She gasped, nearly diving for her clothes. She’d almost forgotten she was naked. The door to the dungeon opened and she reached for the skirt Tal had tossed toward her.
Rafe walked in, concern on his handsome face. “Piper? I just saw Tal walking down the hall. He looked angry. What the hell happened? You were only supposed to check the room out.” He jogged across the room when he saw her. He pulled her into his arms before she could protest. “Habibti, what did he do to you?”
“He hurt her.” Kade stood in the doorway, his mouth a flat line. “Motherfucker.”
“Stop,” Rafe said, sinking to his knees and cuddling her close. “She doesn’t need more anger.”
Rafe felt so good, solid. Piper knew she should get dressed. She needed to think, but she needed Rafe more. She let her arms drift around his neck. “Just hold me for a minute.”
Rafe cradled her. “I need to get that clamp off you.”
She shook her head. She was fine with the clamp. She didn’t need that nipple. She would be all right with one. “It’s fine.”
Kade dropped down. “Bastard. He left her clamped. Habibti, this is going to sting.”
She’d already figured that out. She braced herself, wincing as he took it off. He leaned over and gently sucked her nipple into his mouth, laving it with affection. Sure enough, that took the sting out.
Rafe smoothed back her hair. “This is what our bastard brother should have done. How is your backside?”
Plugged. Spanked. “I, uhm, have something to take out of that, too.”
Rafe chuckled. “That can wait. You need to keep the plug in for a while, though Talib will not reap its benefits. Tell me what happened.”
She’d tried. She’d failed. That was what had happened. “I told him I loved him. He made crazy passionate love to me and then he ran away like a chicken. Help me up. I need to get dressed. We have dinner with the US ambassador in two hours.” She gasped. “I can’t do it. I can’t sit with the ambassador while I have a pink piece of plastic up my backside.”
Tears pooled in her eyes. She couldn’t help it.
Kade looked helpless. “You don’t have to. I’ll cancel the dinner. Anything, Piper. Please don’t cry.”
She had to pull it together. No matter what Tal had done, she still had obligations to meet. She wasn’t going to put off a huge state dinner because Tal had been an ass. “No. I can do it. I just need to shower and change.”
Kade leaned over and pulled her into his arms. Without a pause, he stood, nestling her against his chest. “There’s a shower in the back of the dungeon. We’ll take care of you.”
A long look passed between Kade and his brother. Piper didn’t like that look. It was a secret look they shared when they were up to something. She’d grown accustomed to it, but she couldn’t let them have their way this time. It wasn’t a huge leap to figure out they were deciding which one of them would confront Talib. “Stop it. He needs time.”
Rafe shook his head. “He needs a serious ass kicking, Piper. He cannot treat you like this. He will ruin everything!”
Kade eased her toward the back of the room, cuddling her close. “No. He simply won’t be allowed in our bed. But Piper, we can’t marry you on our own.”
“We can if we abdicate the throne, brother.” Rafe’s pronouncement thudded through the dungeon, echoing off the walls.
Kade stopped and turned. “Would you really?”
She had to stop them. She couldn’t let that happen. “No. No, he wouldn’t.”
Rafe stood back, his shoulders set. “I will if we must. I refuse to allow my brother to mistreat our wife. I also don’t intend to separate from her because my brother cannot pull his head from his backside.”
Misery swamped her. She’d pushed Tal. She’d known he was on the edge, and she’d deliberately sought out a piece of him he’d wanted to hide. “I don’t want you to fight with Talib.”
Rafe turned. “Take care of our wife, brother.”
Kade led her back toward the shower. “Relax. Everything is going to be all right. I’ll take care of you. We’ll both get cleaned up, and I’ll make sure you’re ready for the ambassador. I’ll have one of the servants bring you a robe. You’ll look so beautiful.”
“I don’t want to look beautiful, Kadir. I want you to stop Rafe.” She struggled against his hold.
Kade kicked open the door, and sure enough, there was a ridiculously opulent bathroom, complete with a hot tub in the middle. Kade set her on her feet. He crowded her, staring down. “I have no intention of stopping him. This is between brothers, Piper.”
Stubborn. They were all so stubborn. “Am I not a member of this family?”
He didn’t move, simply brushed her forehead with his lips. “You are the very best part of this family, but there will always be things that Rafiq, Talib, and I must work out.”
“I shouldn’t be one of those things.”
His fingers sank into her hair, tugging back lightly. “I told you. You’re the most important person in my life, in Rafe’s life. If it’s not the same with Tal, then perhaps it’s time to move on. He still has a few months. He can find a cold bride to accept his bargain. He can have the kingdom. I want you.”
But a cold bride and a stale bargain wasn’t what Tal wanted. God, was she the only one who could see it? He could have had his bargain at any time, but he’d chosen her, a woman he’d spent months getting to know. Maybe he’d thought he could simply be friends with her at first, but it was so brutally obvious to her that he’d changed or he would still be the polite man she’d known online. Somewhere in that thick skull of his, he wanted more than a cool friendship.
Would time change Tal? Or was he too damaged for anyone to truly touch him? Could she remain married to a man who would only allow himself to view her as a state asset? How could she have children with him? Little babies who he would never allow himself to truly love.
“Hush.” He kissed her again, this time on the tip of her nose. “I told you, it’s going to be all right. I’m going to take care of you. But Piper, if Talib will not be swayed in this, you should know Rafe and I will leave the palace with nothing if we must.” His voice got quiet. “We will have no money, but, habibti, you have to believe that we will take care of you.”
Now she allowed the tears to flow because of all the things she’d believed she would find when she’d gotten on that plane and changed her life, this love was beyond them all. They would walk away from wealth, privilege, and fame for her? She let her hands find Kade’s gorgeous face and silently thanked whatever being had blessed her. “I love you. I’ll take care of you, too.”
He shed his clothes after turning on the shower, leading her inside. As he gently washed her, she made a vow. She would take care of all her husbands. Even the stubborn one.
“I have laid out your clothes for the evening, Your Highness.” His butler nodded toward the bedrooms, then took his leave as Dane entered the room.
He looked at his bodyguard and felt like shouting. “I thought someone was watching my concubine.”
Bile rose in his throat. God, he’d treated her like a whore when she was the sweetest thing he’d ever known. Her sensuality had been generously given, and he’d tossed her aside. And he’d left her alone to take care of herself. He’d realized his mistake and had almost returned to Piper when he’d noticed his brothers coming down the hallway. They would treat her better than he could.
Dane’s eyes were icy cold. “Cooper is on her.”
Thank god he had a place to put his rage. “Cooper is fired. He has neglected his duties. The bastard let her get away from him and she found the dungeon.”
Dane pulled his radio. “Coop, can I get an update on Her Highness?”
“The sweet one or the sour one?” Coop’s voice cracked over the radio. “Sorry. Had to do it. Her Highness is in the dungeon with Kadir. Rafe just left, and let me tell you, his panties were in a big old wad. I think you might be looking at a throw down. Whatever happened to the sheikh to make him storm out of the dungeon seems to have gotten Rafe as well.”
Dane pressed the talk button. “Thanks, buddy. Keep an eye out. The ambassador is bringing a whole crew in tonight, and Khalil is invited, naturally. I don’t like it. Something feels wrong.”
The radio went silent, and Dane turned back. “She was never out of his sight until she entered that room. It has one exit, no windows, and no one has been in there for over a year. I scarcely think someone laid in wait all that time. She’s got to have privacy sometime.”
And he’d fucked up again. God. He felt like his whole fucking life was spiraling out of control. “See that you keep my bride safe.”
“Who should I protect her from? You?” Dane asked.
Dane shrugged, a negligent gesture. “It was a good bet you would fuck up, Talib. You haven’t fixed anything inside you, just like Alea. Those fuckers who hurt you can only win if you let them. But you’re going to let them, aren’t you?”
The last thing he needed was homilies provided by his Southern guard. “You can go.”
Dane stood there. “I could.”
Dane needed to remember who was the boss here. “Goddamn it, Dane. Get the fuck out.”
“That would be convenient, wouldn’t it?” Dane’s posture relaxed, his feet spreading out. “Everyone just does what you say. Does anyone actually fight with you? Do you have a single fucking ally who’ll fight for you?”
He didn’t have anyone but his brothers who would say a damn thing against him. Not to his face. Well, Piper. Piper had always bitched at him. In the months they had worked together, she’d often initiated arguments when she thought he was wrong. She hadn’t known who he really was. He’d loved it. When they’d talked and she would throw down with him verbally, he would get such a thrill.
God, he’d been in love with her for months, and he hadn’t been able to admit it.
Dane stood his ground. “I think not. I think you can fire my ass if you like, Sheikh, but I have a few things to say to you.”
Heat flashed through him. “Get out now or I’ll have you arrested.”
Dane huffed. “That’ll go over so well, Tal. Fine. Arrest me. It won’t be the worst shit that happened to me. I’m going to say this once. Grow the fuck up and grow a goddamn pair of balls, man. I know it was bad. I know some shit happened to you that no one can understand, but that’s the nature of your life. You’re a leader, Talib. You got the fucking hard road. I’m not joking about that. I wouldn’t trade for your gig, man. Everyone needs something from you, and not a single person will sacrifice for you. Except your brothers and that woman you married. And if you push her away, then everyone who has ever hurt you wins. And you lose.”
A vicious pain had taken root in his gut. Dane was right about one thing. He couldn’t possibly understand. “They won the minute they forced me to watch someone I cared about die. Do you fucking know what they did to me? Do you know what they made me do?”
Dane’s face softened slightly. “I can imagine. They likely made you beg.”
Beg. Plead. Abase himself. He’d done it all. He’d broken trying to spare Lily pain, and they had simply laughed and slit her throat anyway.
“Talib, you can’t blame yourself for that, man. Everyone breaks.”
Shame flushed through him. What would his brothers have thought of him if they knew he’d begged?
“Did you beg for your own life?” Dane asked. “I bet you didn’t. Most men would. You begged for hers. You pleaded.”
He’d been thrown to the ground and kicked and then forced to kiss the boot of the man who had done it. He’d wanted to fight, but Lily was his submissive. She had been in his care. He’d had to do anything he could to save her. Anything but betray his country. “I did everything they asked to try to spare her. They treated me like an animal. They beat me, starved me. They used a defibrillator to stop and start my heart once. I was dead, but they brought me back. I know what death is like. I was so angry when I realized I was alive again. I wanted that death.”
“I can understand that. What didn’t you do?” Dane asked. “Did they kill her for fun or would you not comply with some request?”
His hands were shaking. Fuck. He didn’t want to talk about this. He wanted to forget it, but something forced him to speak. Years he’d spent with this brutal truth inside him. “They wanted me to make a video tape.”
He’d barely been able to see the words they had wanted him to say. His eyes had been almost swollen shut from the beating he’d taken. Vile words meant to throw his country back into the dark ages. He’d been asked to renounce democracy. He’d been told to spit on hundreds of years of his family’s achievements.