Release Date: May 4th!
Even though I hadn’t seen or heard from Sophia in two days, when I walked into my favorite coffee place on Monday morning, I expected her to follow me inside and beg me for an interview. It was what she did when she first arrived. The American reporter had stalked me to my office and then to the one place that I thought was special to me. I was sure if I’d turned her down enough, she would have found a way to end up at my flat.
In hindsight, maybe I should have.
Negotiating with her to pretend to be my girlfriend for a weekend, so she could help get my mother off my back might have been the biggest mistake and best thing that ever happened to me. Sophia was the most enigmatic woman I’d ever met.
She agreed to come with me to my family’s palace in Qatar. While my mother wanted nothing to do with her, Father and my sixteen-year-old brother, Abir, liked her. She seemed to have a good time with me—other than having to deal with the rude remarks from Mother.
After the big banquet that Mother had planned, Mother took Sophia out onto the veranda and said something to her. Something that changed Sophia’s mind about wanting the interview with me about my father stepping down from the throne. While I still couldn’t make up my mind about if I wanted the position, I was willing to give the interview after what she’d done for me.
Having a “girlfriend”—even if she was American—would halt all efforts from Mother about setting me up with someone.
But when we returned to England, Sophia didn’t want the interview. Even after I told her how I truly felt about her, she walked away from me, leaving me alone and confused in the middle of a restaurant.
I tried to call her cell phone, but it had been disconnected. I had no doubt she was ignoring me, but it was entirely possible that her phone was a work phone and the international plan had expired.
She’d said she was going back to America on Sunday, yet there was a shred of hope inside of me that she’d change her mind. I knew how much the article meant to her and her career. She was the first Western woman to enter the palace, yet when we returned to the UK, she wanted nothing to do with any of it.
Why? If only I had some answers.
For the rest of the weekend, I racked my brain for something I’d said to offend her. Each time when we were alone at the palace, there was a crackle of chemistry that I’d never felt before with anyone. I thought Sophia had felt the same.
Or she’d been an excellent actress. She’d fooled my family and me.
I wanted to think the worst of her. I wanted to agree with Mother that Sophia was only in this relationship to get something out of me. But with her leaving before she got anything from me added to the perplexing situation.
As much as I wanted her to feel the same way for me that I did for her, I wished she would have explained herself instead of leaving me with a million questions and no one to ask.
“Hello?” someone said from behind me.
A smile curled my lips, and I turned around to see an older woman.
My heart sank.
“Get moving or out of the queue,” she snapped.
Glancing at the line behind her, there were others annoyed that I had my head in the clouds.
I moved toward the counter and put in my order.
“Alright?” the girl said.
“Yeah,” I answered.
“You seem off today,” she said, flipping her ponytail from off her shoulder. “I haven’t seen you check your phone once.” She said it with a smile, and I knew she was teasing me, but I wasn’t in the mood.
I handed over a few quid before taking my order to one of the tables near the windows.
I didn’t have a lot of time before work, but I couldn’t force myself to leave. It would be like Sophia to stalk me there and apologize to me. She didn’t have a car in the city, so maybe she had trouble getting a cab?
I slowly ate my croissant and sipped my tea. I noted every single person who came into the cafe along with the people walking across the sidewalk. None of them had her face. Though, I pictured her pale blue eyes and dark hair on more than one woman.
I stared at the crumbs of my breakfast, hesitating at the table.
It wasn’t until a ping sounded from my phone that I tore my gaze away from the crinkly brown paper set in front of me.
Pulling my phone out from my jacket pocket, I had several texts from my secretary, Justine, and two from my business partner and best friend, Maddox.
They were short and to the point. They were wondering where the hell I was.
My reputation as the business owner at my family’s oil company had proceeded me. I was never late. And if I was, there was sure to be panic, thinking I was in an accident or dead.
I texted them both back that I’d be on my way soon. I supposed I could always say that Sophia and I had decided to stay another day with my family, but they knew me too well. Neither a woman nor my family would tear me away from work.
Though, I was sure if Sophia asked, I would have taken a week or months off to be with her if it made her stay.
When I reached the office, the car park was full. Even though I had my reserved spot the closest to the building, I’d never seen so many cars in the lot when I arrived or left. As the boss, I was always the first to come and last to go.
Inside, I shuffled past the front desk where Victoria fielded several phone calls. She nodded at me, and I nodded back.
I wasn’t the chat at the water cooler type, and everyone knew it. I wasn’t a hard-ass by any means, but I preferred to keep to myself. That was easier when I reached my office before anyone else arrived.
It was a blessing that the elevator was empty and I was able to take a breath before getting to my floor.
I already knew that I’d get an earful from Maddox about my weekend. Only Justine and Maddox knew that I was taking Sophia with me. They didn’t know in what capacity, but they weren’t idiots. The only reason I’d take a woman home was to meet my parents. I’d informed Maddox over text, so I knew he was stewing all weekend about it.
I tried to get passed his desk without being detected, but I had no such luck.
I’d reached Justine’s desk outside my office before he caught up.
“I need a Monday pep talk,” he said, winking at Justine.
She gave him a forced smile. Maddox was a flirt, and everyone knew it. While he never dated anyone from work—at least to my knowledge— that didn’t stop him from being the charming boss while I was the recluse.
Maddox pushed his way into my office and started in on me before I could take my jacket off.
“Mate, you gotta tell me everything,” Maddox said, kicking my office door closed.
“You cheeky bastard!” he said, clapping his hands together. “You took that smokin’ hot reporter with you to your parent’s house, and you won’t even spill?”
“I have a lot of work to do,” I said.
“Speaking of that,” he said, sitting down in the chair opposite my desk. He was settling in and would be harder to shake now. “I thought you died this morning.”
“In all the years I’ve known you, you’ve never been late. Gave me a fright,” he said. “You alright?”
“I’m fine,” I said through my teeth.
“Doesn’t look it,” he said. “You can trust me. Tell me.”
I shrugged. “Sophia got her story and left. That’s it. I overslept this morning.”
“I know half of that is true,” Maddox said, standing up.
He crossed his arms over his broad chest. “I’m not leaving until we talk.”
“What do you want to hear?” I asked.
“Why did you take her instead of me?” he asked with a mock pout. “I would have loved to see the palace.”
While I knew he was joking, I wasn’t in the mood. “My mother has been setting me up with these women.”
“Poor you,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“To marry,” I said.
He wrinkled his nose.
“Exactly. Sophia wanted a story, and I wanted Mother off my back. It was the perfect set up.”
“That doesn’t explain why you were late today,” he said.
I plopped down in one of the leather chairs, knowing that I wasn’t going to get any work done until he left. “I don’t know, mate. Something changed between us.”
Maddox sat across from me. “Okay?”
“I thought she wanted more,” I said, rubbing my hand against my cheek. I shaved on a regular basis, but I’d let several days pass without grooming myself. The hairs started to itch, and I knew it would bother me for the rest of the day. “I was wrong.”
“What made you think that?” Maddox asked.
“There was something between us,” I said. “When we were alone, it was as if we were the only two people in the world. And she fit in so well with my family, well, other than my mother. That was to be expected.”
Maddox gave me a strange look, and I questioned it. Normally, he would have been all for a weekend away with a woman without attachment.
“When she first arrived, you said that she was here for one thing,” he said. “What made you think that would change? Did you think she’d refuse to go with you to the palace? It was probably what she wanted to begin with. And you handed that over on a silver platter.”
“I suppose you’re right,” I said.
“She fooled more than just your family,” he said.
I chewed on my inner cheek, a habit that I thought had disappeared in my youth. If what Maddox said was the truth, then I felt about two inches tall. I was a successful business owner and a prince of a Middle Eastern kingdom. How could one slight American woman turn that all upside down? Had she fooled me completely?
“Logistically, it would have never worked out,” Maddox said. “For one thing, your mother would have never allowed you to marry her.”
“I know,” I said. Though it was something I had thought about. I wouldn’t admit that to Maddox. I already felt like a fool for trusting Sophia with my heart.
I stood up and drew in a breath. “Well, I do have to get back to work.”
Maddox clapped a hand on my shoulder. “Let’s go out soon. I have some girls in my little black book that would help you forget about Sophia.”
I nodded, even though that was the last thing I wanted.
When Maddox left, I sauntered over to my desk. Work usually distracted me, but I had no motivation. If only Sophia would have given me the closure I needed, then I could move on.
I logged onto my computer and opened up a browser window. I typed in the website for The Dallas Post—the newspaper that Sophia worked for. Even though I’d signed up for their alerts—using a fake email—I hadn’t received anything about an article written by her or about me. The front page looked the same as it had earlier that morning and disappointment pooled in my stomach like a lead weight.