“That’s a steep price.” He was angry, but he was treading carefully.
“It might be. But trust me, the public will care a whole lot more about this than they will about resurrecting an old accident. This will be nothing but fascinating, you revealing a final argument between the sheikh and his sister is potentially upsetting. You could face backlash. This is relevant, and the news is all about relevance. Unless you’re solving some great mystery of the past, an argument that happened sixteen years ago isn’t exactly news.”
“Fine, you have it. The tape is yours. I’ll put it in the mail.”
“Promise me. Promise me you won’t release the tape, anyway. I’m not that naive.”
“You’re naive enough to think that my promise would mean much.”
“Oh, I’m not. But I’m also not above blackmailing you.” She swallowed hard. “I know you’re cheating on your wife.” She’d heard him order flowers for women with several different names, and she had a feeling most of them were not sources. Sources tended to prefer money over blossoms, as money was a little bit less temporary. “I have no problem letting your wife know about it, and I’m pretty sure she would take you for everything. Seeing as she came into the marriage with a whole lot more money than you, I’m betting that prenup is pretty airtight.” She was playing hardball, and bluffing in addition. She hated the hard edge in her voice, hated what she was having to do. But when you made deals with the devil you had to be aware of that fact. If she was going to give up this information, she had to be certain that it would protect Zayn from harm.
Because the paternity of Leila’s child would be revealed. There would be no hiding it forever. Yes, she was bringing it out in the open early, but the moment the story broke James would know that he was the father. He wouldn’t need a newspaper to tell him that. The big secret would be out as soon as the sun rose in New York, but she had the last piece, and with that last piece she would protect Zayn.
Because he was already broken. Because he did not need to relive those final ugly words.
“You drive a hard bargain, Sophie. I think I underestimated you. I didn’t think you had the balls to make it in this business. Apparently I was wrong.”
“I don’t really take that as a compliment. But then, I don’t really care if you compliment me. All I care about is the tape.”
“Yours. We have a deal. Now, you tell me the name of the Al-Ahmar princess’s baby daddy.”
“All right, the father of Leila Al-Ahmar’s baby is James Chatsfield.”
Colin swore. “Now that was worth the price.”
“I told you it was. I’m done talking to you now. Make sure I have the tape.” She hung up the phone and then turned, freezing when her eyes locked with a very angry dark gaze of Zayn Al-Ahmar.
Her phone slipped from her hand, crashing to the floor, the screen shattering, sending glass in every direction.
He took a step toward her, the glass crunching beneath his shoe. “What have you done?”
It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him, to defend herself. And suddenly, as clear as anything, she knew she couldn’t. Because it was better that he thought this. If not, she would continue to be a duty to him, one that lasted into his marriage. And she really would become her mother. A woman who lingered in the background, who shaped her entire life after a man she could never have.
And on the heels of that, she realized she already had been her mother for her whole life. She had judged her mother, thought her pathetic, for staying in one place waiting for her father to come back. Sophie had done exactly the same thing, for the same man. She had simply decided to go to him instead.
But she was done with all of that. She had to ask for better for herself. She had to ask for better for Zayn.
This was part of protecting him. Removing herself from his life completely, so that neither of them would ever be tempted. So that neither of them would linger, ghosts in each other’s lives, never able to touch each other, never able to speak to each other. Never able to do anything but ache.
No, this was for the best. It was better to end it now. Better to end it forever.
“That was my boss. I told him who the father of Leila’s baby is.”
The words ripped through her like a bullet, tearing her insides apart. Twisting them, tearing them, so that nothing could ever be put back like it was.
It was what she needed to do. And she hated it. She had to lie to him, to save them both.
His expression contorted. “How did you know?”
She tried to look neutral, even while her entire world fell down around her. While her body screamed in pain. “I pay attention.”