The Sheikh's Stolen Bride-To-Be

By: Holly Rayner

He gazed warmly at Elora, then, reaching over and taking her hand in his.

“It was strange at first. I won’t lie to you about that. We didn’t meet until the day of our wedding, and it had to be alone. No family were allowed to be present. It all felt so secret and exciting. When I saw your mother for the first time, I knew I’d made the right choice.”

Steph noticed that Elora was strangely quiet during this retelling. Jerry finished his story with gusto.

“We worked through the awkwardness of not knowing one another until we found that the things we had in common helped build a stronger love than any I could have hoped to find. That’s all we want for you, Steph: a chance at a love with a good foundation and the right start.”

“You mean financially,” Steph said.

Jerry frowned. “That’s a part of it, but I mean in all ways. I think the man we’ve found is an exceptional person and will make a wonderful husband for you in every possible way.”

Elora’s dark eyes landed on her daughter, then. “Duty matters, Stephanie. It’s important that you understand this, as it is a very big part of who we are as women of El Farah. You will find happiness, even if it isn’t there at the beginning.”

Jerry cast his wife a curious glance at that statement, but he didn’t ask about it. The conversation was finished, and the family finished their dinner in comfortable silence. When their plates were clean, Steph helped her mother wash up.

“Stephanie, there is a box in the attic I want you to find before we go,” Elora said, putting the last plate away in the cabinet. “You’ll find a beautiful little hair accessory that I wore on my wedding day, and that my mother wore on hers. I think it will go beautifully with your gown.”

Elora told her where to find the box before sending her up to the attic on her own. Steph pulled down the folded staircase and headed up the steps into the cool dark room above their house, turning on the flashlight on her phone to better see the space.

She’d always been a little afraid of the attic. There was nothing particularly exciting up there—mostly spiders, from what her father told her. Looking around now, it was clear that he had been pulling her chain. The room was tidy and clean, with several labeled boxes stacked around the room. Following her mother’s directions, Steph headed toward a corner of the room where she found a box labelled “wedding.”

“You must be my treasure,” she murmured, pulling the box from its corner.

It was taped shut, and Steph was careful as she used her recently manicured nails to peel at the tape, opening the tattered old box. Inside there was a random jumble of things, and she began pawing through to find the accessory her mother had been talking about.

There were piles of documents outlining the details of the marriage. Steph read a few paragraphs of small print before she got bored and set the papers aside, looking for better things. Her mother’s small, diamond-encrusted tiara was in a black box, snugly encased. Steph delicately pulled it out, turning it around to catch the muted light of her phone. It was petite, delicate, and beautiful.

And it was a total wake-up call.

Steph would be wearing this tiara on her wedding day, in just a few days’ time. She placed it on her head and reached for her phone, taking a picture without looking to make sure the flash illuminated the image. When she turned it around, she stared at the picture for a moment.

In all honesty, she looked sad. Was this really what she wanted? To be dressed up as a beautiful doll and given away to some man? While her parents hadn’t really given her a choice in the matter, deep down Steph knew she had one. She could still say no. She could walk away.

She could devastate her mother for the rest of her life.

Steph sighed as she removed the tiara and placed it back in its case. She sorted through the box a little more, for curiosity’s sake, and came across a small pile of photographs from her parents’ wedding day.

Her father looked young and handsome. He was smiling in every picture, clearly overjoyed with his new bride.

Her mother, on the other hand, was another story entirely. Steph looked through picture after picture, all of which must have been taken after the private ceremony. In each image, Elora’s gaze was downcast, her features grim. While there were some images in which she had tried to smile for the camera, Steph knew her mother well enough to know that she had been faking it.

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