Seduced By The Sheikh Doctor – Holly Rayner

The cool air of early Washington spring nibbled at Paige’s nose, but she paid it no mind. All her focus and attention were on the small backpack in her hands, as she went over its contents one last time. Everything had to be there. Nothing could be missing. She just needed to be sure. “Mom, I’m gonna be late! Hurry up!” Normally, Paige might rebuke her son for that tone. She’d raised him better than that, and at nine years old, he was usually a patient, kind, quiet boy. But this was no ordinary morning, and instead, she just muttered under her breath that she was trying to concentrate. Everything was there. Of course it was. She’d packed it the day before and she’d rechecked it before they’d left the house this morning, but she couldn’t help the final check. It gave her one more precious moment with her son, before he left her for three whole days. She could hear her mother’s voice in her head, laughingly calling her a helicopter mom, but she didn’t care. For nine years, Dylan had been her whole world. It had been just the two of them since the day he was born.

She wouldn’t apologize for holding him close as he grew. “Mommm, come on!” But, of course, there’s always a time to let go. “Okay, I think that’s everything,” she said, zipping up the backpack and holding it up. The young boy turned while she threaded his arms through the straps, cherishing the simple familiarity of the routine with a sentimentality as though he were going to be gone three months rather than three days. “Now, you remember what I told you about calling me if you have any problems at all?” “Yes, Mom.” “And you have my number?” “It’s on my phone, Mom.” She resisted the urge to check to be sure the cheap cellphone she’d gotten him for emergencies was tucked away in the inside pocket of his backpack. She knew it was. She’d just seen it, for crying out loud! She turned him around so that she could see his face, even as he strained his neck to look at where his fellow students were already boarding the bus. “Okay, and you have your Aunt Hayley’s address written down, right? She lives there in Seattle.

If worst comes to worst and you don’t have your phone, you can always get to her, you understand? Find a police officer, give them her address, and we’ll work it out from there.” “Mommm, I knoooow.” Of course he did. He was a smart kid, and a trip like this—venturing out into the wide world—was well overdue. He’d have a good time, she felt sure of it, even as she hated to see him go. But she had to, so she gave his arms one final, affectionate pat. “Okay, then, go get on the bus with your friends! And don’t forget to have fun!” It always came almost as a surprise to Paige how quickly Dylan could get his little arms around her neck, and how tightly his little muscles could hold her. And even after nine long years of single motherhood, the love she felt swell in her heart when he did so still caught her off guard. “I will, Mom. Love you!” “I love you, too, kiddo,” she said, doing her best not to cry.

She would not be the mother who cried at the field trip drop-off. And, just like that, she was watching his back as he ran off towards the bus. She sniffled a little. Sniffles didn’t count. She could hear the background mumble of the other moms and dads commiserating with each other. No one approached her. That was the thing about always being in a hurry— eventually, people grew to expect that you couldn’t stay and talk and they didn’t try to get you to do so. And if there was one thing that had defined her life for the last nine years more than anything else, it was having too much to do and too little time to do it in. Of course, that was all under the assumption that she had Dylan with her. As she got into her depressingly quiet car, she began to realize just how empty the next three days would be without him.

But that was all right. She’d planned for this. Over the last nine years, she’d gotten good at finding a way to plan ahead for everything. Her life didn’t really work unless she had it all planned out. And this even included how she would avoid facing the cold, empty house that she would be left with, now that Dylan was off on his three-day adventure. Paige was going to have a date. An actual, real date, with dinner and wine and everything. It would the first one she’d ever been on, she realized with a start as she pulled out of the parking lot. Since Kyle, Dylan’s father, had left her pregnant and alone at nineteen, she had never gotten into the dating scene. She’d decided early on that Dylan would just be enough for her, at least for the foreseeable future.

But tonight, maybe all that was going to change. Paige felt her heartbeat rise at the thought. She’d gotten serious with screening her potential online dates, and had been careful to weed out anyone that might not be worth the precious time she was giving him. The dating site she’d signed up for was the best reviewed one she could find, and she’d very carefully examined each of the matches as they’d come in. She’d been picky—too picky, her sister Hayley had said, on one of their phone calls—but she was glad of that pickiness, now. The man she had selected to be the first real first date of her adult life was just the sort of man she had been looking for, and she was excited to meet him. Her mind idly went over the details of what she would wear as she maneuvered her car towards her daily destination. She wasn’t sure how she was going to focus on waitressing at the Coffee Cup in between worrying about Dylan and distracting herself with anticipation of her date tonight, but she would have to try. Money was tight. It always was.

As she walked in the front door of Stockton’s best (and only) locally-sourced, semigourmet, quick and friendly diner, she was distracted by a buzzing in her pocket. So much so, that she nearly ran into Alvin, head chef extraordinaire. “Sorry, Alvin!” she said, stepping out of the way of the threshold to avoid any further collisions, even though there was no one else scheduled to work this early on a day in their least busy season. “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it, doll,” he said. And, in spite of the stressfulness of the day, and as much as she already missed Dylan, she smiled. Alvin didn’t normally talk like that—like a character from a black and white movie—but he seemed to have a way of knowing when she could use a smile, and pulled the character out then. Maybe it was because she’d known the old man since she was a little girl that he could tell that a day was challenging, even just from the slightest run-in. But whatever the reason, she was grateful for it. It calmed her a bit, in the midst of the chaos. But that was all undone when she saw that the buzzing she had felt was a notification from the dating app.

Her heart leapt in her chest, which she took as a good sign that this date tonight was not, in fact, going to be a waste of time. But her heart sank just as fast when she tapped through and saw the actual contents of the message. “Gotta take a raincheck on tonight! Things at work are crazy. Still excited to meet you!” Yeah, sure he was. So excited that he was putting her off to some undefined time in the future on the day of their first meeting. Those exclamation points aren’t fooling anyone, bud. She tried to let the bitterness fade. She knew that, ordinarily, if she hadn’t just seen her son off into an uncertain world, she would think more charitably of him, and she did her best to be that person. Maybe it was a legitimate excuse, she granted. Maybe he meant it.

Still, it was a disappointment, and Paige regretted letting her hopes get raised as high as she had allowed them to get. And, more than anything, she regretted that her perfectly planned avoidance of her lonely, quiet house had fallen to pieces. It was going to be a long, long three days. CHAPTER 2 K KE HLA N ehlan was scowling. He knew this. He had a tendency to scowl when he was concentrating, and always had. Right now, the subject of his scowl— and his intense concentration—was a chart that he’d taken with him from the hospital. Theoretically, he was supposed to be taking a break from hospital duties and tending to patients for the next several days. As of twenty minutes ago, he was supposed to be giving his complete, undivided attention to the conference which he would be attending in Washington, and which he was currently on his way to. But as he had been walking out the doors of the hospital, he hadn’t been able to resist turning back and darting back towards his office so that he could download an electronic copy of this particular patient file onto his tablet.

There was something bothering him about this this one, and he couldn’t figure out what it was. Her symptoms seemed to be consistent with a disease that was unheard of in a woman her age, but with so much information missing, it was hard to be sure. She was a member of one of the tribes that lived in the far east of the country, and while she had been an Al-Derran citizen her whole life, and all Al-Derran citizens had a right to free healthcare, this was her first trip into the hospital in her life. As he thought about it, he felt a look of satisfied realization replacing the scowl on his face. This was what he loved about medicine—the puzzle, all wrapped up in helping those in need. Because, no matter what, no matter the level of wealth or influence, everyone who walked into his hospital with a problem was a person in need. He picked up his phone, called the hospital, and spoke with the doctor who would be managing his patients. “She’s older than she told us,” he said, to the confusion of the other man. “Much older. When you’ve finished treating her, you should get the secret to her skincare routine; you’ll make a fortune.

” “Kehlan, aren’t you on your way to the conference?” Kehlan rolled his eyes. “Yes, Hakim.” “We talked about this, Kehlan.” There was something nice about the way Hakim hassled him. It had always made him feel as though he was just a normal doctor working at the hospital, and that there was no difference in the way he was seen by the other doctors because of his family’s position. It wasn’t true, of course. But it was nice to imagine it was. “I promise you, this is the last patient file I will look at. From here on out, my mind is only on the conference. Professional enrichment.

All of that. But first…” A long pause on the line, and then a sigh. “Oh, all right. You better be telling me the truth, though. What patient was this again?” Kehlan went over the information again, and he could picture his colleague on the other end of the line, doing his thoughtful nod, complete with beard stroking. “I see, I see. That seems to make sense. But why would she lie about that? There is no room for vanity in healthcare. She ought to know that.” Kehlan shrugged, though no one was there to see him in the back seat of his expensive car.

“Pride, I suppose. Some women just don’t want to admit they’re getting older. But you see how this changes things, right?” The other man agreed, and Kehlan spoke with him briefly about the woman’s care, and how it should change if he got her to admit that she had lied on the intake forms. “Okay,” Hakim said, with the same heavy sigh as he had earlier. “Thank you, Kehlan. But you really must go, now. Promise me this is the last time I’ll hear from you for the next three days.” Kehlan chuckled. He wondered if Hakim knew he enjoyed him hassling this way. He really seemed to lean into it, at times.

“I will certainly try.” “I hope you do more than try, Your Highness,” his friend mock-grumbled, before wishing him a pleasant trip and hanging up. Kehlan smiled as he ended the call. Methodically, he tapped through the process of deleting the patient file from his tablet, consistent with the rules on patient confidentiality. He always made a point to himself of playing by the rules and fulfilling each and every obligation that any other doctor would need to, even though—as a member of the ruling family of Al-Derra—technically, there were very few rules that applied to him at all. After the files were deleted, he found himself still staring at the tablet. The mystery had been solved and the patient had been saved from her own pride getting in the way of her medical care, but still, Kehlan felt something bothering him about the case. And then, all on its own, something clicked. “Driver, change of plans. I’m stopping by the palace first.

” “Son! This is a surprise!” His mother greeted him with all the exaggerated grace that she did everything, and Kehlan appreciated her consistency, if not the strange way it made all of their interactions more formal than they should have been. But it was her way, and he had never questioned it. The Sheikha didn’t stand for questioning; he knew that as well as he knew anything. “Yes, I had a patient that reminded me of you and I thought I should come see you before I left. Call it superstition, but I think when something reminds you of a loved one, it’s the universe telling you to go and see them.” His mother laughed, though her laugh seemed a little bit strained. Since Kehlan’s father had died, she’d always found it amusing when he would say things like that, in imitation of him. As a man of science, Kehlan didn’t agree with much of his late father’s superstitious beliefs, but remembering them to his mother made them grow on him all the same. “And are your patients still entertaining you?” his mother asked, settling into a chair. “What did this one do to remind you of me? Is she anyone I know?” Kehlan sighed and settled in across from her.

He hadn’t meant this conversation to be long. His flight at the airport would wait for him—one of the advantages of having a private plane—but that didn’t mean that he wanted to delay it too long. The conference wouldn’t wait the way the plane would. But he was already starting to get a sense that this would apparently be one of those conversations, where his mother found a way of lacing her disapproval in between questions that he needed to answer to avoid him calling her on it and objecting, and them digging into the years-long disagreement they had over his choice of career. “No one you know,” he said curtly. “Oh? And how did she remind you of me?” Kehlan smiled and reached forward to squeeze his mother’s hand. “Her pride.” At that, his mother laughed, and Kehlan thought that they might just have left the sticky matter of his career go by. But just when he thought they’d moved on, his mother circled back to it. “I’m glad you’ve enjoyed this business at the hospital,” she said.

“You know, we’ve always tried to give you everything, even if that everything is letting you entertain yourself in this way.” Kehlan raised a weary eyebrow. “It’s not really about enjoying it, mother. And it’s certainly not entertainment. I don’t think any of my patients would be happy to hear the management of their healthcare called entertainment.” The Sheikha shook her head and patted his hand. “Oh, no, of course it isn’t. I see you don’t believe that it is. But you do enjoy it, don’t you? After all, that’s why your father and I let you do it. Don’t tell me we allowed you all this for nothing.

” Kehlan sighed. He wished his intuition hadn’t been right. He wished that they weren’t going to delve into this, especially not when he was wanting to leave as soon as possible. But here they were. “I don’t remember you and father allowing me to do much of anything.” The words sounded bitter coming out of his mouth, and he wished they hadn’t. But Kehlan wasn’t sure why she was guiding the conversation down this path so directly. It was a disagreement that they’d let sit in a sort of passive stalemate for years now, with just side comments and gentle mentions of the conflict going gently touched on and then left behind. Why would she upset that balance now? When Kehlan had first told his parents that he wanted to be a doctor, they had laughed. They had assumed that it was something so patently ridiculous that it wouldn’t last long, and they’d told him as much.

They had assumed that as soon as he realized the sheer amount of work that would go into studying for that career, he would give up. But Kehlan didn’t give up. If anything, their doubt in his determination fueled him. He studied pre-med in college and then went to medical school. And yet still, his parents had assumed that when he was done studying, he would abandon the whole notion and go back to the easy life of luxury and ceremony that he had been born for. They’d assumed that their son, having played his little game, would at last follow the path of least resistance. He wasn’t sure what had made his parents so quick to assume that he would throw away years of his life in training if he wasn’t serious about becoming a full-time doctor, but when he’d applied for a residency in a hospital in France, their disapproval had come to a head. Those were tense days, full of shouted conversations and words that neither the parents nor their son had truly meant. When they’d finally reached the compromise they had come to—that Kehlan would return to work at the hospital in Al-Derra’s capital city, Sadifah, so that he could perform at least some of his royal duties and be close at hand—it was hard to say who had been more relieved. It had brought a fragile peace to the relationships between the three of them that time, and avoiding the subject as much as possible had strengthened into a basic agreement of their family life.

And now, for seemingly no reason at all, his mother seemed intent on threatening that peace, in a way she rarely did. “Mother, what is bringing this up? You know I’m on my way out of town.” She waved her hand as though it were no big thing. “Oh, I just want you to be prepared, son. That’s all.” Concern began to grow in Kehlan’s chest. For the first time since coming in, he took a close look at his mother; she was as elegant as his earliest memories of her. Most of the family had been born to royal life, but she had married into it. She had chosen it. And the way she dressed and carried herself always seemed to Kehlan that it was the most natural decision that she had ever made.

And yet, she had definitely lost weight since the last time Kehlan had seen her. She seemed frailer. Her age was a taboo topic to anyone in the press or the household, but all the same, Kehlan knew that she was getting older. She’d left having Kehlan until relatively late for an Al-Derran woman, and he was 34. She must be in her late sixties by now, and it looked as though she was beginning to feel it. “Mother,” he asked, his tone betraying his worry more than he would have liked it to. “Are you all right?” She laughed, and the peals of her laughter rang off the walls in a harsh, unrelenting way. “Oh, son, always the worrier. Maybe we should have found a way to drive that out of you when you were a boy. Maybe you would never have gone off to do your doctoring if we had done so.

How much easier that would have been on all of us!” Kehlan gritted his teeth. “I understand you disapprove, Mother, but please answer the question.” Mother and son sat looking at each other for a long, heavy moment. To the bystander, perhaps, it wouldn’t have seemed sensible for Kehlan to have gone from casual to deeply concerned so quickly. But a bystander wouldn’t know his mother—wouldn’t know the way she had always held her cards so close to her chest, as though telling anyone anything that wasn’t strictly necessary were a fatal flaw. But Kehlan knew. And it was this knowledge that most worried him, and held his intent stare on her long after others would look away. In the end, it was the Sheikha who broke first, casually leaning back as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. “No,” she said, “I’m perfectly all right. But I am planning to retire from my official duties.

” A complex web of emotions greeted this news in Kehlan’s chest. First, there was frustration. She was freezing him out of whatever was actually going on with her. He knew better than most how dedicated to her duties his mother was. She wouldn’t be leaving them if there weren’t something seriously wrong. But here she was, refusing to tell him. Then, there was relief, that at least she had the good sense to slow down and deal with whatever it was, instead of running herself ragged trying to do everything while she was unwell. And then, there was the realization of why it was that she was bringing his career choice up, and the pit in his stomach that it opened up. “I am glad you’ll be getting more rest,” he said, doing his best to limit the harsh, clipped tone that came into his voice when his entire way of life was under threat. “Yes, I will be.

Not that I need it, but a little more beauty sleep never goes unwanted. And, of course, I can rest easy in the knowledge that my one and only son, who I raised for this life, will be stepping up and taking over more of the duties he has been shirking for the entirety of his adulthood.” And there it was, the conflict between them laid bare. The concern, the worry and the relief all fell to the side as anger flooded through his body. Did she even stop for a moment to realize what she was asking? Did she realize that he would be giving up something that actually meant something to people, and for what? For running off to attend every new luxury hotel opening? To make an appearance on the yacht of the latest up-and-coming royal acolyte? To trade on some overblown image of the wealthy prince as a commodity? The hothead inside him that he had spent all of his early life learning to repress wanted to stand and shout these things at her. It wanted to jump over the table and tell her she was wrong, and that being royal meant that he didn’t have to listen to anyone, and so he would be ignoring her ridiculous demands. But he pushed this reaction down, kept his emotions under control, and answered in as calm a manner as he could manage. “It is my cousins who will rule. Not me. This is not my responsibility, no matter how much you want to pretend it is.

” He had never seen a smile on his mother’s face so cold and entirely without mirth. He wasn’t surprised she was capable of it, but he was surprised that it was directed at him. “They may be directly in line for the throne, but ruling is a family effort. And whether you like it or not, you are part of this family. You certainly like it when you have servants to drive you around, and a private plane to shuttle you to your little conferences overseas.” Kehlan’s immediate impulse was to tell her she was crazy, and that he would never do what she asked of him. He wanted to rebuke her for belittling his career, and implying that the trip to Washington was anything but professional development that he was mandated to undergo. Now, with his anger somewhat subsided, he felt he could do so in an acceptably calm manner. But just as he was gearing up to tell her all this, and putting the words in order in his mind, he stopped. He looked at her again, and sized up the same reasons for concern that he had seen earlier, with the new knowledge that she was taking such a drastic step, and acting so uncharacteristically cruel with him.

It was more than the fact that she had lost weight. She had always been such an imposing figure—his whole life, she had commanded every room she’d walked into. Something of that command was waning, and he didn’t know what. He only knew that the fact that it was fading was very bad news—worse news even than he had at first thought. He shelved his biting retorts. This was bigger than a family disagreement over his career. This would need to be handled carefully. He wasn’t going to leave his life, and the work he did that actually made a difference. But neither could he upset his mother in the state she was in, whether she was willing to tell him about it or not. He stood and leaned down to kiss his mother on the cheek.

It was a familiar motion, but had never felt so rote and lifeless as it did now. “We will discuss this when I return from Washington.” As he walked out of the room, his mother’s voice followed him. “So commanding. So regal. You’ll do well at this job, son.”

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