“Yes, I am calling about an employee of yours. Sophie Parsons.”
She could hear words, but not what they were.
“She has done nothing wrong. She is with me, in fact...Sheikh Zayn, of Surhaadi...Yes, that one. We got into a bit of a discussion, and we spoke about her coming to Surhaadi to run a piece on my upcoming marriage.”
The implications of what he was saying turned over in her mind, and for the first time, she realized that some of this could actually go her way. That she could get something out of this.
Except where Isabelle is concerned. You’re leaving Isabelle up a creek without a paddle.
Not that she was doing it on purpose. If she had her way, she would escape the limo and run screaming into the night. But she didn’t seem to have much choice. He would load her onto the plane kicking and screaming if he had to, of that she had no doubt. There was barely another living soul out here, at least no one who didn’t work for him. And he had her boss on the line, her job in his hands, and if she did not have access to the media, the help that she could be to Isabelle was limited, anyway.
No, she wasn’t deserting her friend for self-serving reasons. She wasn’t deserting her friend for any reason that was in her control.
“She is a very charming young woman,” Zayn continued. “I find myself captivated by her. I should like to read her perspective of the goings-on.”
Her boss responded, his voice sounding much more cheerful and genial than it ever did when he spoke to her. Probably because she was a gopher and not a sheikh.
“I am not certain how long I will have her in Surhaadi, but of course we do have internet connections, and she will be able to make contact.” Somehow, Sophie doubted he would allow her free contact.
“Yes, I daresay it will be a wonderful exclusive for your paper. She will be in touch soon.” Zayn hung up, putting the phone back inside his jacket pocket. “There, that was relatively painless, wasn’t it?”
“For you, perhaps. I find all this has been quite painful.”
“I have scarcely laid a finger on you.”
“Pain can come in a lot of forms. Often I find the physical is the least of my worries.” That much was true, she had enough emotional garbage to last a lifetime.
“Well, it is all settled, your boss is happy to have you come to Surhaadi with me. And if you refuse, I will not hesitate to call him back and let him know you blew the story, and that I will require your immediate termination if the paper is to get the exclusive that I have now promised.”
“So those are my options? Be carried onto the plane kicking and screaming and lose my job, or get on the plane and keep my job.”
“That about sums it up.”
“What about my scandal? I need to do this. If you think I was out here for my own gratification, you’re wrong. I’m doing this for someone else. For a friend, and it’s important.”
“Come with me, and you will have your scandal.” His dark eyes were fathomless, impossible to read. But she could also see that she had no choice but to go with him.
She swallowed hard, trying to combat the swarm of nerves crawling through her system like a hoard of ants. “Then I guess we are going to Surhaadi.”
* * *
Zayn’s private plane was far more luxurious than anything Sophie had been exposed to before. And in the years since she’d moved up from her nondescript existence in a quiet neighborhood, tucked away from people she and her mother might encounter who would know who her father was, she had seen a fair bit of luxury.
She had not, however, seen private plane levels of luxury.
She felt like it had to be some kind of mental disconnect happening within her brain right now. Because she was essentially being kidnapped, and yet she was admiring the butter-soft quality of the leather that covered the chairs that were stationed throughout the airplane cabin.
All things considered, she didn’t feel like this was the time to be admiring the qualities of leather. Though if she thought about anything much deeper she might go insane. Because all of this was just too much to digest at once. She needed time to get used to this whole being kidnapped by a sheikh thing.
“There are two bedrooms in the back of the plane, and you’re welcome to use whichever one you like,” he said, speaking as though he was playing host at an extremely civilized dinner party. “You are also welcome to stay up here should you prefer. Can I get you a drink?”
“Well, the offer of the bedroom is certainly appreciated. As is the offer of a drink. Which I accept.”
She had never been much for drinking. After Isabelle had accepted her into her group of friends, Sophie had often found herself dining in places that were way above her pay grade. Soup or salad, coupled with the water, had often been the only thing on her menu. Certainly, had her friend been aware of the fact that Sophie couldn’t afford the places they’d gone, Isabelle would have happily given Sophie the money to pay for her meal. But charity had never sat well with Sophie. And anyway, the burning hunger to one day be able to order the fish dish, rather than ordering from the appetizer section, was one of the things that kept her going.