Suddenly, Zayed broke away from her lips once more, pulling back just enough to look Zelda in the eyes. She panted slightly, bowled over by the kiss, and as soon as she was able to focus on his face, Zayed spoke.
“Tell me honestly, Zelda,” he murmured. “Don’t be afraid to lie to me, and please don’t tell me what you think I want to hear. Do you think you can stay with me, and be my wife, truly?”
Zelda held Zayed’s gaze for a long moment, seeing all the openness that had so eluded her almost the whole time she had known the billionaire sheik. She pressed her lips to the spot between his mouth and his nose, and then to his forehead, and then to his lips, pulling back before she could give into the temptation for another passionate, satisfying kiss.
“I’m done running away from everything,” she told him finally. “In you, Zayed, I’ve finally found someone that I truly want to stick around for, someo
ne I want to stay with.” She smiled, and saw the Sheikh smiling with her. “I want to stay with you. I want to be your wife.”
Zayed brought his lips down on hers once more, and Zelda gave into the embrace with abandon, letting her hands wander over her husband’s shoulders, over his back. She could taste the champagne on his lips, and an underlying warm sweetness, something that made her want to keep kissing him forever, or at least until she ran out of breath.
Finally, Zayed pulled back, looking into her eyes, and Zelda saw his eyes darkening with desire. “This is going to be a real honeymoon,” he murmured, smiling slowly.
“Is it now?” Zelda squirmed in his arms, slithering out of his grip to kick away from the wall, delving playfully through the water. At some point during their conversation, the sun had finished its descent, and lights had come up around the pool, obscuring the darkness of night around them.
“It will be,” Zayed confirmed, pursuing her in the water with an unmistakable gleam in his eyes.
“You’ll have to catch me first,” Zelda told him, giggling.
“I thought you said you were done running,” Zayed countered.
Zelda laughed out loud, narrowly evading his grab for her. “I’m not running,” she countered. “I’m swimming!”
The Sheikh laughed at her, and Zelda considered letting him catch her sooner, before discarding the idea.
“If you can catch me before I can get back to the champagne, I’ll concede that you’ve won.” She darted away from Zayed again, and felt the movement of his pursuit in the water behind her. She decided then that she would let him catch her—but only after she got to the champagne.
Two Months Later
Zelda looked at herself in the mirror, shaking her head in amusement. The dress she was wearing was a far cry from the ornate gown Tahirah had made for her first wedding—but it was no less beautiful for being less formal. The ceremony they had agreed to would be shorter, too, but Zelda was certain it would be just as lovely, just as heartfelt. In fact, she was sure that it would be even more so.
It was two months since her sham wedding to Zayed, and as Zelda put the finishing touches on her own makeup, she thought about everything that had happened between them since then. She had informed her parents that she was safe; she’d done that the morning after the first night of her “honeymoon” with Zayed, in a quick email that went to both of them. At that point, Zelda had only known that she and Zayed wanted to truly be together, not what the shape of her life would look like with him. Prior to that, they had only received the briefest of text messages during her trip to Murindhi, telling them that she was okay, before she had turned her phone off. She still hadn’t turned it back on, nor had she checked her email.
She and Zayed had been busy in the two months since their wedding; Zayed had completed his business deal, purchasing a rival hotel syndicate and assuming the leadership of both companies. He’d worked hard to make sure that everything was in place, and exactly as it should be, so that the two of them could take a real honeymoon after renewing their vows in a more personal, more genuine ceremony, which was to take place later that day. Two months to plan the renewal of vows in a much simpler ritual had made it much easier on both of them to come to an agreement of what they wanted; it was going to be an intimate ceremony, at a prime Murindhi venue--with only a dozen guests.
Zelda looked at herself in the mirror, turning her head one way and then the other. The makeup wasn’t as striking as it had been for her wedding with Zayed, but she thought that she looked good, more true to herself. Zayed will think that you look good anyway, she reminded herself with a little smile.
She hadn’t quite gotten used to the super-wealthy, super-glamorous people that surrounded Zayed, but even still, Zelda had managed to overcome her sense of being an impostor—especially once she had convinced him to clear the air about her true identity. That being said, she hadn’t grown up working with stylists and designers; she hadn’t lived a life of wealth and prestige until she’d started living with Zayed. Even if she wasn’t quite as easy going about fashion, or the need for so many fripperies, Zelda thought that she’d managed to impress more than a few of Zayed’s circle. He’d been right that her parents’ emphasis on her education stood her in good stead with people who’d gone to boarding schools and the best private academies.
Zelda stood back from the mirror and gathered the last few things she would need before she and Zayed left the house for the venue in the city. She had a bouquet—a small one, in comparison with her wedding bouquet, and made up of roses instead of Murindhi blooms, but it was every bit as beautiful. She also had a few pieces of jewelry for the occasion, which were not quite as ostentatious as her original wedding jewelry had been, nor as heavy. Her wedding band was gone from her hand; Zayed had taken it two weeks before to have it altered for the purposes of their vow renewals, along with his own.
“Zelda? Are you ready?” Zayed’s voice cut through her thoughts, coming from the other side of the bedroom door.
Zelda had playfully insisted that he couldn’t see her while she was getting ready, in a mimicry of the rules for her wedding day. But since they were going to the venue together, which was one of the hotels that Zayed owned and the first piece of his empire as a billionaire, she couldn’t exactly keep herself hidden from him the entire time before the ceremony began, nor did she want to.
“Coming,” she called back, checking herself in the mirror one last time before turning to leave the room.
Zelda smiled to herself; all of the traces of sadness she’d felt on the day of her legal wedding to Zayed were gone; the fact that they had agreed to stay together, and the fact that they were making an honest marriage out of a sham wedding, made Zelda happier than she would have imagined possible only a few months before.
She stepped out of the bedroom she shared with Zayed and met her husband’s gaze. “Not as involved as my first wedding outfit, but not bad, right?”