The Return of the Sheikh - By Kristi Gold
The moment Madison Foster exited the black stretch limo, a security detail converged upon her, signaling the extreme importance of her prospective client. The light mist turned to rain as she crossed the parking lot. One massive guard was on her right, a somewhat smaller man at her left, while two other imposing goons dressed in dark suits led the way toward the Los Angeles high-rise. A few feet from the service entrance, she heard a series of shouts and camera shutters, but she didn’t dare look back. Making that fatal error could land her on the cover of some seedy tabloid with a headline that read The Playboy Prince’s Latest Paramour. And a disheveled presumed paramour at that. She could already feel the effects of the humidity on her unruly hair as curls began to form at her nape beneath the low ponytail. So much for the sleek, professional look. So much for the farce that it never rained in sunny Southern California.
When the guards opened the heavy metal door and ushered her inside, Madison stepped carefully onto the damp tile surface as if walking on black ice. Couldn’t they see she was wearing three-inch heels? Clearly they didn’t care, she realized as they navigated the mazelike hallway at a rapid clip. Fortunately they guided her into a carpeted corridor before she took a tumble and wounded her pride, or worse. They soon reached a secluded elevator at the end of the passage where one man keyed in a code on the pad next to the door.
Like a well-oiled human machine, they moved inside the car. Madison felt as if she were surrounded by a contingent of stoic man-crows. They kept their eyes trained straight ahead, not one affording her even a casual glance, much less a kind word, on the trip to the top floor.
The elevator came to a smooth stop a few moments later where the doors slid open to a gentleman dressed in a gray silk suit, his sparse scalp and wire-rimmed glasses giving him a somewhat scholarly appearance. As soon as Madison exited the car, he offered his hand and a hesitant smile. “Welcome, Miss Foster. I’m Mr. Deeb, His Highness’s personal assistant.”
Madison wasn’t pleased with the “Miss” reference, but for the sake of decorum, she shook his hand and returned his smile without issuing a protest. “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Deeb.”
“And I you.” He then stepped aside and made a sweeping gesture to his right. “Come with me, please.”
With the guards bringing up the rear like good little soldiers, they traveled down the penthouse’s black marble vestibule beneath soaring, two-story ceilings. As a diplomat’s daughter and political consultant, she’d been exposed to her share of opulence, but she wasn’t so jaded she couldn’t appreciate good taste. A bank of tall windows revealing the Hollywood Hills drew her attention before her focus fell on the polished steel staircase winding upward to the second story. The clean lines and contemporary furnishings were straight out of a designer’s dream, but not at all what she’d expected. She’d envisioned jewels and gold and statues befitting of royalty, not a bachelor pad. An extremely wealthy bachelor’s pad nonetheless. Only the best would do for Sheikh Zain ibn Aahil Jamar Mehdi, the crown prince of Bajul, who’d recently and unexpectedly become the imminent king, the reason why she’d been summoned—to restore the tarnished reputation of the man with many names. In less than a month.
After they passed beneath the staircase and took an immediate right, Madison regarded Mr. Deeb, who also seemed bent on sprinting to the finish line. “I’m surprised the prince was willing to meet with me this late in the evening.”
Deeb tugged at his tie but failed to look at her. “Prince Rafiq determined the time.”
Rafiq Mehdi, Prince Zain’s brother, had been the one who’d hired her, so that made sense. Yet she found Deeb’s odd demeanor somewhat disturbing. “His Highness is expecting me, isn’t he?”
They stopped before double mahogany doors at the end of the hall where Deeb turned to face her. “When Prince Rafiq called to say you were coming, I assumed he had spoken to his brother about the matter, but I am not certain.”
If Rafiq hadn’t told his brother about the plan, Madison could be tossed out before her damp clothes had time to dry. “Then you’re not sure if he even knows I’m here, much less why I’m here?”
Blatantly ignoring Madison’s question, Deeb pointed to a small alcove containing two peacock-patterned