“Piper?” That was Piper Glen? That gloriously messy little fuck bunny was the drab girl in the pictures that Tal wanted to marry?
Two ideas struck Kade as Dex started to lead them to his office. First, his oldest brother’s taste had come up in the world. And second, he better knock out Dex now because he planned to get a lot more than his hands on that sweet woman.
Piper Glen managed to make it to her teeny-tiny office without another catastrophe. Except now, she couldn’t open the door.
“Allow me.” Gina Jacobson twisted the handle with a smile and eased the door open. “Here’s your kingdom.”
An eight-by-eight cubby hole was hardly a kingdom, especially with its glorious view of a dumpster in the alley behind the building and its location as far from the elevators as possible. The little room had been given to the lowly researcher. Anyone else would have run. Piper merely sighed as she put her files down, grumbling a bit.
“What happened now, hon? Did that guy from the mailroom plow into you? I swear, I can take him. I have two toddlers. One skinny twenty-year-old is no match for me.”
Piper slumped down, the last couple of minutes washing over her like a bad horror film. “Nope. It was just me. Pandora struck again.”
The employees of Black Oak Oil had christened her Pandora, unleasher of evil on the world, because she’d caused a complete building-wide blackout on her first day. It wasn’t her fault that dumb fuse had blown because her coffeemaker was from the sixties. Some days, she was like one big pitfall waiting to happen.
But she was smart and a darn good researcher.
Gina groaned in sympathy and leaned her hip on the side of Piper’s desk. “Tell me all about it, hon.”
The older woman was a gossip, but a sweet-natured one, unlike Amanda who was a raging… something Piper knew she shouldn’t even think because her mom would turn over in her grave. “I was talking to my sister and ran smack into Amanda.”
Gina waved that off. “Oh, hon, that’s inevitable. And I bet you bounced right off those fake tits of hers. I’ve often thought that she should rent those boobs out as a bouncy house for bored babies.”
Piper looked down at her own chest. They were probably as big as Amanda’s, but hers were real so they sagged a little. Even at twenty-five. And her clothes wouldn’t fit right. She sighed. It didn’t matter. She wasn’t here looking for love. She was done with that. Johnny Tyler, affectionately known to his friends as Cooder, had proven that men were just dogs with a bone. If she couldn’t keep someone like Johnny happy, she probably never would find a decent man. And that was fine. She was going to have a career. See the world. Her female parts had been put into hibernation long ago.
Except they had hummed back to life the minute Hottie Number One had laid a hand on her. Her heart rate had tripled and her skin had sizzled with life. Too bad her mouth hadn’t stopped working. She talked way too much when she was nervous. “Hey, do we have a couple of new guys around? Tall, maybe Middle Eastern but talk with British accents?” Hottie Number Two had been just as beautiful as his brother. She was sure they were related.
Gina’s eyes widened. “Are you talking about Rafe and Kade al Mussad? Yep. You are. Every woman who meets them gets that glazed look in her eyes. They’re here a lot. I’m surprised you haven’t met them before.” Her voice dropped to a gossipy whisper. “They’re filthy rich. They represent all the business interests for Bezakistan. Aren’t you working on their green project?”
Yep. And all the paperwork was in a giant heap that she would have to painstakingly reorganize. She could do it tonight. It wasn’t like she had anything else to do. This job was her gateway to bigger and better things. “Yes. I’m getting all the numbers ready for the guy on the other end. Tal.”
Gina stared at her. “You just sighed when you said his name.”
“I did not.” Except she kind of had. Tal was her counterpart in Bezakistan. Black Oak Oil was working with the government of Bezakistan to start a green energy project, and Piper was in charge of putting together all the research. She’d been e-mailing and talking on the phone to Tal for several months. “He’s just nice.”
“Tal, huh? In Bezakistan? I don’t think I’ve heard of him. What I do know is that the sheikh, Talib, is just as gorgeous as his brothers. Have you met this man you’ve been talking to? You might want to take a look because I’ve heard they grow them hot over there.”
Piper shook her head. Not Tal. Tal was sedate and very polite. His voice was soothing and intelligent. She couldn’t imagine him looking like the two movie-star gorgeous men she’d just met, and she kind of liked it that way. “I seriously doubt it. He’s really…smart.” And organized and creative. And she didn’t even know how old he was. Probably older. And married. With lots of kids. But she could dream a little.
Gina hopped off the desk. “I don’t need a smart man. Give me a dumb hot guy any day of the week. My Matthew couldn’t find his head in his ass, but his chest is a work of art. Are you coming to lunch with us?”
Piper forced a sunny smile on her face. “Can’t. I have so much work.”
Gina shrugged and walked out, the door closing behind her.
Piper’s stomach growled, and she wished she hadn’t left her bagged lunch on the train. It hadn’t been much. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a few baby carrots, but it would have been better than nothing.
She thought about her tiny studio apartment. She’d sent the last of her money to Mindy to pay for her school. There wouldn’t be more for another week when her modest check from Black Oak came in. She took mental stock of her fridge. The next week didn’t look good.
She glanced at the calendar, her stomach taking a dive. Well, at least she wasn’t hungry anymore. Tomorrow was supposed to have been her first wedding anniversary, if she’d managed to get down the aisle. She could still feel the white satin on her skin as she tried on her wedding gown. She’d looked at herself in the mirror and, just for a moment, she’d been a princess.
Tears filled her eyes. Turned out, her prince preferred strippers to nice girls he’d met at church. She’d been left at the altar with a note and the judgmental stares of everyone in her small town. And she’d still had her sister to put through school since Mindy’s scholarship had mysteriously dried up the minute Piper was no longer connected to the mayor’s family.
Piper took a deep breath. She couldn’t go back there. She was here now. Granted, she had a job that paid next to nothing and an office she could barely move in, but this was her kingdom. It wouldn’t be forever; it would grow. Until then, she would make it work.
With a deep breath, she put aside thoughts of shattered romances and beautiful men with sun-kissed skin. Piper reached for the stack of papers in front of her. She had a job to do.
Rafe fidgeted. The plush chair he sat in was comfortable, but his brain wasn’t on the supple leather and masculine elegance of Dex’s office. His knee bounced—a sure giveaway that he was deeply impatient. Kade gave him a wry smile, reminding Rafe why he refused to play poker with his clever younger brother. He didn’t have Kade’s poker face. Dex would likely see right through him, but hell, he wanted to go find Piper and take her away.
That’s what his ancestors would have done. His own mother had been the latest in a long line of beautiful captive brides, each selected, abducted, and blissfully married after a whirlwind courtship designed to sweep her up and make her fall madly in love forever. Rafe wasn’t unaware that they had a big task in front of them. Oh, they could romance Piper. They might even be able to get the innocent little thing into bed. But finding the right path to ensnare her heart would be more difficult. That was, of course, if Talib still wished to proceed after hearing whatever Dex James had to say and meeting Piper himself. The way he felt about her now, Rafe would be hard pressed not to kick in his older brother’s teeth if he didn’t.
“Are you two insane? She’s not your type.” Dex closed the door behind him with a resounding thud.
Rafe was curious. “Why would you say that, friend?”
Dex raked a hand through his hair and frowned, as though putting off the moment when he had to speak. “She’s a very sweet girl.”
Kade’s lips flattened to a hard line. “And you think we do not like sweet girls?”
“You might like them, but you should damn well stay away from them, especially Piper.” Dex didn’t hesitate now, clearly in full-on big brother mode. “That girl is one of the nicest women I’ve ever met. She’s smart and funny, and okay, a complete klutz, but on her it’s endearing. She’s Hannah’s friend. They came from the same small town. When she was looking for work, she called Hannah, and we gave her a job. I would have given her a better one, but she insisted on this research position even though it’s entry level. She wants to be involved with this project and learn everything from the ground up.”
Because she had a core of integrity. Rafe had already discerned that. He had been following her up the hallway before she’d accidentally run into the very plastic Amanda. He’d stopped to get a drink from the water fountain when she’d walked by, all curves and hips. In an instant, his thirst had changed.
Rafe had prowled up the hall after her, plotting to offer his help with carrying her folders, but then he’d heard her talking to her sister on the phone. She’d paid for the girl’s school. Of course, he’d only heard a part of the conversation, but from what he gathered, she would not allow her sister to work more than a few hours a week while attending university because she’d had to do it herself and did not wish the girl to struggle. Family was important to this woman, and Rafe both understood and respected that. In fact, he found that quality deeply attractive.
Rafe had taken the opportunity to carefully inventory the woman’s appearance. Cheap clothes, shoddy shoes she must have purchased at a thrift store, a cell phone that had seen better days. The soft beauty obviously sent her sister every spare cent. Learning that she was Piper, the focus of Talib’s current interest, only made his curiosity peak more.
The reports Talib had sent said nothing of her sinfully sexy innocence. Instead, they had been filled with all the information the sheikh would find important, an amalgamation of numbers and dates that formed the sum of Piper Glen’s life to this point. Tal hadn’t mentioned how sweet she was, likely because he wouldn’t particularly care. He had noted her very high IQ. Nowhere in the report did he mention how she’d sacrificed for her sister. There had been one or two lines about her family, but nothing that got to the heart of the woman.
What sort of game was Talib playing? He feared it was working since Kade was already mentally putting a ring on her finger and placing her between the three of them in bed. Rafe wanted to know more about Piper before he allowed himself to become attached. But time was running short. He couldn’t take the months he would have liked to get to know her. They had one objective—get her back to Bezakistan where they could see if she would make a suitable bride—then seduce her accordingly.
If she was everything she appeared to be, Rafe would enjoy having such a woman. He could become necessary to her. He could care for her, seeing to her every need until she turned to him like a flower to the sun. He could show her his world and make himself a place in hers.
Dex sighed. “Look, I know the drill, guys. Hell, Slade and I practically invented the drill. You find a hot little piece of ass, get her in between the two of you, make her scream down the roof, then take her to dinner and give her a nice parting gift. I get it. But Piper is off limits because A, I like her and she deserves better than to be a notch on your bedpost, and B, if she ends up crying to my wife that you two used her, and Hannah finds out I could have protected her, my wife will have my balls. She’s pregnant again. Do you know what a hormonal woman can do to a set of balls? I know we talk about testicles like they’re the be-all, end-all of strength, but those fuckers are fragile. If you want some action, talk to Amanda. You saw her, right? Blonde. Big boobs and sharp tongue. She’ll be up for your games, but Piper won’t know what game you’re playing, much less how to play.”
Amanda? Rafe slid his brother a long glance. Clearly, Kade wasn’t interested in that shit either. Dex so conveniently forgot his own history, which included seducing the lovely young Hannah before he and his brothers married her. They both let Dex go on and on about the horrors of uncommitted sex and how much they could scar Piper’s gentle psyche and heart or whatever, simply because he thought Rafe and Kade would never settle down.
Rafe held up a hand. “You are wrong in this, friend. We are not simply looking for a woman for the night.”
Dex stopped and stared. “What do you mean?”