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To Tempt a Sheikh(3)

By:Olivia Gates

Only then did he let himself investigate his body for the damage it had  sustained. It had no idea yet. All it reported back was a burning path  traversing his left side back to front just below his armpit. Flesh  wound, he preferred to assume. Maybe with some bone damage. Nothing  major. If no artery had been hit.

But the idea of losing blood too fast and spiraling into shock gave way  to more pressing bad news. The chopper was losing fuel. The pursuer had  hit the tank.

He eyed the gauge. With the rate of loss, the fuel wouldn't take them  back to the capital. Nor anywhere near the inhabited areas where he  could make contact with his people.

He had to make a detour. Head for the nearest oasis. At fifty miles away  it was still four hundred and fifty miles closer than any other  inhabited area. The inhabitants hadn't joined the modern world in any  way, but once he and Burke were safely there, he would send envoys on  horseback to his people. The trek would probably be delayed by a  sandstorm that was expected to cut off the area from the world soon, a  week or two during which his brothers and cousins-the only ones who knew  of his mission-would probably think him dead. When weighed against his  actual survival, and that of his charge, that was a tiny price to pay.                       


His new plan would be effective. Land in the oasis, take care of any injuries and contact his people. Mission accomplished.

Next minute, he almost kicked himself.

Of all times to count his missions … .

The leaking fuel wasn't their only problem. In fact it was their  slighter one. The damage to the navigation system had taken this long to  reveal itself. The chopper was losing altitude fast. And there was  nothing he could do to right its course.

He had to land now. Here. Or crash.

He turned to Burke urgently. "Are you buckled in?"

The man nodded frantically, his eyes widening with realization. Harres had no time to reassure him.

For the next few minutes he tried every trick he'd learned from his  stint as a test pilot to land the helicopter and not have it be the last  thing he did in his life.

As it was, they ended up crash-landing.

After the violent chain reaction of bone-powdering, steel-tearing  impacts came to an end, he let out a shuddering breath acknowledging  that they had survived being pulverized.

He leaned back in his seat, watching the interior of the cockpit fade in  and out of focus. Had he lost too much blood or were the cockpit's  lights fluctuating? He had no doubt the chopper itself was a goner.

He'd deal with his own concerns later. After he saw to his passenger.

He unbuckled his belt, flicked the cockpit lights on to maximum, turned  to Burke. The man had his head turned against his seat, his eyes wide  with an amalgam of panic and relief. Their gazes meshed.

And there was no mistaking what happened then.

Harres hardened. Fully.

He shuddered. What was this? What was going on? Was his body going haywire from the stress?

Enough of this idiocy. Check him for injuries.

He reached for him. The man flinched at his touch, as if Harres had  electrified him. He knew how he felt. The same charge had forked through  him. This had crossed from idiotic to insane.

He forced in an inhalation, determined to erase those anomalous  reactions, drew Burke by the shoulders into the overhead light. The man  struggled.

"Stop squirming. I need to check you for injuries."

"I'm fine."

The husky voice skewered through him even though he could barely hear it with the din of the still-moving rotors.

And a conviction slammed into him.

He would have thought he was beginning to hallucinate from blood loss.  But he'd been feeling these inexplicable things long before he'd been  hit. So he was through listening to his mind, and what it thought it  knew, and heeding his body. It had been yelling at him from the first  moment, just as his every instinct had been. He always listened to them.

Right now they were telling him that, even in these nightmarish conditions, they wanted T. J. Burke.

And knowing himself, that could only mean one thing.

He stabbed his fingers into the unruly gold silk on top of T. J. Burke's  head, his body hardening more at the escaping gasp that flayed his  cheek.

He traced the dewy lips with his thumb, as if to catch the sound and the  chagrined shock at what he sensed was an equally uncontrollable  response.

He smiled his satisfaction. "So, tell me, why are you pretending to be  T. J. Burke, bearded investigative reporter, when a modern-day bejeweled  Mata Hari would suit you far better?"


T. J. Burke wrenched away from the cloaked,  force-of-nature-in-man-form's hold, panted, voice gruff and low, a  tremor of panic traversing it. "Did you hit your head in the crash?"

The man bore down again without seeming to move, making the spacious  cockpit of the high-end military helicopter shrink. The smile in those  golden eyes that seemed to snare the dimmest rays and emit them  magnified, took on a dangerous edge. The danger was more spine-shivering  for being unthreatening, more … distressing, with the response it  elicited.

Then the colossus drawled in that deeper-than-the-desert-night baritone.  "The only hit to the head I got tonight was courtesy of those neatly  trimmed, capable hands of yours."

"Since I hit you with the intention of taking your head off, I probably  dislocated something in there. Your good sense, seemingly. Maybe your  whole brain."

The man pressed closer, the freshness of his breath and the potency of  his virility flooding every one of T.J.'s senses. "Oh, both my sense and  my brain are welded in place. It would take maybe … " his eyes traveled  up and down T.J.'s body like slow, scorching hands " … ten of you to  loosen even my consciousness."

"It took only one of me to do so earlier," T.J. scoffed, not sure the  supply of air in the cockpit would last much longer. "I almost took you  down. With both hands literally tied, too."

"You can sure take me down, just not by hitting me. Your effect on me  has nothing to do with your physical strength and is certainly not  proportionate to your size."                       


"Is that all you got? Cheap shots at my size?"

"I'd never take any kind of shot at you." Again the man's eyes seemed to  emit a force field that gathered T.J. into its embrace. "And then, I  think your size is perfection itself."

Drenched in goose bumps and feeling the heart that had barely slowed  down start to hammer again, T.J. smirked. "Sure you're not concussed? Or  is this the way you usually talk to other men?"

The insult seemed to burn to ash in the rising temperature of the man's  smile. "It's not even the way I talk to women. But it's the only way  I'll talk to you. Among other things. Every other possible thing."

T.J. pressed against the passenger door. "So you somehow got it into  your head that I'm a woman? And now you're all over me? Just minutes  after barely surviving a devastating crash and landing God knows where  in this forsaken, sand-infested land? And you can't hear how ridiculous  you sound?"

"What's ridiculous is that you thought a fuzzy beard and an atrocious  haircut would disguise the femininity blasting off you. It got me by  the … throat, from the first moment. So why don't you drop the act and  tell me who you really are?"

"I am T. J. Burke!"

Painstakingly chiseled lips spread to reveal teeth so white they were  almost phosphorescent in the dimness. "My bearded beauty, only one of us  has testosterone coursing in his bloodstream right now. Don't make me  offer you … tangible proof."

T.J. glowered at him, tried not to show any weakness, to meet him on the  same level of audacity. "Is it the … tangible proof proving that you're  attracted to small blond men?"

A chuckle rumbled deep in that huge predator's gut, zigzagged all  through T.J.'s system like deadly voltage. "First thing you have to  learn about me so we can move on is that I am insult-proof. I wouldn't  even sock you if you were a man. But my body knew you weren't from the  moment I laid eyes on you in that filthy hole, against all evidence and  intel. So will you admit it on your own, or will you make me … establish  proof myself?"

T.J. shrank back farther against the door as the man's right hand rose. "Lay a hand on me, buster, and have it chomped off."

"With the way I'm reacting to you, there's nothing I want more than your  teeth on every part of me. But if anything proves your femininity, it's  that so-called threat. A man would have told me he'd break my hand or  tear it off, or something suitably macho."

"So you have men regularly threatening to do that? And women chomping away at any part of you they can reach?"