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ZAHIR - Her Ruthless Sheikh: 50 Loving States, New Jersey (Ruthless Tycoons Book 2) by Theodora Taylor (30)

Chapter Thirty-Two

Three Months Later

In the end, the twins don’t sign with Roxx Nation. They end up signing with me which is a huge conflict of interest—but hey, it’s good to be Her Majesty and bet I made sure they secured a great deal.

Really, you could say they signed with themselves since I’ve already decided to give them two-thirds of my shares in Majesty when they turn 35, provided they finish college and get some business and marketing experience under their belt. I have a feeling they will. Say what you want about the way things ended between Zahir and me, it feels like he gave them a seminar on how to be successful.

After seeing how much more productive they were when they woke early for Ramadan, the girls kept the habit of rising at 4:00 AM. They often get things like exercise and homework in before their first classes of the day at Manhattan University have even begun. And that gives them a competitive leg up on most college kids with big dreams. I have every faith they’ll be ready to take on the label by the time they’re 35.

As for me, I never did keep either of the promises I made to return to Liederman-Frankel. But as it turns out, I have even less interest in running the label Asir gave me than I do IP law. Plus, the people Dad put in charge are actually good at their jobs—especially now that there are accounting practices in place to make sure the person at the top isn’t embezzling funds.

I stay out of the day-to-day business of the company. But I’ve taken on a handful of songwriting jobs, and more and more acts have been asking to meet with me ever since the twins’ demo “leaked” ahead of their official late November full album release.

I can’t complain. It feels like my whole life fell apart back in March, but thanks to Asir and rediscovering my passion for music, it feels like I’ve taped up all the pieces.

It also helps that I never heard from Zahir again after our phone call in July. And our official late August divorce date came and went without a peep.

He let me go. That’s a good thing. I just wish it didn’t continue to hurt. I wish I hadn’t immediately entered another dating dry spell after our unexpected parting back in late May. I wish I didn’t still think about him instead of Jason Momoa when I’m using my vibrator. I wish I could forget the image he painted of us at the dinner table with our own kids.

But hey, I wish a lot of things I’m not going to get…and I’m okay with that. Like I said, I taped myself back together, and I’m good, even if it does sometimes feel like there’s a desert wind blowing in my chest.

I’m not a toxic mess. I am my own boundary. I am my own control.

“Wait this is where your listening party is?” I ask, my thoughts cutting off from how all-good-brush-it-off together I am when our Lyft pulls up to the Benton Grand Hotel a month after the label’s totally-on-purpose album leak.

When the twins invited me to their Friday night listening party, I thought we’d be going to the Majesty Records office. Or maybe a college bar. But this is the Benton Grand, and Majesty is no longer in the habit of throwing lavish parties for every hot new artist they sign. I find it hard to believe they’d sign off on this for a new act, even one that’s related to their majority shareholder.

“You’d be surprise what kind of favors a hotel will give you when you stay in one for over a month,” Sasha answers.

She’s right. I’m very surprised…and even more so when I see they’ve booked not a hotel room, or even a conference room, but a ballroom complete with a stage and lighting set-up. It’s filled with what has to be at least a hundred people.

“Okay, how did you get the Benton to do this again?” I demand.

“Ooh, look! There’s Luca! I can’t believe he came. Let’s go say hi!” Kasha suddenly says. Then the twins rush off as if they’re dying to speak to the mafia don who they wouldn’t even accept a car from a few months ago.

What the…?

I keep a mental tally of receipts as I go over to the—oh, my God! Seriously?—open bar.

But instead of asking the bartender exactly who’s paying his salary tonight, I end up gaping at the woman ordering a sparkling water in front of me.

“Amber???” I say, taking in her much-changed appearance.

“Prin,” she answers with a half-smile, turning to face me. She does that thing she only does with sighted people, fixing her eyes firmly in the direction of my voice.

“Hi!” I say, so glad she can’t see me. But she’s got to hear the shock in my voice as I hug her and say, “You look great. You’ve just made some changes. Big changes.”

“Stop,” she says, her voice hard as nails. “I don’t want talk about it.”

“Okay…” I say, bearing down hard to suppress all my questions as I switch the subject and try not to stare. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

“Well, it is a listening party and the twins Auntie Ambered me like they used to when they’d ask for another piece of candy from that bowl on my desk. Most kids don’t even bother, you know, and I have to whack them with my stick.”

I laugh, though you can never be sure with Amber. She’s a weird combo and not because she’s blind. She’s as beautiful as Tyra Banks but could put Daredevil in a chokehold, and her shit tolerance level is set at Judge Judy.

I honestly still can’t imagine her and Luca, the charming mafia don, hooking up, much less getting married.

The thought of Luca makes me wince. “Ooh, by the way, Luca’s here, too. So, you might want to avoid him…”

I trail off lamely because as it turns out, I inadvertently lied to Luca at Holt and Sylvie’s wedding. Not only had Amber paid attention to him when they both showed up to Sylvie and Holt’s co-ed baby shower, but they’d also gotten into a huge fight that I’m sure some of Holt’s Connecticut neighbors are still talking about.

Amber’s face blanches. “Luca’s here? But the twins said it was just going to be friends and family.”

“I guess they consider Luca a friend now,” I answer with a question mark in my voice. “To tell you the truth, I’m a little surprised they invited him myself.”

Amber opens her mouth to say something else, but whatever it is gets drowned out by someone tapping on the microphone.

I look up to see the twins on stage with…holy shit…a real band.

I pull out my smart phone and start a long email to the head of our events department, thinking I may have been too quick in my decision to stay hands-off after receiving Asir’s shares of the label.

“Thank you for coming to our listening party!” Kasha says. “We can’t wait to play the demo for you and maybe sing a few songs.”

The crowd cheers, going crazy for the two beautiful girls on stage.

“But before we get started, we want to give a special thanks to our sponsor and let him come on stage to say a few words…” Sasha continues.

I backspace on my email and then start asking who this new sponsor is because I don’t recall us assigning a big-spend sponsor to a new, not yet proven, act.

But then Kasha says, “Everybody, give it up for Zahir Zaman!”

Wait…what?

This time, I don’t just stop typing, I drop the damn phone. It lands with muffled thunk on the carpet at my feet.

But no…. my ears didn’t lie.

Zahir walks onto the stage, dressed in a cashmere turtleneck, a dark wool blazer, and a pair of jeans I would never have guessed he owned. “Thank you, Kasha and Sasha for letting me have this time,” he says, smiling warmly at the twins after Sasha hands him her microphone.

The girls take several steps back even though this is their show, and Zahir turns to face the audience. What the hell is going on? I wonder even as I take a few steps forward to get to the stage.

And as if in answer, Zahir says, “I’ve come to know these two wonderful and talented young women, because I was once very happily married to their sister. But unfortunately, I let that happy marriage end in divorce a few months ago.”

At that unexpected opener everyone in the audience, including me, falls into a shocked hush. But despite being in a public venue, Zahir continues, “She called me a coward once. At the time, I don’t think she realized how right she was. You see, I had been raised a certain way. I’ve known from since before I can remember what my destiny would be. However, when the twins’ sister, Prin, came along and kissed me, creating a scandal in my kingdom, my life changed. She became part of it, but only temporarily, I thought. And when tragedy fell, I left her behind, believing I had no other choice but to do as I was raised to do.”

Zahir grimaces as if the memory brings him physical pain. “I left her behind in the States even though I could not imagine myself ever finding another who fit my nature…who challenged me…who took care of me in ways I’ve never been taken care of before. And I am a Jahwar royal, so you can imagine how pampered I’ve been all my life.”

He chuckles along with the audience at that quip, but quickly gets serious again. “No one has ever compared to her. Letting her go felt like I ripped off my own arm, but I thought I had no choice. However, my brother has recently returned to our royal fold, excited to do so because Prin, in her generous nature, found a way to show him that he has a choice. He quoted something she said to him, that no person owns another person’s freedom. You are the owner of your life and no one else…” Zahir trails off for a long moment to let that sink in.

When he starts talking again, his voice is much quieter but it resonates across the room. “Asir told me this and I said, ‘Brother, take my throne.’ He thought I was joking, but I was not. ‘Brother, take my throne,’ I said. ‘I do not want it anymore if I cannot have her.’”

Behind him the twins wipe away tears, and my eyes blur, unable to believe. “The news that I’ve abdicated my throne to my brother and will be taking over my departed grandfather’s role as CEO of the Tourmaline Group will be released worldwide tomorrow. But now…now is where I am. And I want now to be forever with Prin.”

Then, to my shock, he looks over his shoulder and nods to the full band who starts into “It Had To Be You” with a tinkle of piano keys.

This is the most romantic moment ever…until Zahir starts to sing.

As deep and resonant as his voice is when he speaks, he is an awful, awful singer. Off-key and somehow squawky and tone-deaf at the same time.

I rush onstage and call out, “Z, baby, stop singing. You are a terrible singer.” And hello, Jersey. Just like my father, I have no problem being heard over the music.

He immediately stops and turns to me, his eyes filling with the unexpectedly tender look I remember so well.

I shake my head at him, because, “Seriously, you abdicated your throne?”

“I chose happiness,” he answers, his voice calm and level.

“I never would have asked you to give up so much for me. That’s crazy!”

“I chose happiness,” he answers again, this time closing the space between us. “I chose you.”

“But—”

For the first time in my life, Zahir interrupts me. “Prin, I fell in love with you, too. I loved you then and love you now where were are. Will you marry me?” he asks, cutting off any further protest.

I stare back at him. The woman too broken, too cynical to love and be loved back in return. The girl who was never meant to get a fairytale ending.

I asked for a prince and received…a prince, actually…now that Zahir’s abdicated his throne.

And you know, I’m trying to be cynical here. I’m trying to think of reasons that this will all turn to shit. But as he looks at me and I look at him, I can’t help but think this isn’t a happy ending. It’s the happiest beginning a girl could ever get.

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