The Sheikh's Stolen Bride-To-BeBy: Holly Rayner
Before we begin, have you joined Holly Rayner’s Subscriber Club yet? For news, special offers, and FREE bonus chapters, subscribe today!
Stephanie was slacking.
Sitting in her plush computer chair, she clicked through page after page of summer dresses, evaluating their design and style, thinking about how she would change them up to make them even better. As she clicked on the next item, a yellow sundress, a knock on her door startled her into clicking out of the internet browser.
“Steph, do you have a minute?”
It was her boss, Bill.
Straightening her back and running her hands self-consciously along the sides of her blazer, Steph stood and smiled.
“Of course, Bill. What can I do for you?”
Bill was a middle-aged man with fluffy gray hair and a belly that protruded just a smidge too far beyond his vest. Not wanting to get on his bad side by recommending a different suit style that might work better with his body type, Steph looked away from the offending bit of belly and kept her gaze on her boss’ eyes as he took a seat in the chair across from her desk.
“How long have you been working with us now, Steph?”
She took a minute to calculate it out.
“Two years now, not counting the two I interned.”
Bill nodded. “Correct. You’ve done fantastic work in that time, and I’m getting to a place where I would like to promote you, you know.”
Steph tried her best to look enthusiastic.
“Wow, that’s amazing news!”
Bill put up his hands. “Now don’t get excited just yet. The problem is that in this industry I really can’t promote you to a position that requires a college degree, no matter how experienced you are.”
Steph’s shoulders slumped. Again with the college degree.
“I know how unfair it is,” Bill continued, “and I know the circumstances surrounding your family’s position, but there is such a thing as student loans, Steph. It’s something to consider, if you ever want to get anywhere in this field.”
“Thank you, sir,” Steph said, her tone respectful. “I’ll speak with my family about it and see what we can do.”
Bill nodded, satisfied. “You do that. It would be a shame to lose you, Steph. You’re a good egg.”
“Thank you,” she said again.
Bill nodded and left her office, closing the door behind him. Steph stared at the thick wood for a moment before looking back at the exotic beach backdrop on her computer and sighing.
College was important. She knew that. Her parents knew that. But Steph’s future wasn’t destined to be traditionally American. Her father, an Irish American, had made a fortune on Wall Street in the eighties. People called him “the lucky lender,” for heaven’s sake. The man had been able to produce money as though from thin air, which made him all the more interesting when he’d embarked on an arranged marriage to a woman from the Middle-Eastern country of El Farah—Steph’s mother.
Steph had had a fairly normal childhood. Her parents had decided to raise her in the tiny town in Vermont where her father had grown up, and they had been the richest family in town. She had lived a privileged life, but her father had always instilled in her a sense of hard work, and Steph was not afraid to get her hands dirty. She was a country girl, after all, and knew how to look after herself.
All of that had changed when the market crashed in 2008. At the tender age of 14, Steph had gone from being the richest girl in town to the poorest; her whole world twisted and tossed to the ground. She’d watched deep lines develop on her father’s face as they’d sold everything they owned and moved into a small two-bedroom house on the edge of town.
One evening, her mother had looked at her with concern in her eyes. “We thought you would be able to make your own way in this world, Stephanie, with our wealth at your back. Now that it’s gone, we’ll have to reconsider. I advise you to prepare yourself for an arranged marriage someday, as it will be the best way for us to ensure that you are cared for.”
At the time, Steph had cried and screamed and threatened to run away. How could her parents plan such a thing, taking away her choice of a partner, deciding her future for her? Her boyfriend at the time had offered to help her catch a train to New York and never come back. She had even packed a suitcase to do just that, before she had found him kissing another girl behind the gym.