Their virgin princess, p.7
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       Their Virgin Princess, p.7

         Part #4 of Masters of Ménage series by Shayla Black
Page 7


  Dane touched the comm device that rested in his ear. “Lan, you’re missing your charge, buddy. ”

  “No, I’m not. ” Lan stepped up behind her. His face was closed off as though he was just waiting for Dane’s brutal judgment to fall down on his head. “It’s her life. She has the right to know. ”

  Coop winced. Hell, there was going to be a throw down now. He would be lucky if he managed to keep the ballsy Texan from losing his life, much less his job.

  Alea walked into the room, her head held high. “I caught wind of this little meeting and I threatened Landon. He didn’t have a choice. ”

  Dane’s face had turned a spectacular shade of red. “What exactly did you threaten him with, Princess? Were you going to use your nail file on him? Maybe you were going to throw one of your high heels at him. ”

  “Don’t be condescending. I threatened to tell my cousins that he’d made a pass at me and have him fired if he didn’t cooperate. ” Alea stood her ground even as Dane rose and stalked toward her.

  Coop stood, too, because this could get out of hand very quickly. “Now, Dane. Hold up. We should listen. ”

  Dane towered over her. Her crazy-hot, four-inch heels were no match for his six and a half feet of pure muscle. Alea tilted her head back to look him in the eyes. “I didn’t give him a choice, so if you have a problem with me being here, you really should talk to me. ”

  Lan shook his head, and Coop knew he was about to do something stupid. “She didn’t threaten me. Besides, everyone knows I hit on her all the time. I haven’t gotten fired yet. ”

  “That’s not going to be a problem anymore, Nix. Consider yourself officially fired. You can pack your bags and be out of here by morning. ” Dane turned to the rest of the room. “Gentlemen, I think we have everything we need. I’m sure the sheikh will cooperate fully with the investigation. ”

  Tal was sitting back in his chair, watching the drama unfold with curious eyes. “Naturally, I will help in any way I can. ”

  Alea wasn’t through with Dane. She stomped one of those designer shoes as she followed him. “You can’t fire Landon. I won’t allow it. Tal, tell him. ”

  The sheikh shrugged negligently. “Dane is in charge of security. He can hire and fire as he likes. But he might want to remember that there are more important things at stake than whether Landon followed orders. ”

  Dane turned and glared at Lan, seemingly trying to intimidate the younger man and waiting for him to break, to ask for forgiveness.

  And Alea was now looking through one of the folders, her skin turning pale as she caught sight of the pictures taken of her in the hospital after her rescue. That frail, gaunt creature looked nothing like the stunning beauty standing before him now. Her hand shook as she touched the picture.

  Lawson Anders stood up, shoving some file folders into his briefcase. “To answer your question, Princess, yes. My gut tells me that whoever is responsible will come after you again. They had a bleak future all planned for you, and it didn’t involve you being rescued and coming home. I don’t know why you weren’t killed, but if someone wants to wipe you off the face of the Earth, I suspect they won’t hesitate to snuff you out next time. ”

  Alea’s eyes fluttered, and her shoulders dropped. “And you believe this is someone I know, someone I spend time with?”

  There was no hint of emotion in Lawson’s eyes. “Yes. No idea who yet, but we’ll find out. ”

  Tal cursed and glared at Law. “Did you have to be quite so blunt?” Without waiting for an answer, he turned to Alea. “Are you all right?”

  She nodded, looking drawn and still.

  Straightening his tuxedo jacket, the sheikh cleared his throat, hiding a whole lot of pissed off. “Then I’m retiring back to the ballroom. I probably only have a few more hours of peace left. Once Piper finds out about this meeting, there will very likely be hell to pay. The good news is, she’s adorable when she’s mad. We’ll leave the cleanup to you three. After all, you wanted to be responsible for her. Be careful what you wish for. ”

  After Tal had gone, Alea swayed on her feet. Cooper moved across the room in a flash as her eyes closed and her body crumpled. He caught her just before she hit the floor and lifted her weight into his arms as if she was a precious burden. Dane and Lan stood right beside him, wearing matching expressions of concern.

  This wasn’t how he’d pictured holding her for the first time. But no matter. He held her close now, even as her eyes fluttered open.

  “Lea, you’re going to be okay. ” Damn, was that his voice shaking?

  “I think I’d like to go to my room, Cooper. Could you please take me?” She wasn’t fighting him. He’d expected her to struggle and tell him she could walk, but she let her arm drift up around his shoulders and she laid her head on his chest. She could probably hear his heart pounding.

  “Absolutely. ” He glanced back at his friends. “Someone get my med kit. ”

  Without waiting for Dane and Lan to answer, he started out the door. If someone was still after Alea, it was time to start putting her first.

  Chapter Three

  Alea dragged in a long breath as Cooper strode toward her private apartments. “I changed my mind. You can let me down now. I need to talk to those investigators and look at that report. ”

  She enjoyed being in his arms far too much. He made her feel delicate and feminine, loved and almost innocent. And it was all a lie.

  “Not until I’ve examined you, Princess. You passed out. ”

  “I got woozy. I never lost consciousness. ”

  No, but that would have been nice. She’d been brutally aware of all of tonight’s events. Her cousins, whom she trusted more than anyone in the world, had hired investigators and not bothered to mention it to her. Coop and Dane had gone along with the plan to keep her in the dark. When had they planned to tell her that someone was out there waiting for another chance to send her back to hell?

  Cooper used his foot to kick the door open. “You were about to hit the floor. ”

  Alea frowned. “Well, the dress is tight. ”

  She could barely breathe. Her evening gown hadn’t been designed for comfort. And now she was a little worried that if she tried to take a deep breath, her breasts might peek or plop out.

  “Then maybe you should get out of it, but I’m not leaving here until I know you’re all right. ” His dark eyes were full of glittering determination.

  He swept her through the living area and back toward her bedroom. He didn’t need to be pointed in the right direction. He, Dane, and Lan knew every square inch of this place because they were always watching over her. They did a sweep of her room every single night before she went to bed. One of them was always somewhere in the shadows, waiting to defend her.

  And now it looked like she needed them more than she’d imagined. Some psycho had gone to a lot of trouble and expense to make her life hell and was probably waiting to do it again. God, that someone must truly hate her. The fact that it could be someone she knew boggled her mind. She tried to think of any obvious enemies she might have, but came up terribly blank.

  “Alea? You went pale again. ” He carried her to her bed and settled her on top of the silky, pale-gray comforter. His hand went straight to her forehead. “You’re hot. ”

  She wished he’d said that in a way that meant he found her attractive—and that she could believe. Unfortunately, Cooper Evans was an outrageous flirt. She couldn’t take anything he said seriously. And he’d only meant the words medically.

  “It was stuffy in the ballroom. ”

  Cooper looked behind him. “Where the hell are they? I need my kit. ”

  “I’m not sick,” Alea insisted. “You don’t need to examine me. ”

  She struggled to sit up. She really did need to talk to those investigators since she’d only gotten a brief glimpse at the reports, and so much of what they’d said had been strained through the filter of her incredulity. Just t
hinking about what had happened in the past—what might happen again—her heart ratcheted up to a jackhammer’s pace.

  Oh, god no.

  For the last two years, she’d been plagued by panic attacks, though they’d begun to slow down. She’d thought she was getting better, but now she couldn’t breathe. Damn it, she needed to breathe.

  Alea pushed off the bed and started charging across the room, her blood racing through her veins, her heart roaring in her ears. Blackness swam at the edge of her vision.

  “Lea? Baby?”

  The “baby” nearly did her in. She needed his arms around her, and it wasn’t going to happen. Coop probably called every female under the age of eighty “baby. ” Even if his voice had been so tender that she wanted to cry, she couldn’t take his endearment personally.

  Suddenly, Coop raced around her, gripping her shoulders, holding her secure. He towered over her, his golden brown hair shining under the soft recessed lights. His broad shoulders seemed to go on for days. He looked so masculine, so fiercely capable of protecting the woman he loved. Yet Coop regarded her with such soft concern.

  She wanted to melt against him—and if she did, she’d make a fool of herself. Time to put space between them. “I’m going to the bathroom. Just go away, Cooper. I’m fine. ”

  Alea charged toward her luxurious bathroom, slamming the door behind her. He would leave now. And damn it, no, that wouldn’t disappoint her. Cooper had a job to do, so of course he would retreat outside her bedroom doors, leaving her utterly alone.

  Even knowing that’s what he should do, she leaned against the back of the door, trying to get a lungful of air, and fought tears. Why cry for what she couldn’t change? Angrily, she swiped at the wet paths on her cheeks, then wound her hands to the back of her bodice, pulling at the cinches. In a moment, her breasts broke free and she dragged blessed oxygen into her lungs.

  She pushed the whole gown off and got out of the god-awful spandex undies she’d forced her body into because she didn’t want anyone to know that she wasn’t perfect. God, if they only knew.

  Tears streaked down her face as she turned and caught sight of herself in the mirror. She wasn’t beautiful. She was supposed to be a princess, but somehow she’d ended up with small breasts and an ass that was a bit too wide. Her stomach wasn’t flat.

  They had beaten her for that in the brothel. She could still feel the switch they had used on her, still see the faint scars on her belly. She wasn’t pretty enough to sell. She wasn’t sexy enough to fuck. No one would want her.

  But someone hated her enough to have her kidnapped and tortured.

  Alea crossed to the sink and turned on the cold water. She had to get control of herself quickly because the coronation ball was still in progress. Piper would expect her there. She needed to get dressed again. And she needed to confront her cousins who had involved everyone in the investigation about her abduction except her.

  She’d been so sure when Khalil had died that her ordeal was all over. She’d cried and tried to come to terms with everything. But she’d been safe—or so she had believed. Now she knew it had all been a falsehood.

  And her cousins had perpetrated it.

  She couldn’t face the investigators again wearing that dumbass gown. She’d picked it out for stupid reasons. Piper had told her it was gorgeous, and she’d thought that maybe Dane, Landon, and Cooper would think she was pretty for an evening.

  So stupid. She should have just picked a black dress that covered everything and wouldn’t potentially embarrass the hell out of her.

  “Oh god, you’re gorgeous. ”

  Alea started, her heart nearly stopping at Cooper’s masculine groan. He was standing in the doorway, staring at her intently, his mouth set in a slightly salacious expression. Slightly? A second glance suggested that maybe she was underestimating him.

  Her first instinct was to leap for a robe, a towel—anything that would cover her—but she just stood there, utterly frozen. He was staring at her naked body, and he wasn’t running away. In fact, he was moving toward her. She retreated a quick step, but her back met the marbled wall, and there was nowhere else to go.

  Alea could hardly catch her breath to speak. “You should go. ”

  “God, you’re so fucking beautiful. ” He sounded like he meant it. He edged closer, towering over her.

  “You can’t be in here,” she protested, but it wasn’t the sound of a woman who strongly meant what she was saying. Instead, it sounded breathy, almost like a seduction. What was wrong with her?

  “Why not, Lea? Give me one good reason. ” He braced himself against the wall behind her, his body pressing close.

  She could think of about fifty reasons, but only one came out of her mouth. “I’m naked. ”

  “Yes, and that’s the best reason I can think of to stay. ”

  He leaned toward her, touching their foreheads together. If he’d been the least bit domineering, she could have pushed him away, but this was a sweet intimacy. How long had it been since she’d touched someone? Felt the heat of another body close to her own quite like this? Never.

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