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To Tempt a Sheikh

By:Olivia Gates

To Tempt a Sheikh
Olivia Gates

       One




Harres Aal Shalaan tightened his shroud, narrowing the opening across  his eyes to a slit. He didn't need more than that to monitor his target.

The midnight wind buffeted him, pelted him with sand as he stilled once  more, flattened himself at the uppermost edge of the dune. His  cloth-smothered breathing still rivaled the wind's hubbub across the  endlessness of the desert in his ears.

He absently reached for his sand car much as he would have his prized  horse. The vehicle wasn't there. He'd left it behind over two miles  away. Any closer and the engine noise would have transmitted across this  sound-hurling landscape. Ideally, he would have dragged it to this  vantage point, but that would have slowed him down at least twenty  minutes. Twenty minutes he couldn't afford.

He wouldn't let the stationary status of the scene he'd been watching  for the past five minutes fool him. Everything could change at any  moment. Then it would be too late for him to intervene.

For now, all remained the same. The two sentries guarding the only  entrance were huddled around a makeshift container where a fire  struggled for survival against the merciless desert wind. Three more  guard duos surrounded the weather-eaten, sand-brick cabin. From inside  the shabby construction, gaslight flickered through the seams of shoddy  wooden shutters.

He had to give it to the Aal Ossaibis. The Aal Shalaan's rival clan had  constructed a watertight plan, and at the spur of the moment, too. This  cabin was in the middle of nowhere. Literally. The nearest inhabited  areas were over five hundred miles away in any direction. It was an  ideal place to hold a hostage.

The hostage Harres was here to free.

He only found this place because he'd deduced the identity of one of  those who hired the people inside the cabin. Since he'd uncovered the  plot early enough, he'd managed to tag all the players in transit. He'd  followed their phone signals before coverage vanished two hundred miles  away. He'd since employed all the technology at his fingertips, and  found this place only through some advanced satellite triangulation.

Anyone with less specific knowledge and less-than-limitless access and  power at his disposal would have been stymied. Even with all of his  resources, he never would have found it if not for his timely  deductions.

And time was running out. From what he'd learned of the enemy's plans he  had less than twenty minutes to complete the extraction. It was then  that the masterminds of this kidnapping would arrive to interrogate the  hostage and they'd be bringing their army of guards along.

Under any other circumstances, he wouldn't have considered this the  ticking bomb he did now. He would have been here with his own major  strike force. The very appearance of his finest Black Ops men would have  forced anyone with any survival instincts to throw down his arms in  surrender.

But as Zohayd's Minister of Interior and head of Central Intelligence  and Homeland Security, he no longer knew whom to trust. His team tonight  consisted of three men from his highest-ranking teams whom he would  trust with his life. They didn't just work under him-they were family,  prince soldiers who, like him, would give their lives for their kingdom.  Though in other circumstances he trusted many of his men the same way,  he couldn't afford the luxury of belief right now. There was too much at  stake, and mixed loyalties could tip the whole region into chaos. He  had to treat everyone else as suspect.

How could he not when the royal palace itself had already been breached?  He wouldn't put infiltrating his ministry and operations, the forces  responsible for keeping Zohayd secure, beyond the royal house's enemies.

He closed his eyes. He could still hardly believe it.

A conspiracy to overthrow his father as king and the Aal Shalaans as the  ruling house of Zohayd had been brewing right under their noses for  months now. The priceless Pride of Zohayd jewels, believed universally  throughout the tribes to give the royal house the right to rule, had  been stolen and replaced with fakes just in time for Exhibition Day,  when they were to be paraded in public for all to see. No doubt the  thief planned to publicly expose the jewels as fakes and begin the chaos  that would see the Aal Shalaans removed from power.

For the past weeks, Harres had been casting his net throughout the  region using information his brother Shaheen and his new wife, Johara,  had secured. Early that morning, Harres had gotten a lead that might  take him straight to the conspiracy's mastermind.

A man claiming to be an American reporter was said to be in possession of all the vital details of the conspiracy.

Within twenty minutes, Harres had arrived at the man's rented condo. But  their enemies had already made their move. The man had been gone.  Abducted.                       
       
           



       

Harres hadn't missed a beat since, had followed the trail of the  abductors to this desolate place. He had no doubt what the orders of the  ruthless patriarch of the Aal Ossaibis were. Extract the info from the  man, then let the desert claim him and his secrets.

That alone was reason enough for Harres to be out here. No one would be  unjustly hurt on Zohaydan soil on his watch. Not even if it was someone  whose agenda was to bring the Aal Shalaans down. Not even if it was this  T. J. Burke.

T. J. Burke. The man was an enigma. In his databases Harres possessed  up-to-the-moment information on every reporter in the world. He kept  tight tabs on each since they wielded the most dangerous weapon of all,  the media and its inexorable effect on global movements and the  manufacturing of worldwide public opinion.

But T. J. Burke had slipped under his radar. Since Harres had learned of  the reporter's existence, the unprecedented had happened. He'd failed  to learn anything about the man. It was as if T. J. Burke had come into  existence the moment he'd arrived in the region one week ago.

He'd found one reference to the only T. J. Burke who'd ever been in the  region, an American IT specialist who'd worked for a multinational  corporation in Azmahar. But that man had gone back to the States just  over a year ago. A few months later, he'd been tried for the crimes of  fraud and embezzlement, perpetrated while he'd been in Harres's region.  He was now serving a five-year sentence in a maximum-security  penitentiary and was still securely in his cell as of a couple hours  ago.

The current T. J. Burke had probably latched on to the name, or else  he'd come up with a random persona for his fictional character and it  coincided with an actual person's identity.

Which drove Harres to one conclusion. The man must be a spy. An uncanny  one at that, hiding his origins from Harres's networks, and his  movements and affiliations, too.

But he would save T. J. Burke even if he were the devil. Once he had him  safe, he would extract the info he had. If it was what he hoped, what  he feared, he would see what impossible price this man had intended to  demand for the invaluable info and double it. Then he'd do everything in  his considerable power to ensure he'd never resell it.

The sentries were nodding off in front of the fire now. He signaled to  Munsoor, his second-in-command. Munsoor relayed his order  counterclockwise to Yazeed at the cabin's south side, who then relayed  it to Mohab at its west.

Twice they simultaneously fired their tranq darts, each felling their designated sentries.

Harres erupted to his feet. In seconds he was jumping over the guards'  crumpled bodies and landing soundlessly on the stone steps leading to  the cabin's door. The others were converging on him.

He exchanged a terse nod with his men, seeing only their intense gazes  in the eerie combination of steady-as-time starlight and erratic  firelight. They'd deal with any surprises. He'd go straight for their  target.

He pushed on the door. It swung open with a creak that gutted the silence.

His gaze swept around the dim interior. Burke wasn't there. There was another room. He had to be there.

He bounded to its skewed door, slowly pushed it open.

A slim, trim-bearded man in a sand-colored quilted jacket rounded on him.

A heartbeat stretched as their eyes clashed.

Even in the faint light, Harres did a double take at the impact of the  man's gaze, which seemed to be spewing electric azure. Then there was  the rest of him. He seemed to glow in the gloom, both with an  incandescent tan and a shock of gleaming gold hair spiking around his  face.

Next heartbeat, Harres tore his gaze away, assessed the situation. This  was a bathroom. Burke hadn't been using it. He'd been attempting an  escape. He'd already pried the six-foot-high window open even with his  hands tied in front of him. Harres had no doubt his captors wouldn't  have made the mistake of tying them like that. Which meant the man had  enough flexibility to get his hands where he could use them. A minute  more and he would have escaped.

It was clear he didn't know there was nowhere to escape to. He must have  been either knocked out cold or blindfolded on the way. But from what  he'd seen in Burke's eyes, Harres bet he would have tried to escape  regardless. This man was one who'd rather be shot in the back escaping  than in the face while he pleaded for his life. He was beyond canny. He  was resourceful, fearless.

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