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Indebted To The Sheikh (You Can't Turn Down a Sheikh Book 5) by Ana Sparks, Holly Rayner (1)

Cassie

Was speed-dating going to be the answer to finding Mr. Right?

Oddly enough, it was my cousin Clay’s awful girlfriend who had first suggested giving it a whirl. I had gotten roped into eating lunch with her and Clay the week before. She had asked if I was still “looking.”

I stared at her blankly. “Looking for what?”

“Looking for love,” Leah said, laughing. “I know you wouldn’t mind dating if you had the time. Clay says you’re just too busy with work.”

“Is that right?” I shot Clay a glare from across the table. It was true, though; sometimes, I felt married to my desk and laptop.

“You just have to put yourself out there!” Leah jangled her gaudy bracelets, which glittered in the mid-summer sunlight. “There’s a speed-dating thing they’ve started doing on Tuesday nights in the basement of the Pentecostal church. That’s how my brother met his ex.”

“You think I should go?” I asked skeptically. Wait, did she say his ex?

“Yeah, totally. You should take Aisha.” Aisha Khoury was my best friend. “I’d go with you if I wasn’t already attached.”

“Too bad for you,” Clay joked, mussing her hair with his lips.

Leah pushed him away. “It’s better than a real date because they put you on a timer for…I think Kevin said it was ten minutes. And if you don’t like the guy, you can move on to someone else when the ten minutes are over.”

“Sounds ideal,” I said, poking at my chicken salad. “I wish all my dates could be that brief.”

That might have been the end of it, if I hadn’t made the mistake of mentioning her suggestion to Aisha when we’d met up for karaoke that night.

“Of course, you should go!” she exclaimed, twirling around in her teal, fifties-style dress. “What thirty-year-old single lady wouldn’t avail herself of this opportunity?”

“One who’s really busy and doesn’t know if she even has time to be in a relationship.”

“You ought to try it, at least. Do you know how long I’ve been waiting for you to get married? I don’t want to die before you walk down the aisle.”

“Whoa, who said anything about getting married?” Aisha’s joy was both infectious and unnerving. “I’m just going on a date. A series of very short dates.”

“You’ll do it, then?” she asked, reaching for my hand. She was wearing Audrey Hepburn pearls, and her wrists smelled of lavender perfume.

“Well, I can’t really get out of it, now, can I? I don’t want you to die of disappointment.”

Aisha made an elegant and perfectly executed pirouette, despite the fact that no music was playing. “You don’t understand. I want you to find a boy even more than I want that for myself! I don't care if I die single, as long as I live to see you married off and happy.”

“Well, try to lower your expectations,” I said with a snort, reaching for the mic. “There are still a few critical steps between now and then.”

And that was how I found myself sitting in the basement of a church on a Tuesday night, across from a gangly boy whose breath smelled of saltwater taffy.

Maybe it was the fact that Aisha couldn’t come with me which had discouraged me from wanting to come in the first place. I don’t know. I just know that when I stepped into that basement, I suddenly felt shy and awkward, like I didn’t quite know what to do with my arms. I felt like no one would want to go out with me because I was uniquely un-dateable.

If only that had been the case.

“My name is Gage Tashian,” the guy in front of me was saying. His voice cut through the fog of my mind like a carnival ghost train. “I’m twenty-five, and I work at the Phoenix Film Plex.”

He paused, and I could tell this was the part where I was supposed to say something. “My name’s Cassie, and I’m an investigative reporter at the Phoenix Hornpipe. I’m thirty years old. I wrote an award-winning exposé of the Fire Cloud Corporation, and I’ve won the Southwest Peabody Award two years running.”

“Wow, prestigious.”

I shrugged modestly. “It’s not the Pulitzer Prize, but I’ll get there.”

My phone buzzed in my pocket. Thankful for the distraction, I brought it out and opened it. Just a text from Aisha wanting to know how the date was going. I told her it was fine and returned my cell to my pocket with a sigh.

“You seem tense,” said Gage with a laugh.

“Thanks for noticing.” Had we really only been here for three minutes? It felt more like twenty. I wished Aisha hadn’t promised to come and then backed out at the last minute.

“They say journalism is the lifeblood of a democracy,” said Gage pompously. “Democracy dies in darkness.”

“I’m just trying to make a living, honestly,” I replied.

“I can’t imagine the stress you must be under—”

“Why don’t you tell me about the theater?” I interrupted loudly.

“The theater?” Gage gave me a blank stare as if trying to figure out why he had been interrupted. The truth was, I didn’t have the energy to carry on my own end of a conversation tonight. He grinned ominously. “What would you like to know?”

“Just anything. What do you do?”

This proved to be a mistake, as he launched into a long-winded explanation of the various candies that were sold at the register and why he suspected that different people chose different ones. I drifted in and out of the conversation, my eyes on the clock on the back wall. Five minutes.

“My ex-girlfriend, Dana, didn’t think I should be working at a theater chain,” Gage was saying. “‘Slumming it,’ I think, was the phrase she used. But she works at a local nonprofit and can barely afford to pay rent, so, which of us is the real loser?”

“Just FYI, if you want to have a relationship in the future, you really shouldn’t badmouth your exes,” I said.

Gage smiled foolishly as if he had just been struck in the face. “And she loved licorice wands,” he said, as if he hadn’t heard me. “Who likes those?”

Maybe I shouldn’t have been so frustrated, I kept telling myself. I was nervous and taking it out on him. But then he launched back into his speech about candies, and whatever guilt I had been feeling evaporated.

“Eating licorice, I’m sad to say, doesn’t say much for you as a person. In my experience, licorice-lovers tend to string you along, pretending to be interested, only to dump you the moment they meet someone with a law degree and a better-paying job.”

“How many licorice-lovers have you known?” I asked.

“Three.”

“And all of them dumped you?”

Gage was silent.

Unless something miraculous happened in the next three minutes, I was counting this as a loss. I didn’t need the full ten minutes to know that Gage and I weren’t meant to be together. He seemed to have given up, too, because he sank back into his chair and began eating another taffy with a look of defeat.

“What are people who eat taffy like?” I asked him.

“Total badasses,” Gage replied.

Just then, my phone buzzed again—not once, but three times in succession. Someone was calling me.

In total relief for having an excuse to get away from this boy, I excused myself and sprang from my chair, heading for the stairs. I didn’t even wait until I was out of the room before accepting the call.

“Hello?”

“Cassie,” Aunt Patricia said, her voice grave and hushed, “I’ve got some bad news.”

“What is it?” Anything is better than listening to this horrible boy drone on, I thought.

The lights of a passing ambulance painted the church hallway a deep red and blue as I waited for her to speak.

“I’m really sorry you had to find out this way,” she said, “but your father has passed away—apparently, he had a quite sudden and brief battle with cancer. The funeral is on Thursday, in Paris.”

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