The Sheikh's Stolen Bride-To-Be

By: Holly Rayner





“Why? I won’t be coming back. It’s not like I’m going to see him again.”



Elora struggled as she went to cross her arms but then remembered her nails would be ruined by the gesture. Instead, she pointed a finger at her daughter. “That doesn’t matter. You may travel here again, and how would you feel facing Bill if you just leave him without the help he needs?”



“I don’t want to have to say goodbye,” Steph whispered, casting her eyes down. “Besides, he told me just today that there’s nowhere for me to go in the company without a college degree, so he’s probably planning for this anyway.”



At that statement, the fire left her mother’s eyes and her shoulders relaxed as she placed a comforting hand on Steph’s shoulder.



“I know it seems scary now, but you’ll see. Look at your father and me, eh? He’s a good man. There are many of them out there, including the one we’ve found for you. I know you’ll be happy together.”



Steph did her best to look excited. She imagined she wasn’t entirely convincing.



“Now go wash up for dinner. Your father will be home any minute.”





TWO



Steph





Steph was setting the table for dinner when her father walked in the door. Jerry O’Hanlon had once been a very handsome man. When age and strife had hit him, his hairline had begun to recede and his face was now more winkled than it ought to have been. Steph watched as he approached her mother and planted a cherishing kiss on her cheek before entering the dining room.



“Steph! You excited for the big day?”



Steph swallowed as she placed a fork and knife by her plate. “Thrilled,” she said, not looking him in the eye.



“Oh, come now,” he said, his eyebrows knitting. “Look what happened with your mother and me! Besides, this ceremony is a big part of your El Farahn heritage. You’ve never gotten to experience much of that side, and that’s probably my fault.”



“I’ll certainly be getting a crash course this week,” Steph said.



She had done some research on her mother’s homeland, of course. There had been numerous elementary school projects that focused on nationality, and she had always had a fascination with the place. The family had been planning their first excursion there—whenever Jerry could first get time off from work—when the market crashed, that dream going with it.



Elora brought in a series of plates filled with delicious-smelling food. Raised in a middle-class family, Steph’s mother had been taught to cook and run a house like many other girls in her position, and she had a talent for using spices to bring out the flavor in anything she touched. Steph would miss her cooking most of all. She was decent at it, but she imagined she wouldn’t have to do much in her new situation anyway.



The three of them sat down at the table, Elora saying a quick prayer of thanks for the food and their health before forks were lifted and the meal was enjoyed. After a moment of silence, Jerry spoke.



“We were thinking about stopping in at one of your mother’s favorite places when we get there. You know, before the ceremony preparations get underway.”



“That sounds nice,” Steph said, poking at her food with her fork.



She glanced up in time to catch a meaningful stare between her parents. Her father cleared his throat.



“Maybe it would help if I told you about the experience I had with your mother,” he said.



That caught her attention. Her parents had rarely talked about the circumstances of their marriage. She knew it had been arranged, but that was all they had been willing to reveal about it. She watched her father carefully. Seeing that he had her attention, he took a breath and told his tale.



“I had just finished making my first couple million. I wasn’t particularly young anymore, but I wasn’t old either. I had women throwing themselves at me, left and right.”



Jerry paused as Elora cleared her throat. Casting her a sideways glance, he cleared his own throat and continued. “Yes, well. The point is, none of them were interested in who I was as a person. All they wanted was my money, whereas I needed a woman who would stick by me, no matter what. An El Farahn business associate of mine recommended checking out an arranged marriage. English is spoken in El Farah, and the women there are exceptional, he told me. So, I figured I’d take a risk.”

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