Daaem was in a filthy mood. Yesterday had been an endless stream of generic well wishes from people he wouldn’t be able to recognize if his life depended on it, in between bouts of cross questioning about business from his new father in law. Mehmood had hovered by his side all day – he’d only escaped when he’d feigned needing a trip to the bathroom.
To top it all off, he had exchanged barely three words with his new bride. She’d clung to Qasim all day and had dozed off within five minutes of getting in the car.
He’d had to carry her inside and get Anna to get her out of her cupcake of a dress.
Daaem sighed irritably and took in a deliberate deep breath. He was a grown man but somehow his father still managed to get to him.
He’d gotten a call from the old man for the first time in three years and despite knowing what he’d be hearing on the phone, it had still pissed him off to hear it said. What had especially stung was the parting jab that Daaem had somehow managed to disappoint even though Ameer had known better than to expect anything good from him.
The part of him that was still a little boy dreaming of pleasing his dad warred with the man who didn’t – at all – need a stranger’s pride to survive.
He needed a distraction, Daaem realized, still ruthlessly suppressing his emotions. Meeting Aabirah properly would do nicely.
He didn’t bother to grab a shirt, padding across the corridor in just the pants he’d slept in.
“Aabirah?” he called awkwardly. “Are you awake?”
There was a squeak and then a muffled thump.
Daaem frowned and stared at the door as though he could see what was behind it.
Tired of waiting, he yanked open the door and came face to face with Aabirah. She sat on his bed, wrapped up in the sheets.
She looked like a startled rabbit, Daaem thought idly.
As he watched, Aabirah jumped up. She started to say something, shook her head and thought better of it. She stared straight at Daaem silent and unmoving.
“Good morning,” he said carefully, beginning to wonder just what kind of a woman he’d married. Was she mentally incompetent? Was that why she’d agreed to their strange arrangement of a marriage?
“You’re Daaem, right?” Aabirah asked carefully. Qasim’s friend, she didn’t add.
Daaem frowned at her. “You forgot my name?” He sounded offended.
Aabirah’s frayed nerves snapped. “I had more important things to be worrying about,” she said before she could stop herself.
Now Daaem looked really offended. “What is your problem?” he demanded.
Aabirah stared at him in disbelief.
“My problem? My problem is that you bought me.”
Daaem scowled. “Well maybe you shouldn’t have sold yourself then,” he said caustically, leaning over her.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Aabirah spat.
“Five million dollars? Any of that ring a bell? That’s probably why you didn’t even bother to remember my name, isn’t it? Too busy counting your loot?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she insisted. A thought struck her and she froze in horror. They wouldn’t have… would they? Five million dollars was a ridiculous amount to demand for the traditional mahr.
“I paid that money directly into your father’s bank account. Don’t play dumb, you’re the one who asked for it!”
They had. And he, Daaem, he’d paid it?
“You paid my father, not me,” Aabirah said quietly.
“Don’t pull that,” Daaem said instantly. “Your father was very clear with me about the fact that it was all your idea.”
“No, it wasn’t! I had no say in any of this. None of it was my idea.”
“How convenient,” Daaem said sarcastically. “Well, what now, Princess? Because I’m not giving you back just because you got cold feet.”
“You can’t… you can’t force me,” Aabirah stuttered out, stumbling back.
Daaem looked disgusted. “I don’t force women,” he informed her. “I don’t have to.”
Hope bloomed in Aabirah’s chest. “So you’ll let me go?”
“Sure,” Daaem agreed brightly. Then his face hardened. “The second you return my money, you get to go back home and help Daddy fool some other shmuck.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Well, Princess, like you said – I bought you. And when you return something, you get your money back. I’ll return you, when I get my money back.”
Aabirah took another step back, flinching when she knocked her head against the wall.
“And you don’t have to pretend to cower either. I won’t force myself on you. I didn’t even take of your clothes last night. Your precious modesty is preserved.”
“Why’d you have to go and marry me in the first place,” Aabirah muttered to herself.
Daaem heard her. “Your guess is as good as mine, Princess. I honestly can’t see one single thing that makes it worth it right now.” With that, he turned and walked out, slamming the door shut behind him.
“Anna! Anna, get up here!” Daaem bellowed, leaning on the railing at the top of the staircase.
“Yes, Mr. Shaik?” The maid came running in. She paused at the bottom of the stairs and looked up at him. “What did you need?”
“Inform my wife that our flight is in two hours and then make sure all her things are packed up again. Everything she brought with her will be sent on after us.”
Anna’s eyes widened. “Everything?”
“Yes,” Daaem bit out. “Is there a problem?”
“No, Mr. Shaik. No problem at all. I’ll get right on that.” With that, the small woman scurried up the stairs and past Daaem to the master bedroom.
“Anna!” Daaem called.
Anna halted in mid-step. “Yes, Mr. Shaik?” she squeaked, still standing with her back to him.
“Tell my wife that she won’t be accompanying me back to the city at the end of the week.”
“Yes, Mr. Shaik.”
Daaem heard the barely hidden disapproval in the maid’s voice and scowled. He didn’t have to explain himself to anyone. And he didn’t deserve to have an uncooperative woman in his personal space if he didn’t want her there.
Aabirah could live on the large estate – Daaem had little attachment to it and it was far enough away that no one would know where she was if he didn’t tell them first.
No one need know that he’d been played like a fool because he couldn’t resist a beautiful woman.