Authors: Sophia Lynn
She was aware that in the space of a few words, she might have damaged this immensely powerful man's interest and willingness to work with her and her firm. There was nothing she could do except apologize.
“I'm sorry,” she said bluntly. “I spoke out of turn on a subject I know nothing about, and I added a dash of racism on top of it. I'll think before I speak again on the topic, I swear, and I promise that I will do better in the future.”
There was only silence from the other side of the car, but this time, there was a slow Corvette to maneuver around, and she couldn't take the time to look at him.
“How long until we get to the hotel?” he asked. She was at least a little gratified that he no longer sounded as icy as he had before, but it was far from his previous warm tones. This could very well cost her job, and she couldn't even say that she didn't deserve it.
“Twenty minutes or so,” she said, an inappropriate laugh coming up in her throat. She choked it back with a horrified look, but she knew she had to contain it. Still, she could tell she had caught his attention, and she knew she had to explain.
“Los Angeles is a twenty-minute town,” she explained. “I mean, in recent years, it might have become a thirty-minute town, but the point is that anything you want, anything you want to eat or go do, is about twenty minutes away. We have everything you might want to do, but you have to remember that it takes twenty minutes to get there.”
“Hmm. Many of the things I wish to do tend to take a lot longer than twenty minutes... I hope it's worth it.”
The words were uttered so blandly that Leah had to play them back in her head. Things that Zayn wanted to do... that took longer than twenty minutes.
Surely he didn't mean what she thought he meant. Surely not.
Swerving around a large furniture truck, she decided quickly that silence was golden. If she could just get him to the hotel without managing to put her foot in her mouth, perhaps that would be enough. Perhaps she could still save this, or perhaps one of the firm's partners would be willing to write her a decent reference on the sly after they sacked her.
Her mind was full of such grim thoughts when she finally pulled off the freeway and up to the Marseilles. It was a lavish hotel, white marble in all directions and surrounded by lush greenery that certainly was not native to the Los Angeles heat. She pulled up to the curb, where a man immediately showed up to take their bags, which, she quickly noticed, Zayn didn't have. The sheik saw her confusion and took pity on her.
“I wanted to make sure that I was properly attired for the West,” he explained. “I was going to have some clothes made before my meetings on Monday.”
“Oh, of course,” Leah said lamely. Sometimes, she was still caught off guard by the sheer wealth of some of Hiller and Hiller's clients.
“All right, someone's going to show you to your room.”
Leah blinked. “I... beg your pardon?”
“You are going to show me to my room.”
He stood on the grand marble staircase of the Marseilles, utterly calm and immovable. He spoke as if his pronouncement was law, not just of man, but of the universe itself.
“Yes...” she said after a moment. “Yes, let me get things taken care of.”
She hurried inside where she received the key cards from the front desk. She found Zayn looking around at the sheer opulence of the hotel, its extravagant waterfall and the high vaulted glass ceiling with calm acceptance. If Leah were on her own, she would have been much more inclined to stare around her in shock and awe. As it was, she simply muttered, “Right this way,” to Zayn, leading him to the elevator.
They had lodged him in the penthouse, of course. The enormous sprawling apartment took up the entire top floor of the Marseilles. As the elevator climbed and climbed, she felt slightly trapped, though strangely enough, she had no urge to run.
Zayn seemed to have no interest in speaking at all, and though Leah was grateful for the opportunity to keep her mouth shut and to make sure she didn't further embarrass herself, she wished she knew what he was thinking behind those cool green eyes.
If the lobby of the Marseilles was jaw-dropping, the penthouse was beyond amazing. The elevator opened to a gorgeous sunken living room, surrounded with couches facing an enormous state-of-the-art entertainment center. Beyond were two bedrooms and the bathroom, closed behind impressive double doors.
“Here you are,” she said as briskly as she could. “I hope everything is what you've been looking for—”
He started to speak, and she wanted to hear what he said, but his phone rang. He held up a finger to keep her there, and he answered the phone, turning away.
Now that she was out of her car and out of traffic, she could breathe a little. The floating hairs that always escaped her bun had run absolutely wild, and she distractedly shoved them behind her ears. She was just beginning to worry about what she was going to do when her own phone buzzed. She would never have usually answered a text when she was with a client, but it sounded as if Azim had caught up with Zayn, and they were occupied in a distracted conversation in their native Almiran.
She pulled her phone out of her purse and blinked.
Hey, have you met him yet???????
Daisy, her cousin from Albany. Daisy had always been the quiet one in the family. No one had been surprised when Mira had run off to marry Middle Eastern royalty, but absolutely no one expected Daisy to follow in Mira's footsteps.
Leah texted back cautiously.
You know! Zayn al-Fasi!!!!
Leah found that she was looking at the texts, multiple exclamation points and all, with a great deal of wariness.
Daisy, what the hell do you know about this? My firm JUST got this notice that we were going to be hosting the sheik of Almira, and that we had better be ready if we knew what was good for us.
There was a pause as Daisy typed out a longer message.
Zayn's a really old friend of Rashad. He's got some real troubles I know you can help him with. I promise, you are the right person to deal with the case, and to deal with him. It's going to be fine. I ran it by Rashad, and even Mira and Kahlil, and they both agree!
Leah gritted her teeth. Daisy was one of the most positive people in the world when she was up, but sometimes, her view of reality didn't exactly match the world.
Daisy... I'm an entertainment lawyer. I'm not an expert in international law or whatever it is that he needs. I need you to understand this.
Don't worry! You're exactly what he needs.
Leah thought about her slip-up in the car and flinched. When Daisy was wrong, she was incredibly wrong, but there was something heartening about the other woman's faith in her. She had heard that Rashad was quite good about reining in some of her more erratic ideas, while being absolutely stunning at spoiling her rotten.
She started to type up a reply when she glanced up to see Zayn gazing at her. With a softly muttered curse, she shoved her phone back in her purse. To her relief, he didn't look angry, only thoughtful.
“You're forgiven,” he said softly.
She blinked. “What?”
He shrugged. “I forgive you for what you said in the car. People in the West hear of places like Almira, Samara and Marat, and they have visions in their heads. Flying carpets and harems are the best of it. The worst, well. At worst, they see savages. Barbarians a few inches away from storming their cities and taking their women.”
Leah bit her lip, because in many ways, he was right. Dressed in his crisp and lovely desert clothes, Zayn was a vision of male beauty, but there were those who would always see him as some kind of foreign and exotic monster.
“Thank you for forgiving me,” she said. “I would understand if you hadn't.”
For the first time, Zayn smiled at her, a dazzling display of white teeth that were stark in his dark face. She had lived in Los Angeles for years, surrounded by movie stars and movie star wannabes, and this smile left them all in the dirt.
“That means I was right to do so. Come, sit down with me, and we shall talk about my case.”
Leah blinked, a little dazed about how fast everything was moving. “What? No... I'm... I'm sorry, I think you're confused. I'm a junior partner at Hiller and Hiller. It'll be Bryce Hiller who will be taking on your case, likely him and Grant Chastain.”
His smile was still pleasant, but now there was a bit of iron behind it. “No. It will be you.”
A number of arguments boiled up. She was young. She only had a few years of experience. She was going to step on a lot of toes if she snatched this case away from the senior partners. She snapped her mouth shut on all of them.
“Yes. Will you please excuse me? I'd like to go down to the lobby to make some calls.”
Zayn inclined his head graciously. “So long as you hurry back.”
She muttered something about staying on task and all but stumbled back into the elevator. On her way out of it, she passed by Azim and his men, still dressed in black, still serious to a fault. Azim, his arms filled with bundles, spared her a single piercing glance as they got into the elevator, and she wondered what he made of all of this.
Parked in a corner of the lobby, feeling far shabbier than she should have felt in her outfit, she took a deep breath and called Hiller and Hiller. She was lucky, she got Grant on the first try.
“Hey, Leah, you get the guy?”
“I did, I did, but we ran into an interesting situation...”
Grant was utterly silent as she explained the situation to him, revealing everything, including her connection to Daisy and Mira, though she left out how she had messed up with Zayn in the car.
“So... that's how things stand. He wants me for the case, and if you want to come fight him about it, you're welcome to come down here yourself and do that.”
Grant took a deep breath. He was almost a decade younger than Bryce Hiller, though still much older than Leah herself. When she had come to work at Hiller and Hiller, he had been one of her strongest supporters. She could hear the faith she had built up over the last few years being tested in that long breath.
“All right,” he said. “All right. I'm going to be seeing Bryce in just a few, and I'll clear it with him on one condition.”
“I need you to be entirely certain that you can handle this. You can't be eighty percent sure, or ninety percent sure, or even ninety-eight percent sure. I want one hundred percent assurance that you can do this, Montgomery. Otherwise, I will go down there and explain things. Your call.”
Leah clenched her free hand to keep it from trembling. “I am one hundred percent sure,” she said, her voice strong and firm. “I can handle whatever he throws at me.”
“Good. That's what I needed to know.” She was gratified to hear how warm Grant's voice was. Once she had accepted the job, she knew that he was going to be behind her completely. Even more important, he would keep Bryce off her back.
“Go for it. Keep us in the loop, and don't you dare miss debriefings with me or with Bryce, but we're going to back you.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I won't let you down.”
“I know you won't.”
For a long moment, she stood in the lobby with the phone in her hand. She felt a little light-headed. She wasn't sure what she had committed herself to, but there was something in the air that told her that her life had changed.
Somehow, between arguing with a security guard at the airport and hanging up the phone with Grant, everything had changed.
“All right,” she said softly. “All right.”
When she came up the elevator and entered the penthouse, she was startled to find it quiet. Then she realized that Azim and his men were likely camped out on the floors below, leaving the penthouse in single, solitary splendor for Zayn.
“Hello?” she called, hovering by the elevator doors. “Are you still here?”
The door to the bedroom opened, and she stared.
Dressed in his white clothes, Zayn was handsome. Now he was dressed casually in sharp dark jeans and a black T-shirt that stretched tight across his broad chest. Even barefoot, he looked like an incredibly handsome aspiring actor on his way out for a night on the town. The sudden shift was enough to make her head spin, and she had to force her mouth closed.
“There you are,” she said. “I've spoken with the office, and I'll be handling your case.”
“I wouldn't accept anyone else,” he said with a supremely casual shrug. “They would have given you the case, or I would have found someone else.”
It was incredibly bad policy to ask a client why they had asked for her services, but Leah was so curious for a moment that she almost did. Instead she bit it back, taking a seat on the pristine white couch.
“All right. I'm glad for your faith in me, and if you're not too tired from your flight, I wouldn't mind getting a few basics from you about your case. You've been very closed-mouthed about it so far, but the time where you can be is drawing to a close.”
Zayn gave her a ghost of a smile as he came to sit down next to her. For a moment, she wondered if he was sitting too close. She could almost feel the heat of his leg through the thin fabric of her trousers. She shook it off, both the silly idea and the attraction.
“You leap in for the kill, I see,” he commented. “I am glad to see that the assessment I made at the airport was correct.”
Leah started to ask what he meant, but then she remembered, biting her lip with a grimace.
“The security officer,” she said with chagrin. “Not my best moment.”
Zayn chuckled, a dark and warm sound. “Then I truly look forward to seeing what your best might be. I need a fighter, Ms. Montgomery. I need someone who will help me set things right.”
“That's what we're here for,” she said earnestly. It was something she said to many clients, but right now, she had never meant it more.
“I'm going to order us some food,” she said briskly. “You're probably starving from your flight, and the last thing I want to have happen is for you to fall over from hunger when we really get into it.”