Their virgin princess, p.6
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       Their Virgin Princess, p.6

         Part #4 of Masters of Ménage series by Shayla Black
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Page 6


  “Bad shit,” Dane shot back. “What the fuck more do you need to know?”

  Riley glared. “Shut the testosterone off and get real. We need to know everything. We’re not here to judge the princess. We’re here to figure out who plotted her kidnapping. Knowing what she endured during her captivity might provide clues. ”

  Tal leaned forward intently, his jaw tight. “Are you telling me you know this wasn’t random? Alea is a beautiful girl. Isn’t it possible that she was taken and held for the highest bidder? It makes sense that she’d be targeted because she hid her wealth. The person who nabbed her might have believed she wasn’t protected. ”

  Law’s head shook, shooting down Tal’s earnest hope. “Not a chance. ”

  “What my brother means to say is that we have proof to the contrary. Turn to page five of the file. It’s a photocopy of the note that brought Alea to the club that night. It was found amongst her things from New York,” Riley said quietly, the very somberness of his voice an answer to the question.

  Meet me at 7 at the Jackson Club downtown. Please. I need help.

  It was unsigned, but the stationary was unmistakable. It had come from the Bezakistani embassy in New York.

  “We’ve seen and discussed this note. ” Dane sighed. “You’re right. She must have believed she knew who wrote it. Whoever’s behind her abduction knew she would respond to a request from the embassy. It stands to reason this person knew exactly who she was and targeted her. Motherfucker. ”

  “The question is why,” Riley said, then turned to Tal. “You never received a ransom note?”

  The sheikh shook his head. “No. I would have paid. I would have paid anything. ”

  “Then they weren’t after money,” Dane concluded.

  Riley shrugged a little. “We can’t be completely sure of that, but there’s one other reason we’re convinced this wasn’t random. If we were just dealing with slavers filling an order, she would have been raped about ten minutes after her kidnapping. You’ve read the medical file. You know that didn’t happen. ”

  Dane’s whole body had stiffened. Coop wasn’t any happier. When they had first heard Alea’s story, he, Dane, and Lan had sat down and talked. Even if she hadn’t been raped, she’d been through a lot. They had backed off physically because of it. Coop had started reading about the psychology of victims, trying to understand.

  Law frowned. “From what we’ve been able to tell, Alea was brutalized in every other way imaginable. They left her virginity intact for a reason. ”

  Tal slapped at the table. “Do we have to talk about this?”

  “The information won’t leave this room,” Coop vowed. “But you asked us to be responsible for Alea’s well-being. It’s hard to do that if we don’t talk about information that might be relevant. ”

  “This is none of anyone’s business, even yours. I tasked you with making sure she doesn’t get hurt again. That’s all. ” Tal glowered.

  Ouch. That hurt like a bitch. But Coop refused to back down. “Knowing what she endured may tell us what happened to her and why, so yeah, I think it’s my business. I also happen to think that protecting her life is more important than protecting her modesty. She’s not just a job to me. She’s a good woman who deserves to close her eyes at night and sleep soundly, knowing that she’s safe. ”

  Tal drew in a calming breath. “Sorry. You’re right. I know how you all feel about her. I’ve seen how Alea reacts to you three. I asked you here for a reason, and it wasn’t as her security team. ”

  That was news to Coop. The last he’d heard, the sheikh had reminded all three of them of their completely non-royal status. Dane had gone the “I hate authority” route, while Lan had slid into his whole “woe is me/I grew up in a trailer so no woman can love me” pile of shit. Coop…he’d seen the play for what it was at the time.

  Back then, Tal had been in a bad place with Piper. He’d been a bear growling at anything that even halfway moved. Dane wasn’t known for his subtlety. Lan sometimes stepped in it—when he bothered to speak at all. So they’d made nice, big targets for the sheikh. When Coop had written off Tal’s craptastic mood and snarling outburst to not getting any, Dane and Lan had called him an overly optimistic Pollyanna and told him to shut the fuck up.

  Coop shrugged. He was realistic, thank you. The other two could be morose morons. But they were his family.

  “What are you saying, Your Highness?” Dane asked, his jaw squaring in that comic book, all-American hero way of his.

  Tal turned to Dane. Coop’s stomach rolled. Here it came, the big emotional “I’m sorry” scene that had been building for six months. Fuck. Coop hadn’t gone into the Navy so he could have the verbal equivalent of dude hugs. He’d rather cut through the crap and put it behind them. “Let me translate. Tal fucked up and he’s sorry. He’s cool if we go after Alea because he knows we’ll take care of her. Now can we move this along?”

  Tal frowned Coop’s way. “That’s not exactly how I planned to say it, but yes. I had a very long apology planned, too. ”

  “Can’t we handle this like men?” Coop asked. “Just punch each other, then share a beer and we’re all cool. ”

  Dane’s lips curled up. “Sorry, Tal. Coop isn’t a big believer in the whole ‘emotional sharing’ thing. I think it’s because he grew up surrounded by cattle. ”

  Coop shrugged. Sometimes he missed his dad’s ranch. “I was raised by cowhands who were long on work and short on chatter. Sorry. ”

  A huge smile crossed the sheikh’s face. “Well, Cooper was succinct, but correct. Alea needs you. I’ve talked this over with my brothers, and we’ve agreed that we will approve the marriage if you can convince her to accept. ”

  “We will. ” Coop smiled now. “But it’s not fair. You had it easier. You got to steal a bride. ”

  “We followed in the tradition of our ancestors. They would whisk a woman away to someplace quiet and fuck her until she finally agreed to marry them,” Tal said with a long sigh. “You’ll have to be sneaky. I doubt Alea will prove as accommodating or as easily deceived as Piper. Plus, we had the whole language thing on our side. Unfortunately for you, Alea is proficient in five languages. I don’t think she knows Swahili. Do any of you?”

  Coop rolled his eyes. “I think we can all agree Alea is smarter than any of us. We’re going to have to rely on how hot we are. ”

  “That’s worked so well for us up to this point. ” Dane rolled his eyes. “So please stop walking around in your boxers on the off chance that Alea will walk in, see your body, and fall at your feet. ”

  He elbowed Dane. It could have worked.

  Law yawned, looking generally bored. “If you guys are done with the huggy portion of the evening, we could move on. ”

  Riley frowned at his brother. “Sorry, he’s the emotional equivalent of a lobotomized pit bull. Now for the bad news. There is no indication that Khalil had anything to do with the kidnapping. In fact, we talked to the private investigators he hired to look for the princess. ”

  “What?” Tal asked, nearly coming out of his seat.

  Coop was confused, too. Khalil had been a violent asswipe bent on destroying the whole family. “He hated his cousins. ”

  “He hated everyone in line for the throne. Alea isn’t. And there’s no doubt he hired a small firm in California to search for her. It was actually a smart play. Those particular investigators have deep ties in South America. ”

  “It had to be a ruse,” Tal shot back.

  “I don’t think so. Yes, he could have used it to point suspicion away from him if you’d thought he had something to do with the kidnapping. But it makes more sense to me that he would look for her so he could get his hands on her before you. That leverage might have been very interesting to a man like Khalil. Unfortunately for him, your investigators got there first,” Riley explained. “And the firm he hired doesn’t know anything we don’t. ”

  So if Khalil hadn’t been g
uilty, and the act hadn’t been random, where did that leave them? Screwed. Everything inside Coop tightened. Knowing that the asshole behind Alea’s torment was still free to plot against her again would feed his nightmares. Random, they could deal with. It sucked, but the Lennox brothers had taken vengeance out on the men who had actually grabbed Alea from her university. He, Dane, and Lan found comfort in that. Even Khalil as the mastermind made him feel better. That fucker was dead, and Coop knew that he and his buddies would watch over her and make sure nothing ever happened to her again.

  But neither of the above wasn’t what he wanted to hear.

  “So you believe that Khalil was in the dark, too. ” Tal’s fingers splayed across the table as he leaned forward and cursed in Arabic.

  Riley continued. “We’ve made a careful study of the flow of money of the abductors and the brothel where your cousin was held. It’s all a bit of a nightmare. The brothel was owned by a man who had close ties to the Delgado Cartel. The money filtered through there, but when the Lennox brothers took down that cartel and killed the Delgados, it splintered into three different groups. Getting any kind of financials on a criminal organization is difficult. Scraping figures together on one in disarray is nearly impossible. ”

  “So you’re saying you’ve reached a dead end?” Coop was already planning a trip to Colombia in his head. He would cut through all that red tape and just kill a bunch of fuckers until one told him what he needed to know.

  “No. I’m saying I’m a genius and the world should really bow at my feet,” Riley quipped with an arrogant smile.

  Law made a vomiting sound. “He likes to build it all up so he looks good. All he did was play around with his computer. ”

  “Luddite. I can cause more trouble with a few keystrokes than you can with all the guns in your arsenal. Now, I don’t have it all figured out, but I do have a very interesting pattern of deposits and withdrawals. If you look on page sixteen, I’ve documented what I’ve got. ” Pages shuffled, and Riley went on. “I’ve managed to discern that the brothel’s business transactions were handled by the owner’s wife. It’s all routine and in cash until two weeks after Alea’s kidnapping. A wire transfer of twenty-five thousand hit a bank account the cartel used strictly for the brothels. Now, we all know they were selling women, but the same account then wires five thousand every ten days until two days before Alea was rescued. ”

  Dane shook his head. “Like…someone was paying for her upkeep?”

  “If that’s the case, they definitely overpaid. According to Cole, she was kept in horrible conditions,” Tal muttered.

  “I think someone was paying them simply to keep her alive, Tal,” Coop said darkly.

  This twisted plot was far worse than he’d imagined. Someone out there had paid to keep Alea tied up and drug addicted. Someone had wanted her held captive. But why?

  “Where did that money come from?” he demanded of Riley.

  The PI paused. “Directly from a Cayman account, which was closed shortly after Alea was rescued. I’m still looking for the records that indicate where and how the account was funded, but as you can imagine, the banking laws in the Caymans are beyond liberal. ”

  “So what you’re saying is that we might never know. ” Dane scrubbed a hand over his hair. He’d let it grow after he’d left the Navy. Coop kept his in a military cut because it was easy, but that hair of Dane’s seemed one way he distanced himself from his past.

  Riley squared his big shoulders like he was ready for battle. Though he came across a bit like a geek, he was obviously in good shape and possessed a little badass. “I will figure it out. I won’t stop. ”

  “He’s serious,” Law explained. “He’s pissed off now. He’ll never quit. It’s why Dominic sent us out here. We’re going to go through some of the palace records. Some of them are kept on paper. ”

  Riley shuddered. “That’s barbaric, but I have to examine those records. ”

  “Are you suggesting someone at the palace was behind the atrocity?” Tal asked, clearly horrified by the prospect.

  “We have to rule out every possibility,” Riley said without a hint of apology in his voice. “I’ve already checked on everyone Princess Alea knew in New York, including all the employees at the embassy. I suspect that whoever is behind her abduction is someone she knows. ”

  “Will they try again?” a soft, shaky voice asked from the shadowed doorway.

  Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Alea walked into the light and stood like a gorgeous statue in her gown, her hair caught in a soft chignon that Coop wanted to run his hands through until all that midnight softness flowed around her shoulders. Her face was a tense mask. She had obviously heard far more than they wanted her to.

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