Saving the Sheikh
Page 11

 Ruth Cardello

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The king said, “Rachid tells me that you have a successful real estate development business in China.”
Zhang once again looked at the older man and simply nodded. The less she said, the better. This wasn’t about winning them over or making a point, it was about biding her time.
“You also made some of your money from dealing with spices internationally.”
Zhang nodded again.
“It will not be easy for you to leave all of that behind, I think.” As he spoke he watched her expression closely. Zhang didn’t like that there was a hint of concern in his voice.
I’m not leaving anything behind, she wanted to scream, but she smiled slightly instead. I am on the first plane out of here as soon as I can get my hands on a phone.
Beneath the table, Rachid reached out and took one of her hands in his. Zhang pried herself loose and sat straighter in her chair. She didn’t need his support, or whatever he thought his touch would give. She was perfectly in control of both herself and the situation.
“I have contacted your parents to ensure them of your safety,” the king said.
Zhang’s breath caught in her throat. That must have gone over well.
He continued, “Of course, they will attend the wedding. I hope you’ll inform Rachid of whatever customs you would like us to follow that day to help them feel welcome.” He chided gently. “That is, if you speak.”
Oh, trust me, I have a lot to say – just nothing that I feel would help this situation.
Breathe.
One perk of being a woman is that men often underestimate you.
Let them think what they wish of me, it’ll only help me win in the end.
The king said, “There is much to do. We will travel to Nilon today. Once there, you will stay in the women’s quarters until the day of your wedding. My mother speaks English fluently, so she is a natural choice to help you prepare. Regardless of how this started, you join our family on Saturday and will be expected to act accordingly.”
An angry fire began to burn within Zhang, but she held it in.
There is only so much of this I can handle.
Rachid spoke, “Zhang is an amazing woman, Father.”
The father said, “You certainly picked a beautiful flower for your garden, Rachid.”
Zhang’s head whipped around to Rachid. The question escaped before she could stop herself. “Garden? As in more than one flower?”
Rachid’s eyes held a smile as he asked, “This matters to you?”
Clenching her hands in her lap, Zhang forced a sweet smile. “Not in the slightest.”
The king said, “Do not worry, child, a man’s first wife always holds a special place in his heart.”
That’s it.
Zhang stood, laid both hands on the table and snarled, “I’m not worried because there will be no wedding. Rachid can have a hundred wives for all I care. A thousand. You can make whatever plans you’d like and talk about this as much as you want, but it’s not going to happen. As soon as I get word to my people, it won’t be as easy as locking a door. If you don’t release me now, you risk serious consequences and I may not be able to guarantee your safety.”
A silence fell over the room.
Rachid’s father threw back his head and laughed. Rachid joined him – sending Zhang’s blood pressure to volcanic proportions. She grit her teeth and said, “I’m glad you find this amusing. You won’t be laughing when my men come.”
Rachid stood beside her, his eyes still crinkled with amusement. “Sit down, Zhang.”
Patience be damned.
She spun on him. “I will never marry you. And I don’t care if your father is the law of this land. I’d rather be strung up and publicly executed than spend five more minutes listening to either one of you.”
She stalked to the door and opened it. A guard blocked her exit. The king spoke to him in Arabic. The man nodded and instructed for Zhang to follow him.
She did, but not before she heard Rachid say something to his father – followed by the deep sound of both men laughing again.
During the walk back to her well-cushioned cell, Zhang decided that the whole taken-by-a-desert-sheikh thing was highly overrated.
No one ever mentioned how much of the time you’d spend wanting to strangle them.
Following Zhang’s grand exit, Rachid’s father took his seat again, and Rachid followed suit. Ghalil remained standing. He said, “It’s obvious that she is completely unsuited for our family.”
Rachid tensed. His brother’s opinion mattered little compared to his father’s.
Amir scratched his short beard and said, “Funny, I was thinking the exact opposite.” He smiled at his older son. “I can see what you like about her, Rachid. She has a spirit you don’t see in many women.”
Ghalil interjected, “Am I the only one who heard her threats?”
Quickly losing patience with his younger brother, Rachid asked, “You fear a woman, Ghalil?”
The young man spat, “That woman will likely kill you in your sleep.”
Rachid showed his teeth in what fell short of a smile. “A circumstance you would benefit from, Brother.”
“Enough,” Amir said to Rachid. “Save your energy for Zhang. Let us forget all of this nonsense for now and speak of more pressing matters. Rachid, how are your plans to move Proximus’ headquarters to Nilon?”
Switching gears quickly, Rachid said, “I needed to increase my liquid assets to do it, but I may have a lead on a deal that would make it possible.”
Ghalil sneered. “No wonder you agreed to marry your whore. Everyone knows she’s rich.”
Rachid surged out of his chair and closed the short distance to Ghalil. Very softly he warned, “Why do you beg for me to do something I will regret? You’re my brother. I don’t want your blood on my hands.”
Ghalil stood tall beneath the threat. “You don’t belong here, Rachid. We both know it. And now you’ve chosen a wife that the people will never accept. It’s only a matter of time before you put our family in real danger.”
Rachid glanced at his father, but the older man’s expression gave nothing away. He looked down at his brother again and some of his anger left him. Ghalil felt justified in his attacks. He saw Rachid as unfit to become king, and some of his arguments were valid. Marrying Zhang was a gamble that could make the situation better – or infinitely worse. Still, it was time to address his brother’s growing insolence. “Two things will end a man’s life early, Ghalil – overconfidence and talking about another man’s woman. Nipping at my ankles will not win you the title you think you deserve, but one day soon it will gain you a swift reprimand.”
Ghalil held Rachid’s gaze for a minute, then backed down angrily. He clearly had more to say, but he held his tongue.
Their father smiled. “Ah, Rachid, you make me miss my younger years. Go, tame your future wife. You have less than a week to do it, and I suspect you’ll need every minute of it.”
Rachid returned his smile. “Thank you, Father.” He headed for the door.
Amir added, “I can’t wait to see the grandchildren you two produce.”
Rachid took the parting comment with him into the hallway.
Grandchildren.
That would require a real marriage, and that wasn’t what he was planning.
Was it?
Seated beside Rachid in the back of a limo sandwiched in a long caravan of SUVs, Zhang watched the airfield disappear behind them and Nilon rise up before them. Civilization, thank God. This will soon be over. I just hope I don’t go to prison for what I will unleash on this family.
Rachid whispered in her ear. “Will this silence continue into our marriage? Because I have to admit it’s rather pleasant.”
Zhang swung around, only to find that the move brought her lips so close to his that she could almost taste his sweet kiss. She licked her lips in memory and kicked herself mentally for the momentary weakness.
He could fight for my freedom, but instead he cowers beside his father.
He’s not worthy of me.
Forgetting that for a moment is dangerous.
Between gritted teeth, Zhang said, “You’ll regret this, Rachid.”
Despite her anger, he touched her cheek and said, “Parts of it I already do. I should never have put you in danger.”
“I’m not the one you should worry for now. Look into my eyes and see my intention. I will not be forced into marriage. Remember that nothing is more dangerous than when it’s cornered.”
Instead of backing down, as she expected, or rising to the challenge as some would have, he took her hand in his and held it on his robed thigh. “One day you will understand that I made the best decision for both of us.”
She tugged at her hand but did not succeed in freeing it. While she considered her next move, she said, “Exactly. You made the decision. You live with the consequences.”
He turned her hand over in his and rubbed his thumb over her wrist absently, sending unwelcome shivers down Zhang’s back. “Do you never tire of fighting, Zhang?” he asked softly.
Yes.
She ripped her hand out of his and snarled, “I haven’t even begun to.”
He smiled sadly. “Would it help if I told you that you can keep your company? I’ll make arrangements to ensure you don’t lose it.”
Something akin to fear whipped through her. What a cruel twist of fate it would be if one night cost her all the independence she’d fought so hard for. Perhaps it was a fear left over from her humble beginnings, but a part of her had always worried that she could lose everything as quickly as she’d made it. However, even her darkest bouts of insecurity hadn’t included the possibility that someone would take it from her. For just a moment, she felt like a young girl again, defending her right to choose her path. “Don’t touch me, and don’t involve yourself in my business. You have no right to do either.” Her eyes glittered with angry tears that she turned away to hide.
He bent and whispered in her ear again. “A husband has many rights, and one of them includes touching. Not that there is an inch of you that I’m not already familiar with.”
She stared angrily out the limo window. “You will never be my husband. Enjoy those memories, Rachid, because they are all you’ll ever have.”
He sat back, seeming to relax into the seat beside her, and said, “We’ll see, won’t we? I think we’ve already made progress.”
She glared at him over her shoulder.
He folded his arms across his chest and smiled at her shamelessly. “You don’t hate me, Zhang. You’re afraid to let go and trust me. I can work with that.”
“I am not afraid,” she denied hotly and turned to study the high-rises that loomed above, blocking out the sun. “I’m not.”
This time it was the universe that laughed.
Chapter Eight
The next morning, Rachid was in his private quarters, making a mental plan of how he would woo Zhang. In retrospect, it had been a mistake to mention the possibility of divorcing in a year. Women need a sense of security.
Could a real marriage between them work?