Saving the Sheikh, Page 3Ruth Cardello
A voice whispered in her mind, Fear is failure’s best friend.
I’m not afraid.
She squared her shoulders. Another woman would have given up in the face of Rachid’s rather cold response to her attempts to gain his attention. However, another woman might not have taken every no she’d ever heard as a dare and made her fortune proving that tenacity and bold action equated to success.
I’m not afraid, she reaffirmed to herself.
And I’ll prove it.
On any other day, the promise in Zhang’s heated glances would have been enough to pique Rachid’s interest. However, they were an unwelcome temptation that day.
He didn’t like the way his skin warmed and tingled beneath the slight touch of her hand. He resented how aware he was of each move she made, even now that he’d put some distance between them. He’d had his share of sophisticated lovers over the years, but none had made his heart race at the mere thought of looking at her again.
Oh, no, Zhang Yajun was a dangerous distraction.
One who refused to be ignored.
Her attempts to pull him into conversation had been endearingly awkward. He’d been tempted to tell her so, but he’d bitten back the words, aware that they might have led to a more comfortable exchange. Today was about Najriad, not satisfying some carnal desire that would only put him in a worse standing with his people if it were uncovered.
He was in the process of taking a glass of champagne from a server when Stephan approached. A quick look around confirmed that Dominic was still holding his new bride to his side for the photographer and that Jake Walton and his woman were missing again.
Stephan stopped a foot or so away and pocketed his hands casually. “I thought about what you said back there, and I wanted to reassure you that Dominic and I have put our differences behind us. ”
Rachid didn’t hide his scorn. “Time and actions reveal intentions more accurately than words. ”
Stephan conceded the point with a slight inclination of his head. He looked over at Dominic and back at Rachid. “I didn’t realize that you knew Dominic so well. Jake said you all met back in college. ”
“A fact that is hardly a secret. ”
“No, but considering how long it has been since you’ve been seen with him, it makes me wonder if you came here today for old time’s sake or for some other reason. ”
“I can assure you that my reasons for attending this wedding are none of your concern. ”
True to his reputation, Stephan didn’t take the hint. “Andrade Global is now an affiliate of Corisi Enterprises. Instead of going home empty-handed, you might want to consider that. ”
“I didn’t come here to talk business, Stephan. ”
“Didn’t you?” Stephan smiled confidently. “Dominic will be gone on his honeymoon for at least a week, and Jake has temporarily checked out. When they return, they’ll both be busy with the scheduled Chinese server project. Andrade Global is your best viable option. Think about it. ” He held out his business card.
Rachid ignored it. “Why the interest, Stephan?”
Stephan’s hand dropped to his side. “I admire what you’re trying to do for Najriad. ”
“Your approval is of no importance to me. ”
Stephan’s smile shifted to a knowing grin. “But my ability to land you the type of high-profile contract you’re looking for is. ”
“I am here to honor an old friendship. ”
“Don’t let your pride cost you the win, Rachid. I may not be your first choice, but can you afford to leave here with nothing?” He offered the card to Rachid again.
Rachid pocketed it reluctantly. He would have loved to throw that card right back into Stephan’s face, but he had a sinking feeling that the man was right. Even a rat eventually looked appetizing to a starving man. “Your instincts are good. When would you like to discuss this further?”
“I can fly out to meet with you on Tuesday. ”
“I will be in Nilon in my father’s palace. ”
“Perfect. ” Beginning to turn away, Stephan stopped and added, “Tuesday, then. ”
Rachid reached for another glass of champagne. There were many things he wanted to say to the overly smug man, but he held his tongue. His country just might need him. “Tuesday. ”
Stephan added, “Hey, and good luck with Zhang. My guess is that you’ll need it. ”
Rachid didn’t dignify the comment with a response. He turned with both glasses in hand and headed back toward Zhang with a lighter step.
No, he hadn’t gotten Corisi Enterprises to offer a contract, but Stephan’s offer brought more relief than he cared to admit. A small press release could announce the possible alliance with Andrade Global and justify his temporary absence. He didn’t want to get too hopeful, but the right contract, even with someone like Stephan, might improve his public image and could go a long way in helping to stabilize the borders. His people needed a reason to believe in him. He hoped this would be the first step toward winning their trust.
Either way, there is nothing more that can be done tonight.
Time to relax a bit and perhaps enjoy the evening. As he approached Zhang, she backed away from him and disappeared around the corner of the large white tent.
Now what is that woman up to?
Not following her didn’t even occur to him.
Just do it.
Zhang planted her feet firmly in the lush grass. No turning back now.
What if he doesn’t follow me?
Shaking off the negative question, Zhang reminded herself that nothing positive came from worrying about what might not happen. Success came from charging forward. Or, in the words of the American motivational speaker Tony Robbins, from taking “massive, determined action. ”
That’s what this situation needed before their reason for standing together disappeared and she lost what might have been her only chance. One kiss and her side of the bargain would be done.
She held her breath and waited.
Light footsteps approached.
Her heart jumped in her chest when Rachid stepped around the corner of the tent and into the privacy the temporary cloth alley created. His brows met in question as he walked toward her. “Zhang?” he asked, his tone concerned, a glass of champagne still in either hand.
She closed the distance between them with a few determined strides and grabbed him by the lapels of his tux, pulling him down toward her. She grated, “I’m done trying to be subtle. Let’s just get this over with. ”
Rising to her tiptoes, she met his lips with a force that stunned them both for a moment.
Heat exploded between them, and what was supposed to be a brief touch lingered. After only the slightest hesitation, his mouth settled on hers and began a quest of its own. His tongue teased, then plundered.
As her knees buckled beneath her, Zhang was suddenly steadying herself against Rachid rather than pulling him to her. Drowning beneath a wave of passion, she forgot the wedding, forgot the dare, and left the world behind. The thud of glasses dropping to the ground was followed by the heavenly feeling of Rachid’s hands closing around her waist and pulling her closer. His lips moved across her cheek and down her neck, his hot breath tickling as it excited.
Impatiently, her hands sought more of him. They slid beneath his jacket and closed around the warm muscles of his back. His mouth returned to hers, demanding a submission that she gave gladly as he lifted her off her feet and the kiss intensified.
The sound of the wedding planner calling for them brought Zhang quickly back to reality.
She turned her head to one side, breaking the kiss off, and took a shaky breath. “You can put me down now,” she said.
“I could,” he said, and smiled against her neck.
Awkward didn’t begin to describe how she felt. She could only imagine what he thought of her. “Put me down,” she said coldly.
He eased her gently back onto h
er feet but didn’t release her. “If you wanted to get my attention, you have it now. ”
Zhang squirmed a bit in his embrace, but his hold only tightened on her. “They’re looking for us. ”
He nuzzled her ear and she shuddered. “Let them look. ”
She put her hands between the two of them and pushed against him a bit. “You may have gotten the wrong impression of me. ”
He raised his head and studied her upturned face. “I don’t think so. You’re an incredibly intelligent, spirited woman who takes what she wants. ” One of his hands shifted down to span the small of her back. “I could enjoy that for a night. ”
With one firm shove, Zhang pushed away from him. “Thanks for the offer, but I must decline. All I needed was the kiss. ” She straightened her clothing. In response to the surprise in his face, she said, “You wouldn’t understand. ” She stepped toward escape.
He blocked her path. “Try me. ”
Ignoring how his nearness sent flutters through her stomach, Zhang said, “If you must know, it was a dare. ”
He grabbed her wrist, the lines of his face becoming harsh. “Like a joke?”
She tried and failed to free herself from his grasp. “No, not a joke. It was supposed to – I really can’t explain it. All I can do is say that weddings make women a little crazy. ” She sent him a harassed glare. “Can we leave it at that?”
He turned her hand over in his. “You intrigue me, Zhang Yajun. Is this normal for you, or am I your first wedding ambush?”
Her cheeks warmed with embarrassment. “What are the chances we could forget this happened?”
“Pretty close to zero. ”
“And what exactly is it going to take to get you to let go of my arm?”
He smiled and said, “I’d settle for an explanation. ” When she let out a relieved breath he laughed, “What were you thinking the price would be?”
Zhang couldn’t help it – she returned his smile. “You have a dirty mind. ”
His smile widened. “Says the woman who jumped an unsuspecting man who had simply come back here to make sure she was okay. ”
She rolled her eyes and laughed. “Poor man. ”
“Lucky man,” he said softly, and she blushed again. With a tug, he pulled her against him. She craned her neck back to look up at his face, the wild beating of their hearts synchronizing. “Are you going to tell me, or should I kiss it out of you?”
Her body quivered in anticipation even as her mind listed all the reasons why a hasty retreat was the wisest option. “How do you know you’d succeed?”
He leaned down until their lips almost touched and said, “The fun would be in trying. ”
Yes, it would be.
A glimmer of sanity returned.
No, it would not.
This has already gone too far.
Maybe a little honesty was just what this situation needed. “I wanted to prove something to myself. ”
“And did you?” he asked in a whisper.
Yes, that all of my bits and pieces are still functioning perfectly, even if my brain is temporarily on the fritz. “Yes,” she whispered back.
“You really want to end this with one kiss?”