He was gorgeous. Grey eyes stared up at me out of a face that belonged on the cover of a magazine.
My face heated but I held his gaze. The corner of his mouth curled up. ‘Hi,’ he mouthed.
Rayyan cleared his throat loudly, making me turn to look at him. He glared at me then jerked his eyes toward the two people in the room I hadn’t noticed before.
I’d been too busy ogling their son to catch their names – or his, for that matter. Rayyan cast his eyes to the ceiling then said deliberately, “I hope the journey was alright for you and Uncle Iqbal, Auntie Shamima. It does take a bit of adjusting to.” No one else caught the slight emphasis he put on their names.
“No, dear, it wasn’t bad at all – everyone spoke English. I enjoyed the trip, actually. Everything here is so pretty.”
That was Nana’s cue to chip in. He’d picked the estate to settle in by and large because of its location, despite the fact that living in such an out of the way part of Europe meant that he’d needed to learn an entire new language to get by which wouldn’t have been the case had he picked London or New York rather than Stockholm to build a home in.
These days, it wasn’t much of an issue. Almost everyone spoke a decent amount of English and even though Rayyan and I had both gone to school here instead of abroad like Dad, we’d been educated in English and we’d been bilingual right from the beginning.
I listened to Nana explain all of this to Auntie Shamima with half an ear. I’d heard various versions of this same conversation countless times growing up – usually as a direct response to people complaining about the language barrier and the inconvenience they’d had to deal with to come and see Nana.
“Where are you all from?” I asked curiously. I couldn’t place the accent at all.
“America,” Auntie Shamima responded, smiling at me. “I know I don’t really sound like it but travelling all the time will do that to you. Have you been there?”
I shook my head no. “I’ve always wanted to but…” I shrugged. “School,” I finished lamely.
Auntie Shamima nodded understandingly. “Of course. Well, you might find yourself visiting quite soon if things go well.”
“Oh,” I faltered, realizing what she was getting at. If you marry my son, you’ll be moving to live with him.
Dad saved me from having to respond. “Not too soon, I hope. I’d like to have a little more time with my daughter before we give her away.”
“We should let the kids talk,” Mom interjected. “Rayyan, come on.” she added when my brother didn’t move.
Rayyan cast a look of deep suspicion at the still-nameless man sitting across from me. “They should have a chaperone,” he said obstinately.
“Rayyan,” Mom hissed, looking uncomfortable.
Dad spoke up unexpectedly. “He has a point, Sum.”
Nana took charge then. “It’s alright, Sumaira, everyone understands. Rayyan, stay but sit on the other side of the room, alright?”
Rayyan nodded, appeased.
My stomach churned with nerves as I watched them all leave. I’d never been shy but for some reason, the thought of being alone with this man made my stomach twist itself into knots.
We sat in silence for a long moment before he cleared his throat. “Um…”
I lifted my head and turned to look at him again for the first time since that initial embarrassing meeting. He was still just as attractive, making my nerves double. I still didn’t know his name.
“Zak,” he said.
“My name. It’s Zak.” He smiled widely. “Now you know it.”
I’d spoken the errant thought aloud.
I stared at him uncomprehending, unable to think of a single thing to say.
The smile faltered and he shifted in his seat. “Something wrong? Is that your boyfriend’s name or something?”
“No!” I said immediately. “No, nothing like that. I was just… surprised.” That was an understatement.
“Who’s the other Zak?”
“No one. I mean – not no one – but not a boyfriend. He’s an old friend. I’ve known him since I was tiny. Rayyan calls him Zak. It’s weird that you share a name.” I was babbling.
“I don’t think we do, actually. In fact,” that smile came back. “I don’t think you can guess my full name. It’s not the common one.”
There was an expectant air about him.
“You’re not a Zaakir?” I checked.
Zak shook his head.
I pursed my lips in thought. What other names were there? I frowned at him. “Zaki?” I tossed out finally. “You can’t be named Zakaat.”
Zak burst out laughing. “Wrong. On both counts.”
“Then what is it? There aren’t any other names that start with Zak.”
“You’re right,” he conceded. “It doesn’t start with Zak.”
“Then what is it?” I demanded, exasperated.
Zak hummed. “What do I get if I tell you?”
I narrowed my eyes. “What do you want?”
Mischief danced in Zak’s eyes. “A kiss?” He held up his hands. “I’m kidding.”
He thought for a moment. “How about a secret? That’s fair.”
No it wasn’t! “Is your name a secret?”
“To you, it is.”
I nodded finally. “Okay. But not a big secret,” I added hastily.
My mouth fell open. That… of all the obscure names!
Zak began to laugh. “I told you, it’s not the common name.”
“You didn’t say it was the most obscure one either,” I grumbled.
Zak smirked. “There’s no fun in that. So, about that secret…”
“Not so fast,” I cut him off.
“I figured you’d say that,” he said easily. “But no harm in trying, right?”
“Are you always like this?” flew out of my mouth.
Some of the mirth left his face. “Not always.” He pressed his lips together for a second. “I get a little wild when I’m nervous.”
I gave him a disbelieving look. “Why on Earth would you be nervous?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” he countered. “Maybe because there’s a beautiful girl judging me and deciding whether or not I’m good enough for her?”
“I’m not beautiful,” was all I could think to say.