“You insult me, Al-Ahmar. In this country I am royalty in my own right. I hardly need to trade on your name to create a scandal so I can get featured in the headlines. I have my own.”
“If you breathe a word of this to anyone, I will have your head. And I do not speak metaphorically.”
Something in Chatsfield’s expression hardened. “Oh, I have no doubt.” He straightened his jacket yet again and turned, walking back inside the hotel, leaving Zayn alone in the alleyway to curse into the emptiness around him.
The feeling of helplessness that was pouring through him was unwelcome, and all too familiar. It echoed a time he’d failed another sister. Another time the problems had been too big to fix. Regret piling on top of regret.
Rain was starting to fall, the only light coming from a lone streetlamp, casting everything in a yellow glow. Zayn’s mind was racing, his pulse in overdrive. If any of this got out, the press would have a field day. He had no idea what Leila intended to do about her pregnancy, and with the heightened interest surrounding the royal family, due to Zayn’s own upcoming marriage, she was in a much more precarious position than she might have been.
She was vulnerable enough without introducing the variable of public opinion and scrutiny. That would add pressure she didn’t need, judgment she didn’t deserve. No, he would not have that. He would not expose his family to such criticism and judgment. Not again. Not while he drew breath.
He heard a clattering sound in the corner of the alley, a trash can turning over on its side, a blur of motion catching his eye.
He was not alone. And he and Chatsfield had not been the only two involved in the conversation that had taken place only minutes before. They had a witness.
And that was unacceptable.
The feeling of helplessness drained, a shot of adrenaline moving through his veins. Action. He craved action. He craved a plan.
Zayn stalked toward the movement, his body on high alert, muscles tensing, ready to strike. When a man lived as he did, he had ample time to train his body. And Zayn had done just that. Had taken every opportunity to spend hours channeling physical frustration into strength training.
He didn’t fear whatever would be waiting for him in the shadow. He had no reason to. Because he had no doubt whatsoever that he was the most dangerous thing in this alley.
There was more clattering, followed by a squeak, and he acted, reaching into the darkness and coming up with a fistful of hair, resistance and a sharp squeal.
Not the sound of a hardened criminal.
He released his hold on the person he had seized, and straightened.
“Who are you?” he asked. “What do you want?”
“Ow,” his quarry made a plaintive noise.
“I doubt very much that you’re injured,” he said. “Come into the light.”
The intruder obliged, moving from the shadow and into the golden haze cast by the streetlight. He wasn’t entirely certain what he’d expected, but the slim blonde with long honey-colored hair, disheveled—likely from when he had grabbed it—wearing a sequined dress with a hemline that fell well above her knee, and mutinous expression on her face, was not at all what he’d imagined he might find.
“I am very much injured.” She sniffed.
He crossed his arms over his chest. “If you are so easily damaged, it is advisable that perhaps you shouldn’t spend time hiding in dark alleys. They are dangerous.”
“It would seem so.” She was frantically straightening her dress now, moving her hands over her slight curves, smoothing the wrinkles in the fabric.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, suspicion pressing down on him.
“I followed Chatsfield out into the alley.” She straightened, flipping long hair back over her shoulder, a pale, glimmering wave in the streetlight.
That made sense. She was very likely one of Chatsfield’s hopefuls, or one of his previous acquisitions. Probably trying to find out if she could finagle another night in his bed. Or perhaps just hoping she could trade on her connection with him for money or status.
Either way, she was dangerous. Either way, she would have motive to take her story to the press. The opportunity for revenge in the hands of a woman scorned by a playboy could prove dangerous for his sister.
“I see. And how much did you hear?”
Her eyes, which were already quite wide, widened further. “Nothing of interest. I was actually quite bored. I was actually taking a nap.”
“Try again.” He found he had little patience to continue standing out here as rain began to pour down on them. He found he had little patience for any of this. To face another failure where his family was concerned. To face another threat to them, after all they had been through.