The Sheikh's Stolen Bride-To-Be

By: Holly Rayner

As they drove, Steph watched her mother’s face. Elora’s expression was wistful as she laid eyes once again on the land of her birth.

Steph placed a gentle hand on her mother’s knee. “Please tell me. Just one thing.”

Elora looked down at her daughter, then, laying a reassuring hand on top of hers. “He is kind hearted, good looking, and wealthy. That is all you need to know for now. The rest you will find out on your own.”

Steph bit back a frustrated sigh as they drove on in silence, her mother lost in memories, her father lightly snoring with his head drooping onto his chest, and the driver listening to music she had never heard before. When they arrived at the hotel, her father jolted awake before paying the man and getting their bags. They stopped at the concierge to check into their room.

“O’Hanlon,” her father told the man, who typed their name into the system.

The clerk’s eyebrows lifted, and he looked back up at her father. “It would seem you’ve had a change of rooms, sir. Instead of a single with two queens, you have been upgraded to the lounge suite on the top floor.”

Jerry looked down at his daughter with a glance of approval. “He’s really trying to impress you, wouldn’t you say?”

“How do you know it’s him?” Steph countered.

The further in she got, the more she felt like she couldn’t go through with the wedding. It was made all the worse by the fact that whoever the groom was, he was obviously kind enough to shower her and her parents with upgrades and gifts before the big day. Could she really walk out on someone like that? On the other hand, could she really go through with marrying someone she didn’t know? What if this was all just a show, a way to win her parents’ trust so that he could do what he pleased to her and they would take his side? If her parents had been willing to give her even a small hint, maybe she could have relaxed, but Steph felt her panic rising with the elevator as they rode to the highest floor of the hotel.

When her father opened the door, the view they were met with was absolutely magnificent. The whole room was surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows, so they had a sweeping view of the majestic El Farah desert as winds whipped curls of sand off the tops of towering dunes. The living room was spacious yet comfortable, with colorful furniture that still managed to be chic. There were three bedrooms, and Steph picked the one across from the suite her parents took.

They settled in comfortably, resting after their long journey before meeting back in the living room.

“Steph, we’re planning on checking out that landmark I was telling you about before. Would you like to come?” Jerry asked.

Steph let loose a huge yawn, stretching her arms to make a big show of being tired. “I think I’m going to rest here for a while. I don’t quite feel like walking around yet.”

Elora lifted one dark eyebrow. “But you always feel like walking.”

Steph shrugged. “Okay, well maybe I just want some time to prepare myself for tomorrow. It’s kind of the biggest day of my life.”

Her tone brooked no argument, and her parents, wanting to be understanding, relented. Once Steph was sure they had made it to the elevator, she sank to the floor, taking deep breaths as she tried to steady her nerves.

She could do this. She could marry a stranger. The man had set them up in first class and upgraded them to a penthouse suite. He clearly cared about her welfare and happiness, right? She was being silly. There was nothing wrong with getting married this way—she had just grown up in a culture that didn’t understand the merits of it.

Steph paced around the suite, needing to get all her excess energy out. While relaxing and watching movies was all well and good, her legs felt stiff and unused, and for a moment she entertained the idea of going for a jog to clear her head. Did people jog in El Farah?

Steph took a moment to stare out at the desert, feeling utterly small as she did so. It was silly to lose one’s mind so close to an event that there was no stopping. Or was there? Did she really have no choice over her own future?

Feeling trapped, Steph came to a decision. She found a notepad and pen and scribbled a note to her parents, telling them she got hungry and stepped out for some food, and not to wait up. After her note was written, she left it on the coffee table in front of an enormous television before grabbing her purse and hotel key on the way out the door.

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