Rafe’s face had gone dark, his lips turning down. “He is taking care of the problem, habibti.” He settled back as a modestly dressed woman walked out of the back of the plane and set a tray with a bottle of wine and three glasses on the table.
“Your Highness, we will be taking off in twenty minutes. Please let me or the staff know if there is anything we can do for you or your guest.”
“Thank you,” Rafe replied while his brother continued to speak into the phone in what she thought of as hyper-drive Arabic, able to slay a man in a hundred syllables a minute.
“Enjoy your wine.” Rafe passed her a glass of the golden fluid. It had become very obvious to Piper over the last few days that the al Mussad brothers weren’t practicing Muslims. When she’d asked, she’d been surprised to discover that unlike the countries around them, Bezakistan wasn’t very religious. It was open to all forms of faith and enjoyed a strictly held constitution that prized secular government. But not everyone wanted it to stay that way.
She took the wine to soothe her nerves. Flying for the first time made her more than a bit apprehensive. A few feet away, Kade continued his tirade.
“Why is he so mad?”
Rafe’s head cocked slightly. “Surely you must know that he will not allow anyone to upset you, habibti.”
The more he spoke that word, the more it felt like an intimacy. She’d thought it was simply an offhanded endearment, but the way it rolled off his tongue felt so personal. “They didn’t.”
A lie, but she wasn’t going to let them know how much it hurt to have someone look down on her.
“Yes, they did. And it is not allowed.”
It must be nice to throw edicts around and expect them to be followed. “It wasn’t a big deal. I shouldn’t have complained. It’s stupid, I know. No one’s opinion should matter but mine, but it hurts when someone looks down on what I worked really hard for. I know that couch isn’t worth much, but we had to sell our ranch after my dad died and we were so far in debt that everything had to go. I managed to keep our clothes and some of Mindy’s things, but I agreed to auction off everything else. We went from a three bedroom house with acres and acres of land to a studio apartment with nothing but a suitcase each.”
“Your childhood things were sold?” He sounded horrified and more than a bit angry.
She soothed herself with a long drink. “I don’t miss most of it. Just one thing, really. I had a copy of Charlotte’s Web, but it was signed and it was a first edition, so the bank sold it.” She’d read that book a hundred times. Even long past childhood, she would turn to it, the story of a little runt pig who didn’t belong calling to her. She’d never fit in her small town. She hadn’t found her place in the city, either. She often wondered if there was anywhere she would belong.
Rafe’s warm hand cupped her cheek. “I wish I had been there to help you, habibti.”
Oddly, Piper wished he had, too. She’d been so alone. She was still alone for the most part, but she had a few friends. And now she had this adventure. Mindy was safe, and that was worth the world to her. “It was a hard time, but I made it through.”
“You were very young to be responsible for a teenage girl.”
She sighed, the weight still so close to her shoulders. Back then, she’d felt more like Prometheus than Pandora. “It was so much worse because my town was small and closed minded. They watched my every move like circling vultures just waiting for me to step out of line so they could take my sister from me. Then I ended up dating Johnny Tyler, the mayor’s son. Mr. Tyler asked me to tutor Johnny in economic affairs. Then his dad decided I would be a political asset, so Johnny asked me to marry him.”
Rafe sat back, seeming to grind his teeth together. “It is good to have a smart wife. Many men would find you an asset to their careers.”
“I didn’t want to be an asset. I wanted to be loved. And Johnny did, too. Except he wanted to be loved by a stripper named Starlight. I rather suspect that wasn’t her real name.”
Rafe didn’t find her joke funny. He simply stared down at her, his dark eyes so intense that she thought she might drown. Wow, he was so beautiful. He and his brother were far more attractive than Hollywood heartthrobs. And they both had larger-than-life presences that made her sigh wistfully. If only…
He curled a soft touch around her chin, tilting her face up so she had nowhere to go. “He was a fool to allow you to escape. When the right men come along, they will not be so foolish. These men will never let you go. They will be clever. They will catch you and tie you to them so tightly that you will never wish to leave.”
She might be waiting for that man forever. Wait. Had he said men—plural?
Piper didn’t get to ask her question because he shocked her by leaning forward and brushing his lips against hers once, then again, his mouth warm, gentle, coaxing. Her breath caught, and her skin started to hum. The world tilted on its axis, and she kind of liked where she landed.
“We’re about to take off. She should put on her seatbelt.” Kade’s voice broke the moment. He stood over them, his face full of thunder, but it seemed directed exclusively at Rafe.
God, she’d just been caught kissing his brother. And she’d wanted more—far more. The minute Rafe kissed her, Piper had felt something deep inside her open. This really was an adventure. There really was a whole world out there, and she’d been tiptoeing through her postage stamp-sized patch of it like a scared little mouse.
But she didn’t have to be that girl forever. She wasn’t in some tiny Texas town anymore, and she wasn’t dependent on the good thoughts of others to keep her family together. Her sister was grown and happy. No one could judge her now. She was free. Was she going to spend her freedom hiding, or was she going to finally experience life?
Kade sat down beside her, his hand grazing her thigh. Piper shivered under his touch until he buckled her belt and gently tightened it. What was wrong with her, that she would kiss one brother and respond to another minutes later?
Kade frowned. “My brother is a terrible kisser. I apologize for his very selfish behavior toward you.”
“How would you know?” She couldn’t help but tease him and try to lighten the mood.
He smirked. “Because many women have said I am much better.”
And then they were off, arguing in rat-a-tat-tat gunfire Arabic. She really needed to learn the language because, even though they were arguing, the words had a cadence, an exciting musicality.
The plane started moving, smooth as glass. She picked up the wine. Maybe it was time to live a little. Maybe it was time to put aside all her fears about doing what was right and just do what felt good.
The plane shook suddenly. The hostess picked up the wine bottle, leaving the glass in Piper’s hands. The beautiful woman smiled at her, ignoring the two fighting brothers. “Enjoy your flight. It is an honor to serve you on your first trip to our country.”
Piper smiled back, warmed by the woman’s words. If everyone was so friendly, she was going to love it. She held the glass out. “I’m worried I’ll spill.”
“Don’t worry. If you spill, they will just buy a new plane.”
The beautiful woman winked as she moved away, but not before Kade grabbed a glass. The plane taxied down the runway, and Piper was ready for takeoff.
Two hours and two glasses of wine later, Piper was certain what her next move should be in the big adventure she was determined to make of her life. She just wasn’t sure who to do it with. She looked across the aisle. The brothers were both gorgeous, both kind. Both unbearably sexy.
And after this flight, she would likely see very little of them. She would join her friend Tal and disappear into a world of numbers and PowerPoint presentations and arguments about implementation. Piper looked forward to the work. It was important to Black Oak, Bezakistan, and the world. But she hoped to have time to actually see the country, maybe even go on a date or two. But as her co-worker, even if Tal wasn’t married, he would be off limits.
Truthfully, her relationships hadn’t worked out. She’d barely dated in high school, and when she’d gotten engaged, Johnny seemed to lose all interest in her. He’d barely kissed her, much less touched her more intimately. The sad fact was that Rafe and his probing kiss had been the most erotic experience of her life.
But she didn’t have to stay virginal. Rafe and Kade were obviously quite experienced and used to casual sex. They would give her a good time, never hurt her. And, if her instincts were right, they weren’t exactly disinterested. There had been many seemingly random touches when one or the other—or both—got way too close to be normal.
But could she just ask for what she wanted? She seriously doubted either man would really come on to her. The kiss aside, they had been very gentlemanly. After their scrumptious meal, she had twelve hours left with them. But how could she choose which brother and how could she look at one after she’d had sex with the other?
The hostess, Jasmine, picked up the now-empty tray that had once held a piece of honey cake. Piper had eaten everything, deeply enjoying both the full stomach and the Mediterranean flavors.
Rafe and Kade were speaking to each other in Arabic again. They had gotten some kind of call from the palace and, for a time, they passed the phone back and forth. Now, it seemed, they were simply conferring with one another.
“Where is the restroom?” she asked the hostess.
“Follow me. I will show you the way. And when you are ready for sleep, the bedroom is just past the bathroom.”
“There’s a bedroom?”
Jasmine frowned. “But of course. The sheikh’s room has been set aside for your use. His brothers will share the smaller one.”
Piper gasped. She would have to fix that since she didn’t need very much space and had even less need for opulence.
Mind made up, she opened the door to the bathroom. Naturally, it wasn’t some tiny space that better resembled an upright coffin with a toilet, like airplane lavatories she’d seen on TV. Of course not. The al Mussad brothers wouldn’t perform their bodily functions in anything less than a palace. The bathroom was spacious and elegant and offered a lovely shower made entirely of Carrera marble that she was pretty sure could hold a whole football team. A long vanity with double sinks lined the other wall.
Shaking her head at the magnificence of it all, she washed up, glancing out the little window. The night was dark , but the moon shone like an enormous pearl, its incandescence illuminating the world. She put her head against the double paned window. She couldn’t go back to where she used to be. Really, she didn’t want to. She simply wasn’t sure which choice moved her forward.
She was changing, becoming someone she liked very much—a woman who seized adventure by getting on a plane and changing her life at the spur of the moment. Now, she wanted to be someone who knew what it meant to be loved.
Piper groaned. It wouldn’t be love with whichever of the al Mussad brothers she chose as her first lover; she knew that. But they could share affection and pleasure. She’d had so little of either in her life. Why not?
She sighed, wondering just what she’d say.
Hey, guys, I’m a virgin. Didn’t do it for religious reasons or because my hymen is terribly important to me. Just kind of got busy. I didn’t put it into my day planner, so whoops. Who wants to help me get rid of my V card?
Yep. That was sexy. Not.
Johnny’s words came back to her like an old voicemail she kept forgetting to erase. You’re just not hot, Piper. You’ll make someone a good wife someday, but I just don’t want to fuck you. I should want to fuck my wife, right? You need to find someone with lower standards.
If that jerk hadn’t wanted to sleep with her, was she seriously fooling herself that either of the two ungodly gorgeous men out there would want to? Maybe they were just being playful. And polite. She didn’t understand their customs. Maybe their behavior was the norm in Bezakistan.
With a sigh, Piper exited the bathroom. Her curiosity got the best of her, and she peeked in the bedroom. She stopped in her tracks. That was a bedroom?
An enormous bed dominated the spacious room. Lush and gorgeously draped with silk and satin in shades of taupe, cream, and soft blue, this place was something straight out of a romantic movie. That bed wasn’t meant for a peaceful night’s slumber. It was meant for feats of athleticism. And maybe with more than two people.
She shook her head. Sex had definitely overtaken her brain.
Piper stepped out of her shoes, reveling in the plush carpet beneath her feet. Someone had laid a pretty white negligee across the champagne-colored duvet. The garment was her size. A silky eye mask sat on the nightstand, along with a small bag of her toiletries. Tooth brush, toothpaste, a moisturizer that hadn’t been bought at the drugstore on clearance. She touched the beautifully constructed bottle. Designer. No doubt, the product was the top of the line.