Their virgin princess, p.5
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       Their Virgin Princess, p.5
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         Part #4 of Masters of Ménage series by Shayla Black
Page 5

 

  “Excellent. Keep an eye on our brat. I’ll let you know when we’re done. Out. ” Coop’s voice cut off, and Lan knew he was out of the loop for a bit. He’d volunteered for this duty to remove himself from the meeting. He’d rather watch over Alea because he didn’t agree with this clandestine shit. Everyone was planning Alea’s life without including her. She should be in that fucking meeting, but he’d been outvoted.

  Rafe and Piper started a slow dance. Kade walked up behind them, putting his hands on Piper’s waist and leaning over to kiss the back of her neck.

  Those two had backup. Even if anything ever happened to Rafe or Kade, Piper al Mussad would never be alone. If one of them went down, she would have two more husbands to lean on. They would protect the woman they loved. He’d heard sad stories about some of the widows of guys he’d served with in the Army. Once their husbands were dead, they were often utterly alone. So many became single moms, struggling to make ends meet because they didn’t have anyone else in their corner.

  “Nix, how you doing?” A deep voice asked behind him.

  He turned and saw one of the Lennox brothers holding out his hand. Lan took it and tried to give him a smile. The other man tried to return the gesture, mostly baring his teeth in return.

  Cole and Burke were near perfect twins, but Lan had quickly learned that Burke was the one who smiled. It wasn’t that Cole was always grim. He could light up when his wife walked in the room, but otherwise, he was a little standoffish. “Going good, Cole. Dane’s meeting with your guys right now. ”

  Lennox nodded. “Good. Dominic runs a tight ship. They’ll get you what you need. Sorry I couldn’t handle it personally, but this pregnancy has been giving Jessa hell for a couple of months. ”

  “She’s perfectly good now. ” A gorgeous redhead threaded her arm through Cole’s and turned her face up to his. “I just needed to get through the vomiting-up-my-toenails phase. ”

  There was that smile of Cole’s. Lan watched, a knot of jealousy in the pit of his stomach. He hated this envy. He didn’t want Jessa or begrudge Cole his happiness. He just wanted a little of his own.

  “Jessa!” Alea’s smile turned genuine as she approached the auburn beauty. What he wouldn’t give to have that smile directed at him. . .

  “I heard you were here,” the princess said. “How is baby Caleb?”

  Lan supposed it had been inevitable that Alea would become close to her saviors’ wife. Alea’s friendship with Jessa made her happy. As far as Lan was concerned, that pretty much was all he needed to know about the woman. If Alea loved her, then she had to be good people, as his granny would say.

  He watched as Alea talked to her friend, her posture relaxed for once. Cole’s brother, Burke sauntered up, sliding his arm around Jessa’s waist as they chatted with Alea.

  When everyone was occupied, Cole’s face turned serious. With an almost imperceptible cock of the head, he motioned Lan to follow him. They stepped out of the conversation, just far enough so they couldn’t be overheard.

  “What’s going on between you and Alea?” Cole asked.

  “I’m her bodyguard. That’s it. ” And that was where it would stay because she had zero interest in him.

  “Bullshit. Do you think I don’t have eyes? I saw the way you looked at her. Man, I’m not trying to mess with you. I like very few people. Alea is one of them. You’re one of them. That girl is still in trouble. Even if Dominic’s guys found out that Khalil was the one behind her kidnapping and she’s out of danger, she’s still in trouble. ”

  Because she hadn’t gotten over what had happened during her abduction. How was she supposed to get over that? She wouldn’t let them see her fear or pain, so how the fuck were they supposed to help her?

  “I don’t think there’s a damn thing I can do. She doesn’t want me. ”

  “Is she into one of your crew?” Cole’s face creased as though he was thinking through a problem.

  “No. She doesn’t like any of us. ” Would it be better or worse if she wanted Dane or Coop? Maybe. At least someone would be happy.

  “Again, I call bullshit. The minute we stepped over here, she started casting glances this way, and she’s not staring at me. ”

  Lan let his eyes slide toward her. Sure enough, Alea jerked her gaze back to Jessa Lennox as quickly as she could. In fact, a little crowd had formed around her now, as Jessa and Alea had been joined by a familiar, pretty blonde, Hannah James. Her husbands, the James brothers, ran Black Oak Oil and had long-standing ties with the Bezakistani royal family.

  Husbands. It seemed like everyone was getting on the marital bandwagon lately. Everyone except the one woman who had grown up surrounded by plural marriage.

  “You were with her those first few days after you rescued her, right?” Lan asked.

  “I was. ” Cole’s tone turned grim.

  “How bad was she?” He’d read the medical reports, but they were clinical. Sure, he knew the date of her kidnapping, where she’d been held, when she’d been rescued. He knew she’d been tortured. But none of that really explained the ordeal that had shaped the woman he knew now.

  “Unimaginable. Look, she should be the one to tell you, but I’m starting to worry that she’ll never confide in anyone. She looks healthy now. She’s a hundred and eighty degrees from the skinny, drug-addicted girl I carried out of that brothel. In fact, she looks great, until I see her eyes. ”

  “Drugs?” Nowhere in those fucking reports had anyone mentioned drugs. Alea would never have done that of her own free will. She was so proud and seemingly in control. So…fuck. Her captors had drugged her. Hell, just how much of her soul had they taken?

  “Shit. I’d hoped Tal would have let you in on that since you’re her bodyguard. ” Cole groaned a little. “I’m going to get my ass kicked, but Tal, Rafe, and Kade are treating her with kid gloves. She’s drifting. I know they think they’re sheltering her, but someone has to push that girl to open up. Look, I understand the impulse to stay out of things. I really do, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about getting people to heal…sometimes you gotta give them a shove. You can’t just hope people will change all by themselves. If you care about Alea, you have to pry her open, man. She’s not made of glass. That woman fought like hell in that brothel. She fought to get off the drugs. Maybe she just needs a little help from someone to help her fight for her future. ”

  Wouldn’t he love to be that someone? “Man, she’d just fight me, too. ”

  Lan stared at her openly now, not even trying to disguise his longing. He didn’t give a shit what anyone else thought. He was in love with that woman. She would never love him back. They came from different worlds. She was a princess, and he had no idea who his father was.

  But maybe sometimes love wasn’t about getting what he wanted. Maybe sacrifice was really at the heart of it. If he pushed her, fought for her, maybe she could tear down that tough-girl mask and find a way to be happy—even if it wasn’t with him, Dane, and Coop.

  “I don’t think you’ll have to fight her too hard. Just push a little every day. Talk to her. Don’t let up and don’t let her force you to the side. I know how this goes. Jessa tried her hardest to shove us out of her life. She said some horrible things to me. It hurt, but then I realized she was both lashing out and testing us. Burke and I had hurt her when we’d left her alone. She had to push until she realized we weren’t going to disappear again, no matter what. Nothing she could say or do was going to throw us out of her life. Alea might have the same M. O. ”

  “We’ve never been with Alea. ”

  “We?”

  Lan felt himself flush. Damn it. “We all have feelings for her, me, Dane, and Coop. We thought we could pursue her together, but she wasn’t interested in us, either together or apart. ”

  “Or she’s scared that none of you can accept what she’s been through. ”

  “She survived. That’s the only thing that matters. Why wouldn’t we acce
pt that?”

  “Survival is a funny thing, man, and you damn well know it. When you’re down in the trenches all that matters is living, but it’s not so simple once you return to the real world. People judge you. You measure what you did to live against conventional social mores…and suddenly what once seemed like a simple choice is murky and gray. ”

  He knew exactly what Cole was talking about.

  “That’s when you have to deal with the reality that you lived and some didn’t,” Cole went on. “That’s when you have to accept who the fuck you really are. ”

  He hadn’t thought about it that way before. Alea was a survivor, but she had a heart. How guilty did she feel for getting out alive when others hadn’t? How ashamed was she by whatever she’d had to do in order to live? She’d been through a war of sorts, and he had no idea how much of herself she’d lost along the way.

  The fact that Alea had survived and could function now proved how strong she was. She deserved better than to be treated like some fragile doll who couldn’t make a decision about her own life. Despite what all the other guys thought, she could handle the truth. Being in control of her future might even help her heal from the past.

  Lan knew what he had to do. “Well, hell. ”

  “What?” Cole asked.

  “I’m going to get my ass kicked. I hate getting my ass kicked. ” He steeled himself. If he was going to start fighting for his princess, he might as well start now.

  “No one ever tries to kick my ass anymore,” Cole grumbled.

  Resolved, Lan stalked back to Alea, his heart chugging. Right here, right now, he was going to change everything. Yeah, he should probably wait. If he wanted to play on a team, he shouldn’t make decisions alone. But he wasn’t risking that Dane and Coop would hate the plan and try to shut him down. Alea deserved to know what was going on.

  “Landon?” Alea’s eyes widened as he reached for her hand.

  “Come with me, Princess. We’ve got a meeting to attend. ”

  She began to protest, her words saying one thing, while her fingers said another. Maybe he was going about this all wrong, but as he led her out of the ballroom, Lan could have sworn she squeezed his hand, holding on tight.

  * * * *

  Cooper held the door open for Sheikh Talib al Mussad and wondered if they were doing the right thing. Alea needed peace and to believe she was safe. He didn’t like the idea of worrying her just because they had a gut instinct that could be wrong. If his hunch was on the money, they’d handle it so she could be none the wiser. Right?

  Tal strode into the room where Dane and the Anders brothers had already set up. There were seats with a folder in front of each.

  The investigation into Alea’s abduction. God, he almost didn’t want to know what that file said. A part of him wanted to pretend that the past was behind them all, that she was healing even now, and merely playing coy and hard to get.

  But he knew better. Alea had been ground under some fucker’s boot, and deep down Coop needed to know who he could blame so he’d have someone to kill. He’d finally found the girl who made his heart pound, and she was broken because of this asshole. Or maybe there was more than one asshole. Shooting multiple criminals wouldn’t bother him.

  The tall dude at the front of the room slipped out of his blazer and took a seat at the head of the table. “If you will all take a seat, we can go over the findings fairly quickly and get the sheikh back to his ball. My name is Riley Anders, and I’m the research expert at Anthony Anders. This is my brother, Lawson. He’s pure muscle so don’t expect him to actually talk. He prefers to grunt. ”

  Law sat beside him, straddling the back of a chair, and flipped his brother the finger.

  “So they’re civilized,” he muttered as he took a seat next to Dane.

  Dane leaned over, talking behind his hand. “No doubt. But according to the Lennox brothers, these guys are the best. ”

  “I just wish we’d done the investigation ourselves. ”

  Dane shook his head. “We wanted the best. Alea deserves it. After they tell us the news, then we take over. We can either give her the good news that Khalil was the one who had her kidnapped or we quietly take down the motherfucker who did. That, my friend, is a job we will do ourselves and relish. ”

  Because they damn straight were the best at killing someone who needed to die.

  “If you’ll open your folders, you’ll see that we’ve done a very thorough investigation of the princess’s abduction. Since we were not allowed to interview Princess Alea, it’s incomplete,” Riley pointed out with a tight smile.

  Tal scowled. “I’ve explained this. You have everything you need in the reports. ”

  Law’s eyes narrowed. “Do we? Those reports seem a bit sanitized. There are no real details about what happened to her while she was held. ”

 
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