Read The Sheik's Safety Online
Authors: Dana Marton
Dara wasn't in the mood for any chauvinistic garbage. “Because women are weak?” she challenged him.
He looked at her for a long moment. “Women should be cherished.”
She stared back, unsure what to say to that.
Her father used to say women had to be toughened up to be fit for the military. He hadn't meant it disparagingly. He merely saw the difference between the sexes as a weakness. He was forever frustrated by her mother's inability to hold up under pressure, suck it up and stick it out.
She glanced at Saeed.
It fell so far outside the realm of her experience, she couldn't even picture it. Was he for real?
Dear Harlequin Intrigue Reader,
This July, Intrigue brings you six sizzling summer reads. They're the perfect beach accessory.
* We have three fantastic miniseries for you.
Film at Eleven
continues THE LANDRY BROTHERS by Kelsey Roberts. Gayle Wilson is back with the PHOENIX BROTHERHOOD in
Take No Prisoners.
And B.J. Daniels finishes up her M
CALLS' MONTANA series with
* Susan Peterson brings you
the final installment in our LIPSTICK LTD. promotion featuring stealthy sleuths. And, of course, we have a spine-tingling ECLIPSE title. This month's is Patricia Rosemoor's
* Don't miss Dana Marton's sexy stand-alone title,
The Sheik's Safety.
When an American soldier is caught behind enemy lines, she'll fake amnesia to guard her safety, but there's no stopping the sheik determined on winning her heart.
Enjoy our stellar lineup this month and every month!
To Gail Neeves, a wonderful writer and treasured friend.
With many thanks to Kim Nadelson and Allison Lyons,
the best editors a writer could wish for, and Jenel Looney
for sharing her expertise on Middle Eastern customs
and life, and Anita Staley for her friendship,
help and tireless support.
Dana Marton lives near Wilmington, Delaware. She has been an avid reader since childhood and has a master's degree in writing popular fiction. When not writing, she can be found either in her large garden or her home library. For more information on the author and her other novels, please visit her Web site at www.danamarton.com.
She would love to hear from her readers via e-mail at [email protected].
859âTHE SHEIK'S SAFETY
âThird-generation military, Dara followed her father's and grandfather's footsteps to the air force before joining a top secret antiterrorist unit, the SDDU. But the desert operation she ends up in this time is more dangerous, with stakes much higher than ever before.
Sheik Saeed ibn Ahmad
âOnce he was in line for the throne. Now the past is haunting him as he survives one assassination attempt after the other.
Nasir ibn Ahmad
âSaeed's brother. He is not happy with Saeed's desire to preserve peace at any cost. Trouble is brewing in the background. Is he the source of it?
âHe came to the throne under suspicious circumstances and would do anything to retain power. But does he want it badly enough to kill his own cousin, Saeed?
âThe Prime Minister of the country is supposed to hold the real power in a constitutional monarchy. But does he? Is he the king's puppet, or an insidious schemer with his own agenda?
âSpecial Designation Defense Unit. A top secret military team established to fight terrorism. Its existence is known only by a select few. Members are recruited from the best of the best, SEALs, FBI and CIA agents, elite military groups.
âHe's the leader of the SDDU, reporting straight to the Homeland Security Secretary.
They flew below radar, although not as invisible as they would have liked to be.
Dara Alexander took in the starry sky from the cockpit of the MC-130. Not a cloud in sight to cover the moon, no such thing as a pitch-black night here. That was one of the drawbacks of desert missions, and an annoying inconvenience for anyone trying to sneak around.
But the full moon was the least of their worries. They needed only a matter of minutesâfly in low, pop up to safe height for jumping, drop the team, then the plane would go back to base to wait for the pickup signal. Once they were on the ground, being invisible was their specialty.
Dara scanned Beharrain's alien landscape below them, the expanse of rocky plateau broken up by giant boulders every so often, some a couple of hundred feet high. She might as well have been looking at
video transmitted back by the Mars Rover. Except that somewhere ahead, a convoy of arms smugglers was heading south, hoping to cross the border to Yemen.
Not today. She rolled her shoulders. Not if her team had anything to do with it.
The pilot looked up from his displayâsymbology overlaid with sensor video. “Five minutes to drop zone.”
“See you in a couple of days.” Dara stood and clapped the man on the shoulder to thank him for the ride up front, then smiled at the copilot who was checking the situation data on the instrument panel.
She didn't exactly miss the air forceâher current job in the Special Designation Defense Unit, or SDDU, had more than enough excitementâbut there was something about sitting in a cockpit that came as close to feeling “home” as she'd ever gotten. She glanced at the navigators and the electronic warfare officer, all three men busy at their console on the aft portion of the flight deck, then she moved on to the back, to the temporary team to which she now belonged.
Joey Scallio flashed her a grin. “How 'bout a kiss for good luck?”
“In your dreams, Scallio.”
His grin widened. “Babe, in my dreams we do a hell of a lot more than that.”
She shook her head and bit back a smile as she walked on, stretching her legs.
Harrison, their team leader, gave her a thumbs-up and a smile as she walked by him, his perfect white teeth gleaming from his ebony face. He was talking to Miller. “It gets easier afterâ¦”
She didn't catch the rest over the noise of the plane. Judging from the proud fatherly smile that spread on the younger man's face, they were probably talking about his newborn son.
She was almost at her seat when the cockpit alarm went off. The shrill tone froze her limbs for a split second.
“Incoming. Surface-to-air missile. Brace for impact,” the warning instructed through her headset.
Dara grabbed for one of the belts secured to the wall, twisted it around her arm, and hung on for all she was worth as the plane lurched to the side, the pilot taking evasive action.
The plane shook the next second when the SAM hit.
Her right shoulder felt as if it were being ripped out of the socket. More alarms came on, deafening her. She lost hold of the belt and slid across the floor toward the front of the plane. Damn. Fear and adrenaline raced through her veins. She grasped at anything that might hold her, hoping she'd manage before she slammed into the metal crates by the cockpit door and broke a leg.
The cargo net.
She reached for it and succeeded, coming to a halt at last.
She tried to pull up, ignoring the ache in her shoulder, her gaze focused on her nine-millimeter Beretta that had snagged on something and gotten loose as she'd slid. She sought purchase on the floor with her feet, managed to get some leverage and pushed forward.
The plane straightened. Finally. Dara got on her knees to stand, but then the nose of the aircraft lifted and she lurched backward. Her pistol flew out of sight, disappearing behind the guys' feet in the back. Thank God, she'd still had her fingers locked around the net.
She held on tight, her insides trembling.
“They got the left wing.” The pilot's voice echoed in her ringing ears. “I'm going to try to pull up. Prepare to jump.”
Harrison unbuckled and came for her, helped her parachute on as he hauled her to her feet, opened the door and pushed her out just as she got the last fastener secured. Cold wind hit her in the face, but she barely noticed, floating weightless in the air.
She yanked hard on the rip cord, and the next second the harness bit into her shoulders as the canopy opened and broke her fall. The parachute needed five hundred feet at the minimum to properly operate. She looked down, gauging the distance between herself and the ground. Hard to tell in the dark.
She glanced back at the plane and saw someone
else jump, Miller perhaps, then Scallio, then another. Under optimal circumstances the MC-130 could drop ten men every five seconds. She hoped that would be fast enough.
The second SAM hit.
She stared, a scream of denial frozen on her lips, as the plane exploded. The impact shook the air, the wind of it pushing her back, tangling her suspension lines for a second. She pulled at them frantically as flaming scraps of metal fell from the sky around her to land on the sand and burn on, lighting up the night. Her fall slowed again as the lines twisted free.
She drew a deep breath into her aching lungs and looked up because she couldn't bear to look down. Hers was the only parachute in the air. The other jumpers had been too close.
She rode the slight breeze, numb, her mind struggling to catch up with her eyes. They were dead, all dead. The five officers and four enlisted men of the flight crew, and eleven of the twelve-member SDDU team.
Grief hit her hard, robbing the air from her lungs. But she couldn't afford the luxury of giving in to it, of getting distracted even temporarily.
She was in the middle of hostile territory, alone.
She floated like a lost feather out of the sky, a hundred unrelated thoughts flying through her head. She
had no radio contact. Harrison was gone, Miller was gone, and the othersâ¦
The ground was coming up to meet her fast. She bent her knees ready for landing, thumped onto the sand, then walked forward to allow her canopy to fold to the ground behind her.
Her gaze hesitated on the faint light on the horizon where the plane was burning. The beacon. Her best chance for rescue was if she stayed as close to her last known location as possible. But the men who had shot down the plane were bound to be there. They had to have seen her jump, which meant they would be looking for her.
Dara glanced at her compass in the moonlight, thought of the map they had studied on the way over.
“Come up with the best plan you can, then give it your best effort. Failure is not an option,” she muttered Harrison's favorite mantra aloud.
There was a small village fifty to sixty miles north from where she was now, seventy, tops. Once there, she could sneak in at night to get some water and food, get her hands on a phone or radio and call for help.
She buried her parachute, saving a two-by-four strip to shade her head once the sun came up, then, ignoring her throbbing shoulder, she moved forward at a good clip, away from the plane. She pretended she was on an exercise, that food and water would
be waiting for her just beyond the horizon, the guys ribbing her about coming in last.
Tears of grief and frustration clouded her eyes. Wouldn't be a problem for long, she thought as she blinked them away. Pretty soon she'd be too dehydrated to cry.
Salim ben Zayed scanned his surroundings from the mouth of the cave before he stepped outside into the sunset, careful to note every dune. Two assassination attempts in two weeks had made him cautious.
His sharp whistle brought his black stallion trotting over. “Time to go, Hawk.”
He vaulted himself into the saddle, grabbed his flask, and drank the last of his water. He could refill at the oasis halfway between here and camp. He capped the flask and glanced back at the opening of the cave, anger still at a slow boil in his gut. Whatever it took, he would find the thieves.
The treasure belonged to his tribe, the knowledge of it passed down through the centuries from sheik to sheikâfather to son. In times of dire need, when the livelihood of the tribe was threatened, the sheik would take enough to last them until the drought lifted and famine passed.
The cave's secret had been their thousand-year-
old disaster insurance. Allah be thanked, they hadn't needed it in the last couple of decades, not since oil income from the tribe's southern territories became dependable. They made it through the twelve-year drought of the eighties and early nineties without having to touch the gold. But it was theirs just the same, their heritage. No one knew what the future might bring.
At least the thieves hadn't taken everything. The cave, continuing for hundreds of meters underground, had many crevices, the treasure carefully concealed. Only a small cache had been broken into, close to the entrance. Not a significant loss, a million dollars' worth or so.
But once it was spent, they would be back hoping for more. And that he couldn't allow. He couldn't let them find the passageway leading underground. He either had to figure out a way to guard the treasure or move it.
A sudden squall threw sand into his face, and he leaned forward in the saddle as Hawk flew across the distance. He had to come up with a plan, or his enemies would bury him faster than a windstorm. He watched the desert for any sign of danger as he rode. And then he saw it.
A man lying ahead to the right in ambush.
Saeed ducked in the saddle and turned Hawk, urged him faster, but no shots rang out. He rode on
until he knew he was out of sight then circled back, sick of the game and ready to bring it to an end.
The previous assassins had been killed by his angry tribesmen before he'd had the chance to question them. He needed one alive. He had a fair idea of who had paid the men, but he needed proofâa confession he could take to the Council of Ministers.
He left Hawk out of sight and bade him to stay, came in on foot, then on his belly over the last dune. The man wasn't moving. At all. Nobody who knew anything about the desert would have lain down in the sand like that, exposed to the elements, to sleep. And stranger yet, no sign of how he had gotten there, no camel or horse or car.
Saeed crept closer, his gun ready as he made his way over to the prone figure with caution, all the while watching out for more of them, for any sign of ambush. When he came within twenty feet or so, he stood and shouted a greeting. The man, lying face down in the sand, didn't move. Dead, he thought and went closer yet. The stranger's back rose and sank, the slight movement barely noticeable.
The man didn't move a muscle, made no attempt to even look at him.
With rifle in hand, ready for any surprise, Saeed flipped him over with the tip of his foot. The stranger made no sound, nor did he open his eyes. He was un
armed, save a knife he kept in a holster on his thigh, of which Saeed relieved him at once. He wore a camouflage uniform with no military markings, his face wrapped against the sun. A lone bandit, probably a mercenary. His proximity to the cave was more than suspicious.
Was he one of the thieves who had stolen the gold? Or was he another would-be assassin? He reached down to pull off the frayed headdress, but the knot in the back was too tight. Time enough for that later. Saeed whistled for Hawk, and when the stallion trotted over, he lifted the listless stranger in front of the saddle then mounted the horse. He had to make sure the man lived long enough to answer his questions.
The stallion rode as if sensing the urgency, paying no heed to the extra weightânot that the man was heavy, rather the opposite. Must have been out in the desert without food and water for some time. He was lucky. Weather had been mild and temperate this January so far. Had it been summer, he would have been already dead.
HEY REACHED THE OASIS
in two hours or so, a couple of stars already visible in the sky. The place wasn't much more than a seasonal watering hole with a handful of scraggly date palms and a smattering of grasses.
Saeed slid out of the saddle, caught the stranger when the man nearly fell after him, and lowered the
limp body to the sand. He used the man's knife to slice through the knot of the headdress in the back, wanting to free his mouth to get some water into him.
He turned him with his left hand, the knife in his right. Then stopped in midmotion.
His left palm, having tried to brace the stranger's chest, was filled with a mound of flesh, soft and round. He was old enough to recognize a female breast, especially one that filled his palm to perfection as this one did.
Allah be mercifulâ¦
She was beautiful in the moonlight, despite the grime that had found its way under the fabric. Her hair, the color of rich, spiced coffee, had half escaped from the braid that had once contained it. For a moment the face of another woman appeared before him, her black curls streaming to the ground as she lay dying in his arms.
He blinked away the memory and focused on the foreigner. Her feminine, delicate features stood in puzzling contrast to the uniform she wore.
A female soldier? Israel had women in its army; so did the U.S.A. But what would one be doing here? Judging from her exotic features, she was a westerner. He unbuttoned the top two buttons of her shirt and reached inside.
The back of his hand brushed against velvet skin. He hesitated for a moment before continuing.
No dog tags.
His first assessment had been correct. She did not belong to the military. But then who was she? He had a hard time believing her proximity to the cave was a coincidence. She had to be there either for him or for the gold.
He walked over to the well, shook the bucket clean and lowered it, relieved when he heard the unmistakable sound of it hitting water instead of mud. The water was full of sand as expected, but better than nothing at all. He used the woman's makeshift headdress to strain water into his flask, then went to settle onto the sand by her side.