Their virgin princess, p.2
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       Their Virgin Princess, p.2

         Part #4 of Masters of Ménage series by Shayla Black
Page 2


  Right up until they had married Piper, and she’d taken over the duty. Tal, Rafe, and Kade were now happy men.

  Alea was still alone. And standing too near Landon wasn’t helping. She crossed back to the stone railing and tried to find some peace. This was one of the few places she felt even a vague connection to her life before her abduction. When it was very quiet, she could almost hear her younger self running among the trees, her head thrown back in laughter.

  Why had she ever left this place? Why did she feel like she didn’t belong here anymore?

  Why could she not focus on anything but Landon right now? “Is there any way you could wait inside, even for five minutes?”

  No matter how quiet he was, she knew he was there. He was staring, possibly even thinking how boring it was to watch the little downtrodden royal brat.

  “No. ”

  She turned, frowning his way. “I’m not going to climb down the trellis and run away. ”

  He shrugged. “You might. ”

  “Landon, don’t be ridiculous. It’s impossible in this dress. You can stand in front of the door,” she tried to bargain with him.

  He didn’t move, simply stood rooted in place, a mass of muscle in a thousand dollar tux. “No. ”

  “What do you honestly think is going to happen? It’s not as if there are assassins hanging out in the palm trees, waiting for that one moment you turn your back. ”

  “You never know. Assassins could lay in wait anywhere. I haven’t checked the palm trees, but that wouldn’t shock me. ”

  “So you’re just going to follow me everywhere?”

  “Yes. ”

  “What happens if you have to go to the bathroom?”

  He didn’t even crack a smile. “I hold it or you get real well acquainted with the men’s urinal. ”

  “I’m not going into the men’s room. ”

  “Then it’s good I didn’t drink a bunch earlier. ”

  “This is ridiculous. ” She rolled her eyes. “I’m going to talk to Tal. ”

  He sent her a single, firm nod. “I’ll take you to him. ”

  Because Landon knew damn well that Tal would agree with him. “I scarcely think someone has come to Her Highness’s coronation ball to try to kill me. If they’ve come to hurt someone, it’s most likely the others in the royal family. Really, Landon, study a little more history. ”

  He stiffened, his whole body tightening. His eyes turned cold again. A sickening feeling slid through her, and she knew that she’d just hurt him. “I wasn’t very good at history, Princess. You’ll have to forgive me. I’m just a dumb grunt following the orders of my CO. If you have a problem with it, you should take it up with Dane. ”

  Alea winced and looked away. What had she done? An apology sat right on the tip of her tongue. Why? This wasn’t her fault…. but it wasn’t his either. He was just doing his job. But damn it, she was being followed twenty-four seven. The only place she was allowed to be alone was her bedroom, and even then, the minute she opened the door, one of them waited outside. She felt like a prisoner in so many ways, and it was wearing her out.

  As he stared a hole right through her, Alea felt her resolve weakening. She yearned for those blue eyes to glow with the warmth they had just minutes ago.

  The door to the balcony opened, and a lean figure slid through. This man didn’t have a problem with his tuxedo. She was fairly certain that Oliver Thurston-Hughes had been born in a tux. The very noble Brit wouldn’t have done anything so common as to have been born naked.

  “Alea? Darling, are you out here?” He nearly bumped into Landon. “Bloody hell, who are you?”

  “I’m over here, Oliver,” she said before Landon could reply.

  A broad smile came over the handsome Brit’s face, and he stepped around the guard, utterly ignoring him, then walked toward her. “I’ve been looking all over for you. That receiving line was complete hell. I’ve never seen so many people. ”

  Oliver had been at the last British royal wedding, so Alea doubted that, but he was always polite. Oliver would never say a social function wasn’t the greatest event he’d ever attended. “I was happy when it was over. My face hurts from smiling. Where’s Yasmin?”

  He shrugged an elegant shoulder. “Last I saw, she was dancing with the Prime Minister. She’s been looking for you, though. Alea, it’s so good to see you. ” He smiled warmly. “You’ve been a virtual stranger ever since…”

  His words trailed off, and she could see the way he paled when he realized what he’d nearly said.

  “Since she was taken hostage and forced to endure something most people wouldn’t survive?” A sarcastic voice with a low Texas accent cut through the awkward silence. Now Landon decided to get chatty? “I’m sure she’s sorry she didn’t just pause her recovery to call you up the second she got home. ”

  “No one asked you,” Oliver shot back. “Why is he here? You’re not seeing him, I hope?”

  She saw far too much of Lan. And far too little. “He’s my bodyguard. I’m sorry I haven’t called. ”

  “You don’t owe him an apology,” Landon ground out.

  “Stay out of this. ” She couldn’t handle him getting involved in her personal life. She could barely handle him being her constant watchman. She turned back to Oliver. “I am sorry. It’s been hard to get back into the real world. ”

  Oliver was everything that Landon wasn’t. He was perfectly charming as he stared at her with a pitying little frown. “Of course it is, darling. I apologize. It’s terribly selfish of me. It’s simply that Yasmin and I have missed you. ”

  “I’ve missed you, too. ”

  They hadn’t missed her enough to put off their wedding while she’d been kidnapped. She guessed she couldn’t really blame them. She’d been gone for months. They’d assumed she’d been killed, her body buried somewhere in an unmarked grave. Yasmin hadn’t had any idea that she’d been found until months after the fact. Yas still didn’t know about all the rehab she’d had to go through. The last thing Alea wanted the world to know about was her drug addiction.

  She wondered if Landon knew, if one of the reasons he, Dane, and Coop were so zealous in their guardianship was that they had been tasked to ensure she didn’t hit the streets looking for a fix.

  “I think you should come home with us in a few weeks. We’re going to spend the winter at the country estate. I know my brothers would love to see you again. ”

  Oliver’s brothers were outrageous flirts. She didn’t need that. But it did point out a problem. Lately, she been thinking that she couldn’t stay in Bezakistan, aimless and lonely, for the rest of her life. She hadn’t really left the palace. Instead, she’d been hiding here, taking classes online. Sure, she could get a degree that way, but what would happen when she graduated?

  The door opened again. Yasmin glided through the door. She looked gorgeous in her designer gown, her pale hair in a perfect upswept do. “Oliver? Oh, you’re out here with Alea. I thought you had gone back to your room, dear. ”

  Yasmin utterly ignored Landon, moving around him like he was just a piece of furniture. Her perfectly manicured hands reached for Alea’s.

  “Hello, Yas. ”

  Yasmin had been her childhood playmate. Their fathers had both been connected to the Bezakistani royal line maternally. Alea’s parents had drowned when she was very young, so her aunt and uncle, the sheikh and shaykhah, had taken her in, given her the al Mussad name, and raised her at the palace. But Alea had always looked forward to the weeks when Yasmin would visit. It had been the only time she’d had another female playmate.

  Yasmin hugged her briefly. “Alea, it’s so nice to see you. I tried calling for ages, but no one would put me through. I rather thought you were ducking my calls, dear. ”

  Alea groaned inwardly. Yasmin seemed to know how to make her feel guilty, even when she didn’t mean to. “Sorry. I really haven’t felt up to socializing. ”

  “Talib has allowe
d you to hide away for far too long. You’re never going to feel better if you don’t get back to normal. ” Yasmin frowned, her perfect face forming a mask of disapproval.

  “Yas, let it be. We talked about this. ” Oliver reached for his wife’s hand.

  “I know, but seeing her has made me more certain than ever that she can’t recover by languishing here. She hasn’t truly smiled once. And what is Tal thinking putting those guards on her?”

  “They’re here for my protection. ” Despite her own problems with the guys, she felt an urge to defend them.

  “You don’t need a constant shadow reminding you of danger, Lea. Come to England with us. You can enroll at university and take up your schooling again. Or you can work with me at the foundation. ”

  Ah, yes. Reaching Across Cultures. One of the surprises she’d been faced with when she’d been rescued was the fact that Yasmin had taken over the European offices of this al Mussad charity, a job that had been earmarked for Alea.

  But it wasn’t like she could do the job now, endure all those glittering fundraisers and public speaking engagements. How would that work when she could barely manage to leave the palace?

  “I just mentioned that myself,” Oliver said with a long sigh. “I thought we were going to do this with a little subtlety. I’m sorry about the hard sell, love. I’m afraid Yasmin has done nothing but plot and plan to take you back with us. ”

  Yasmin pouted prettily. “I miss my cousin. I was beside myself when we thought you were gone forever. It was like losing my sister. ” She sniffled a little, a tear sliding down her face. “Lea, I miss you. Please think about coming back with us. I want you to be there when—”

  “You weren’t going to tell her that, either,” Oliver muttered under his breath.

  “I can’t keep it from her. She’s my closest relative. Oh, Lea. You weren’t there when we got married. You have to be there when I have my first baby. Please say you’ll come. ”

  Yasmin was pregnant? Silly, superficial Yasmin was married and now having a child. A little kernel of jealousy weighed in her gut. Yas had been the prankster when they were young. She’d nearly dropped out of school. She hadn’t even thought of going to university. So how was Yas the one with a husband and a career that should have been Alea’s, and a baby on the way?

  She struggled to find something to say. She looked down at Yasmin, who was perfectly slender in her Marchesa gown. “You don’t look pregnant. ”

  Yasmin’s smile lit up the night. She ran a hand down her flat stomach. “I assure you I am. I’m almost three months along. You have to come. It will be just like our childhoods when we spent summers together. And you can start over in England. The palace is too insular. You need to be out in the world. ”

  Yasmin waxed on and on about all the things they could do in London. They would shop, go to the theater, hang out with Oliver’s brothers. One was a very famous football player, and Yas was convinced that Alea should go on a date with him.

  The idea curdled her stomach. Alea backed up, her hip bumping the ledge of the balcony. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Landon surge toward her. She quickly edged away from the ledge lest Lan decide she meant to escape Yas by jumping to her death or something equally dramatic. He would think of it as his sacred duty to either save her or go down with her, no doubt.

  “You’re going to love Callum. He’s so handsome, and he’s just a bit younger than my Oliver. ”

  “Yas, stop. I don’t know that I want to leave the palace right now. ”

  When her cousin pursed her lips, preparing an argument, Alea knew she had to come up with some excuse or Yasmin really would set her up with an athlete. The paparazzi already swarmed her on those few occasions she ventured out in public. They called her the “Prisoner Princess. ” Tal had managed to keep the gritty details of her kidnapping out of the press. The world believed she’d simply been held in a gilded cage until the royal family had coughed up enough cash. If they knew the truth, they would call her the “Prostitute Princess. ” The very idea made her stomach turn.

  Oliver put a hand on his wife’s shoulder. “Back off a bit, Yas. You’ve just thrown a lot of information her way. Give her some time to think. ”

  “You’re not happy for me, are you?” Yasmin stared at her, her doe eyes more than a little sad.

  “O-of course I am,” Alea stuttered. “I’m just surprised. ”

  And a bit annoyed, which made her feel guilty. Yas merely meant to help. But she just wanted peace. Why had she and Oliver sought her on this balcony? Alea had enjoyed the quiet of her and Lan sharing the space alone.

  “But I thought you would be happy for me, too. I’m sorry, Lea. Oliver was right. You’re still in a dark place, and I didn’t realize… This is all my fault. ”

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