Gravel crunched under Amir's boots as he strode across the starlit compound to the tent provided for him. It had been a tedious evening in poor company. Playing guest to a renegade leader was not how Amir chose to spend his time. Especially since he had important personal business to conclude when he returned to his own country. 

'Highness,' Faruq hurried after him, 'we need to consult before the negotiations begin.' 

'No.' Amir shook his head. 'Get your sleep. Tomorrow will be a long day.' 

'But Highness...' The protest died as Amir gestured to Mustafa's guards stationed around the tent. Ostensibly for Amir's protection, but undoubtedly to spy if possible. 

Faruq ducked his head then murmured, 'There's also the girl.' 

The girl. 

Amir's pace slowed as he recalled the woman Mustafa had given him tonight with such ostentation. Blond hair that shimmered in the lamplight like fluid silk framing a pale face. Luminous violet eyes that had stared boldly back, holding Amir's gaze in a way few men and no women in this region of traditional values would dare. 

The unexpected combination of beauty and defiance had for an instant stalled the air in his lungs. 

Until he'd remembered his taste ran to sophisticated women. Not dancing girls or whores in gaudy makeup presented by their master to pleasure a visiting dignitary. 

Amir had his pick of gorgeous women on six continents. He chose his own bed partners. 

And yet...something about her had snared his interest. Perhaps the haughty way she'd arched her delicate blond eyebrows in a look that would have done an empress proud. 

Fleetingly that had intrigued. 

'You doubt my capacity to handle her?' 

Faruq smothered a chuckle. 'Of course not, Sire. But there's something...unusual there.' 

Unusual was right. In Monte Carlo, Moscow or Stockholm her colouring wouldn't warrant a second glance. As for those eyes - coloured contact lenses. But here in rough border country inhabited by nomads, brigands and subsistence farmers? 

'Don't concern yourself, Faruq. I'm sure she and I will come to some...accommodation.' 

Amir nodded dismissal and entered the tent. He removed his boots in the small anteroom, his feet sinking into layered carpets. 

Would she be on the bed waiting for him, her skirts spread about her? Or perhaps she'd be naked. No doubt she'd offer herself with the finesse of a professional. 

Despite his distaste, Amir's pulse hummed at the memory of a lush, sultry mouth at odds with the fire in her blazing eyes. That mouth promised sensual pleasure enough to interest any man. 

Amir thrust aside the heavy curtain. 

One step in and he registered the dimmed lamp on the far side of the room. 

No sign of the girl. 

He checked, senses suddenly alert, his nape prickling. 

An instant later he threw up a blocking arm as someone leapt at him out of the gloom. Something heavy hit him a glancing blow and he swung round, grabbing his assailant. 

He caught at a voluminous cloak that fell as he clutched it. A jingle of clashing coins at her belt warned him of her identity just in time. He pulled back sharply rather than fell her with a single, knockout blow. 

Amir caught her arm and twisted it behind her back. His movements were controlled, precise; despite the way she threshed and fought. He'd learned to wrestle with full-grown heavyweights. He couldn't use those tactics on a woman, even a woman who ambushed him in his own chamber. 

Still she fought. She was like a tigress, alternately trying to wrest herself free or disable him with vicious kicks to the groin. 

'Enough!' His patience was at an end. He reached to grab her free arm. But before he could catch it she twisted, rose, and brought her arm down in a desperate slashing motion. 

Instinct saved him. Instinct honed by years perfecting a warrior's skills and others learning less honourable ways to survive. He pivoted and snapped an arm around her wrist, just as a blade pricked the base of his neck. 

'Wild cat!' He squeezed and the knife clattered to the floor. Without compunction he hooked his foot around her legs and brought her down, slamming into her as she collapsed. She landed heavily on her back, his full weight on her, his legs surrounding hers. 

An instant later he'd captured both her slender wrists and pinioned them on the carpet high above her head. 

She was spent, so still that for a moment he even wondered if she breathed. Then he felt the tremulous rise of full breasts beneath him and heard a raw, shuddering gasp as she drew in air. 

Slowly he raised his hand to his throat. A thin trail of wetness slid down from his collarbone. 

She'd stabbed him!

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