She sent him what she hoped was a nasty little smile. “Am I a little common for your tastes?”
His eyes flared. “Not at all. You misunderstand me. I am common now, Piper, and I am quite proud of my status. What my grandfather did, he did for love. He gave up his crown for my grandmother because they were the only two people in the world who mattered to them. I was merely pointing out that all the women he has vetted before now have been royal or very wealthy. But I’m afraid Rafiq and Kadir have always shot them down.”
“How many women?” She knew the answer to that question. The internet had been a treasure trove of pictures of her men with various beauties. She hated the fact that she was one in a long line of willing women.
“Many. They have been searching for a very long time.” He leaned forward, his eyes soft. “Are you ready for this?”
No. Absolutely not. Nope. But she wasn’t going to say that to him. In fact, it was time to start using that brain of hers. She wasn’t exactly sure why Khalil was here, but she knew darn straight it wasn’t for her benefit. She might be angry with the al Mussad brothers, but she wasn’t going to sell them out. “I’m as ready as I can possibly be. You’re right, of course. I didn’t grow up with a ton of money, but I understand this economy in a way all those pretty debutantes can’t. I believe the sheikh was simply looking for his version of perfect. He’s a picky man, my Talib.”
Her stomach churned. She wasn’t used to these games, but she also wasn’t ready to give up. If she hadn’t decided to go home, she better start playing the game, and that included a little deception.
“You understand that Talib was ready to marry any one of those women, Miss Glen?” Khalil’s mouth turned slightly cruel. Finally she was seeing a bit of the real man.
“I understand that he didn’t marry them. He’s chosen to marry me.” He just hadn’t bothered to tell her. But then Khalil knew that. Khalil had been the one to contact the press, and most likely he had many spies in the palace. And that made her a little mad. “And you should refer to me as Mrs. al Mussad.”
He stood, his eyes going cold. “You are just a concubine at this point. Nothing is settled until the marriage is celebrated in public four weeks from today. You will learn a lot in those weeks. You will learn that you are not capable of being a sheikh’s wife. My country doesn’t need more American influence.”
As her daddy would have said, that man was completely full of bull crap, and he needed a serious cleansing. “The people in the square didn’t sound unhappy this morning.” She stood up, ready to be done with this unctuous man. Maybe Mindy had been right to remind her of a few things. She’d stood up to scrutiny before. The worldwide press couldn’t possibly have a thing on Miss Adeline Hawkins of the First Baptist Church. She’d survived a bunch of old women who wanted nothing more than to destroy her. “They were quite happy that the sheikh and his brothers have decided on a bride.”
She gave him her most polite smile. It was the one she’d learned to use on every single woman who came by to make sure Piper was taking proper care of little Mindy. Most of them had called her Cindy because they didn’t really care about anything but causing trouble. “I appreciate your coming by. It’s so good to meet my husbands’ family.”
Piper was deeply pleased to see the way Khalil’s cheeks flushed, and he stood, his fists at his sides. “We’ll see about that, Miss Glen.”
He strode out of the room.
“That’s shaykhah to you, sir.”
A burst of applause caused her to turn, her heart nearly stopping.
Kade watched Piper turn, his whole body filled with pride for her. Rafe stood at his side, silent, but Kade could feel his emotion.
She’d stood up to that fucker. She’d been a queen, so much stronger than he’d imagined. It wasn’t that he’d believed her to be weak. He’d just thought she would need more time. Not his Piper. She’d risen to the occasion.
“Where did you come from?” Her voice was breathless, so unlike the commanding tone she’d used the moment before to completely dismiss his cousin.
The day had dragged on, every hour pure misery. He’d talked to the press, plastering a fake smile on his face as he talked about their courtship and how happy he was, all the while praying she didn’t simply flee.
“There is a separate stairway. It leads from the rooms below. They’re usually used as nursery rooms.”
Her skin flushed, a sweet pink coloring her cheeks. “Oh.”
Rafe stepped forward. He’d been Kade’s partner in misery. “We thought you might be sleeping. We did not wish to disturb you.”
She frowned. “Your cousin disturbed me enough. I don’t like that man. He was trying to run me off. He doesn’t know how hard it is to run off a Texas girl. We can be stubborn.”
Thank god for Texas pride. “He’s wrong about Talib. Tal was never serious about the other women. He’s been putting this off for many years because no woman moved him.”
Her arms crossed over her breasts. “I don’t know about that. Khalil might have ulterior motives, but he was right about one thing. This marriage is Talib’s duty. I don’t know that I like being a duty.”
Kade wanted to hold her. The early evening light brought out the gold and reds in her hair. “It was not a duty to love you last night. You can’t imagine that. No man could have performed as we did for simple duty.”
Rafe frowned. “We made love all night, Piper. There was nothing of duty in that.”
“It’s too fast,” she said, her head shaking.
Frustration welled. “Do you have a timetable? How long should I wait to love you? How many more days or weeks before you’ll believe me?”
He nearly took back the words, afraid that he’d frightened her with his harsh comments. But she didn’t move an inch.
Her eyes narrowed. “How about giving me the courtesy of honesty, Kadir? Then maybe I’ll give you a timetable.” She sighed and turned, dismissing him as easily as she’d dismissed Khalil.
He stared at her, his blood pressure rising. She thought she could dismiss him?
Rafe walked after her, passing her and disappearing into the hall. What the hell was he doing? Kade prayed he wasn’t getting Talib because this was his fight.
“I was honest with you, Piper. I told you I love you. I would never have made love to you if I didn’t intend to spend my life with you.”
She turned back slightly. “Oh, I seriously doubt that. Do you think I didn’t look you up, Kadir? I’ll admit I’ve been naïve up to this point, but I did a quick search earlier today. You seem to prefer blondes. Lots of them.”
He really wished he’d been more circumspect in his younger days. “I cannot change my past. I am just a man.”
“Did you ask all of them to marry you? Wait. You don’t ask. You just take advantage of the fact that your women don’t speak the language. Is that why you like the Swedish girls so much?”
She was pushing him. Anger started to rattle his cage. “I can only apologize for my past.”
“And the present? Do you apologize for that as well?”
“No. Had we been honest, you would have run. You would never have even tried. But Piper, can’t you see how well you handled Khalil? You have nothing to be afraid of.”
“I’m not afraid, Kade. If I decide to be a shaykhah, I will be the best I can be. Don’t you ever underestimate me. I know I come off as a little naïve, but I’ve been responsible for myself for a very long time. I had to raise my little sister, work a job, and put myself through college. I think that’s what bothers me the most. I can’t see how you can possibly love me when you think so little of me. You tricked me into this. You didn’t even think I would be smart enough to ever figure it out.”
“That is not true. We were just desperate. How can you think that? And how can you not see why we wanted to avoid this? Not even a day into our concubine period and Khalil is trying to persuade you to leave. He won’t be the only one.” Why couldn’t she see? She didn’t know this world the way he did. “I wanted to spare you the trouble.”
“You weren’t going to spare me anything, Kade. Trouble like this isn’t something you can hide from. It was just waiting. This would always have happened. You can’t just sneak a new bride in and expect no one to notice.”
They were standing toe to toe, her face turned up to his, a pretty flush on her cheeks. Even her frown turned him on. If he moved just an inch closer she would be able to feel his erection. The minute he’d entered the room, his cock had hardened and pointed her way. He was addicted to her. And she was challenging him. “It isn’t their business.”
“It’s their country, too, Kade. You can’t treat it like your private playground. And you can’t treat me like a toy.”
“You’re my wife. I will treat you anyway I like.”
“I am not your wife, and quite frankly the more you talk the less likely it is that I will ever be your wife.”
“Yes, so please stop talking, brother.” Rafe strode back in, three servants moving behind him. They carried platters of food and pushed a cart of drinks. Rafe walked right up to Piper and got down on one knee. “Habibti, please eat. I’ve heard from the servants that you wouldn’t touch a thing. I am begging you. I fear for your welfare.”
She looked down at him, her lips curving up slightly. “I don’t think I’m in danger of starving anytime soon, Rafe.”
Kade watched in horror as his brother put his cheek to her hand. “Please, my darling. I’ve brought all of your favorite foods. And I brought the wine you enjoyed the other night. It will help relax you. It, perhaps, will take your mind off the fact that my brother is acting like a caveman.”
“Well, you’re acting like a lapdog.” What the hell was Rafe doing? They needed to fight this out with Piper.
“I am trying to act like a husband,” Rafe shot back. “I believe it will work better than yelling at her.”
Piper’s eyes narrowed, casting a suspicious glance at Rafe. “Is this how you get me to agree that none of this disaster is your fault?”
Rafe shook his head. “Absolutely not. It is entirely our fault. We made terrible mistakes and can only hope that somewhere in your heart you can forgive us.” Rafe kept spitting out loads of crap, but Piper was following him as he got up and began to lead her to the couch. When he offered her a seat, she took it. Rafe was right back on his knees, her delicate foot in his hand. He quickly tossed off her shoe and began rubbing. “I intend to spend the rest of my life making this up to you.”
It only took a moment before Piper’s eyes closed, and she relaxed against the couch, practically purring. “God, you really are the smart brother.”
Kade sighed. Rafe would probably be the only one in her bed tonight, too, if Kade didn’t take his cue. He walked around to the back of the couch where her lovely face was turned up and stroked her hair. “I really do love you. I know I haven’t shown it as well as you might wish, but I do. Can you give me another chance?”
She didn’t open her eyes, but she didn’t turn him away either. “It won’t work without Talib.”
He knew that, but he wasn’t sure how to fix it. “He needs time.”
“We’re almost out of time, Kadir.” Now those gorgeous eyes opened and kicked him straight in the gut. “I have to make a decision in a couple of weeks. I don’t think he’s going to fall in love with me that quickly. I understand what’s at stake. I do. But I don’t think I can marry a man who doesn’t love me.”
“Rafe and I can love you enough for all of us.” The thought of losing her made his stomach clench. For the first time, he had to really think about what he would do if she said no. Would he truly be able to let her go? Would he ever be able to accept another bride? There was no time left. They would be forced to choose from one of the women they had overlooked for Piper. He was sure one of them would be willing to sell herself for the wealth of the al Mussad name, but suddenly Kade wasn’t so sure he would do the same.
“I don’t know, Kade. I don’t know anything right now.” She sat up, her foot coming out of Rafe’s hand. “Can I have the tea, please? I don’t know that I need alcohol right now.”
Rafe grabbed her tea cup, placing it in her hand. “Anything you want, Piper. And you don’t have to make a decision today.”
He sat on the couch beside her. Kade decided to follow his brother’s lead for once. Rafe had played this so much better than either he or Talib. And maybe it was time to tell Piper a little about her wayward sheikh.
Kade lowered himself to the sofa beside her. “You need to get to know us better.”