The Sheikh's Accidental Heir(6)

By: Leslie North

But then he’d give her that crooked smile of his—the one that lit a slow light in his eyes—and she was pretty damn sure he was trouble on two legs. Muscles under the shirt suggested a body custom made for sin. His dark eyes would be any girl’s downfall, and the charm he had going was a weapon that would melt any woman’s heart.

Fun only, she reminded herself. She didn’t need man-trouble, but a fantasy night out was not a bad thing.

The sedan pulled up in front of the address she’d given the driver. She got out without waiting for anyone to open the door. Ahmed frowned at that, but she came around, grabbed his hand and pulled him into Katz’s Deli.

The place was packed, but Katz’s was generally packed at four in the morning or four in the afternoon. She dragged Ahmed to seats at the counter. He was glancing around as if he wasn’t sure about any of this, but Sybil was working—the woman looked as if she’d been here for sixty years, and that might be the truth.

“Whadda ya have?” Sybil asked in a shout that carried over the clatter of dishes and the noise of the hard walls in the diner.

Melanie glanced at Ahmed. He waved for her to go ahead. She ordered the pastrami on rye and knockwurst—there were other things on the menu that were a New York blessing, but Katz’s pastrami was hand sliced, perfectly seasoned and just about melted in your mouth. Ahmed glanced around again, but no one was giving him more than a glance. Not with a lady in real diamonds and a fur—worn even on a summer evening—at one table in a hard-backed chair, a few Goth punks clinging to their outdated retro eighties look, a couple of taxi drivers who’d stopped in and sat near a window to keep an eye on their cab, and a few custom Brooks Brothers suits who looked like they were straight off Wall Street trading floors. Katz’s catered to anyone with the money to buy a meal.

Ahmed started to ask about herself, but the food came out on heavy china plates, served with coffee they hadn’t ordered—Sybil liked to tell you what you needed with your meal. The bill was slapped down, and Melanie swapped half the pastrami onto the knockwurst plate. “Eat it while it’s hot like this.”

She cut off a hunk of his knockwurst and shoveled a forkful of bliss into her mouth. She closed her eyes and let the tastes wrap around her tongue—crisp meat seasoned by a decades’ old grill, with a touch of grease. What was more New York than this? Opening her eyes, she saw Ahmed watching her, elbow propped on the counter and a smile curving his mouth. “You are a sensualist.”

She waved her fork at the plate. “And if you don’t eat, Sybil is going to come over here and make sure you do. A growing man like you needs good food.”

He gave a laugh but picked up half the pastrami sandwich, with its meat dripping out the sides. Melanie waited. Ahmed took a bite as if it was just food—then he stopped and his eyes widened. He chewed, and Melanie knew he was discovering the miracle of Katz’s. It wasn’t just that the meat was cooked to falling apart perfection or that the rye bread came to the table soft and warm. It was the mustard and spices and how everything balanced.

Ahmed let out a breath. “I see why everyone must come to New York at some time in their life.”

They ate everything, washed the meal down with hot coffee that Sybil kept steaming. She beamed at them to see them eating like teamsters. Ahmed paid the bill and left a more-than-generous tip that left Sybil calling after them to come back soon.

Strolling out into the muggy, evening air, Melanie pulled in a breath and put a hand on her stomach. “I’m going to have to do an extra lap at the pool this week to make up for that.”

Ahmed laughed. “Ah, but the evening is not done. Come, we’ll walk.” He took her hand and they strolled down the street. The sedan dutifully followed, slowing traffic behind them, gaining angry horn honks.

Unable to stand that, Melanie said, “I should be getting back.”

“To work?” Ahmed turned to face her. “Really?”

She bit her lower lip. “Hey, bills to pay.”

He glanced up at the sky and then at her. “You must come with me for a nightcap, yes? And I texted Stubon. He should leave dessert for us. You cannot let that go to waste.”

“Well, if you put it like that.”

With a hand on the small of her back, he guided her to the sedan and Ahmed gave the name of a newer, smaller boutique hotel. Melanie had been curious about the place—she hadn’t been inside. The lobby impressed with small alcoves and seating areas, all of them perfect for intimate business meetings. The bar had been tucked to one side, and the check-in counter seemed more like a desk. The elevator smoothly took them to an upper story, and Ahmed let himself into his room. She was even more impressed that he hadn’t bothered with bodyguards—but with his build, he probably knew how to look after himself.

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