The sheikhs triplet baby.., p.5
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       The Sheikh's Triplet Baby Surprise, p.5
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         Part #3 of The Sheikh's Baby Surprise series by Holly Rayner

  to the one she’d just enjoyed in the desert. The skyscrapers eked closer to that turquoise water, which gleamed so brightly, Amity couldn’t quite look at it straight-on.

  “My city is quite beautiful,” Aziz said in a whisper, as if he could sense what she was feeling. But Amity couldn’t answer. She could hardly open her mouth.

  Finally, after a few minutes more, the limo pulled over in front of a large downtown mansion, just a few blocks away from the largest skyscraper. It was clear that the mansion was older than the city that had been built around it.

  The limo driver scurried from his position up front and opened the door for Amity, lending her his hand. She accepted it graciously and emerged into the sprawling, frenetic street. Taxis and motorcars whizzed past her. She walked over to the entrance, Aziz following close behind.

  “Ready to see inside?” he asked her.

  “I’ve never felt so ready.”

  And it was true. That mad energy she’d craved—that she’d longed for with traveling and moving across the country—was fueling through her now. She followed the Sheikh from the limo and into the broad foyer, which was lined with flowers, with eclectic, Middle-Eastern plants, each of which reflected the light from the surrounding windows.

  “You seem to have quite a green thumb,” she murmured appreciatively, eyeing them.

  “My parents loved plants. It was what drew them together, that love of gardening,” the Sheikh said. “I tried to mimic their talents, but I didn’t quite have it in me. I hire a gardener. He comes every couple of days and wags his finger at me—telling me everything I’m doing wrong.” Aziz chuckled, leading her from the foyer to the main hall, where a staircase swept in a dramatic curve into darkness.

  “This has been my home since I was nineteen years old,” he said, his hands placed on his hips. “I’ve had a lot of grand times here—many of which, I suppose, are your job to cover up.” He chuckled. “But what was I to know at nineteen? What did you know at nineteen, Amity?”

  “Not a lot,” she murmured, remembering that she’d crammed for college classes deep into the night while her fellow classmates had snuck into L.A. bars.

  She cleared her throat, eyeing a large painting on the wall. She pointed at one of the two faces peering back at them. “That’s you, isn’t it?”

  The Sheikh combed his fingers through his hair. “Me, as a child, yes. And that’s my father.”

  The man beside the child in the painting appeared stern, yet kind—with dark, penetrating eyes that so matched Aziz’s. The painting was enormous—nearly ten feet tall, Amity guessed.

  “Did you have to pose for it?” she asked.

  “Of course,” Aziz said. “Now that’s a story my father loved to tell. How I wouldn’t quit picking my nose.” He laughed, tossing his head back. Amity didn’t think she had ever seen a client who was so comfortable with making fun of himself. Normally, her clients were committed to their image, unable to poke fun. Normally, they didn’t seem so human.

  “I probably would have done the same,” she giggled. “Who painted it?”

  “A rather famous artist from Al-Mabbar,” Aziz continued, walking past the painting. “He’s dead now, and the painting—well. It’s rumored to be worth several million dollars. I haven’t had it assessed. I like it, you know. It’s my father and I, during a time when we didn’t fight, and when he wasn’t sick. I like to remember it. I don’t wish to sell it. During those ‘grand parties’ I threw, I always made sure to hide this painting, so that it wasn’t damaged. I’m quite protective of it.”

  These words hummed through Amity’s mind. They seemed so considerate, so kind. Perhaps it wouldn’t be too difficult to package this man into the perfect, attractive, friendly Sheikh that his countrymen so wanted to see.

  They continued up the stairs, through another series of hallways and rooms, each immaculately decorated. Amity had never seen such grandeur, but she kept her lips sealed. She wanted to appear to understand this level of wealth, even though most of her L.A. clients were miles from this tax bracket.

  She smiled politely as he explained original pieces of art work to her, when he showed her the sitting room in which he’d entertained royalty, and the dining hall in which he’d held grand feasts. “Nearly a thousand people can fit in there, if you can believe it,” he said softly, shaking his head slightly. “To see and to be seen. That was the mission—at least it was in my early 20s.”

  For a moment, Amity’s mind drifted toward Flora, who was no doubt still sleeping across the street, in her hotel room. To see and be seen: that was Flora’s mission, eternally. Amity would need to call her later to organize Aziz’s strategy, but for the moment she was happy to spend this time with him, alone.

  “Ah,” Aziz said as they mounted another set of stairs. “This floor is all yours, my lady. I give it to my guests when they stay—but I always try to suit it to their individual tastes. I did a little research on you, I have to admit.” He gave her a warm look before turning to the entrance of her rooms. “I hope you will come to like it.”

  Amity could hardly breathe. The entrance to the guest rooms was lined with gold and mahogany wood. She placed tentative fingers on the material and shook her head, incredulous. Before she knew it, Aziz was ahead of her, marching along. She scampered after him, sanding her fingers down her hair. She gave him a bright smile as he gestured towards a bedroom, where a king-size bed shone in the center, alongside an antique wardrobe and a desk.

  “I thought you could do your late-night work there, if you wanted to,” he said sheepishly. “Although, of course I gave you an office as well.”

  “That’s very kind of you,” she said, her eyebrows high. “I do appreciate it.”

  In that moment, a maid whisked past, carrying what looked like Amity’s bags.

  Amity placed her hand over her mouth, stunned. “Oh, I can deal with that—” she began.

  But Aziz cut her off, slashing his hand through the air. “Nonsense. They’re already begun laying out your things, placing your dresses and blazers in the wardrobe. Please, don’t worry about it. I want you to focus on your time here, not on getting set up. It’s my fault that you’ve had to relocate, and now it’s up to me to make this transition happen smoothly.”

  Amity felt her cheeks warm. She watched the maid unzip her bag and bring light fingers over her shoes, placing her various heels and boots in the bottom of the wardrobe. With her things in it, the space was already starting to feel like her own.

  “Oh, you also have a small library,” Aziz said, bringing his fingers over his crisp suit. “I didn’t know if you were a reader—”

  “I used to be,” Amity admitted, her voice tentative. She had devoured books as a child—ones that had made her imagine a better life elsewhere. L.A., Chicago, New York, even Paris had called to her from the pages of those books. Perhaps sometime while she was in Al-Mabbar, she might find time to read.

  “Anyway,” Aziz said, his face lighting up, “I do have one more thing to show you. It’s my favorite part of the entire house. It’s outside, out back—concealed from passersby. Follow me.”

  He strode quickly toward the elevator, which Amity was surprised to find in such an old building—and they whizzed back to the ground. Amity felt the heat between them and eased herself away from him, if only slightly, trying to catch her breath.

  Aziz didn’t seem to notice. Rather, he was bobbing up and down on his expensive shoes, shifting his weight. “I had this next part installed about two years ago, and it’s always been a big feature at my parties,” he said. He rubbed his palms together. “I needed you to see them. They’re my babies.”

  Amity’s stomach curdled for a moment. She raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Your babies?”

  He grinned at her as the elevator door opened into the backyard. There, the scene that greeted them was so unexpected, Amity’s jaw literally dropped open.

  Aziz swept his arm into a broad gesture as he marched into the backyard, where, beneath a
large canopy, three tigers and two lions lazed in a massive enclosure. One tiger’s tongue leeched out, licking at his paw. Another’s head was tilted, its ears perked at the sound of the two humans walking toward them. The lions—one male and one female—sat together off to one side.

  “The female lion’s pregnant!” Aziz said excitedly, walking up to the cage. A uniformed animal keeper—bald, with bright, chaotic eyes—stepped toward them. He was wearing dark green overalls and held a large stick—just in case, Amity thought.

  “Would you like to see the animals today?” he asked.

  Aziz looked to Amity to get her approval, but Amity didn’t budge, didn’t speak. “I think we’d like it,” he said then, without allowing another dead moment to pass. “Right, Amity?”

  The keeper clinked the gate open and allowed them to enter. Amity eyed Aziz with panic, but Aziz waved his hand, whispering. “Don’t worry. They’re used to humans. I come in here all the time, pet them. They’re my animals. They know I’m their master.”

  Amity wasn’t so sure about this, and her brain was buzzing. This was a massive red flag. She suddenly understood precisely what the people of Al-Mabbar thought of the man before her—that he was greedy, that he couldn’t comprehend that lions and tigers deserved better than to live in his backyard.

  Amity hung back toward the entrance of the enclosure, near the animal tamer who handled the massive stick, while the Sheikh walked confidently toward a tiger who lay with wide-eyes, his paw outstretched. She wanted to call out, to tell him not to. But already, Aziz had splayed his hand atop the tiger’s head, and—incredibly—the tiger had begun to purr.

  “She’s really a beauty,” Aziz called, his eyes like a child’s. “I adopted her first. She’s been the tamest. Never had a problem with her. Right now, I try to avoid the lions, since they’re expecting. I can’t wait for that lion cub to be born. Raising a cub from birth, Amity. Can you imagine?”

  At that moment, however, the only thing Amity could imagine was racing out of there and never returning.

  She flashed him a professional smile, her mind racing. “Do you think we could speak in private for a moment?” Her voice was hesitant, strained. “I’m always in work mode, I apologize.” Her heart was bumping so fast, she thought it would churn out of her throat.

  “Of course,” Aziz said, giving the tiger one last pat. “I think this one’s sleepy, anyway. Don’t want to mess around with her when she’s grumpy.”

  Amity spun on her heels and took rapid steps toward the exit, where she waited impatiently for Aziz’s arrival. She bounced from left to right foot, feeling the panic rile through her. Finally, she heard the screech of the gate as the animal tamer closed it; she heard Aziz’s steps as he approached her. She couldn’t allow him to see her fear.

  “Shall we head to the garden, then?” Aziz asked, frowning slightly. “It’s just on the other side of the enclosure.”

  “Absolutely,” Amity grinned. If Aziz couldn’t see how controversial it was to own a lion and tiger den in the back of his extravagant home, then he might be more work than she initially thought.

  Oh well, she remembered. She was a professional, through and through. And she’d seen much, much worse. She straightened her shoulders and followed Aziz to the back garden. Any attraction to him she would fight; she was there for the greater good.

  SIX

  Aziz sat at the garden table, situated between a golden birdbath and another mighty collection of plants, which spun into a colorful overhead canopy. It was a cozy garden, one that made Amity feel as if they were hidden away, shadowed from the ever-penetrating sun.

  She cleared her throat, then, leafing through her purse to find her notebook. She turned the page, beyond the initial notes she’d taken during their meeting that morning. When she raised her head, she found Aziz looking at her expectantly.

  “What do you think of my home?” he asked, his voice like honey.

  “Hmm,” she began, searching for the words. “Well. I think—beyond anything—it is gorgeous.” She couldn’t help but attempt to please him. She felt anxiety pummeling through her. “But I have to admit, that although I’m impressed with your collection of lions and tigers, others won’t be so inclined to promote you. In my experience, these ostentatious shows of wealth rarely change people’s minds for the better.”

  Aziz’s smile faltered. He tipped his head to the left, his eyes inquisitive. “I see,” he said. His voice was gruff. “Well. This is quite interesting to hear, I must say. Exotic pets are more common than you might think, but I suppose, looking at it from another point of view…”

  Amity couldn’t believe he hadn’t put these pieces of the puzzle together before, but she cleared her throat—brightening. This was why she was here. “Don’t worry,” she said, her face growing kind. “This is why I’m here. I’ve been doing this for years, and trust me—you’re not the worst I’ve seen. I worked with Britney Paige briefly. Every move she made gave me nightmares. I couldn’t sleep for weeks.”

  Aziz laughed appreciatively, and the air surrounding them loosened. “Well, it’s good to hear that I’m not as bad as her.”

  Amity chuckled, shrugging. She moved to write something in her notebook, but her strategic mind was faltering.

  “So. Tell me more about yourself,” Aziz said then.

 
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