Zelda nodded her acceptance of the schedule and waited until Zayed had left the room before walking back to her sitting area. She sank down onto a low, damask couch and tried to wrap her mind around the fact that she had “quarters” that were, on their own, as large as any of the apartments she’d ever lived in. She turned on the TV and discovered that the Sheikh had probably the most enormous satellite package that a person possibly could—it even had American channels.
“All this wealth, all this space,” Zelda murmured to herself, pretending to watch a crime procedural show she had found. “But who lives here?”
She’d seen a handful of servants, including the maids who were preparing her room, loading her new wardrobe into the closet and drawers, but other than maybe ten employees, there was only Zayed.
Maybe it wouldn’t have been a bad idea for him to go with an arranged marriage, Zelda thought absently. At least the house would have been less empty that way.
Later that evening, Zelda steeled herself to sit down with the Sheikh and begin the process of getting to know each other. As a concession to Zayed’s insistence that she play her part, she changed into one of her new outfits before following a maid down to the dining room.
“You look beautiful,” Zayed said, greeting her with a quick kiss on either cheek. He’d changed into more casual clothes, but they were of the same high quality as Zelda had seen on the yacht, the same quality that he’d bought for her in the boutiques near the harbor.
“Thank you,” Zelda said, feeling slightly uncomfortable in clothes that she was sure were worth more than her entire paycheck from working on the yacht.
“Let’s get started,” Zayed suggested, pulling out a chair at a low table which was already loaded with food of different kinds.
Zelda thought to herself that the kitchen staff at the Sheikh’s home must rival the numbers on his yacht. She immediately wondered if there was any overlap between the two teams. Please no, she prayed, sitting down on a comfortable, cushioned chair. That would make everything so much more complicated.
“How are we going to start?” she asked, trying to focus on the moment.
The Sheikh seated himself and tucked his napkin onto his lap, reaching over the table to serve her from different platters.
The food looked and smelled amazing; it was spiced and colorful, like the feasts Zelda had helped to create on the yacht. It was nice to be one of the recipients of such a meal instead of eating a “staff meal” while the guests feasted, and Zelda watched contentedly as Zayed deftly placed spoonfuls of this and that on her plate in a practiced order.
“Well, we need to know each other extremely well,” Zayed said, finally answering her question. “As well as any two people who want to get married do. And we don’t have long to do it.”
Zelda raised an eyebrow. “We’re supposed to have only known each other a short time though, right?”
The Sheikh smiled. “A short time, yes, but long enough to know each other well enough to get married,” he specified. “You start.”
“Well,” Zelda began, helping herself to a few bites of food as Zayed began filling his own plate. “My parents are both professors; my mom has a doctorate in literature, my dad in history and political science. I grew up in Miami, went to one of the private schools there—a perk of my parents being professors.” Zelda saw a look of concern flit over Zayed’s face, but continued. “I lasted two years in college—not quite enough to get my associate’s—and then a few weeks in culinary school.”
“That explains how you were able to fool Babette,” Zayed said. He ate a bite of one of the stews, wrapped in a pinch of flatbread.
“I was definitely glad that it was the chef who assumed I was her new employee, and not the head of housekeeping,” Zelda admitted.
The Sheikh paused, then, his smile faltering. “Unfortunately, that is not…” he looked at her, hesitating. “That is not exactly a promising life story for the future wife of a sheikh.”
Zelda set her fork down and crossed her arms over her chest, feeling her cheeks heat up with embarrassment. “There’s some prince in…Sweden or somewhere who married a bartender,” she pointed out. “How is it that a bartender is an acceptable bride for a prince, but a college dropout is inappropriate for a sheikh?”
“I don’t make the rules,” the Sheikh said then. “I just know that it’s not going to work. No one is going to believe that I met a college dropout and culinary student a few weeks ago, fell in love with her, and asked her to marry me.”
“So what are you suggesting?”
Zayed gestured for Zelda to keep eating, and poured her some wine. “We make you an heiress,” he said after a pause. “Little-known but wealthy family, in the same business as I am.”
“I don’t even know what business you’re in,” Zelda protested.
The Sheikh chuckled. “The luxury hotel business,” he said. “I own five of the most exclusive hotels in the world.”
“And the company you want to buy?” Zelda began eating again, intrigued.
“Another syndicate like mine. They own four hotels—not quite as exclusive, but beautiful properties in exotic locations that with the right management can turn a very tidy profit.” He paused and considered for a moment, nibbling on a grape. “We’ll say that your parents are the owners of an exclusive hotel in South Beach, and that I met you while scouting for potential properties; we’ll say your parents couldn’t be persuaded into selling, but that we had an instant rapport.”