Wifed By The Sheikh (The Sheikh's True Love 3) - Page 11


“Where is Zayed? We were supposed to meet after breakfast,” Zelda said to Hadya.

The older woman shrugged. “He leave for business. Back maybe three hours.”

Zelda smiled politely at the older woman, inclining her head in a respectful nod that concealed her annoyance; it was the day before her and the Sheikh’s supposed engagement party, and she had wanted plenty of time to go over their cover stories in detail once more.

The days since she’d moved into Zayed’s palatial mansion had been intense, more so than any other period of learning in her life. She and Zayed had spent hours out of every day learning about each other—or in Zelda’s case, solidifying her cover story—and rehearsing their tale of meeting and falling in love.

Zelda went back to her room after Hadya’s news, thinking about the engagement party to come. She felt anxious, restless; she wanted to be doing something, wanted something else to fill her mind with.

The Sheikh had taken her to one of his designer friends the day before to do the final fitting on her gown for the party, and they’d spent the entire drive speaking about their pasts.

“It’s actually a good thing that your parents are so highly educated, and passed that onto you,” Zayed had said at one point.

“I thought you said having two professors for parents wasn’t good enough for people here?” Zelda had raised an eyebrow at the Sheikh’s apparent hypocrisy.

“It isn’t,” he said, smiling slightly. “But you benefitted from having highly intelligent parents who taught you well.”

Zelda shrugged. “Why is it such a benefit if I can’t even claim it?”

“Because you have poise, and you can speak well,” Zayed told her. “That will give everyone the impression of class, even if you don’t speak the language.”

“What about you? What was your education like?”

Zayed fleetingly looked almost sad, but the impression left his face so quickly that Zelda thought that she might have imagined it. “Private tutoring from a young age,” he said. “Then boarding school in Switzerland when I was a teenager, and of course college,” Zayed told her. “My parents wanted me to have the very best in every

thing that would be important to my future.”

“Mine too,” Zelda had told him, glancing out through the windows as the reminder of the fight she’d had with her parents sent a chill through her. “They didn’t have the means for some of those things, but I went to private school, and to one of the better in-state colleges.”

“You said that you dropped out?”

Zelda had cringed, shrugging off her embarrassment as best as she could. “I started out studying literature,” she had explained. “And then I realized that I wasn’t likely to get any kind of relevant job once I graduated, and I didn’t really think any of the other programs my university offered would put me in a better place. That was why I ended up going to culinary school; I thought it would be more practical.”

“I studied hotel and hospitality management for the same reason,” Zayed told her. “Of course, I had my father’s success to draw on. He started his hotel business as a sideline to another pursuit, and I took it up before I went to university, as a sort of practical education.”

They’d continued talking while Zelda had her dress fitting, and while Zelda thought she had a good handle on the facts of her future husband’s life, it had occurred to her more than once that she still didn’t have a good idea of who he was as a person.

Zelda looked around her sitting room, feeling her anxiety and restlessness increase. “You know,” she said to herself, “I’ve been here a week and I haven’t seen more than maybe a third of this place.” She glanced at the empty room around her; she wasn’t certain that a wander around the house would help the feeling of ants crawling up and down her arms and legs, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.

She decided to start with the parts of the palatial home farthest away from the wing that her room stood in. The handful of servants around the house had mostly ignored her in the week since she’d arrived, and Zelda had been relieved, because the idea of trying to navigate social interactions with people she barely knew, who barely spoke the same language, had been too daunting.

Zelda wandered towards an older wing of the home and looked around. It was not as ornately decorated as the rest of the mansion, and she noticed that the colors were much more somber than in other parts of the house. She peered at pictures on the wall and realized gradually that it wasn’t that the room was different in its coloring, it was that some of the windows had been covered, and some of the art was shrouded in dark fabrics, creating a forlorn atmosphere. Zelda frowned to herself and tried to think of why that could possibly be. A big portrait of a beautiful woman and a handsome man, dressed in wedding finery, dominated one wall, and as Zelda stared at it, she realized that the two had to be Zayed’s parents: she could see Zayed’s eyes on the woman, his lips on the man.

Once she realized that, her eyes took in more details: the room was full of images of Zayed’s parents, the ones that weren’t covered shrouded in darkness. He mentioned his parents had passed away, Zelda reminded herself; apparently there was a convention about how the people of Murindhi grieved.

As she looked at the pictures of the beautiful couple, Zelda thought back to the curt, almost cold way that Zayed had talked about his parents; he hadn’t spoken of them as if he disliked them, but there had been a definite air of “just the facts” about his comments. He must miss them a lot, Zelda mused, peering more closely at a picture that had been taken—she assumed—shortly after Zayed’s birth, of his mother holding him, his father standing behind her, beaming.

Zelda moved on from the room, hoping to rid herself of the melancholy of it, and went into one of the other parts of the old house, feeling thoughtful. The walls of the corridor had more pictures, and in many of them, Zelda recognized a much younger Zayed. Some featured him and his parents, at the beach together, or at a park somewhere. There was a picture of young Zayed and his father at one of the hotel properties, cutting the ribbon for the grand opening. A picture of Zayed and his mother showed them playing some kind of game in a garden, with Zayed running away, grinning widely, his face more open and carefree than Zelda had seen it in the weeks she’d been around him.

She continued on, finding more and more pictures of the man she was set to marry in a week’s time, trying to understand how he could have been so different from the way that he had seemed to her in all of their interactions. She’d assumed that Zayed was simply a businesslike, slightly aloof man in general; his generosity notwithstanding, he had seemed to be part of his group of friends without really connecting much with any of them. They seemed to exist more as an accessory to his life, as a moving display, but the pictures she saw around the house, taken over the years, tucked away in parts of the palatial home where Zayed never seemed to go, told a different story.

Zelda had to wonder what it was about the Sheikh that made him so...not quite distant, but disengaged from the people in his life, when the evidence scattered around his home informed her that at some point, years ago, he’d been involved, expressive, and interested in the lives of all the people he interacted with. Obviously he was a good businessman, and Zelda had enough experience to know that he wasn’t the type of billionaire who hoarded his money, but who found pleasure in sharing it with others.

This guy is more complicated than he seems, she thought, shaking her head at the odd contradiction in his character. She checked the time and realized that she’d spent nearly two hours just wandering the house, looking at things, and trying to figure out just who Zayed really was.

Zelda made her way back to her quarters and tried to find something to occupy her time with while she waited for the Sheikh to get back from his office in the city proper. But no matter what she tried to do, she found herself thinking again and again about the strange difference between the child she’d seen in the pictures throughout the house, and the man she’d come to know during her time in Murindhi. It just didn’t make any sense.

Tags: Holly Rayner The Sheikh's True Love Billionaire Romance
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