She lifted her shoulder. “I feel like that should be something I’m pondering more than you.”
“I know you feel quite inconvenienced by all of this. But you must realize that it is a difficulty for me, as well.”
“No, I really don’t think I have to acknowledge that.”
“I wasn’t prepared to host a guest. And I have a wedding to plan.”
“Forgive me for feeling short on apologies at the moment. I find I’m not all that sympathetic to your fate.”
Yet again, she earned one of his odd smiles. “No, I imagine you wouldn’t be. Follow me, I will escort you to your room.”
He turned away from her, and started to walk toward the palace without waiting for her. She took a deep breath, and scampered after him, having to take two steps to his every one to try and keep up, last night’s high heels feeling like bricks nailed to the soles of her feet after so many hours in them.
She estimated that he was nearly a foot taller than her own five foot four, her head landing just below his shoulder. And he was broad, incredibly muscular with a trim waist and...
Again, just filing away details about him, for when she wrote her piece on the wedding. It had nothing to do with her own personal need to catalog details about him.
The double doors to the palace swung open, as if by magic, and the two were admitted into the cool antechamber.
Dimly, she realized that comparing the doors to magic was a bit silly. Had they been in a shopping mall, automatic doors would not have seemed at all out of place. It was this place, this strange mix of old and new, of fairy tale and blazing-hot reality, that had her creating fanciful metaphors in her head.
Inside, there were members of what she assumed to be palace staff milling around, but if the presence of their ruler was notable, they didn’t show any sign of it. They moved around like they were ghosts, intent on being invisible to anyone in the land of the living. And Zayn did not appear to notice them at all. So that, she assumed, was palace protocol.
The help going unnoticed, the antics of their ruler going unnoticed, too, apparently. Because nobody seemed to blink over the fact that their sheikh had just walked into the palace with an unknown woman trailing behind him. An unknown woman wearing a sequined party dress quite early in the day. Truly, no one seemed concerned at all.
“I made a phone call from the plane while you were sleeping, and had your room prepared for you.”
So, they were expecting her. Or at least whoever had made her bed was expecting her. Though she imagined they made it a practice not to question their orders too deeply.
“Well, I will happily allow you to lead me there.” She felt suddenly stale from travel. As though her body had been folded and packed away tightly in a suitcase for the duration of the journey.
She needed to get out of the dress and into something a little bit less constricting.
And that was when it occurred to her that she didn’t have any clothes. Nothing at all. She didn’t even have a toothbrush.
“I don’t have anything to wear.”
He didn’t answer. He didn’t even pause.
Zayn was pressing through the antechamber, barely looking at anything or anyone, or at the opulent surroundings. Though she imagined this was all commonplace to him.
But nothing about this was commonplace to her, from the ornate mosaics on the floor and walls, to the marble pillars placed throughout the room to the ceilings inlaid with precious stones.
The palace was like a jewelry box, more than a dwelling. Evidence of riches beyond her wildest dreams built into the framework.
She imagined if she took a chisel and mallet to one of the walls she would come away from them with enough gold dust to pay her rent for the next couple of months.
He led her down a narrow passageway that fed into another massive room with two curving staircases on either side. He paused for a moment, then turned to face her. “This way.”
He started up the staircase on the left side of the room, his footsteps almost silent on the stone. She did her best to keep up with him, her heels echoing loudly in the empty, cavernous room. She was not quite as stealthy as he was.
“This is the part of the palace that is often reserved for visiting dignitaries. And members of the press.”
“From my limited research on Surhaadi,” she said, speaking to his back, “I didn’t think you had a lot of visitors. Dignitaries, press or otherwise.”
“Not in recent years, no.”
“If by recent years you mean the past decade and a half.”
“For a family as old as mine, that is recent years. In the fabric of history, fifteen years is nothing.”