Home > Innocent In The Sheikh's Palace

Innocent In The Sheikh's Palace
Author: Dani Collins


   DRIVING IN NEW YORK was, hands down, worse than taking the subway, even on a Sunday. Hannah Meeks hadn’t had much choice, though. She had come straight from a weekend research trip upstate and the clinic had been adamant she arrive by ten, offering to send a car for her if she couldn’t get there on her own steam. They’d even given her a special code to open the gate to their private lot, promising her a spot.

   None of that was a win when she had to be outside at all. Today was the sort of weather her grandmother would have said was “great if you’re a duck.” Ducks weren’t dumb enough to be gadding about in this, though. Only her.

   Hannah couldn’t imagine what the emergency was. She’d paid all of her instalments on time and her pregnancy was progressing without hiccups. Well, a few actual hiccups on the baby’s part, which she’d been assured were normal.

   She punched in her code and nearly froze her hand off. The rain was turning to sleet, bogging down her wipers as she entered the mostly deserted parking lot. The drive to her small walk-up would be even worse, and she would need every type of good luck charm to find a parking spot within a six-block radius.

   Maybe they would let her leave her car here for the night, not that walking to the subway station would be a picnic, either.

   She sighed as she carefully turned her car’s nose into a spot to the right of the entrance steps. Her sedan fishtailed as she touched the brakes, leaving her car at an angle that probably took up two stalls. She didn’t bother trying to fix it. Frankly, she needed the extra space to open her door all the way. Her belly had her sitting so far back from the wheel that she could barely touch the pedals.

   Checking her reflection, she heaved another sigh. She rarely wore makeup and had a few more months before her adult braces could be switched for a retainer. Why had she thought this pixie cut was a good idea, though? Her hair had just enough curl that the little wisps turned up on the ends, especially where they landed against the frames of her glasses. No matter how she smoothed the front, her bangs sat crooked. She looked like a six-year-old who had cut her own hair with garden shears, then put on her grandfather’s horn-rims.

   She jammed her hat on, pulled on her gloves, buttoned her coat and gathered her phone and keys into her bag. Her windows were starting to fog, and when she tried to open her door, she found it had—seriously?—frozen shut! Well, now what?

   She dug into her bag for her phone, thinking to call into the clinic for assistance, but just then, an SUV pulled in a few spaces over. A man leaped out of the passenger seat and popped open an umbrella before he opened the back door for another man.

   The door was slammed, and the men would have hurried into the clinic, but she snapped to her senses and gave her horn an urgent series of toots, then squeakily rubbed a hole into the foggy window beside her.

   “Help! Excuse me! Can you help, please?”

   She heard one ask a question in a language that might have been Arabic. They wore woolen overcoats and their heads weren’t covered, but they both had dark skin, black hair and closely trimmed beards.

   “I need help!” she shouted louder as they stood there. “My door is frozen.”

   And I’m going to need a powder room ten minutes ago. Panic stations, gents.

   The one with the umbrella grumbled something, but the other impatiently took it. It was useless anyway. A gust of wind drove the sleet sideways, turning the umbrella inside out. He shoved it back at the other man and came to glower at her through the little circle she’d made in the fogged glass.

   Her heart leaped in surprise, alarm, fear. Maybe a hint of desire?

   He was a blurred impression of height and intimidation, thirtyish, and good-looking despite his frown. His overcoat gaped and showed a dark blue suit that appeared to be tailored and probably was. The clinic catered to the supremely wealthy. She was very much a charity case who’d got in on a who-you-know, after doing a huge favor for the head administrator’s wife.

   “What are you shouting about?” he demanded.

   “My doors are frozen. I’m stuck!” She demonstrated by trying the latch and giving the door a shove with her shoulder.

   He frowned and tried it himself. Then he circled her car, trying all the doors with enough force to make the car rock. None opened.

   He said something to the man trying to fix the umbrella. A third man emerged from the SUV while the first came back to her window and asked, “You’re sure it’s unlocked?”

   Oh, dear God. She wanted to die then. She pressed the button and heard it release.

   Her would-be knight yanked opened the door to let in an icy blast—and that was just off his thunderstruck expression.

   “I am so sorry.” Had he ever heard of pregnancy brain? “I forgot that I hit the locks when I came into the city. You never know when a carjacker will try to jump into your car at a stop light, you know?”

   He did not know. He dared carjackers to even think about looking in his direction. He continued to glare at her with exasperated disgust while the wind tried to tousle his short, thick hair. Silly wind. Nothing tousled him. He thrust out a hand, glance hitting her belly as she twisted to get her feet onto the ground.

   “I can manage,” she lied, feeling even more ridiculous as she tried to shoulder her bag and search out a safe place for a firm grip while the parking lot looked to be an ice rink.

   “Can you?” he asked with scathing sarcasm. “Give me your hand. I’m not going to be responsible for a woman in your condition slipping and falling.”

   “Thank you.” She begrudgingly took his hand and her heart leaped again, this time with a sharper, higher skip and a resounding thump as it landed back in her chest.

   She had expected his palm to be smooth, but his grip was calloused and incredibly strong, making her feel ultrafeminine even as she heaved herself out of the low car with the grace of a baby hippo. She tried a nervous smile, but he was the furthest thing from interested in anything beyond getting her into the clinic and out of his un-tousled hair.

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