The Sheikh's Stolen Bride-To-Be

By: Holly Rayner





Elora placed a warm hand over her daughter’s, startling her. “You’re going to make it through this just fine, Stephanie. Take your fears and pack them away. I would never send you to a man who could not provide for you in all ways. The emotional connection can grow between a man and a woman. I promise.”



Elora hesitated before wrapping Steph in a tight hug. In a moment that was meant to be touching, Steph felt cold and awkward. After a moment, Elora stood and exited the room, reminding her daughter to get a good night’s sleep.



Curling up under the comforter, Steph imagined that would be much more difficult that it seemed. Somehow her eyes managed to close, and the last thing she saw was the image of her frightened face on her phone, floating in her mind’s eye.





THREE



Steph





Steph woke up to a stream of gentle sunlight caressing her face. She blinked, her eyes adjusting to the light, and smiled. She had left her window open all night, and the scent of pine and fresh earth permeated the space, reminding her to keep her American roots close even as she prepared to pull them out from under herself.



Her father was at her door a moment later, checking to make sure she was awake.



“Big day!” he said, giving her two thumbs up.



Steph began to wonder if some of that enthusiasm wasn’t a little bit forced for her benefit. She had always been close to her father. Perhaps he was emotional at the thought of be separated from her, too? Perhaps he was giving up a piece of himself for her happiness, too, though Steph’s was clearly at risk.



Then again, wasn’t love a risk, no matter what?



Steph took a steadying breath before sitting up, prepared to face the day. Not that there was much to face. The journey would take thirteen hours, and then they would be in a totally different time zone, recovering from jet lag. Not exactly the most exciting prospect, but what came after would be the adventure. Steph would get to set foot on a land that was in her blood, a part of her that had always been missing in so many ways.



She double checked for her passport before lugging her suitcase out to the front door and setting it next to her parents’. Her mother had made a traditional El Farahn breakfast of toasted pita bread with spices and a sweet mint tea. Elora didn’t always make El Farahn food, so Steph knew it was her way of getting her accustomed to what she would be eating from now on, though part of her wished she’d made scrambled eggs and toast, just for one last hurrah as a full-time American.



The family enjoyed a pleasant breakfast before locking up the house and loading the car with their luggage. Steph took the time to really listen to the radio, feeling a sense of doom. Everything was the last—the last breakfast, the last car ride, all of it. With each step they took, it was getting harder for her to tell herself that it wasn’t actually going to happen.



They parked in long-term parking at the airport, taking a shuttle to the main terminal and checking their suitcases. Somehow, Steph had managed to pack everything that really mattered to her in a regular-sized suitcase. She wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not; she had had a full and wonderful life up to that point, so shouldn’t she have had more to show for it?



As they boarded the plane, Steph squeezed in between her parents in coach, prepared for a long, uncomfortable flight. An attendant walked down the aisle until she stopped and looked at their seat numbers.



“Are you the O’Hanlon family?” the woman asked, and Jerry confirmed that they were.



The attendant smiled. “If you’ll please come with me,” she said, taking a step back.



Steph and her parents looked from one to the other in confusion. Not knowing what else to do, they stood and followed the woman up the aisle toward the front of the plane. She stopped at a row in first class.



“You have been upgraded, courtesy of your future son-in-law. He didn’t provide any other information outside of that.”



Steph and her parents stared at the woman, as though they were waiting for a punch line or for her to send them back to coach, and then they all burst into laughter.



“See, I told you he was a catch!” Elora said, beaming from ear to ear as she settled into one of the plush seats with plenty of leg space.

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