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ZAHIR - Her Ruthless Sheikh: 50 Loving States, New Jersey (Ruthless Tycoons Book 2) by Theodora Taylor (1)

Prologue

“Prin, wait! Hold up!”

With only the tiniest fraction of guilt, I pretend not to hear Sylvie call my name as I disappear into the crowd at Holt Calson’s party.

I love Sylvie. I really do. After 14 years spent exclusively with narcissists and hustlers, there’s a reason I picked a sheltered Jamaican girl as my best friend during our first year at Beaumont, an exclusive Connecticut boarding school. I lived on campus full time, and Sylvie was a day student on full scholarship, and I never cared that she only got into Beaumont because her dad was one of the groundskeepers. She laughs at all my jokes. She listens like nobody’s business. And girl, if you want a study partner—Sylvie’s got you covered. She will keep you on task and encourage you until next thing you know, you’re staring down at a report card stuffed with A-pluses.

But partying? Yeah, so not one of her strong suits.

Turns out, she really wants to hold on to our status as the biggest nerds at Beaumont even though we graduated last Sunday. She’s been mad fretful about lying to her crazy strict mom since I picked her up. And instead of being impressed that we’d been invited to one of Holt Calson’s infamous penthouse parties, she took one look at his beautiful high-rise and started searching for the nearest bus stop.

“I’m not tall and beautiful like you,” Sylvie said, her lovely Jamaican accent lilting across the otherwise quiet New Haven street as she tugged on the skirt of the dress I loaned her. It’s heavily sequined and sparkly—80s vintage courtesy of a shopping trip through my dead mom’s closet. And unlike my mini dress, it is also nearly knee-length. But Sylvie was acting like I loaned her a skimpy bikini. “I really do not think I belong at this skyscraper party. Can’t we just get cheeseburgers or something?”

“It’s a high rise,” I corrected her. “Not a skyscraper. And I don’t even know where to get cheeseburgers around here.”

I’m not sure she even heard me. She just kept saucer-eyeing the admittedly tall-for-Connecticut building and hugging herself.

Sigh.

Ever have one of those friends who is, like, the whole package but doesn’t know it? Sylvie is my total opposite. She’s petite and cute as a button on top of some seriously banging curves. Plus, she’s nice as hell, trustworthy, easy to talk to, and has a normal name—qualities I do not take for granted after a lifetime as Princess Jones, daughter of hip-hop mogul, Majesty Jones.

But tonight, I started to feel some kind of done with her. I ended up taking her by the arm and physically dragged her into Holt Calson’s building. “Asir Zaman invited me to this party,” I reminded her in the lobby as I pulled her toward the old-fashioned elevator that will take us up to the penthouse. “Asir Zaman!!!”

But even a multiple exclamation mark reminder wasn’t enough to keep the look of horror off of my anxious best friend’s face as we walked into a party that looked and sounded like one of the luxurious mansion rap videos my father’s label used to churn out back in the 90s.

So yeah, I made the call and abandoned my super-sheltered friend rather than risk getting reverse-dragged out the door.

Maybe if it were anyone but Asir Zaman, I’d let Sylvie take me by the arm and lead me to the relative safety of cheeseburgers. I mean, I can go to a million parties like this one back in Jersey. Hell, Dad is no doubt throwing a bigger and better version right now at our mansion in Alpine.

But I’ve had a crush on Asir since my first year at Beaumont. He is everything I ever wanted but never had in a boyfriend. Smart? Dude, he was in all the advanced classes with Sylvie and me. Athletic? Yup, he was the star of the lacrosse team—and trust, you can’t get any less hip-hop than lacrosse. Plus, he’s confident without having to put on a thousand chains and smoke a hundred joints just to get through the day.

And did I mention he is fine as hell? A few of the bigger assholes at school might have called him “Terror Fund Baby” behind his back, but truth is, he is one of the most clean-cut, preppy kids I knew at Beaumont. Yeah, his skin is on the swarthy side, but I haven’t ever seen him with so much as a five o’clock shadow. And his school uniform never seemed to wrinkle, even at the end of a long day.

Honestly, Asir is so far out of my league, I have no idea how to be myself when it comes to him. Hell, I could barely say “hi” or “nice game” when we passed each other in the halls at school. Because even though I was crushing on him, I knew there was absolutely zero interest he could have in a girl with a Jersey accent and a dad who is most famous for yelling, “Ya weak, mayne! Ya weak as shit, mayne!” over and over again at an American SuperStar contestant until the guy broke down sobbing on national television. That moment became a meme, and now Dad is more popular than ever, but still—it isn’t the sort of thing you want on your genetic resume when you’re trying to get checked on by the classiest boy ever.

Which is why I nearly choked on my own spit when I spotted Asir heading my way in the library last week. Sylvie and I were studying for the last of our finals when he strolled over and asked if I wanted to meet up at Holt Calson’s party because if so, he could put me on the list. That’s Holt Calson, as in the heir to the Cal-Mart fortune. He went to Beaumont, too, but four years before Sylvie and me got there as freshman. And believe me, even if he had gone at the same time, we definitely wouldn’t have been hanging in the same circles.

So yeah, whatever, Sylvie. Like I’m going to blow this chance! Plus, I know she’s too true blue to leave without me. So, after promising her we’d only stay for an hour, I cut out and dive into the crowd, searching for Zahir.

The main room is a kind of large sunken den filled with people in various “look as us being crazy, sexy, and cool” poses. It’s so dark, I can barely make out the guest’s faces as I walk through the crowd searching for Asir. And things do not improve even after I reach the top of the steps on the other side of the room and stand on my tiptoes to scan over the entire party.

I curse myself for being too shocked as hell by Asir’s invitation to get his number. Now, I can’t even text him to say I’m here. I’m about to give up when I see a tall guy with Asir’s same muscular build heading to another part of the penthouse.

“Asir! Asir!” I yell. But of course, he can’t hear me over the thumping bass and he disappears down a hallway. I end up running in my dead mom’s party heels to catch up with him.

At least the hall is well lit, and I get there just in time to see a really hot guy with dark hair and light eyes disappear into a room with a giggling blonde. They close the door behind them. But on the other side of the hall

My heart speeds up at the sight of Asir disappearing into another room. And unlike the really hot guy, he leaves his door wide open. Like an invitation.

One I should not hesitate to accept, I remind my suddenly fluttering stomach. I’m starting at Princeton next fall which will mean even more studying to keep up with the rich kids whose parents aren’t a now-deceased former party girl from Minneapolis and a high school dropout from Trenton.

This is my chance. Maybe the only chance I’ll ever get to hook up with someone like Asir.

So taking a deep breath, I follow him through the door into what turns out to be a dimly lit room…with no one inside. Uh...

“Where are you?” I ask aloud, too confused to be cool.

As if in response, the door suddenly slams shut behind me. At the same time, Asir pushes me, chest first, into the closed door, causing me to drop my mom’s vintage clutch. This is right before a large hand captures my wrists and pins them above my head as his much heavier weight pins the rest of my body to the door. He’s still dressed, but I can feel the weight of his cock against my ass, heavy and very, very hard.

Da hell? I buck on instinct, trying to get away, and he answers with a delighted laugh, easily holding me right where I am.

“Oh, I’m going to like this.” I can feel his hot breath on my neck. And with a ferociousness I’m definitely not used to, his free hand steals under and up the short hem of my vintage dress before deftly slipping inside my panties.

What the?

I yank my left arm out of his wrist hold and buck again, this time sending an elbow into his gut.

He oofs with a slight intake of breath. And then he locks my body down, releasing my other wrist and barring a muscular arm across my chest so neither of my elbows have space to maneuver if I want to try that move again.

“Good, good…” he croons, his lightly accented words filling up my ear as he begins full-on kneading my pussy with his fingers while the ball of his hand works circles around my clit. “Usually the girls Luca sends me don’t understand his instructions and they give in too quickly. But you’re a fighter, I can tell.”

Luca who? I wonder, even as his hand begins to produce sensations I have only ever felt with a vibrator.

“I’m going to have fun sinking my dick into your wet pussy when you finally give up,” he continues. “If you fight me hard enough, I’ll let you tell me the number of times you wish to come tonight, and I’ll grant that wish as your reward.”

Okay…it appears Asir has a kinky side. One I never would have guessed at based on the warm and polite way he behaves at school. But I take inventory of my emotions like the Beaumont therapist told me to do after my mother died. Shock, anger, confusion—no surprise there. The next two feelings, however, are a surprise: curiosity and desire, the latter of which is building so fast, the first three emotions are starting to matter less and less by the second.

How many other girls has Asir done this with at school, I wonder. He never had an official girlfriend at Beaumont—believe me, I’ve been checking his status for four years straight. But he must have been putting in some serious work behind the scenes and during the breaks because he’s working my pussy so adeptly, I’m nearly on the verge of coming…oh, God…already?

But…nope. This is way too weird, way too soon. And since fighting him only seems to turn him on, I remember what I learned during sex-ed at Beaumont and say, loudly and clearly, “Asir, stop! I don’t want this. This is too fast and you do not have my consent.”

The hand pauses, Asir’s heavy body stiffening behind me, and for a moment, I wonder whether or not he’ll continue even though I’ve clearly said no.

But his arm quickly falls away and his hand drops from my pussy as he takes a step back. “I am not Asir.”

Wait…what?!

Sure enough, when I turn I find…well, a guy who looks a lot like Asir but isn’t. Same olive complexion. Same dark eyes. Same classy accent. Just enough in common to trick the eyes when viewed from a distance in a crowded, dim room.

But now that I’m studying him up close, I can see the differences. Asir is slightly taller than me and, like, the fittest guy at school. This guy towers over me with muscles slabbed on top of muscles in a way that makes his physique impossible to ignore even though he’s wearing a casual suit with a collared shirt. Asir has a warm, open face and a laugh that always seems to linger right beneath the surface. I can’t imagine this guy ever smiling, much less laughing. His dark eyes are set so deep in his striking face, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover he’s carved out of sandstone.

Asir is always happy to meet new people. So much so that Beaumont added him to their prospective student tour rotation before he even completed his first semester of school.

But this guy? He is not happy to meet me. At all. He glowers, hard and sinister, as he asks, “Who are you? And how are you associated with my brother?”

“Ah…I’m Prin Jones,” I answer, checking the guy out in a new light now that I know his relationship to Asir. “Sorry for the mix-up.”

I apologize—you know, like a decent human being even though I wasn’t the one throwing random girls into doors as soon as they walked into the room.

But instead of returning the apology, he blinks hard and asks, “How are you associated with my brother?” Again. In such a frigid tone, it sounds like a statement instead of a question.

No, not a statement, a voice inside me suddenly corrects. A command. Everything about this guy is commanding. From his suit to his icy expression. He doesn’t look much older than me, but I get the feeling he’s been telling people what to do for at least as long as I’ve been alive.

“Um…we went to school together,” I answer. “He invited me here to meet up with him. That’s who I thought you were…which is why I followed you in here. But obviously I was wrong…”

I trail off because this guy is not like most guys I know. He hasn’t interrupted me and doesn’t attempt to pick up the conversation when I trail off—which isn’t so bad. But the way he fixes his eyes on me, narrowed and assessing as if he’s running every word I say through some kind of mental scanner…well, let’s just say it makes talking to him feel awkward. Like, really, really awkward. So much so, I feel as if I’ve run out of air by the time I’m done talking.

“So yeah, wrong guy,” I finish, fumbling behind me for the door knob. “I, um, I’ll go look for Asir now.”

“No,” he says.

“No?” I repeat, not understanding.

“You and my brother. No.”

My eyes flare. Da fuck this guy think he is?

“What do you mean ‘no?’”

“I mean you should leave this party now, Prin Jones, and forget about any rendezvous with my brother.”

“Hold up,” I say, raising both hands with 100-proof pure outrage. “You trying to say I’m good enough for you to throw against a door and fuck dirty, but I can’t get with your brother?”

“I am saying my brother has a bright future in front of him,” he replies, giving me a cool up and down look. “One that does not involve you.”

And that’s when I catch my own wrist. Clasping it tight so I won’t give in to my baser instincts and punch the straight hell out this guy. But, you know, four years of Beaumont. I’m supposed to be classy now.

At least, “some class” was what I told my dad I was after when I used my allowance to apply to boarding school, so I wouldn’t have to take part in his farce of a reality show with the lingerie model/wannabe singer he all but hired to replace my mom. And Lord knows, this guy isn’t the first racist rich dude to suggest that going out with a girl like me would not be a good look for his perfect white bread future.

To Asir’s credit, he has never once made me feel like I am worth less than all the other girls at our school just because I was one of the few rich kids at Beaumont with skin darker than his.

But this isn’t Asir looking down his nose at me right now. Different guy. Different opinions. And I can see every ugly one in the hard set of his cold eyes.

“Okay, well, I think Asir and I are old enough to make up our own minds about one another, thank you very much. So, I guess that means you and your ‘no’ can go fuck yourselves.” I could leave it there. Really, I probably should leave it there. But you know…Jersey. I throw up both middle fingers and add, “Just like you tried to fuck me against the door.”

Something dark and furious flashes across his expression, but before he can say another word, the door suddenly opens. I jump and turn to get out of its way—only to run smack dab into Asir.

“Whoa! Sorry, Prin!” he says, his warm face lighting up when he sees me. He cups both my shoulders with an apologetic wince. “I spotted you earlier and called your name, but the music was too loud for you to hear me. Then I saw you come down this way and I tried to follow you, but I couldn’t figure out which door was yours. I tried them all and…here you are!”

“No worries,” I reply easily. And my heart melts because Asir has somehow managed to sound both unbelievably elegant with his smooth brandy-poured-over-honey accent, and just like one of us with his self-deprecating way of talking about himself. His long, elegant hands rest lightly on my shoulders, warm and engaging. I can’t believe it! Asir Zaman is touching me!

“I’m just glad I finally found you. Did you come here to get away from the music?” he asks. “Can’t say as I blame you. Plus, it’ll be easier for us to talk and get to know each other better in here.”

Asir Zaman wants to talk to me! And get to know me better!! By now, my heart is squealing louder than a tween at a Jonas Brothers concert.

But then like a dark cloud edging towards a sunny day, I recall my real reason for being in this room and confess, “I came in here because I thought he was you.”

“He…?” Asir repeats with a super adorable scrunching of his beautiful eyes.

Then he follows my gaze to where his brother is standing, hard-faced and dark eyes flashing as if what he’s just witnessed has infuriated him beyond belief.

And that’s when I discover Asir is nowhere near as unflappable as I previously thought.

Instead of laughing at my case of mistaken identity, he jerks his hands back from my shoulders and stutters, “Oh, h-hi, Zahir. I did not expect to find you here. I-I…”

His brother, Zahir, says nothing. He merely watches Asir stew in his own stutters. Eyes cold and assessing like a scientist studying a rat he’s decided to experiment on.

But something must be communicated between the two of them because Asir takes a big step back from me and says, “Um, know what? I think I saw your friend—the scholarship student with the Jamaican accent?”

I narrow my eyes at him. “You mean, Sylvie?”

“Yes, Sylvie!” he agrees, clasping his hands tightly in front of him in thanks as if I’ve thrown him a lifeline of some sort. “I saw her go into Holt Calson’s room at the end of the hall. I think she was looking for you. You should probably find her…”

I tilt my head. “I should probably find her?” I repeat, my usual “da fuck?” Jersey accent rising to the surface though I promised myself it wasn’t going to come out tonight with Asir. “You invited me to this whack party,” I remind him. “Now you want me to go and find my friend because your brother is here?”

“I don’t…I mean, well…yes, I suppose that’s correct. I would like for you to go and find your friend now.” Asir crooks his arm to rub the back of his head like I’m making the situation more awkward instead of the other way around. “It’s just…I have some things I need to discuss with my brother who I didn’t know would be here. Sorry. I shouldn’t have—I mean, sorry, just sorry. I’m really sorry.”

With that final apology, Asir averts his eyes and opens the door a little wider so I can leave.

“Yeah, you are,” I agree, wanting to ask him a thousand questions like is he ashamed to be seen with me? Is that why he invited me to this party where we could disappear into the crowd instead of taking one of the million opportunities he’d had to talk and “get to know me better” during the four years we were at Beaumont together?

But you know, dignity. Instead of losing my mind on his bitch-ass, I jut out my chin and say, “Okay. Bye, Asir.”

Then with my head held high and without looking back at him or his asshole brother, I walk out the door Asir holds open for me.

The night only gets weirder when a few seconds later, I find my best friend, Sylvie, in another of the bedrooms about to kiss Holt-freaking-Calson! And when I tell her we need to leave, Holt—who is special edition white boy wasted, by the way, is all like, “Don’t leave. Stay with me! I’ll send you home in a car.”

Hold up. Asir doesn’t want to be seen with me, but Holt Calson, the richest kid in, like, all of America is trying to keep my friend here in his penthouse castle like she’s some kind of Jamaican Cinderella?

I ignore him and pull Sylvie out of there, wondering if the world turned upside down when we stepped through the doors of this high rise.

I drive her back to Hartford, ranting the entire time about Asir—and even more about his asshole brother.

I spent four years at Beaumont, bettering myself and trying to prove I was way classier than anyone watching my dad and his girlfriend on their reality show, His Majesty, could imagine.

But by the time I’ve dropped Sylvie off, a new resolution has settled over me. I plug a phone jack into my special edition Dwayne Wade Sidekick 3 and speed dial a certain number before getting back on the 218 E, this time heading toward Beaumont, just north of Hartford.

“Prin?” my dad answers after a few rings. He sounds confused. I can hear music playing in the background, harder and a less recognizable than the stuff playing at Holt’s.

Fresh cuts, I guess. Hot off the track deck of Majesty Records’ in-house studios.

“Hold on!” he yells, And I can imagine him slipping out of what he calls our mansion’s “par-tay foh-yay” and into his nearby study, because it’s much quieter when he says, “What’s up, baby?”

“Hey, Dad,” I answer. “I’ve been giving it some thought, and…yeah, I think I’m ready to be on the show.”

“You serious?!?!” he demands. “You finally wanna be on His Majesty?”

Then before I can say anything else, I hear a door open and the loud fresh cut sounds again as my dad hollers, “My daughter’s gonna be on the show!!!!!”

Unlike Asir, my dad has never had a problem being heard over loud music. The party-goers not only hear him but give a roar of approval in response.

After a few more declarations of how happy he is, and how hype this is going to be, and then a three-way call with one of the show’s producers, everything is only a few signed contracts and a press release away from being official. Beginning this summer, I will be playing a member of my own family on His Majesty, a spin-off of Rap Star Wives: East Coast, which itself is a spin-off of the original L.A.-based Rap Star Wives.

Ironically, just as I’ve finished with the verbal handshake, I’m back at the dorms where I decided to stay for the entire grace week after graduation, just so I wouldn’t have to return to a life of avoiding cameras at my father’s Jersey mansion. But fuck trying to be someone I’m not, I decide as I get out of the custom gold-and-chrome Mini my dad got me for my 16th birthday. I walk toward the dorms with a new swing in my hips.

Asir and his brother might be sheikhs or something, but I’m hip-hop royalty. So Asir can forget me, and Zahir can go fuck himself. I won’t ever have to deal with either of them again.

Except that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The very next day, Asir shows up at my dad’s Jersey mansion with the purse I left behind at Holt Calson’s party, and an apology so beautiful and eloquent that I immediately forgive him.

Eleven years later, I am on a plane bound for Jahwar, where my best friend, Sylvie, in the surprise of the century, will soon wed Cal-Mart scion, Holt Calson. And I have only one goal in mind: to get a private audience with Zahir Zaman al-Jahwari, the newly ascended King of Jahwar, despite what happened between me and his brother.