She huffed a little. “It was easy to get to know you. I just had to search your name on the internet to come up with a thousand and one al Mussad girlfriends.”
He deserved that. And it was probably more than a thousand and one, but he appreciated the irony. “I wasn’t talking about that. I want to just spend time with you. To hear your stories and to tell you mine. Though I won’t be telling you the dating stories since you already know them.”
Rafe gave her a smooth smile, the one that let Kade know he was about to be thrown under the bus. “I did not date as much. I was too busy with school.”
Kade let his eyes roll. “Yes, he’s the perfect angel, Piper. Whatever you do, don’t look up the words Rafiq and Spanish night club.”
His brother huffed. “You did not have to tell her that.”
“Already seen the video.” Piper sipped her tea, calm once more. “I can’t believe you didn’t get arrested.”
Rafe shrugged. “The police in Barcelona are very forgiving when the bribe is big enough. And I could not know they had cameras behind the DJ booth. I thought we were alone.”
“Yes, it was just him and three girls. Totally alone.” Kade grew serious. “No. I wasn’t talking about our past scandals. I was thinking about what happened to Talib and how it still affects him today. Piper, if you would just give him time. He’s been through a lot.”
She turned to him, her face blanching a bit. Her hands shook lightly as she put the tea back on the tray. “Are you talking about the rebels taking him captive?”
It was inevitable she would read about that. The family had attempted to keep it quiet, but the radicals had released videos of Talib al Mussad broken and battered and silent.
“Yes.” Kade sighed. Though it happened years before, he could still feel the panic of the day. “Tal had gone to one of the drill sites. He used to do it once a month. He prefers to be hands on, and he enjoyed being with the workers. Our fathers had us working rigs by the time we were sixteen. Tal especially enjoyed getting his hands dirty. They found out where he was going to be and they showed up with twenty men. They killed Tal’s security detail and many of our employees. They took him and his personal assistant.”
Lily. A pretty British girl he’d met at University. Kade had brought her back to Bezakistan. He’d never been serious about her. She’d been too needy for Kade, but he’d known what she could give his brother right away. What he didn’t tell Piper was that Lily had been more than an assistant. She’d been Talib’s submissive for many months before they had been kidnapped. After his release, Tal had never spoken of her again, but Kade had read the reports.
“She died.” The words fell out of Piper’s lips like a lodestone pulling her down. She shook her head. “Sorry. I got a little dizzy just thinking about it. Do you think he had to watch?”
Rafe took her hand in his. “Yes, habibti. I believe they forced my brother to watch her torture. It was part of his own.”
“Did he love her?” Piper asked.
Kade shook his head. She picked up on much more than he gave her credit for. “Not at all. He cared about her, felt responsible for her. He had a relationship with her that went beyond mere employment, but he didn’t love her.”
She put a hand to her head, her voice trembling just a bit. “The articles I read about the kidnapping all said Tal was fine.”
“We kept the press far away. The American military helped. A SEAL team was sent in. They fought their way in, lost a few men. When it all shook out, my brother and one of the SEALs, a man named Cole Lennox, got separated from the team. They were pursued for days until Cole was able to get him back into the country.”
“He wasn’t being held here?” Piper asked.
“No. He was taken to a neighboring country. It’s why the American military was so willing to keep it quiet. No one wants this part of the world to destabilize,” Rafe explained. “So the story the press got was that Talib was able to escape on his own about two weeks after his actual rescue. We cleaned him up, and he didn’t go in front of a camera until he could smile and be something like his old self.”
Kade thought about the hollow shell his brother had been those days after his rescue. He’d sat in his bed, silent and unblinking for days as though trapped in a private hell. “I don’t think he’s recovered even today, habibti. So, please, give this some time. Please give us a chance.”
“I don’t know.” She tried to stand. “I need a minute.”
Kade stood with her. “Piper, sit back down, please. You look so pale. Rafiq, she needs to eat.”
“I can’t. Oh, help. I think I’m going to…”
She never finished the sentence. She passed out, her body dropping like a marionette puppet that had just had its strings cut. Kade caught her in his arms as Rafe shouted for help.
Talib looked down at his concubine as she lay sleeping. She was frail, more fragile than he’d ever seen her. He realized one of the things he loved about Piper was her strength.
Liked. He liked that about her. He wasn’t going to love her at all, damn it. He couldn’t.
“She is fine, Your Highness.” The doctor who had delivered him stood at the head of his bed. Dr. Haumoud was someone Tal trusted implicitly. “I took some blood. I’m going to have it tested for toxins, but I believe she has just had a couple of very stressful days. Her heart rate has returned to normal. She is resting now.”
Yes, she was resting, but he doubted this was anything so simple as stress. The future shaykhah becoming violently ill on the day after her betrothal was far too coincidental for his tastes. “Thank you, Doctor. We will take very good care of her. Please contact me the minute you know anything at all.”
Piper’s chest moved up and down in a graceful symphony of life. Tal couldn’t help but stare down at her and wonder what she was dreaming. Was she wondering what her life would have been like if they hadn’t brought her here?
He stepped back out into the living area of the suite he now shared with his brothers and Piper. It was full. Rafe and Kade paced, both of his brothers pale with worry. Alea stood near the window. Dane and Cooper were talking quietly, conferring together. Landon leaned against the wall, his eyes on Alea. The big guard didn’t seem to be able to focus on anything except Alea.
Tal couldn’t even think about that problem right now. He moved toward Dane, Rafe and Kade joining him the minute they realized he was there. Dane looked up, his shoulders squaring.
“What have you discovered?”
Dane’s mouth was a flat, straight line. “Not much. By the time we got here, someone had cleaned everything up. Landon went down to the kitchens, but even the dishes had been washed and put away by then. I don’t think we would get anything off them even if we knew which ones had been used.”
Rafe paled. “I’m going to kill him.”
And thereby set off a huge political incident. “We don’t have any proof Khalil was responsible.”
Kade’s fists were clenched at his sides. “He was sitting in here with her when we came up. The bastard just walked into our apartments and talked to our wife without bothering to confer with us. We don’t need fucking proof.”
Talib took hold of his temper since his brothers seemed so determined to lose their own. And they needed several facts pointed out to them. Facts that had been running through his head from the moment they had told him Piper had taken ill. “The press is watching us, Kadir. All eyes are squarely on this family. Do you see the headlines? She isn’t our wife yet. They will talk about the barbarians who killed a man because he merely spoke to their concubine.”
Khalil had a hand in this. Tal didn’t care what the doctor said. She’d been perfectly fine all day, stressed, yes, but not ill. He just couldn’t prove anything yet.
“We’ve questioned the staff. No one remembers who brought the tea up here,” Dane said
Rafe scrubbed a hand across his face. “Ahmed put together the food for the shaykhah. He has been with us since we were children.”
“It wasn’t Ahmed,” Tal returned. “And I’ve just informed the staff that the shaykhah doesn’t eat anything that Ahmed doesn’t approve.”
Alea stood, her hand over her heart. “Khalil usually brings one or two servants with him when he comes to the palace. It would have been easy for him to slip someone into the kitchens. Most of the high-ranking politicians bring their own servants.”
Tal felt like snarling. “Not anymore they don’t. I can’t close the palace, but I can keep the extras out. No more servants. They will have to make do with our staff.”
He knew every single member of the staff by sight and name. If he saw a single person who didn’t belong, he wouldn’t be responsible for his own actions. Piper was still breathing, but Tal was sure this had been an attempt on her life.
“Can’t we keep Khalil out?” Kade asked.
“We can keep him out of the private quarters. I’ve already given the orders. No one except family is to be allowed in the private quarters. I cannot keep a duly elected member of the government out of the palace. Do you understand what that would look like to the press? Give me any evidence and I will work with it.” Darker thoughts took over. He could act now. His eyes met Dane’s, and he knew the American wasn’t averse to handling the problem. Dane would do it quietly, but Tal worried that there would still be talk.
He couldn’t do a damn thing without proof until after the marriage. He had to wait until the press coverage died down. Then no one would care that a minor member of parliament who had connections to the royal house had been murdered in his bed. Tal was forced to shake his head at his lead guard.
Dane frowned, his brow furrowing like a predator denied a snack.
“I want a security detail on her,” Kade declared.
Dane nodded. “I’ve called some friends in. They’ll be here in a few days. Until then, Landon is on the case.”
“And Cooper,” Tal said.
“Tal?” Dane started to argue.
“She is more important.” Tal would brook no disobedience in this. “They will watch her and take care of her. She is more important than me. If she dies, I will have no crown and no throne because I don’t intend to take another wife. Do you understand me?”
Kade sighed. “Thank god. That makes me feel better.”
“What do we tell her?” Rafe asked. “Are we even doing the right thing? I’m afraid for her.”
Tal was afraid for them all. He knew damn well what could happen to a woman an al Mussad brother cared about. He could still see Lily’s body, broken and twisted. She’d cried, begging him to give something that wasn’t his to relinquish. He hadn’t loved her. She hadn’t invaded his fucking soul the way Piper had, but he’d felt her death. The guilt of it weighed on him.
And he still couldn’t let Piper go. “She’ll be fine. Once our marriage is settled, Khalil will have no recourse and he will cease to be an issue.”
Once their marriage was settled, he would have Khalil very quietly assassinated. It was funny. He’d avoided it all these years. He had his suspicions about his cousin, but the instant Piper was in danger, he threw out all sense of justice and simply wanted the fucker out of the way.
What was happening to him? He hadn’t been able to get her out of his head all day. He still felt her gripping his cock, milking him for every ounce of come he had in his body. He’d never felt like he had when he’d made love to Piper. Had sex. Damn. He’d had sex with her. It had been a simple physical function, a consummation of their coming marriage.
So why did his heart threaten to beat out of his fucking chest when he thought about her? Why did he stop breathing when she walked in a room? He’d been a different person when he’d talked to her over the computer. It had been easy. He hadn’t needed to be a sheikh. He could talk about what he loved—the economics of energy. And she’d spoken his language. A true friend. A partner.
It had been a near betrayal when he’d found her so fucking desirable.
She wasn’t supposed to arouse him. She was supposed to fucking soothe him. Theirs was supposed to be a partnership, but he didn’t feel like her partner. He felt like her husband, her pissed off, possessive as hell husband.
“I don’t know that he will stop.” Alea moved away from the window. Her face was grim as she looked at her cousins. “I don’t think the marriage being legal will have an effect on him. He will only try to kill her again.”
Rafe turned to her, his hands cupping her shoulders. “We don’t know that he tried to hurt her, sweetheart.”
Alea’s face flushed, crimson marking her skin. “Don’t patronize me, Rafe. You think I don’t know what’s going on? You think I don’t know who was behind Talib’s kidnapping?”