The sheikhs secret princ.., p.5
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       The Sheikh's Secret Princess, p.5
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         Part #2 of The Sheikh's Every Wish series by Holly Rayner

  Anita realized she hadn’t stopped grinning like an idiot this entire time, and this response only made it worse.

  You’re not my prince.

  A bubble. No bubble. A bubble again.

  Not yet.

  Anita clutched her phone to her chest and stared up at the ceiling, at the glow-in-the-dark stars she’d put up there when she was young. She should have removed them long ago, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to do it.

  “What should I do?” she whispered up at them now, as though they would provide her with guidance.

  There was no answer. But she had no willpower to go on refusing.

  She told Hakim she agreed, and he fired back a happy-faced emoji.

  You’re getting the hang of this.

  His reply came back almost instantly.

  I’m a quick learner.

  He sent an address through, and they said goodnight.

  Anita tried to sleep, but she kept looking at the phone in the dark, hoping for another message, even though they’d already said goodnight. She’d have to tell him the next day that they couldn’t be together, she thought. It wasn’t fair to string him along.

  Still, she couldn’t help but be excited. There were butterflies in her stomach, and they fought hard against her exhaustion.

  But finally, it was all too much, and she fell into a deep sleep.

  SIX

  Anita did her best to act normal the next day. She even tried to seem a little cross and disappointed when she was around Fadi.

  It was difficult. She’d never been much of an actor, and she’d been a good, well-behaved enough daughter that she’d rarely needed to pretend with him. The sensation felt strange, and if she weren’t so excited for her date, it would have been a miserable day.

  By the time evening came, the whole thing was forgotten as Anita felt her excitement bubbling over. She’d barely resisted the urge to google the address Hakim had given her. She desperately wanted to know, but it was clear that he wanted it to be a surprise, and she found the idea of disappointing him intolerable.

  It was Anita’s night off, and Fadi was hard at work down in the restaurant. She knew she couldn’t go out the front without anyone seeing her, and it was too late to come up with an excuse; she’d told Fadi she would be in her room, reading and watching Netflix. He would accept that; it was boring enough for him to believe.

  This left her with one option: the fire escape.

  It had been years since she’d sneaked out using it, and when she had, there hadn’t been nearly so much at stake. Now, she flinched at every mournful creak of the metal, as though it would summon him out from the kitchen and he would catch her in the act.

  Anita adjusted her skirt once she was one the ground. She’d gone back and forth on what to wear. Hakim had worn his tailored suit like he was born in it, and Anita had a feeling that he was usually dressed up to that degree. But she couldn’t compete with that. Plus, whatever his surprise was, she needed to be prepared. So she’d gone the semi-casual route, with a skirt, some new sandals, and a T-shirt. She had a thin cardigan stuffed into her bag in case they were out late and it got chilly, although the warmth of the night seemed unlikely to let up anytime soon.

  This was her, she thought. This was who she was. This was how she dressed. If he really liked her, he’d accept it.

  As she walked, Anita chided herself for thinking that way. He wouldn’t have to accept it, because they wouldn’t be seeing each other again. Right?

  SEVEN

  Anita reached the building just about on time. She was a few minutes early, and was glad that she’d left herself enough of a buffer to account for the walk. To her surprise, the building in front of her was a warehouse. And an abandoned one, at that. It wasn’t derelict or dirty, but it clearly wasn’t in use, either. The front door must once have had a sign on it, showing its former presence by the non-faded square of paint beneath.

  She must have gotten the wrong address, Anita thought. She rechecked it on her phone. No, this was definitely where he had told her to come. She looked up at the building again. Up on her tip-toes, she peaked through the window in the door.

  And then she saw it. Just behind the door was a long stairway, about six feet wide, leading up into the mysterious depths of the building. On either end of each one of the treads were tea lights, not unlike the ones that had been on the Sheikh’s table the previous night.

  Anita smiled, and tried the door. It pushed open easily beneath her hand.

  She walked up the stairs. The old building was right on the line between spooky and romantic; it could have been eerie, with the way no one was around, but the soft light from the candles gave it a warm glow. One flight of stairs led to another, where the candles changed from tea lights to tall candlesticks in shimmering golden holders.

  She could feel her heartbeat quickening. It was, she was certain, the most elaborate, excessive measure she’d even been treated to.

  When the staircase bent again, she saw the final set of stairs, lit up by a mixture of tall candelabras, little tea lights, candlesticks, and big, round candles. They were scattered along the sides of the stairs, giving the whole thing a beautiful, carefully-curated look. Between the lights, where Anita would walk, were flower petals. They weren’t red roses—that would have felt a little on-the-nose, she thought. Instead, they were huge baby-blue petals, from a kind of flower she’d never seen before.

  Anita held her breath as she climbed the stairs. All she could hear was the sound of her footsteps on the petals, and the crackling of the many, many candles around her.

  When she reached the door at the very top of the stairs, another sound met her ears.

  Frowning, Anita let out her breath, and swung the door open.

  She found herself standing on the roof. It was a large, flat space, and though the candles and petals all stopped, there was still something—someone—here waiting for her: Hakim.

  He was facing away from her, wearing another beautifully-fitting suit, as she’d assumed he would be, and speaking in rapid Arabic into a cellphone.

  Anita concentrated. Fadi had tried to teach her some Arabic when she was younger, but as she’d grown older, it had seemed less and less important to her, compared to other things. She only had a rudimentary grasp of it now, and Hakim was speaking far too quickly for her to keep up.

  Even though she couldn’t make out the words, Anita could tell that Hakim was upset about something. Angry, in a way, but not out of control.

  She moved up behind him, creeping up without really meaning to. She heard the tone of their conversation change from anger to frustration, and finally disappointment.

  And then he hung up the phone, and was startled to see her, mere feet away from where he was standing.

  “Anita!”

  She looked around the rooftop, as though looking for some other Anita. “What, me?”

  His face broke out into a smile, just as she’d hoped it would. But it wasn’t enough to pierce through his disappointment.

  “I’m sorry,” he said.

  Anita furrowed her brows. “For what? What could you possibly be sorry for?”

  He gestured around them. “This is my helipad. Do you see anything missing?”

  Anita made a show of looking, although she knew immediately what he was getting at. “I see,” she said. “No helicopter. Whatever shall we do?”

  It didn’t work. His mood didn’t lift. She was surprised by how much his disappointment bothered her.

  Feeling more confident than she could have predicted, Anita reached out and took his arm. “Come on. We didn’t want a helicopter anyway. Going out with a prince is a first for me. Tonight should be a first for you, too. You’ve probably been on a helicopter plenty of times.”

  He cocked an eyebrow. “What do you have in mind?”

  She opened her mouth to tell him, but then thought better of it. “The helicopter was going to be a surprise for me. Let this be a surprise for you.”

 
She tugged gently at his arm, trying to get him to move towards the door, and the stairs, still illuminated with countless candles. But he stood firm.

  “I was really supposed to be the one surprising you,” he said, still hesitating.

  “Well, it wouldn’t really have been a surprise if you’d planned it, would it?”

  And with that, she got him to move, and she saw him begin to loosen up. Anita was glad the staircase was so wide, as they strode down it together.

  “I did get one surprise,” she said, indicating the beautiful, elaborate scene surrounding them.

  “That’s true,” he said, warming up. “Did you like it?”

  Anita nodded, but not as vigorously as she had the previous night. She was glad to have gotten control of herself, now. She could have normal human reactions in front of the prince. That was a start.

  “Yes. I loved it, actually.”

  She looked to him in time to see just a glimmer of candlelight glint off of his teeth; he was smiling.

  “A bit of a fire hazard, though, really,” Hakim said, as they kept descending the stairs.

  Anita laughed. “A dramatic fire hazard, though. What is this place?”

  They were walking together so leisurely that Anita felt less like she was on a first date and more like she was taking a walk along with someone she’d known for a long time.

  “This was one of the first buildings my family bought when we started doing business here. We outgrew it long ago, but it’s good to remember where we started.”

  Anita laughed. “So you put a fire hazard in a warehouse that’s been used for the oil industry for years and years?”

  He paused mid-step, then laughed. “Yes, it seems I did,” he said, as he recovered and started walking again. “Don’t worry, someone will be around after us to put out all the candles.”

  Anita hadn’t been expecting this. She wasn’t sure what she’d expected, exactly, but it definitely hadn’t been someone this down to earth. She’d thought he would be a man who always had his entourage around him, a man who was always just a little divorced from reality. Certainly, when she’d seen the elaborate staging he’d made for her on the stairs, that had seemed to be the case.

  But their conversation was showing that Hakim lived in her world, more than she had realized. And together, they strode easily through the streets.

  “At least tell me if your surprise is far from here.”

  She shook her head. “Nope, not telling.”

  “Mm, can you tell me if I’m overdressed for it?”

 
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