It struck her that there were many men in the world who would have left her to her own devices after she’d stood them up for such a crucial event. Even after rescuing her from the desert, Zayed could simply have taken her to a hospital and left her there to sort out her immigration problems as soon as she was no longer in danger of dying. Instead, he had rescued her, seen to her care, and shown her such kindness that she was almost ashamed of the fact that she’d thought to run in the first place.
The Sheikh settled himself in his chair, and Zelda wondered if he’d been in that station ever since he’d brought her back to the house.
Zelda looked at Zayed, trying to discern something of the truth about him. “You’re not really the cool, calm, collected businessman you pretend to be, are you?”
“There’s something I want to know, Zelda,” the Sheikh said, dodging the question. “Why are you always running away?”
“Like last night, you mean?”
He shrugged. “Last night, certainly, but also when you stowed away on my yacht, when you ran away from college and when you ran away from culinary school. I’m curious why that is.”
Zelda found herself surprised at the question; she’d never thought about dropping out of university or culinary school as being a form of running away, but Zayed was right.
“I guess I just feel...trapped, a lot,” she admitted. “I’m not really sure why.”
“If you didn’t want to go through with it, you could have just told me,” Zayed said. “I would not hold it against you, and certainly I wouldn’t have held your status over your head.” He reached out and took her hand in his gently. “When I realized that you had tried to leave on your own—on foot, no less—I was terrified for you. Even people who live in this area avoid walking the desert on their own at night.”
“I didn’t think it would be right; I was confused,” Zelda confessed. “I couldn’t think of any other way to get away, and I felt guilty about abandoning you.”
ayed shook his head and reached with his free hand into his pocket. He withdrew a thin, paper folder splashed with an airline logo. “If you really don’t want to go through with it,” he told her, “then please, please accept this. Don’t go out into the desert again. I can even have Yasin drive you to the airport.”
The Sheikh handed the ticket to Zelda, and she opened up the protective folder to reveal that it was a direct flight, first class, from Murindhi to Miami. Looking at it more closely, Zelda realized that it wasn’t a ticket for a particular flight, but a prepaid voucher, good for whenever she might want to fly out.
“I don’t want you to feel like you have to take your life in your hands in order to do what you think is right,” Zayed added.
Zelda considered: with her passport, the ticket, and the preliminary paperwork she’d done as part of the process of getting engaged to Zayed, she should—hopefully—be able to leave the country with no problems. She could go back to the States the same day, and be home to tell her parents what a crazy few weeks she’d had. But the kindness of the gesture, and Zayed’s insistence that he would rather her be safe and happy than fulfill her side of the bargain with him, rebuked her. She didn’t want to be tied to Murindhi indefinitely, but she knew that she’d made a deal with the Sheikh. He had fulfilled his side of things, clearing up her immigration status enough that she could leave the country without risking being imprisoned for entering illegally. She owed it to him to hold up her end of the deal.
“How about this,” she began, looking from the ticket to Zayed. “I’ll go through with the wedding—it seems silly not to, at this point.” She smiled slightly. “That way, we’ve both held up our end of the deal. Then, once the wedding is over, and everything is finalized with your deal, we part ways. I go back to the US, and you go back to your life here.”
Zayed held her gaze for a long moment and Zelda wondered if she had ruined any good faith between them with her escape attempt; if he had simply decided to give up on her for being so ungrateful as to try and flee such a cushy situation.
“It’s a deal,” he said, extracting his hand from hers only to offer it to her again to shake.
Zelda smiled, shook his hand, and put the voucher aside. “We should probably get moving,” she pointed out. “Are we still doing the engagement party, or did I ruin that?”
The Sheikh laughed. “It actually did you a favor in society here,” he told her. “I painted it as you being shy, since you don’t know enough of the language to keep up, and of course you’re so very modest.”
Zelda snickered. “I guess that’s good at least,” she said, shaking her head. “I’d hate to think that I’d humiliated you.”
Zayed smiled slightly. “Mostly I was worried. Hadya came to check on you, with the stylist and her employees, and didn’t find you.” He made a face. “At first I was concerned that you might have been kidnapped or something, but then, of course, I would think that someone would leave a note, or call me, if they were going to ransom you.”
Zelda’s heart fell at the worry that she had caused him. She had thought—tentatively—that the Sheikh was capable of connecting and caring about others, but she hadn’t for a moment believed that she could have qualified for that distinction.
“I guess I didn’t really think it through,” Zelda said self-consciously. “I just felt like it was wrong of me at the time.” She pressed her lips together; no matter how much affection and kindness Zayed had showed her, there were certain aspects of her decision that she still wasn’t comfortable talking about with him.
“Well I’m glad you’ve changed your mind, somewhat at least,” Zayed said. He looked her over briefly. “I should let you rest; the doctor said that your body would probably take some time to fully recover from the ordeal.”
Zelda’s lips twisted into a dry smile. “I feel okay now,” she said. “Just a little weak. I think I want a bath.” Her cheeks warmed at the fact that she’d worried that Zayed had seen her naked.
“I’ll go and meet with some associates while you rest, then,” Zayed said. “I don’t want you to feel crowded, but I was worried for you.”
Zelda patted his hand, shifting slightly in the bed. “I’m sorry I made you worry,” she told him.
Zayed took his leave, and Zelda waited for him to go into the hallway outside before she attempted to climb out of the bed.
Her legs felt wobbly and sore as she stood up, but she reminded herself that she’d had worse muscle soreness in her life. She shook her head, remembering the tree she’d climbed, the fact that she had known, almost as soon as she’d started away from the massive compound, that she’d erred in her judgment.
She shuffled to the bathroom, realizing with a mild shock that her quarters in Zayed’s home had started to take on a familiar, almost comforting feeling to her, after only a week of staying in them. She stroked her fingers over an impossibly soft towel—one of a half-dozen she had now—and shook her head. Towels, sponges, soaps, more toiletries than she could have previously imagined owning; on top of more clothes and accessories than she would ever have bought for herself, all within a week of meeting Zayed. An entire life of luxuries.
She started the taps on the bathtub; she felt perfectly clean, but there was something about taking a bath, soaking in hot, scented water that appealed to her. She sat on the ledge of the tub, thinking about the strange way things had developed; she had to laugh at the fact that she was only just now becoming aware of the depth of luxury in which Zayed lived, the life that he had to offer her as his wife, even if it was a