The sheikhs triplet baby.., p.22
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       The Sheikh's Triplet Baby Surprise, p.22

         Part #3 of The Sheikh's Baby Surprise series by Holly Rayner
 

  Zane smiled, and offered his arm again, leading me back inside the palace and down a new hallway.

  “I have to tell you, Julianne, I’m truly thrilled that you’re here,” said Zane with a sly smile. “When I contacted your agent, I was convinced that you would write me off as an unnecessary distraction, or worse, some sort of uncouth stalker. I’m sure your life is very busy, and I’m grateful that you found the time to pay us a visit.”

  I tried to let out a laugh, but it didn’t come very casually. Instead, it only seemed to amplify my obvious stress at talking about my current life status. I swallowed against a tight throat, and decided to be honest with Zane. He was already a fan of my work; I didn’t need to try and impress him any further.

  “To be frank, I almost did write you off.”

  He gave me a curious eyebrow. “You did?”

  “Oh yeah. It was a hard ‘no’ when Katherine first read me the proposal.”

  He paused a moment, and then asked quietly, “May I ask why you changed your mind?”

  We turned a corner, heading down a new hallway that was shorter than the rest.

  “My phone isn’t exactly ringing off the hook these days,” I confessed. “Things can change fast in Hollywood and, well, it seems I’m at the ‘ebb’ portion of the ‘ebb and flow’ of things. I decided, since being a risk-taker is what got me this far, that I should take another risk with you and say yes.”

  Zane’s brow furrowed, as if he smelled something unpleasant. “That is unbelievable. Why would anyone not want to give you work? You are the most talented actress working in America today. They should all be clawing each other’s eyes out at the chance to hire you.”

  I laughed and felt my cheeks flush. Zane’s eyes glittered at the sight.

  “You’re too kind,” I replied. “More talented women than I have been chewed up by this same machine for a hundred years now. It’s just the way things are.”

  “My father hated that phrase.”

  “Oh?”

  “There was a lot wrong with Al-Dali when he took the throne,” started Zane, tilting his head as he recalled the memory. “My grandfather was a much more militarily-minded man, and left a lot of messes to clean up when he passed. My father said my grandfather’s staff and advisors liked to use that phrase when he questioned some outdated or illogical practice. He said as soon as he heard it spoken when he confronted someone, he knew he had to upheave everything and change it.”

  “Wow,” I breathed. “He must have been a brave man. That sounds like the set-up to some Shakespearian-level conflict.”

  For a hot second, I worried that my use of humor as a defense mechanism had gotten me in trouble once again. But Zane only laughed, his handsome face lighting up.

  “It does, doesn’t it?” he chuckled.

  “But it also sounds like that didn’t happen in real life.”

  “No,” he chuckled. “Thankfully, things went much more reasonably for my father. Once he showed them things could be different—that ‘the way things were’ was always temporary—most people couldn’t wait to follow him into a peaceful future. To my recollection, my father never lost a single staff member to violence. He worked to be peaceful.”

  “And you’re maintaining your father’s legacy?”

  “Well, I’m trying,” the Sheikh replied, suddenly humble, a flush of red in his cheeks. “But that is a subject for another time. Right now, I have one more room to show you.”

  We stopped in front of a set of double doors that, while made from the same dark carved wood as the rest of the interior, looked significantly newer. Zane gripped both golden doorknobs and turned back to smile at me.

  The wry smile that appeared on Zane’s face—gorgeous as it was—suddenly brought back all the fear and anxiety I had been feeling during the landing at the airport. Was this the moment when the Sheikh, with all his pleasantness and drop-dead-handsome looks, would reveal that he was just another sleazeball with money to throw around? Something was behind that door, and it was just as likely a bedroom as anything. Anxiety bubbled in my gut, and the rehearsed speech I’d been mulling over came tumbling out like a word salad.

  “Zane, I appreciate your proposal, but this isn’t the type of…thing I am.” I shook my head. “Girl I am. Thing I do. This isn’t the type of thing I do.”

  But the Sheikh only smiled, bemused. He twisted the doorknobs and dramatically swung both doors open at the same time, revealing a beautiful and modern private cinema, tucked away in the west wing of the palace. My jaw dropped open just a little.

  NINE

  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
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