Chapter Thirty Eight
I looked like a disco ball but Zak was grinning so I bit my tongue and busied myself slipping into the sky-high stilettos that had come with the dress. Unlike the dress, they fit properly, moulding to my feet well enough that I felt confident I’d be able to walk easily despite the dizziness I’d been dealing with.
I quickly popped my purse and a lipstick into a silver clutch bag and declared myself ready.
Zak gave me an obviously appreciative once over. “I do good work,” he commented.
I lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “Do you really like it that much?”
Zak nodded earnestly. “I really, really do. You should dress like this more often.”
As a gift. Once in a while. I thought, tugging on the hem of my skirt. Out loud, all I said was, “I might.”
Zak looked pleased. He said something under his breath that I didn’t catch and began herding me down to the parking garage.
I sat carefully, slightly hampered by my tight skirt. “You’re still not telling me where we’re going?”
“Why spoil my fun?” Zak teased. “Maybe I should blindfold you.”
I grimaced. “No, thanks.”
“Scaredy-cat. Come on, it won’t be that bad!” Zak made to loosen his tie.
I leaned back. “No,” I said sharply. “No blindfolds.” I hated having my sight compromised with a passion. I’d had a night light in my bedroom long after most kids were deathly embarrassed of them and I’d had strings of fairy lights on my headboard until I’d gotten married. The dark itself wasn’t what terrified me; it was the thought of the million and one things that could be lurking in it.
I suppressed a shudder.
“Relax,” Zak clipped his seatbelt on with jerky movements. “Way to spoil the joke, Azraa.”
The rest of the drive was made with Zak refusing to even look in my direction.
I let him be. In the time I’d been married to him, I’d realized the power of silence. If I just kept my mouth shut, Zak often forgot about whatever had annoyed him in the first place. It was only when I began trying to argue or defend myself that things went wrong.
Traffic was terrible as always and I turned to my phone to distract me. Mom had sent me a list of informative – but not overwhelmingly so – pregnancy books so I used the time to start learning.
When the car finally drifted to a stop, I was almost a quarter of the way through the first book and just starting to panic at how much I knew nothing about.
Zak handed his keys to a valet and helped me out of the low-slung sportscar. “Brace yourself, you’re about to meet a bunch of crazy people,” he warned me playfully. “I never got to show you off to all my friends before we left and none of them could make it for the wedding either. I figured tonight was the perfect time to introduce you.”
I’d thought we were going out on a date. Silly me.
My husband guided me into the restaurant with a hand on my lower back. “There are four of them,” he whispered to me. “Don’t worry about not knowing any names, they won’t expect you to.”
“Come on, there they are.” Zak made a beeline for one of the tables in the centre of the room.
A stocky casually dressed redhead sitting at a table of similarly attired men caught sight of us and sprang to his feet. “Zak!” he bellowed. “Dude, finally. We’ve been waiting for ages. I’ve told you a thousand times before, stop spending so much time getting dressed. That’s a girl’s job.”
I expected Zak to be offended but to my surprise, there was a slight smile playing at the corner of his mouth. “Mike,” he greeted, nodding at the redhead. “You haven’t changed a bit.” He took the open seat at the head of the table, gesturing me into the one on his left.
“’Course not. Why would I?”
“To evolve?” A new voice suggested. “Who’s this tiny thing?” The dark haired man who’d spoken was tall enough that I probably did seem tiny compared to him, sprawled out in a chair pulled back from the table to accommodate his long legs.
“This,” Zak paused to squeeze my fingers and smile at me, “is Azraa. My wife.”
The tall man hurriedly straightened up. “Now you tell me,” he muttered. “Hi,” he added directly to me. “I’m Dawood. The rude one’s Mikaeel,” Dawood jerked a thumb at the redhead. “And the slumped over guy sleeping over there is Luqmaan.” He indicated toward the far end of the table.
“Not sleeping,” Luqmaan protested, still with his head laying on the table.
“Luqmaan’s girlfriend’s here, as is Mikaeel’s,” Dawood continued, speaking over his friend. “But they ran off to the bathroom and haven’t come back.”
“Nice to meet all of you,” I looked between the three men.
I received a mumble and a nod back. The rowdy Mikaeel simply ignored me and began to interrogate Zak about something that seemed to be called “Defiance”. Luqmaan quickly woke up and the four men began to argue.
I tried to follow along but it was clear that I was missing several key details. Eventually, I pulled my phone out and held it discreetly under the table to continue reading. I didn’t think Zak would mind, or even notice and I was bored out of my skull.
The only time I spoke all night was to introduce myself to the two girlfriends Dawood had mentioned when they came back to the table, both of whom gave me friendly smiles and then resumed the conversation they’d been having as they walked up to the table.
“So?” Zak turned to me expectantly as soon as we left the restaurant. “Did you have fun?”
Had I? No. I’d spent the night stewing in my annoyance and disappointment and it was quickly turning poisonous.
Was it better to tell the truth or to spare his feelings?
I took a deep breath. “Zak,” I began. “I…”