Leila was grateful for her veils as she walked over to reception, for she felt as if everyone was looking at her.
Leila certainly turned heads—her gown was breathtaking. She held her back completely straight and asked to be taken to their very best suite.
It wasn’t quite that easy though. There were many questions asked of her and Leila didn’t answer all of them truthfully—she lied as to her address and just gave them a blank look when they asked for her phone number.
‘I would just like to be taken to my suite.’
But still they asked more of her.
Leila frowned at the receptionist’s question.
‘Your title?’ the receptionist clarified. Leila glanced at her credit card and it read only as Leila Al-Ahmar, and she let out a breath as Leila realised that she could be whoever she wanted to be.
‘Ms,’ Leila said as her details were added to the computer. She handed over her credit card again, wondering if now her parents would have stopped it from working. The receptionist smiled at her, and handed her a swipe card for her suite, and Leila wondered if her parents had even bothered to notice that she’d gone.
When Leila stepped into the suite a maid was already in there, unpacking her small case, and Leila told her that she would not be needed.
She stood as if waiting for something.
‘Dismissed,’ Leila said. Once alone, she walked over to the window and looked to the busy streets below, trying to picture herself out there.
Leila removed her robes and modest underwear and replaced it with Jasmine’s. She did not recognise her own body, for in the mirror it was a wanton woman that looked back. She put on the black dress that revealed her cleavage and she struggled terribly to do up the zip at the back. She had never had a zip before and the maids did up her buttons. She added high shoes to her bare legs. Leila brushed her long black hair till it was gleaming. She had never worn make-up but tonight she carefully painted her lips and then stood back and gazed again at her reflection.
She could be Jasmine.
Yes, she was more slender than her sister had been and already she was a good few years older than Jasmine had been when she died. Yet, for the first time, she saw the resemblance to her older sister. Leila practised Jasmine’s smile and wondered if their similarities were why her mother loathed her so much for living when Jasmine had died.
No, Leila reminded herself, her mother had loathed her from the second she was born.
Recalling her mother’s words about the maids, Leila was hurt and angry enough to gather resolve and she stuffed her robe and veils into her small case and then hid it under the bed.
Princess Leila of Surhaadi no longer existed.
She had no bag to put the swipe card in and no maid to carry her things and so Leila tucked it into her bra.
The elevator took her down to the reception area and Leila looked around for a moment.
Elegance was the policy at The Harrington and famous people welcomed that they could be there without fuss. Such was her beauty though, such was her way, that people could not help but look around.
Leila was completely unused to being noticed or looked at and she was starting not to like it.
She heard the sound of a piano and followed it. As Leila walked into the bar, the chink of glasses and the sound of subdued conversation dimmed for a moment. She stood in the doorway in absolute terror, not that she showed it.
A portly man looked over and his eyes roamed Leila’s body. Another man did the same, very briefly, but his eyes certainly flicked down to her breasts. It was so overwhelming for Leila she was about to turn tail and dash back to her suite. It had been a stupid idea, she decided. What the hell had she even been thinking?
But then it happened.
For the first time in her entire life, Leila felt welcome when she walked into a room. A man at the bar turned around and his chocolate-brown eyes met hers. For a brief second he startled and then frowned, as if trying to place her, and then he simply smiled.
Leila had never, not once, felt so welcome. His eyes did not roam her body as the other men’s had; they simply met and held hers. Leila found that she was smiling back. Then, as naturally as breathing, she walked over to him.