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One Hot Desert Night(2)

By:Kristi Gold



As she stood by the car and waited for further instruction, she didn't  possess enough energy to insist that she was quite capable of opening  her own door and carrying her own luggage. Luggage was definitely an  overstatement when describing the lone duffel bag and small carry-on  case now in the hands of an attendant all decked out in white muslin.  She'd learned to travel light and pack very little in the course of her  work. Covering breaking news in some of the most obscure places on earth  required only minimal supplies. At least today she'd exchanged the  khakis and T-shirts for black slacks and a white, tailored, buttoned-up  blouse, as dressed up as she'd been in quite a while.

When the driver gestured toward the entry, two beefy guards opened the  heavy, wooden double doors, allowing her access to the ornate Mehdi  palace. And after she stepped inside, her footsteps echoed in the  three-story foyer as she followed the man with her bag, passing several  golden statuettes and exquisite artwork.                       
       
           



       

The attendant paused before the towering staircase, turned and set the  duffel onto the polished stone floor near Sunny's feet. "If you will  kindly wait here, I will summon your sister," he said, his tone thick  with a Middle Eastern accent.

"Of course," she replied politely, although she wasn't sure why she had  to wait. She couldn't imagine Piper had forgotten she was due to arrive  at this hour. Then again, considering her sibling had stepped into the  role of mother to the sheikh's infant son, she could have been detained  by a wet diaper.

As the minutes ticked off, Sunny passed the time studying several  portraits of regal-looking royals lining the stone walls, including the  current king, the stoic and darkly handsome Rafiq Mehdi and his debonair  brother, Zain. She then paused at the painting depicting the  lighter-haired Adan, the youngest Mehdi son, and her new brother-in-law.  She had to admit Piper had landed herself one good-looking  pilot-prince, and the person who'd painted this picture had nailed every  detail, right down to the guy's dimples.

After Sunny leaned over to better see the artist's signature, she  immediately straightened from shock when she noted her twin's familiar  handwriting. She then backtracked and checked every painting to find  that Piper had created each and every one, and she'd done a darn good  job. Finally, her sister had realized her overdue dream of becoming an  artist. And she'd become a princess in the process. Amazing.

"Not too shabby at all," she muttered aloud. "It's about time you were wrested from our grandfather's clutches."

"Parental influences can be a challenge."

Sunny's hand automatically went to her throat as she spun around in  search of the owner of the darkly masculine voice...and contacted the  most intense near-black eyes she'd ever seen. He shouted military man  from the top of his close-cropped black hair, to the bottom of his brown  combat boots, yet his jaw was spattered with whiskers, as if he hadn't  shaved in a while. The tan fatigues and black T-shirt pulled tight over  his extremely toned chest, the short sleeves revealing standard-issue  muscles that said he meant business, proved to be quite the distraction.  So did his self-assured stance and the somewhat arrogant lift of his  chin.

As he boldly assessed her from forehead to feet, Sunny's journalist's  instinct kicked into overdrive, bringing with it a series of  descriptors. Stealth. Mysterious. Sexy as hell.

The impact of the last thought caused heat to fan over her face and  snake down her throat as the overwhelming need to escape took hold. She  refused to give in to that urge.

When he didn't speak she offered her hand for a shake. "I'm Sunny McAdams. And you are?"

He stepped forward and enveloped her extended hand in one very large palm. "Greatly pleased to meet you."

Two more words came to mind-practiced player. After he released his  grasp, Sunny hugged her arms to her middle as if that somehow guarded  her from the impact of his inescapable aura of power. "Do you have a  name or should I try to guess?"

"Rayad," he replied without even hinting at a smile, but his gaze never  faltered. Oh, no. He just kept staring at her as if trying to read her  mind. Hopefully he couldn't, because she harbored too many secrets she  would never reveal to a stranger.

Sunny inclined her head and studied him straight on, showing him she  wasn't about to cower under his assessment. "Ah, a man of few words who  apparently doesn't have a last name."

"You made it!"

She tore her attention from the stranger and brought it to her  dark-haired, blue-eyed bubbly sister practically bounding down the  stairs to the right. Before Piper reached the bottom landing, Sunny  risked a glance to find that the mystifying Rayad was nowhere to be  found.

As soon as Piper's feet hit the floor below the final step, she drew Sunny into a voracious hug. "I'm so glad you're here."

"So am I," she said after they ended the embrace. "And I can't tell you  how much I appreciate you letting me hang out here for a while."

"You're welcome to stay as long as you like," Piper said as she surveyed Sunny's face. "You look terrible."

That could explain why Mystery Man had been staring at her nonstop.  "Gee, thanks, sis. I didn't know the invitation came with insults."

Piper rolled her eyes to the gold-bedecked ceiling. "I meant you look exhausted. You couldn't look terrible if you tried."

Oh, but she did. She was well aware how badly her blond hair needed a  trim and how pale she'd become since she'd left the field. "I'm in dire  need of some sun and sleep, that's for sure. Spa treatments couldn't  hurt."                       
       
           



       

Piper grinned. "Well, you've come to the right place. Or maybe I should say the right palace."

Sunny felt as if she'd been transported back to a better place and time,  when she and her twin hadn't had a care in the world, in spite of the  fact they hadn't had a caring mother. "Very funny, Pookie Bear."

Her sister scowled. "Please don't let my husband hear you call me that,  Sunshine. He'll grab on to the nickname like a fish on a worm and won't  let go."

"Tell you what," she said. "You can the Sunshine and I'll forget the Pookie."

"But your name is Sunshine."

"And you know how much I hate that."

"All right, it's a deal." Piper hooked her arm through Sunny's. "Now I  shall escort you to your accommodations. For this visit, I've selected  the first-floor guest quarters reserved for very special guests. Lots of  privacy."

Unlike the last stay at the palace, this time Sunny needed privacy and a  place to hide away, at least when she wasn't expected to socialize with  the in-laws. "I only require a bed and a bath."

"Oh, you'll have both," Piper said as she led her down a lengthy corridor off the foyer. "And your own private garden."

"As long as I don't have to tend it, that sounds great."

After they navigated a narrow hallway flanked by more polished rock  walls, Piper paused in front of a pair of gleaming wooden doors and  opened them wide. "Enter this chamber fit for a princess. Or the  princess's sister."

Sunny stepped over the threshold and visually searched the massive room,  awed by the absolute grandeur, including an intricately carved  headboard, red satin spread and a scattering of matching red and gold  chairs. She turned to Piper and smiled. "Where's my tiara?"

"I'll have one sent up," she said. "Bathroom's to the right, complete  with massive soaking tub and a carwash-size shower, in case you want to  have a party with a companion or ten."

She didn't even have one companion, let alone ten. When the image of the  patently sexy, albeit elusive Rayad jumped into her brain, she mentally  shoved it away. But she couldn't dispel the suffocating imagines of  confinement at the hands of a criminal. She couldn't rid herself of the  concern that she might never function as the normal sensual woman she'd  once been. "Do you have a few minutes for a brief visit, or do you have  to tend to royal duties or baby stuff?"

Piper plopped down onto a gold brocade divan. "Sure. Sam won't be up from his nap for another half hour or so."

Sunny joined her on the less-than-comfortable sofa. "So how is my nephew these days?"

Her sister revealed a mother's smile. "He's fat and sassy and a very  active eight-month-old. He started crawling fairly early, and now he's  pulling up on furniture poised to take off on his chubby little legs at  any time. But I really expect him to climb before he walks."

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