Marrying the sheikh, p.13
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       Marrying The Sheikh, p.13

         Part #1 of The Sheikh Wants A Wife series by Holly Rayner
 
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The stateroom was enormous, and for a moment Aurora was too shocked to go through with her plan to simply find the closest table, unburden herself and leave.

  The suite boasted a huge living area, with plush, jewel-toned couches, low tables, and a thick rug over the hardwood floors. Like everything else on the yacht, the furnishings and details gleamed with polish, almost dazzling her eyes.

  Off to one end of the room, Aurora saw a king-size bed dressed with thick pillows and a heavy comforter, a closet, and French doors leading out to a balcony. From the other end of the room, Aurora heard the sound of running water, and a brief look told her that the noise was coming from an ensuite shower which was clearly in use.

  Get the job done and get out of here! Aurora gave herself a shake and tried to decide where she should put her tray down; was there a particular spot that the Sheikh wanted his breakfast delivered to? Did it matter? She eyed the various tables in the room, thinking of where she would want to eat if it was her room, her breakfast.

  She thought the best place to eat would probably be the balcony; it had the best view, and with the ocean rolling past she was sure it would be spectacular. But the doors to the balcony were closed, and when she tried one of the knobs, she found it locked.

  Aurora decided on the low coffee table in front of the plushest of the couches and set the tray down quickly; but just as the heavy wood clunked down on the table, she heard the water cut off in the next room. “Shit,” she whispered, looking around in a panic.

  Before her frazzled nerves could slow down enough to give her the opportunity to think, Aurora caught movement in the corner of her vision. A man emerged from the bathroom and as she turned to look at him, her knees went weak.

  The man was tall, lean and muscular—she could see precisely how muscular as he had emerged wearing nothing but a towel. His skin was a warm, bronze-olive tone, his chest hairless down to the washboard abs that cut off at the hem of the white towel. He had slightly angular features with a Cupid’s bow mouth and the ghost of stubble on his cheeks, his hazel eyes framed by dark lashes and darker, finely-arched brows. His deep brown hair was slicked back from his forehead, damp curls lying flat against his skull.

  “Thank you; I was just wondering if my breakfast might have arrived,” the man said, smiling to reveal straight, bright white teeth. His voice lilted slightly with an accent, the tone low and almost caressing. The smile flickered for a moment, almost becoming a frown before rebounding. “You look new; what’s your name?”

  “Aurora,” she said, smiling nervously. “And yes, I’m new. Is there—is there anything else I can do for you, sir?” Her heart hammered in her chest, rabbit-fast.

  “Ah—yes, if you could please take this to be ironed,” the man said. He took a few steps across the room towards an open suitcase and pulled out a three-piece suit. “I probably shouldn’t have waited until the last minute to pack, but this is why I have an onboard laundry, isn’t it?”

  Aurora nodded her agreement and stepped forward, accepting the suit from his hands. Shit. The longer you keep this up, the more likely you are to be caught. Idiot!

  She smiled politely in spite of her inner panic. “I’ll get this right down to the laundry for you,” she said brightly.

  The man smiled again and turned away, and Aurora gave herself the momentary liberty to watch him as he strode back into the bathroom; his back and shoulders, lean legs, and the shape of his buttocks against the tightly-wrapped towel were every bit as intriguing to look at as his front had been.

  When the Sheikh entered the bathroom once more, Aurora turned away and found the door to the quarters. She hefted the suit on her arm and fumbled briefly with the doorknob before getting the door open and plunging through it, back into the corridor.

  She closed the door quietly behind her and snorted, shaking her head in disbelief. Until she’d gawked at the Sheikh heading back into the bathroom, she’d never understood the phrase “I hate to see you go, but I love to watch you leave.” Stop being a lech, Aurora, she told herself firmly. You have a job to do.

  She took a deep breath and started down the corridor, trying as best she could to look as if she knew where she was going. In a certain light, the idea of getting away from her old life by pretending to be a member of some wealthy Sheikh’s yacht crew was exciting; it was a story to rival anything she’d done in Vietnam, certainly. But that was only if she managed to pull it off. What’s the law about stowaways? If we’re in international waters—does he have to obey any laws at all?

  Since she’d wandered the ship so widely in her attempt to find the Sheikh’s room, Aurora had much less ground to cover to locate the laundry room. She made her way down one hallway and up another until she began to smell the telltale scent of detergent, and followed her nose. She found the discreet room, door open to vent some of the heat and scent out to the corridor, and quickly stepped into the space, sliding the suit off of her arm and onto a pile of clothes beneath a sign reading “To Be Ironed.”

  The suit jacket slipped down the pile and Aurora moved to catch it, but just as she got it back up onto the table, she heard something clink, and then clatter heavily onto the floor. “What was that?” Aurora murmured. Frowning, she crouched down next to the table and looked around. A dull metallic gleam in the shadow of the table revealed itself to be a large watch, and Aurora sighed, picking it up off of the floor.

  Looking at it, Aurora's eyes widened; the Sheikh had left something truly precious in his pocket. The watch was elegant, with a leather band and gleaming rose-gold face. The hands moved silkily, and Aurora saw the word Cartier emblazoned in small, perfect letters just below the 12. God, this has to be worth thousands—tens of thousands, she thought, shaking her head at the kind of excess that would move someone to not only buy a multi-thousand dollar watch, but also to forget it in a suit pocket.

  Aurora sighed and put it into her skirt pocket, telling herself that she would find somewhere to leave it later. Her errand finished, she made her way out of the belly of the yacht, moving through the corridors until she came to the entrance that led onto the deck.

  She blinked as the bright, late-morning sunlight hit her eyes, and then stepped out into it, basking in the warmth and light. The yacht was moving so smoothly through the water that she hadn’t even really felt it while she was navigating the interior, but as Aurora walked to a railing, she could see that the boat wasn’t just moving smoothly—it was moving fast, cutting through the water at a rapid clip.

  She looked out over the beautiful blue and green and strained her eyes, barely discerning the shapes of the dock along the coast as the ship headed away from it. “Well, I managed at least to get away from the city,” she said quietly, sighing to herself.

  She knew she couldn’t dawdle for very long on the deck; if she wanted to convincingly portray a crew member, she would need to make herself scarce or pretend to be doing something as much as she possibly could. Surely they get breaks, at least from time to time. Ten minutes shouldn’t be too long.

  Aurora’s phone vibrated in her other pocket and she glanced around, wondering if maybe there was some kind of staff policy on phones. Even if there is one, surely people break it all the time, she reasoned. She slipped her phone out carefully, turning her back to the deck.

  Unlocking the screen, Aurora saw that she must have missed it vibrating earlier; there was a missed call listed, along with a voicemail. The buzzing she had just felt was a text message from her father. Please call your mom or me when you get the chance, honey. We haven’t heard from you in a while. Aurora grimaced at the lurch of guilt the message sent through her body.

  Checking the missed call, she didn’t recognize the number. She took a quick breath and brought the phone as unobtrusively to her ear as she could while dialing her voicemail, bending slightly over the railing and pretending to look out over the water. “Aurora,” the familiar voice filled her ear. “You know who this is. It’s a nice try, getting a burner cell, but you’re not th
e only one who can do that. And I’m not any closer to forgetting the money you owe me. I may not know where you are yet, but I’m pretty sure I can convince Jorge to tell me.” The message ended abruptly, and Aurora shivered.

  She gave herself a shake and deleted the message before slipping the phone into her pocket. “I’ll think about it later,” she murmured to herself. It wasn't like there was anything she could do about Jon in her current position.

  Almost of its own volition, Aurora's hand slipped into her other pocket, where she could feel the weight of the watch she’d retrieved from the Sheikh’s suit. Just how much is a watch like this worth? She pressed her lips together, feeling anticipatory guilt as the thought started to worm its way into her mind: if the Sheikh hadn’t even remembered that he’d put the watch in his pocket before sending it to be ironed, would he miss it at all? He probably had a dozen designer watches, more than he could keep possibly track of. If she could make it off the ship without being caught, she might be able to sell it to someone, and if she could do that, maybe she would stand a chance of paying off her debt. It’s got to be worth more than I owe, too, Aurora thought hopefully.

  “Hey!”

  Aurora snatched her hand out of her pocket as if the watch had burned her and turned around to see the same woman she’d run into earlier—the dishwater blonde who’d called her Steph. Her heart pounded in her chest as she struggled to try and come up with some kind of excuse for being on the ship.

  “Are you that new maid, Aurora?” the woman asked.

  Aurora blinked, startled at hearing her correct name on the woman’s lips. How had that gotten around the yacht so quickly?

  “Yes,” she said, instinctively standing straighter. Her mouth and throat felt dry.

  “The Sheikh asked for you,” the woman said. “He’s still in his quarters; wants to talk to you.” The woman seemed utterly unconcerned by the situation, and Aurora wondered if that was because she didn’t know that Aurora was a fake—or if she did know, and simply didn’t care about the outcome of the discovery.

  “Oh, sure—I’ll head right over,” Aurora said, resisting the urge to curtsy or bow her head. “Thanks for letting me know.”

  She moved quickly for the entrance into the body of the ship, swallowing against the tight feeling in her throat. The watch weighed down her pocket, and she wondered if maybe the Sheikh had left it in his suit jacket on purpose, as some kind of test. Had he expected her to immediately come back to his room and tell him he’d left it there? Aurora shivered at the change of temperature and the dread that worked its way through her spine. If he had been testing her, she’d already failed. This is going to be bad.

  It didn’t take her as long to find the Sheikh’s room as it had the first time. Aurora steeled herself as she reached the double doors, straightening her shoulders and closing her eyes for a moment to summon what little courage she could find inside of herself. She would have to brazen it out, whatever it was the Sheikh wanted from her. I don’t even know his name. I should know his name, if I’m one of his employees. But that shouldn’t come up, should it? Aurora pressed her lips together, took a quick, deep breath, and knocked on the door in a brief, staccato burst before opening the door.

  “Sir?” She stepped into the stateroom to find the man she’d brought breakfast to seated on the couch. To her disappointment, he wasn’t still wearing just a towel, but was dressed in a lightweight, designer suit that seemed tailored perfectly to fit his body. His hair was dry and brushed back from his face in wavy curls, and he looked at her with a pleasant, neutral expression on his face.

  “I like to take a few moments to introduce myself to all of my new employees,” the Sheikh said, gesturing for Aurora to come closer.

  She stepped away from the doorway and approached reluctantly, wondering—irrelevantly—if she had some kind of splotch or blob on her face or clothes, something she might not have noticed but which could stand out under the man’s intent gaze.

  “First of all, let me formally introduce myself; my name is Khaleel Al-Mohammedi.” Aurora nodded slightly. “I own this yacht, as you might have guessed, ” Khaleel smiled. “My father passed away six months ago, leaving me in charge of the family business. I spend a lot of time on this yacht; I find being on the sea is a good escape.” Khaleel paused. “Now, tell me a little about yourself.”

  “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.

 
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