Read Marrying the Sheikh Online

Authors: Holly Rayner

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

Marrying the Sheikh (8 page)

BOOK: Marrying the Sheikh
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TWELVE

A few minutes later, the limo pulled over in front of the Plaza Hotel. Ella jumped out even before the driver could come and open her door. Djaron hopped out and opened an umbrella, holding it over her head as she dashed up the steps and to the landing under the awning. She shook herself off and smiled at Djaron as he closed the umbrella.

 

A doorman appeared dressed in a red jacket and black pants. “May I help you?” he said to Karim who had just walked up the steps to join Ella and Djaron.

 

Djaron broke in on behalf of his employer. “Yes, we are here to view the ballroom for the wedding of Sheikh al-Qadir bin Zayed.”

 

The doorman smiled politely and escorted the group up the red carpet, through the brass doors, and into the main lobby of the Plaza Hotel. Ella had been inside the hotel dozens of times for her business, and still, every time, she was taken aback by the grandeur of the architecture.

 

The main lobby opened up to reveal a large staircase to the left and an atrium dining room to the rear. Banks of elevators flanked the back wall and a long, gleaming counter lined the right of the interior. Enormous windows filled the room and looked out onto Fifth Avenue. Tourists, guests, and celebrities

even royalty like the Sheikh

visited the Plaza every day.

 

The doorman led them straight over to the concierge desk on the right side of the lobby where a middle-aged man dressed in a black and gray vest and a jacket with tails smiled at them tightly.

 

“These guests are part of the Sheikh al-Qadir bin Zayed wedding,” said the doorman. Ella was impressed that he remembered Karim’s name, but then she remembered that staff at the Plaza were trained to remember every detail about their guests.

 

The concierge smiled more broadly when he realized that he was dealing with royalty and not just any engaged couple. “Of course, thank you, Dion,” he said to the doorman, dismissing him from the desk.

 

“Well,” the concierge went on. “Welcome to the Plaza Hotel. I see here you’ve booked the grand ballroom for your wedding ceremony.” He looked at Ella and Karim and then back at Ella. He smiled at Djaron as well, in all likelihood assuming he was Karim’s father.

 

“I can assure you you've made an excellent choice,” said the concierge. “Now, let me call Elise and she will escort you back to the bridal boutique to take care of you further.”

 

He smiled at all three of them again and began punching numbers in his phone. Within seconds he spoke a few words into the phone and then put it back on the receiver. “She’ll be with you in just a moment. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

 

Karim and Ella looked at each other awkwardly, stilling feeling the tension leftover from their interaction in the limo.

 

“No, thank you,” Karim said in his most authoritative tone.

 

“Well, you can have a seat over there,” the concierge motioned to a circle of plush blue velvet sofas to the side of the main lobby. “Or, feel free to take a walk through the atrium and I will send Elise to find you.”

 

Ella nodded politely as she stepped back from the desk.

 

“And congratulations on your engagement,” the concierge added, before signaling for the next couple in line.

 

Karim and Ella both turned and looked at the concierge. They wanted to correct him, but it was too weird. Instead, they smiled nervously at each other and made their way over to the sofas. Djaron watched the entire exchange, curious at the tension he sensed between the two of them.

 

Karim sat down and began checking his messages while Ella stood off to the side of the sofa and pretended to check hers too. Djaron stood politely between them, keeping an eye out for Elise. A few minutes later, a tall, dark-haired Asian woman with flawless skin and milk chocolate eyes appeared.

 

“Sheikh al-Qadir bin Zayed?” she asked, looking at Karim. Before he had a chance to answer, she spoke again. “Right this way, please.”

 

Karim stood up and followed Ella and Djaron through the lobby and down several wide corridors until they were in front of three large sets of wooden doors inlaid with gold and marble. Above the center set of doors was a brass plaque with the words 'Grand Ballroom' engraved in it.

 

Elise smiled and opened the doors as Ella, Karim and Djaron stepped inside.

 

It had been over a year since she had booked a ceremony here, but the Grand Ballroom was everything Ella remembered. It was currently set up for another wedding which, Elise informed them, was to be held the upcoming weekend.

 

It was a magnificent sight to behold. The marble walls were lined with white and gold arches separated by tall columns. Each archway was trimmed with a wrought iron railing that held back balcony seating. Large, thick drapery hung from the sides of each arch and stopped at mirrors that sat on top and reflected the opulence and ornateness of the room. Curtained doorways sat in each corner of the room, topped with decoratively painted round awnings. Round mirrors sat above each awning, expertly nestled in an arched wall that met ornately-painted molding at the edge of the expansive ceiling. Ella looked up at the dozens of lavish crystal chandeliers and smiled at the how they sparkled and reflected off of the china and crystal settings on the tables below.

 

Karim had been to the Plaza many times, but he had never been in the Grand Ballroom before. Ella sneaked a look in his direction and smiled as she saw him take it all in. He was a financier by trade, but through their many conversations as they planned the wedding, Ella had sensed that Karim also had a deep cultural appreciation for art. And the Grand Ballroom at the Plaza was definitely that.

 

“So, the theme this couple has chosen is called blue opaque
—you are free to choose any of the other themes, of course.”
Elise called out to Karim and Ella as she stood by the main doors. “Let me show you; your eyes might take a moment to adjust.”

 

She flipped a switch on the wall and in an instant, the bright white lighting from the chandeliers was replaced with an ocean of blue. The entire room sparkled in silver and white. Elise was right. It took a minute for Ella’s eyes to adjust. But when they did, she was blown away.

 

“This is beautiful!” she said, forgetting that she was trying to be on guard with Karim. “Absolutely gorgeous!”

 

“Yes, it really is,” said Elise as she walked down the steps and towards the couple.

 

Karim stood speechless, looking at the way the light played on the walls, the gold inlay and the table settings.

 

“Well,” Elise said as she stood in front of them, smiling wide. Her eyes glistened in the light as she spoke. “Is this the dream wedding venue you’ve always imagined?”

 

Elise looked directly at Ella when she spoke. Ella opened her mouth to speak, wanting to clear the air, but it was Karim who spoke instead.

 

“Yes, this is the dream venue I’ve always imagined. Thank you. I think I would just like to take a few moments alone with Nadia so we can discuss the details, if you don’t mind.”

 

Ella looked at Karim, unsure what was going on. He nodded and smiled at her as if to say, “go along with me on this”. Ella got the hint and smiled back at Elise. “Uh-huh, if we could just take a few minutes please,” she said.

 

Elise smiled at the two of them and turned to walk back to the entrance. She took her phone out of her purse and began typing something on it as Karim grabbed Ella’s arm and turned her away from Elise’s peering eyes.

 

“Walk with me,” he said quietly as he slipped his arm through hers and walked slowly across the floor. He pointed to one table, then to another as he spoke, as if discussing the arrangements.

 

“I’m sorry if this is making you uncomfortable,” Karim said, laughing at the irony of it all. Her, uncomfortable? He couldn’t even stand having her touch him in the limo. The electricity it sent through him was too much.

 

“What are you doing?” Ella asked in a tight voice. She felt Karim’s strong body lead her along and her hips brushed against his. She wasn’t sure what had happened in the limo, but it hadn’t been good. So why was he doing this now?

 

“I just don’t want to have to explain why my bride has ditched yet another appointment,” Karim said as he kept walking and pointing at various decorations.

 

Ella nodded softly, understanding completely. Her heart sank again. “Oh, I see,” she said, letting herself get more comfortable in his strong arm.

 

“And,” Karim said as he stopped in front of the head table. “There are many prying eyes at the Plaza. I don’t recognize Elise, but I’m sure someone will get wind that I was here. All they need to know is that I was here with my fiancée. It’s not customary for the groom to be keeping appointments with attractive wedding planners.”

 

Ella smiled and felt her skin tingle. She felt her skin flush and wondered if Karim could feel her heat through his suit jacket.

 

“I understand,” she said, instinctively squeezing his arm. Before she knew it, Karim had squeezed her back.

 

“Now,” Karim said as they turned to head back to Elise. “You need to excuse yourself before she asks too many questions and we find ourselves rumbled.”

 

“But I’m the wedding planner. She’ll have to deal with me eventually.”

 

“We’ll worry about that when the time comes. For now, just handle everything by phone,” Karim said, a look of worry in his eyes.

 

Ella felt out of her depth again. She looked up at Karim and saw something in his eyes. She fell for it and gave in. “Okay, but I won’t lie for you,” she said with a stern look on her face.

 

Karim’s face softened and he smiled. “You won’t have to, I promise.”

 

Ella smiled lightly and released her arm from his. She turned to leave through the back door but before she could get away Karim caught her by the hand, sending another current of electricity through both of them.

 

“What?” Ella said, confused.

 

“We should probably hug or something, so she believes that we're a couple,” he said.

 

Ella thought about it for a moment then nodded. The whole situation was so confusing already, why not throw a few more muddled up emotions in the mix? She stood still as Karim bent down and wrapped his arms around her waist. His strong hands clasped together behind the small of her back and he pulled her in gently, pressing her cheek against his solid chest.

 

Ella closed her eyes and breathed in his musky scent. She felt her body melt into him as she settled snugly in his strong embrace.
Wow
, she thought as she stood with her arms wrapped around his waist. She hadn’t felt this good in a long time.

 

Karim stroked her back softly for a second. He was so comfortable, so at peace holding Ella this way. She was so different from the other girls he had dated. She was soft, supple and fit his body just right. He breathed in the fruity scent of her hair and closed his eyes, wishing he could hold her all day. He felt his body start to react to hers and instinctively pulled away.

 

“Okay,” he said quickly. “Thanks, Ella. Go now.”

 

Ella looked up at him and saw a look in his eyes that she hadn’t seen before. It wasn’t anger. It wasn’t hurt. It was longing, she was sure of it. She caught her breath in her throat and then disappeared through the back door, leaving Karim to handle the rest of the appointment.

 

She returned home, still reeling from the closeness of Karim’s body. She couldn’t believe she had let herself do that. She had promised herself she wouldn’t ever get that close to a client. But there was something different about Karim. She couldn’t help herself around him. And she was pretty sure he was having the same feelings.

 

THIRTEEN

After fixing a very late lunch and spending some overdue quality time with Princess, Ella plopped herself in front of her computer and began checking her emails. She saw several from the vendors she had lined up for the football player’s wedding and a few from stores she had contacted about Hannah’s shower.

 

After dealing with her emails she glanced at the planner on her desk to double check if she had any other urgent tasks to deal with that day. She suddenly noticed that she had promised the florist that she would get confirmation on the table arrangements for Karim and Nadia’s wedding.

 

“Shoot,” Ella said, cursing herself for forgetting. With the photo shoot and then the Plaza appointment, she felt like she had already had a full day. She let her head fall back against her chair and closed her eyes as Princess jumped up on her lap.

 

“Oh Princess, I don’t want to do this. The last thing I want to do is see Karim again.”

 

“Well,” she said, opening her eyes and looking at the cat. “That’s not exactly true. I do want to see him again; I just don’t know that I can handle that right now.”

 

Ella’s emotions had been on a roller coaster for the past few days. She had talked things through with Hannah and even mentioned it to her mother and both of them had said that perhaps she needed to step back and take a break for a while; that she needed to be careful.

 

Ella looked back down at the appointment and made up her mind. She put Princess on the floor and went to her bedroom to quickly freshen up. Twenty minutes later, she was at the florist with the sample arrangement in hand. She texted Karim from the store and he told her to come straight to his apartment and sent her the address.

 

The rain had given way to a beautiful blue spring sky. Ella hopped into a cab and arrived at Karim’s high-rise a few minutes later. She stepped out into the cool air and the doorman smiled and tipped his hat to her.

 

“Madam,” he said. “Are you here to see His Highness?”

 

Ella nodded, surprised at the greeting. She hadn’t been to Karim’s apartment building before and she didn’t know what to expect. She laughed, thinking she probably should have expected the royal treatment.

 

The doorman escorted her inside the lavish building and put her on the elevator to the top floor, the penthouse suite. Ella checked her reflection in the mirrored doors as the elevator made its way up. When it stopped, the doors opened and Ella stepped out into a narrow hall. There was one set of double doors on the right and a single door on the left. She looked at the single door and saw it was actually an entrance to the staff quarters.

 

“Of course,” Ella said quietly as she made her way over to the double doors to the left.

 

As she approached the doors, she heard raised voices, one of them shrill, female and spite-filled; Nadia. The sound was all too familiar. It was a repeat from the week before. Ella remembered how it ended last time, with Karim being cold and distant. After everything that had happened between them that day, she didn’t want them to grow even further apart.

 

Ella walked straight back to the elevator and punched the button. The doors opened and she stepped inside, taking the car right back down to the lobby. She walked out the doors and hurried past the doorman.

 

“Ma’am? Is everything alright?” the doorman asked, surprised to see her return so quickly.

 

“Um, yes, fine,” Ella said as she stood on the sidewalk, looking around. “I just forgot something,” she lied.

 

She spotted a little tavern across the street and ran across the road. She slipped into the bar and found a seat in the corner by the window. She ordered a drink and sat with her flower arrangement, quietly watching the building over the road.

 

Several minutes later, she saw Nadia emerge with a look of pure rage on her face. Her long, black hair flowed out behind her as she stood impatiently, her large dark glasses covering her eyes. A second later, a sleek limousine pulled up and the driver whisked the heiress inside before the car took off.

 

Ella watched the building to see if Karim would follow. Seconds turned into minutes and when Ella’s drink was gone, she was satisfied that Karim was not coming out. She looked at the flower arrangement. Lilies. That’s what she had chosen for the centerpieces. It was a classic choice, and like the architecture at the Plaza, Ella loved classic.

 

The bartender came over to refill her drink and Ella refused politely. She paid her tab and gathered up the flower arrangement. Moments later, she was back in the elevator, heading to the penthouse suite.

 

“Just go in, deliver the arrangement, and leave,” she said to herself as the elevator climbed the floors. “No getting close, no touching, and for goodness' sake, no hugging!”

 

She inhaled and exhaled deeply, readying herself. “Just drop the flowers off. That’s all you have to do. You don’t even have to go to the door. When the elevator opens, just put them on the floor and someone will find them. You never even have to get out of the elevator!”

 

Ella had just about convinced herself that she could do it when the doors opened and Karim appeared in front of her, and all of her resolve immediately vanished.

 

She stepped out of the elevator and stood in front of him, smelling the distinctive aroma of whisky over the scent of the lilies. His eyes were rimmed with red and his features looked worn.

 

“Karim,” she said, taken aback at his appearance. “Are you alright?”

 

Karim shook his head and gently took the flowers from her. “Not really,” he said, and began to head back to his open door.

 

Ella stood still, unsure if she should follow. Karim looked deeply unhappy, but she didn’t want to give Nadia any more ammunition by trying to comfort him. Ella cared about Karim, more than she wanted to admit. And she thought he cared about her, too. But he was a client. A client with an amazing body, incredible eyes and a thoughtful, kind personality; a client who was getting married to someone he didn’t love; a client who was standing in front of her, upset and apparently slightly drunk.

 

She reasoned that she shouldn’t leave him alone in his condition. “I'll just stay for a minute,” she murmured to herself as she walked down the hall toward the doors. “I’ll just make sure he’s okay, and I'll be on my way.”

 

The doors opened up to a wide living room overlooking the East River. Ella walked straight over to the windows, unable to take her eyes from the breathtaking view. The sun was dipping low behind the buildings, casting long shadows across the river.

 

“Wow,” Ella said, mesmerized.

 

“Yeah,” Karim’s deep voice came up behind her.

 

Ella felt his breath on her neck and quickly moved away. “Um, I’m just here to deliver the flowers.”

 

Karim smiled and walked over to the bar across the room. “Drink?” he asked, fixing her one before she could answer, then pouring another for himself.

 

“No,” Ella said from her spot, as far away from him as she could be. Her skin was still prickly from the heat of his breath.

 

“I don’t think you should have any more,” she said gently.

 

“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “I know. I wouldn’t want to become a drunk or anything… like my lovely fiancée!”

 

Ella watched as Karim walked unsteadily over to the sofa, placing both drinks on the glass table before collapsing into the cushions.

 

“It’s just such a mess,” he said exasperated. “The whole thing is such a mess.”

 

Ella felt her heart ache and moved across the room, careful to sit on the far end of the sofa. “Then why?” she asked. “Why are you marrying her if it's making you so unhappy?”

 

Karim looked up at Ella with defeat in his eyes. “Because it’s the logical choice. It’s the right thing to do. It’s what I’m supposed to do for my career, for my family.”

 

His words came out sloppily and in long breaths; he was obviously quite drunk. Ella wanted desperately to reach out and console him, but she knew it was the last thing she should do. Instead, she got up and grabbed his hand.

 

“Get up,” she said, shifting gears. She had strong feelings for Karim, there was no denying that. But if she couldn’t be with him romantically, then she would be there for him as a friend.

 

“What? Where are you taking me? I’m about to be a married man, you know,” Karim said, splashing his drink as he stood.

 

Ella rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, so I’ve heard.” She felt better now that he was joking around.

 

She led him over to the balcony and stepped outside with him. They stood and looked at the river, the long shadows of the buildings, the lights up coming on up and down the city skyline. Cars and people moved about below like little ants, making the whole scene look like a painting that had come to life.

 

“Do you see that?” Ella said, pointing over to the business district bustling with early evening traffic.

 

Karim didn't respond, but nodded as he swayed slightly.

 

“Do you see all of those people running around like little rats because they want to have successful careers?”

 

Karim nodded again, steadying himself against the high railing. He stared down and watched the activity below. Even through the alcohol, he knew what Ella was trying to do.

 

“It’s not just about money! There’s more to life than being successful, Karim.”

 

Ella turned to look at him and watched as Karim let a tear slip down over the edge of the balcony.

 

“I know,” he said softly, pulling himself away from the railing. “I know, I do. It’s just…”

 

Ella looked at him with pangs of regret in her heart. Would she ever be able to get through to him? Would she ever be able to make him understand that life was about more than just getting ahead? Karim already had enough money to last several generations. If only he could see that love was the only thing that mattered.

 

She walked toward him, hoping to get his attention and make it clear to him that he shouldn’t go through with the wedding. She had the words in mind. She would tell him what she thought about him and Nadia, without mentioning her own feelings for him; she couldn't be responsible for complicating things further.

 

She opened her mouth to speak just as Karim leaned down, his lips falling softly on hers in a tender kiss.

 

Ella jumped back, shocked at what just happened. She had kissed a client! She had never, ever crossed that line. It was the one thing she had sworn she would never do.

 

She stepped back quickly with a look of confusion on her face. Karim opened his mouth as if to say something, to apologize, perhaps, but Ella held her hand up. She turned and ran out of the apartment, into the elevator, diving past the doorman and into a cab as soon as she reached the first floor.

 

BOOK: Marrying the Sheikh
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