The Sheikh's Stolen Bride-To-Be

By: Holly Rayner

Elora had not been happy the day she married Steph’s father. That much was clear. What had she said at dinner? That duty was the most important thing? She had done this out of duty—to her family, to their culture—over any personal feelings she might have had on the subject. Steph wondered if her mother’s parents had ever asked her what she had really wanted either, though she already knew that answer.

In that moment, Steph knew she couldn’t go through with the ceremony. She couldn’t look as downtrodden as her mother had on her wedding day. That was supposed to be the most romantic day of a person’s life!

Thinking back on the conversation she’d had with her parents at dinner, Steph couldn’t think of a way to express her concerns and actually get either of them to understand. Her father had justified her nerves as those of a skittish bride, afraid of the unknown. Her mother had dismissed them in favor of doing what she must, in the name of tradition.

With her stomach in knots, Steph put the photos back in the box and closed it up, carrying the tiara downstairs before folding the stairs back up into the ceiling. She headed to her room, where she set the tiara in her suitcase. Her mother called from the living room.

“Stephanie! Did you find the headpiece?”

“I did,” Steph called back. “It’s already packed!”

When she didn’t hear footsteps coming in her direction, Steph perched on the small windowsill of her tiny bedroom and stared out as the Vermont sun sank beneath the trees, casting an indigo glow across the carpet of forest that stretched as far as the eye could see. She looked at her phone again, tapping it open and looking at the picture of her in the tiara.

She had never looked more scared in her life.

Her parents came upstairs, then, knocking on her door.

“Come in,” she said dully, closing out the screen and setting the phone down next to her.

“Are you ready for tomorrow?” her father asked, ever enthusiastic.

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Steph answered.

Jerry nodded as though he understood, which of course he didn’t at all. “It’s going to be wonderful. We’ll have much to celebrate in the next few weeks, and there will be lots of time for you to get to know your new beau. You’re going to have fun. You’ll see.”

Her father walked over and planted an affectionate kiss on her brow, giving her an encouraging smile as he left the room, his hand squeezing his wife’s shoulder.

Elora stared at Steph for a moment longer before she came and sat on her bed. “Do you have any questions for me?” she asked gently.

Steph was taken aback. Elora had a way of being tough and cold, but loving all at the same time. It was difficult to explain. She simply showed her emotions differently, and while Steph knew she was deeply loved, it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to have an emotional conversation with her mother. A moment ago she would have jumped at the chance, but now, faced with the opportunity to tell her all her fears and worries, her tongue felt firmly tied.

“Not that I can think of,” she said, even as her brain screamed at her for not telling the truth.

What good would it do? Her fate was sealed now.

After a moment, her mother released a breath. “I know how frightening it can be,” she said. “But you must know that we would never put you in a bad situation. We have done our due diligence by you, and I believe very firmly that you will be happy.”

“What am I going to do without you?” Steph asked in a small voice.

It was the one unasked question none of them had wanted to answer. Having found a man in El Farah, it wasn’t clear whether Steph’s parents would also stay in the country. Steph had been trying to come to terms with the fact that she very likely would be alone, married to a stranger in a foreign country that she felt no allegiance to.

It wasn’t exactly the most comforting of thoughts, and while her parents believed they had chosen a good man, Steph knew that anyone could look good on paper. That didn’t mean they weren’t lying or hiding some aspect of themselves. What if she got trapped in a terrible marriage? What if she had to find a way to escape?

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