Their virgin princess, p.3
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       Their Virgin Princess, p.3

         Part #4 of Masters of Ménage series by Shayla Black
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  She turned and fled the balcony, her dress floating around her ankles. Alea winced. Oliver cursed under his breath. Yas had always been on the dramatic side. Pregnancy hormones probably weren’t helping. Of course she wanted her cousin to be happy…but it was hard to feel joy about anything when she felt stuck in a rut defined by numbness, terror, and a slow-burning rage.

  Oliver dragged a hand over his face. “Forgive her. She’s missed you far more than she’s let on. I swear she changed the day you went missing. She was quite manic for a while. I was worried we would have to sedate her those first few days. I think the wedding was the only thing that held her together. And now the baby is coming. ”

  He said the last in a sort of resolved tone that led Alea to wonder if Oliver wasn’t the one who was unhappy about the baby. “Are you two in trouble?”

  Truthfully, Alea was surprised the couple had made it this far. She’d had a bet with Kade that Oliver would bow out of the wedding. Yasmin, a drama diva, didn’t seem like the right fit for the level-headed, stiff-upper-lip Brit.

  “It isn’t the first time she’s been pregnant,” Oliver admitted, his voice going low. “I’ll be honest, Lea. I actually had plans to call off the wedding, but then you went missing, and Yasmin was expecting. I felt I had to honor the commitment. In some ways, I felt I had to honor it in order to honor you. ”

  “Me?”

  “Alea, you know I’ve always had a thing for you, but you went off to New York…and I kind of fell in with Yas. We do all right, the two of us. We muddle through. She had a miscarriage shortly after our honeymoon. She’s been obsessive about getting pregnant again ever since. Please take a little time and think about our offer. It really would do you good to get away from all this pomp and circumstance. I’ve heard a rumor that Yasmin isn’t the only one who’s pregnant. If it’s true, the spotlights will only shine brighter on the palace. ”

  Piper. She wasn’t showing yet, either, but she wouldn’t be able to keep her condition from the press for long. There didn’t seem to be a minute of the day that one of Piper’s husbands didn’t have a hand on her belly as though they could already feel the child growing there.

  Alea wouldn’t have children. She would grow old right here and be the pathetic old maid. No one could possibly want a woman as broken as she was. No one knew just how shattered she was on the inside. What man could handle that, even if she could bring herself to get close to him?

  “Yes. They’re going to make the announcement in a few weeks, when Piper is past the first trimester. ”

  “It will be a madhouse, then. You must know that. The rags in England don’t really give a damn about me unless I’m hanging out with Wills. It’s Callum they’re interested in, and I promise, you don’t have to date him. Though I’ll warn you, he’ll make you crazy about it, and when you relent, I’ll likely be a bit jealous. Come on, Lea. I can protect you in England. ”

  “I’ll think about it. ”

  But there was no way she belonged there. If she went, Yas and Oliver would mean well, but with a baby coming, as well as ties to both celebrities and royals, Alea knew she’d find no peace. She was starting to think, however, that they were right about getting out of Bezakistan. Maybe a change of scenery would be good. Maybe she needed to be alone for a while, get her head together, weigh what she wanted in life against how brave she felt in pursuing it.

  A long, painful moment passed. “I suppose I should go and check on Yasmin. ”

  “Probably so. ”

  With a nod, Oliver turned and walked out. Finally, Alea could breathe again.

  “Did you love him?”

  She turned, startled. Lan stood, his stern face expressionless. He could be so quiet, she’d almost forgotten he was there. And he rarely asked questions. In fact, Landon could follow her for hours and never say a word.

  “No. God, no. I was so young. I didn’t love anyone except Robert Pattinson,” she answered without thinking.

  Oliver had been a pleasant companion, and they had gone on a few dates, but she hadn’t even kissed him. She’d been happy when she’d discovered that he and Yasmin were dating. She’d hoped Oliver would be a calming influence on her headstrong cousin.

  “I’m glad. Because he’s an asshole. ” One minute Landon was a shadow clinging to the wall, and the next he was in her space, a mountain of lean muscle.

  “He is not! What makes you say that?”

  Lan gave her an incredulous stare, as if wondering how she could miss the big picture. “He put the moves on you. ”

  “He did no such thing. He’s never once tried. ”

  “Persuading you to come home with him and saying he’d be jealous if you dated the soccer player…yeah, his approach is mostly subtle, but he’s still hitting on you. Even if he would never do anything about it, he’s married, and that makes him a douche nozzle. ”

  “He’s just trying to help…in his way. His relationship with Yasmin is a little complicated. ”

  They’d gotten married far too young, and she wasn’t sure Yas was really ready to be a mom. “She’s his wife. He should never talk to another woman that way. If I was married, I wouldn’t. ” He stared down at her, his expression soft and searching. She’d never seen him look so gentle. “Don’t let them sway you from getting what you need to heal. They’re trying to use you to buffer their drama. You don’t need that, darlin’. ”

  He hovered so close that she felt the heat radiating off his body. All it would take to press her lips to his was one simple lift to her toes. Then she’d be brushing her mouth against his and know what it felt like to kiss a man again. She hadn’t kissed anyone in years it seemed. No soft brushing of her mouth against another’s. No arms that wound protectively around her. Just pain and terror. Memories flashed through her head of vicious fingers tangling in her hair, forcing her head back until her neck felt like it would break.

  “You just went white. Are you all right?” Landon reached out for her, but she wouldn’t be able to endure his touch, not when she felt so dirty.

  They could put her in a designer gown, but she was still the girl who knew what it meant to be subjugated. She was still the dumb animal who had watched as the women around her were tortured, raped, and snuffed out.

  “Don’t touch me. ”

  He jerked back. “I won’t. I wouldn’t hurt you for the world. Take a deep breath. You’re here in Bezakistan. You’re at the palace. No one will ever hurt you here. Me, Dane, and Coop will make damn sure of it. Take a long breath. I’ll do it with you. ”

  He breathed in, his chest filling with air. He was so calm and kind that she found herself following his directions. When he reached for her this time, she let him take her hand. He held it until she stopped shaking.

  God, she wanted him to hold her. She wanted what Piper had. She wanted to be surrounded by men who loved her, who accepted her…who could want her even after all that had happened.

  Her captors had ensured she would never have any of that.

  She gently pulled her hand from his, hating that moment they were no longer connected palm to palm. “Thank you. I’m fine now. ”

  “Talk to me, Alea. Tell me what just went through your head. ”

  She couldn’t. It didn’t matter how much she wanted to. She was never going to talk about it, especially to the three men she very nearly idolized. She was never going to tell anyone about her shame. “That’s ‘princess’ or ‘Your Highness,’ please. It isn’t seemly for you to call me by my first name. ”

  Alea needed distance before she crumbled. In that panicked second, she didn’t know how else to get it.

  But when she saw his face in the next moment, she cared very much. Her heart ached as Landon drew back, his shoulders squaring and his eyes icing over. “I apologize, Your Highness. Like I said, I’m just a dumb grunt. Sometimes I forget my place. Perhaps we should go back to the party. ”

  The urge to apologize and tell him everything swamped h
er. The impulsive need to bring Dane and Cooper in and confess everything, release all her pain to them, tempted her. But the past was her private hell. They were not only protectors, but kind ones, and she couldn’t take advantage of that, imagining that her own feelings for them in any way mirrored theirs for her.

  She couldn’t have them, and they wouldn’t want her—even if she was brave enough to try.

  Landon opened the door, and music spilled out into the night. Alea followed him back into the ballroom. Instantly, friends and family surrounded her, yet she still felt utterly alone.

  * * * *

  Dane Mitchell cursed under his breath as Alea walked into the ballroom followed by a sullen Landon. To an outsider, Lan’s frown wouldn’t look any different than normal, but Dane had been around the Texan long enough to know when he was in a real shit-kicker of a mood. Lan’s shoulders were too square and tight, his movements lacking their normal grace, to be anything but pissed off. Dane had little doubt it was something the prickly princess had said.

  “Dayum, what do you think happened out there?” Coop’s voice came over Dane’s earpiece. “Lan’s doing his whole ‘stony soldier’ routine. ”

  “No idea. ” But something had happened, and it had affected Alea, too. She’d pressed her mouth into a grim line and looked close to tears.

  Stopping at the edge of the ballroom, she drew in a breath and collected herself. Oh, it looked to most as if she was merely smoothing her dress down and checking her hair in one of the ornate mirrors that lined the hallway, but Dane knew better. If she’d listen, he’d tell her that she looked stunning. He’d tried to tell her about a hundred times that she was the most gorgeous woman on the face of the fucking planet, but she always demurred. He would have comforted her, but she’d just shut him down and push him away. Same as always.

  “You don’t think Lan would have suggested that she find the rest of her bodice, do you? Because we all agreed that was likely a damn fine way to lose our balls,” Coop joked.

  When she’d first walked out of her room earlier in the evening, it had been right there on the tip of his tongue to order her back inside to find a dress that actually covered her breasts. Luckily Coop had known he was about to unleash his inner Dominant on a woman who wasn’t ready to handle the demand. Coop had slapped him on the back, shooting him a glance that warned Dane he was about to make an idiot of himself. Into the silence, Coop had loudly proclaimed to Alea that she looked beautiful. She’d taken that to mean her dress, then explained that someone named Narciso had designed it. Dane didn’t give a shit. Narciso needed to learn how to sew a proper top into his wretchedly expensive evening gowns.

  Lan had just kind of drooled.

  Alea had finally cracked a smile as she lifted her gown a fraction and showed off her ridiculously hot shoes. Then all Dane could think about was just how nice those stilettos would look wrapped around his neck as he drove his cock deep. And then she’d utterly shut down as though she’d realized she’d sought their opinions and enjoyed their attention. After that, she’d straightened her gown and dismissed them with a wave of her hand.

  He was getting real damn tired of Alea always pushing them away. If he believed for a minute that she didn’t want them, he would take a mental step back and protect her from afar. But he’d noticed the way she sometimes watched all three of them when she thought no one was looking.

  Now, Lan stood a good ten feet behind her, watching her as she visibly calmed herself. She turned to him and said something, her hands coming up in a little plea.

  “Oh, here we go. I’ve lived this scene before. Allow me. ‘Don’t follow me, Lan. Please, let me get my gorgeous self horribly murdered by the first psycho who comes along. It’s my right. ’” Coop sometimes provided offbeat dialogue when they were too far away to hear the object of their affection actually speak.

  Landon had moved past Dane, but he could still see the way his friend moved his head in a sharp, unmistakable shake. Coop continued his translation. “And then Lan says, in his too often verbose diatribe against her stubbornness, ‘no. ’ You know, I think the dude should explain himself from time to time. Oh, look, he got the designer shoe stomp. ”

  Sure enough, Princess Alea stomped her right foot, threw her hands up, and stalked off, tossing open the door to the ballroom and flooding the hall briefly with glittering lights. Dane saw the way Lan sighed and opened the door again, his stare following her as he pursued.

  Dane’s hand twitched, and he made a fist to quell his urge to smack her sexy but rebellious little ass. “I swear to god, Coop, sometimes I want to lay that girl over my knee and not let her up until we’ve reached an understanding. ”

  “Only sometimes, Dane?”

 
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