The Sheikh's Tempted Protectress (The Sheikh's Every Wish 4) - Page 13

others…”

Beth stared out at the overgrown grounds, thinking. “Do you suppose one of those girls would have reason to harm you in any way?” she asked, clinging to the new lead.

Osman shook his head. “I can’t believe any of them would stoop to this level. First of all, my circle is very closed off. All very rich. None of the girls I’ve slept with have come from a family with less than a hundred million in value.”

“A hundred million!” Beth gasped.

Osman blushed again. “It’s not our fault we’re born wealthy, Beth,” he said quietly.

Beth composed herself, trying to understand. “I know, I know. To judge you would be no different than judging someone for being poor—which, I might add, I believe you did when I first arrived.”

“I did not,” Osman defended, and Beth lifted an eyebrow.

“Then why did you have an entire new wardrobe bought for me? Like my clothing wasn’t good enough for you?”

“I bought those clothes because there are people in my circles who wouldn’t even speak to you if you weren’t dressed a certain way,” Osman replied hotly.

Beth bristled. “Then make them! If you don’t want to be judged for who you are, you should defend others against the same onslaught.”

They were quiet for a few moments, then Osman said, “I didn’t order them for you because I don’t believe you’re enough. It’s just that my whole world is defined by what we have, and not what we are. The fact that I could spend fifty thousand dollars on clothes for you was just another way of showing off. It’s all about status. It’s all about who can buy the biggest diamonds and the most expensive houses.”

“And then what? You live in a giant castle alone, with your servants paid to act like they care about you?”

“You think they’re pretending?” Osman asked, suddenly looking upset.

Beth backtracked. “No. I can tell they really do like you, but how many of the people you call friends actually know who you are, actually care about you?”

“Just one,” Osman said. “You met him at the club—Faraj.”

Beth scoffed. “That pervert? I hope you can do better than that!”

“He is not a pervert! Faraj is a caring guy, deep down. His behavior toward you at the club was him just trying to show off for those girls.”

“Well then he needs a lesson in what women want,” Beth huffed.

“Beth, that is what those women wanted. They wanted to see you belittled. Faraj played into their game because he desperately wants to be liked. There’s more to him than that, I assure you.”

“If you say so,” Beth mumbled.

“I do,” Osman said. “When this is all over we’ll have dinner with him so you can meet the real Faraj. He is my one true friend…except for you, of course.”

“I’m still a member of your staff,” Beth said, clinging desperately to the last of her professional restraint.

Osman frowned. “Yes, I suppose so. But would you be honest with me Beth? Would you tell me if you didn’t like me?”

Beth thought for a minute. What did she have to lose, really? Chances were she’d be out of the job by the end of the week. She’d already failed at protecting the Sheikh. How could he possibly want her to stay after all this?

“Well, at first, I thought you were a pretentious, frat boy jerk,” she said, and Osman laughed.

“That is a lot of adjectives to describe me, Beth,” he chuckled.

“I know, and if I’m honest, I accepted the job mainly because I really needed the money. Then I got to know you a little better, and I got to see how much responsibility you took for the people who work for you, and for your family—even if you do need to call your mother and make amends. Now, I think…” Beth paused.

Osman stared deeply into her eyes, waiting earnestly for her answer. “What? What do you think now, Beth?”

Looking back at him, she realized she couldn’t tell him how she really felt. She couldn’t let her guard down completely. Not now. Not when they were still in danger.

“I think that you’re a pretty decent guy, but that you cheat at games, and it’s well past time I show you how it’s done.”

Osman grinned, allowing for the break in tension.

“Then I will have to change your mind again, for I never cheat. I am simply talented, with a gift for winning at all things,” he said, as Beth reached for a deck of cards.

“Prove it,” she said with a giggle, opening the deck and starting to shuffle.

“I intend to,” he replied, but somehow Beth thought he wasn’t simply referring to their card game.

TWELVE

Beth

The day passed surprisingly pleasantly, considering the shadow hanging over their heads. For some time, Beth continued to glance out the windows every few seconds, keeping an eye out for Connor’s men, or anyone else that might be coming. By midafternoon, however, she was fully enjoying herself with Osman, who was really just a big kid at heart.

“You are such a cheater!” she cried, pulling at the cards in his hand in protest. He held them up and away from her, laughing.

“I am not! I’m just really good at cards, and apparently, you’re really, really bad,” he laughed, holding up an arm in defense as she grabbed a pillow and threw it at him.

“I am exceptional at cards. You are a card shark. I bet you’ve got six aces hidden in those sleeves!”

Osman snorted, flexing his very visible arms in his short-sleeved shirt.

Beth swallowed, but if Osman noticed his effect on her, he didn’t act like it.

“I may be skilled at many things, Miss Coolidge, but pulling cards from short sleeves without my opponent noticing is not one of them,” he grinned.

The afternoon passed genially, with the two of them laughing and throwing pillows back and forth when the other won a game. It was the most fun Beth had had in a long time. Still, every so often she would glance out the window, and frown when she saw nothing there.

The sun began to set, and Osman and Beth went to work preparing a pasta dish from some nonperishables. Beth found salt, dried chilies and olive oil and tossed them in with the pasta water for some flavor, before pouring canned tomatoes and olives into another saucepan. Osman disappeared for a moment, and when he returned he had a bottle of wine in his hand.

“What do you think? This is a very good wine, and we’ve had quite a stressful couple of days. Dare we indulge?”

Beth hesitated. Technically she was on the job. It didn’t feel like it, though. Right now it felt like she was cooking dinner with her boyfriend, but she shook that title right out of her head no sooner had she thought it.

Osman set the bottle on the counter and opened a drawer, pulling out a bottle opener.

“Beth, you’re not always on the clock, you know. One glass of wine isn’t going to hinder you, and besides, we have Connor’s men arriving any minute, I’m sure.”

Beth wondered if he was right. Connor had told her to sit tight, that he would have a team there soon. Granted, he was based in America now, so maybe soon did mean more than one day. She hoped not. Every minute that passed was another one that Osman’s enemies could be figuring out their location.

Beth’s thoughts were interrupted by a full wine glass being held under her nose. She took a step back, and Osman laughed.

“Beth, breathe it in. This was an amazing year,” he said, still holding out the glass.

Oh, what the hell, Beth thought, taking the glass from him and sipping at the hearty red liquid.

Osman was right. It was delicious.

She closed her eyes and leaned back against the counter, savoring the taste; the warm sensation that calmed her body as it absorbed the alcohol.

When she opened her eyes again, she found Osman staring at her with a grin.

“What?” she asked.

Osman broke his stare to pull the pasta off the stove and pour it into a colander in the sink, draining the hot water. “You just look really bea

utiful when you actually relax,” he said, still not looking at her as he mixed the pasta with the sauce and started scooping servings into two bowls.

Beth hoped she wasn’t blushing; if she were, at least she could blame the wine.

They sat at the table, across from one another, the candles lit once again as the house grew darker with each passing minute. They ate in companionable silence for a few minutes, enjoying the simple meal.

“Have you spoken to your mother recently?” Osman asked suddenly.

Beth blinked in surprised. “Uh, not really. I let her know that I’d arrived and that I’d accepted the contract, but otherwise she’s been…quiet.”

“She doesn’t approve of you being here,” Osman guessed.

Beth sighed. “It’s not that she doesn’t approve, exactly. It’s more that she worries. She worried the whole time I was in the service, and I can’t say I blame her. I know the world is a scary place. I tried to make a life for myself back home, where it’s safer, but I couldn’t. Sometimes I’m just so scared that I’ve…” Beth couldn’t say it.

“Disappointed her?” Osman asked with a knowing look.

Beth nodded, gazing down.

“I know the feeling,” he said with a sigh, twisting his fork to collect a mouthful of pasta. “You can’t beat yourself up about that, though, Beth. You’re a better person than I am. She can’t possibly be disappointed in you! You sacrifice yourself for others every single day, and you have for years. That’s who you are—you give, all the time, and expect nothing in return. In fact—and forgive me for saying this—it seems that you push others away so that they can’t help you, even when you need it,” he said, and her gaze crashed into his when she looked back up.

How could he see her so clearly, maybe even better than she saw herself?

“Well,” Beth said, clearing her throat. “That’s something I’ll work at getting better at, then,” she said with a small smile, which he returned.

“I’d love it if you could do that. Because I find that I rather like treating you to the finer things in life. It’s nice to have someone to share them with.”

Beth was going to protest. She was going to say she didn’t need his pampering, when the back door blew open, and her hearing was briefly muted.

She looked up to see several men rushing through the door, and she jumped up and unsheathed a butcher’s knife.

“Stay down!” she shouted, though all she could hear in her head was a loud ringing. They must have bombed the door to get it open.

As the first guy approached, she dodged him and buried the knife in his side. His agonized cry was an echo in her muted ears. The next was the same. She took down at least four men before she realized that she was surrounded by half a dozen more.

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