Marrying the Sheikh

By: Holly Rayner





“Yes,” Karim said, shutting his tablet off. “That will work out perfectly. We will arrive in Miami in the late morning and I will have a driver bring you to the air strip to meet us.”



“Okay,” said Ella, jotting down the details of the itinerary. “If there’s anything else, please just email me and I’ll make sure to take care of it.”



Ella smiled at the waiter as he came over and cleared the breakfast dishes. She stood up and smoothed out her skirt as Karim watched her. He was so glad their friend had recommended Ella. She was so professional, so courteous and so easy to talk to. He had felt an instant connection with her the first time they spoke on the phone. But now, in person, he felt it even stronger. He knew theirs was purely a business relationship, but he was glad for it regardless.



“Well, thank you,” Ella said as she grabbed her attaché.



“No,” Karim said, standing up as Ella prepared to leave. “Thank you for coming to meet me. I know you're a very busy woman and I appreciate you taking the time to come here and to the island.”



Ella laughed to herself when she heard his words. Yeah, she was a very busy woman. And he was a Sheikh, for goodness' sake. She thought the value of his time rated just a tad higher than hers.



“No problem,” she said reaching out and shaking his strong hand. “And please tell Nadia I said hello and look forward to meeting her.”



Karim smiled and watched Ella leave and then sat back down. He reached over and unlocked his cellphone, frowning when he saw that none of his messages or texts to Nadia had been returned. He knew that meant only one thing: that she was still sleeping off her late night. Karim closed his phone and sighed heavily as he finished his coffee alone.





THREE





The trip to Miami was just what Ella needed. Even though spring was just around the corner in New York, it was still only in the 50s and very rainy. The April showers had cast a dull, gray cloud over all of Manhattan and had made the stunning architecture of the city look muted and boring. The bright blue Florida skies and lush green palm trees were a balmy salve to her gloomy mood.



She knew what else would cure the blues. A good man. What was it Hannah had said to her before she left? Oh yeah, Ella remembered. Hannah had told her to keep her eyes and the top two buttons on her blouse open. But Ella wasn't like that; she had always prided herself on her demure femininity. She knew she was pretty, but she never flaunted it, and she always aimed to dress professionally and respectfully.



When she got off the plane in Miami, Ella realized she stood out like a sore thumb. She had been to the city before, but never during spring break. The airport was filled with college kids wearing short shorts and halter tops, their tans deep and rich, their hair blond and flowing.



She met with her clients, Corinne and Brock, early in the day and spent the rest of the afternoon strolling down South Beach. Ella liked to have a good time, but with her hectic schedule, she usually called it a night around midnight and got up by six o’clock. As she walked through the busy hotspot, she noticed that the bars were just starting to roll as she was making her way back to her hotel for the night.



Ella rose bright and early the next day. One of Karim’s staff had been assigned to collect her from her hotel and bring her to the airport to meet Karim and Nadia before they boarded another plane to the island of Eleuthera. She was greeted by a friendly Middle Eastern man in a driver’s uniform and ushered into a waiting limousine.



They arrived at the private air strip just fifteen minutes later. The driver jumped out of the front of the limo and opened the back door for Ella, before escorting her to a private VIP boarding area. Within minutes, a small jet came into view above. It came lower and lower, approaching the air strip, until it placed its wheels on the tarmac and bumped along, coming to a halt right in front of the boarding area.



Ella began to step forward toward the door that separated the boarding area from the tarmac, but the driver told her to wait, muttering something about royal protocol. Ella stood still as the jet door opened and two guards made their way down the stairs. Each guard stood perfectly still, their brass epaulets glistening in the bright afternoon sun. Ella assumed they were part of the Sheikh’s royal army, but she couldn’t be sure.



She watched as a young woman dressed in a pale pink skirt suit appeared at the top of the stairs. Ella immediately stood taller, trying to get a better look at the woman she assumed must be Nadia. She had dark hair and slight features and wore a simple pillbox hat in a rose pink shade that matched her suit. She descended the stairs quickly and stood next to one of the guards. When she was in position, all three turned toward the top of the stairs and saluted.

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