I stammered, “I went to school…and w-while I was there, I r-received a visit…” I was so desperately focused on recalling what I busied myself with the whole time we were apart that I didn’t notice the way the sheikh’s gaze narrowed. “The teacher called me out, and it was a representative of the Sheikh of Layla. He had sent me a g-gift—-”
The sheikh suddenly tore himself away from me.
Shocked, I found his gaze an arctic shade of blue, and there was no warmth in the sheikh’s handsome face as he bit out, “Good night, milady.”
Shock rendered me immobile.
What happened? What did I say? What did I do?
Recovering myself, I ran after him, feet flying over the steps and I managed to catch hold of the sheikh’s sleeve just before he reached the next flight of stairs.
He stilled at my touch.
“Your Highness—-” Suddenly, I couldn’t think of what to say.
“If you do not have anything to say,” the sheikh said coldly, “then please let go of my sleeve.”
Tears pricked my eyes. “Why are you like this?” I demanded in a hurt whisper. “I don’t understand what you want.”
Blue eyes blazed angrily down at me, as the sheikh said savagely, “I could say the same of you.”
Humiliation flooded inside of me when he took hold of my hand and forced my fingers to let go. “Again, good night, milady.”
This time I didn’t stop him from leaving.
The Car Ride
The next day, I found out the sheikh was leaving again. He would be gone for another week. Luke, the sheikh’s assistant, informed me of this over breakfast, adding that the sheikh had instructed Luke to be at my beck and call while he was away.
The whole time Luke spoke, I could only gaze at the empty seat next to me. Seven days, I kept thinking. Seven days of not being able to see the sheikh, seven days of not being able to share meals with him, seven days of not feeling his lips on mine.
And that’s fine, I told myself. The sheikh was an asshole, and I should just use this time to teach myself to be immune him.
Or at least that was the plan until I stepped inside the limousine that would take me to school and found the sheikh seated inside.
The door slammed shut behind me, and the limousine was already moving when I found my voice and demanded, “What are you doing here?”
“Your school is on the way to the airport. It would be more economic if we shared a ride, don’t you think?”
My jaw dropped. Who did he think he was fooling? If he cared about the environment that much, then he would have allowed me to drive my old compact car to school rather than ride this gas-guzzling monster every day.
When I didn’t answer, the sheikh asked, “Luke told you I’d be gone for a week?”
I nodded, staring stubbornly at the scenery outside the window. Although the kingdom was in the middle of the desert, much of it had been urbanized, creating a modern paradise on sand.
“You will miss me, of course,” the sheikh murmured mockingly.
What? Unable to stand the sheer arrogance of the words, I turned towards him, glaring. “You wish!”
“Finally, you look at me.” The sheikh’s lips curved into a smile.
I didn’t smile back.
The sheikh sighed. “Surely, you’re not sulking?”
My teeth gnashed in outrage at his words. “I’m not sulking,” I bit out. “I just don’t want to play your games, the way you blow hot and cold—-”
The sheikh’s smile disappeared and he hissed, “As if you are not the same.”
“Then what were you doing,” the sheikh gritted out, “receiving a gift from another man?”
My eyes widened.
That was what this – what last night – was all about?
“In our kingdom,” the sheikh said stiffly, “it is not appropriate for a woman to receive any gift from a man. If you accept such a gift, it is equivalent to expressing interest in him.”
I bit my lip. Hard.
“You are not going to say anything?” the sheikh charged.
I looked at him. “And you, Your Highness?” I couldn’t help asking. “Why didn’t you tell me that last night instead of walking away?”
I knew I should shut up, but I couldn’t. Suddenly, I was tired, unable to take the way we seemed to keep skirting around the truth. Maybe I was just too young, and I couldn’t understand how adults played this game. Maybe I was reading too much in nothing. So many maybes, but I knew that the only way to find out the truth was to speak the truth, too.
I looked straight into the sheikh’s eyes, and this time I didn’t try to hide anything from him. I let him see everything, the confusion, the pain…the longing.
I knew he was the king’s heir, the sheikh whom all the girls dreamed of marrying. I knew he was forbidden, and that he was not right for me for so many reasons. I knew all of these things, but I couldn’t help the way I feel.