Their virgin princess, p.33
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       Their Virgin Princess, p.33
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         Part #4 of Masters of Ménage series by Shayla Black
Page 33

 

  Piper was right. Dane, Landon, and Cooper were heroes. They had saved her, and what did they get in return? Cameras shoved in their faces and their lives ripped apart in the press.

  She’d seen that, too. The press had been busy, interviewing their families and the people in their hometowns, asking all kinds of intrusive questions.

  Dane’s BDSM leanings had been splashed across the papers, his military career coming into question again. His family had publically disowned him, even when they thought he’d been lost in the crash. He’d been labeled perverse by his ex-wife, who seemed to have taken special delight in detailing all his flaws.

  Cooper’s family had been inundated. As far as she could tell, they had been busy trying to keep reporters off the ranch.

  Only Landon had been spared since he didn’t have family, but that wouldn’t last. The hotel had proven that. They would be all over him, and he wouldn’t be able to handle the unrelenting pressure.

  None of them should have to.

  “How was the flight back?” Piper asked, walking up beside her. “I was worried that it would be hard on you. ”

  Her men had done everything they could to make it safe. They really were the best. “It was fine. Mr. Anders is an excellent pilot. ”

  Alea turned slightly and saw that all three of them were watching her even as they talked to her cousins. This was going to be so hard, but she had to do it. Their time on the island was over, and Brittany Hahn had been right about one thing. She really hadn’t done anything to help those other girls. She should have fought harder, found a way out, but no, she’d given into the drugs they’d put her on. She’d closed her eyes and just prayed to die.

  She didn’t deserve the heroes who claimed to love her, and they definitely didn’t deserve this pain. But it seemed like pain and heartache was all she was capable of giving them.

  “Tal, can I speak with you privately?”

  Piper frowned, obviously upset, but Alea was resolute. After this was done, she was going to lock herself away and just try to stay out of the public eye.

  Tal’s eyes narrowed. “Of course. Brothers, Piper, if you wouldn’t mind. ”

  “I’ll go and get everything ready in the board room,” Rafe said. “Dominic Anthony is scheduled to arrive in the next hour. ”

  “I’ll help,” Kade offered. They took Piper’s hands and led her out.

  Dane, Lan, and Cooper stayed right where they were.

  “I would really like to speak to Tal alone, please. ” She would explain her position to Talib. He would understand. He, more than the others, knew what it meant to be in the public spotlight.

  “Lan, Coop,” Dane began. “Why don’t you go and find the Anders brothers and get things set up. I want to get a full update as soon as Dominic lands. ”

  They nodded reluctantly and left. Then she stood alone with Tal and Dane.

  “Please, Talib. Completely alone. ”

  Tal shook his head. “No, Lea. At least for now, you won’t be alone. At least one of your guards must be with you, even in your locked rooms. ”

  “That won’t be a problem, sheikh. ” Dane stepped forward, his expression a bit grim as though he knew he was about to go into battle. “We’ll be moving into the princess’s suite this evening. She won’t ever be alone. ”

  “Excellent,” Tal said, and there was no way to mask his sigh of relief. “I’ll call the contractors tomorrow. Her suite is too small for all four of you. We’ll start the expansion plans as soon as possible. ”

  She was rapidly losing control. “No, Tal. They can’t move in with me. ”

  The room got very quiet as both men turned to her. It was obvious she had their full attention.

  “Alea, where did you think we would stay?” Dane asked quietly, his voice icy cold. “Did you think we would go back to our own rooms? Just meet in the middle for a little rendezvous?”

  “Explain yourself, cousin. The way I heard it, you’ve settled your relationship with your men. Are you telling me you haven’t?” Tal asked.

  “They’re not moving in with me. It’s not a good idea. ” She couldn’t quite meet Dane’s eyes.

  “Really? So yesterday in the shower was good-bye, was it, Lea?” Dane asked.

  “Could you be a little more discreet?” She couldn’t help how her face flushed.

  Dane towered over her. “Not a chance, and it’s going to get uglier. If you had wanted to keep this between the four of us, you shouldn’t have brought your cousin into it. ”

  “He’s the head of my family. ” And she was counting on the way things worked here in Bezakistan. They might be modern, but when it came right down to it, Tal made the decisions. If she could get him on her side, she would be home free and there was nothing any of the guys could do.

  Dane seemed to grow a couple of inches as he watched her, his whole body going into battle mode. “Is he? Let me tell you something, Alea, because I apparently wasn’t clear. I am the head of this family since you seem determined to go old school with this. I’ve been extremely patient so far, but you need to think about what you’re doing and stop. Nothing has changed. We’re together, and we will get through all of this together. As a family. Making decisions together. If you continue down the path I think you’re taking, you’re going to put me in a corner and you won’t like how I fight my way out of it. ”

  Tal had stepped back, frowning as he watched them.

  She felt her anger starting to simmer. “Everything has changed, Dane. You know it. You can’t be so naïve as to think that anything is the same. You were in the hotel room when the press arrived. The island was just a little vacation, a dream. It’s time to wake up now. ”

  His face opened up, pure surprise hitting him. “What are you talking about?”

  Dane wouldn’t understand. She knew exactly how this would go down if she tried to explain herself. He would never admit that this relationship wouldn’t work. He would force the issue, and they would all be torn up and miserable. “I don’t want to have a relationship with you in the real world. ”

  “What the fuck are you talking about? The real world? Because the island felt pretty fucking real to me. ”

  “It wasn’t. We had all been through something frightening, and we bonded over our shared survival. That was all it really meant,” she lied. “Dane, you couldn’t expect me to marry my guards. ”

  Alea held in her tears. It had been everything to her. It had been the best time of her life. She would hold those memories to her heart forever.

  Dane stepped up, not respecting anything so civilized as personal space. “Shared survival? We’re just your guards? Yeah, that doesn’t fly with me, baby. There’s nothing on the books that states you have to marry another royal. ”

  She steeled herself. God, she hated this. “I don’t want to marry anyone, but if I do, I will marry someone who’s lived in my world and understands it better. ”

  “Like Piper understood this world when your cousins married her? She was a research assistant from Texas. She wasn’t royal and she definitely wasn’t rich. What the fuck is this really about, Alea?”

  How could she make him understand? “Did you see what happened with Lan? He’s going to get hurt. Do you know what’s going on back in America? They’re going after your families, Dane. We need to be realistic. We had a wonderful time. I will never forget it, but it can’t be more than a fling. ”

  “Are you talking about all that sex, Alea? Is that the fling you mean? Should I remind you just how many ways we had you? And I don’t have that family anymore, Lea. I have you, Lan, and Coop, and we will get through this together. ” He took a long breath. “Baby, calm down. I know being back here and being hounded by reporters is a shock. ”

  It was more than a shock. Tears clouded her vision. She turned to Talib because talking to Dane would get her nowhere. “Would you please listen to me, cousin? I would like to make a formal request to have my security duty turne
d over to other guards. I will submit to any security detail you deem fit. I will cooperate with the investigators and I will live a quiet life that will bring no further scrutiny to our family. ”

  The press’s accusations could hurt her cousins. They had kept everything so quiet, and now all the ugliness was out in the open. What would her people think? There would be some who would view her as sullied. Some parts of the country were still quite backwards.

  She turned back to Dane, her head held regally. “Dane, you have to understand that my cousin’s throne and our entire family is judged based on our actions. Any scandal hurts us. Our traditions might seem odd to the outside world, but in many ways our people are very conservative. The very fact that I was abused will make some people view me differently. ”

  Tal ran a hand across his scalp, ruining his perfect hair. “Lea, you can’t think about them. They’re the mountain people. The citizens in our cities won’t see you differently. It’s one region of the country. Everyone knows they’re out of touch with modern ideals. ”

  “But they’re not completely out of touch with the media. They will hear the story and they can cause trouble. It will be worse when they find out about my affair. If I cut it off now and go into seclusion, I can mitigate the damage to all of us. ”

  “There won’t be damage if you make it legal,” Tal drawled. “I rather assumed there would be another wedding. Did you plan to live with my cousin, in my palace, without offering her your name, Dane?”

  “Of course not,” Dane shot back. “None of us would do that, and you know it. It has always been our plan to properly marry her with full Bezakistani rites. We talked about marriage on the island, in fact. We respect this family and would never do a damn thing to dishonor it. ”

  “I can’t marry them. ” She knew what Tal wanted, but couldn’t he see how wrong it was to bring the men she loved into their world, especially now when the press seemed intent on ripping her apart? “Tal, please try to understand. You would try to protect Piper. ”

  A small smile crossed Tal’s face. “Piper is strong, Alea. And so are your men. ”

  Dane tried to reach for her. “Lea, we don’t need protection. ”

  Which just went to prove that he could be naïve. What if Brittany Hahn wasn’t the only one who had resented Alea’s “privileged” treatment? What if more women came out and accused her of cowardice or outright collusion? How could they build a family when she was covered in scandal? “I won’t marry anyone. ”

  Dane proved he knew their customs way better than she’d given him credit for. “Your Highness, I would like to make a formal declaration of intent to marry your cousin. I meant to do this later and with proper pomp and circumstance, but she’s not giving me room for that. ”

  A single eyebrow arched over Tal’s right eye. “Really? You want to put her in a corner like that?”

  Alea turned to Dane, her eyes widening. “You’re trying to force me to marry you?”

  According to strict law, because she’d been formally adopted into the royal family and bore their name, she was actually considered to be Talib’s property. It was an old law, but still a valid one. Dane wasn’t asking her to marry him. He was petitioning Talib to force the marriage.

  “I believe I mentioned you wouldn’t like how I fought. And don’t think I’m alone in this. I have no doubt Landon and Cooper are ready to sign the paperwork, too. We’re not going to let your fear rip us apart. ” He took a long breath and reached for her. “Lea, I don’t want to do it this way. Let’s go somewhere quiet and talk this out, you, me, Lan, and Coop. We’ll hash this out. ”

  So calm. So reasonable. And he’d just threatened to treat her like property. “I am trying to do what’s right for all of us. You can’t think for a second that my cousin is going to force me to marry you. ”

  “I will admit, I would prefer not to,” Tal commented.

  “But he will because I haven’t played my best card yet, baby. I’m begging you not to make me do this. ” Dane spoke to him, but never took those predatory eyes off her.

  His best card? What the hell? Her blood was pounding through her body. She’d been treated like a sack of meat before, and she wasn’t about to let anyone curtail her freedom. She’d been willing to offer it up. She’d meant what she said to Tal. She was willing to hire another guard and to submit to all of their security protocols. She would do it because it helped her family and it protected her men, but she would be damned if Dane and Tal decided her fate.

  “Alea, what is this really about?” Tal asked, his voice softening marginally. “I don’t understand what’s going on here. This is between you and your men, truly, but you’ve forced me into this situation. I believe Dane when he says he doesn’t want to push the marriage rites on you, but I also think he will do it. Don’t put me in a position where I have to choose between my family and my very good friends. Tell me what’s going on. ”

 
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