“I hope that things have been going well there. I hope that you have some good buzz about the wedding.”
“Oh, yes, great stuff about the wedding.” Just thinking about the wedding made her want to shove something sharp beneath her fingernails. “I’ve had a look at the menu, I’ve spoken to the coordinator and I even know which designer the bride is wearing. And I may be able to talk my way into getting a sneak peek of the gown. The future sheikha hasn’t arrived yet, but when she does...”
“There’s been a lot of curiosity swirling around the royal family because of this whole shindig.”
“Oh, has there?” It stood to reason, it was probably why Zayn’s protective instincts were in such overdrive. Though she had a feeling he was just that way all the time.
“Oh, yeah, big-time. In fact, because of that building interest, I came into the possession of something rather interesting.”
The hair on the back of her neck stood up. “What do you have?”
“More than a decade ago one of the princesses died in a terrible accident. It was big news at the time, but you would probably barely remember it. Anyway, the guy she was with was part of a pretty rich family. And apparently they have a recording of the last conversation the sheikh had with his sister. I mean, the alleged last conversation the sheikh had with his sister. We don’t really want to invite lawsuits.”
She thought of Zayn’s pain when he had spoken of Jasmine, when he had spoken of his faults in it. What if they released this tape? What if they resurrected all of that pain, all of that agony he had already gone through, and all of that soul crushing guilt he carried with him every day?
“Yes,” she said, her voice wooden, “I am familiar with that. With the tragedy, not with the invitation of lawsuits.” Her words sounded distant, as though they were being spoken by a stranger.
“It’s pretty juicy stuff. Here, I’ll play a little bit for you.”
She started to protest, but then she heard Zayn’s voice coming through the receiver. He was shouting, a tone she had never heard him use before. Swearing, words she had never heard him use before. Telling her to go, telling her to get out of his life. Forever.
The audio recording stopped, and so did her heart. Colin, on the other hand, kept talking.
“Where did you get that?” she asked.
“Damien Coltrane’s father. Damien was the driver in the accident that killed the princess. It turns out that when his son’s body was removed from the wreckage, he had a tape recorder on him. And on that was this little encounter with Al-Ahmar. Coltrane is pretty angry at the sheikh, which shouldn’t be too tough to imagine. And he doesn’t figure Mr. Al-Ahmar deserves his nuptials to go off without a hitch. Not after Damien’s death. Which, of course, Mr. Coltrane feels our sheikh was responsible for. And as you can hear on the tape, it seems like he certainly sent the two of them out in a hurry. Anyway, I think the public is going to eat this up. It’ll go nicely with your wedding piece. I’d like for you to incorporate it.”
“I don’t... No.”
“What do you mean no?”
“Exactly what I said. No, I will not incorporate that into my story. It’s distasteful. She died. He grieved. He is still grieving. They all are. That is his last conversation with her, and you just want to play it to create a little bit of public titillation. I don’t want any part of that.”
“You don’t have a choice, Sophie. You have to have a part in it or you won’t have a job. Anyway, I need a story. Because it turns out one of our competitors is about to break something huge.”
“What?” Her voice was thin, crackling.
“Sheikha Leila Al-Ahmar is pregnant with a royal bastard. No one even knows who the father is. Now if I knew that, I could skip the story about the sheikh. But sadly, all I have is an old audiotape.”
Suddenly it all came together, all of the pieces. Why he was so protective of Leila, and why he had been threatening James Chatsfield with an early death in that alley weeks ago. It wasn’t only that James had slept with Leila, he had gotten her pregnant. The princess was pregnant with a Chatsfield baby. And that was the scandal. The scandal that Zayn could not give her, the scandal that she needed. For Isabelle... But right now, for Zayn, most of all.
“I know who the father is.”
“You do? How?”
“I...I’ve gotten close with the sheikh. And I know. But it will cost you that audiotape. You don’t release it. That’s my price. You sell the tape to me in exchange for the name of Leila Al-Ahmar’s child’s father.”