The sheikhs purchased br.., p.34
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       The Sheikh's Purchased Bride, p.34

         Part #3 of The Sheikh's Every Wish series by Holly Rayner
 
SEVEN

  Anita reached the building just about on time. She was a few minutes early, and was glad that she’d left herself enough of a buffer to account for the walk. To her surprise, the building in front of her was a warehouse. And an abandoned one, at that. It wasn’t derelict or dirty, but it clearly wasn’t in use, either. The front door must once have had a sign on it, showing its former presence by the non-faded square of paint beneath.

  She must have gotten the wrong address, Anita thought. She rechecked it on her phone. No, this was definitely where he had told her to come. She looked up at the building again. Up on her tip-toes, she peaked through the window in the door.

  And then she saw it. Just behind the door was a long stairway, about six feet wide, leading up into the mysterious depths of the building. On either end of each one of the treads were tea lights, not unlike the ones that had been on the Sheikh’s table the previous night.

  Anita smiled, and tried the door. It pushed open easily beneath her hand.

  She walked up the stairs. The old building was right on the line between spooky and romantic; it could have been eerie, with the way no one was around, but the soft light from the candles gave it a warm glow. One flight of stairs led to another, where the candles changed from tea lights to tall candlesticks in shimmering golden holders.

  She could feel her heartbeat quickening. It was, she was certain, the most elaborate, excessive measure she’d even been treated to.

  When the staircase bent again, she saw the final set of stairs, lit up by a mixture of tall candelabras, little tea lights, candlesticks, and big, round candles. They were scattered along the sides of the stairs, giving the whole thing a beautiful, carefully-curated look. Between the lights, where Anita would walk, were flower petals. They weren’t red roses—that would have felt a little on-the-nose, she thought. Instead, they were huge baby-blue petals, from a kind of flower she’d never seen before.

  Anita held her breath as she climbed the stairs. All she could hear was the sound of her footsteps on the petals, and the crackling of the many, many candles around her.

  When she reached the door at the very top of the stairs, another sound met her ears.

  Frowning, Anita let out her breath, and swung the door open.

  She found herself standing on the roof. It was a large, flat space, and though the candles and petals all stopped, there was still something—someone—here waiting for her: Hakim.

  He was facing away from her, wearing another beautifully-fitting suit, as she’d assumed he would be, and speaking in rapid Arabic into a cellphone.

  Anita concentrated. Fadi had tried to teach her some Arabic when she was younger, but as she’d grown older, it had seemed less and less important to her, compared to other things. She only had a rudimentary grasp of it now, and Hakim was speaking far too quickly for her to keep up.

  Even though she couldn’t make out the words, Anita could tell that Hakim was upset about something. Angry, in a way, but not out of control.

  She moved up behind him, creeping up without really meaning to. She heard the tone of their conversation change from anger to frustration, and finally disappointment.

  And then he hung up the phone, and was startled to see her, mere feet away from where he was standing.

  “Anita!”

  She looked around the rooftop, as though looking for some other Anita. “What, me?”

  His face broke out into a smile, just as she’d hoped it would. But it wasn’t enough to pierce through his disappointment.

  “I’m sorry,” he said.

  Anita furrowed her brows. “For what? What could you possibly be sorry for?”

  He gestured around them. “This is my helipad. Do you see anything missing?”

  Anita made a show of looking, although she knew immediately what he was getting at. “I see,” she said. “No helicopter. Whatever shall we do?”

  It didn’t work. His mood didn’t lift. She was surprised by how much his disappointment bothered her.

  Feeling more confident than she could have predicted, Anita reached out and took his arm. “Come on. We didn’t want a helicopter anyway. Going out with a prince is a first for me. Tonight should be a first for you, too. You’ve probably been on a helicopter plenty of times.”

  He cocked an eyebrow. “What do you have in mind?”

  She opened her mouth to tell him, but then thought better of it. “The helicopter was going to be a surprise for me. Let this be a surprise for you.”

  She tugged gently at his arm, trying to get him to move towards the door, and the stairs, still illuminated with countless candles. But he stood firm.

  “I was really supposed to be the one surprising you,” he said, still hesitating.

  “Well, it wouldn’t really have been a surprise if you’d planned it, would it?”

  And with that, she got him to move, and she saw him begin to loosen up. Anita was glad the staircase was so wide, as they strode down it together.

  “I did get one surprise,” she said, indicating the beautiful, elaborate scene surrounding them.

  “That’s true,” he said, warming up. “Did you like it?”

  Anita nodded, but not as vigorously as she had the previous night. She was glad to have gotten control of herself, now. She could have normal human reactions in front of the prince. That was a start.

  “Yes. I loved it, actually.”

  She looked to him in time to see just a glimmer of candlelight glint off of his teeth; he was smiling.

  “A bit of a fire hazard, though, really,” Hakim said, as they kept descending the stairs.

  Anita laughed. “A dramatic fire hazard, though. What is this place?”

  They were walking together so leisurely that Anita felt less like she was on a first date and more like she was taking a walk along with someone she’d known for a long time.

  “This was one of the first buildings my family bought when we started doing business here. We outgrew it long ago, but it’s good to remember where we started.”

  Anita laughed. “So you put a fire hazard in a warehouse that’s been used for the oil industry for years and years?”

  He paused mid-step, then laughed. “Yes, it seems I did,” he said, as he recovered and started walking again. “Don’t worry, someone will be around after us to put out all the candles.”

  Anita hadn’t been expecting this. She wasn’t sure what she’d expected, exactly, but it definitely hadn’t been someone this down to earth. She’d thought he would be a man who always had his entourage around him, a man who was always just a little divorced from reality. Certainly, when she’d seen the elaborate staging he’d made for her on the stairs, that had seemed to be the case.

  But their conversation was showing that Hakim lived in her world, more than she had realized. And together, they strode easily through the streets.

  “At least tell me if your surprise is far from here.”

  She shook her head. “Nope, not telling.”

  “Mm, can you tell me if I’m overdressed for it?”

  Anita chuckled. “Oh, you’re definitely overdressed.”

  “Right,” he said. “So that narrows it down.”

  “Does it, though?” she asked teasingly.

  He laughed, sliding his hand down her arm so that he was holding her hand as they walked. “All right, point taken. From here on out, I’ll just wear an old pair of… what do you call them… the jean pants that are also kind of a shirt…”

  “Overalls,” Anita supplied, as she watched him making the shape of overall straps with his free hand.

  “Right, overalls. From now on, I’ll wear nothing but overalls.”

  Anita felt like this date had been nothing but laughing, and she couldn’t help herself. “It’s hilarious imagining you in overalls.”

  “Honestly,” he replied, “I’m a little insulted that you even can.”

  He turned his head to face her. They were walking forward, now, neither of them looking ahead. She felt like she
could kiss him just then. She felt like she could just lean in, and…

  Anita stumbled. They’d somehow gone off the curb. She nearly fell but he caught her.

  “Well, it’s not easy,” she said, not missing a beat in their conversation, “but I have a wild imagination.”

  In mere minutes, they arrived at their destination, although Anita found herself wishing she’d picked somewhere further away.

  “Crazy golf?”

  Anita turned to face him, her face illuminated by the bright, flashing sign of the crazy golf course. “I can’t tell whether I’m catching you at a disadvantage, because they don’t have golf courses in Az Kajir, or if I’m putting myself at a disadvantage by challenging a businessman to a round of golf.”

  He raised an eyebrow, but his face gave no indication either way. “Well, we’ll just have to see, won’t we?”

  There was a little bit of a wait to play, as there were other parties that had come in in front of them. Hakim seemed unfamiliar with the experience of waiting. He looked around, as though someone should be fixing it for them. That was more the man she had expected, she supposed: looked after for all his life. But he didn’t complain, nor did he really seem to mind waiting. Not as they were, standing hand in hand.

  Around twenty minutes later, the competition began, and from the very first shot, Anita knew she was in trouble. Hakim kept shielding his eyes from the flashing lights of the room. The clubs and balls were both neon, and lit up in an omnipresent black light, as did their teeth.

  “I should mention; you know we do have golf courses in Az Kajir. The grass takes some encouraging, but we do our best. Have you never been back home?”

  With that, he sunk a hole-in-one, and raised his arms in victory.

  “Don’t get cocky,” Anita said, as she dropped her ball into the hole on the third shot. “They get harder.”

  She was glad the hole-in-one had distracted Hakim from where their conversation had been headed. She didn’t know quite what to tell him. Well, she knew the truth, but she also knew that if Fadi was opposed to her talking to this man, then talking about their homeland and giving exact details about their lives was probably an even greater betrayal.

  The reminder of Fadi brought her mood down, and for the next few holes Anita had a difficult time concentrating on where she was and who she was with.

  “Is something wrong?” Hakim eventually asked, his voice laden with concern. “Have I done something?”

  “No, nothing. Sorry. I was thinking of something sad, but I shouldn’t be. Not tonight.”

  He gave her a warm smile, and, again, Anita was tempted, just for a moment, to kiss him.

 
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