“I don’t think I like this,” Zelda said, picking at one of the vegetable salads on her plate. “How is that any more respectable than them being professors?”
“In my country, it just is,” Zayed insisted. “Money talks, and besides, it makes it easier for people to believe that we met and fell in love.”
“Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story,” Zelda said wryly.
“So I met your parents first, discussed the possibility of going into business together, it fell through, and in the process I met you and we fell in love.”
Zelda took a deep breath. It’s not like you have a whole lot of choices here, she reminded herself. If she didn’t go along with the Sheikh’s plan, it was easy to believe that she would at least be deported, and possibly spend years in prison to boot.
“Okay,” she said finally. “But we are not changing my name.”
The Sheikh shook his head. “Of course not; it would only make it harder to have documents that would work for you if we gave you a fake name. Besides, the press will love the alliteration of Zayed and Zelda,” he added.
Zelda grinned, smiling drolly. “So we met through my parents, had a whirlwind secret romance, and now I’m getting ready to marry you,” she said. “I should probably know about you, too.”
“We’ll be working on that for the next few days, as well as rehearsing your story,” Zayed told her. “For tonight, let’s focus on hammering out the details of your past.”
Zelda took a deep breath and ate a forkful of some grain which was both spicy and sweet. “My fake details,” she said with a wink.
The Sheikh gave her a quick, not quite sympathetic look. “Our engagement party is scheduled for a week from today,” he told her. “You are going to need to be able to stick with your story, to know it so well that questions can’t shake you.”
“I get that,” Zelda said. “I understand.”
“We’ll also need to get you a special gown for the night,” Zayed told her. “It will be your debut into high society here, so you’ll have to look absolutely spectacular.” He gave her a quick, appraising glance. “Not that the basic ingredient isn’t already more than acceptable.”
“That’s…thanks, I guess?” Zelda wasn’t sure if it was necessarily a compliment.
“You’ll be meeting some of the wealthiest people in this country,” Zayed told her, “as well as some minor royalty from my family.”
Zelda set her fork down again, staring at the Sheikh. “Minor royalty? In your family?”
He dismissed the shock in her voice. “I’m distantly related to them,” he told her. “But I’m nowhere near close enough to the throne to ever consider inheriting it. Over a dozen people would have to die for me to even have a chance.”
“So I’ll be meeting with…the equivalent of dukes, or something?”
Zayed considered the question, tilting his head from side to side. “Basically,” he agreed finally. “Everyone invited to the party will either be press or upper class, so we will need to be absolutely flawless.”
“Are you getting a special suit for the occasion?”
Zayed smiled. “A tuxedo, yes,” he told her. “Events here tend to be extremely formal. You’ll have an evening gown specially made, too.”
Zelda thought about the amount of money that he was investing in the enterprise of them getting married and it staggered her; it was almost absurd, and she was tempted to ask again why it was possible for him to game the system but not change the law.
The Sheikh served her a little more of the meal from the platters in front of them, and Zelda noticed that he had somehow discerned which items she liked the best from her first serving.
“Shouldn’t I be at least a little involved in the process of planning my own engagement party?” she asked. “My own wedding?”
“You will be,” the Sheikh said. “I’m a busy man, after all. You’ll be meeting with my personal assistant, Tarek, who’s in charge of the arrangements. He can handle it, but of course he’ll consult with you about your preferences.”
They continued to talk and eat, and Zelda found herself feeling somehow both more comfortable with the prospect of what they were going to do and more anxious at the stakes they were playing with.
Of course, she thought to herself when she and Zayed finished their meal, it wasn’t as though the Sheikh having a marriage of convenience would really impact his life in any way. She somehow imagined that in the eyes of Murindhi law, a fake marriage—as long as it was legal—would be as good as a marriage for love. It would probably have more of an impact on her if the scheme was found out. Living in Miami, Zelda was familiar with the concept of “green card weddings,” where people from different countries made deals with Americans so as to find an easier route to citizenship.
When Zayed left, their conversation cut short by an “urgent” business call, Zelda walked back to her quarters, thinking about the strange twists and turns her life had taken in less than a month. She never would have expected to find herself stowing away on a yacht, or being rescued by a billionaire—still less the proposal that said billionaire sheikh had made.
Zelda stripped off her fine new clothes and decided that the saying was right: truth was even stranger than fiction. She went into her bathroom and decided to put some of the bath products Zayed had had delivered to her room to good use; she would need to get into character as quickly as possible if she wanted to see their scheme through and not get caught.
After fiddling with the taps for a few moments, Zelda got the water running and selected a bath package that smelled of lilies and jasmine. Sinking down into the warm water, she sighed at the strangeness of life, her thoughts turning towards assembling a character that would match up to the Sheikh’s expectations of his imaginary bride-to-be.