Read Marrying the Sheikh Online

Authors: Holly Rayner

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

Marrying the Sheikh (9 page)

BOOK: Marrying the Sheikh
11.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


“I can’t believe I did that!” Ella said as she and Hannah combed through baby items at the upscale boutique. “I mean, I've never, ever done anything like that before!”


“Are you sure you and Trent didn’t make out?” Hannah joked, referring to her husband.


Ella glared at her best friend over the rack of over-priced bibs. “That’s not funny,” she said.


“Lighten up,” Hannah said as she joined Ella’s side. “You know I’m just kidding.”


Ella poked her elbow into Hannah’s side. “Hey! You’re gonna wake the baby!” Hannah said, laughing.


The two women moved about the store, looking for different items to add to Hannah’s baby shower registry. They held up little gowns, little onesies and soft blankets trimmed in satin. Ella watched Hannah as she moved about, rubbing her swollen tummy gently. Her mind instantly went back to Nadia.


When Ella had thought Nadia was pregnant, she had felt a pang of jealousy. But now that she knew that wasn’t the case, she wondered. She began to think about what Karim would be like as a father. She imagined his strong arms cradling a baby, his dark features soft with the overwhelming love a father can only have for his child. Ella began to see herself in that picture, sitting in bed with Karim as the played with their newborn baby, bouncing him on their knees as he giggled with delight.


“You know that, right?” Hannah asked. “Ella? Earth to Ella?”


Ella blinked as she came crashing back to reality. Her vision of the perfect little family disappeared over the racks of layettes and rows of baby booties.




“I said,” Hannah rolled her eyes and kept talking. “You know what you have to do, right?”


Ella nodded as she ran her fingers along the satin edge of the blanket she held in her hands.


Hannah came up and wrapped her arm around her best friend. “I know, it sucks.”


Ella just nodded and rested her head on Hannah’s shoulder.


They finished the registry and said their goodbyes on the sidewalk as they hopped into separate cabs. Back at her apartment, Ella threw her belongings on the sofa and walked into the kitchen. She pet Princess and threw a bag of popcorn into the microwave. While it was popping, she selected one of her favorite bottles of wine and removed the cork. She found a glass and brought the bottle and the popcorn into the living room.


Within minutes, Ella was sitting back on her sofa with her laptop. She opened up her email and began to draft a message to Karim. She wrote the words quickly and took a long sip of wine before hitting send. When that was done, she closed the laptop and turned her attention to Jimmy Stewart, letting the tears flow as she sank back into the sofa with her wine, her popcorn, and her Princess.


The next few weeks were a flurry of activity. Ever since Ella had emailed Karim to tell him she could no longer be his wedding planner, she had busied herself with everything she could to take her mind off the impending nuptials. First, she found a replacement wedding planner for Karim and Nadia. Then she rebilled them only for the vendors and supplies they had purchased. With everything that had happened, Ella didn’t feel right taking a fee for the work.


When that was settled, she had decided to cancel all her other clients, except for the football player and Hannah, of course. She was so burnt out on planning loveless weddings and she just couldn’t stand watching the fraud anymore, especially after Karim and Nadia.


Instead, she chose to switch gears and learn the baby shower industry. She would start with Hannah’s shower, which was only a month away, and then go back to all of her previous clients to get additional referrals. She didn’t doubt it would take off, but she would take it slowly. In the meantime, she only had to finish one wedding, the football player’s. She had decided to keep that couple on as clients because she knew from meeting them that they were genuinely in love. What's more, their wedding was only a few months away and most of the details were already arranged.


Ella worked tirelessly to pull together the final details, spending long lunches with the bride-to-be, Corinne. They confirmed the dresses, the tuxedos, the flower arrangements for the tables, the bouquets for the girls and even the boutonnieres. Then it was time to settle on the cake.


“The red velvet with the mocha,” said Corinne as they sat at a tasting table in Ella’s favorite bakery. Her heart did a flip-flop when she remembered the last time she had ordered the same cake. It was for Karim and Nadia’s wedding.


“Oh,” said Ella as a veil of sadness came over her face.


“What is it?” asked Corinne. “Did I pick the wrong one?”


Corinne was so eager to please. Not in a needy way, but in a way that showed she genuinely cared about others. She knew her football player fiancé, Brock, had already sampled the cake and she had told Ella that she hoped her pick would be the same as his. It was.


“No,” Ella said, waving off Corinne’s concern. “No, you didn’t. You picked the exact same one Brock did.”


“Oooh!” Corinne squealed, her long, tanned fingers clapping together in front of her perfectly white smile. “I’m so glad. I just want to make him happy, you know?”


Yeah, Ella thought. She knew. It was rare, but she knew exactly what Corinne was talking about. She just wanted to show the man of her dreams exactly how much he meant to her. She just wanted to be in sync with the person she would spend the rest of her life with, safe in the knowledge that her thoughts and dreams were in line with his. Even the simplest of dreams and desires, like which flavor wedding cake to get.


Ella smiled and excused herself from the table. She walked over to the counter and waited until the owner of the shop, a short man in his fifties, appeared.


“Well, will it be the red velvet again?” the baker asked.


“That's right,” Ella said, laughing a little. No matter how many cakes she had shown her customers, they almost always chose the red velvet. “What on earth do you put in that cake?” she asked, peaking over the counter.


“A little flour, sugar, coco…” the baker looked at Ella and winked, handing her a fresh slice. “And magic.”


Ella looked at the baker suspiciously and then reached over and pulled the slice toward her. What the heck, she thought. She pressed the fork down into the moist cake and lifted it to her mouth. She chewed slowly, letting the flavor flood her tongue as she realized she had never tasted anything like it.


“Oh my gosh,” she said with her mouth still full. “This is the most amazing cake I think I’ve ever tasted!”


The baker smiled. “Uh-huh. Now you know why all your clients want it!”


Ella thanked the baker and signed off on the order for the red velvet mocha cake before returning to the table to wrap up the final arrangements with Corinne.


“So,” Ella said as the two women stood to walk out. “I guess I won’t be seeing you until right before the wedding.”


Corinne smiled softly, her perfect skin shimmering in the late afternoon light. “I guess not! I’ll miss you, Ella. But it looks like you need the break anyhow. You look…”


Ella stopped and looked at the woman she had become friends with over the past few months. “Look, what?” she asked curiously.


“It’s nothing,” Corinne said opening the door for Ella.


When they were out on the sidewalk, Ella pressed the issue. “Look what, Corinne? You said I look…”


Corinne looked down at the floor and Ella could sense her discomfort.


Ella reached out and touched her sleeve. “It’s okay, Corinne, you can tell me.”


“It’s just that you look sad,” Corinne said quickly. “No, I mean tired. That’s all. You look like you’ve been working too hard. Which I’m sure you have.”


Ella nodded slowly as her new friend tried to cover her slip of the tongue. “It’s just that I’m glad you’re taking a break from the wedding business for a while. I’m so grateful that you kept us as clients, but I’m glad you’re stepping back. It’s a tough industry. Some brides can be just awful to work with,” Corinne said with a wink at Ella.


Ella smiled and hugged Corinne. “Yeah, I’m just tired,” she lied.


Corinne turned and walked up the street, leaving Ella alone outside of the bakery. She thought about going back in and getting a few slices of the red velvet cake to take home, but deep down she knew that burying herself in cake, no matter how good, wouldn’t solve her problems.


Ella kept herself busy preparing for Hannah’s shower and focusing on building her new business. Even though she had removed herself from the wedding business almost entirely, she still found herself drawn to the society pages. Nearly every morning, she would wake up and read the papers, checking to see who was engaged to whom, who was getting divorced, who was suing whom. Nearly every day, she saw some of her previous clients in every category.


“I know, Mom,” she said over the phone one morning. “I’m fine, really.”


Ella had told her mother that she was getting out of the wedding business because of all the loveless marriages, but even though she hadn’t mentioned anything about Karim to her, Ella’s mother sensed there was more to the story.


“Why don’t you take a break for a few days,” said her mother. “The one wedding you're organizing is pretty much done and Hannah’s shower is all arranged already; all you have to do is show up in a few weeks' time. How about you get out of the city and come up to Rhode Island for a visit?”


How could her mother always tell when something was bothering her? Ella wondered if Hannah would get that inherent sixth sense once she had her own children. It made Ella think back to Corinne’s words. What was it she had said? That Ella looked tired? No, Ella remembered. Corinne had specifically said that she thought Ella looked sad.


Ella thought about it and decided maybe her mother was right. It had been years since she had taken a real vacation; the only travel she had done was to scout and plan clients’ weddings. She immediately thought about the last trip she had taken and the memories of Eleuthera and her time in the hotel room with Karim came flooding back.


She knew that no matter how hard she had tried, she hadn’t let him go. She was still hanging on to a shred of hope that something might happen between them. It was pure fantasy, she knew. But nonetheless, she hoped that maybe, just maybe, Karim would come to his senses and call the wedding off before it was too late.


Who was she kidding? She had heard him say it himself. He was obligated to marry Nadia. And besides, the wedding was rolling full steam ahead. They had just had another photo shoot for a feature about their upcoming nuptials in the society paper. The paper. Ugh. Ella thought about how much she hated the papers and how much she couldn’t stop looking at them. A necessary evil in her business. Well, her previous business.


She convinced herself that her mother and Corinne were right. Time away from the city would do her good.


“That’s great news!” Hannah said when Ella called to tell her she was going out of town for a few days. “Yeah, I’ll take Princess. No problem. Just go and relax. Me and the baby will be waiting for you when you’re ready to come back.”


Ella hung up the phone and looked around her apartment. She had already firmed things up with Corinne and Hannah. The only thing left to do was to pack. She went into her closet and looked through her clothing. She was rather disappointed to see that she only had a few casual outfits compared to the dozens of business suits.


“Wow,” she said grabbing the clothes off the hangars. “If that’s not a sign that this girl needs a vacation, I don’t know what is!”


Ella packed her luggage and left instructions and food for Princess out for Hannah to pick up the next morning. She figured she would get a good night’s sleep and head out first thing in the morning for the three-hour drive to her parents’.



The next morning Ella awoke to see that the weather was beautiful and perfect for the road trip to Rhode Island. She made her way out of the city just before gridlock set in and was on I-95 in no time. She rolled down the windows and breathed in the fresh ocean air, letting it play with her long brown hair.


Puffy white clouds hung lazily in the sky as if beckoning her to come to the shore and relax. The sun was warm and inviting and the temperature unseasonably warm. She arrived at the cottage just before noon after stopping in New Haven for a quick bite.


“You’re here!” Ella’s mother ran down the creaky wooden steps of the little cottage and out on the strip of lawn to greet Ella.


“Hi Mom,” Ella said, stretching her body out of the car to a standing position.


Maggie threw her arms around her daughter while Ed, Ella’s father, reached in the backseat and grabbed her bag for her.


“Hello sweetie,” he said, wrapping a strong arm around her and pulling her close. She held onto him, feeling safe and secure from the world’s hurts in her father’s arms.


“Hi Daddy,” she said as he planted a kiss on her messy hair.


“I’m so glad you decided to come,” Maggie said, fussing with Ella as she hugged her all the way into the tiny cottage. She led her daughter straight into the kitchen where she had sandwiches and a pitcher of lemonade waiting.


“Here, we’ll sit outside, eat and catch up.” Maggie smiled and piled the food on a tray.


Ella looked at her mother with nothing but love. Her father glanced over at her again, smiling in a way that said he was glad his baby was home, before disappearing upstairs with Ella’s luggage.


Ella joined her mother on the small front porch. Sitting in a yellow Adirondack chair, she looked out at the ocean and closed her eyes, breathing in the delicious salty air.


“So, you must be starving!” Maggie began doling out sandwiches and pouring lemonade.


Ella wasn’t hungry at all, but knew better than to directly refuse her mother’s food. “Actually, I stopped in New Haven,” she said slowly, as her mother froze and stared at her. “But the food wasn’t that good,” she continued, knowing exactly what her mother needed to hear.


“I thought so,” Maggie laughed. “Besides, why on earth would you stop when you knew I'd be making lunch?”


“I needed to use the bathroom. And then I remembered that I forgot to have breakfast.”


“Oh, you city girls. Too busy to keep to a regular schedule,” Maggie shook her head as she bit into her sandwich. “You’re practically just skin and bones now, you know.”


Ella laughed and looked down at her ample thighs. She thought of all the rail-thin brides she had worked with and the thousands of skinny women she passed every day on the streets of New York. “Yep,” she said, too tired to argue with her mom. “Just skin and bones!”


The two women chatted as they ate. Maggie knew that the move from wedding planner to baby shower planner had happened for a reason, but she also knew her daughter would tell when she was ready, and not a moment sooner. She was just grateful that Ella had decided to come home to clear her head from whatever was muddling it all up.


“Well,” Maggie said patting her daughter on the shoulder as stood up to clear the dishes. “We’re just so glad you’re here with us for a little while.”


Ella smiled at her mother and stretched out in the chair. She closed her eyes and listened as the ocean broke against the rocky shore while the gulls called out overhead. There was nothing like the New England shore and Ella was glad to back home.



BOOK: Marrying the Sheikh
11.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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