Read Marrying the Sheikh Online

Authors: Holly Rayner

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

Marrying the Sheikh (5 page)

BOOK: Marrying the Sheikh
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Karim said goodnight to Djaron and closed his bedroom door. He turned and looked around at the lavish room, thinking it was nothing he hadn’t seen before. He was so used to the finer things in life that he didn’t think he’d recognize something extraordinary if it was right in front of him.


Except for Ella. She was extraordinary. He knew it the moment he had met her at the café. Sure, he had spoken to her on the phone several times before, but when he saw her in person, when he could feel her presence and warmth, that’s when he saw her for who she really was.


That day at the café, Karim had tried to conceal his reaction at meeting Ella. He had spent most of his adult life around women who were after one thing: his money. None of them cared about him, nor did they want to get to know him for who he was. They were frauds. They were fakes. They were willing to do and say just about anything to get in Karim’s good books.


But Ella was different. She didn’t have an agenda. Her only goal was to plan their wedding and do the best job she could for them. It was her own reputation she was concerned about, not Karim’s. It was so refreshing for him to be around someone who was genuine and pulled no punches. He couldn’t remember ever spending time with a woman like her before.


When he had invited Ella to the island, he had already known that Nadia wouldn’t be joining them. But he didn’t tell Ella that day because he was afraid she wouldn’t come. She seemed to pride herself on her professionalism and jetting off to a paradise island with just a groom might not reflect well on her reputation. But he had promised Nadia he would take care of the details. That was part of their arrangement.


At first, Karim had felt nervous around Ella. At the airport, when he had escorted her onto the plane, he had been afraid she might judge him when she saw the extent of his affluence. He didn’t want to downplay it, for fear that she might see through him, but he didn’t want to seem boastful either. He had tried his best to be himself, something he hadn’t been with a woman in a very long time, if ever. And it had worked. He felt at ease with Ella on the jet and at the hotel. Right until she had asked about Nadia.


That’s when Karim recoiled. Ella and her charm had caused him to let his guard down and reveal the truth about his feelings, or lack thereof, for Nadia. He had come dangerously close to telling her everything, and if he had stayed in that candlelit room with her for another moment, he might have. He knew if he spent any more time alone with her, he would risk revealing the whole sham.


Karim rolled over to his side as he watched the palm trees bounce wildly in the wind. The lights from the resort cast long, crazy shadows across the lawn and Karim listened to the wind howl. He wondered how Ella was doing. She had jumped at every loud bang and he had to assumed that she was afraid of thunderstorms. And yet, he thought, she still ran out in the storm to try and stop him from leaving.


What did that mean? Karim mulled the question over in his mind. Maybe she liked him. Maybe she had the same feelings for him that he had for her. He couldn’t be sure. Unless… No. He couldn’t ask. He wouldn’t. He had already done enough damage. As if it wasn’t bad enough that he had brought her down here and got her stranded by a storm. Ella had no reason to listen to him now.


Karim closed his eyes and thought about all of the work waiting for him back in New York. The thought of work always calmed him. He looked forward to returning and diving head first into his next investment plan. Within minutes, Karim was asleep, his usual dreams of stocks, gold and the market, pleasantly disturbed.


The knock woke Ella from a dead sleep. After hours of fitful tossing and turning, she had finally fallen asleep just minutes before dawn. She sat up and threw her legs to the floor when she heard the knock, but as she moved to stand, a stabbing pain shot through her ankle and she fell back on the bed, wincing as tears sprang to her eyes.


“Miss Jones?” the voice on the other side of the door called.


“Mmm-hmm,” she said through clenched teeth, as a wave of nausea rose in her throat. “Coming,” she said, getting to her feet with the help of the nightstand.


“Oh my gosh,” Ella said with every step. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh.”


She crossed the living area to get to the door and looked through the peephole to see Djaron’s smiling face. He raised a gloved hand and waved to her through the hole.


“Good morning, ma’am!”


Ella reached down and unlocked the door, wondering why Djaron was so darned chipper so early in the morning. She turned the knob and swung the door open, motioning for Djaron to enter the room.


“Good morning,” Djaron said as he passed by her. “Can I help you with your luggage?”


“Luggage?” Ella said, wiping the sleep out of her eyes. “What time is it?”


Djaron looked down at his watch. “It is 7:30am Eleuthera time, 6:30 NY time.”


“What time are we leaving?” asked Ella.


“The jet is ready now, ma’am.”


Ella nodded and smiled at Djaron. “Of course it is,” she said wryly. “Just give me a minute, please,” she said, and hobbled back into the bedroom.


She returned a few minutes later in a fresh pair of slacks and a light sweater, her hair neatly brushed and pulled into a simple ponytail.


“You look lovely, ma’am,” said Djaron as he took her suitcase.


“You’re a liar,” she said, smiling as she walked out in front of him. “But thank you anyway.”


Djaron smiled as he closed the door behind them. He liked this girl. He had met a lot of women since he had begun working for the Sheikh’s family, and in the decade he had been working as Karim’s assistant, he had met dozens, if not hundreds more. But none of them were like Ella. She was a breath of fresh air in a very stuffy environment.


Ella and Djaron walked down the hall of the hotel and through the front lobby. The sun was shining brightly through the glass entrance doors.


“Wow,” said Ella, stepping out into the warm sunshine. “You’d never believe there was such a bad storm just hours ago.”


“No, ma’am,” said Djaron.


Looking around, it seemed to Ella that the hotel staff must have woken up early and picked up all of the loose branches and debris created by the storm. The only tell-tale sign of any damage was the boarded up window and a few remaining puddles along the gravel drive. Even the fallen palm had been removed.


“Please,” Djaron said as he opened the door for Ella. She slid into the back seat of the limo to find Karim waiting on the other side. Djaron joined the driver in the front.


She nodded at Karim and he smiled politely back, before looking back down at the stack of papers on his lap. They drove to the airport in silence and boarded the jet with none of the fanfare Ella had witnessed in Miami. She felt her stomach tighten in a knot as she was escorted to a seat in the living area, while Karim walked past her briskly and disappeared into the conference room without saying a word.


Perfect, thought Ella. She hadn’t even begun the wedding preparations yet and groom was already pissed off at her. She sat back and waited for the plane to take off as Djaron told her how to operate the home theater.


“It will be a three-hour flight back to New York, so please, make yourself comfortable.” He smiled and handed her the remote. “I'll be right in there if you need anything at all,” he said, pointing to the galley between the living area and the conference room.


Perfect, Ella thought again. What is he, a mediator? She tried to think what she could have said or done to elicit such a cold response from Karim. She remembered sitting in the lobby as he iced her ankle. And then the vodka. That’s right. That’s when things got a little fuzzy.


The vodka, combined with the drinks she had had earlier in the day, had gone straight to her head, but she was pretty sure she hadn't said anything bad. In fact, she remembered thanking Karim for saving her from the falling palm tree.


Then it all came back. She had tried to thank him, but he wouldn’t have any of it. In fact, he had got upset, and the more she tried, the more upset he had got, until he finally left her alone with Djaron.


Ella had an idea. “Djaron,” she called, and within seconds, he appeared by her side.


“Yes, ma’am? What can I do for you?”


“Well for one thing, you can stop calling me ma’am. That’s for old people. I’m only twenty-five, for goodness' sake.”


Djaron tried to hide his smile but couldn’t quite manage it. “Yes ma… Yes, miss.”


“Thank you.” Ella repositioned herself and motioned for Djaron to sit down next to her.


“Djaron,” she began, unsure how to word what she was about to say. “It would seem that Karim is rather upset with me, and I’m not exactly sure why. I don’t remember doing anything that would upset him. Except for thanking him when he saved me from getting hit by that tree.”


Djaron looked at Ella with large, round, brown eyes. The wrinkles in his brown skin squished up as he spoke and his face broke into a kind smile. “Miss Ella,” he said. “I don’t think His Highness meant anything by that. I think that he…,” Djaron’s eyes darted toward the door to the conference room. “I just think that he was


Karim’s loud voice interrupted him. “Djaron! Come here!”


Ella’s eyes grew wide and Djaron sprang to his feet. He nodded his head quickly to Ella and then disappeared into the back of the plane. Ella listened as Karim’s deep voice reverberated against the cabin walls. She couldn’t make out what he was saying, but she could tell he was upset.


The door opened moments later and a visibly shaken Djaron emerged and returned to Ella’s side. This time, he stood with both his hands behind his back; there was no longer any casualness about him.


“Ma’am, is there anything else?” Djaron asked in a clipped tone.


Ella looked at him with defeat on her face. “No,” she said as she laid back on the sofa. “No, Djaron. Thank you.”


Djaron disappeared into the galley and Ella sat back as Gone with the Wind played on the large television screen. She watched the clouds drift by through the window and counted the minutes until she could be off this plane and away from Karim and the tension that had developed between them.


The jet landed a few hours later and Ella was escorted off by Djaron.


“Is Karim coming?” asked Ella, in spite of herself.


Djaron smiled as he walked Ella off the runway, her luggage in his hand. “He’s attending to some business matters, but he said to thank you and that he'll be in touch.”


Ella thanked Djaron and took a cab back to her apartment. Princess greeted her at the door and she dropped her bags and picked the cat up in her arms.


She walked over to the wall of windows and looked out at the dreary afternoon rain as it fell on Central Park. It reminded her of the storm in Eleuthera and for a brief moment, Ella wished more than anything that she could be back in that hotel room with the howling wind, the soft glow of the candles and the warmth of Karim’s body next to hers.


“So,” Hannah said as she poured grated cheese over her slice of pizza. “Tell me all about them. The king and queen!”


Ella just rolled her eyes. “That’s disgusting,” she said, referring to Hannah’s slice. “You’re gonna get high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or both!”


“It’s not for me,” said Hannah. “I can’t help it! The baby loves it. If I don’t give baby what baby wants, it’s gonna get ugly!”


The two women laughed. Hannah and her husband Trent had been married for just over three years and were pregnant with their first child. Hannah was due in two months and was just glowing. She was still working at E.J. Munford and her husband was a junior partner at a law firm uptown.


“Anyhow,” Hannah said as she bit into the slice. “The king and queen… tell me what happened!”


Ella drizzled dressing over her salad, looking at the pizza and wishing she could eat like that.


“They’re not a king and queen,” she said stabbing her salad with her fork. “They’re a royal highness and a royal… a royal…”


“Pain in the butt?” Hannah said, knowing exactly where her friend was going.


Ella nodded and chewed on her spinach. “Yeah, sort of. I mean, I don’t want to sound mean. In fact, I don’t really know the bride at all. I’ve only met her once.”


“Once? That’s it?” Hannah asked, grease running down her chin. She dabbed at her face with her napkin and kept talking. “Really, El, that sounds pretty weird to me. What kind of bride isn’t involved in planning her own wedding?”


Ella thought of a million words she could have used to answer that, but decided to keep her mouth shut. She trusted Hannah, but she also trusted that she could be overheard by anyone at any time and she didn’t want to take that chance. A client was a client, no matter what.


“Oh yeah,” said Hannah, setting what was left of her slice down on her plate. “I know, you can’t bad-mouth them.” She made air quotes with her fingers when she said it.


“Honestly, Han,” Ella said. “They’re fine. Really. It’s just another culture. Maybe that’s the way it’s done in Al-Ibran.”


“What, a wedding without a bride?” Hannah laughed.


Ella went on to fill Hannah in on how she had continued to handle the wedding arrangements without Nadia being present.


“She instructs her groom, who instructs his assistant, or whatever you call him, who instructs me.”


“So you don’t even meet with the groom?” Hannah asked.


Ella felt her heart clench. She hadn’t seen Karim in person since the flight back from Eleuthera. She had thought about him daily, but hadn’t dared call him or press for an appointment. Instead, she had dealt with Djaron and the lady in pink, whose name she had learned was Amira. Nadia would text Ella occasionally, but usually only to complain that she'd done something wrong with the table arrangements or the menu.


“No, not since the island,” Ella said.


“Ooh, what happened on the island?” Hannah asked coyly.


Ella rolled her eyes at her friend. “Nothing happened on the island. I already told you that. We got stuck in a storm. I sprained my ankle. We slept in separate rooms and then we flew home the next day. That’s it. Nothing else. Nothing happened!”


Hannah laughed and held up her hands in mock defense. “Whoa, okay, girl! I believe you. I believe you that nothing happened. I also believe that you wish something had…”


Ella picked up a roll and threw it at Hannah. “Shut up and eat your slice of grease and cheese!”


They went back to their meal and the conversation turned to Hannah's baby and the shower Ella was planning. But in spite of herself, Ella’s thoughts kept returning to what Hannah had said and how right she had been; Ella had wished something more had happened on that island, and she hadn't been able to stop thinking about it since.


BOOK: Marrying the Sheikh
5.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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