A moment later, Zayed lightly tapped her shoulder, and she turned to see that he had a glass of champagne for her. She accepted it gratefully, raising it to her new husband and taking a sip as the still blazing sun over the bright blue water drew her gaze once more.
They were mostly quiet on the trip out to the island; the helicopter was too loud to allow for much conversation, and Zelda found she was far more tired than she had even suspected she would be after the long day.
Sipping her champagne, she thought about her parents’ probable reaction to the impulsive nature of her wedding. Would they hear about it in the news before she had the chance to tell them about it in person? Or was Murindhi too small a country for it to merit more than maybe an inch in the newspaper, a minute on TV? Within the country, Zelda knew, it was the society event of the year, and something that had launched a dozen talk show segments and news highlights.
The pilot touched down yards away from a mansion that was every bit as palatial as Zayed’s, and Zelda shook her head at going from one lap of luxury to another. Apparently the Sheikh’s friend had lent his staff to the occasion of his friend’s honeymoon as well; Zelda saw them file out of the main house as she and Zayed climbed out of the helicopter. She had packed luggage the night before—enough clothing to last her a week, along with her own things. Zayed had insisted that she could keep anything she wanted when she went back to the US—the clothing and accessories had all been bought with her in mind, and would go to waste if she didn’t use or keep them—but he had so liberally furnished her closet that Zelda had known it would be impossible for her to take all of it with her, even with first-class luggage allowances.
Two men came to retrieve their baggage from the helicopter, and Zayed introduced her to the staff working at the island mansion, looking more at ease than he had in all the time Zelda had known him, but with a ripple of tension in his demeanor all the same.
The housekeeper, Nudara, offered to show them around the grounds and Zayed, after looking at Zelda to confirm she wanted to, gave his assent. His friend’s home on the private island was every bit as big as Zayed’s palace on the mainland, but more modern; there was less artwork on the walls and fewer pictures, more windows, and the floors were hardwood instead of marble.
The servants, Nudara told them, were putting their things away in the master bedroom. Zelda almost interrupted to ask that she have a room to herself, but decided against it; it would just prompt questions, and while she trusted Zayed’s household staff, his friends were unknown to her. If I need to, I’ll find another room later, she promised herself.
The question that had stuck out in her mind when they’d boarded the helicopter remained with Zelda the whole time they toured the grounds, taking in the huge swimming pool, the access to the little, white-sanded beach, Zayed’s friend’s “menagerie” housing dozens of birds, a few monkeys, and other curiosities. Why was Zayed still with her? Why wasn’t he in the city, putting the final touches to the business deal he’d gotten married in order to secure? It made no sense at all.
Zelda went back to their shared bedroom when they’d finished the tour with Nudara, and decided that she wanted to go swimming in the pool while there was still some light in the sky; the pool faced the west, so Zayed suggested meeting her out there with more champagne and snacks. Zelda felt hesitant at the idea, but reminded herself that she was on her honeymoon with him—that he was her husband, and they would need to act as husband and wife for a little while longer, at least in front of others.
She closed herself into the bathroom to change into the bathing suit Zayed had bought for her the week before, and stepped out into the empty room. She still wasn’t certain what her new husband was doing, or what his motivation was.
“He deserves a vacation too,” she told herself, reasoning that this was the way that Zayed was viewing the trip. “He worked hard to make the wedding happen.” And he had told her when they’d made their deal that he didn’t expect any kind of romantic relationship with her.
Zelda dismissed her questions about her new husband’s motives and found a towel in one of the closets in the bedroom before heading for the pool; the prospect of having to share a bed with a man who was both a stranger and not a stranger, someone she was supposed to be a wife to but whom she had married as a sham, made Zelda nervous. She was certain that she could trust Zayed not to overstep the boundaries they had set, but did she want him to stay within those boundaries?
Zelda looked down at the two rings on her finger, shocked that she could even ask herself such a question. Certainly, Zayed was attractive—he was one of the most gorgeous men she’d ever seen in her life. And technically, she was his wife; they had been married in front of witnesses and had the paperwork to prove it. She could gain Murindhi citizenship any time she wanted, just from the paperwork they’d signed, and her immigration status in the country was clear. She had set a deal with a man who was a stranger for the sake of benefitting them both, but the man she’d married was less of a stranger than Zelda had thought he would be after only two weeks.
As she reached the pool she shook off the thought of anything other than sleeping in the bed Zayed’s friend had provided them with, telling herself that it was likely Zayed would simply stay the night for appearance’s sake, and then be gone in the morning to complete his deal. She would enjoy her little vacation on the island, and then fly back to the United States a legally married woman.
Mom and Dad will be so pleased, she thought wryly, stepping into the water on the shallow end of the pool. She swam out to the deeper end and turned onto her back, staring up at the sky; it was darker than the blue of the sky in Miami, she thought, and not just because of the fact that it was gathering towards night.
Zelda heard movement and turned her head to see Zayed emerging from the house, a bottle of champagne in his hand, along with a bucket of ice and a couple of champagne flutes.
She shifted around in the water to touch the bottom, and watched him for a few moments. He had at some point put on swim trunks, and Zelda had to admit to herself that the man she had married for convenience had a very attractive body. Stop thinking like that!
Zayed turned to look in her direction. “I thought we could use some more champagne,” he told her, setting the bucket down near the edge of the pool. He opened the bottle and quickly filled the two glasses, setting the bottle into the bucket of ice. The Sheikh sat down on the edge of the pool and extended one of the glasses towards Zelda, who accepted it.
Zayed raised his glass, and Zelda raised her own in response. “To us,” he said. “We pulled it off.”
Zelda smiled and reached over to clink her glass against her