Bought for the Sheikh:Zadir

By: Jennifer Lewis


CHAPTER ONE





“I can’t believe you talked me into this.” Veronica Baxter’s heart beat so hard she wondered if her expensive new dress might burst at the seams.

“Relax, Ronnie. It’s for a good cause.” Her friend Cynthia was all brisk efficiency, with her clipboard and microphone, and her red hair tucked into a high bun.

“I know, but an auction? It’s just tacky. It makes me feel like a piece of meat.” Standing offstage, she could hear the crowd in the big ballroom clapping and cheering over something. She was up next. “Maybe I should have worn a suit, so I look more serious.”

“To a black-tie gala? You look gorgeous and professional. Just smile and be yourself.”

“But I’m shy until I get to know people. I’m not good with small talk. Whoever buys dinner with me will think they’ve wasted their money.”

“Nonsense. They’re donating their money to Habitat for Humanity, and the dinner with you is just a bonus.” Cynthia squeezed her arm, which had broken out in goose bumps of terror. She had to give a short speech before the bidding started, and she was one of those people who feared public speaking more than death — almost.

“You’re right. I’m taking myself too seriously. I’m an architect, for crying out loud. Who’d pay to have dinner with me?”

“You’re an award-winning, cutting-edge architect who’s currently in the running to design the next presidential library, my dear.” Cynthia winked her mascara-coated lashes. “I think everyone in the business would like to share an hour or two with you.”

Ronnie wasn’t so sure. “What if no one bids?” She might die of humiliation.

“Trust me, someone will. Now chin up, because you’re on!” Cynthia shoved her gently toward the curtain that hid them from the stage. Ronnie drew in as deep a breath as the tailored lines of her pearl-gray silk dress would allow, and headed onto the stage, hoping she wouldn’t fall off her high heels.

The lights were blinding as she stepped out. She could hear the announcer’s voice reading her name and describing her as the hottest young architect in America today — embarrassing! — and somehow she managed to make her way to the podium and plaster a smile on her face.

Cynthia had written her short speech about the important work Habitat for Humanity was doing and how she was honored to be there in support of its new project, which promised — as always — to provide homes for needy families in the community… She tried to stay focused on the good cause and managed to get it out without stammering.

The announcer then led a round of applause and declared that they would start the bidding at one thousand dollars. There was a deafening silence, and Ronnie wished the polished wood floor would crack open and swallow her alive.

“We have our first bidder!” he called triumphantly, pointing to someone in the back. With the spotlight shining right in her eyes, Ronnie couldn’t see anything. Hopefully it would be some nice elderly couple who wanted to contribute to a good cause.

“And another, five thousand! Do we have any more bids?”

The first bidder must have raised a hand. She squinted into the light. They were holding up round white signs with numbers on them, but she couldn’t make out the faces. She kept her smile firmly in place — she’d practically painted it on with her lipstick anyway — as the bidding rose higher and higher.

“Twenty thousand dollars!” She swallowed. Cynthia was right about this being a good fundraising idea. She’d have to apologize for pooh-poohing it so much. She certainly hoped she could deliver twenty thousand dollars’ worth of scintillating dinner conversation.

“Forty thousand dollars!” She blinked, not sure she was hearing right.

“Sixty thousand dollars!” The announcer’s voice was beginning to sound deafening as Ronnie struggled to comprehend what was happening. “And we have a winner, ladies and gentlemen. Number forty-eight, His Majesty Zadir Al Kilanjar will enjoy dinner with Veronica Baxter.”

Zadir Al Kilanjar? Her heart stopped beating and the room started to spin. She’d been avoiding Zadir’s calls and emails for months, while dreaming about him every night and wondering about him during the day until she thought she might go mad.

He should be furious with her, not willing to pay sixty thousand dollars for an hour or two of her time. Her breathing quickened. He must be doing this to get revenge on her for ignoring him. This was his way of proving that you couldn’t brush off a prince, no matter how busy or important you thought you were.

She realized her smile had slipped and it took a big effort to paste it back on. “Thank… thank you.” Now she was stuttering. “I appreciate your very generous donation.” It was hard to form a sentence with her brain careening out of control. She knew she should say something else, but she couldn’t think of a single word other than, “help!” so she smiled at the announcer and made her way off the slippery stage as fast as she could.

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