The sheikhs twin baby su.., p.5
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       The Sheikh's Twin Baby Surprise, p.5

         Part #1 of The Sheikh's Baby Surprise series by Holly Rayner
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  I tossed and turned between the sheets of my borrowed palace bed for most of the night. Come morning, the sun rose with an orange heat over the desert horizon, and the soft sounds of songbirds in the palace garden floated in on the same breeze that gently shook the curtains of my open windows. The land around the palace was a peaceful place, far from the city center and the noise of the freeways and airports, and the only sounds that greeted me each morning were natural and beautiful.

  I couldn’t help thinking that a child waking up in this place every morning would be one lucky child. He would be safe; he would be loved. And, one day, he would be in a place of power where he could, in turn, help a lot of other people.

  If what I wanted to do was make a difference in the world, having a child who would one day rule a country would certainly do that.

  Even though there was heaviness in my heart at the prospect, I knew then what I needed to do. My decision could provide future security for all of us—myself, Omar, and our child. Saying no would rob us all.

  Thinking I should clean myself up from the rough night of sleep, I moved from the bed to the enormous, marbled bathroom. I gave my face a gentle wash to get rid of the tear-stains and puffiness from lack of rest, and let down my hair from the upsweep it was still holding onto half-heartedly, brushing it out into gentle waves that framed my face. I stared back at the girl in the mirror and took a deep breath.

  I changed quickly into casual workout clothes; the palace had rules about ladies being seen in their nightdresses outside their chambers, and it was a custom I had adapted to after the first two times the guards yelled at me for it. Living out in the desert with Doctors Without Borders quickly stripped a person of any semblance of modesty and privacy—at least as far as the high-class world defined it.

  I stepped out into the hallway, which was still quiet. Soon, it would be bustling as the palace reacted to Queen Mirah’s decree, which would be announced publicly today.

  I had to see Omar before all hell broke loose.

  The guards near my room shifted stirred at the sight of me. I still hadn’t learned all their names, but the closest one today was a mountain of a man, a head taller than even Omar’s impressive stature, with shoulders twice as wide. He seemed surprised when I stopped in front of him.

  “Is the Sheikh awake yet?” I asked.

  He blinked a few times before nodding wordlessly.

  “Do you know where he is? He’s expecting to talk with me this morning.”

  The guard stared at me suspiciously. Then he looked down the hallway and spoke in Arabic into the tiny microphone implanted in the wrist of his suit jacket. He listened as someone answered him back in the speaker in his right ear. I could only hear the sound of a voice, but couldn’t make out what it was saying. The guard exchanged a few more words with whoever was on the other end, eyeballing me the whole time.

  “His Highness is taking breakfast in the east courtyard,” he said finally, in a booming voice. His English was very good, but his accent was heavy, and he took care pronouncing each word. “You may go to him.”

  I nodded and thanked the guard, turning around the other direction to head for the east courtyard.

  As per the traditions of many Middle-Eastern countries, the Sheikh’s palace was bursting with courtyards, arboretums, gardens and water features. In a land of dry desert, there was nothing more celebrated than water and nature.

  It was one of my favorite traditions of this place. Warmth spread throughout my body when I imagined my son enjoying them, learning about varieties of bright blooming plants and visiting tropical birds. He would giggle and squeal when he reached in the ponds and felt the slimy scales of a fish swim by his hand, or the futile paddling of the water turtles’ feet when he picked them up.

  Every step I took, I felt more and more like this was the right decision.

  The two guards at the entrance of the east courtyard barely gave me a sideways glance. I moved between them and out towards the soft morning sunshine that was just beginning to light up the palace walls. At a thick bronze-and-glass table setting, surrounded by plush trees, Omar sat with a tray of breakfast food and a pile of newspapers, catching up on what was happening in his kingdom.

  His cup was halfway to his lips when he looked over and saw me standing at the entrance. His eyes widened and he immediately put the cup down, spilling some coffee on the table in his hurry. He tossed the newspaper aside and stood up to greet me.

  He looked so dashing in his casual white linens, contrasting against the smooth glow of his bronze skin. The curls in his jet-black hair were still a little mussed from sleep; he clearly hadn’t met with his stylist yet. Judging by the puffiness around his deep brown eyes, he’d had as rough a night’s sleep as I had.

  The eagerness in his expression as I approached made my heart hurt. No matter when or how I did it, leaving Omar would be the most difficult thing I ever did.

  “Carrie,” he said. “Good morning. Did you sleep well?”

  I laughed softly. “No, of course not. Are you telling me you did?”

  He gave me a sweet half-smile and ran a hand through his hair. “No, not at all. I couldn’t stop thinking about you all night.” He cleared his throat and immediately corrected himself. “About your decision, I mean.”

  I nodded and licked my lips. My hands, as they always did when I was at my most nervous, began to fidget with each other. “Well, hopefully we can both sleep better tonight, because I think I’ve made my decision.”

  “You have?” he was surprised, and eagerly took a few steps forward. “What is it?”

  I smiled at him. “My answer is yes. I will give you an heir on the conditions you set.”

  Omar’s face lit up in a beaming smile. Instantly, the lines disappeared from the corners of his eyes, as if he were suddenly ten years younger. “This is wonderful, glorious news! I am thrilled, simply thrilled at this. You will not regret the decision, Carrie. I promise, I will ensure our son has everything he could ever need or want. He will grow up a compassionate and caring man, and a just ruler.”

  “I know you will take care of him,” I replied. “I’m not worried about that at all. I’ve seen you with your nieces and other children that come around. I know you’ll be a great father.”

  “Thank you for this gift. Thank you, my friend.”

  Omar stepped forward without warning and threw his arms around me in a tight embrace. It was the most we had ever touched in the six months I had known him, and I wasn’t prepared for it. I wrapped my arms around him in return, relishing the feeling of his warmth against me.

  It was only when one of the guards at the door cleared his throat that we realized how long the embrace had gone on for. Omar stepped away from me sheepishly, redness tinting his sharp cheekbones. He ran a hand through his hair again and gestured towards the table with the other.

  He waved at me first, then at one of the attendants waiting patiently near the doors, just out of earshot. “Please, sit. Let’s get you breakfast, and then we’ll talk about what happens next.”

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