The sheikhs twin baby su.., p.3
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       The Sheikh's Twin Baby Surprise, p.3

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

  The ride back to the palace was tense and uncomfortable. Exhausted by the emotion of it, I tried to pass the time staring out the window, watching the glittering, faraway desert dunes on the outskirts of the city. Under the moonlight, they shone like beautiful mountains of white diamonds.

  Omar and his brother had been shocked by their mother’s decree. Mirah had spent the rest of the evening mingling with her birthday guests, while Sajid had swept up his wife and daughters before the family left early in their limo. Omar had tried to enjoy himself, but I could tell he was deeply rattled by the row, stuck in his own mind. Jada must have noticed it, too; she wasn’t as cheerful as she had been, and seemed resentful of the fact that Omar was no longer fawning over her.

  Her disappointment only seemed to increase when the motorcade stopped to drop her outside her penthouse apartment. Perhaps she had been expecting an invitation back to the Sheikh’s palace—or his bedroom; I have to admit that I felt a rush of schadenfreude at the forlorn expression on her face.

  Omar followed Jada out of the limo and Rafiq and I waited in awkward silence as he escorted her back up to her penthouse. When Omar returned, all pretense of happiness had dropped from his face. He was angry. I heard it in his voice when he told Abdul to drive on.

  I stared at Omar as he gazed out the window, deep in thought. I wanted desperately to comfort him. But I couldn’t quite bring myself to move to sit next to him.

  Truthfully, I needed to be comforted myself. As a trauma doctor, being in tense situations was nothing new, but there was something vastly different about a royal family in the middle of a heated succession problem. Queen Mirah’s proclamation only made things more urgent for Omar. Sajid already had a wife, and was probably trying to produce his male heir as we sat in the limo. Omar had much more work ahead of him, and now his clock was ticking even faster.

  I wasn’t sure I could stand to be here for the day he introduced me to a beautiful woman who was pregnant with his child. As his physician, I would become her doctor, too. I would be responsible for her health, and for ensuring the health of the heir of Al-Thakri. I would have to smile while I watched the man I loved create life with some other woman.

  I glanced over at Omar, who was too busy in his own thoughts to notice me looking. My heart broke as I realized that I didn’t have the strength to do it; I couldn’t stay there, loving him from afar. I had to quit. I had to leave this place before the heartache of it killed me.

  I spend the rest of the limo ride trying to hold back my tears. Like some prophet, Rafiq gave me glances that said he could tell what was going on beneath the surface, but I ignored him.

  The motorcade passed the palace gates and wound up the asphalt roads to the rear of the palace. The place was ancient, built long before cars existed, and there was no driveway to take us to the front. Constructing one would have ruined the gorgeous beauty of the symmetrical front walk, dotted with palm trees, water features, and gorgeous blooming flowers. The modern features had been built behind the palace, so the ancient façade could obscure the modern necessities.

  Omar stepped out first, with Rafiq following behind. As I stepped out into the semi-darkness, a strong hand was offered to me. I looked up to see Omar waiting next to the limo door with a soft smile on his face, the first I’d glimpsed since his mother had made her announcement.

  I returned it shyly and accepted his hand, feeling the electric shock in my heart that I felt whenever we touched.

  “Well,” Omar said, offering his arm to me as the valet closed the limo door. “That evening did not turn out as I expected.”

  I took his arm gently and he walked us under the stone canopy towards the door. For a moment, I felt like I could be his queen.

  “I don’t know, most birthday parties I go to end with an enormous, life-changing decree.”

  Omar laughed in relief. It felt good to see him laugh. His whole face lit up when he did. “It sounds like your customs must be even stranger than ours.”

  “Just more dramatic,” I replied teasingly. “And that’s saying a lot.” I pointed to the giant, gilded statues of sphinxes, erected by Omar’s ancestors, guarding the palace doors, and he laughed again.

  “Mother is usually very even-handed, but I think she’s reached the end of her patience,” he sighed.

  “Seems that way,” I agreed. “I can’t really blame her, though. Ruling a country must be hard even when you’ve always expected to end up doing it—I can’t imagine being thrust into power the way she’s been.”

  “It has been hard on her. All the more reason it’s important that this heir situation gets remedied, and quickly.”

  Talk of Omar’s heir made me clam up, suddenly uncomfortable. He must have noticed, because he looked at me curiously for a moment before he spoke again. “It’s been a funny old night. How would you feel about a nightcap?”

  I wanted to say no. I wanted to return to my private suite and end the evening alone, probably crying in my giant bathtub as I figured out how to pen my resignation letter. But I couldn’t resist spending time with him, even if it hurt.

  The palace hallways were quiet, most of the staff having gone home or retreated to their own quarters for the night. Only the night guards were alert, positioned evenly throughout the hallways and at the entrances, politely ignoring us as we sauntered slowly by.

  Omar led us to his library, one of my favorite rooms, where the walls were two stories high and one had to use a ladder to get to the topmost books on the shelves. He poured us both a glass of brandy from the collection of bottles at the bar in the corner.

  “Cheers,” he said and clinked my glass.

  “Cheers.” I smiled back and took a sip, feeling the warmth melting down my throat.

  After a few moments of silence, Omar asked me, “You seem lost in your thoughts tonight, Carrie. Is everything all right?”

  The question startled me and I cleared my throat. “Lost is about right. I just have a lot on my mind, I guess.”

  “May I ask what?”

  I gave a nervous little laugh. “Don’t you have enough on your plate without worrying about my problems?”

  “You’re my trusted doctor, and you live in my palace. Your problems are my problems.”

  I blushed. He never said things like that to the other staff members, even though I know he did care about them. Unlike the rumors and stories everyone has heard about how powerful people treat the people who work for them, I hadn’t experienced anything like that in Al-Thakri. The Sheikh treated everyone with respect, and never yelled even when he was angry.

  It was just that he seemed to treat me a little differently; he paid me just a bit more attention than anyone else—something that made my heart flutter to think about. I tried to tell myself it was nothing, but my heart wouldn’t listen.

  I stalled with another sip of brandy. “I don’t know… I’ve just been thinking a lot, lately… about my place here.”

  Omar frowned, his face darkening. He stepped closer to me. “What do you mean? Are you not happy with your quarters, or your salary? You know you can discuss those things with me if something is bothering you.”

  “No, no, it’s not that,” I answered, shaking my head. “My room is a palace unto itself, and the pay is incredible. I just…” My words faded out as I scrambled for a believable excuse. This wasn’t the way I intended on delivering the news, but the words rose in my throat before I could do anything to stop them. “I think I need to resign,” I blurted out. “I’m not… I’m not sure I can stay here and be your physician anymore.”

  The look on Omar’s face broke my heart, as much as it took me by surprise. His shoulders slumped. “Carrie, is this true? You want to leave me?”

  I sighed. “It’s… it’s not that. I’m just not sure I’m cut out for this. It’s been six months, and I still don’t feel any more… comfortable. I’m a trauma physician; my place is somewhere more violent and desperate than between your palace walls. Besides, it’s not like
you really need a doctor around you all the time. You never get sick or hurt. To be honest, I feel like I’m withering away here.”

  “But what happens if I do need you by my side one day? Anything could happen. My father’s heart attack hit him suddenly, even with his healthy diet and lifestyle. Who will be here to help me if you leave?”

  “You can hire another doctor,” I said, laughing hollowly. “There are hundreds of qualified applicants, probably many of them already in your country. There has to be someone who would better enjoy this quiet life than me.” Someone who is not steadily falling in love with her employer and threatening to ruin her whole life over it.

  Omar fell silent. He moved away from me and collapsed tiredly into one of the brown leather reading chairs, downing his brandy in one big gulp.

  The silence grew between us and made the tension in my chest even worse. Did he want me to leave the room? Did this mean my employment was officially over? I stood there, frozen like a statue, waiting for him to react.

  Omar took a deep breath and finally spoke, but the words that came out of his mouth were not those I expected to hear. “What if I made you a different offer?”

  I blinked. “A different offer? Like what, more money? As I said, the pay is more than generous… It’s more that I just want to feel like I’m actually needed for something. Like I have a purpose. I have skills I’m not using here.”

  Omar rubbed his lips, as if he were nervous—something I’d only seen him do once or twice. He was not a man who got nervous very often.

  When he looked up at me, there was emotion in his eyes that was crushing and heavy. “Well, allow me to explain, and maybe there will be purpose enough in this offer for you. Though I ask you to keep the details of this conversation between us.”

  “Certainly.”

  He took another deep breath before continuing. “You may have noticed that my attempts at finding a wife have been… less than successful lately.”

  All the air seemed sucked out of the room as I listened to the Sheikh speak. “I… I have, yes.”

  “And my mother’s decree this evening has made the situation even more urgent for me, wouldn’t you agree?”

  “I would agree.”

  He sighed and got up to pour another glass of brandy. After taking a sip, he continued. “Carrie, I don’t know how else to do this, so I’m just going to come out with it: how would you feel about carrying an heir for me, to assure my ascension to the throne?”

  The glass in my hand slipped to the floor, spilling what was left of the brandy all over the intricate carpet. Neither of us seemed to notice, as we stared at each other in tense anticipation.

  “What?” I finally said, breathless. “You want… you want me to give you a child?”

  “That’s correct,” he said. “If my mother needs me or Sajid to produce a male heir before she can step down from the throne with peace of mind, then I need to give her one in order to take it. I can’t waste any more time with these socialites; my brother already has the significant advantage of having a wife, so I really cannot hesitate.”

  “Sure, I understand your urgency. I can even understand you coming up with this as a solution to the problem. But why me? Why not ask Jada, or any of them? They would surely leap at the chance to carry your heir.” There was bitterness in my voice, but I didn’t care to hide it anymore. I’d just quit my job; it was time for honesty—on some topics, at least.

  Omar shook his head impatiently. “Because I don’t love Jada, or any of them, Carrie. I’m not going to force a relationship just to produce a child. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I did, and I do not want any son of mine to grow up thinking he was simply created as a tool to get power.”

  My throat tightened up. I was trying very hard not to hear the unspoken implication in the Sheikh’s words. Instead, I asked again, “But why me? Why should it be me to give you an heir?”

  “I trust you,” he said simply. “You’ve become important to me as we’ve gotten to know each other these past few months. You have a beautiful and kind disposition that I believe would benefit any child, especially one who will one day become a king. You are intelligent, thoughtful, and hard-working, and you truly care about people; what other qualities would better suit an eventual heir to a kingdom?”

  I turned red at the bombardment of compliments. For months, I had been dreaming about hearing him talk to me like this; finally hearing it was almost unbelievable.

  Omar continued, “I would pay you, of course, for this ultimate labor—enough to wipe out any debts you may still have and keep you salaried for the rest of your life. I understand this is an incredible request to make of any you, to ask you to give up your bodily autonomy and produce a life, but I assure you I have every intent of making sure you are adequately compensated, in any way you should request.”

  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Blood rushed in my ears like the sound of the raging ocean, fast as the thoughts that swarmed my shocked mind.

  Finally, I had to let out a deep breath. “I’m sorry, this is just all so unbelievable. I have nothing but questions in my head. What if it doesn’t work? What if I have a girl? What if your family won’t accept a child born of me?”

  He walked towards me slowly, standing in front of me with his glass of brandy, hope written on his handsome face. “Your payment would not change. And you would be under no obligation to try again for a boy. I’m only asking for one chance to produce the heir I need to take the throne; one chance with someone I trust and care for. My family will not be a problem. The constitution states clearly that the child must simply be my heir. The writers of the ancient world did not make any emphasis on who the mother should be. My seed is enough to ensure they will not bother you.”

  My heart was pounding. I couldn’t process my emotions fast enough, despite the eagerness on Omar’s face as he waited for my answer.

  “Carrie?” he asked after a few moments of my panicked silence. “What do you say? Will you help me?”

  Finally, in a tight voice, I replied. “This isn’t the conversation I expected to have with you tonight.”

  “Nor I,” admitted Omar. “But it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a few weeks now.”

  “A few weeks?” The thought of Omar considering me as the mother of his child without me even knowing made me weak in the knees. “Did you know your mother was going to make the decree tonight?”

  “No, of course not. But with every failed relationship I’ve endured in the past few months, it has dawned on me that there was no reason to force myself to be with a woman I do not love, just for the sake of producing an heir; modern science has freed us from such problems. Then the question simply became: with whom would I want to create a child, one that could grow up to rule the nation I love? And, well… the answer was very clearly you.”

  I shook my head, feeling the long tendrils of my hair which were beginning to escape the upsweep on top of my head. The Sheikh’s words were shaking me down to my soul, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. He had no idea how I felt about him, and no idea of the true significance of what he was asking of me.

  “I’m sorry, I can’t give you an answer yet. My head is swimming right now, Your Highness.”

  “Hey, enough of that,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I told you a long time ago you don’t need to use such titles with me in private.”

  “Still,” I replied. “I can’t give you an answer right this second. This is all too much, too fast. I mean, hell, I was ready to leave this job ten minutes ago, and now you’re asking me to have your child. Until right now, I was of the mind that having children was an adventure I was never going to have.”

  He frowned. “Why do you say that?”

  I shrugged, suddenly self-conscious at blurting out such private information. “I don’t know. The lifestyle of a globetrotting trauma doctor isn’t exactly conducive to raising children. I just figured I had to pick between the two, and I
made my choice when I entered med school.”

  There was sadness on his face. “Well, I’m sorry to hear that you thought that, Carrie, but it seems now that fate has presented you with the option to do both.”

  “Sort of,” I retorted. “The child wouldn’t be coming with me, though. He would stay here with you; I would basically be a surrogate.”

  He opened his mouth to answer, but seemed to think better of his response, and hesitated. “I suppose… I suppose that’s true, yes.” He cleared his throat uncomfortably.

  “That’s a totally different ball game. I’m just going to need time to think about this, okay?” I took a few steps forward. “I’m flattered, I really am. I just have to think about this. It won’t do either of us any good if I agree to this and end up miserable.”

  He stared deep into my eyes and shook his head. “Of course, Carrie. It would kill me if I made you unhappy. You’re under no pressure to accept my offer unless you really feel that you want to do this.”

  I gave him a tight smile even as his words touched my heart. “Then I need some time to think, please.”

  The Sheikh nodded gravely. “I understand. Please let me know as soon as possible whether you are staying to help… or leaving.”

  I swallowed against a tight throat and nodded back to him. Too shocked to say anything else, I simply bowed my head a little and turned, hurrying out of the library and down the palace hallways.

  By the time I rounded the corner near my private suite, I was practically running like Cinderella trying to catch her pumpkin before midnight struck, hot tears streaming down my face.

 
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