“But he’s not scared of pushing me away.” She looked back out over the dazzling lights of the city. “He wouldn’t even let me say good-bye. I wasn’t allowed into his hospital room. As soon as the doctors told us Tal would live and fully recover, he had his security detail take me away like some loose end he couldn’t be bothered to deal with.”
It had been horrible. One minute she’d been overjoyed, and the next she was being escorted away by two grim guards. She’d called out to Rafe and Kade, but they had disappeared into Tal’s recovery room.
No one answered her calls. No one replied to her emails. She’d been so sure at least Rafe and Kade would stay with her, but they seemed to have decided that Tal was right.
After a few days, she’d realized what a fool she’d made of herself. Then last week, the news had come down that the Bezakistani Parliament had moved swiftly and decisively to strike down the law that the sheikh had to marry by age thirty-five. It seemed the incident at the palace had finally forced the government to allow the change, and they’d managed it without opening their constitution to unwanted influences. Hassem and the rest of Khalil’s conspirators had been rounded up, arrested, found quilty, and sent to prison.
Tal, Rafe, and Kade were free…but they didn’t want her anymore.
Piper knew the time had come to move on.
“Honey, do you think he might change his mind if you talk to him?” Hannah asked. “It just seems to me that he was in a bad place when he made that decision. Maybe he needs time.”
Piper shook her head. Maybe Tal needed time, but Rafe and Kade’s silence truly told the tale. “No. They’re done. They don’t need a wife anymore. They can keep their throne without me. I think now they realize I wasn’t even close to their league.”
“Or they had just witnessed their brother being shot and their bride almost dying, so they reacted poorly,” Hannah replied. “Sometimes men do the dumbest things for the right reasons. You know I had a little trouble with Ashley’s birth, right?”
Piper turned to her friend. She knew the story. Something had gone wrong in the delivery room, and Hannah had nearly bled out. “I know. You hemorrhaged.”
Hannah took a long breath. “I almost died and so did Ashley. And my husbands were right there. They had three completely different reactions. I would have thought Gavin would be the one to really freak out, but he got closer. Slade became an expert on childbirth. I swear he read everything he could get his hands on trying to figure out what had gone wrong. And Dex.” She sniffled a little, tears in her eyes. “Dex pulled away. He was so remote, so far from me. I thought I might lose him, but little by little he came out of it until one day I found him holding Ashley and crying his eyes out. He needed to process it. It was traumatic for all of us, but Dex especially. He grew up without a family. The thought of losing me devastated him. I think he’s terrified about this baby, but he’s here with me again.”
Piper sighed, a deep, heartfelt breath because her story wouldn’t end that way. “Weren’t you mad at him for being distant?”
Hannah reached up, smoothing back Piper’s hair. “Of course, but I wasn’t willing to give up. He needed time. When he was ready to be brave again, I forgave him. Honey, I know they hurt you, but if you get a chance, think about forgiving them. Forgiveness heals and makes love possible. Even if they don’t ever come back, think about forgiving them. Don’t carry this hurt around. I couldn’t stand the thought of this ruining your life. Fight for them if you still love them. And if that doesn’t work, let it all go then move on, knowing you tried. Move on knowing you deserve a good life and as much love as you can handle.”
A sob formed, but Piper held it in. “What if I can’t love anyone else?”
“You will. There’s too much love inside you. It’s going to hurt for a long time, but you will live again and you will love again. I promise.” She hugged Piper, pulling her close. “You need to get back to work. It’s killing you, just sitting in your room day after day.”
Hannah was right, and Piper had been thinking much the same. She needed to start moving forward. She needed to sink into a new project. “I have to find a new job.”
“No.” Hannah pulled back, her head shaking. “We want you with Black Oak, and that has nothing to do with how I feel about you. Gavin wants your brain. Look, hon, at some point in time we have to adapt, and you’re the key to that. Please, listen to Gavin. He wants you to head a new green division for the company. We need you. It’s a challenge and a huge promotion. It’s also a big change. Don’t make any decisions until you talk to him.”
“All right.” Piper wasn’t sure what she wanted, but she would listen so she could think logically about her options. She couldn’t just make a blanket decision. Leading a green division for a huge corporation would be a massive challenge. Of course, leading a green division at Black Oak would mean being forced to deal with representatives from Bezakistan, including members of the royal family like the sheikh and his brothers.
And this time, they would be forced to deal with her—on her terms.
It was a daunting prospect, but maybe she could still change the world.
She could have a full life, and she hoped someday to love again. She was stronger than she’d thought. Her heart would ache for the men she’d loved, but she would live on and find a way to give her love to someone who wanted it.
She stood a little taller and tried to smile at Hannah. “I’ll think about it.”
Black Oak Oil had offices all over the world. Her journey didn’t have to be over because three men from Bezakistan couldn’t love her.
Hannah took a step back. “You think hard because I don’t think Gavin is going to let you go. He kind of cheered when you walked in the door again. He’s missed you around the office. The new researcher is making him crazy. The kid struggles to work a calculator. So take a minute, then come in and join us for dinner. It’s been fun to have everyone around again.”
Piper frowned. “You know Burke and Cole are like my bodyguards, right?”
The big, hunky private investigators had been on her since the moment she’d stepped off the plane. Oh, they used their wife Jessa’s sudden interest in business and marketing plans for her art business as a reason to stick close to her, but she wasn’t an idiot. There was no doubt in her mind who was paying them.
Hannah grinned. “Yeah, I know. It’s why I have hope. Oh, and your computer has been pinging for ten minutes. You better check it.”
Piper sighed and followed her inside, hoping it was just her worrywart sister wanting to check in on her again and not another reporter offering to pay her an obscene amount of money for her story of danger, debauchery, and betrayal at the hands of three desert princes. She’d refused repeatedly, and still the press kept hounding her.
“I’ll be there in a minute,” Piper told her hostess. “And I promise to actually eat this time.”
She’d lost some weight, but Hannah was right, it was time to start living again. And that meant answering her sister with something more than a terse note that she was fine. If she didn’t talk to Mindy soon, her baby sister would likely show up on the James’s doorstep. Mindy had been worried ever since the news had come out that the sheikh’s concubine had left the country, but Piper hadn’t been willing to talk.
She closed the door to the guest bedroom and sat down at her computer, ready to tell her sister to call her, but Mindy’s name wasn’t the one that appeared.
It was Tal’s.
Piper stared for a moment. It had to be a mistake, a nasty joke. She thought about closing the computer and ignoring it, but her phone signaled a text coming through.
Again, it was Tal.
After weeks of silence, he’d finally decided he needed something from her? She clicked on the text message.
Piper, my love, forgive a stupid man.
Piper sniffled, sudden tears pricking in her eyes. She took in a long breath. He wanted closure. By text? He was still a stupid man. And she wasn’t sure she was ready to forgive any of them. Eventually, yes. But they wanted a clean slate now. They had used her for their own ends, and when they no longer needed a bride, they had simply disposed of her. At least that was how it looked.
But had they really? A little nagging voice kept at her. If they wanted to truly dispose of her, they wouldn’t be paying two private detectives to watch her twenty-four seven. They wouldn’t have carefully shipped back all her clothes. There wouldn’t have been such a special gift in the packages.
A first edition of Charlotte’s Web signed by E.B. White. Her favorite childhood book. The one she’d lost to the bank auction, now replaced by men who said they no longer cared about her.
Had they done it to assuage their guilt? Perhaps. Or maybe they’d needed a little closure of their own. Either way, the time had come to let them go in peace. She carefully texted back, tears clouding her eyes. All is forgiven. I wish all three of you much love in your lives. And thank you for the book.
There. Now their final communication to each other could be pleasant, polite.
Rafe, Kade, and I are getting married soon. We want you to be at the wedding.
She stared at his message for a minute, those words a stab in the heart. They couldn’t be serious. After everything they had gone through to change the laws, they were turning right around and marrying someone? Had they been in love with this other woman all along? Piper couldn’t help but wonder if they had used her to protect their new bride.
The phone trembled in her hands as she replied.
Think I’ll pass. Don’t contact me again.
So much for polite.
She tossed the phone onto the bed, her hands shaking with rage. She heard it ping once more, but she refused to answer him again. Ever. She would get rid of that phone. They were bastards, and for some reason they seemed to need to hurt her.
A knock came on her door. Piper wiped her eyes. “I’ll be right there.”
No one seemed to sense her need for space today. As frustration bubbled inside her, she crossed the floor and yanked the door open, ready to give whoever was on the other side a piece of her mind.
Tal, Rafe, and Kade stood in the hallway. Tal’s hand was raised to knock again, but he lowered it slowly as he looked at her.
She felt her heart skip, her pulse jump. They were here, standing right in front of her. Why? Joy at seeing them again was completely crushed by penetrating rage. What game were they playing now?
“What do you want?”
“We want to come in, habibti.” Kade’s eyes took in every inch of her. “Please. We need to talk.”
There was no way she was letting them near her again. “You can talk from a phone. You seem to know my number.”
She moved to slam the door in their ridiculously handsome faces, but Tal put a hand out, stopping it. He looked perfectly healthy, like he’d never taken a bullet for her. God, he’d nearly died saving her life. It was easy to forget that in the face of what had happened after, but he’d nearly sacrificed everything so she could live. She was sure now that he’d done it because of who he was, not because he loved her. Still, she owed him. She stopped trying to force the door closed.
“Piper, my love, I could call, but I doubt you would answer.” Tal pressed his advantage, walking in past her, brushing his big body against hers. It reminded her of everything she’d had…and lost.
Why was he calling her ‘his love?’ What did he want? Her eyes narrowed as he stared at the phone she’d thrown.
“I suspect you intend to change your number.”
She might owe him this one last confrontation, but she wasn’t going to back down. “Yes, I think I will. We could all use a fresh start.”
Rafe walked in next, his dark eyes flashing. “I agree.” He reached down and lifted her into his arms, hauling her to his chest before she had a chance to protest. A smile split his face as he turned with her. “My Piper, you look good enough to eat.”
“She does, brother,” Kade said, his voice going low and sexy. He leaned in and brushed his nose against her hair. “She smells perfect, too. My brothers and I have talked about it. You have no idea what oranges do to us now, Piper. We can’t eat breakfast with getting hard-ons.”
What the hell were they doing? Saying? Why try to seduce her if they were marrying another woman? “Let go of me.”
“Never again,” Rafe replied, holding her tight. “I plan to hold you forever.”
Tal chuckled even as she struggled in Rafe’s arms. “They are impatient, my love. I told them we should sit down first and have a nice long talk, but I should have known they wouldn’t do it.” He sobered, his face grave in an instant. “Forgive me.”
She could have sworn tears were in his eyes. He didn’t shed them, but she felt a deep emotion coming from him. “I told you all is forgiven. Now please put me down. I wish you the best with your new bride. I’d appreciate it if you’d leave.”