Their virgin princess, p.34
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       Their Virgin Princess, p.34

         Part #4 of Masters of Ménage series by Shayla Black
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Page 34


  “I won’t marry them. After this, I won’t even talk to them again. ” The words sounded stupid and stubborn, but she couldn’t give in. They deserved good lives with someone less broken, with someone who wouldn’t always have a horde of reporters trailing after her, intent on ruining her life—and everyone around her.

  “Did you or did you not sleep with these men?” Tal asked, though she was certain he knew the answer.

  Alea knew immediately that her sweet cousin had left the building. This was the Royal Sheikh of Bezakistan addressing her as the head of her family, and she felt like she was five years old all over again.

  “I don’t see that it matters. ”

  “It matters, cousin. I will not ask again. ”

  She felt her fists clench. “This isn’t fair. It’s not like you, Rafe, and Kade were pure on your marriage bed. No one expected you to marry that first girl the three of you shared. ”

  “This isn’t about us, cousin. This is about you. You gave your body and, I believe, your heart to Dane, and yet you will not do him the courtesy of talking to him. It is a disgrace and not worthy of the woman I know you to be. ”

  “I guess you don’t know me as well as you thought. ” It was nothing less than the truth, but her heart broke at the thought.

  Tal sighed, a weary sound. “Please, Lea. Don’t make me turn them out. ”

  “It’s for the best. ” God, she felt the burn of Dane’s furious stare all over her and wanted this to be over so she could lock herself in her rooms and scream and cry and start to mourn them.

  Tal turned to Dane. “I am sorry, old friend. I cannot force her to my will. This scandal will pass. The family will survive. The press will turn around when the new baby is born. ”

  Dane had gone cold as ice, his whole body perfectly still. His voice was frigid. “Are you talking about your child, sheikh, or mine?”

  Alea felt like someone had punched her in the gut. She turned to Dane, her feet unsteady. Oh, god, she’d thought about it, but it was like a little whisper in the back of her mind. She’d known that she could become pregnant. How many weeks had gone by? She’d lost count. Time seemed to flow differently on the island, but now it was speeding up like a carnival ride. It was making her sick.

  Talib had gone an angry red. “My cousin is pregnant?”

  Alea shook her head. “No. I’m not. ”

  Was she?

  Dane’s smile was that of a man who had just tossed down the winning hand when everyone had thought he was played out. “We were on the island for over a month. She never had her period. ”

  Oh god. She hadn’t even thought of that until now.

  “Perhaps you didn’t notice,” Tal tried.

  “I was inside her every day, sheikh. I would have noticed. We didn’t use protection. She’s pregnant by one of us, but I assure you, we will all claim the child. We believed she loved us and had pure intentions. We always intended to marry her with full respect to her culture. I understand that you shouldn’t have been placed in this position, sheikh, but you should understand that I have no intention of allowing my child to grow up without his fathers. If you choose not to honor my rights as the man who impregnated her, then Cooper, Landon, and I will be forced to petition your courts to have our rights recognized. Since she was in a relationship with the three of us, according to your laws, we all have rights to the child. ”

  Alea felt sick. She managed to stay on her feet.

  Tal was still talking, his voice rough. “If the doctors confirm a pregnancy, then the marriage will take place as soon as possible. We’ll keep it private, but afterward, we will announce the union to the press. In a few months, we’ll publicize the princess’s pregnancy. ” Tal turned to her. “I have no choice. You were right about our people. We could handle an affair. The heat would be on us for a few months, but we would survive the scandal. We cannot handle a princess with an illegitimate child. This isn’t England or America where people just accept royalty and celebrities as human. If you don’t marry, they will blame me for not protecting my family. It will weaken my position. Did they rape you?”

  Honesty would be her death knell. Alea knew it. Yet she couldn’t lie. “Of course not. ”

  “Then you made your bed, cousin, and you will lie in it. I know it’s not fair, but there are conservative factions in this country that would do anything to topple my throne and set us all back a thousand years. I cannot allow that to happen. In this, I must be the sheikh and not your cousin. I have to keep my throne stable for everyone in Bezakistan. You will marry them if you’re pregnant. I would offer to allow you to marry someone of your choice and pay off these men, but I have a feeling they cannot be bought. ”

  “Not for anything, sheikh,” Dane confirmed, his face grim but resolute. “We will not back down and we are united in this. ”

  “As brothers should be. ” Tal reached out and shook Dane’s hand. “We’ll sit down and talk about all the details this evening after dinner. Alea, I’ll send the doctor up to you in a bit. You should rest until then. ”

  “You can’t do this to me, Talib. You can’t do this to them. ” Her voice sounded small and lost.

  “You chose to sleep with them, knowing how they felt. You chose to not use protection. And now you’re throwing a fit because there were consequences to your actions. I have to take charge because you’re acting like a child and not a woman about to become a mother. You’re still clinging to the pain and the guilt like they’re security blankets. I know because I did the same thing, but I cannot allow it now. I’m not stupid, Alea. I know your refusal has something to do with what happened to you, and I am so sorry it is being dragged up again, but your time to hide is over. You have to face what happened and decide if you are going to allow it to defeat you or if you will grow beyond it and move on. I love you, my cousin. I pray you can heal and embrace the future. ” He walked away, pulling out his chair and sitting behind that big desk where his fathers once worked.

  “Tal?” She’d just lost something precious and she hadn’t meant to. Tears threatened.

  He didn’t bother to look up. “You’re dismissed, Alea. I have to prepare for the meeting with the investigators and then I must start the paperwork for your marriage. It’s a matter of state, after all. ”

  She felt tired. So weary. She’d been trying to protect them, but it had blown up in her face.

  Dane wouldn’t look at her. He kept his attention on Tal. “I will see you in the meeting, sheikh. ”

  “Cousin, please. You’re family now, Dane. Address me as Tal or cousin as is your right and my privilege. Let Cooper and Landon know I expect the same from them. ”

  Well, it was great that they were getting along. She felt more on the outside than she’d ever felt in her life.

  “Alea, we’ll see you in our room. I believe you’ll find one of Talib’s personal guards waiting outside to escort you. Obey him. And I wouldn’t attempt to lock us out if I were you. I will kick the door in. This wasn’t the way I wanted to start our marriage. ” Dane walked away without looking back.

  Alea watched him go and then went to join her guard, her heart heavier than ever. She placed a hand on her belly. She could pretend all she liked, but she knew the truth. She could tell herself that she had been trying to protect them, but she’d really been protecting herself. It had been easy on the island because she didn’t have to deal with reality. She could simply be. No future. No past.

  But the future was knocking at her door, and she couldn’t lock it out.

  “I understand the impulse to push them away, Alea,” Tal said from his desk. “I really do. I thought it would be best to push Piper away. I thought I was too damaged for her, too dark. She was far smarter than I was. I wasn’t too dark for her. That broken part of me was no match for her love. Her love was far stronger than any torture I’d ever endured. ”

  “You weren’t getting savaged by the press when you married Piper. Would you put
her through this, Tal?”

  Her cousin’s eyes grew misty, and he took a long breath. “Yes. I wouldn’t have said it at the time, but now I know the truth. If you love those men, if you want to share a life with them, then you owe them the chance to stand by you. Would you walk out if one of them was in trouble this way?”

  God no. She wouldn’t. Couldn’t. But she hadn’t given them a chance. “No. I love them. ”

  “Then honor them by sharing all of your life. This is marriage, Alea. It’s good and bad and everything in between, and it only works if you’re in it together. Learn from my mistakes. Don’t waste a minute of your time. Go upstairs and see the doctor and wait for your men. Talk to them. Be honest. ”

  She nodded, but couldn’t seem to make her feet move.

  “Alea?” Tal was softer now. “Alea, do you need help?”

  They had been asking for over a year. Do you need help? She’d seen it as pity then, viewed her silence as strength. But all she’d done was shut out the people who loved her and closed herself off. “Yes, Talib. I believe I do. I would very much like to see the counselor again. If you could make the appointments, I would appreciate it. ”

  “Absolutely. I can have her here this evening. ” He got to his feet. “Lea, I love you. I know where you are. I don’t want this life for you. ”

  This life she’d been living could hardly be called a life at all because it allowed for no love, no future, just an endless stream of meaningless todays with no tomorrows. The past was an anchor that never allowed her to move on.

  This was the life of a victim. But Piper’s words of wisdom came back to her again. Suddenly she realized that her cousins’ wife was right. She could choose. She could move from victim to survivor. Her choice. Her rules. She could defeat the bastards who had stolen her innocence by refusing to allow them to steal her future.

  “I don’t want it either. ” How long had it been since she’d asked herself what she wanted? She wanted her men. She wanted this baby, and suddenly she began counting days and was almost sure that she was pregnant. What they had found on that island couldn’t possibly have been left there. No. The love they had made had purpose and meaning, and she was full.

  Alea rushed to her cousin and threw her arms around him like she had when she’d been a child.

  “Welcome home, Alea. ” Tal held on to her, his arms tightening and his voice shaking. “I know I call you cousin, but you’re my sister. Welcome home. ”

  Alea cried because she’d been gone for so, so long.

  Chapter Thirteen

  Dane forced his feet to move, but he couldn’t really feel them. He couldn’t feel anything but this horrible aching knot in his gut. The scene with Alea played through his brain like a horror movie. Yeah, he’d gotten what he wanted, but he didn’t like the price he’d been forced to pay.

  He’d hated the look in her eyes when he’d shown her how far he would go. He was going to have to start his marriage by forcing his bride to a wedding. God, he’d never imagined it would play out this way.

  He stalked across the marbled floors of the palace, well aware that everyone was giving him a wide berth. It was a damn good thing because he really wanted to take someone’s head off.

  He’d realized a few days ago that Alea was very likely pregnant, but he’d wanted to give it time, to be sure, before they had to deal with the fact that they were on an island with no medical care. He’d been standing by the fresh water pool Lan had discovered, watching her smile and swim and kiss his partners and he’d just…known. She was carrying a child.

  When they’d been rescued, he’d planned to keep his mouth shut until she figured it out. It was a woman’s right to tell her men that she was pregnant, giving them the gift of a family.

  He’d been so happy. Something deep inside him had settled as though he’d found a piece to his puzzle that had been wrenched out of place and had finally been made right. His child. His, Lan, and Coop’s with Alea. And she’d looked perfectly horrified at the idea of being pregnant. Like it was her worst nightmare.

  What the hell was wrong with his eyes? He stopped, the room turning blurry.

  Fuck all. He was not going to cry. He didn’t cry.

  “Dane? Is Lea coming to the meeting?” Cooper asked, his voice drifting up from behind Dane.

  Dane took a long breath and banished the unwanted emotion. He should have stayed calm, should have given her more time, but the idea that she thought they would be better apart had made him insane. Dane turned. “No. She’s gone to her rooms. We can fill her in afterward. ”

  “I thought she would want to come. ” Lan joined them in the vestibule that led from the residences to the section of the palace that held staff offices and conference rooms. The early evening air filled the vestibule, and he could smell the scent of jasmine from the gardens where he’d wanted to take Alea and propose when the time was right. They’d talked about it, the three of them. It was traditional for the royal family to become engaged in view of the gardens. The gardens were blessed once a year and had been for the last two hundred years. They were said to be a lucky place for love and peace.

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