Marrying the Sheikh

By: Holly Rayner

“Whoa,” was all Ella could say. She had seen luxury, but nothing that even came close to this.

Karim smiled as he arrived at the top of the stairs behind her. “Go ahead,” he said, placing his large hand in the small of her back. She jumped at his touch and looked over her shoulder at him quickly.

His handsome face smiled down at her as one dark curl of hair fell onto his olive skin. Ella swallowed hard and smiled up at him, then looked away and stepped into the cabin of the plane.

“So here is the living area,” Karim said, gesturing vaguely around them. “There's a mini-bar behind this door, feel free to help yourself to anything. And in here,” he opened a cabinet in the wall, “this is our home theater.”

The cabinet contained dozens and dozens of movies. Ella’s eyes grew big as they were drawn to her favorites: Gone with the Wind and The King and I.

“Oh my goodness, you like these, too?” she asked, running her finger along the spines of the cases.

Karim laughed. “Yeah, I grew up on those. My mother was a sucker for old movies, and I guess I kind of got hooked.” He rolled his eyes as he closed the cabinet. “Nadia hates them. She’s more into the new stuff.”

Ella felt a pang in her heart. From the outside, Nadia and Karim looked like the perfect couple. But the more she was getting to know them, the more it appeared that they were like so many of the other couples she had worked with: perfect on the outside and a complete disaster behind the facade.

“So, I don’t mean to pry,” Ella said, choosing her words carefully as they moved to another room. “But why isn’t Nadia coming with us?”

“This is our dining room, which doubles as a conference room,” Karim said, ignoring her question as he kept talking. “We always travel with a full staff so if we get hungry, we can have what we want.” He motioned to small galley kitchen behind the dining room, adjacent to which was a bathroom.

Karim walked Ella further to the back of the jet. “And here is the sleeping cabin.” He opened the door to reveal a large sleeping cabin complete with a king-sized bed dressed in black and ivory linens.

“Wow,” Ella said, realizing she must sound like a little kid. “That’s really something. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

“Well,” Karim said, “My family likes to live comfortably. And we have the means, so why not?”

Ella smiled and nodded. “Why not, indeed?”

They made their way back to the living area and Karim motioned for Ella to have a seat.

“About Nadia,” Karim began to say as he fixed a drink for Ella and himself.

“No,” Ella interrupted, realizing she probably crossed some sort of protocol line by even asking. “I shouldn’t have asked. It’s none of my business, really. It’s just…”

“Just that you’ve never planned a wedding without the bride?” Karim asked, smiling those stunningly gorgeous eyes at her.

A voice came over the intercom and alerted them it was time to be seated for take-off. “Please be advised that air traffic control has warned of a storm heading our way later this afternoon. We should plan to leave early to avoid the bad weather, sir.”

“Thank you, Stephen,” Karim said to the intercom, and the light blinked twice and went dark.

Karim finished fixing the drinks and came over to the sofa, and Ella felt her heart flip in her chest. She wasn’t sure if it was the jet taking off, the luxuriousness of her surroundings, or the nearness of Karim, but there was something that was causing her to feel completely out of sorts.

“No, it’s okay,” Karim said, referring to Ella’s question. He placed the drink on the table in the center of the U-shaped sofa before sliding into a spot across from her and sipping on his cocktail.

“It’s not a cultural thing or anything like that, really,” he said as if he could read her mind. “It’s just that Nadia had another engagement that conflicted with this. And this was the only time I could get down here. Besides,” he said settling back into the supple leather of the seat, “I think she likes me handling the details. She’s pretty busy with...” he hesitated and took another sip of his drink. “Anyhow, it's the husband’s job to take care of his wife and I guess that’s what she wants me to do with the wedding.” Karim looked down at his drink and spoke again, this time much quieter. “Even though we’re not married yet.”

Ella could tell there was something more there. But, she told herself, that wasn’t her concern. Her job was only to take care of the wedding. The marriage was their business. Sensing the discomfort of the moment, Ella turned her attention to the details of the wedding.

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