Zayed nodded. “I travel often, and of course everyone will know that you are an American woman,” he said. “So, you leaving the country once your immigration status is settled will be nothing. Boring news to everyone. In fact, I’m sure many people will catch onto the fact that it’s a marriage of convenience, but as long as we don’t give them proof, there’s no reason for them to say anything.” The Sheikh extended his hand across the table. “Do we have a deal, Zelda?” his lips twitched in the start of an amused smile. “The press will certainly enjoy the alliteration in our names.”
“We have a deal,” Zelda said calmly, reaching across the table to shake his hand. She was surprised at how soft his palms were, and reminded herself that he was a monied man, and that he’d probably grown up wealthy. He had probably never worked in a kitchen in his life; he probably didn’t even know the first thing about doing his own laundry.
“We will have to get you a wardrobe, and a suitable token of my esteem to mark our engagement,” Zayed said, thinking out loud.
Zelda watched as the Sheikh took out his phone and began sending messages, making arrangements. He was clearly a man who liked to strike while the iron was hot; he hadn’t planned on making the offer to her, but he wasn’t about to give her time to change her mind about it.
Just as she had more than a few times in the previous two weeks, Zelda wondered if she had overplayed her luck. She felt outside of her depth, in territory where the bottom was so far away that the water around her was dark, her feet impossible to see.
What could possibly go wrong? She didn’t doubt for an instant that if Zayed were dating someone, he would have just proposed to his girlfriend and be done with it. Now that they’d agreed on the plan, he was every bit as implicated in fraud as she was. Yeah, but he’s rich and you’re poor. They’ll throw you in jail and invite him to speak to a group of policy-makers.
It wasn’t bad; that much Zelda had to acknowledge to herself. If she could trust Zayed to keep his word, she would be able to stay in the country for as long as she wanted to, and once she wanted to go back to the States, it would be easy—or at least, she hoped it would. And once she was in the US once more, she could probably file for divorce without too much trouble.
Would a marriage in Murindhi even be acknowledged in the US? Zelda filed the question away in the back of her mind to research later; she thought it would, but that shouldn’t stop her from being able to get a divorce, particularly if she tried for it after Zayed had completed his plans.
“Okay,” she said, finally. “So how are we going to pull this off?”
The Sheikh, who had been just as busy thinking as she had, stirred and smiled slightly. “First we have to establish who you are, create an image for you. Of course, we’ll have to get you a new wardrobe—in fact, that should be one of our first priorities. We’ll sort out the engagement ring, and you will come and live in my home for the time being.”
Hearing this, Zelda shot Zayed a distrusting glance.
“In your own quarters,” he specified, just a hint of a smile touching his lips.
“So we create an identity for me, show ourselves to the public, and get married,” Zelda said. “And then what?”
Zayed shrugged. “And then I move forward with my plans to purchase the company I want, and our lives go forward. If and when you want to go back to the US, you can do so.” He looked her up and down slowly. “Of course, you’ll have input on the wedding itself: your dress, the flowers you want, and so on.”
Zelda chuckled, shaking her head at the absurdity of it all. “I’m pretty sure my sham wedding to you is going to be a bigger, grander affair than any actual wedding I could ever have,” she observed.
The Sheikh grinned. “Well, there is a certain standard to be upheld. In this country, even the most normal people go all out for their weddings. And so the more money you have, the more they expect you to put on a show.”
“Give it to me straight:” Zelda said, her voice dry with amusement, “just how many bridesmaids am I going to have to deal with?”
Zayed laughed. “For the sake of appearances, I think you can get away with four,” he told her. “I have some extended family I can call upon for this; fear not, you will be adequately attended to.”
“Appearance is everything,” Zelda said.
Zayed gave her a quick look—a mixture of amusement and something like sympathy—and nodded. “I have to convince the country of my great and abiding passion for you, Zelda,” he told her. “That being the case, the wedding will certainly be a very grand, very expensive affair.”
Zelda finished off her coffee and set the delicate porcelain down carefully. “No one just goes off and elopes here, do they?”
Zayed shrugged. “There are some that do,” he said. “But in the higher orders of society, it would cause more problems for us to do it that way than to stage a huge wedding with all the trappings.”
Zelda took a quick, deep breath, while she silently and mentally