The Sheikh's Stolen Bride-To-Be

By: Holly Rayner





It didn’t matter where she was going as long as she wasn’t in that stifling room—and with the responsibilities that came with it.





FOUR



Steph





Stepping back out into the hot desert sun, Steph took a deep breath. The air had a distinct scent to it, almost like a beach. The buildings around her were all rounded at the top, domelike in nature. It was a fascinating style, and she probably would have enjoyed it immensely if she weren’t in the middle of a crisis.



Casting her eyes downward, Steph began walking. She paid enough attention to avoid crashing into other people, but otherwise she was lost in a tangled web of thoughts, trying to puzzle out her life. She debated with herself at length about what the best option was. She was already in El Farah. There was no turning back.



She was trapped.



She walked and walked, turning down winding streets without noticing what the street names were. At one point she looked up and saw a sign that was written in her mother’s native tongue as well as English, and she was reminded that El Farah had once been colonized by the English before gaining their independence many years before. Then she remembered that she would be marrying a stranger the next day and forgot all about the history of El Farah.



After some time, Steph’s feet began to ache. When she bothered to look back up, she realized what a mistake she had just made. She’d taken off without any thought as to where she was or where she was headed, and as she gazed around, everything looked completely foreign. She was lost in a place she knew nothing about. How equitable to her own life was that?



Slumping onto a fountain ledge, Steph stared into the gurgling waters and began to cry. A single tear dropped from her face, joining the pool of water below.



“That must be some wish,” a voice said from behind her.



Steph turned, craning her neck to meet the eyes of the gentleman who had spoken. He was tall, his clothing neatly pressed, his dark hair and eyes perfectly symmetrical. In a word, he was stunning.



Steph stared with her mouth open for a beat before she realized what she was doing and closed it. “I wasn’t making a wish,” she replied, dabbing at her eyes.



To her surprise, the man perched next to her, gazing into the waters himself.



“Well, based on those tears, it appears you may want to. I’ve seen many people cast wishes into this well. I’m convinced most of them actually come true.”



“How would you know if their wishes came true?” Steph asked, sniffing.



The man procured a small white cloth from a pocket and handed it to her.



Steph laughed, accepting it. “Thank you. I wasn’t aware there were men in the world who carried handkerchiefs anymore.”



“You’re not from here,” he said, and Steph shook her head.



“I’m not. Well, I kind of am. It’s complicated.”



The man tilted his head. “You can explain it to me, if you like.”



Steph wiped her nose as delicately as possible before telling him her backstory. “I grew up in America, but my mother is from here. This is my first trip to the country.”



The man’s stare was intense, filled with deep intelligence and something else Steph couldn’t quite describe. He carried himself with a sense of stateliness, almost as if he were a diplomat or something similar.



“We haven’t made a very good impression on you, it would seem,” he said, glancing down at the wrinkled handkerchief.



Steph looked down at it, clenching it in her fist. This man was a stranger, but there was a steady sense of calm about him. It made her feel like pouring her heart out, which she hadn’t done to anyone, even her parents. Taking a gusty breath, she said the one thing she hadn’t been willing to admit out loud.



“I’m arranged to be married tomorrow. Since you’re from here you know that I’ve never met the man, though I’m certain he is very kind. My parents insist that it will be a good thing—that he is wealthy and handsome and I will find nothing lacking in the match. I just don’t think I can go through with it. What if they’re wrong? What if I’m trapped in a situation I can’t get out of?”

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