Sold to the sheikh his i.., p.9
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       His Indecent Proposal, p.9
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         Part #1 of Sold To The Sheikh series by Holly Rayner
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  Mia fidgeted as she sat in the waiting room of Dr. Farber's office. For the third time since they had decided to pursue IVF, she had two weeks previously gone to the office, taken off her clothes, and undergone the minor surgery of having fertilized eggs inserted in her uterus. She and Rami had agreed that after the way she had fallen to pieces after the previous negative result, they would ask the doctor give her a more sensitive test in the office, where they would be able to discuss the next steps, no matter what the result.

  Mia wouldn't admit it to Rami, but she was beginning to think that the hormones she was taking to manipulate her menstrual cycle were making her lose her mind. She couldn't stand the guilt as month after month passed without yielding a single positive result. While she was overjoyed that neither she nor her mother was in debt anymore, Mia couldn't help but think that she was wasting Rami's time and money; that he would be better off finding someone who would be able to become pregnant in a matter of weeks.

  "Why haven't you just tried to find a wife? Isn't it possible for you to have like, an arranged marriage or something?" Mia had asked during one of their lunches a few weeks prior.

  "That is so incredibly offensive," Rami had replied, his voice a deadpan. They both laughed. "I mean, yeah-arranged marriages are a thing, especially for members of the monarchy?"

  "Wait-wait-what?"

  Rami shrugged off the disclosure of being a member of a royal family. "I am so far away from the crown it's not even worth mentioning," he had told her. "But it is part of the reason my family's so rich."

  "So are you like, a Shah or something?"

  "I am a prince, thank you very much. Prince Rami al-Hassan: rich and utterly useless member of the royal family of the Principality of Al-Andalus."

  "You do realize that if you'd just told me I was having a royal baby, you could totally have cut my payments down to like, half of what you're giving me," Mia had joked. Rami rolled his eyes.

  "Seriously? You seem way too sensible to go for the whole starry-eyed 'Oh my God he's royalty' thing."

  "Oh I totally am," Mia had agreed. "But it would make a hell of a story later on. I could tell everyone I had a royal baby and not tell them which royal family it was for."

  "And they would never believe you!"

  "They wouldn't have to, it would be true," Mia shrugged. "Besides, if I'm walking around with a million bucks from it, how can they deny it? Where else would I have gotten a million bucks?"

  "The lottery?"

  "Stop poking holes in my story!" Mia had thrown a rosemary napkin ring at Rami, laughing as it landed right in the open neck of his button-down shirt.

  Mia started as she heard the clinking, tinkling noise of the door opening. Looking up, she saw Rami come into the waiting room of Dr. Farber's office. He spotted her and sat down right next to her without even sparing a glance for anyone else. "Do you only ever wear your nice clothes when you know you're going to see me?" Rami asked. Mia blushed.

  "Well you bought them for me," she said. "I figured you'd enjoy seeing me in them."

  "You don't wear them otherwise?"

  "They're expensive," she pointed out, shrugging. "If I wore them all the time, I'd wear them out." Rami laughed.

  "You could always buy yourself some more, you know," he said. "You told me you're up to date on all the bills for you and your mom; I can't imagine what you're doing with the rest of your money."

  "Well I'm putting some of it into savings," Mia said. "I buy food, for me and Mom. And I bought a new couch the other day!"

  "How exciting, a new couch," Rami chuckled.

  "It is exciting," Mia told him, pouting slightly. "It's the first brand-new piece of furniture I've ever bought. And I picked it out myself, without having to pick from whatever the secondhand store happened to have in."

  "Okay, okay," Rami said, holding up his hands in an admission of defeat. "In that case, I am very proud of you for doing what most women in their right mind would have done within three months of making a hundred thousand dollars a month."

  Mia rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest. "I'm never telling you anything again," she said, pretending to be much more offended than she actually was. "Belittling my accomplishments. As soon as they get the baby out of me and you give me my delivery bonus, I am never speaking to you again, Rami al-Hassan."

  "Ms. Campbell?" came a voice from the doorway. Mia jumped and glanced at Rami; it was the moment of truth. She steadied herself and stood, reaching out and taking the hand that Rami automatically offered her. They walked through the door into the office proper in silence, and Mia could feel her heart pounding in her chest as every step brought them closer to the exam room and Dr. Farber's office.

  Mia could feel her hands and feet tingling, her arms and legs flashing hot and cold as the blood rushed through her body. Rami gave her hand a sympathetic squeeze as they approached the dark, hardwood door of Dr. Farber's office. "It's going to be okay, Mia," he murmured as they came to a stop and the medical assistant knocked on the door.

  "Come on in," Dr. Farber called, her voice muffled by the door. The MA opened the door and Rami gestured for Mia to enter first. Mia took a deep breath and walked to the chairs on the other side of the doctor's desk and sat down, feeling as if her knees might give out if she had to walk any further. Rami sat down in the other chair and the assistant closed the door behind them quietly.

  "I have been holding it for twenty minutes," Mia said, squeezing her thighs together. "Is there anything we need to talk about before we get this show on the road?" Dr. Farber laughed.

  "Just that if the test shows you aren't pregnant, that is not the end of the world," she said. The older woman extended a parcel towards Mia. "It's basically like the regular old home pregnancy test. Pee in the cup, dip the applicator, put the cap back on, and wait." Mia nodded and snatched up the packet, standing quickly. She turned and walked out of the room without looking back, hoping to make it to the bathroom before her knees gave out underneath her. After three failed attempts at artificial insemination, and two failed cycles of in-vitro fertilization, Mia was beginning to feel truly desperate-and truly guilty. Rami's comments about how little she spent the money he paid her had touched close to the bone.

  Mia extracted the plastic cup from the parcel Dr. Farber had given her and locked the bathroom door. She was by now so experienced at taking pregnancy tests that she could confidently get through the process without spilling anything anywhere. And yet, she found herself feeling awkward as she went through the usual steps, glancing around the little bathroom at the generic, unthreatening botanical prints on the walls. Once she had collected enough urine, Mia put the cup aside and flushed the toilet.

  In truth, Mia hadn't been spending the money as wildly as she could have because some part of her thought that if she couldn't conceive, she'd want to give as much of the money as possible back to Rami. She knew she would only feel more and more terrible if she kept failing, and if she quit altogether, she would at least be able to have the pride of saying that she had given him some kind of refund.

  After cleaning up, Mia brought the applicator with her out of the bathroom and hurried back to the doctor's private office. "It's been a minute," Mia said as she stepped through the door, closing it firmly behind her.

  "Then we've got four more," Dr. Farber said.

  "Oh God, the hardest four minutes of my life," Mia said, setting the capped test applicator down on the tray that the doctor had provided before sinking down into her chair. Rami reached out and gave her hand a squeeze, and Mia tried to take comfort from the gesture.

  "Don't hold your breath, Mia, you'll pass out," Dr. Farber said, smiling encouragingly. Mia mirrored the woman's smile weakly, glancing around the little office.

  Rami and Dr. Farber managed to maintain their small talk while the minutes passed, but Mia couldn't force herself to participate. She was too wrapped up in what the test would reveal. Three times now she'd gone into the sterile room adj
acent to Dr. Farber's office. Three times she had waited while the catheter containing the embryos was prepared. Three times she had lain on the table and gone through the discomfort of the catheter being inserted while the embryos were implanted inside of her. If none of the embryos had taken this time, Mia didn't know if she could keep doing this; whether or not Rami was okay with continuing to pay.

  The doctor's alarm beeped, and Mia couldn't even bring herself to look at the test. Dr. Farber picked it up, looked at the result and set the test down. "What does it say?" Rami asked.

  "Unfortunately, it's a clear negative," Dr. Farber said gently. Mia's head fell forward and she didn't even try and stop herself. Tears gathered in her eyes and she let them fall, dropping down to stain her skirt. "Mia," Dr. Farber said quietly.

  "I'm sorry," Mia said, pulling her head back up and sniffing. Dr. Farber extended a box of Kleenex towards her; Mia snatched two tissues out and wiped her face, blowing her nose.

  "I think it might be time for you to take a little break, Mia," the doctor said, keeping her voice level and calm.

  "But-but I don't want to just give up," Mia told Dr. Farber and Rami, more tears flowing from her eyes in spite of her desire to keep them in.

  "We're not giving up," Rami said, reaching out and gently patting her shoulder. "It's just a break. These cycles have been tough on you." Mia blew her nose again, snatching up another tissue to mop at her face.

  "I don't want you to think you've wasted all this money."

  "It's not a waste," Rami told her firmly. "We're doing practice runs. What have I told you about investments?"

  "But what if?what if I can't conceive at all?"

  Dr. Farber cleared her throat. "I think a break is in order, for a month or two at least. Once your system is clear of all the hormones and you've had a chance to rest up, we can look at some ways to optimize your IVF," Dr. Farber said. "Even if you're perfectly healthy, even if you could normally conceive just fine naturally, it can be very difficult to make IVF happen." Mia swallowed the lump she could feel in her throat and nodded.

  "Of course I'll keep paying you-this break is part of the process," Rami said. Mia shook her head quickly.

  "No-no, if I'm taking a break, I can live off of what you've already given me. I'd feel terrible taking your money while I wasn't really doing anything."

  "Well, let's compromise, then. At least let me pay you for the month," Rami said. Mia sighed.

  "I know you're going to insist and I'm so tired I can't argue," she said. "I just feel so terrible, like I've wasted everyone's time."

  "Not at all, Mia, you've put in so much effort, and I really am grateful," Rami said, giving Mia a little smile.

  "Have some water and take a moment to get yourself together a little bit. I'll settle things with Rami and we'll set a date for you to come back in and begin the next attempt, okay?" Mia took a deep breath and nodded at the doctor. She stepped out of the office and went into the hallway, sitting down and closing her eyes. Grief washed through her in waves as she thought of all the time, all the money, stress and effort that had been put into the project of getting her pregnant-and nothing had come from it. What if I can never get pregnant on my own, either? Sure I could adopt, but I wanted-so wanted-to have a baby of my own, too. I didn't want to be like my birth parents. I wanted to be a committed and present mother, from conception onwards. Tears slipped from beneath her eyelids and Mia focused on breathing, struggling to regain some of her composure.

  A few minutes later Rami left the office and found Mia in the hallway, bringing with him the purse she had left behind. "It's okay, Mia, really," Rami said as they walked down the hall together.

  "I know," Mia said. "I'll be okay, it's just that right now-I'm really tired, stressed out, and I feel terrible."

  "Do you want to come to lunch?" Rami offered. "I could make arrangements for you to get a massage, maybe a pedicure?" Mia smiled weakly and shook her head.

  "I think what I really want is to be alone for a little bit," she said. As they left the building, she turned to Rami and offered her hand. "I'll be in touch in a couple of weeks, and we can?talk about the next steps, I guess. I just kind of want to focus on helping mom and not think about babies for a few days." Rami smiled, and instead of shaking her hand he pulled her into a quick hug and kissed her on the cheek.

  "I totally understand. A couple of weeks. And if I don't hear from you, you'll hear from me," he said, releasing her from the embrace. "Don't let this get you down, Mia." Mia summoned another smile and nodded.

  "I'll try," she said. She turned away from him and found her keys in her purse as she walked towards her car. Almost as soon as she had the driver's side door closed behind her, a sob rolled up through her chest, and as Mia turned the key in the ignition, the tears began to flow once again. She had always worked hard, always studied and done her best. Mia had almost never, in her entire life, failed at something that she had worked to accomplish. The fact that she couldn't manage to get pregnant-something she had seen dozens of women who were less intelligent, less educated, less determined than her accomplish easily-felt like the most elementary failure of her entire life.

  Mia drove away from the doctor's office without any idea of where she wanted to go. She didn't want to go to her mother's house-she didn't want to burden Amie with the news. Although she had told Rami that she wanted to be alone, she couldn't imagine going back to her own, tiny house; she thought the silence there might drive her insane. Mia turned in the opposite direction from the roads that would take her back to her house and drove aimlessly for what seemed like an hour. She had a full tank of gas, and plenty of money to refill if she somehow managed to empty it. Mia was almost tempted to get on the highway and just keep going until she had somehow outrun her sadness.

  Instead, as the album she'd blindly put on the stereo came to an end, she turned in at a strip mall that seemed oddly familiar. There was a grocery store, a few chain shops that sold cheap, fast-fashion clothing, a liquor store, and at the end, crumbling in its decay, a low, hunkered-down bar called "Jake's Place." The name stirred something in Mia's mind and she tried to place it. As she pulled into a parking spot, she remembered she'd been there once before, in better times, before her mother's health had declined so sharply. It was one of the favored spots of some of the teachers she'd worked at the school with.

  Mia shut off her car and got out, walking quickly towards the worn entrance of the bar. It was mid-afternoon and she didn't think there was any risk of running into anyone she knew. The front door squeaked loudly on its hinges as Mia opened it, and the few people gathered at the dimly lit bar looked up. The place reeked of old cigarettes, though Mia didn't see anyone smoking inside, along with stale beer and the sharp tang of spilled liquor.

  She took a deep breath and walked hazily towards the bar. She felt guilty; she knew that the last thing she needed right now-on a physical level-was alcohol. She was trying to get pregnant, after all. It would be better-healthier-for her to go home and just cry into her pillow. At worst, she could have a glass of wine. Mia sat down on one of the empty stools as the sound system played a warbling, slightly distorted folk song about "the best-ever death metal band out of Denton."

  A female bartender, her face greasy, eyeliner smudged, looking as though she'd gotten out of bed maybe an hour before, approached, and Mia gave the woman a little smile. "I need a shot of tequila," Mia said.

  "You look like you do at that," the woman said, sweeping her bleach-blonde hair back and binding it with an elastic. The bartender reached behind her and plucked a squat, clear bottle labeled Patron from the front of the top shelf. Mia glanced down at her outfit; obviously the bartender was more alert than she seemed if she could determine from Mia's clothing that she had the kind of money to spend on top-shelf alcohol. Mia watched as the woman deftly poured a shot, moving a salt shaker from the staging area to a spot next to Mia's hand and taking a couple of slices of lime from a caddy and placing them on a little plate.


  "Oh God, thank you," Mia said, taking her wallet out. She barely ever dealt in cash anymore; she only had her card.

  "Do you want to keep it open? We have a two-shot minimum." Mia bit her bottom lip; she knew she shouldn't be having even one shot of liquor, much less two.

  "Sure," she said. "Keep it open. I'll keep it to two." The bartender glanced at her with faint skepticism in her eyes and took the card, moving off to respond to a call for another round. Mia licked the space between her thumb and forefinger on the back of her hand and sprinkled some salt onto it. She had done shots only once before, in college. It was the night of her twenty-first birthday, and Mia had gotten so sick that she'd never quite been able to take anything from a shot glass since.

  Despite her sense of trepidation, Mia licked the salt, knocked back the shot, and took a hard bite out of one of the lime wedges. The tequila went down like liquid fire, warming her from the inside out. It felt like something loosened inside of her. Mia exhaled, half-expecting a plume of smoke to leave her lips. She felt a flicker of guilt, but that didn't stop her from raising her hand to signal the bartender. The woman approached quickly. "Can I have another shot, and? I guess a Coke to chase it with?"

  "Not a beer? We've got a deal on Tecate when you buy Patron." Mia shook her head.

  "No thanks, just a Coke," she said, licking her lips. She could still taste the sharp, sour-bitter lime. The bartender poured another shot and evaluated the amount left in the bottle.

  "I'll leave this with you. There are three or four shots left," the woman said as she half-filled the plastic cup with ice. "Let me know when you're done with it." Mia nodded and took up the saltshaker again.

  Mia barely noticed the other bar patrons; she listened to the music playing over the sound system as she knocked back her second, third, and fourth shots, drinking her Coke between them. She finished off the bottle and decided it was probably a good idea to take that as her cue to leave; she knew better than to even consider getting into her own car. She flagged down the bartender. "Can I get my tab and can you give me the number of a cab company? I'll figure out my car situation later." The bartender chuckled.

  "We always folk keep their cars here if they're too drunk to drive. Don't worry, no one's going to tow it." The woman ran her card and Mia looked blearily at the numbers on the check, her head swimming as she tried to focus enough to determine what a good tip would be. Finally she decided it was pointless and added twenty dollars to the tab before signing the bottom.

  "Your cab should be outside for you in ten minutes," the woman said lowly, taking up the folder and checking the slip. "Come back any time," she said with a pleased grin.

  "I'm not normally much of a drinker," Mia said. "It's just?it's been a rough six months."

  The bartender nodded. "Honey, we've all been there. Next time you have a rough six months-hell, a rough week-come on in and see me. I'll make sure you're looked after." Mia nodded, accepting the advice. She gathered up her purse and made her way out as steadily as she could manage.

  NINE

 
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