothing more?”

  She shot the Sheikh a look that she hoped conveyed the disgust she felt at the thought of dating Zach.

  He laughed. “Well, it certainly seems like he wants to be.”

  “I’m not in charge of what he wants,” she replied. “And besides, I’m too busy to date anyone at the moment. Far too stressed.”

  She didn’t know why she’d said that. She wished she could fish the words back in from the air. She didn’t like how they sounded; like she was somehow above the idea of romance.

  Maybe that was why she’d said it in the first place. Maybe she wanted to feel a little less intimidated by the Sheikh, and the rowdy menagerie of emotions he was calling forth in her. But she couldn’t take her words back. The best she could do was hope for a distraction.

  To that end, she tipped her glass of honey liquor up and took a large swig—unprepared for when the strong taste of it, and the burn at the back of her throat, multiplied exponentially.

  She coughed and the Sheikh laughed, reaching his hand out to help, even as she waved off his concern.

  “So, Lucie,” he said when they had both quieted down, as though opening up a new chapter between them. “You clearly don’t spend your time drinking. I feel a little misled; the movies always say that American students do nothing else.”

  Lucie giggled, the alcohol having gotten to her now. “Well, that’s on you for believing what you see in the movies instead of asking the real article.”

  He raised his eyebrows. “Well then, real article: if you don’t date and you don’t drink, what do you do?”

  Lucie sighed, trying to come up with something more interesting than the truth, and failing. “I study. And then I write about what I studied. And then I study what I want to write.”

  He sipped his honey liquor slowly, savoring the taste. “Sounds like a vicious cycle,” he said.

  “Maybe not vicious, but it is a busy one.”

  They sat for a time in silence, Lucie ruing the moment she’d admitted that her work was all there was to her. Her study had always been enough for her in the past, but now she was sitting here, desperately wishing for something she could say to sound worldly or impressive, she wished that it hadn’t been.

  “That sounds like a very productive way to live,” the Sheikh said at last.

  Lucie had a hard time telling if there was any concealed condescension in his words. There didn’t seem to be. He seemed only to be kind, but it seemed wrong, to Lucie, that he should be so accepting.

  Up until now, she’d been noticing the effects of the liquor on herself, but hadn’t been too bothered by them. Now she felt the fuzziness setting into her brain, and she began doubting herself.

  “It’s what got me here,” she said, defending herself even though there’d been no accusation.

  She watched the Sheikh’s face carefully. There was a pang of sadness, she thought, at his being misunderstood. She immediately regretted her words.

  “Of course it did,” he said gently. “And it’s hugely impressive, what you’ve done so far; the conclusions you’ve come to with so little to work from.”

  No, she’d read it wrong. It wasn’t just pain at being misunderstood. There was more to it.

  “I try. I love this country. I know it isn’t mine, and I’m not trying… I’m not trying to presume anything. I just…”

  He cut her off, and she was glad he did.

  “And you should have had more information. What I’m doing… what I’ve been doing for the past few years should have been done a decade ago.”

  “And why wasn’t it?”

  It was a bold thing to say, but it was an honest question, and the liquor seemed to have reached her courage.

  “I should have talked to my father. I should have insisted, and told him that it was important.”

  “Do you think he would have listened?”

  He paused here, and drank more.

  “I don’t know. In some ways, I knew him very well. He was a good listener, and he always helped m
e whenever he could. But in others…” He shook his head. “It’s different. It’s different when you are more than yourself. He had to be a king. When my mother and sister died, he didn’t grieve. He had to show the country that they could go on. But no one ever told him that he could.”

  She wanted to reach out to him. The man she’d seen in the car, and the man that she’d seen in the recorded televised speeches he’d given about the program she’d been accepted to and the general movement towards openness that he was moving his country toward was very different than the man in front of her.

  And yet, they were somehow still the same. He had that same kind of confident vulnerability. He had an honesty to him that she could always sense, even when he was speaking about entirely unrelated things. It was like he carried that honesty, and that caring to everything he did.

  And now that he was talking about the heart of it, she felt as though she were approaching something unquestioningly precious.

  But then he drew back from the edge.

  “I’ve been trying to make up for lost time, and hopefully I didn’t wait too long to do so. Anyway, I hope that the weather will not be such a problem that you will still have good things to say about your time here.”

  She would, Lucie thought. She knew that already. Even if she never even got to see the site, other than the quick look she’d gotten earlier.

  They talked on into the night. Once she got used to it, Lucie found that the honey liquor wasn’t as hard to handle as it had seemed at first. It came on strong, and made her feel brave.

  They talked about her work again; it was the easiest thing to talk about, even though it wasn’t what she most wanted to discuss with the Sheikh.

  And he seemed to want to listen. He listened as she talked about the dinosaur book she had had when she was a child, and how convinced she was that she was going to be the first to design a dinosaur saddle.

  She talked about how ashamed she’d been when she’d found out that this was impossible, and how upset she had been with her parents for indulging the whole thing. It was only when she got to college that she’d realized her parents probably hadn’t done it on purpose.

  She’d never told any of this to her classmates, or to any of the dates she’d had. Even the few guys that she had dated for a few months, she’d never dared mention it to. There was still something about it that embarrassed her, and yet she felt comfortable telling this man, this leader, that she’d only really just met.

  She didn’t know whether she was embarrassed about that story because it showed that she had been so passionate about history from such a young age. It had always felt like she tried a little bit too hard, and that anyone who was listening to her would write her off as being obsessed.

  And if it weren’t that, then they would look down on her parents. They would judge where she had come from. Not her for coming from there, exactly, but the place itself. There was always this unspoken assumption, whenever she talked about her hometown, that she must be glad that she was out of it.

  But in Abdul’s eyes, as she told him about all of this, she found no judgment. When she talked about her passions, there was a sense of recognition. And when she was done talking, he told her about his own passions as a child, and his own foolish mistakes and grand ambitions.

  And when she talked about her parents, and how she had realized much later on what they probably did and did not know, he only nodded. He didn’t expect her to judge them anymore than he could judge his own father for the choices he had made.

  “Yes,” he said. “So much of life, when you’re young, is trying to prove your parents wrong. Finding out that they’re capable of being wrong seems like it should be a victory. But I’ve been learning more and more, these last few years, that it isn’t.”

  There it was again, that vulnerability. He had this great big wall of secrecy around him, and it was taunting her. The Sheikh was confident and imposing, in so many ways, and yet there was this pain at the core of him that she could see him wanting to share with her, if only she could persuade him she was worth sharing it with.

  As they eased gently toward the topic of his father, she felt as though he were letting her closer and closer to that place. She was certain they were just about to start speaking about him, when Abdul stood up, as though he had remembered something.

  “I have something to show you,” he said, with a distant look about him.

  The Sheikh’s American Baby is available now.

  As another free teaser, take a look at the first few chapters of my best-selling romance, Hassan: The Bad Boy Sheikh’s Baby…

  ONE

 
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