beneath her hand. “I just wonder how many shots will put her under.”

“Now, now,” Amity began, her voice haughty. “Let’s not get carried away.”

The limousine swept from the apartment block, then. Flora began jabbering about the afternoon she’d had, the shopping she had already completed. She eyed Amity sharply. “You’ll have to go out with me tomorrow. I know a store you would absolutely love. And, let’s face it, you need to restock your wardrobe.”

Amity rolled her eyes. “Let’s see if we have time. You know we’re here to work, right?”

“Nonsense,” Aziz said, clapping his hands.

Suddenly, a small liquor cabinet opened before them. Aziz leafed through it, eventually choosing a bottle of tequila. “We’re not here to work, at least not right now.”

He poured them each a small shot. The glass was chilled, cool against Amity’s hands. She studied the alcohol. She enjoyed wine, but she hadn’t had tequila in years. She watched the other two pulse the shot back before taking it herself, hoping her inhibitions didn’t fly from her in the night.

Soon, the limousine pulled up before a nightclub. Stunning twenty and thirty-somethings were hovering around the entrance, looking at each other with hazy, loving eyes.

Aziz cranked the door opened and landed smoothly on the sidewalk, sending that iconic smile across the sea of people like a wave.

“Aziz!” someone called out. “Aziz, over here!”

In a moment, Aziz disappeared into the crowd, leaving Amity and Flora standing by themselves, on the outskirts. Amity shrugged toward Flora, who flipped her hair.

“I’m not sure about you,” Flora said tartly, “but I plan on having fun tonight.” She clattered into the crowd, in the path paved by Aziz, leaving Amity by herself.

Amity sighed and took a deep breath before entering the nightclub herself. She felt her heartbeat in every digit of her hand. Around her, gorgeous people were dancing like sirens, tilting their hips back and forth, their dark skin illuminated by the lights. The music was electronic, similar to techno, in that it made Amity grow cold. Nothing about it was warm or welcoming. Rather, it evoked feelings of loneliness, despite being in a crowd.

God, where was Aziz, she thought then. He could well be making her job much more difficult, right then—creating a negative image in some room, somewhere, with some pop star. She could imagine the headlines. And she could imagine the month-long headache she would have as a result.

“I’m sorry, Amity,” Aziz would say in this all-too-certain future. “I just wasn’t thinking.”

Amity rolled her eyes at the thought. She strolled toward the bar and ordered a gin and tonic—what Flora would call a “grandma drink”—and sipped it languidly, her head bobbing to the music.

In the corner, an older, perhaps close to 40-year-old Arab man, sat watching her. He beckoned for her to join him, to sit with him, but she shook her head wildly, panicked. She didn’t want to meet people. She longed for the silk pillows of her new chambers.

Abruptly, Aziz appeared beside her. Her heart skipped a beat as she saw him, followed by another, as she noticed he had a woman latched on each of his elbows. They could have been twins, each with silver eye shadow and long, straight black hair.

“Amity!” Aziz said over the noise. “Are you having a good time?”

“Sure!” Amity lied. “Who are your friends?”

Aziz passed his eyes over first one girl, then the next. He gave Amity a stumped look, but the girls didn’t seem to notice. “Do you want to join us in the VIP lounge? It’s easier to talk up there.”

“Um, yeah, okay,” Amity said shyly. “Have you seen Flora?”

“I think she was making out with one of my buddies—Rama—but I can’t be sure,” Aziz laughed. “She’s a wild one, isn’t she?”

Amity blushed. She couldn’t imagine being so wild. The thought of it made her anxious, but she sensed that Aziz appreciated the madness. She left her empty glass on the bar and followed Aziz and his two leeches through the crowd and up the back stairs.

Beyond the hubbub, as if by magic, she felt she could breathe again. She pressed her hand against her chest and willed herself to calm down. “Only an hour more,” she murmured to herself. “Then you can escape. One more hour. Don’t be lame.”

The VIP lounge was far more extravagant than the nightclub below, revealing massive windows with a stunning view of Al-Mabbar City, a minimalistic feel with long, red sofas and black walls. A large fish tank bubbled with exotic fish, each of which looked at the gorgeous partiers with bright eyes.

Aziz entered the room before the women and lifted his hands. At that moment, the crowd halted their conversation, their eyes zipping toward the billionaire playboy.

“Greetings, countrymen!” Aziz joked, taking on that royal persona for a laugh. “I decree one thing and one thing only for this evening. We will drink this champagne—aged in the caves outside of Paris—and be merry. My gift to you!”

With that, the bartenders popped a dozen bottles of champagne in a circle around them, sending a cloud of bubbles into the air. People howled with glee, offering their glasses to the overflowing, fountain-like bottles.

Aziz passed Amity a glass, and she splayed it beneath a champagne bottle. The glittering liquid doled into it, fizzing. She sipped it slowly, thinking of the many years it had resided in a Parisian cave, waiting for this day to come.

Amity passed through the crowd with her fizzing glass of champagne. She heard many people speaking about the Sheikh as she passed, and she listened closely, knowing she was invisible to them. She was nobody here.

“It’s like he has to make a scene wherever he goes,” one man was saying to the stunning girl on his arm. “I mean, it’s all about him, the second he enters.”

“You know how Aziz is,” the girl returned. “Always out to make the night as entertaining as possible. I mean, he’s so bored in that big mansion, all by himself.”

“Remember that last party? When he brought out the lions?”

“Ugh, I don’t want to talk about it.”

Amity leaned heavily against the wall, noting that people were now serving themselves another round of champagne. They were weaving, drunk, losing their footing. She bit her lip. She wondered about Aziz—if his loneliness had been a contributing factor in damaging his image so profoundly. Always searching for more people to surround himself with, and always coming up empty on friends.

In the corner, she spotted him, surrounded by several women, including the ones who had linked themselves to him. The girls were twirling his hair, touching his face, laughing with him. But Amity watched as the light began to fade from his eyes, as his smile faltered. He was still contributing to the conversation, but he no longer did so with such drive and pep. Flora approached him with a seeming joke, but he broke eye contact with her, and she soon meandered away like a lost puppy.

Amity frowned. This was the first time she’d seen him looking so thoughtful, so perturbed. Perhaps that was the loneliness, ebbing back into his brain.

Suddenly, Amity felt an arm swing over her shoulders. She blinked up and saw the older gentleman who had beckoned toward her earlier. He clinked his champagne glass with hers. She slipped out of his grasp, her face falling to horror.