Sold to the sheikh his i.., p.8
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       His Indecent Proposal, p.8
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         Part #1 of Sold To The Sheikh series by Holly Rayner
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  "Okay," Mia said, setting her phone down on her bathroom counter. "I want you to know that this isn't any less weird the fifth time than it was the first." Rami laughed on the other end of the phone, the sound echoing from the speaker.

  "Well you won't let me be there in person, so what choice do I have?" Mia rolled her eyes and tried to fight down the blush that warmed her cheeks. She had agreed to call Rami when she took a pregnancy test after the first cycle of artificial insemination; now on the second cycle of IVF, she would have thought that she couldn't have a single shred of modesty left-and yet she still felt strange handling her urine while she had him on the phone.

  "I can't believe you're actually awake for this. What were you doing last night?" Mia felt a flicker of envy that throughout this process, Rami's life had not been nearly as interrupted as her own. I didn't go out much even when I wasn't trying to get pregnant, Mia reminded herself.

  "For your information, I stayed in last night because I knew I would be waking up early to do this with you," Rami told her, sounding haughty.

  "I'm sure the models at the club were just heartbroken," Mia said wryly.

  "I wouldn't know," Rami countered. "I haven't been hanging out with them."

  "Lies. Filthy lies." Mia took a deep breath and took the cap off of the test applicator. She looked at the tiny cup and exhaled. "Okay, dipping the applicator now."

  "How long do we have to wait?"

  "The directions say three minutes," Mia replied. She held the fibrous tip of the applicator in the liquid for a moment to make sure it absorbed, then quickly took it out and put the cap back on. "Starting now." She set the timer and sat down on the edge of her tub.

  "So, what were you up to last night?" Rami inquired.

  "Oh God, this small talk," Mia said, shaking her head. "I ate at a restaurant with Mom."

  "How's she doing?"

  "Better," Mia said, smiling to herself. "The doctor in New York gave her some recommendations on who is best to see around here, and gave her some fresh information to give to the new doctors. We're hopeful."

  "That's great! Have you started looking at houses?" Mia bit her bottom lip.

  "Kind of. Not seriously, yet. I guess I'm sort of?waiting to see if I'm going to be pregnant anytime soon."

  "Yeah," Rami's cheery tone quieted slightly. "That's something to consider."

  "I would love to see you baby-proofing your house when the time comes," Mia said, trying to lighten the mood. She had been to Rami's penthouse apartment once. As the months had passed, they had become more and more comfortable with each other, and one afternoon Rami had invited her over to see his place. Whenever she remembered it, Mia was torn between shock and amusement at how incredibly grand it was.

  "All that expensive furniture getting covered in scotch-guard; all those priceless cabinets with those ugly locks on them. It'll be hilarious."

  "I might abandon the idea completely," Rami said. "Get another place and start over."

  "Now, see, you say things like that and you have no idea how ridiculous it sounds to someone who isn't so insanely wealthy."

  Rami chuckled. "Everyone I know thinks it makes more sense to get a house out in the country instead of trying to make it work here."

  Mia shook her head. "With the exception of me, who do you know who makes less than, say?half a million dollars a year?"

  "Hmm," Rami considered. "I don't think I know do know anyone. But hey-you've already made more than half a million this year. You no longer count."

  Mia's eyes widened. "I did not even realize that," she said. "You're right."

  "You're one of us rich kids too now." Rami laughed. "You can't talk shit about me anymore!"

  "Yeah, well actually?" but before Mia could finish her sentence, the buzzer on her timer went off. "Okay, here goes," she said. She stood and walked the two steps from the bathroom to the counter. Looking down at the test applicator, her heart sank.

  After a pause that seemed to go on forever, Rami broke the silence. "What does it say?" Mia took a deep breath.

  "Not pregnant. That's what it says. It says, very clearly, 'not pregnant.'" Mia trembled and sank onto the floor of the bathroom, her vision wavering as tears began to form in her eyes. Rami sighed.

  "Dr. Farber said it's not unusual for it to take up to five tries, Mia," he said, his voice full of sympathy. "Sometimes even more."

  "What the hell is wrong with me?" The words left her in almost a wail. "Why the hell isn't this working?"

  "Let me come over," Rami said. "I'll bring you breakfast, and we'll watch something-something with no babies in it." Mia brought her knees up to her chest and hugged them tightly, waves of grief washing through her.

  "What's wrong with me, Rami?"

  "Nothing is wrong with you, Mia. It just takes time. That's all."

  "It's been six months!"

  "Some people have to keep trying for years," Rami reminded her. "You have to stop beating yourself up about this, it's not healthy."

  "It's not healthy? Neither is pumping myself full of hormones to ovulate, or producing fifty freaking eggs at one time! None of this is healthy, or normal, but it's supposed to be-it's supposed to work." Mia shuddered as a sob worked through her. "You need to just?just give up on me. Please, just find someone else; it shouldn't be too much trouble."

  "Mia," Rami's voice was so soft down the phone. "Come on. I know it's tough. I know you're tired. Please just let me come over. I'll bring you some food, and I promise we won't talk about this or even think about it for the rest of the day."

  "I just feel like a freak," Mia said, sniffling as her nose began to run. "I can't do the single most important thing a woman's supposed to be able to do." Mia's abdomen shook as another sob wracked her.

  "Shh, Mia, it's okay. You're not a freak, you're a wonderful woman. God knows this is a really tough way to get pregnant, Dr. Farber's told us both a dozen times."

  "Doesn't make me feel less like a failure," Mia muttered, closing her eyes and resting her forehead against her knees.

  "You're not a failure. Come on. If you don't want to stay in, let's go to a museum, or a park or something. You need to get your mind off of this."

  After a long, pensive pause, Mia wiped at her face and took a deep breath. "I guess," she said finally. "Okay. You can come over with breakfast and we'll figure out what to do from there."

  "Good," Rami said, and Mia thought she could hear him smiling. "As my contractor I hereby order you to not even think about babies or pregnancy for the next forty-eight hours, do you hear me?" Mia laughed weakly.

  "Right up until we meet with Dr. Farber again and tell her I'm still just as un-knocked-up as ever?"

  "Exactly. Get a shower. I'll be there in twenty minutes."

  As Mia showered, she tried not to think too much about why she felt fluttery all over that Rami was coming round. "It's just a comfort to have him here, that's all," she told herself as she rinsed conditioner out of her hair. She had started taking prenatal vitamins on Dr. Farber's recommendation during the first IVF cycle, and her hair had never been thicker, her skin more radiant. She stood under the showerhead for a long moment, letting the hot water sluice down her body. Mia had told her mother on more than one occasion that she and Rami were keeping things strictly professional between them, but after six months of seeing each other-even if mostly in the context of medical appointments-she had to admit to herself that her initial negative impressions of Rami's boastfulness, his ostentatious displays of wealth, had all but vanished.

  He's really, weirdly, one of the sweetest guys I've ever met. Mia turned off the water in her shower and reached for a towel, wrapping it around her body in well-practiced movements. She had always found the rich guys at her school irritating-sometimes extremely so. Though they had all been so attractive she couldn't help imagining what it would be like to date them, it had left a bitter taste in her mouth when one member of the school's most exclusive fraternity had managed to get a drunk
driving charge overturned with nothing more than a phone call; a feeling she had thought she would forever associate with the extremely wealthy. She had found out later that the same frat brother had later nearly killed a family of four when he'd gotten into a car accident while once again driving under the influence. He had been charged, and convicted of the offence-and yet, he'd gotten little more than house arrest and court-mandated attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous.

  Mia dressed quickly, shaking her head at the fact that she was pulling on a pair of designer jeans over a pair of underwear that had come from Target. When Rami had taken her shopping for the trip to New York City, she had drawn the line at him buying any kind of lingerie for her; that had seemed entirely too intimate a purchase for someone she was only-at best-friends with. Rami had been appalled at the fact that she was going to wear cheap underwear underneath expensive clothes, and had tried to insist that he could just give her his card and leave her to consult with his personal shopper on her own, but he had finally relented when Mia threatened to return everything if he kept it up.

  By the time Mia heard Rami's knock at her door, she had pulled her thick, dark hair into a bun, and even managed to straighten her slightly messy living room. She knew Rami didn't judge her for the tiny rental home she lived in, or even for her shabby, secondhand furniture, but somehow she felt as if he should. She hurried to the door and let him in, smiling as much as she could manage after the bad news of only thirty minutes before. "I told you that you'd be able to wear those clothes for years," Rami said, nodding at her outfit. Mia blushed; she wouldn't admit it to him, but she had worn the outfit just because it was him coming over. Had it been her mother, she almost certainly would have stuck with pajamas, or her comfortable old jeans.

  Rami came into the living room weighted down with a box full of diner-bought breakfast delicacies-nothing fancy, no four-star restaurant fare-and Mia felt such a strong wave of relief at the realization that she nearly began crying again.

  "You're so kind," she told him as he set the box down on her coffee table. She could smell eggs, hash browns, something fruity-and she could swear there were pancakes in one of the Styrofoam containers, too.

  "I wanted to bring you coffee, but I then I realized that's probably a terrible idea, so I got hot chocolate instead," Rami said, pulling a big Starbucks cup out of the box. "You like the Salted Caramel, right?"

  "You're going to make me cry!" Mia took the big, thick paper cup from him and plucked the stopper out, sniffing at the heady aroma.

  "Nope, no crying," Rami said, wagging a finger at her. "We're going to watch stupid movies and you're going to eat as much breakfast as you can possibly stand, and then if you want to go for a walk or go someplace else, we'll do that."

  "Okay, you're telling me I can't cry and then you say all these nice things that are guaranteed to make me cry," Mia said warmly. "That's not even a little bit fair and you know it."

  Rami chuckled. "I didn't say I was a fair client." Mia laughed.

  "That's more like it. Now sit down and I'll get plates, forks and knives from the kitchen."

  "Do you even know where to find plates, forks and knives in a kitchen? Have you ever been in a kitchen?"

  "I'll have you know that I've served myself plenty of meals in my life," Rami said, crossing his arms over his chest. "I even know how to wash dishes."

  "I'll believe that when I see it!" Mia say down on the couch and draped an afghan around her waist, tucking it under her feet to keep them warm. True to his word, Rami returned a moment later with plates and cutlery, just as Mia took her first sip of the rich, satisfying hot chocolate. Looking up, she feigned shock, acting as though she might drop her cup at the surprise of seeing the wealthy man with plates and flatware, waiting on her.

  "Ha-ha," Rami said sarcastically, settling himself a few feet away from her on the couch. "I told you I could find my way around a kitchen."

  "I stand corrected," Mia said primly. Rami served her a full plate of her favorite comfort foods, then turned on the TV, pulling up Netflix and selecting the TV series Firefly. In no time at all, or so it seemed to Mia, her grief at having once more failed to conceive began to evaporate, as she took bite after bite of the greasy, satisfying breakfast and let herself be drawn into the drama and action of the series.

  Once or twice, as one episode rolled into the next, Mia found herself looking at Rami. She had never been unaware of the fact that he was objectively attractive, with his almond-shaped, heavy-lidded eyes, full lips, and sharp jawline. His thick, black hair was always immaculately cut and styled, and Mia thought that even without his tailor-made clothes, Rami would have looked breathtaking. But even if he was the best looking man she had met in years, that fact had at first been irrelevant to Mia-he had screamed and ranted at her right after the accident which was his fault, and at their first "date", had come across as an annoying braggart. And yet, while neither of them had ever said anything about having feelings towards one other, Rami had, over time, become a friend, and Mia's sense of how attractive he was had increased as she lost the impression of him being nothing more than a spoiled, extravagant, trust fund kid.

  Mia knew that any thinking about how attractive, or how kind, or how funny Rami was, was stepping into dangerous territory. She knew that, at the end of the day, there was nothing more between them than a contract. Rami was generous and kind enough to make sure she was as happy and healthy as possible throughout the process, and he was, she was now convinced, a genuinely good person. But he had let slip to her on more than one occasion that before he had decided that what he really wanted was to have a child, he had gone out clubbing at least three or four times a week, staying out until the early hours of the morning and sometimes going home with a woman he'd met only hours before. Rami was wealthy enough that he had only to crook his little finger and women of all kinds would throw themselves at him. He was so far out of Mia's league that she would never have imagined him becoming a friend until it happened; she certainly couldn't realistically imagine him being anything more.

  "What do you want to do now?" Rami turned to her after they'd watched three episodes of the series-each an hour long.

  "Are you seriously planning on spending the whole day with me?"

  "Why not? I didn't have anything planned."

  Mia frowned. "You didn't?"

  Rami shrugged. "If we were pregnant, then of course we were going to celebrate the hell out of that. If we weren't, I thought we might both need cheering up. So I just didn't plan anything for today." Mia stared at Rami in astonishment.

  "You really surprise the hell out of me sometimes."

  "Still? I'd think a smart girl like you would have me figured out by now," Rami told her, giving Mia a teasing grin.

  "Maybe I'm not as smart as you thought," Mia replied, sarcastically.

  "Or maybe I'm more mysterious than I thought," Rami countered, and Mia laughed.

  "So what do you think? We could watch a few more episodes, or go to the park?or shopping?"

  "Oh my God, no-you are not taking me shopping. I refuse. I will not get out of the car if you try to take me to the mall again."

  Rami laughed. "Fine. I still say you would feel better with a new pair of shoes-it always works for my mom. But whatever you want to do."

  Mia considered it for a moment. "There's a Monet exhibit at the city art museum," she said hesitantly.

  "Then let's go see it," Rami replied. Mia smiled, sighing happily. Even if nothing ever did come out of her relationship with Rami, other than business and, hopefully, a baby, she would be grateful for the rest of her life for how he treated her with such kindness and generosity. It was more than just the money he spent on her; it was the fact that he had made the effort to remember her favorite non-coffee drink at Starbucks, or that he was willing to spend all day making every effort to cheer her up when in all fairness he should be even more bitter and depressed than she was.

  "Let me put on my shoes," Mia said.
She had originally planned to take her mother to see the exhibit, but even though Amie Campbell was now getting better care, it remained impossible to predict if she would be well enough to face an outing on any given day. Mia was glad that Rami was willing to go with her, so she wouldn't have to go on her own, or miss it entirely. She had no idea if Rami was actually interested in art, but neither did she want to ask. If she found out that he hated museums, or Monet, she would feel even more indebted to him for doing something with her just to keep her mind off of her growing sense of failure.

  EIGHT

 
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