Bought For One Night: The Sheikh's Offer (The Sheikh's True Love 2) - Page 10


The Sheikh didn’t make further mention of my embarrassing mistake, for which I was grateful. “You may have already guessed this from your surprise welcome at the airport, Julianne, but you are a well-loved artist in my country. Your fans here have a deep appreciation for your work.” He put one hand to rest on his strong chest. “I would consider myself your biggest fan, of course.”

I grinned, my stress fading away. “Oh, would you?” I raised an eyebrow at him. “I hear that all the time, you know.”

“I’m sure you do, but how often do you hear it from men who whisk you away on a private jet in order to spend time with you?”

“Touché,” I said with a laugh. “I guess that alone makes you qualified to be my biggest fan.”

Zane laughed. He led me into the cinema, which boasted a dozen rows of huge, comfortable leather recliners, digital and traditional projectors, surround sound, and even a tiny concessions window done up in old Hollywood style with a smiling staff member waiting to serve us a selection of treats.

“This place is absolutely charming,” I gasped, running my hand over the leather seats.

“It’s my pride and joy,” he said, and then quickly added. “Well, that, and my country, of course.”

“I suppose it’s fair to say this is a new addition to the family palace?”

He laughed. “Yes, yes. This wasn’t installed by my great-great-grandfather. It was an ascension gift to myself.”

“It’s beautiful.”

Zane gestured to the chairs. “Will you sit and watch a movie with me?”

I paused, surprised. For some reason, this was the last thing I expected to be offered when I arrived here, and yet what a pleasant surprise it was. To sit down and just enjoy a movie with a handsome man, instead of stressing about the industry all day?

I smiled. “Count me in.”

We gathered up a selection of popcorn and candy and took seats in side-by-side recliners. The movie started and I immediately recognized it as one of my own—my most recent, in fact. It was a psychological thriller about a detective who uncovers the patterns of a serial killer, and while the plot featured plenty of well-used tropes, I had still loved working on it.

“I know some actresses don’t ever watch the final product of their films,” began Zane as he settled in next to me. “Is that true for you?”

I shook my head and gave him a sheepish look. “Call it ego, I guess, but I always want to see how everything turned out. It’s easier to learn from my mistakes and grow that way.”

He nodded knowingly. “Sure, just like good soccer teams do—re-watch the footage after a match to spot their mistakes.”

“Exactly. But I also get why some actors don’t want to do it.” I stared up at the big screen and let out a sigh. “Sometimes, you didn’t like the movie in the first place and have no desire to relive it. It’s just a resume bullet you want to move on from. Sometimes you don’t want to watch because it’s not a pleasant experience to know millions of people just watched you screw up at your job.”

Zane stared at me quietly for a moment, blinking a few times. “Beautifully put, Julianne. I understand exactly how you feel.”

The realization made me nod. “I guess you probably do, don’t you? I forget that royalty and politicians also live in a fishbowl.”

We smiled at each other until the movie demanded our attention with its violent opening scene.

“Was it hard to work on a movie like this?” asked Zane.

“Not really. I had a lot of fun with this one. It’s full of clichés and the plot’s not very clever; it’s definitely not my best. But sometimes, the predictable A-list movies get boring,” I admitted.

His expression said he didn’t like hearing me talk like that. “Come now, all of your work is wonderful.”

“I think that’s just because you’re biased in favor of me,” I teased.

He opened his mouth to argue, but thought better of it. “I suppose you’re right.”

“Not all movies have to be ground-breaking. This one sure isn’t. But it had a lot of raw emotion, and the dialogue was such perfectly-written noir. I couldn’t pass it up.”

“It’s certainly one of my favorites,” he agreed. “You’re right about the strength of the emotions. It pulls you in and holds you tight.”

I smiled at him. “Thanks, that’s nice to hear.”

The plot began to rev up and we fell into silence, focusing on the film. For the first few minutes, it was hard maintaining my concentration. I was still a little shell-shocked at the reveal of the movie theater. I thought for sure Zane had been about to introduce me to his bedroom and I’d be turning around for another twelve-hour flight back home—probably stuffed in the coach section of some normal airline this time. I’d been so sure that he had malicious intentions; I wasn’t sure what to do with the revelation that I had been wrong.

The Sheikh, it turned out, was just a nice, lonely guy at the top of the world who wanted to watch movies with someone. He’d been a perfect gentleman every second of the day so far, and my instincts told me it would stay that way. Some men turned, sure; some were masters of the art of two-faced deception and could play the gentleman for weeks, even, before the cracks started to show, like Jack had. I had a clear head this time, however, and was determined never to be fooled by a man like that again. My gut was sure that Zane wasn’t one of those guys; he was genuinely sweet.

I relaxed and sank into the comfy black leather of the chair to watch myself chase down a serial killer while I sat next to a sheikh. It was during moments like this that I wondered how I ever wound up with this crazy life.

After the end of the movie, we both felt that same force boiling up in our blood, and all we wanted to do was watch more movies. Our conversation during the last one had been peppered with wonderful discussion about the craft. The Sheikh surprised me with his extensive knowledge of the industry, and spoke like a true filmmaker. Plus, he was all too happy to hear my stories from the production, including how our relatively green wunderkind director got frustrated when one of the infant actors couldn’t make it, and wanted to replace the scene with a baby doll, until I had a laughing fit when I saw how lifeless the doll looked in the scenes.

“You saved the movie,” he told me as we stood up to stretch our muscles. “It would have ruined the entire tension of the climax if all the audience could focus on was a stiff plastic baby in your arms.”

“I couldn’t believe he was even considering using it!” I laughed. “He just got so impatient when things went wrong. He was too young to understand that on a set, you’re lucky when things go right. It takes a lot of years and a lot of sets to finally get that through your head.”

“I can imagine,” he said. “Sometimes I forget that you’ve been acting for so much of your life.”

With raised eyebrows and a dramatic sigh, I nodded. “Basically half my life. I got my first TV movie when I was fifteen; I saw far more movie sets than classrooms in my teen years. But some of these new guys can just waltz right in and grab a major studio gig without any of that experience and work. The movie might turn out just fine, but they almost always get a reputation for being a dramatic baby to work with on-set. It’s a weird phenomenon.”

“Because they are dramatic babies,” agreed Zane. “Too obsessed with their own vision and too inexperienced to know any better or cooperate to make it right. And then they’re handed millions of dollars to make their vision come true. I’m surprised more movies don’t come out total disasters.”

“You and me both. So what’s next on the big screen?”

“Well, I have some actual lunch coming out to us—a light Italian-style spread of meats, cheeses, fruits, that sort of thing. And I was figuring we could go through more of your back catalogue, if you’d like.”

I was flattered and appreciative of how much Zane loved my work. But I had something else in mind. “Actually, would you mind showing me something from Al-Dali?”

Zane st

arted, surprised. “You want to see one of our movies?”

“Sure. I don’t know anything about the art that comes from your country, and you know all about mine. I’d like to even that out a little bit, and learn a thing or two.”

He seemed a little reluctant, rubbing a hand on the back of his neck. “You know, they are nothing like American films. The style is very different, and we pull a lot of stories from the ancient and religious tales that come from our past. You might be bored by them.”

“I highly doubt that. American stories do the same thing, we just try to hide it,” I laughed. “Do you know how many blockbuster movies are just the story of Jesus, but with robots or zombies or Communists instead?”

His smile glittered. “That’s a fair point. In that case, yes—I would be delighted to introduce you to my country’s cinema.” He winked at me and quickly spoke to the staff member manning the projectors.

We waited for our lunch to arrive, made our plates, and then sat back to enjoy the film, which Zane promised was one of Al-Dali’s most treasured movies.

Zane was right—cinema from Al-Dali was very different from American films. Whereas we seemed to be in an era where using bright color was out of style, every scene in this movie was bold and jumping right out of the screen to demand your attention. Unlike American cinema, the use of music and dance was integral to the understanding of the plot, which Zane explained was an ancient story about a young woman who fell in love with a demigod and began a war between him and his brother, who had already planned on marrying her.

“I had no idea dating a god was a possibility in Al-Dali,” I joked to Zane.

“Oh yes, it’s a popular theme in the old stories,” he nodded. “Apparently my ancestors took a much different approach to the lives of deities than modern believers do.”

“I don’t know about that; don’t Catholic nuns talk about being married to Christ?”

“Good point,” he laughed.

As I watched the movie, I was struck by something. “Your culture has so much life to it. Is it hard to be the leader of people with this much passion?”

The question seemed to hit home with Zane. He took a deep breath, and I could sense his mind whirring as he thought about how to answer me. “Sometimes, yes, it is. I love my country and my people more than anything else in the world. I want to make sure they all have the opportunity to live the best lives they can, and sometimes figuring out how to make that happen is deceivingly difficult.”

“What do you mean by that?”

He shrugged slightly, sinking into his chair, his face next to mine. “The answers are never as clear-cut as you would hope. I don’t know that it’s possible for any leader to fully relieve the suffering of his people.”

I blinked a few times and studied Zane’s face. Judging by the slight look of surprise in his eyes, I guessed that this might be the first time he had ever admitted such a thing to anyone out loud.

“That must be incredibly difficult to carry around,” I said softly. “That’s a lot of weight.”

“And, as you said—it’s never comfortable to have millions of people watching you screw up at your job,” he replied with a half-hearted laugh.

“I think your country is beautiful, Zane. I don’t think you’d have such a successful and prosperous nation if you weren’t doing your job well.”

He grinned, and then with only the slightest hesitation, lifted up my hand and pressed it to his lips for a quick, innocent kiss. “Thank you. It’s nice to talk to someone about it and not feel guilty.”

“You don’t have some court advisors or someone who talks to you about things like that? Or is that just a Hollywood thing?”

He shrugged. “I could hire one. But then I would always be concerned about their true intentions. If they ever began feeling resentful or power-hungry, they could easily use anything I told them against me. I’ve gotten quite used to not having many people to talk to, so holding it inside comes naturally. I prefer it over being paranoid all the time.”

“Why can’t you talk to anyone?” I asked, curious. “What about your parents?” I thought about my mom back home in Montana, and how even though we didn’t talk as much as we used to, I could always call her for any reason and know she was there for me—even if I was the one who screwed up.

Zane’s eyes dropped, and he cleared his throat uncomfortably. “My, uh, my parents were killed in a car accident ten years ago. Their driver lost control after the car swerved around a broken-down truck on the highway.”

“Oh, Zane, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up such a painful memory.”

He shook his head. “It’s easy to find on an internet search, it’s not a secret, and it’s been a long time. But that’s why I’ve gotten used to keeping things to myself. The two people I would talk to haven’t been around to listen. I was only able to learn so much from my father before he was gone; most of this I’m figuring out for myself as I go along.”

“That must be so hard,” I said quietly. “To carry all this by yourself.”

“Some days, yes,” he agreed. “Some days the weight is so heavy that it’s difficult to get out of bed and face it.”

Before I could stop myself, I replied, “I know that feeling all too well.”

Zane met my eyes with sadness in his own. “I don’t want you to feel that way.”

I smiled. “Well, I don’t want you to feel that way.”

He didn’t reply. He only smiled softly and ran his gaze over my face.

The movie ending interrupted us and broke the moment. Zane cleared his throat and got up to arrange the next screening, insisting we return to a film from my back catalogue, and I didn’t argue with him.

This visit was nothing like I’d expected. I was still shocked by the fact that Zane didn’t seem to have any interest in trying to seduce me, even though he was clearly attracted to me. The attraction was mutual, and I’m sure he could tell. It was hard to keep my eyes off him, especially whenever he gave me that charming smile that made his whole face light up.

I’d met a few members of royalty over the years, but none of them had been anything like Zane. Most of them were so out-of-touch that being able to connect on a human level seemed impossible. There was none of that in Zane, and no difference between the way he interacted with me, his staff, or the gaggle of children that had been in the kitchen. He gave everyone his full attention when they spoke to him, and he treated them with cordial respect in return. It was easy to see why he was popular not only with his staff, but with the people in his country. He was charming, gracious, generous and sweet.

He had never intended to fly me out to Al-Dali with hopes of having me in his bed. He really was just looking for connection, for someone to share an appreciation for the things he did, and understand what it was like to be lonely and successful. I hadn’t expected to have anything in common with the monarch of a country half a world from home, but I was dead wrong. The more time I spent with Zane, the more I wanted to spend with him. I was more comfortable with him than I had been with anyone in a very long time.

Zane returned to sit next to me after arranging the next few movies with the projectionist, this time carrying a bottle of wine and two glasses with him. He introduced the vintage as being from Al-Dali, something from his own vineyards. The wine was sweet and succulent, an unexpected treat, and a far cry from the dry Italian wines everyone in LA seemed to enjoy so much.

Hours flew by, liberated by wine, conversation, and the constant rolling of movies for us to enjoy together. Zane told me stories about growing up in the palace as the rambunctious only child of the royal family, and I shared my experiences of moving from middle-of-nowhere Montana to the big city in order to become a movie star before I was even old enough to drive.

Pretty soon, we got too tired and tipsy to keep talking, and instead sat back in our comfortable chairs to enjoy the movies playing in front of us. The last thing I remembered was my head resting on Zane’s shoulder a

s we fell asleep in front of the screen.

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