The Sheikh's Stolen Bride-To-Be(2)

By: Holly Rayner

In that moment, an arranged marriage hadn’t sounded like such a terrible idea. If her parents, who cared for her welfare more than anyone, could help her find a decent man to spend her life with, who would provide the financial security she had been so used to as a child, was that really such a bad idea? In that moment, Steph resigned herself to her fate. She was a daughter of America and El Farah, and, in truth, she really didn’t belong to either.

Opening up her browser again, she perused a few more dresses before losing interest. What was the point? If Steph had had her way, she would have been a fashion design major, maybe in Boston or New York. She had always had a talent for design, and her notebooks were filled with doodles and drawings of ideas. She was an artist stuck working at a bank. She had only gotten the job because of her father’s reputation, even though he had fallen so far. Names mattered in Vermont. People looked out for their own.

Her eyes darted to the clock at the bottom of her computer screen, and she realized she could head home for the day if she wanted. Unwilling to spend another minute in that stuffy blazer, Steph shut down her computer and grabbed her work bag, waving goodbye to the tellers as she headed out the door.

Summers in Vermont were perfectly mild. It was north enough that the temperature never really went above eighty degrees, and the state was lush with beautiful forests, clean lakes, and plenty of pond-side beaches. Steph couldn’t have asked for a better place to grow up.

Still, while her childhood had been idyllic, adulthood was less exciting in a town with only a few hundred people in it. Most of her friends had left for colleges elsewhere, exploring the world, going on adventures. As she’d watched them through social media, wishing to go on her own adventure, she had realized that her best bet would be the marriage her parents had arranged.

A marriage that so happened to be taking place in a few days’ time, in El Farah. Steph’s packed bag, with her traditional wedding dress inside, was sitting in her room at that very moment as she made her way down her town’s small main street toward an ice cream parlor. She slid out of her blazer and shoved it into her bag, relishing in the feel of the warm sun on her skin.

Thanks to her diverse parentage, Steph had an exotic blend of dark olive skin, straight black hair, and piercing blue eyes. She was petite, but she loved running, which gave her an athletic build. Stephanie O’Hanlon was a fighter. She was strong, and she had lived through her family’s complete financial breakdown, working to help her father deal with his grief while her mother did the same. They had stood together through the toughest of storms and come out on the other side, and Steph was proud of her family, different as they were.

Bells jingled against the glass door as Steph walked into the ice cream shop. An old woman sat at the counter reading a newspaper.

“It’s awfully quiet in here for how good the weather is,” Steph said.

The woman looked up from her paper and smiled, her face crinkling like tissue paper. “The kids aren’t out of school yet, though they should be any minute. What brings you in here so early, Stephanie?”

Steph shrugged, pulling out her wallet and perusing the flavors written on a chalk wall. “I went in early today, so I got to leave early. I’ll be gone for a while after tomorrow, so I want to make sure I stop in at all my favorite places first.”

Steph didn’t want to think about never coming back. She was potentially about to marry a man in El Farah and call that country her new home, even though she had never seen it before. If she hadn’t been so desperate for adventure, for some kind of change, she would have told her parents to call off the deal. As it was, a man had already been selected, and he was waiting for her an ocean away. Steph wondered what he looked like. Did he like ice cream? Did they even eat ice cream in El Farah?

Having made her choice, Steph ordered a caramel vanilla swirl in a waffle cone, going all out for her last stop in the store.

“How long will you be traveling, honey? It must be exciting to see your mother’s home country for the first time!”

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