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One Hot Desert Night(7)

By:Kristi Gold

She shook her head. "He's right about Sunny. Something did happen to her a couple of months ago."

"Why did you not tell me this before now?" Adan asked.

"Because she made me promise not to say anything," she replied. "But  frankly, I'm worried about her. Even more so now." She both looked and  sounded extremely concerned.

Exactly as he'd predicted. Rayad now needed all the details Sunny's sibling could give him. "What precisely happened to her?"

"She was in a small village in Angola," Piper said. "Late one night she  went for a walk on the streets. She was ambushed and attacked by some  unknown assailants. They held her captive for a few hours before she  managed to get away."

"Was she sexually assaulted?" Adan asked before Rayad had the opportunity.

"No," Piper stated adamantly. "She was very clear about that.  Thankfully, nothing was broken aside from her spirits, but it did take a  while for her to recover, according to her. In my opinion, she still  hasn't."

Two questions weighed heavily on his mind-why had her former lover not  sought her out, and had anyone been held accountable? "Did they  apprehend the assailants?"

"They never did," she said. "Sunny told me a lot of people travel there  to mine for diamonds, so it could have been anyone from anywhere in the  world. She doesn't expect to ever find out the identity of the  responsible parties."

How well he knew that concept, yet he refused to accept that conclusion.  He had lived with his own mystery for many years, and lived his life  for revenge. "Thank you for providing this information, Piper. It does  explain her behavior. And now I know how I should handle the situation."

"Leave her be, Rayad," Adan demanded. "She's come here to be alone and heal her wounds."

His cousin's cautions would not deter him from his goal. "And she cannot  tend to that herself. I can provide the support she needs during her  visit here in Bajul."

"It's your idea of support that concerns me," Adan said.

"Maybe Rayad's help is exactly what Sunny needs," Piper interjected.  "She's not going to listen to me. If he can get through to her, he has  my blessing."

Adan pointed at him. "Do not do anything inadvisable, Rayad."

He nodded his acknowledgment. "I will handle the situation with the greatest of care."

And he would, despite his desire for the beautiful, troubled Sunny  McAdams. Perhaps this would be his chance to engage in an honorable  endeavor. An opportunity to prove he had not completely lost his soul.  Perhaps he could save this woman where before he had failed another.  Perhaps he could prove to himself that he was a man worthy of  salvation-not the soldier who had no hope for redemption.

* * *

"Wake up, sleepyhead."

Frightened and disoriented, Sunny jolted her head up from the pillow and  attempted to focus on the figure before her. Thankfully, the familiar  face and smile helped calm her raw nerves and bring her back into  reality. Not that she was overly happy with her sister's sudden  appearance, nor did she understand why she had her arms full of garment  bags.                       


Sunny threw back the covers, climbed out of the too-tall bed and sighed. "You could've knocked, Piper."

"I did. Twice, in fact. And I'm really sorry if I scared you."

"I'm not scared." The slight tremor in her voice belied her confidence.

"It's okay, Sunny. I know it's been tough to overcome the effects of your ordeal."

Her twin couldn't even imagine what she'd been through. "What time is it, and did you raid the local dry cleaners?"

Piper looked down at the bags as if she didn't remember what she had  clutched in her arms. "It's close to noon, and no, I did not raid the  dry cleaners. I did, however, raid the local boutique earlier this  morning to find you something suitable to wear."

Lovely. Just what she needed after a restless night-wardrobe criticism. "You told me to pack what I normally pack."

"Yes, but tonight we'll be attending an event that requires something a bit more formal than cotton and khakis."

Sunny swept her mussed hair back with one hand and adjusted the top of her sleep shirt to better cover her neck. "What event?"

Clearly bent on avoiding the question, Piper laid the bags across the  end of the bed and unzipped the first of three garment bags. "This is my  personal favorite," she said as she withdrew a black, slinky dress.

The plunging neckline would never work, not when she needed to hide the  reminders of her recent torment. "Too much bling, and you still didn't  answer my question."

Piper tightened the band securing her dark auburn hair into a low  ponytail before smoothing a palm down her flowing peach-colored  sundress. "It's no big deal, really. Just a simple state dinner Madison  arranged several months ago. A few dignitaries hoping to hold court with  the king. Some schmoozing. That kind of thing."

The kind of thing that made her head hurt. "Am I required to attend?"

"No, but you'll miss a lot of great food." Piper withdrew another dress and held it up. "What about this one?"

She eyed the satin evening gown that reminded her of a shiny hothouse  tomato. "You know I look horrible in red, and I've had fancy food  before. Just bring me a take-out box after you're finished schmoozing.  Or I'll scrounge around in the kitchen after the festivities if I get  hungry."

"You can come to the banquet and leave early if you'd like." Piper  brought out the final evening wear selection. "I'm sure Rayad wouldn't  mind seeing you in this one."

"That's perfect." Sunny was caught off guard by the verbal seal of  approval that spilled out of her mouth without thought. One mention of  the mysterious sheikh, and she was ready to party. What in the heck was  wrong with her? "I meant it would work if I decide to go, and it really  is immaterial to me whether Rayad is there or not."

Her sister sighed like she'd lost her best gal pal. "Stop being so  stubborn, Sunny. You need to get out and socialize a while. Meet new  people. Get to know those you've already met, better."

She needed to stay in and lick her wounds. "Believe me, I had enough  socializing to last a lifetime in my youth. I swore at our debutante  ball I'd never put on another ball gown again."

Piper chuckled. "I remember how much you hated being a deb."

"And I remember how much you loved the attention, although I don't know  why. That has to be the most antiquated tradition in the history of  womankind."

Her sister's blue eyes sparkled with amusement. "It was worth it seeing  you in that hoop skirt. Now promise you'll attend tonight or I'll post  pictures of that on the web."

Sunny snatched the gown from Piper's clutches. "Fine. I'll put on the  darn dress and parade around for fifteen minutes, thirty tops."

Piper frowned. "Funny, I thought this royal blue one would be your least favorite. And I know how much you detest a high neck."

Not when she had an obvious scar to hide. She didn't dare let her sister  see the wound for fear she would have to explain, and she wasn't  prepared to reveal the details yet, if ever. "I like the overall cut of  the dress. Sleeveless, satin and simple, yet elegant."

"And also loose fitting," Piper said. "You won't be able to show off your figure that I've envied since we were teenagers."

She didn't care one whit how it looked on her. Much. She admittedly  yearned to catch a glimpse of Rayad, and maybe continue her interview.  "It's fine, Piper, and I've envied your curves for years. And that you  got the blue eyes and I got stuck with green. Besides, I'm sure no one  will notice me at all."                       


Piper barked out a laugh. "Sure, Sunny. Just keep telling yourself that.  I'm fairly certain I know at least one man who'll be staring at you all  evening, just like he did at dinner last night."

Darn if her sister hadn't noticed. "I have no clue what you're talking about."

"Rayad. He eyed you like you were dessert."

"He did not."

"Did so."

Sunny was simply too sleep-deprived to get into this now. "Go take care of your son."

"Aren't you going to try it on?" Piper asked, followed by her patent scowl.

Only after she was assured she had complete privacy. "I need to shower first, but I'm positive it will fit."

"We have yet to discuss your shoes."

Obviously her twin was intent on playing dress-up. "I have shoes."


"What does it matter? The gown is floor-length so no one will see my  feet anyway. And I promise not to wear sneakers or hiking boots."