Read Marrying the Sheikh Online

Authors: Holly Rayner

Tags: #Romance, #Multicultural, #Romantic Suspense, #Multicultural & Interracial, #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense

Marrying the Sheikh (14 page)

BOOK: Marrying the Sheikh
8.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


“A-about me?” Aurora raised an eyebrow.


“Yes,” Khaleel said, smiling slightly. “I like to know a little bit about the people working for me. How did you find out about the job opening? How are you finding the work and your coworkers?”


Aurora smiled tightly, her mind spinning as she tried to come up with something she could tell the man who was watching her so intently.


“Well,” she said, “My name is Aurora Evans, I’m twenty-five,”
You’re not introducing yourself to a therapy group, here,
she thought. “I found the job listed online,” she added quickly. “I don’t remember exactly where.” Aurora tried for a charming laugh. “I’m sort of in-between careers at the moment, so I’ve been looking for anything I’m capable of doing, and when this posting came up it seemed like a really good opportunity.”


“That’s a refreshing attitude, wherever you find it,” Khaleel said. “So you haven’t been a maid for very long?”


Aurora shook her head. “No, but I’ve been cleaning for most of my life,” she said brightly. “My parents insisted on it.”


Khaleel laughed. “I’m glad that you were able to get through the interview process, then,” he told her. His dark brows knit together slightly and he leaned forward. “That’s a very lovely flower,” he said, gesturing to the pocket on her blouse where it was pinned.


Aurora smiled, thinking of the woman who’d remarked on it as a potential demerit if the Sheikh saw it. “Thank you, sir,” she said, inclining her head towards him slightly.


He shrugged, dismissing the need for gratitude with a brief wave. “Now—I’m not sure if anyone informed you that I also ask all of my new housekeeping employees to undergo a preliminary evaluation?” Aurora’s eyes widened slightly and she shook her head. “Most people think that cleaning is a pretty straightforward task—you use some cleaners, a rag, maybe a mop or a scrubbing brush, right?”


“I understand that there's a little bit more to it than that,” Aurora said hesitantly.


“I’m glad that you do,” Khaleel said, smiling more broadly. “And I’m sure you’ll be just fine at what I ask of you. But I do like to have a feel for a new employee’s basic level of skill, you understand?”


“That makes sense,” Aurora said, her heart starting to beat a little faster.
It’s just cleaning. How hard can it be?


“I’m so glad you understand,” Khaleel said, giving her another winning smile. “Just so you're aware, I’m going to be watching during the entire time you’re undergoing your initial evaluation. Keep in mind, if you don’t do well, it’s not like you’re going to be fired right off the bat, but I will be critiquing your performance.” Aurora nodded, feeling a lump of cold dread starting to form in her stomach. “I will give you a list of chores to do in this stateroom and around the boat, and then I’ll evaluate how well you do at them.”


“Okay,” Aurora said. She glanced around surreptitiously; the room was already clean. She couldn’t imagine how much Khaleel could really give her to do in order to prove her chops as a maid.


“First I'd like you to clean out the bathroom, top to bottom. You’ll need to polish the mirrors, scrub the shower and the bathtub, clean the floors by hand, disinfect the toilet, take the trash to be incinerated, and polish the granite wall tiles.” Aurora swallowed, staring at him in shock at the lengthy list of tasks just for the bathroom. “Then in here, I will want you to organize my closet, strip and remake the bed, dust and polish all of the surfaces, clean the upholstery, polish the wood on all of the furniture—including the posters, headboard, and footboard of the bed…”


Khaleel glanced around as if thinking. “Also, you’ll need to sweep and hand-polish the floors, vacuum the rugs, and scrub down the balcony; it does tend to get a bit messy out there, what with the salt water constantly blowing up onto it.” Aurora’s mind spun at the lengthening list; the tasks were seemingly endless. “Finally, of course, I’ll want you to clean the doors and the corridor leading into the space, and bring in some fresh flowers for the vases.”


“That sounds like quite a…comprehensive evaluation,” Aurora said, trying her best to look calm and composed.


“I want to give you as much chance as possible to demonstrate your skills,” Khaleel told her, the smile never wavering from his face.


“That’s very kind of you,” Aurora said. She took a deep breath and looked around the room. “I guess I’ll start in the bathroom, then.” She swallowed, visions of the mammoth task ahead of her dancing through her mind. “There’s a supply closet with all of the cleaners nearby, right?”


“Right in the room,” Khaleel told her. “Off to the side of the bathroom.” He glanced at a clock set on one of the low tables in the room. “I’ll be keeping track of the time as well.”


“Better get started then,” Aurora said, forcing a brighter smile onto her face than she felt.



Aurora opened the cleaning supply closet and took stock. She had never been particularly enamored of cleaning chores; her own apartment was mostly neat, but she tended to clean things on an as-needed basis, rather than on any kind of routine, and while she had taken the “deep clean” shift at the café twice in the few weeks since coming home from Southeast Asia, Aurora had taken them more for the money than out of any delight at the prospect of chemicals and dirt.


She grabbed item after item, cradling them in one arm as she picked through the options available in the closet. She went through a mental checklist of all the things Khaleel wanted her to do in the bathroom.
Why on earth would he need it to be so thoroughly cleaned? Didn’t someone do it before he got on board? If they didn’t, why would he have taken a shower?
She glanced over her shoulder to see that Khaleel was, true to his word, watching her, and closed the closet door awkwardly before moving into the bathroom.


The bathroom was just as incredible as she had imagined it, based on the quarters she had already seen. It was as large as her bedroom at the apartment, and boasted marble tiling from the floor to the ceiling, as well as both a bath and a shower. The shower was enormous on its own, open, with a solid marble bench and no fewer than four shower heads positioned around where the occupant would stand.


Aurora shook her head slightly to herself, glancing at the big, deep bathtub on the other side of the bathroom.
He must go through an insane amount of water.
The wall behind the sink was dominated by a floor-to-ceiling mirror, and Aurora looked at herself in it for a moment, taking in her dark hair smoothly swept back from her face in a braided ponytail, her big dark eyes, her curvaceous body covered by the skirt and blouse she’d put on that morning for one job and then used for her cover in the new position she’d taken.
He’s keeping track of the time. Get started already.


Aurora took a deep breath and sighed as quietly as she could, setting the cleaning supplies down on the floor and surveying the room with her mind focused on the tasks Khaleel had given her. Her parents had taught her to clean from the top down to the floor; that way, she wouldn’t end up having to clean the floor again when she knocked down dust or dirt from higher levels.


She thought that the bathroom looked clean enough that the risk of knocking any dirt down was practically nonexistent, but she thought that Khaleel might be watching for her strategy nonetheless. If he was the kind of man who wanted his employees to face an initial “audition” after they’d been hired, it was easy to think that he would also have some kind of interest in the process an employee used.


She decided to start on the walls, and Aurora found the marble cleaner and a rag for the purposes of scrubbing and polishing. She sighed again and started to work, burying her resentment in the depths of her mind as she sprayed and scrubbed the already-clean walls. There was no noise from the living room area of the stateroom, but Aurora knew better than to look and see whether Khaleel was still observing her.


Aurora hummed quietly to herself as she scrubbed and polished, wondering what kind of man would make someone clean an already-cleaned room.
Maybe he’s a germophobe,
she thought as she moved from the top of the wall to the bottom, slowly working around the room inch by inch.
Or maybe he’s just a jerk and this is some kind of new employee hazing.


She struggled to keep her mental state at least a little bit compliant; she needed to maintain her cover. She needed to blend in and be one of the members of the crew at least until the boat arrived somewhere, and then she could duck off and disappear. Did she have her passport in her bag? Aurora thought about the closet, the shelf where she had left her things. For that matter, she didn’t know where the ship was going, or how long it would take to get there; she didn’t have anywhere to stay on the ship, no bunk to sleep in, and no clothes to wear. Her uniform was obviously going to get dirty quickly; what would she do then?


Aurora pushed the worried thoughts aside as she moved onto another task, ducking into the vaulting shower stall and finding the spray bottle of shower cleaner.


Surely he doesn’t have just one person cleaning his rooms,
she thought idly as she sprayed all of the surfaces down and then stepped out of the shower to grab the scrubbing brush. The rooms that Khaleel had to himself were too big to have just one maid assigned to them; it wasn’t realistic, especially if his standards were so high. It would take her hours to do everything he had listed for her—and it was plain to Aurora that Khaleel fully intended to sit there in the main area of his suite and wait for her to finish every last thing that he’d listed. How was his “initial evaluation” realistic?


He has like twenty people crewing this thing,
Aurora thought resentfully.
Did he do this with every last one of them? Did he ask the chef to prepare a twenty-course meal for him all on his own?
The image of a chef hurriedly attempting to prepare dozens of courses for the capricious Sheikh made Aurora smile for a moment as she moved from the shower to the bathtub.


The fact that the rooms were already clean, and that she was being told to do the work of at least two people, began to reassert itself more and more firmly in Aurora’s mind as she went from one task to another, breathing in caustic fumes.
It’s not fair,
she thought bitterly as she moved to take the trash out of the room before sweeping and polishing the floors. The bathroom had taken her an hour, she estimated, feeling the ache in her back and wrists and knees from the concentrated labor. She tied the garbage bag closed and hefted it; there was next to nothing inside, but she would—as Khaleel had commanded—take it to the incinerator, and shove it in. What other choice did she have?


Khaleel was still seated on the couch in the main area of the suite when Aurora emerged, carrying the trash bag. “You’re making good time,” he said, glancing up from his laptop.


“Thank you,” she said quickly, striding to the door and opening it.


Stepping into the corridor, Aurora tried to think of whether or not she could remember where the incinerator was.
An incinerator on a boat. Is that really safe?
She walked up the hall until she saw the sign proclaiming the disposal unit with a caution sign next to it, advising her not to attempt to retrieve anything once she'd put it in.


Once she had gotten rid of the trash, Aurora took a moment to stretch, twisting and moving in the space next to the incinerator chute until the aches and pains in her muscles began to abate.


She felt slightly lightheaded; it was an effect of not eating for hours, she knew, but there was not much that she thought she could do about that particular problem for the moment. Maybe later, once she had established her bona fides, she could duck into the galley and snag something to fill her stomach.
Add that to the list of things I need to figure out, including a place to sleep,
she thought.


Aurora went back into the stateroom and Khaleel barely glanced up from his computer as she went back into the bathroom to finish off that part of her list of chores. She followed the instructions on the bottle of marble floor cleaner and made a batch of the mixed solvent, leaving it for a few moments as she began to sweep.


There was next to no dust or dirt on the floor. Aurora could picture two—maybe even three—maids hard at work in the quarters that very morning, before she had ever even thought of stowing away on the yacht. It wasn’t fair of the Sheikh to expect her to do all of the work herself, especially when she could tell that the work had already been done.


Despite her aching back and knee, she managed to finish the floors, and Aurora gathered up the bottles and brushes to carry them back to the supply closet. She knew she was supposed to organize Khaleel’s closet next, and the idea of that—and the long list of other items that would come after it—sent a flush of anger through her.
He probably has an assigned wardrobe person, or at least someone whose special task it is to organize his laundry. He probably has someone whose sole job is to do the floors in all the rooms on the boat.


Aurora emerged from the bathroom and turned away from Khaleel to put all of the supplies back into the closet next to the room. She tried to regain her sense of composure and calm, but as the enormity of the “test” Khaleel had assigned her began to assume a larger and larger proportion in her mind, Aurora’s sense of how unfair it was, how demanding a test and how ridiculous the pretext—when the room was already pristine—intensified.


“You’ll be working on my closet next, right?”


Aurora turned and closed the closet door behind her. “You know,” she said quickly, keeping her voice carefully level as she looked Khaleel in the eye. “This seems a little extreme for an initial evaluation of my skills. You have an entire staff of people; I can’t believe that you ever just leave it to one person to clean your entire stateroom.” Aurora’s cheeks burned and she took a deep breath, realizing that her tone was bordering on insolence.


To her amazement, Khaleel smiled slowly. “That is an excellent point,” he said, inclining his head towards her. “In fact, you’re right—I don’t ever have just one employee cleaning these quarters on their own.” Aurora exhaled, unaware of the fact that she had been holding her breath until she let go of it. “However,” he continued, “I’m sure you’ll excuse the enormity of what I’m asking of you when I explain that you’re the first fake maid I’ve ever hired. I thought I should—accordingly—give you some fake chores.”


Aurora’s heart skipped a beat as the import of the Sheikh’s words filtered through her shocked mind. He knew that she was a fake!
How did he know?
Quick on the heels of her shock, Aurora felt a rush of relief. Whatever fate awaited her now, she wouldn’t have to resort to sneaking around, finding make-work to do and scrounging food and a place to sleep.


“Oh, my God,” she said, stepping away from the closet and across the floor. She sank down onto a chair, shaking her head and looking earnestly at Khaleel. “I’m so, so sorry I stowed away on your ship.”


“Well I would love to hear about your reasons for doing so,” he said, folding his hands in front of him.


Aurora’s smiled in spite of herself as she picked at imaginary lint on one of the folds of her skirt. “It’s kind of a complicated situation,” she said slowly. “But I was wandering along the docks at the port, and thinking about running away. I came across your yacht, just getting ready to go. I figured that if I could stow away, maybe I could hide out long enough to get somewhere.” She looked up and met Khaleel’s interested gaze. “I sort of needed to get out of town as quickly as possible, and I didn’t really care where I ended up going—as long as it was far away from Miami.”


Khaleel watched her for a moment longer before nodding. “We all have something we’re running away from,” he said, shrugging. “In any case, it’s understandable that if you’re in some kind of bad situation, you’d take the first opportunity to change it—even if that move wasn’t exactly legal.” His lips twitched with amusement and his hazel eyes glowed. “The question then becomes: what should I do about you?”


“I’d like to ask if you could take me back to shore,” Aurora said quickly. “I mean—I assume you maybe have some kind of side boat, or something like that. Something small and fast that could take me back to the docks. I’d really appreciate that, and I would be out of your hair and off your boat that way.” Once more Khaleel pinned her down with his appraising, intent gaze and Aurora felt the silence between them weighing on her.


Before the Sheikh could reply, Aurora heard the clock on the table start to chime, announcing that it was noon. At the same moment, the watch in her pocket—which she had all but forgotten about—began to chirp as well.


Aurora’s stomach lurched as she saw that Khaleel noticed the sound coming from her pocket as well, and her cheeks burned with self-conscious awareness, as well as her sudden apprehension of what he would think.


“That sounds a lot like one of my watches,” Khaleel said knowingly. “That’s rather odd—you stow away aboard my ship and within less than two hours you’re already stealing from me.”


“I—it was in the pocket of the suit you asked me to take to be ironed,” Aurora started to say, reaching into her pocket.


“Change of plan; I won’t be taking you back to shore,” Khaleel said, shaking his head slowly. “It’s not a very good recommendation even for a fake maid to steal from her fake employer.”


“No! No—it fell out when I was putting the suit with the other stuff to be ironed, and I just kind of grabbed it,” Aurora explained, panicking. “I meant to bring it back to you, but then…” she shrugged. She had been so nervous about being found out that the thought of stealing the watch and selling it to cover her debts had completely escaped her mind.

BOOK: Marrying the Sheikh
8.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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