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One Hot Desert Night(3)

By:Kristi Gold

She expected Piper to burst at the seams with pride at any moment. "I  assume the supermodel hasn't given you and Adan any trouble since the  adoption."

"Not one bit. As far as everyone in the kingdom knows, Sam is my son."

Sunny took her sister's hand. "He is your son in every way that counts."

"You're right," Piper said. "And not only am I a mother, I have been  commissioned as the official palace portrait artist. It's been a  juggling act over the past few months, but I've had a lot of help with  Sam from the staff and my gorgeous husband. I just finished Adan's  painting two days ago and I hope it's up to speed."

Sunny smiled. "I saw the paintings, and Piper, they're beautiful. I'm so  glad you tore yourself away from our grandfather's business so you  could finally do what you've wanted to do for years."

Piper shrugged. "Believe me, if I hadn't met Adan, I'd probably still be  acting as the company's goodwill ambassador. However, that position  directly led to my husband."

Sunny grinned around an unexpected nip of envy. "You must have shown him some mighty fine goodwill, among other things."

After they shared in a laugh, Piper's expression turned suddenly serious. "Enough about me. How are you doing?"

She'd been dreading this part of the visit-recounting the details of  what led to her breakup with Cameron. Horrific details that she'd  relived every day and night since the traumatic experience. "I'm doing  much better than the last time we spoke. I've moved past the anger and  on to acceptance." Though she would never quite accept her former  lover's abandonment when she'd needed him most.                       


"It's not your fault," Piper said, as if she could read her thoughts.  "He wasn't good enough for you if he couldn't face what happened."

"He tried, Piper. I was a mess."

"He didn't try hard enough, and that makes him a jerk."

"He was dealing with his own guilt for not following me that day so he could ride in and save me."

"Stop making excuses for him, Sunny. You were brutally attacked and  abducted and that's not something anyone can get over in a matter of  days. If I'd been through the same thing, I know Adan would have stuck  by me."

Something suddenly occurred to her. "You haven't mentioned the attack to Adan, have you?"

Piper shook her head. "No. He thinks you're here because of the breakup.  I don't like keeping things from him, but I did promise you I wouldn't  say anything."

She'd known she could count on her sister for discretion. "Thank you. The network decided to keep it under wraps."

Piper frowned. "Why? Are they afraid you're going to sue them?"

"No. They're respecting my privacy. They know if word gets out, I'll be  headline news instead of covering it." She sighed. "I keep trying to  tell myself we knew what we were walking into. What we'd been walking  into for the past three years. Greed breeds criminals, but you never  really know who they are until you meet up with one on a dark street.  And in one moment of carelessness, your whole perspective on life  changes when facing possible death."

Piper leaned over and hugged her. "I hope you're going to consider staying in the States when you resume your career."

She had considered it, then nixed that idea altogether, a fact she chose  to withhold from her twin for the time being. "That's going to be up to  the network, provided they even want me after I've been on leave for  two months."

"The network adores you, Sunny. I'm sure they'll welcome you back with open arms. Do you still have your apartment in Atlanta?"

Sunny shook her head. "Nana convinced me to give it up when my lease ran  out while I was staying with her and Poppa. My things are in storage in  Charleston."

"Well, you can always live in the guesthouse permanently since I've vacated the premises."

She'd rather eat collard greens. "A little bit of the grandparents goes a  long way. If I decided to work solely in the U.S., I'd move back to  Atlanta."

Piper gave her another quick hug. "I hope you do. I wouldn't have to  worry about you fending off poisonous snakes in some rain forest."

At least she hadn't brought up unseen attackers. "You could have gone  all year without mentioning those foul creatures," she said, followed by  a yawn.

Piper came to her feet and smiled. "You apparently have a lot of catch-up to do on your sleep. So feel free to take a long nap."

If only it were that simple. Sleep hadn't come easily, at least  nightmare-free sleep. "That sounds good, but it's not that long until  bedtime."

"True, but don't hesitate to try the giant bathtub before dinner," Piper added.

Sunny stood and stretched her arms above her head. "Speaking of dinner, who'll be joining us for the evening meal?"

"Everyone," Piper said. "My husband, of course. Zain and Madison and  their toddlers since they've recently returned from Los Angeles. King  Rafiq and an extremely pregnant Queen Maysa. Oh, and a cousin, Rayad  Rostam, who showed up two days ago."

Finally, Mystery Man was no longer quite the mystery. "Since his last name isn't Mehdi, how is he related?"

"His father and the former queen were siblings, I think, but I don't  know much more. I haven't had the opportunity to speak with my husband  for three whole days, thanks to some top-secret training mission where  he flies planes at warp speed. But I'll be sure to introduce you to  Rayad tonight, and you can interview him."

"I met him," Sunny blurted without thought. "While I was waiting for you  in the foyer. But he didn't say much more than a few words."

Piper's smile arrived full-force. "He's gorgeous, isn't he?"

Unfortunately. "I didn't notice, and you're not supposed to notice since you're now a married woman."

"But I'm not blind, and neither are you."

Her twin knew her all too well. "Fine, he's gorgeous. Satisfied?"

Piper's expression said she wasn't. "Maybe you should get to know him  while you're here. It's my understanding he is presently unattached."                       


Sunny held up both hands, palms forward. "Stop right there. I'm not in the market for a man, if that's what you're thinking."

"I'm thinking you could use a diversion after the idiot left you high and dry."

"It's too soon, Piper. Cameron and I haven't been apart that long." And  her internal wounds resulting from the attack had yet to heal. Wounds  she had yet to reveal to her twin.

"And by your own admission, Sunny, you loved Cameron, but you weren't in love with him."

She'd argued those points with herself, but that hadn't eased the hurt. "Color me gun-shy."

Piper's features softened into a sympathetic look. "Maybe it's time you  make a sincere effort to rejoin the land of the living, Sunny. I'm not  suggesting you sleep with Rayad. I'm suggesting you use your skills to  find out what he's all about and leave all options open. A challenge of  sorts to get your mind off your troubles. And lucky for you, he's  staying in the room right next door."

She found that somewhat odd, and a little disconcerting. "Doesn't he have a house of his own?"

"Since he's undoubtedly rich as sin like the rest of the family, I  assume he does. But Maysa told me that Rafiq insisted he stay here while  he's recovering from an injury he sustained during some kind of  incident."

He'd looked perfectly healthy to Sunny. Very healthy. "What did he injure?"

Her sister grinned. "I'm not sure. Why don't you ask him? Better still, why don't you request he show you?"

"Not interested," she said, worried that she might never be able to  experience true intimacy again. "Besides, I've never really been drawn  to the strong, macho, silent type."

Piper barked out a laugh on her way to the door. "Yeah, right, Sunshine.  Aside from Cameron, that's the only type that's ever held your  interest."

Bristling from the truth, Sunny trailed behind her sister and prepared  for a debate. "Don't you dare do anything stupid like try to fix me up,  Pookie."

Piper spun around and scowled. "You promised you wouldn't call me that."

"You promised, too."

"Okay, you're right. No more Pookie or Sunshine."

"It's a deal."

"And I also promise not to play cupid," Piper continued, "although  Madison tells me Rayad's a really nice guy if you can get past all that  machismo. Just something to consider between now and the evening meal."

After Piper closed the door behind her, Sunny perched on the edge of the  mattress and toed out of her flats. She'd already surmised Rayad Rostam  was a testosterone-ridden military man, and that should be all she  needed to know. Yet her innate inquisitiveness urged her to learn more  about him. She craved peeling back those personality layers to reveal  the man behind the steely persona. She truly needed to investigate him  further, from a solely journalistic standpoint, of course. Even if she  proved to be drawn to him on a physical level, a virile man like Rayad  wouldn't want the closed-off, fearful woman she'd become. Not even a  nice guy could handle that-case in point, her former lover, Cameron.