Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Sheikh's Secret Princess, Page 7

Holly Rayner

  He wasn’t old-fashioned, if that was what Fadi was worried about. There was no way he was still clinging to the old rivalries of their homelands. Sure, he seemed to respect his family, in the way that he had talked about them, briefly, while they were playing crazy golf. But there was a reason that he had been dressed in a suit when the whole party around him had been wearing traditional Middle-Eastern clothes. He was a man of this century, with impeccable English and what seemed to be an American mindset.

  And if they’d been followed around by any kind of security team all night, Anita sure hadn’t seen them. No, there was nothing about Hakim that made Anita think for even a moment he was a potential danger. But she knew her father thought differently.

  “What are you thinking about?”

  Hakim’s face was full of concern, and Anita realized she must have let the guilt and worry she was feeling show through.

  She considered just shrugging it off, and telling him it was nothing. But she didn’t want to lie to him. Not now. She wanted to be honest with him.

  She took the last bite of her ice cream for courage, and jumped into it.

  “I’ve been forbidden from seeing you.”

  He sat back in surprise. “Really?” he said. “That’s a first. Usually it’s my parents that disapprove, not the other way around.”

  “Do you know why?”

  He got the wrong idea. “No, why?”

  Anita shook her head. “No, I was really asking. Because I don’t. He says you’re dangerous. He says all of you are dangerous. But you don’t seem dangerous to me.”

  Hakim put on a mock-serious face, and posed like a figure on a movie poster. “Oh, don’t I?”

  She hit him lightly on his arm. “No, if you must know.”

  She should tell him now, she thought. She should tell him she had been serious when she turned him down the first time, although she hadn’t shared with him the whole reason. She should tell him that her father meant the world to her, that, even if he was wrong, she couldn’t betray him. But even as she opened her mouth to say the words, she knew that she couldn’t betray Hakim.

  “Well, then I guess you’re the one who’s being dangerous tonight. Breaking all the rules.”

  She liked the way he teased her. At first glance he seemed to be carved out of stone, but when he teased her he seemed so much more approachable.

  “Well, just one rule,” she said, wishing she had more ice cream left.

  “I don’t know about that. Seems like a waste. If you’re going to break one rule, you might as well break a few.”

  She could see an idea coming into his head, and she wasn’t sure she liked it.

  “You may be above the law, but I’m not,” she said, trying to head the whole mad enterprise off at the pass.

  “Oh, please… do you mean to tell me there’s nothing that you’ve been wanting to do that would get you in trouble?”

  Anita didn’t want to answer his question, but her mind thought back, looking for an answer. When she thought of it, she groaned, but there would be no helping it now. It was going to happen.

  “Oh, you have to tell me now. You can’t pretend you haven’t thought of something.”

  He was on his feet, now, ready to go at a moment’s notice.

  Anita hesitated. “It’s silly. It’s the most ridiculous thing…”

  He cocked his head and raised an eyebrow. “Maybe I like ridiculous things.”

  She sighed. “Oh, all right. But you can’t laugh. Back in high school, there was… a kind of tradition. Every year, some of the seniors would sneak into the zoo at night, after it was closed.”

  He didn’t laugh. “And what did you do?”

  “I don’t know. I didn’t go with them. I was too afraid my father would find out. They looked at the animals, I guess?”

  “Come,” he said, offering his hand to help her stand. “Which way to the zoo?”

  It wasn’t far from the front entrance, but they had to sneak around the side boundary. There were security guards at the entrance, and huge, tall fences.

  Anita knew where the easiest place to enter the grounds was. She’d gone with her friends that day, but hadn’t actually done it. It was only at the last possible moment that she had chickened out and walked home alone.

  This time, her trouble was mostly in climbing the fence in the skirt she’d brought, but Hakim helped her over.

  And there they were, only four years too late: standing after hours in the zoo.

  She had been there before. Mostly when she was young, but a few times since. It wasn’t exactly a scintillating experience, usually. But this time, just wandering down the paths and looking at the mostly-sleeping animals, it had an unbelievable thrill to it. She was where she shouldn’t be, with a man she shouldn’t be with. And she’d never felt better in her life.

  They held hands as they meandered around, and the nervousness that Anita had felt when they’d jumped the fence began to fade more and more, until it was all but nonexistent.

  And then, with one call from a suspicious security guard, instantly it was back.

  They ran, as fast as their feet would carry them, back to where they’d jumped the fence to get in. Anita was afraid, but she couldn’t stop herself from quietly giggling.

  Hakim lifted her up and over the fence before she even had the chance to try for herself. She realized now how he had been letting her try before, only to make herself feel better. His strong arms raised her up as though it took no effort at all.

  She slid along the tree branch that made entering possible, and then dropped down on the other side, watching Hakim as he did the same.

  Then they stood, hearts beating hard in their chests, waiting to hear any sign that the guard had come after them.

  When they heard nothing, Anita figured they’d gotten away clean. But the adrenaline of almost getting caught was still pumping through her system. She felt alive, in a way she never had before.

  And then she felt Hakim’s arm, the one that had just lifted her so easily, slide around her back, and she felt him leaning into her, and she felt his strong, soft lips on hers.

  She felt as though she was melting into him. She couldn’t feel anything in her body except for where she was touching him, and she couldn’t think of anything except for how she had longed for this moment her whole life without even knowing it.

  When he drew back, she lay her head against his chest, listening to the way it rumbled when he spoke.

  “Will you see me again?”

  Her lips curled upward in a smile. “Does my prince command it?”

  Her head bounced softly on his chest as he let out a quiet laugh. “Oh, he does. He absolutely does.”


  Anita felt like she was floating. The whole next day, she kept thinking that any moment, her elation would begin to wane. But it just stayed the same. Every time she remembered some little detail of the magical night, she would get another little puff of joy, holding her aloft.

  She couldn’t focus on anything. Anything she needed to do that needed more than just the most cursory of glances she put off indefinitely. She was on autopilot in her life, her mind absent. Her mind was with Hakim. It was in the past with him, or it was in wondering where he was or what he was doing.

  It hardly helped that he was still texting her. He’d quite taken to emoji’s, but wasn’t getting any better at sending normal text messages. They still mostly read like little letters.

  And Anita loved them. She loved them more than she wanted to admit to herself.

  The only thing that could spoil her happiness was Fadi. He knew something was different in her. And she saw how it hurt him not to be included. He’d tried to ask her, in roundabout ways, but she hadn’t admitted to anything.

  Perhaps what made it the hardest was that he didn’t seem to even suspect that it was Hakim that had brought about this change in her. He trusted her completely. He didn’t even seem to imagine that she hadn’t obeyed his commands.
r />   She should tell him, she thought. Whatever it was that had made him distrust Hakim, it was absurd. He would see that, if they met. If she could just get the two of them in the same room together, that would be enough.

  There would be an argument, of course, when Fadi found out that she had gone against his wishes. And if that were the case, Anita thought, then she figured she should get it over with sooner rather than later—if for no other reason than to put Fadi out of his misery.

  She was thinking about how best she should go about bringing it up when she heard a rattle at the bedroom window. She looked over, wondering if she had imagined it. Probably just a bird, she thought, and tried to resume her train of thought. But then there was another sound from the window. Sharper, this time.

  Anita smiled. She had recognized the sound as a pebble hitting the glass. It had to be.

  She leaned out of the window and looked down over the fire escape. There, as she had hoped, was Hakim. He had a bouquet of flowers in one hand, and Anita recognized them, though she wasn’t quite sure where from.

  “What are you doing here?” she asked in a loud whisper. She looked around the alley, half-expecting Fadi to be lurking in the shadows.

  “I couldn’t wait to see you!”

  “Keep your voice down! He’ll hear you!” She motioned with her hand, as though it weren’t perfectly clear what she was saying.

  “What?” he said, at full volume. “Who?”


  “If you want me to be quiet,” he kept on loudly, “you’re just going to have to come down here and shut me up.”

  Anita hesitated. She had no excuse, today. And she had a shift at the restaurant that she was supposed to take later. This would be the first shift in all her years working there that she would miss without warning.

  “Unless you don’t want to,” he said, his voice dropping slightly.

  The idea that Hakim should think, even for a fraction of a second, that she didn’t want to be with him was harder for Anita to bear than the idea that she would be missed at the restaurant. She was hardly dressed for a date, but she didn’t care. She climbed out the window, blue jeans, T-shirt, sneakers and all, and half-climbed half-slid down the fire-escape.

  She realized she was being ridiculous thinking that Hakim’s voice would sound suspicious outside. If anything, the clang of the fire-escape ladder would. But she didn’t care. The moment her feet hit the ground, she was back in his world. And in his world, there was no room for worry.

  She reached up and put her hands around his neck, bringing his lips down to where she could kiss them. She kissed him hard at first, with all the desperation of the two days she’d spent doing little but fantasizing about the last time she had kissed him. And then the kiss softened, as she melted again into him.

  “Come on,” he said, when they parted slightly. “I want to show you my home.”