The sheikhs accidental b.., p.5
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       The Sheikh's Accidental Bride, p.5
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         Part #2 of The Sheikh Wants A Wife series by Holly Rayner

  FIVE

  What she’d remember about that night, far and beyond everything else, was how precious every moment felt. It was all impossible; everything she was experiencing wasn’t hers. She was in this invisible bubble that would burst any moment, but until a bubble bursts, is there anything more peaceful?

  They lay on the sun loungers, looking up at the night sky. Summer in the city is miserable on the streets, but up on the roof…

  Nadya thought she could get used to the sound of his laugh. It was unique – and after only an hour she thought she could recognize that rising and falling pattern anywhere.

  And maybe she would, she thought. Maybe she’d hear it one day, from the other side of some barrier. Maybe she’d hear it floating up from the seats by the stage up to where she was seated in the nosebleeds.

  “What’s the matter, Nadya? You’ve gotten sad all of a sudden.”

  He touched her hand for the first time, grounding her in the present moment. The one where they were happy, and together. Nadya thought she’d best enjoy it while she could.

  “Nothing is the matter. Absolutely nothing at all.”

  “I’m glad,” he said. She’d spoken softly, and so did he. The quiet volume held them close to each other, though they were just far away enough so as not to be touching except for his hand on hers.

  “Do you really think that?” he asked, as though expecting her to read his mind and know what he meant. The expectation of that closeness – so close that she should know the very thoughts in his mind – delighted her.

  “Do I really think what?” She kept her voice low, so it could barely be heard over the distant din of the city, dampened by their dizzying height.

  “Do you really think this isn’t brave?”

  She turned her head, that had been directed towards him, and looked upwards instead at the stars. “I’m not sure,” she said. “I’ve never been able to decide whether it’s brave or stupid marrying anyone at all. I guess whichever one it is, marrying them without having met them is just more so.”

  “Foolish?” he asked. It wasn’t harsh, only questioning. But she didn’t answer, so he continued. “I suppose it’s all back to the same thing,” he said. “They’d never let go of you.”

  Again, he didn’t say it harshly, but Nadya still felt the sting of it.

  “I suppose you’re older,” she said. “Everyone you know is married. But there’s still hope for most of my friends.”

  Her attempt at humor felt hollow. Salman didn’t laugh, and she didn’t either.

  “Do you know many people that aren’t married?” she asked. She turned her face back towards him, and saw that he had never looked away.

  “One of my sisters isn’t,” he said. “But most of them are.”

  “And are they happy?” Nadya asked, not realizing until the words were out of her mouth that what she really wanted to know was if her own sister was happy. It was a question she’d never asked herself.

  “The ones that are, or the one that isn’t? Oh, I guess the answer is the same with either. They don’t tell me how they feel.”

  He seemed sad as he said it, and Nadya felt a stab of guilt, though she couldn’t put her finger on why.

  They turned the conversation to lighter topics. She asked him about his sisters, and he went on and on about them. He wasn’t a shy man with his emotions, she realized. It was refreshing, after the last man she’d dated, and of course, she made the mistake of telling Salman that, after which he wouldn’t let the subject go.

  “So then, I shouldn’t be jealous?” he asked, the tone in his voice making it clear that jealousy was the furthest thing from his mind.

  Nadya felt like she was being teased, but she wasn’t sure quite why. “He was a perfectly nice man,” she said, defensively.

  “Was?” he asked. “Did you kill him?”

  “Is!” she said. “Is! Well… probably is. I’m not exactly sure, but I heard from someone that he’s a bit more bitter, now.”

  “Oh!” he said, crowing as though he’d made a great discovery. “You ruined him! How does it feel, to know that a man is forever damaged because of you?”

  She was blushing. “Oh, stop!” she said, raising her voice over his gleeful one. “Let’s be real, he was probably a little damaged anyway.”

  “Well, I mean, everyone’s a little bit damaged, aren’t they?” he said. The wine seemed to be going to his head.

  “Yes, that’s very deep,” she said, teasing.

  “Oh, shut up.”

  Nadya smiled outwardly, though his words, said jokingly, stuck with her. The other Nadya had never come. But she would.

  Had she actually ruined everything?

  They talked and talked, making less and less sense with every hour, the way these things often go. The flight and the excitement of the day began to catch up to Nadya. Her eyelids began to droop, and real yawns, rather than put-on ones, began overtaking her.

  For Salman’s part, he didn’t look tired at all. It seemed to be more the wine and the spirit of the night taking his sense from him than the late hour. When she asked him about it, he feigned shame.

  “Ah, well, I was afraid you would find this out about me sooner or later. I am, and always have been, a night owl.”

  Nadya laughed the little giggle that only the very tired or the very drunk can manage. All tight, high knots in her chest coming unraveled one after the other and shaking her as they went.

  “Do you think you can possibly still marry me? Even knowing this? Even knowing that this is the life you’d be in for?”

  “Yes,” Nadya said, quietly and mostly to herself.

  They could see each other quite well in the light from the stars and the light from the city.

  “Good to know,” he said.

  They talked more about silly, inconsequential things. It was the kind of talk where one subject just spirals into another, and the lines between them get blurred to the point that what they’d discussed wouldn’t make any sense in the morning, but in the moment it all seemed brilliant. Nadya felt herself slipping away.

  She awoke in his arms. She’d hit her foot on a chair as she passed it, and while it didn’t hurt, it had roused her just enough to feel him carrying her to her room. She didn’t let on, though. She didn’t want to walk. She could feel his heartbeat, and she didn’t want to lose it.

  He brought her through the hallways that had been golden earlier. They were silver, now, from the moonlight coming through the skylights. Her room itself was in a suite of its own, within the penthouse suite, separated by a pair of grand double-doors that he had trouble getting open while still carrying her. They were huge, carved wooden monstrosities. Detailed enough that they had to be antiques from somewhere. Reclaimed, and refinished, removed from some doomed church or crumbling mansion and hidden away here for the ultra-rich to cherish. They were valuable, in every sense. But Nadya would be sealed behind them, away from him, and she resented them for it.

  She smiled at the effort it took him to try and get them open, and then smiled at him pretending not to notice that she had woken up. She tried to keep her eyes closed as he brought her into her suite-within-a-suite, but it was hard to resist. She felt like a child on Christmas eve, trying to resist looking at the corner of a present where the wrapping paper had ripped off. She peeked glances, and saw the same high ceilings, the same reclaimed wood floors. The same skylights above.

  The windows looked frosted over, though it was hard to tell from just small glances. What she could tell about them was that they were huge – it was like this room was a peninsula out into the street. There were windows on three sides, and the somewhat dulled lights of the city flew across everything.

  The bed was another antique. A four-poster affair. It must have belonged to someone famous or influential, Nadya suspected. This place was like that. He laid her down gently, and then paused for a moment. He knew she was awake. He must have. It felt like he was hovering, resisting the temptation to break th
e shared illusion they found themselves in and kiss her.

  But then he slipped away. He paused again by the door, she saw out the thin slit of her barely open eye. Then he tapped something on the wall, and the lights of the silver moon and the city coming through the window were all instantly gone.

  The darkness was unnerving. Good for sleeping, she supposed, but unnerving all the same. When she heard his footsteps departing, she slid out of the bed and carefully maneuvered in the dark towards the place she’d seen him tap.

  It looked like a touchpad on a laptop, built into the wall. She hit it once, and suddenly all of the glass was completely clear. She could see the building across from her windows in perfect relief – she could even make out a woman watching TV in her apartment.

  She touched the pad again, and the room was once more pitch black. She needed somewhere in the middle. She moved her fingertips lightly across the touchpad, and was glad to get the desired result. Customizable. This was what it was to be rich. It wasn’t just about having everything you wanted, it was about having everything you wanted, exactly how you wanted it.

  She picked a setting that seemed best, and looked around the room in the dim light. She wasn’t sure what she was looking for until her eyes ran across it. Then there it was – her luggage. Her things had been unpacked and put away. She could see the dress she’d brought along for her sister’s anniversary party hanging there on the door to the closet, as though it were on display.

  It didn’t belong here. It wasn’t stylish enough, or grand enough, and it stuck out like a sore thumb. It was a wonder that whatever helpers, or servants, or whatever Salman called them, had unpacked the dress, hadn’t gone right ahead to their employer and told him she was just a commoner who had somehow slipped into their world and was pretending that she belonged there. It wasn’t just the dress; she didn’t belong here either.

  Nadya could feel the bubble that she and the prince had been in bursting. And as it did, she remembered her sister. She’d probably be worried sick by now.

  She slid back into her bed, feeling too defeated even to undress. He clothes were uncomfortable against the sumptuous softness of the mattress. She dug her phone out of her pocket and turned it on. The screen lit up the room with a phony artificial light that felt as much like it didn’t belong here as she did.

  The device took a long time to boot up – a symptom of its age – but when it did, the number of notifications by the phone and messaging apps was intimidatingly large.

  They would be from her sister, probably. And her parents. She didn’t want to look at them. She’d thought, only moments before, that she wanted to see them, but now that she only needed to tap a button, they didn’t seem quite so necessary.

  Nadya turned the phone off and set in on the night stand. She wouldn’t need to answer the messages if she didn’t go home tonight. And what would be the harm, she figured, of sleeping here for just one night? If Salman was a night owl, it made sense that she’d be able to wake up before him in the morning. She’d be gone before he woke, so what did it matter if she was here while he slept?

  The defeat she’d felt a moment before was lifting. She had a plan. It would be all right.

  The bed really did feel like a cloud, and the sheets had to be felt to be believed. She shimmied out of her clothes, still under the covers, and settled in. This was the night of her life. She might as well enjoy it.

 
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