Marrying the Sheikh

By: Holly Rayner

Ella looked at him and saw he was nodding in the direction of a brightly lit room adjacent to the lobby. “The bar?” she asked, cautiously.

“Yep,” he said, pulling her by the hand. “What better way to kill time?”

They walked into the bar and sat at a table by the doorway, far enough away from the windows to be safe from any flying debris.

The bartender smiled politely and came over to take their drink order. When he was gone, Karim began talking.

“So, what made you get into wedding planning?” he asked with what seemed to be genuine curiosity.

“Well,” Ella said slowly, unsure how much she wanted to reveal. She was always careful not to cross the professional line, but there was something about Karim that caused her to flirt with doing just that.

“I actually graduated with a degree in design,” she said, playing down her achievements.

“Really? Where did you go to college?” Karim asked, just as the waiter set down their drinks.

Ella fidgeted with her drink and looked away. She never liked bragging about herself, but this was different. Karim was royalty. There probably wasn’t anything she could say that would make him uncomfortable.

“Columbia,” she said, taking a long sip from her cocktail.

“Columbia University?” Karim asked with wide eyes.

She was surprised at his response. Why was he so taken aback that she went to Columbia?

“Yeah,” she said. “Why?” She tried to hide her annoyance but the cocktail was hitting her pretty quickly and she knew she was loosening up.

“Well,” Karim said, flashing a gorgeous smile her direction. “It’s just that, well,” he tried to choose his words carefully. “It’s just that you don’t hear of many wedding planners who went to Columbia.”

“And exactly how many wedding planners do you know?” asked Ella, defiantly.

Karim laughed. “Okay, you got me there!”

They continued to talk about Ella’s choice to leave E.J. Munford and venture out on her own. Ella told Karim how she got her start with Hannah's wedding and how the business had taken off really well. She talked about the financial security her business gave her and how fortunate she felt being able to meet so many people and travel to so many places.

“And what about the people,” Karim said. “What do you think of the brides and grooms you work with?”

The bartender came over and refreshed their drinks. Ella took a sip so as to stall before answering. She didn’t want to be rude or criticize anyone she had worked for; their relationships were their business. But at the same time, she felt like she could be honest with Karim.

“For the most part,” she began. “I like my clients. They are usually really happy, really in love. I mean there are the uptight ones; the ones that hover over me every second. When that happens, I wonder why they hired a wedding planner to begin with!”

Karim laughed and watched Ella as she spoke. He took in her beautiful face, her soft features and full lips and was drawn to the depths of her emerald-green eyes. He was entranced by the way she played with her long brown hair as she spoke, twirling it between her fingers.

“Then there are the ones that know exactly what they want and aren’t willing to give an inch. They have everything laid out perfectly and all I have to do is follow their instructions to a tee.”

“Well, that must make your job easier,” said Karim.

“Sometimes. But when I can’t meet their expectations exactly, it can be really difficult to get them to compromise.” Ella took another sip of her drink as the wind kicked up outside. “Wow,” she said, noticing the strength of the storm. “It sounds like it’s getting worse out there.”

Karim nodded and took a long sip of his drink. He leaned in on the table, close enough so that Ella could feel the heat of his breath when he spoke. “And what about us?”

Ella sat frozen, sensing something between her and Karim, but unsure if it was her imagination, the drinks or something genuine. She felt so good sitting across from him, sharing a drink, talking. It was as if they had known each other for a long time. There was sense of comfort and security that neither of them could deny.

Her gaze snapped to the window as she heard another strong gust and a loud bang. The lights flickered on and off again and she took a deep sip of her drink to calm her nerves. Ella could feel the alcohol soothing her as the warm liquid filled her up. She sat back, feeling more relaxed as Karim went on.

“So,” he said, prodding. “So what do you think of us? Of me and Nadia?”

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