Saving the Sheikh, Page 22Ruth Cardello
Not even the consummation?
Where is the prince with the wandering hands and the hot kisses? I was hoping to spend the rest of my life with him.
“I suppose not,” Zhang said abruptly.
“I know this hasn’t been easy on you, Zhang,” Rachid said and touched her cheek lightly, then pulled his hand back as if he hadn’t meant to do it and quickly regretted the action. “But I will make it right. I promise you that. ” His eyes filled with a sadness that sent a panic cutting through her. “Tomorrow evening we will gather in the main dining hall for a shared meal. Sunday, the celebration will continue or we can send the guests home. Whichever you’d like. ”
Zhang stepped toward him. I’d like you to tell me what the hell is wrong.
He turned away from her and headed toward the door.
“Rachid,” Zhang said, his name torn from her.
He looked back, concerned by the urgency in her voice. “Yes?”
“Are you sure nothing has happened?”
His lips thinned. “Nothing I can’t handle. ”
He didn’t need to say the word out loud – Zhang knew what he meant. Still, she had to try to reach him. “No matter what it is, I can help. ”
A slight smile pursed his lips. “You are an amazing woman, Zhang, and your offer is generous, but this is something I have to do. ”
He closed the door behind him, leaving her standing in the middle of the office.
It would be easy to let insecurity sweep in. Easy to convince herself that he had changed his mind and didn’t want her anymore.
Insecurity, like indecision, was an unproductive weakness that she deliberately denied herself. A man couldn’t fake the kind of desire he’d had for her and that didn’t disappear overnight. Something had happened.
I can let whatever it is determine my destiny, or I can fight for what I want.
And I’ve always enjoyed a good fight.
Do you hear me, Universe?
Rachid is mine.
Now all I need to do is find out what is standing in our way.
Zhang crossed the room and sat in the leather chair behind the desk. A quick search of the drawers produced nothing she could read. Sitting back, her eyes settled on the computer on the corner of the desk and an idea came to her.
Rachid, I’m glad you didn’t have me promise to stay out of your business.
I hate lying.
Dialing the number of a man she’d once thought of only as a way to fund one of her programs in China, Zhang reflected on the unexpected turns life could take. She’d never been one to ask anyone for help, but her instincts told her that whatever was going on with Rachid was important enough to put her pride aside. Speaking to the man who answered the phone, she said, “Dominic, I need a favor. ”
Like a man asked to move a couch for the third time, Dominic sighed and said, “Don’t tell me, now you want to leave. ”
Zhang said, “No. I’m staying. I just need to borrow one of your employees. ”
“Mrs. Duhamel? She’s already busy watching Colby for Lil. ”
“Why would I want your personal assistant?”
“I don’t know, to plan one of those beauty days or something. Don’t women like to get made over for their wedding day?”
Feminine pride kicked in. Zhang frowned and asked, “What are you trying to say, Dominic?”
Wising up, Dominic hastily added, “Why don’t you tell me what you need. ”
Zhang bit back a smile. Abby was training him well. “Didn’t you recently hire a hacker?”
“And if I did?”
“Have him fly over tonight. And tell him to pack translation software. He’s going to need it. ”
“What’s going on, Zhang?”
“Something’s not right here. I have a feeling that Rachid is in danger. ”
Dominic cursed and said, “Are you sure you don’t simply want to get the hell out? Say the word and we’ll make it happen. ”
And he would.
Zhang wasn’t the type of person to hug anyone, but had Dominic been in the same room with her, she might have made an exception in his case. Like her, he’d fought for everything he had and it’d given him a tough exterior.
They were both discovering the same lesson: No one spent their last moments of life tallying the worth of their possessions. What mattered in the end was if you loved and were loved – and how that experience shaped your actions.
Dominic was a better person since he’d met his new wife.
I want that. “Rachid and I will marry tomorrow, Dom. We’re going to have a long and happy life together. ” I’m willing to risk everything for a chance at that.
Dominic said, “Not if Rachid discovers what you’re up to. ”
Zhang tapped her nails impatiently on the back of the phone. “Your concern is touching, Dominic, but I just need to know if you’re in. ”
“Let’s see. Extremely covert, highly illegal, potentially explosive – do you really have to ask? Of course I’m in. ” He was quiet for a moment. “Jeremy is working with an image consultant. I’ll tell him that attending this wedding is part of his education. He may have to bring a date, though. ”
“That’s fine. The more people who come, the better. We’ll need the distraction to make this work. Do you think we should involve Jake?”
“No, he’d never go for this. Trust me, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. ”
Zhang released a breath she’d unconsciously been holding. “Dominic, I’ll owe you for this. ”
Dominic said, “No, you won’t. You’re a good friend to my wife. That goes a long way with me. ” He cleared his throat and said, “I’d like to see you happy, Zhang. ”
His words made Zhang want to laugh and cry at the same time. “Me too,” she said softly and hung up.
Rachid met with the head of the Royal Guardsmen, Marshid. “The house will be full of guests this weekend and the family will be focused on the festivities. ”
“Yes, Your Highness. ”
“I want extra security on my father. Two guards at all times and I want them rotated. All of our resources will be directed toward protecting the rest of the royal family and our guests. I will also need you to relax the security around me. For this to work, I will require times when I am unprotected. ”
Marshid frowned in question. “Sir?”
“There is a traitor among us and I am going to draw him out. I’ll announce at the wedding that I’m moving up the date of my coronation. That news, with the cover of the wedding, should provide enough of an opportunity for someone to take action if they are going to. Trust no one. ”
“Are you suggesting it could be one of the Royal Guardsmen?” the man was offended.
“I don’t know who it is, but I’m betting my life that we can figure it out in time. ”
“That’s a dangerous plan, sir. ”
“Someone is threatening my family and they’re doing it from inside the palace. They could easily slay us all while we sleep. This way, the only life that’s risked is mine. Just make sure that if I die, you catch the bastard who did it. ”
Marshid stood taller and looked Rachid directly in the eyes. “Yes, Your Highness. ”
Zhang was navigating the maze of hallways that led back to the women’s quarters when Rachid’s younger brother, Ghalil, appeared. He was walking in the other direction and looked like he might pass her without so much as a nod of acknowledgement, but at the last moment he stopped and glared down at her. “Your audacity amazes me. ”
Zhang kept her expression polite. “Does it?” she asked blandly.
“Yes, I find it amazing that you are willing to marry my brother when it is obvious that the people of Najriad don’t want you. You should leave before someone gets hurt. ”
Magma-like fury that had been building finally found an outlet. H
ad Ghalil known Zhang better he would have backed away from her small smile and soft tone – both indicators of a deadly calm before a storm. “I find your complete lack of loyalty to your brother equally amazing, and only a coward confronts a woman when he thinks she’s alone and vulnerable. ” Ghalil opened his mouth to say something but Zhang leaned closer and snarled, “Your mistake is that I’m not vulnerable, and if you’d like to test the truth of my words lay a hand on me and see how long you keep it. I don’t require the protection of your guardsmen, but you may if you’re not careful. ”
“You dare to threaten me?” Ghalil’s voice rose with anger. “I could have you thrown in prison. ”
Zhang’s lips curled derisively. “I’d love to see you try. Go tell your father that when you attempted to scare one of the women under his protection, she didn’t cower like you’d hoped. I’m sure he’ll take that news well. Or better yet, complain to Rachid if you’re feeling brave today. ”
Shaking with anger, Zhang didn’t notice the head of the Royal Guardsmen approach until he spoke behind Ghalil. “Are you lost, Miss Yajun? Would you like me to escort you anywhere?”
His expression revealed he’d heard at least part of the conversation and didn’t approve of how the young prince was behaving. Zhang nodded and gracefully accepted his offer of assistance. The flush on Ghalil’s face hinted that he had more to say, and Zhang was positive she didn’t want to hear it. “I was returning to my room,” she answered.
She walked beside the guard down the hallway and into an area of the palace Ghalil would never follow. At her door, she let out a shaky breath and said, “Thank you. ”
The guard bowed slightly.
Before opening the door behind her, Zhang asked, “Is he right? Are the people unhappy with me?”
The man answered slowly, seeming to choose his words with care. “They don’t know you, but you will have time to rectify that. ”
“Will I?” Zhang asked. “I get the feeling that there is more than a wedding going on at the palace this weekend. ”
“Your safety isn’t threatened,” the guard answered obliquely.
“I’m not worried about me. I have resources, even locally, that could be useful if I knew what was going on. ”
The guard didn’t blink.
Zhang said, “You’re not going to tell me anything, are you?” When he still said nothing, Zhang added, “I appreciate your loyalty, but you need to know one thing. ”
He met her eyes.
“If Rachid is in danger, I’ll do whatever it takes to protect him. Don’t stand in my way. ”
A glimmer of approval shone in what was otherwise a carefully expressionless face. With a completely noncommittal bow, the guard excused himself.
Rachid, what kind of trouble are you in?
When I said I’d fight for you, I was speaking figuratively.
I really have to watch how I phrase things.
Why do fairy tales always make it look easy?
All Snow White had to do was take a long nap.
I’m probably going to get killed trying to save my prince.