The Sheikh's Secret Princess, Page 18Holly Rayner
dragged it downhill. The Blue Moon was the first singing gig Hannah had landed when she’d arrived in New York, three years earlier, at just 22 years of age. Hannah grew up in a small town with the voice of a future jazz legend, but she could only take her talent so far in rural Georgia. When she graduated high school, she stayed close to home and began getting some gigs that paid okay, but not enough to support her.
Her parents loved her very much but Hannah knew they didn’t have the financial means to continue to support her and her career; they were barely getting by as it was. It hadn’t always been that way. When Hannah was very young, her parents had lived in Atlanta and were employed by successful technology companies. But when the tech bubble crashed in the late 90s, they lost their jobs, their home and most of their savings. When they tried to find other employment, they found the options were slim.
Hannah’s father, Bill, did get offered a job working for one company. He was to do all of the work for a computer start-up, help get it off the ground and launch it. But the owner was going to take all of the credit. In fact, the owner was going to say that he developed the software when in reality, he wanted Hannah’s father to do it. The job was going to pay well, but after much consideration, Hannah’s parents both decided that it would compromise Bill’s integrity, and they ultimately decided to pass on the offer. With few other opportunities, the family eventually relocated out of Atlanta to a more affordable area in southern Georgia. They found a small home and began their own computer repair business in a rural town just north of the Georgia–Florida border. Business was never great, but they got by.
A few months out of high school, Hannah had realized that she needed to get out of Georgia. She didn’t want to live paycheck to paycheck like her parents, and she certainly didn’t want to put any more financial strain on them. As soon as she was old enough, she moved out of their small town and up to Atlanta. She landed a few decent gigs and made her way for a year or so. It was there that she met Chloe.
Chloe was also a singer, born and raised just outside of Atlanta. The two of them quickly became fast friends and after working together for very little money in Atlanta, they decided to head to New York. Chloe figured there would be more opportunities there, and she convinced Hannah that they would have a shot at stardom there.
They found a tiny apartment in Brooklyn and set out looking for work. Within days, Hannah had found a job at a catering company and Chloe at a local restaurant. And more importantly, they both found work singing at the Blue Moon. They were thrilled.
At first it went really well. The pay was good, the hours decent, and the boss was great. So great, in fact, that Hannah developed feelings for him, and within weeks, Hannah and Harvey were dating. In the beginning, he was sweet, but over time, his controlling side became very apparent. As they got more serious, he started demanding to know where Hannah was going, who she was talking to. He would follow her onto and off of the stage to make sure she wasn’t flirting with the guests. Then he added a clause to her contract that prohibited her from working at any other clubs.
That had been the last straw. Hannah had begun to develop a small following and had been offered other gigs. But with the clause, she wouldn’t be able to work outside of the Blue Moon. She broke it off with Harvey, but stayed on at the club. She wished she didn’t have to, but it was the only steady singing gig she had, and she really needed the work.
When they’d first broken up, Harvey had made Hannah’s life unbearable. But she knew he needed her. Chloe was a good singer, but she was more into the blues; the Blue Moon was a jazz club and people came wanting to hear the standards. And Hannah delivered. As the months went by, Harvey started to ease up on her, but their relationship was still contentious. She didn’t like Harvey and she certainly didn’t trust him.
To Hannah, their relationship was nothing more than employer–employee, but to Harvey, he was the boss; he still tried to control her, and everything else around him, too. He lost other good talent, kitchen staff and hostesses because of his domineering nature. The once thriving club was now just a stopping off point for artists on their way up and many more on their way down. Regardless, it was steady work and Hannah needed it.
She walked through the dark hall toward the curtains behind the stage, passing by the restroom, the kitchen, and finally Harvey’s office.
“I’ll get the money,” Harvey’s muffled voice rang through the frosted glass in his door.
Hannah slowed down, making sure the door was closed. She looked behind her and then toward the stage to make sure she was alone. Then she leaned in to hear better.
“I told you, don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of the debt.”
Hannah felt her chest tighten. Debt? She knew the club wasn’t doing the best business, but she’d thought it had picked up in recent months. In fact, she had recently had some of the best tip nights ever, and she had secretly hoped things were starting to turn around.
“How? I have to make some cutbacks, that’s all,” Harvey’s voice filtered through the glass.
Hannah gulped loudly. Cutbacks? She felt her heart race. Was he talking about her? Chloe? The other singers? She knew she was among the highest paid at the club, what if he had run the club into such a bad position that he had to cut her shift? She tried not to panic, but didn’t know what she would do if she didn’t have her income from the Blue Moon.
“And now, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage, the one and only…Hannah Green!”
Hearing her name, Hannah snapped out of her thoughts and raced to the edge of the curtain. She took a deep breath as she smiled to the pianist, bassist and drummer waiting on the stage for her. The music started up and Hannah moved gracefully onto the stage. The houselights dimmed and the spotlight landed on her, highlighting her gleaming red hair and stunning figure.
She closed her eyes as the beat picked up. Then she wrapped her hands around the old-fashioned microphone, opened her red lips and let out the sound that so many of the regulars came for. Her voice was as deep and soft as the velvet dress she wore. It flowed out of her like honey, dripping with emotion and intensity.
Hannah got lost when she sang. She let the words fill her heart and the music fill her soul, drifting in and out of thought as all the greats before her had done. She brought herself to the stage but left with Dianna Krall, Billie Holiday and the other female icons of jazz. She finished the first song and opened her eyes, smiling gracefully. She scanned the dark room and saw the familiar faces of some of her regulars, and a few faces she didn’t recognize.
She sang several more sultry jazz standards, all while trying to put the fear of cutbacks out of her mind. She let the music fill her up and ease her anxiety. The usual hum of chatter from the audience floated around Hannah’s feet and she smiled, knowing that the audience was now also at ease.
During her closing song—one of her favorites, ‘Come Away with Me’, by Norah Jones—Hannah opened her eyes and surveyed the room. She saw Chloe at the back, getting into the groove, along with several other people swaying back and forth. Her gaze swept across the audience, stopping when she saw the man in the shadows in the back. He was sitting perfectly still at his table, staring intently at her, as though she were the only woman in the room.
Hannah looked away, unnerved by his intensity. But she felt drawn to him and her eyes returned to his. She watched as he stared at her, her mouth moving slowly to the lyrics of the song. She felt her face start to redden and a shiver ran up her spine as their eyes locked for a moment. When the song was over, she bowed slightly, smiled and walked off the stage, still unsure of what had just happened.
Concealed from the still-cheering audience behind the heavy black curtain, Hannah caught her breath as she tried to think. Did she know that man? She tried to place his face. He might have been in the audience before, but she didn’t think so. Perhaps she had catered an event he was at. Yeah, she thought, feeling herself exhale with relief. That mu
st be it. She peeked around the edge of the curtain to get another glimpse. But when she looked back at his table, he was gone.
She walked down the dim hallway and toward the dressing room, which had also lost all its glamour from years before. She was about to go in when she heard a man’s voice speak from the dark.
“That was wonderful,” the voice said.
Hannah was used to getting compliments from the guests, but they weren’t supposed to be allowed backstage. She felt her heart race heavily in her chest and hoped this guy wasn’t some crazed stalker. Where was Randy, the bodyguard, she wondered. It was his job to keep creeps away from the talent.
She put on her best fake smile and turned to face the stranger, one hand on the door handle of her dressing room, ready to make a quick escape.
“Thank you…” the words fell out of her mouth as her eyes locked with the stranger from the back of the room. Hannah felt the blush rise in her cheeks again. The tall, well-built man was incredibly good-looking, with dark olive skin, black hair and the thickest eyelashes she had ever seen.
He smiled at her reaction and took a slow step toward her. Hannah kept her eyes locked on his, unable to look away. What was wrong with her? Was she under some sort of spell? She shook her head and laughed a little, trying to ease the awkwardness she felt.
“I’ve heard a lot of jazz singers in my time,” said the stranger, standing just feet away from Hannah in the dim hallway. “But you are by far the most, how shall I put it?” He stroked his chiseled chin with his hand. “The most sensual.”
Hannah felt a shiver run up her spine. Sensual? There was a word people didn’t usually use to describe her. Okay, maybe. Average. Good. Sometimes people even said she was great. But sensual? That was probably one of the best compliments she had ever received. What better way to describe the smooth, sultry sound of great jazz?
“Well,” she said, gaining a little more confidence. “Thank you, again. But, I really don’t think you’re supposed to be back here.”
Why did she say that? Hannah hadn’t been on a date in— she couldn’t remember how long. She didn’t count Harvey as a date—he had been her boyfriend, and a lousy one at that. Even when they’d been together, he hadn’t taken her on any real dates apart from a couple right at the beginning. She let her mind wander and imagined what it would be like to go on a date with this guy.
The stranger smiled slyly, sending another shiver up Hannah’s spine. Darn. His smile was incredibly sexy. Maybe she should let him stay back here for a while. Or invite him into the dressing room, she thought.
“Actually,” he said, his face becoming more serious. “I came back here because I would like to make you an offer.” As he spoke, Hannah picked up the sound of a slight accent.
Images of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman ran through Hannah’s mind. This guy obviously had money. Hannah could tell by his expensive suit, his shining Rolex and the casualness with which he wore them. You want me to go home with you? You want me to sing for you privately? You want me to marry you? The thoughts were ridiculous, she knew. But a girl could dream.
She let them go and then looked at him with curiosity. “An offer?”
“Yes. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Sadiq.”
He held out his hand and Hannah shook it lightly. What is that accent? thought Hannah, unable to place it.
“I would like to hire you for a series of performances.”
Hannah eyed him suspiciously.
“Singing performances,” he said, almost reading her mind.
Hannah stood more at ease, glad that they were both on the same page. “Go on,” she said.
“I’d like to invite you to fly out to my home country in the Middle East and stay there for six weeks, traveling around and performing at various venues. I would take care of all the travel arrangements and would book all of the gigs. All you would have to do is perform.”
Six weeks? In the Middle East? Hannah’s face must have given away her worry because Sadiq went on quickly.
“Don’t worry, you will be compensated handsomely. I’m prepared to offer you 500,000 dollars in exchange for the six-week tour.”
Hannah blinked widely. Half a million bucks? For six weeks of her time? This guy must be on something. There’s no way this could be happening. She only made about $100 a night singing for Harvey. How on earth could this guy afford to pay her half a million? She did the math in her head quickly; even if she sang every night, that would be 42 nights, at $100 a night. That would only be $4,200—Sadiq was offering her more than a hundred times that.
This had to be a scam. There was no way this could be for real. Hannah remembered what her father had taught her. ‘If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.’
She smiled politely. “Sadiq,” she said gently, trying to let him down easily. “I appreciate the offer, really, I do. But I’ll have to pass. Thank you, though.”
“I understand that this might all be a bit overwhelming,” said Sadiq, and Hannah noticed that he didn’t even flinch when she refused him. “I mean, you probably don’t get offered 500,000 bucks every day of your life.”
Now Hannah was insulted. How did he know? How dare he assume that she didn’t have better offers than singing at the Blue Moon?
She let out a long breath. Who was she kidding? If she had better offers, she’d have taken them a long time ago.
“No,” she said finally, unsure whether to be mad, or embarrassed. “I don’t.”
“Well, if you’ll just indulge me and take some time to think about it. Jazz isn’t particularly popular in my country—at least, not yet—and it’s hard to find good singers. I know you would go down a storm.”
Hannah wondered again if this guy was for real or not. Maybe he was a record producer. Maybe he was an agent. Either way, she was too tired to figure it out now.
“Tell you what, Sadiq. Let me sleep on it. I’ll be singing here again tomorrow night so you can check back with me then.”