Just a little over three weeks had passed since
Sheik Amir Khalid, one of the royals who had come to
the hotel for a meeting, had gotten into a limo that had
driven a short distance and then blown up. The driver
had been killed, but nobody knew what had happened
to Amir. The only witness to the event had seen the
sheik crawl out of the wreckage and he’d been picked
up by somebody. The problem was nobody knew if it
had been friend or foe who had picked up the injured
“It’s time to clear the room,” Beth’s boss had said
to her minutes earlier. “It’s been three weeks with no
word and I can’t hold the room forever. I’d like you to
personally take care of it, Beth. We’ll lock up the
belongings in storage until somebody comes to claim
And so here she was, in a room where Sheik
Amir Khalid had checked in as part of a four-nation
coalition who had come here to discuss trade
agreements that would benefit their individual
countries. She pulled the luggage caddy she’d
brought with her into the room and closed the door
The tasteful opulence of these suites never failed
to amaze her. The thick carpeting beneath her feet,
the subtle touches of gold trim in the woodwork and
the oversized furniture all whispered of a kind of
wealth Beth couldn’t even begin to imagine.
Immediately after high school, Beth, who’d had a
sickly mother to care for, had gotten a job as maid at
the resort. Three years ago, after eight years of
working hard, she’d finally been promoted to head of
housekeeping, an often difficult but rewarding job.
She fought the impulse to kick off her high heels,
peel off her pantyhose and dig her toes into the plush
rug. Instead she headed for the bedroom. The kingsize bed was truly fit for a king, with a rich navy
bedspread and matching draperies that could either
be drawn against the sun or opened to display the
beautiful view of the Wyoming landscape.
Sheik Amir hadn’t even spent a single night
before the explosion had occurred, but his clothing
had been neatly hung in the closet.
Her fingers lingered over the rich silks and other
expensive fabrics as she carefully folded them and
returned them to the suitcase she found on the floor in
With the closet once again empty she moved to
the bathroom and quickly packed the personal
grooming items that were scattered on the counter.
What had happened to Amir? It was the question
on everyone’s lips. Had he managed to get out of the
limo alive only to be picked up by enemies and then
killed? The area had been searched but no clues had
been found to solve the mystery of the missing sheik.
Returning to the bedroom she beelined for the
nightstands. Although she didn’t think the sheik had
been in the bedroom long enough to place anything
inside the drawers, she wanted to be thorough.
The nightstands were tall and ornate, with marble
tops and heavy drawers. She went to the one on the
far side of the bed first. As she pulled open the top
drawer she found herself thinking about how crazy
everything had gotten since the dark-haired
handsome sheik had taken the limo ride and never
For the past three weeks the hotel had been
turned upside down with the arrival of the royals.
Reporters had flooded the area and there had even
been local protests about the trade agreements.
Since Amir’s disappearance the air had grown even
more intense as the various security teams
scrambled to make sure the remaining leaders
With a shake of her head she focused on the
task at hand. The nightstand drawers held nothing that
belonged to Sheik Amir so she moved to the ones on
the near side of the bed.
She gasped as she pulled the top drawer out too
far and it fell to the floor. “Darn,” she muttered, hoping
she hadn’t marred the beautiful wood. As she picked
it up to put it back, she felt something odd on the
Frowning, she flipped the empty drawer over to
see what her fingers had encountered. A white
envelope was taped to the bottom. She stared at it in
confusion as her heart stepped up its rhythm.
What was it? Had another guest at one time or
another taped it there? Or had Sheik Amir wanted to
hide something before he’d left the room for the
night? There was only one way to tell.
She wasn’t sure why but her fingers trembled
slightly as she pulled the envelope from the drawer. It
wasn’t sealed. She pulled out the papers folded
inside and opened them.
Her heart banged against her chest and a gasp
escaped her as she saw the words printed on the first
DEATH WILL COME BEFORE YOU SEE
SUCCESS WITH THE COIN COALITION.
She quickly scanned the next note.
BETRAYERS ALL OF YOU AND THE PRICE
OF BETRAYAL IS DEATH.
There were a total of five and they were all
threats to the visiting royals.
There was no question that the envelope had
been placed there by Sheik Amir Khalid. COIN was
the name of the partnership of the four Mediterranean
nations led by the men who had arrived to make their
trade agreements with the United States.
Had the person who had written the notes
managed to achieve the goal of killing the sheik? And
it was obvious from the notes that he hadn’t been the
only target. All members of COIN had been
She needed to take the notes to Jake Wolf, the
sheriff of Wind River County. He’d know what to do
with them and maybe could glean some clues from
the content that would point to the person behind the
Her fingers still shook as she carefully put the
notes back into the envelope and then shoved it into
her skirt pocket. She bent down to put the drawer
back into place and then stood with a deep sigh.
She squealed in surprise and whirled around at
the sound of the deep male voice coming from behind
her. Her heart tap-danced in her chest at the sight of
Prince Antoine Cavanaugh.
She wasn’t sure if her heart beat even faster
because the envelope suddenly burned like fire in her
pocket or if it was because the prince was the hottestlooking man she’d ever seen in her entire life.
“I was passing Amir’s room and thought I heard
somebody inside. I decided to come in and
investigate.” His pale blue eyes gazed around the
room and then narrowed slightly as he looked back at
She felt a flush working up from the pit of her
stomach to warm her face. From the moment she’d
seen him, with his neatly cut light brown hair and those
light blue eyes against his delicious dark olive skin,
she’d felt a ridiculous teenage flutter in the pit of her
His white long-sleeved dress shirt fit perfectly
across his broad shoulders and the black slacks he
wore emphasized his slim hips. Even from this
distance she could smell him, a wonderful blend of
exotic spicy cologne that could dizzy her brain if she
She suddenly realized she was staring at him
and had yet to find her tongue to respond.
“Prince Antoine, I’m Beth Taylor, head of
housekeeping,” she began.
He nodded. “Yes, I know who you are, Ms. Taylor.
I see you’re packing up Amir’s things. Has there been
word about him that I haven’t heard?”
“No, nothing like that.”
“Then I don’t suppose you found anything that
might provide a clue as to what happened to him?”
The envelope in her skirt seemed to burn hotter.
“No,” she said quickly. “No, I didn’t find anything like
that. I’m just packing his things so we can move them
to storage, but I didn’t find anything. Unfortunately we
can’t hold this room forever. We have other guests to
His eyes narrowed slightly. “When you finish in
here would you mind coming to my room? I have
something I’d like to discuss with you.” Those blue
eyes of his seemed to pierce right through her and
her first instinct was to tell him she had other things to
do. But she valued her job and the last person she
wanted to upset was one of the visiting royals. She
could just imagine having to tell her boss that she
blew off Prince Antoine because he made her more
than a little bit weak in the knees.
“Of course,” she replied briskly. “It should only
take me a few more minutes to finish up in here.”
“Then I’ll expect you in a few minutes.” He gave
her a curt nod and then turned on his heels and left the
Beth drew a deep breath, realizing that while
he’d been standing there she’d scarcely breathed.
The man wasn’t just a royal prince, he was royal sin
She hadn’t missed the way other women in the
hotel followed his movements with hungry gazes
whenever he and his security team made an
appearance. Antoine and his twin brother, Sebastian,
had definitely been a special form of eye candy for the
Sebastian had left a week ago to return to the
country of Barajas where he and Antoine were corulers, but Antoine had remained here.
As she continued checking the room for anything
else that belonged to Amir, she tried to calm her
frazzled nerves. Prince Antoine probably wanted to
talk to her about some housekeeping service that he
thought wasn’t up to par, or maybe he needed
something that wasn’t normally provided.
There was absolutely no reason to believe that
he wanted to talk to her about what she’d found. He
couldn’t have known that she’d found anything and
there was no way she was turning those notes over to
anyone but Jake Wolf.
Still, as she walked through the suite one last
time, she couldn’t help the nervous tension that coiled
in her stomach as she thought about facing Prince
“YOUR HIGHNESS, YOU WORRIED ME.” Michael Napolis,
the head of Antoine’s security team, met him at the
door as Antoine returned to his suite. Michael’s
bulldog features displayed more than a touch of
reproach. “One minute you were here and the next
minute you were gone.”
“Relax, Michael. I just stepped across the hall to
speak to a member of hotel housekeeping. You can
go to your own room now. I’m in for the rest of the
night and will call you if I need you for anything.”
“As you wish,” Michael replied with a small nod of
his big head, but it was obvious he wasn’t happy.
Antoine suspected that if Michael had his way he’d
sleep on the floor next to Antoine’s bed to keep him
safe. Michael had been a nervous wreck since Amir’s
disappearance, at least giving the appearance that
he was worried sick about Antoine.
Once Michael had left the suite Antoine sank into
the large leather chair in front of the fireplace and
stared unseeing at the neatly stacked unburned logs.
Antoine had spent years in his country’s military
as one of the top interrogators. He’d been trained to
find lies and break liars to get at the truth. The national
security of Barajas had often depended on the
information Antoine got from a particular prisoner.
There was no question in his mind that Beth
Taylor had lied to him when he’d asked her if she’d
found anything in Amir’s room. He hadn’t missed the
subtle shift of her body weight away from him as she’d
answered him, or the fact that she had expressed no
real surprise at his question and instead had been far
too verbose in her answer.
Bottom line—she’d lied, and Antoine was
determined to find out what, exactly, she had found in
his missing friend’s room.
He looked toward the window where the sun had
begun to make its descent. Another night would soon
be upon them without answers about Amir. Where are
you, my friend? What has happened to you?
With each day that passed, Antoine found
himself growing more and more paranoid. He was
unsure who to trust. Certainly not the local authorities,
who had already proven to be untrustworthy. As much
as he hated to admit it, he wasn’t even sure he could
trust his own security. It had only been a little over a
week ago that Sheik Efraim Aziz, a fellow member of
the coalition, had discovered that his own head of
security had tried to kill him.
There were many people who had been unhappy
with the COIN coalition’s goals in working with the
United States, many people who would love it if the
COIN members simply disappeared.
Until a week ago he’d had his twin brother, the
only person in the world he truly trusted, beside him,
but Sebastian had gone back home where he
belonged. He’d always been the stronger of the two
when it came to the leadership of their small country.
Barajas needed Sebastian and both the country and
his brother would be fine without Antoine.
He glanced toward the door, surprised at the
wing of anticipation that swept through him as he
thought of Beth Taylor.
He’d noticed her the first day of his arrival. She’d
been one of the hotel staff who had greeted him when
they’d checked in. In that first moment he’d been
struck by the soft curls of her shoulder-length blond
hair, the bright green of her eyes and the lush fullness
of her lips.
In the last three weeks of his stay here he’d seen
her often, her long shapely legs moving her gracefully
across the hotel lobby or down a hallway. But, other
than enjoying the sight of her, he’d had no other
interaction with her.
Now he wondered how easy she’d be to break.
He’d definitely faced more daunting adversaries and
yet had always managed to get what he wanted out of
As a soft knock sounded at the door, he rose
from his chair, the sense of anticipation growing
stronger. He checked through the security peephole
and then opened the door.
“Thank you for coming,” he said. She gave a curt
nod but made no move to step over the threshold and
into the room. “Please, come in.” There was no way
he intended to have this conversation standing in the
She walked past him and he caught the scent of
her, a soft floral that reminded him of a field of
wildflowers. It was viscerally appealing and he was
vaguely surprised by his immediate response. He
pointed her to the sofa. “Sit,” he said.
He hadn’t realized it sounded like a command
until she jumped and quickly sank down on the very
edge of the rich burgundy sofa. “Would you like
something refreshing to drink?”
“No, thank you. I still have a lot of work to finish up
before I can go home for the day.”
He sat on the opposite end of the sofa and
noticed that not only did she tense slightly, but her
gaze surreptitiously swept over him before focusing
quickly on her hands folded in her lap.
Interesting, he thought as he read her nonverbal
clues. It was possible she was attracted to him. Good,
he could use that bit of information in trying to get the
truth from her.
“Do you have family waiting for you to get home?”
She shook her head, her blond curls looking
achingly soft and touchable in the waning golden light
that danced in through the window. “No, there’s
nobody waiting for me, but I like to get home before
night falls.” She gave an uncomfortable laugh.
“Although that rarely happens.”
“Especially now,” he replied smoothly. He hadn’t
missed the slight wistfulness in her voice when she’d
told him there was nobody waiting for her at home.
“I’m sure our presence here has only increased the
workload for the housekeeping staff, for you.”
“Not really,” she countered. “Our high standard of
service goes out to each and every guest, whether
they are a prince or an accountant.”
There was a ring of pride in her voice. He liked
that. His grandfather had always told him that it didn’t
matter what you did, as long as you did it well.
Assessing what he knew so far, he recognized
that she was a beautiful woman who was probably
lonely and had embraced her work to fill the voids in
her life. It was information he would use to determine
the best way to get her to confide in him.
“It’s been a difficult couple of weeks,” he said and
saw the flash of sympathy that crossed her pretty
features. “Amir was a good friend of mine. With what
happened, I don’t know who to trust anymore.”
“We’re all sick about how things have gone,” she
replied. She shifted positions, turning her knees in his
direction. “I hope you’re being very careful.”
“It’s difficult to be careful when you don’t know in
what form danger might come. I find myself feeling
very isolated.” He flashed her the smile that had
charmed more than one woman in his lifetime. “I’m
sorry to take up your time, I was just feeling a bit lonely
and then I saw you and needed a moment of
Her cheeks blossomed with color and one of her
hands shifted from her lap to touch the pocket in her
skirt. His heart stepped up its beating. Whatever
she’d found in Amir’s room was now in her pocket. He
was sure of it. Now all he had to do was get her to
share it with him.
“I’m sure you know my brother returned to our
country,” he continued.
“Yes, it must have been difficult for you to remain
He nodded. “But I don’t intend to return until I
know what happened to Amir. He was like a brother
to me. Do you have brothers or sisters, Ms. Taylor?”
“No, I’m an only child.” Now it was not only her
knees that faced him, but her entire upper body,
letting him know she was open to him, perhaps just a
little bit vulnerable.
With cool calculation, he leaned toward her,
nearly closing the distance between them. He lightly
touched her shoulder. “I can’t rest. I can’t sleep until
we find out something about Amir. The local officials
have been little help with their issues of corruption. I’m
desperate to find something, anything that might give
me a clue as to what happened and who is to blame.”
Once again her hand touched her pocket and he
saw an uncertainty in the depths of her beautiful eyes.
His heart seemed to stop beating as he waited for her
“I did find something in Amir’s room,” she finally
said. For a moment she remained perfectly still and
Antoine was struck by a quicksilver desire to stroke a
hand across the smooth skin of her sculpted cheek,
taste the full lower lip she was now nibbling in obvious
indecision. She reached into her pocket and pulled
out an envelope, but didn’t immediately offer it to
“I found it taped on the bottom of a drawer in the
bedroom. I was going to turn it over to Sheriff Wolf,”
she said. “But I guess it won’t hurt if you look at it first.”
Her slender hand trembled slightly as she held out the
He took it, his heart once again rapping an
unsteady beat as he opened it and withdrew the
pieces of paper. He read the notes, electrified by the
contents. “You read these?” he asked.
She nodded, her eyes wider than they had been
minutes before. “They’re terrible.”
There was now no question in his mind that the
limo explosion had been meant to kill all of them, that
it had been mere circumstance, a matter of sheer
fate, that had placed Amir in that limo alone at the
time of the bomb blast.
He placed the notes back in the envelope, but
didn’t return it to Beth. “Ms. Taylor, I have a favor to
ask you. Please let me keep these and see what I can
learn from them before you take them to Sheriff Wolf. I
meant it when I told you I don’t know who to trust.”
She frowned thoughtfully. “What are you going to
do?” she asked.
“A little investigating on my own, see if I can find
out who is dirty and who isn’t before I give these notes
to anyone else.”
Her frown deepened, the gesture doing nothing
to detract from her beauty. “How are you going to be
able to do that? You don’t know any of the locals.” She
didn’t wait for his response but instead continued,
“You’re going to need my help. I was born and raised
here. I know the people who live here, and I also know
the people who don’t belong. The only way I’ll give you
the time you’ve asked for before going to Jake Wolf is
if you let me help you.”
She’d surprised him. The last thing he’d
expected was her offer to partner up with him. His
initial response was a resounding no, but there was
no question that she could be useful.
“Okay, I accept your offer to help, but only on one
condition—that if things get dangerous for you, then
you step back.”
“Agreed,” she replied.
Antoine stuck out his hand and as they solemnly
shook, he was aware of the softness of her skin
against his, the delicate bones of her hands. A new
flicker of something evocative and exciting swept
through him. It had nothing to do with the fact that she
might possibly be helpful to him in finding out who was
behind the threats. Rather it was a flame of physical
“I’ve got to get back to work,” she said as she
quickly pulled her hand from his and stood.
“How much longer will you be?” he asked as they
walked to the door.
She paused and looked at her watch. “Maybe
another hour or so, why?”
“I’d like to make copies of these notes and then
take them to somebody discreet and see if prints
besides ours can be pulled from them, but I’m not
sure where to go to get this done.”
“Jane Cameron,” she replied without hesitation.
He knew Jane Cameron was the forensic
scientist who had been involved in processing the
scene of the limo bombing. He also knew that she
and Stefan Lutece, Prince of Kyros, had become
involved in a romantic relationship. “And you trust
“Absolutely,” she replied. “Why don’t I take the
notes and make the copies in my office, then come
back here when I’m finished for the day and we can
go see Jane.”
“Perfect,” he replied. He gave her the envelope
and then reached out to take her other hand in his. “I
can’t thank you enough for giving me some time to
She squeezed his hand slightly and then pulled it
away from him. “I just hope this isn’t a mistake. I’ll see
you in about an hour.” She flew through the door as if
the hounds of hell were nipping at her heels.
Antoine closed the door behind her and tried to
ignore the scent of her that lingered in the air. He was
attracted to her like he hadn’t been to a woman in a
very long time.
There was something soft, something inviting
about her that called to him. But, it was an attraction
he had no desire to explore.
Antoine never allowed himself to get close to a
woman. He could enjoy their company and have sex
with them, but his heart never got involved.
He would do anything to find out who was behind
the threats made on himself and the others. He would
do anything to find out who had been behind the
attack on Amir. If that meant using the pretty
housekeeper, it wouldn’t be the worst thing he’d ever
done in his life.
She had to be crazy.
Somehow between the time she’d left Amir’s
suite and the time she’d left Antoine’s, she’d lost her
ever-loving mind. The minute Beth reached her
private office she sank down at her desk and shook
her head, wondering what on earth she’d been
thinking when she’d given Antoine that envelope,
when she’d offered to help him.
She should have kept her mouth shut and taken
the notes to Jake like she’d intended. The problem
was she hadn’t been thinking. Instead, she’d been
falling into the blue depths of Antoine’s eyes, touched
by the loneliness and the feeling of isolation he hadn’t
tried to hide.
She’d offered her help because she’d thought he
needed it, which was a ridiculous thing for her to think.
He was a prince, for God’s sake. He had people to
take care of his every wish, his every need. The last
thing he needed was a simple woman who didn’t
know a thing about foreign politics and had only a
high school education helping him investigate threats
against members of royal families.
She checked her email and the voice mail on her
phone to make sure there weren’t any fires to put out
with the housekeeping staff, then moved to the
multitask printer to copy the threatening notes in the
envelope. With both the originals and the copies back
in her pocket she left her office to do a walk-through of
the hotel before heading back to Antoine’s suite.
The bulk of her work occurred in the mornings
when she coordinated the staff to make sure all the
rooms were cleaned and the guests’ needs were met.
She was not only responsible for the cleaning staff,
but also for inventory of housekeeping items needed
for the cleaning and maintaining of the guests rooms.
It was her routine in the evenings to walk through
the hotel and be accommodating to any guest who
might have a problem or simply to be a friendly face
to both returning regular guests and new people who
had come to enjoy the luxury resort.
She knew how important it was to offer a
personal touch to the people who vacationed or came
here for work purposes. She liked to think that her
work here was at least part of the reason people
chose to come back again and again.
When it was finally time to return to Antoine’s
suite a new tension began to well up in her stomach.
The man definitely made her just a little breathless
and she didn’t like it. She didn’t like it at all.
The last man who had left her breathless had not
just broken her heart, but had shattered it into a million
pieces. She’d never allow herself to be that vulnerable
again. And she’d be a complete fool to entertain any
feelings for a visiting prince who would soon return to
his own life in his own country.
He’d obviously been waiting for her as he
answered the door almost before her knock sounded.
She stepped into the room and he closed the door
behind her. “I made two copies of the notes,” she
said. “One for you and one for me.” She handed him
both the original and his copy.
“Why would you want a copy?” he asked
“In case something happens to yours,” she
replied and tried to ignore how her heart stuttered at
his nearness. At five feet nine inches, Beth was
unaccustomed to men towering over her, but Antoine
was a good four or five inches taller. He made her feel
small and feminine.
“If you’ll get your driver, I’ll give him directions to
the forensic lab where we can find Jane,” she said.
“You’re going to be my driver,” he replied
smoothly. “I don’t want anyone to know what we’re
doing, what we’ve found and that includes my entire
security team. We must figure out a way to get me out
of the hotel and to your car with nobody seeing me.”
Beth stared at him, not only nervous at the idea of
being alone with him but also by the fact that she
would be responsible for him while he was with her.
“But what if something happens? What if you get
His sensual lips curved up in a smile that warmed
the ice-blue of his eyes. “Unless you’re planning on
beating or maiming me, I should be just fine.”
“But surely you should take somebody from your
security team with you,” she protested. She’d feel so
much better if there was somebody big and burly and
fully loaded with an arsenal of weapons.
The blue of his eyes paled to an icy silver and his
lips thinned. “No. We go alone.” His voice was laced
with command and for the first time he looked and
sounded like a prince accustomed to getting his way.
She frowned thoughtfully. “Okay, if you go down
this hall to the end, there’s another corridor, turn right
and follow it and you’ll see an exit door. If you give me
five minutes I can pull up outside the door.”
“Perfect, then I’ll see you in a few minutes.”
As Beth left the suite and headed back to the
lobby nervous anxiety pressed tight against her chest.
God forbid she had a wreck while driving the Prince
of Barajas. Once again she found herself wondering
when exactly she’d lost her mind and when she could
hope for its return.
When she got into her car she quickly scanned
the interior, noting the tear in the passenger seat, the
faint layer of dust that covered the dashboard. Not
exactly fit for royalty, but the ten-year-old car was paid
off and still ran perfectly well. He’d just have to deal
with the less-than-royal transportation.
She told herself that one of the reasons she
wanted to help him was because this whole ordeal
had hammered the hotel with negative publicity. But
she suspected the truth of the matter was that she
was desperate for something, anything that might fill
the vast loneliness in her life, even if it was just for a
She pulled up against the curb by the door she’d
told Antoine to exit and watched as he strode toward
her. Once again she was struck by his handsomeness
and as he flashed a quick smile to her a crazy burst of
heat momentarily usurped her nervous anxiety.
“Mission accomplished,” he said as he slid into
the passenger seat. “Nobody saw my escape.”
“Won’t somebody worry if you aren’t in your
room?” she asked as she pulled away from the curb.
“I have my cell phone with me and told my staff
that I was retiring for the night and didn’t want to be
disturbed for any reason. Nobody will even know that
I’m missing from my suite,” he assured her.
Beth gripped the steering wheel tightly and
headed toward the small town of Dumont. The
scenery was spectacular with the last gasp of the sun
sparking off the distant mountains and painting the
landscape in lush shades of deep gold.
Antoine looked out the window and even though
he was silent she felt a pulsing energy radiating from
him. He turned to look at her, as if he’d felt her
surreptitious gaze. “Do you think Jane will help us?”
“If anyone can pull a print from those papers, she
can,” Beth replied. “But, she’s a by-the-book kind of
woman. She might insist that the notes be handed
over immediately to Sheriff Wolf.”
“Then I’ll just have to convince her that that’s not
in our best interest,” he replied with an easy
“She’s pretty tough,” Beth warned.
“Yes, but I’m pretty charming,” he countered.
Beth gave a rueful laugh. “You charmed that
envelope right out of my pocket.”
He sobered and she felt his gaze, intense and
piercing on her. “I had a feeling you’d found
something important and it was equally important that
I convince you to tell me.”
“Do you always get what you want?” she asked
“It’s certainly rare that anyone tells me no.”
“I would imagine that being surrounded by yesmen could get a little boring at times.”
“Perhaps,” he replied and then cast his gaze out
the side window once again.
The town of Dumont, Wyoming, was a small,
charming place with historic buildings that dated back
to the early 1800s. It had been a town filled with good,
hard-working people before the royals had arrived.
Now the streets were clogged with news vans and
Beth drove down the main drag and parked in
front of the brick courthouse. “Jane’s lab and offices
are on the second floor,” she said as she turned off
Antoine glanced at his wristwatch. “Won’t the
offices be closed by now?”
“Security will let her know we’re here and it’s rare
that Jane isn’t at work this late in the evening,” Beth
Together they got out of the car and she noticed
that Antoine did a quick sweep of the area with his
narrowed gaze. Apparently he saw nothing to cause
him alarm and they walked to the front door of the
courthouse where Beth gestured to the security guard
Within minutes they were in the elevator taking
them to the second floor and Jane. She met them at
the doorway of her office, her hazel eyes widening as
she saw Antoine. “Prince Antoine, Beth…what’s
Antoine glanced up and down the hallway and
then gestured to her office. “Ms. Cameron, perhaps
we could speak to you in private.”
“Of course.” Jane ushered them into the small
office and closed the door behind them.
“I was instructed today to pack up Sheik Amir
Khalid’s items in his suite to be stored until we know
what happened to him or somebody from his family
came to claim them. While checking the nightstand
drawers I found an envelope taped to the bottom of
one,” Beth said.
Jane’s eyes filled with interest as Antoine held up
the envelope but didn’t offer to hand it to her. “We’d
like to see if you can pull some fingerprints from either
the envelope or the notes inside, but before I give this
to you I would like you to promise to keep this strictly
confidential between the three of us.”
Jane frowned and raked a hand through her curly
light brown hair. “I can’t make that promise without
seeing what you have.” There was a hint of steel in her
Antoine held her gaze for a long moment and
then offered her the envelope. “What I’m hoping is that
you can lift some prints and then give us a little time to
do some investigating on our own before letting
anyone else know about it.”
Jane didn’t take the envelope from him, but
instead opened her office door and gestured them
outside. “Bring it into the lab. I don’t want to touch it
without gloves. As it is I’ll need to print both you and
Beth so we can discount your prints on everything.”
They entered a small lab where Jane grabbed a
kit from one of the metal shelves against the wall and
then stepped up to a work table and pulled on latex
gloves. Only then did she take the envelope from
As she read the notes her eyes widened once
again and when she finished she stared at first
Antoine, then at Beth.
“These need to go to Jake,” she said.
“Eventually I’ll hand them over to him,” Antoine
replied. “But let’s be serious here. The local law
officials haven’t exactly proven themselves to be
good, upstanding people. Even your own boss was
proven to be untrustworthy.”
Jane’s face flushed and she looked down at the
notes she’d spread out on the table. Amos Andrews,
Jane’s boss, had not only tried to screw up her
investigation into the bombing of the limo, he’d also
tried to kill Jane. When he’d been arrested he’d made
it clear that he was just a bit player in a larger
conspiracy against the visiting royals, hired by
somebody he refused to name.
“So, what exactly is it you want from me?” she
asked with a weary sigh.
“Just a little time,” Antoine replied.
“How much time?” she asked.
“Seventy-two hours,” he replied after a moment of
Jane said nothing. She opened the kit and
withdrew several brushes and powder compounds in
small bottles. As she began her work, Beth couldn’t
help but gaze at Antoine again and again.
He stood rigid and once again she felt the energy
wafting from him. And why wouldn’t he be tense? The
stakes couldn’t be higher. Somebody wanted him and
the other participants in the COIN coalition dead.
They didn’t know at this time if the people who
were behind the conspiracy had already achieved the
goal of killing one of them—Amir.
Antoine slid a glance at her and offered her a
small smile that shot a hint of warmth in his cool blue
eyes. Beth had always believed the term bedroom
eyes meant dark and smoky and slightly mysterious,
but she now recognized that bedroom eyes could be
the cool blue of a mountain lake.
“I hope you find a useable fingerprint,” he said,
his focus back on Jane. “When I know the identity of
the person who wrote those notes, I will make certain
he’s never a threat to anyone again.”
His tone was light and easy, but with a chilling
undertone. Yes, he might make a delicious lover, but
she had a feeling he’d make an even more
IT WAS ALMOST NINE when they finally left the lab after
being printed by Jane. She’d managed to pull another
print that didn’t belong to either him or Beth and
hoped that whoever had left it behind was in the
Automated Fingerprint Identification System. If they
were lucky she would have a name for them
sometime the next day.
I’m too wound up to go back to the suite and
sleep.” He turned to look at the woman driving the car.
He’d been acutely aware of Beth even as he’d tried to
focus on what Jane had been doing.
He knew that to be successful in her position she
had to be a strong taskmaster. The resort was known
for impeccable guest services and housekeeping.
And yet he sensed a softness in Beth that drew the
darkness that resided inside him.
And there was darkness.
She cast him a quick glance and then returned
her gaze to the road. “I’m a little wired myself,” she
“Perhaps we could go back to your place, have a
cup of coffee and talk about things.”
He could tell he’d shocked her. “Prince Antoine,
my home is small and simple. It’s not exactly fit for a
prince,” she replied.
“A comfortable chair, some hot coffee and a little
company is all I’d like. And please, call me Antoine.”
“Then you can call me Beth. Coffee sounds good
and then I’ll be glad to take you back to the resort. My
place is only ten minutes from there.”
“Then it’s settled, coffee at your house.” He
leaned back against the seat and stared out the side
window into the darkness. You’re a cliché, he thought
ruefully. He was a prince who was afraid to trust
anyone, with an aching depth of loneliness inside him
and the mantle of power weighing heavily, definitely a
For the past three weeks Antoine had done
nothing but worry and wonder about the attack, about
what danger might come from what unexpected
He’d had long dialogues with the other men in the
COIN coalition. Prince Stefan Lutece, Sheik Efraim
Aziz, Sheik Amir Khalid and Antoine and his brother
had all come here in the hopes of trade agreements
with the United States that would benefit their small
countries and instead had found nothing but
treachery, danger and betrayal.
At the moment Antoine was sick of it all. The
resort had become a place of intense stress, of
people yammering at him and palpable tension that
filled the air the moment he stepped out of his rooms.
He was looking forward to a little more time away
from the luxurious surroundings.
Beth turned off the road they had been traveling
and onto a narrower road with deep embankments
and thick trees on either side. “You drive this every
night after dark?” he asked.
“It’s the only way for me to get home. It’s not too
bad as long as you make sure you stay on the road.”
A small laugh escaped him. “That would be an
understatement. I’m sure it gets quite dangerous in
“I call this car my little engine that could.” She
tapped the steering wheel with a long slender finger.
“Although I have to admit more than once in the
winters somebody from the hotel has had to come to
get me because I don’t have four-wheel drive.”
He could tell she was beginning to relax with
each minute they spent together. He wanted that. For
just a little while he wanted to be treated like an
ordinary man and not like a prince.
“This feels very isolated,” he said as the trees on
either side of the road seemed to crawl closer.
“It is. It’s a pretty big spread but most of it hasn’t
been cleared or anything. My grandfather bought the
land years ago, long before there was a resort. My
father and mother chose to make it their home after
my grandparents died and I’ve always lived here. I like
the isolation, the beautiful nature that surrounds me
when I step outside my front or back door. Is your
“White beaches, blue seas, lush flowers…yes,
Barajas is very beautiful, but I find Wyoming to be as
beautiful, just different.”
She turned off the road and onto a driveway that
led to a small cottage. A light shone from the front
porch, a welcome beacon in the darkness that had
fallen. Colorful flowers spilled from boxes under the
windows. It looked like something from a fairy tale, an
enchanted cottage in the middle of the wilderness.
“It’s not much,” she said with a touch of
defensiveness. “But it’s all mine and I love it here.”
This time her words held an obvious sense of pride.
The sense of welcome that the porch light had
emitted continued on into the house. As Antoine
stepped inside the living room the earthy burnt orange
and browns of the décor instantly put him at rest.
“Please, have a seat.” She gestured him toward
the overstuffed sofa. “I’m just going to get out of my
uniform. I’ll be right back to start the coffee.”
She disappeared down the hallway and Antoine
sank into the comfortable couch cushion and gazed
around the room. Like subtle facial features that could
give away internal emotions and weaknesses, he
knew a room could speak volumes about the person
who lived in it.
A bookcase stood against one wall, one of the
shelves filled with framed photos of Beth with an older
woman who appeared to be her mother. The
television was small, as if watching it wasn’t a top
priority. A paperback lay on the end of the coffee
table, the couple’s clinch on the cover letting him know
it was a romance novel. A wind chime tinkled a lovely
melody from someplace outside the windows.
A lonely romantic who loved nature, he thought.
There was no sign of a man’s presence anywhere in
the room. An old record player sat next to a stack of
ancient LPs and it was easy for him to imagine her
curled on the sofa with a book in hand while old,
romantic music filled the house.
He looked up as she returned to the room, clad in
a pair of jeans that looked slightly worn and hugged
her long slender legs to perfection. Her mint-green Tshirt fit a little big but not so much that he didn’t notice
the press of her full breasts against the material.
He suddenly wished he was in a pair of jeans, on
the back of a horse with her, her arms wrapped tightly
around him as they rode carefree across a pasture. It
was a vision that brought the first burst of pleasure
he’d felt since arriving in Wyoming.
“Let’s go into the kitchen and I’ll make the
coffee,” she said.
He followed after her, unable to avoid noticing the
way her jeans cupped her shapely buttocks. Why was
there no man in her life? A woman like her should
have a man to thrill her with his lovemaking and then
hold her tight through the darkness of the night.
The kitchen was a surprise. Large and airy, with
a breakfast nook that was surrounded on three sides
by floor-to-ceiling windows, it was obviously the heart
of the house. Gourmet copper-bottomed pans hung
from a rack above the stove and a variety of cookingaid machines lined the counters.
“You like to cook.” He stated the obvious.
She flashed him a bright smile that warmed him
in places he hadn’t realized were cold. “I love to cook.
It’s my secret passion.” She pointed him to the round
oak table in the nook. “Have a seat. The coffee will be
ready in just a minute and I have some leftover red
velvet cake to go with it.”
He sat and enjoyed the view of her bustling to get
the coffee brewing. It had been far too long since he’d
enjoyed the pleasure of a woman. For weeks before
the trip to the resort there had been meeting after
meeting to decide what to offer and what they needed
from the trade agreements they intended to make.
There had been almost no time for any kind of a
“Hopefully Jane will have something for you
tomorrow,” she said as she placed a creamer and
sugar bowl on the table. Then went back to the
counter and returned with a platter holding a cake that
looked as if it had just come out of a bakery.
“Hopefully,” he replied. “But I don’t want to talk
about any of that tonight. Tonight I want to talk about
ordinary things, things that don’t set off a burn of
anger in my belly. I noticed that you have a lot of
pictures of you and your mother in the living room.”
“Yes. My dad died when I was six and when I was
thirteen my mom developed a severe heart condition.
Unfortunately she passed away three years ago.”
“My parents died when I was young.” A longremembered grief touched Antoine’s heart. He
thought about the horrific night of his parents’ deaths
often, recognized and never forgot the lesson he’d
learned that night.
“I’m so sorry.” She poured the coffee and carried
the cups to the table, then sank down in the chair
opposite his. “Was it some kind of an accident?”
“Actually, they were murdered.” She gasped and
he continued, “My father was initially my mother’s
bodyguard. He was an American, an ex-mercenary
and they fell in love and married. Unfortunately my
father had made many enemies in his past and that
night those enemies found him and my mother.”
“So, who raised you and your brother?”
“My mother’s father, King Omar Zubira.” A
whisper of a smile curved his lips as he thought of the
stern but loving man who had raised them. “He didn’t
approve of my mother’s marriage and never really
accepted my father, but he was a loving man to me
and Sebastian, although I must admit we sometimes
gave him a hard time.”
“The twin thing?”
He grinned. “But, of course. Being an identical
twin can be quite amusing and Sebastian and I
definitely used it to our advantage whenever possible.
After grandfather died I was grateful to have
Sebastian by my side to share the responsibility of
“It must be a huge responsibility, to run a nation,”
she said as she sliced the cake and shoved a
generous piece toward him.
“Probably no bigger than running the
housekeeping staff at a luxury resort,” he replied. “To
be truthful Sebastian carries much of the weight. He’s
a good man with a knack for politics and he’d do fine
without me. But enough about me. What I really want
to know is why you don’t have a man in your life.
Surely you meet men during the course of your work.”
He picked up his fork and took a bite of the cake
and noticed that her features tightened slightly and a
whisper of hurt filled her eyes. It was there only a
moment and then gone, but it let him know that at
some time in the not so distant past a man had hurt
her…hurt her badly.
“I don’t date hotel guests and besides, I stay busy
with my work and I’m not particularly interested in a
relationship right now.”
It was a lie, he could see the deception in her
features. “That’s a shame, because you have lips
meant for kissing.”
Her cheeks flushed with a becoming color. “And
you’re rather impertinent for a prince.”
He grinned, enchanted by her. “The last woman
who called me impertinent was my mother. I was
seven at the time. Now, tell me about your mother.”
As Beth related moments from her past with her
mother, Antoine recognized that Beth was not only
beautiful, but loyal to those she loved.
She told him about having to forgo college to
help support herself and her mother, but there was no
complaint in her voice, merely a stating of facts.
He liked that about her. He had no patience for
whiners. He and Sebastian hadn’t been allowed to
whine after the murder of his parents.
“So, what did you do before you became one of
the rulers of Barajas?” she asked.
“I was a military man.” He raised his coffee cup to
take a drink, hoping a sip of coffee would wash away
the sour taste that always sprang to his mouth when
he thought of the things he’d done for the sake of his
“And you? When you were young did you dream
of being a ballerina? Or perhaps a princess?” he
She laughed. It was a pleasant sound that
wrapped around his heart and momentarily held him
captive. “Not at all. I have two left feet and I always
wanted to raise horses so I dreamed of wearing
chaps and a vest rather than a princess’s tiara.”
He had a sudden vision of her naked except for
her long legs encased in a pair of leather chaps and
her full breasts spilling out of a tiny vest. Hot blood
welled in the pit of his stomach, spreading warmth
directly to his groin.
He shifted uncomfortably against the wooden
chair and reminded himself that he was here with her
because he wanted to use her knowledge of the
locals to further his investigation, not because he
wanted to take her to bed and teach her everything he
knew about sexual pleasure.
“You know horses?” he asked.
“I started riding at the resort stables when I was
little and worked the stables until I got the job in
housekeeping,” she explained.
“You have enough land to raise horses. Why
haven’t you already done it?”
“It took me until six months ago to pay off the last
of the medical bills that my mother had accrued. I’m
hoping to realize my horse dream in about five years.
It’s almost midnight,” she said with a glance at the
clock on the wall. “I should get you back to the resort. I
have to be back at work around six-thirty in the
He leaned back in the chair and smiled. “I’ve
already made up my mind. I’ll stay here with you for
Beth stared at him in horror. The idea of this
man, this prince, sleeping beneath her roof horrified
her. As it was, the whole afternoon and evening had
taken on the surreal aspect of some kind of weird
“I don’t want you traveling back and forth from the
resort this late at night alone,” he said. “The road that
leads here is too narrow, too dangerous to drive in the
A nerve throbbed in the side of her neck, a nerve
that always acted up when she felt anxious. “But the
spare bedroom doesn’t even have a bed in it. I’ve
been using it as a home office.”
“The sofa looked nice and comfortable. All I need
is a pillow and blanket and I’ll be fine. I’ll call Sheik
Efraim and let him know I’m with you in case a
problem arises.” He pushed back his chair and stood
as if the matter had been decided.
It was a half an hour later when Beth closed the
door to her bedroom and sat on the edge of her bed.
What a night. She still couldn’t believe that a prince
was now on her sofa sleeping beneath one of the
patchwork quilts her mother had made years ago.
She changed into her nightshirt and went into the
adjoining bathroom to wash her face before going to
bed. Initially when the royals had first arrived at the
hotel all she’d been focused on was the extra work
their presence might make for her staff. She hadn’t
really thought about them as being men, just ordinary
men with the weight of power on their shoulders.
And now she couldn’t stop thinking about Antoine
being a man—a very hot, take-your-breath-away kind
of man. But even though he looked at her with a bit of
hunger in his eyes, she wasn’t about to fall prey to
ridiculous fantasies about life with Antoine or any
She certainly wasn’t about to become an
American dalliance for him. She could just see the
headlines—The Prince and the Chambermaid. She
couldn’t help the small giggle that escaped her at the
Her feet were firmly planted in reality, had been
since she’d been young. With her mother’s illness
there had been little time for fantasies.
There had only been one time when she’d
allowed herself to fall into a romantic fantasy and the
result had been an ugly mess.
There was no way she intended to fall into
Antoine’s bedroom eyes. He was here only until he
solved the mystery of his friend Amir’s disappearance
from the bomb site. Once he’d accomplished his
goals here he’d be gone.
She got into bed and as always fought against a
well of loneliness that had been with her for the past
year. She was twenty-nine years old, longed for love
and a family, but the next time around she intended to
be smart, to be wary. She’d make sure the man she
gave her heart to deserved the gift.
She’d expected to have trouble falling asleep, but
the moment her head touched the pillow sleep
claimed her. She was instantly plunged into an erotic
She was naked and clinging to Antoine’s broad
dark shoulders as his mouth made love to hers. His
kiss held a mastery she’d never experienced, a silent
command that she respond with every fiber of her
being. And she did. It was impossible not to.
His strong hands stroked up the length of her
bare back and then around to cup her breasts. Sweet
sensations cascaded through her at his touch. She
was on fire with her need for him. It didn’t matter that
he would be gone before she knew it, she only knew
that she wanted what he offered, longed to stay in his
A moan filled her head, not her own but rather his
and not from her dream and not one of pleasure.
A louder, more tortured moan pulled her from her
dream. Her eyes snapped open and for a moment
she couldn’t discern dream from reality.
Her heart pounded with a quickened rhythm as
she sat up and shoved strands of hair away from her
face. A glance at the illuminated clock next to her bed
told her it was just after two.
The noise came again, this time louder, deeper
and definitely not from her dream, but rather coming
from someplace outside her bedroom door.
Was he in trouble? Had somebody found out he
was here and was now trying to strangle him or hurt
him in some way? Oh, God, she knew having him
here had all been a mistake!
She jumped out of bed and grabbed a flower
vase from the top of the dresser, the only thing she
could think of that might be used as a weapon, and
then ran into the living room.
In the spill of the moonlight through the windows
she instantly saw that there was no danger, that
Antoine was not being strangled or beaten by an
intruder. Rather he was obviously in the throes of a
She set the vase down at her feet and then crept
closer to the sofa, trying not to notice how his powerful
bare chest gleamed in the moonlight as he tossed
and turned and emitted deep, mournful groans.
“Antoine,” she whispered softly.
He groaned again, the intensity of it filling Beth
with immense empathy. What sort of dreams could
evoke the sounds of such pain, such an emotional
outburst while sleeping?
She called his name again, this time louder, but it
wasn’t enough to pull him from his tortured sleep.
She stepped even closer to the sofa and lightly
touched his shoulder—and found herself shoved
against the wall, Antoine’s hands wrapped around her
neck as his eyes blazed with an unfocused fire.
He’d moved off the sofa in the blink of an eye.
She would have screamed, but she couldn’t. It had all
happened so fast. Shock and the pressure of his
hands against her throat kept her mute. For just an
instant she wondered if he was going to kill her before
he came fully awake.
Reaching up, she managed to touch his cheek
and in that instant saw the flames in his eyes douse
as a searing focus took their place.
He released a ragged gasp and dropped his
hands to his sides. “Beth. Beth, I’m so sorry.” He
pulled her off the wall and wrapped her in his arms.
His bare skin was warm and she burrowed into him
as the shock of the moment slowly faded away.
“I might have killed you,” he breathed into her hair
as he tightened his arms around her.
She closed her eyes, delighting in the moment of
being in his embrace. This wasn’t a man who had
gone soft with good living. He was all hard, lean
muscle against her. “You should come with a warning
label—dangerous when awakened,” she murmured
against his chest.
His hands smoothed down her back. “Why did
you awaken me?”
She raised her head to look up at him. “You were
moaning as if you were in terrible pain. It was obvious
you were having a bad dream. I…I just wanted to get
you out of your nightmare.”
“It was a very bad dream.” He reached up his
hands and cupped her face. “Thank you for waking
me and I’m sorry if I hurt you.”
Before she could guess his next move, he’d
made it, taking her mouth with his in a kiss that ripped
her breath right out of her chest.
His lips plied hers with heat and even though in
the back of her head she knew she should step away,
stop the madness, she didn’t. Instead she opened her
mouth to him, allowing him to deepen the kiss by
delving his tongue to battle with hers.
The fevered heat of his soft lips and the feathery
touch of his tongue shot a well of want through Beth.
His hands tangled in her hair as he pressed so close
to her she could feel that he was aroused.
Instantly she knew this was a bad place to be—
the middle of the night, a handsome prince holding
her tight and a heart she didn’t want broken again.
She stopped the kiss and moved out of his arms.
“That probably wasn’t a good idea.” She was
surprised by how breathless she sounded. “Hopefully
you’ll sleep okay now for the rest of the night,” she
said, her gaze not meeting his. “And now I’ll just say
She nearly ran back to the bedroom, grateful that
he didn’t try to halt her escape. Sinking down on the
edge of her bed she tried to forget the taste of him,
the feel of his warm body against her own.
He was sweet temptation, but she couldn’t allow
herself to get caught up in any kind of an intimate
relationship with him. That was heartache just waiting
to happen and she’d already been there, done that.
As she got back into bed she allowed her
thoughts to go back in time, back to when she’d
believed Mark Ferrer was the man who was going to
be her happily-ever-after, when she’d believed that
she was loved as deeply as she’d thought she had
She’d learned a very important lesson from Mark
—that men could take you into their arms, look you
right in the eyes and lie to get what they wanted.
Beth didn’t know how to have sex without
meaning. She simply wasn’t built that way. She wasn’t
capable of physical release without emotional
Antoine’s kiss had tasted of fevered passion, but
she knew that’s all he had to offer and that would
never be enough for her. She finally fell asleep with
the firm commitment to keep her distance from
The next morning when she left her bedroom
dressed in her uniform of the pencil-thin black skirt
and the white blouse with a gold WRR on the breast
pocket, Antoine was already up and dressed as well.
“Good morning,” she said, hoping he didn’t
mention the kiss, praying for no awkward moments.
“Good morning to you,” he replied. “I hope you
don’t mind that I took the liberty of using the shampoo
in the bathroom when I showered.”
“Not at all,” she replied. “I don’t usually cook
breakfast, but if you want something before we leave
I’d be glad to whip something up.”
“That’s not necessary. I can order something
from room service when I get back to the hotel.”
He seemed distant, antsy to leave, which was
fine with her. Within minutes they were back at the
hotel where she ushered him in through the
employees’ entrance so he wouldn’t have to walk
through the lobby.
“If Jane calls I can count on you to take me back
to her?” he asked before they parted ways.
There was a part of her that wanted to back away
from the whole thing, that needed to back away from
him. The kiss they’d shared the night before had
shaken her more than she wanted to admit.
But, there was a soft plea in his eyes and she
realized she was probably the only person he trusted
at the moment and it was impossible for her to tell him
“Just let me know if you hear anything and we’ll
figure something out,” she replied. She turned to head
toward her office but paused as he softly called her
name. She turned back to face him.
His eyes glittered with a flirting light that instantly
created a pool of warmth inside her. “I look forward to
kissing you again, Beth.”
“Definitely impertinent,” she replied and then
turned on her heels and quickly walked away to the
sound of his amused laughter.
Once she was in her office the routine of the day
quickly took over and the morning flew by. She
checked the schedule and the time cards to make
sure all her staff had arrived and by ten o’clock had
left her office to do room spot checks.
She gave soft reprimands when necessary and
praise when earned. She knew her staff respected
her, but they also liked her as well.
Maybe Jane won’t find anything, she thought at
noon when she hadn’t heard from Antoine. Maybe
whoever had left that print on the papers wasn’t in the
AFIS system. Maybe last night was the end of their
That would be good, she told herself as she
returned to her office for a bite of lunch. He was far
too charming, far too attractive and that kiss had
dizzied her head and momentarily swept reason
away. She was definitely better off keeping her
distance from him.
Still, it was almost impossible for her to get him
out of her mind. More than once she found herself
staring unseeing out her window as her mind replayed
the vision of his muscled bare chest in the moonlight.
Her lips wouldn’t easily forget the taste of his mouth
against them. As crazy as it seemed, her body felt
branded by the intimate contact with his.
It was just after two when her cell phone rang and
Antoine’s deep voice filled the line. “Jane called. She
has a name. I’ll be waiting for you by the back door.”
He gave her no chance to reply, but instead
immediately hung up.
AS ANTOINE WAITED FOR BETH he was filled with tense
energy. He hadn’t asked Jane to give him the name
over the phone, didn’t trust that somebody else might
be listening in. He couldn’t be sure if her phones at
her lab were bugged.
He’d spoken briefly with his brother that morning.
Sebastian had sounded happier than Antoine had
ever heard him and he knew it was because his
brother had found love with a woman he’d helped
protect against her ex-husband. She was the same
woman who had witnessed Amir crawling out of the
wreckage of the limo.
Jessica Peters had been reluctant to come
forward since she and her little girl, Samantha, were
in hiding from her ex-husband, a Russian by the name
of Evgany Surinka. Eventually she’d come forward
and her ex had found her. Sebastian had been forced
to kill him and in the whole process he and Jessica
had found love.
It was something Antoine would never allow for
himself and he wasn’t sure how Sebastian had
managed to forget that enemies sometimes hurt the
innocent people in one’s life.
Antoine had made many enemies in his position
as top interrogator for the military, enemies who
would love to get to him by killing anyone he loved.
Antoine was determined not to make the same
mistakes his father had made. He would never allow
anyone to get close enough to him to be used as a
target for revenge. He would never forget that his
father had been unable to protect his mother from the
men who had been seeking revenge.
That’s what Antoine had been dreaming about
the night before, when Beth had awakened him. In his
nightmare he and Sebastian had been children and
had been hiding as angry men had killed his parents.
His thoughts slid from his dream to that moment
when he’d held Beth in his arms. She’d been soft and
warm against him, the thin material of her nightshirt
barely a barrier between them. It had been a mistake
to kiss her and it was a mistake he wouldn’t mind
repeating again and again.
Spending time with Jessica Peters’s four-yearold daughter, Samantha, had shot a surprising desire
inside Antoine, a desire for a woman to love and
children to raise and a life much different than the one
But, the choices he’d made for his country would
forever keep him alone and with a loneliness deep in
his soul that would never be assuaged.
As Beth’s car pulled up against the curb he left
the hotel and hurried toward her passenger door. He
slid into the seat and instantly was enveloped by her
“I hope I don’t get you into trouble, taking you
away from your work,” he said.
She pulled away from the curb. “It’s not a
problem. The hotel manager is covering for me. I told
him I needed to take some personal time off and
since I rarely take any time off at all it was fine.”
He nodded. “Good. The last thing I’d want would
be to mess up your job, your life, before I return to
Barajas.” It was a reminder to himself not to get in too
deep with her, not to think anymore about how sweet,
how hot her kiss was and how very much he’d wanted
to lose himself in her.
“I’m not about to let that happen,” she replied
“You look tired.”
“I am tired,” she admitted. “I had trouble sleeping
after I got back to bed.” Her cheeks colored with just a
hint of pink.
The kiss they’d shared had certainly made it
difficult for him to go back to sleep. It had felt like it
had taken hours for his body temperature to return to
normal. “But your day has gone well so far?”
“A normal day. What about you?”
He tried to relax against the seat. “I spoke to my
brother and also to Sheik Efraim.”
“Did you tell them what we found?”
“No. I’m keeping this information to myself for the
time being and I would like to remind you to do the
She nodded. “The seventy-two hours Jane gave
you is quickly ticking off,” she reminded him.
“With a name from Jane I can hopefully find out
what I need to help find Amir or at least know who
might be behind those notes and the attacks.” He
turned to look at her. “You said you know the locals.
What I’d like you to do for me is to make a list of
anyone who has recently come to town, perhaps
gotten a job at the hotel.”
“We do pretty thorough background checks on all
of our employees.”
Antoine released a dry laugh. “Backgrounds can
be hidden or made to look exemplary.”
“I’ll be glad to make you a list of the new hires,”
she replied as she pulled into the parking space in
front of the courthouse. “And I’ll make some subtle
inquiries about new people who have come to town,
but that’s going to be a big task considering all the
reporters who have camped out since you all arrived
“I think the person or persons behind these
attacks would have arrived in town just before the
reporters.” He opened his car door, his stomach tight
with nervous energy as he thought about the name
Jane was about to give him.
Whoever had arranged for the limo explosion
had also paid off local officials and henchmen. There
was money behind this operation—lots of money.
If he could get a name, then maybe he could
figure out exactly where that money was coming from
instead of the idle speculation they’d all indulged in up
All thoughts fled from his mind as they took the
elevator to meet Jane. At the moment he was focused
only on getting the name of the person who had
handled those notes before him, the person who had
sent them to Amir.
Why his friend hadn’t shared the content of the
notes with the others in the coalition was a mystery.
There was no way of knowing exactly when Amir had
received them, if he’d gotten them before he’d left his
country or after he’d arrived in the States.
Had the person who had written them been the
one who had picked up Amir at the bomb site? Was
Amir now a prisoner or had he been killed and his
body buried someplace out in the Wyoming
wilderness that surrounded them?
Jane met them at the elevator door and ushered
them into her private office. “I still don’t feel right about
not taking the notes to Jake,” she said in greeting.
“You promised us some time,” Antoine reminded
her. “And from everything I’ve heard about you, you’re
a woman of your word.”
Jane’s cheeks flushed red and she lifted her chin.
“And I’ll keep my promise, but if you find out
something you need to take all this to Jake, and if you
don’t, I will.” Her voice was filled with steel, letting him
know she meant business.
“You said you have a name for me.”
Jane nodded. “Aleksei Verovick.”
Antoine stared at her in stunned surprise. “Are
“It was a perfect match,” Jane replied.
“Do you know him?” Beth asked.
“I know of him. Verovick is reputed to be the
second-hand man in the Russian mob,” he replied, his
mind racing with supposition. This was proof that the
mob was behind the attacks on the royals. Or was it?
It was also possible that Verovick had gone rogue.
Certainly he was a man who would be capable of
anything if the price was right.
“But why would the Russian mob care if you all
made trade agreements with the United States?”
Beth asked in confusion.
“They shouldn’t care,” he replied. “Unless
somebody has bought them and is paying for them to
“Today is Tuesday,” Jane said thoughtfully. “I’ll
give you until Friday evening and then I’m taking this
information to Jake.”
He could tell by the look on her face that there
was no more wiggle room, that he wouldn’t be able to
talk her into any more time. “Then I’d better find some
answers before Friday evening.” He touched Beth’s
arm and gestured toward the door. “Thank you, Ms.
Cameron. I appreciate your cooperation.”
“You only have it for three days,” she reminded
him as he and Beth left the office.
“What are you going to do now?” Beth asked as
they left the building and headed for her car.
“Do some research into Verovick and see if I can
figure out who’s paying him and his men to destroy
the coalition, to destroy all of us. Do you have a
computer at your place?”
“Yes. You want to do the research on my
computer?” Her voice held a touch of surprise. “Your
suite has a computer and Internet access.”
“If you don’t mind, I’d rather use yours. I don’t
know who might enter my room when I’m not there,
who could access the history on my computer to see
where I’ve been. I have to be careful.”
“Then we’ll go to my place,” she agreed easily.
“You’re welcome to use my laptop as long as you
They got into the car and Beth started the engine.
“I’m fairly ignorant about politics,” she said as she
backed out of the parking space. “I don’t understand
why anyone would want to stop what you all were
doing here. A trade agreement between any of the
COIN nations and the United States sounds like a
win-win situation to me.”
Despite the anxious burn in his belly, he smiled at
her, unsurprised and charmed by her naïveté. “There
are some people who believe that these trade
agreements are just the first step of our nations being
consumed by the United States. And then there are
Americans who believe that we’re all terrorists and
this is just our way of attempting to infiltrate America’s
“Small-minded bigots,” she observed. “Not
everyone from a different country is a potential
terrorist and people who think that way are just
He smiled at her again. “Too bad you aren’t in
charge of the world. I have a feeling if you were it
would be a much nicer place.”
She laughed. “I’m just in charge of laundry and
cleaning supplies and that’s enough for me, thank you
Antoine shifted his gaze out the side window as
she turned onto the narrow road that led to her
cottage. “If it was somebody from the mob who
picked up Amir the night of the bombing, then I can’t
think of any reason they would have of keeping him
alive. I keep wondering if he’s someplace out there,
buried in the woods where nobody will ever find his
He was surprised by the sudden rush of emotion
that welled up thick in the back of his throat.
Her hand, warm on his arm, pulled him back from
where he teetered on the edge of grief. “You can’t
lose hope, Antoine. Until we know for sure, you have
to keep hoping that he’s still alive.”
As she withdrew her hand from him, he smiled at
her once again. “You’re a good woman, Beth Taylor.”
She smiled. “Not especially. I can be impatient
with my staff at times.” Her hands tightened on the
steering wheel. “I lead with my heart and not with my
head and that’s caused me to make some bad
decisions in the past.”
“What sort of bad decisions?” he asked. He
realized he wanted to know everything there was to
know about her. She stirred a lusty passion inside
him, but he was also curious about her as a person.
“It’s not important right now,” she replied and
frowned as she gazed in her rearview mirror.
“Problem?” he asked.
“I don’t know. There’s a dark car coming up fast
behind us. This road isn’t meant for speed. I just hope
he slows down before he tries to pass us on this
He turned to look and saw the vehicle behind
them approaching far too fast considering the road
condition. “Surely he’ll slow down,” he said.
He turned back around and saw her eyes widen
in disbelief. At the same time their car was smashed
from behind with a force that snapped his head back.
Beth struggled to gain control of the car, but to no
avail. Antoine felt the car go airborne and knew they
were in deep trouble.
“Beth!” he cried as the world went topsy-turvy and
then everything went black.
Grinding noise and splintering glass. Beth’s
world was a place of chaos and pain as the sky
became the ground and top became bottom.
The car seemed to roll forever before finally
coming to rest upside down. Beth felt dazed and
unable to make sense of anything. Her heart pounded
so loudly in her ears she could hear nothing else.
The scent of gasoline and motor oil filled the air.
Her arms hurt from trying to wrestle with the steering
wheel and her ribs ached from the tight grip of the
seat belt. Everything that had been on the floor of the
car was now around her head, confusing her even
more as she tried to make sense of what had just
Someplace in the back of her mind where
rational thought still existed, she realized she wasn’t
badly hurt. She wiggled her toes and flexed her
fingers and realized it didn’t appear that anything had
been broken. She was lucky to be alive.
And then she remembered her passenger.
She snapped her gaze to him as she worked to
unfasten her seat belt. His eyes were closed and
blood oozed from an ugly gash on his forehead.
Her heart felt like it stopped beating in her chest.
Was he dead? Oh God, had she killed the Prince of
Barajas? She became aware of a discordant sound
and realized it was her own sobs.
“Antoine,” she cried as she finally managed to
get herself free of her seat belt. She reached over and
grabbed his arm and shook it.
“Antoine, please wake up. For God’s sake you
have to be okay.” She couldn’t bear it if he were dead.
She gasped in relief as he issued a deep-throated
moan and slowly opened his eyes.
For a moment they stared at each other and then
he groaned again. “Beth, are you all right?” He
seemed dazed as he looked around the car.
“Yes, I think so. What about you? Your forehead
“I’m okay. I was just knocked out for a minute.” He
drew a deep breath and the faint fog in his eyes
began to clear. He worked on unfastening his seat
belt. “I smell gasoline. We’ve got to get out of here.”
Thankfully the front window had exploded
outward, affording them an escape route from the
wrecked vehicle. After some difficult maneuvering
Antoine finally managed to go out the window first and
then leaned back in to help Beth escape the car.
They staggered away from the hissing, steaming
car and collapsed on the grass. Beth looked up to the
road, unsurprised to find that the car that had hit them
was no place to be seen.
For a moment she felt too stunned to think as she
stared at the car that might have become their coffin.
She looked back at Antoine who was swiping the
blood off his forehead.
“We need help,” she said. “Do you have your cell
He patted his pocket and grimaced. “It must have
fallen out in the car when we tumbled.”
“Mine’s in my purse, someplace in the car.”
“I’ll get it,” he said and started to rise.
“No,” she exclaimed quickly. “You sit still. You’ve
had a head bang. Besides, I’m smaller and can crawl
back through the window easier.”
She pulled herself up from the grass and had only
taken one step toward the car when the sound of a
gunshot cracked and Beth felt the whiz of a bullet
come precariously close to her head.
Antoine reached up and grabbed her by the arm
and slammed her down to the ground. She hit the
earth with a thud and Antoine instantly covered her
body with his.
Her brain short-circuited. What was going on?
Somebody had shot at her? She gasped as Antoine
pulled a gun from an ankle holster she hadn’t known
“Wha…what’s going on?” she finally managed to
“Shh, be still.” His features were taut as he gazed
in the direction where the shot had come from. His
eyes were narrowed and pale—and utterly
His muscles tensed and he seemed to be
holding his breath. Another shot split the air, the dirt
near them kicking up in a whirl of dust.
He muttered a curse beneath his breath. “We’re
vulnerable out here in the open. We’ve got to move.”
He scanned the area. “See the trees behind us?”
She craned her neck to see and then nodded.
“Yes.” Her voice sounded two octaves higher to her
own ears. Terror squeezed her throat and roiled in her
stomach, making her feel as if she might throw up at
“When I say go I want you to run for those trees.
Run as fast as you can and don’t look back.” He
slowly moved his body off of hers.
Fear screamed through her as every muscle in
her body tensed with fight-or-flight adrenaline. She
didn’t want to run. She didn’t want to move. She just
wanted to go back an hour in time, when everything
“Get ready,” he whispered. “Go!”
As she jumped up and ran for the cover of the
trees he stood and began to fire his gun in the
direction of the shooter while he followed close
Beth stopped when she reached one of the large
trees. She wanted to hug the trunk that was now an
obstacle for the shooter to get around. Antoine slid in
beside her and wrapped an arm around her waist.
“Okay?” he asked.
Hell no, she wasn’t okay. Still, she nodded, too
breathless to speak. She felt like she’d stepped out of
a nightmare and straight into hell.
Antoine’s cold, calculating eyes scanned the
area once again. She wanted to ask him what he
saw…who he saw, but she was afraid to speak in
case the shooter might hear her.
“We need to stay on the move,” he said softly.
“We’ll go deeper into the forest and work our way
toward the resort. Be quiet and stay close to me.”
Stay close to him? If she could, she would have
glued herself to his chest. The trauma from the wreck
had momentarily shot her into a bit of a fog, but the
fog had completely lifted now and she was consumed
by a terror she’d never felt before.
The only thing that made her feel slightly better
was that he seemed cool and calm, so completely in
control and not afraid at all. She didn’t know if it was
just an act and at the moment she didn’t care. She
only knew it made her feel a little bit better.
“We’re going to run to those trees,” he said and
pointed to the left of where they stood. “Stay low and
move fast. Let’s go.”
As they raced toward the next stand of trees,
Beth expected a bullet to slam into one of them, but
there was no answering gunfire.
“Maybe he’s gone,” she gasped as they once
again reached cover.
“Or he’s on the move to get closer to us,” Antoine
replied, his words doing little to assuage the jagged
fear that ripped at her. “We need to keep moving. We
don’t want to be static targets.”
They moved from cover to cover, pressing their
bodies against trees and crouching in the brush. Each
chirp of a bird overhead, any rustle of a small animal
in the brush momentarily stopped Beth’s heart.
After making half a dozen moves, she felt
Antoine begin to relax a bit. His eyes weren’t as pale
as they had been and his features were less tense.
“I think maybe he’s gone,” he said. “If he was still
around he would have popped off another shot or two
by now. But we still need to stay on guard.”
“Maybe he was afraid somebody heard the
gunshots,” she said hopefully. “It had to be somebody
from the sedan. Our wreck wasn’t an accident. He
intentionally rammed us from behind.” Fear once
again raised a cold hand and gripped her in a
“Let’s get back to the resort and then we can
figure it all out.” He took her hand in his and together
they began to head in the direction of the hotel.
Somebody had tried to kill them. First with the
car collision and then with a gun. Had this been yet
another attempt to kill one of the men in the COIN
coalition? Did it have something to do with the notes
they had given to Jane?
There were so many questions and no answers
to make sense of what had just happened. All she
knew was that she couldn’t wait to get back to the
safety of the resort and she didn’t even want to think
about the fact that her car was now destroyed and the
insurance payment would be just shy of paltry for the
old reliable car.
They walked in silence for what felt like hours.
Every once in a while Antoine would signal a stop and
as they stood still he listened to the woods around
them, his gun at the ready.
When the resort property finally came into view
Beth almost wept in relief. Antoine looped an arm
over her shoulder, as if to offer some comfort as they
made their way to a side door that would keep them
from having to enter through the lobby.
“We have to call the sheriff,” she said as they
entered his suite. “We can’t keep this to ourselves.
We have to report this, Antoine.”
“You’re absolutely right,” he agreed and swiped
at his forehead where blood still oozed from the gash.
“But we don’t have to tell him everything. We don’t
have to tell him that we were at Jane’s or about the
notes, just that we were on our way to your place.”
She hesitated before replying. Lying was
aberrant to Beth and she thought the time had come
to tell Jake Wolf everything.
“Beth.” Antoine placed his hands on her
shoulders and gently kneaded with his fingers.
“You’ve been so incredibly brave and I know this all
has shaken you up, but I need you to help me. I need
you to trust me enough to let me do what I need to do.
I need the time that Jane promised us.”
His eyes were soft pools of pleading and even
though she knew she was probably all kinds of fool,
she did trust him. “Okay, then we just tell him we were
going to my house, that you wanted some time away
from the resort,” she finally relented.
“Thank you,” he replied and dropped his arms
back to his sides.
“I’ll call Jake and then we need to clean up your
forehead. You should probably be checked out by a
doctor. If you were unconscious for any length of time
then you probably have a concussion.”
“Nonsense, I’m fine. No doctor.” There was more
than a little steel in his voice.
Minutes later, with the call made to Jake, Beth
stood in the bathroom with Antoine. She tried to
ignore his tantalizing nearness as she dabbed at his
wounded forehead with a wet washcloth.
Even though they had survived a car crash and a
shooter, despite the fact that they’d trekked through
the woods to get back here, he still smelled of that
wonderful cologne that danced delight in her brain.
“There’s a lot of blood,” she said, trying to stay
focused on the task at hand. “You might need a stitch
or two. I still think you should see a doctor.”
“Head wounds always bleed a lot,” he replied.
“I’m sure it will be fine. I don’t need a doctor.” He was
seated on the edge of the large tub, his face in a
direct line with her breasts and she felt his gaze there,
tightening her nipples beneath her blouse.
How could she be feeling so turned on after what
they’d just been through? How could his nearness, his
hand resting lightly on the small of her back, his
simple gaze create such want inside her?
It had to be some sort of trick of adrenaline, she
told herself. Hadn’t she read something someplace
about danger and sexual response? Something about
endorphins or some hormone that made the two
“You have a soft touch.” His deep voice was like
a warm caress as his breath fanned her collarbone.
“And thank God you have a hard head,” she
He laughed and stood and she suddenly found
herself in his embrace. “Nothing like escaping death
to make you want to affirm life, right? And what I’d like
to do at this very moment is carry you into my bed and
make love to you until the sun comes up tomorrow
Her breath hitched as she stared up at him. She
knew that making love with Antoine would indelibly
mark her forever, that when he returned to his country
and his people, he would take a little piece of her
heart with him.
But at the moment none of that mattered. What
mattered was that his strong arms around her stole
away the chill of residual danger from her. What
mattered was that she couldn’t remember ever
wanting a man like she wanted Antoine.
When his mouth sought hers, she answered with
a hungry kiss of her desire. She tasted desire in his
lips as well. His mouth demanded response and she
gave, swirling her tongue with his as sweet
sensations chased away the last of her fear.
She clung to him and wanted him to take her to
his bed and make her moan with delight, gasp in
sweet pleasure. She wanted to lose herself in him and
not think about car crashes or crazy people chasing
after them with guns.
His hands slowly slid down her back and cupped
her buttocks and pulled her closer, tighter against him.
He was aroused, but this time instead of pulling back
from him, she wrapped her arms around his neck and
pressed herself more intimately against his hard
“Sweet Beth,” he whispered as his lips left hers
and trailed a hot path down the length of her neck. “I
want you.” The simple words only increased her
At that moment a knock fell on the door. Antoine
groaned and with obvious reluctance released his
hold on her. He stepped back, his eyes blazing with a
hunger that threatened to devour her.
“This isn’t finished,” he said, his voice lower,
deeper than usual. “I will have you in my bed, Beth
The words were not a threat, but rather a promise
that shot a shiver of anticipation up her spine as he
turned on his heels and left the bathroom.
THE HEAT OF PASSION SLOWLY EBBED as Antoine walked
to the suite door. He’d expected Sheriff Jake Wolf,
but instead he saw Michael, his head of security, on
the other side of the door.
Michael gasped in alarm at the sight of him.
“Your Highness, what happened? You’ve been hurt!”
“It’s nothing,” Antoine replied as he closed the
door behind the big man. “I was in a car accident.”
“A car accident? Why were you out in a car
without your driver, without your security with you?” He
didn’t wait for Antoine to reply, but rather continued,
“Your Highness, I can’t keep you safe if you go off by
yourself and don’t let me know what’s going on.”
Michael’s frustration was evident in his raised
voice and the redness that filled his broad features.
“These are dangerous times, Prince Antoine, and I
take my job as head of your security team very
seriously. I wish you would do the same.”
“I’m sure Fahad Bahir, Sheik Efraim Aziz’s head
of security, took his job seriously as well,” Antoine
Michael sucked in a breath and froze. “You doubt
my trustworthiness?” They both knew that Fahad had
tried to kill Sheik Efraim but instead had been killed
himself. “You wound me deeply. I would die to protect
you,” Michael exclaimed fervently. “You should know
after all my years of service that your safety is my
number one priority.”
Suddenly Antoine was exhausted. The
adrenaline that had pumped through him immediately
following the crash, the raw, pulsing energy that had
driven him through the woods to safety finally
He sank down on the edge of the sofa as Beth
returned to the room, looking as exhausted as he felt.
Michael raised a dark eyebrow at her
“Beth, this is Michael Napolis, head of my
security team. Michael, Beth Taylor works here at the
hotel as head of housekeeping.” Beth nodded and
slid down in the chair opposite the sofa as Antoine
looked back at Michael. “We’re waiting now for
Sheriff Jake Wolf to arrive. We were forced off the
road. We managed to escape the crash only to be
shot at by an unknown person.”
Michael’s eyes narrowed. “I must insist that you
use your security force whenever you leave these
rooms. None of the members of the coalition who are
still here are safe until we identify who is behind these
“We’re safe for now. The sheriff is on his way and
Ms. Taylor and I don’t intend to leave this room for the
remainder of the day. There are some things I want to
go over with you later, but I’ll call you when I’m ready.”
It was an obvious dismissal and Michael knew it.
He gave a quick bow and then left the suite. Antoine
looked at Beth and for the first time noticed her
clothes were dirty, her hose encasing her long legs
were torn and she winced as she changed positions
on the chair.
“You should go take a hot bath,” he said. “You
need to soak your muscles before they all tighten up. I
have a clean robe hanging on the hook behind the
door in the bathroom.”
“Sounds like a plan,” she replied but made no
move to get up.
He stood and walked over to where she sat and
held out his hand. “Come, it’s been a difficult time and
you look exhausted.”
She took his hand in hers and allowed him to pull
her up to her feet. “I’m more tired than I think I’ve ever
been in my life,” she admitted.
When they reached the bathroom, Antoine
started the water running in the tub, added a liberal
dose of scented bath salts and then walked back to
her and gently cupped her face with his hands. “I’m so
sorry about what happened.”
She smiled, but it was obviously a forced
gesture. “Don’t you dare apologize. You aren’t
responsible for any of what happened. You didn’t
force my car off the road and you weren’t the one
taking potshots at us.”
“I don’t know what I would have done if you’d
been hurt.” Emotion welled up and pressed heavily in
his chest as he thought of what might have happened
to her. They’d been very lucky to walk away from not
only the wrecked car, but also from whoever had been
shooting at them.
“Thankfully the only real casualty was your head
and my hose.” This time her smile was more genuine,
although still weary.
He held her gaze for another long moment, then
let her go and stepped back. “Soak and relax. When
Sheriff Wolf arrives I’ll take care of the report to him. If
he needs to speak to you I’ll let you know.” With that
he closed the door to allow her privacy.
He would have loved to climb into the big tub with
her, to feel her soap-slickened skin against his, but he
had business to attend to and couldn’t afford to allow
himself to get distracted again by Beth’s charms.
Although he’d been reluctant to use the computer
in his room to do the search he wanted to run, he also
didn’t want to waste time. He needed to find out
everything he could about Aleksei Verovick as soon
As he waited for the computer to power up he
made a couple of phone calls, taking care of some
business that needed to be handled and by that time
Sheriff Jake Wolf arrived.
“Sheriff Wolf.” Antoine ushered in the tall, Native
American sheriff who had a reputation for being a
Despite his reputation, Antoine wasn’t at all sure
whether to trust the man. According to what Antoine
had heard, there had been whispers of corruption in
the Wind River County law enforcement for many
“Prince Antoine, when Beth called me she said
you needed to report a crime,” Jake said.
“Please, have a seat.” Antoine gestured him
toward one of the easy chairs next to the sofa.
“She’s in the bathroom cleaning up.” Antoine
shoved aside a quick vision of Beth in a tub of
bubbles. “We’ve had a rather traumatic afternoon. It
started when a black sedan intentionally rammed us
from behind and forced Beth’s car off the road and
down an embankment near her cabin.”
Jake sat up straighter in his chair, his dark eyes
glowing with intensity. “Did you get a plate number?
Maybe see who was behind the wheel?”
“Unfortunately no.” How Antoine wished he’d
seen who had been driving that car. How he wished
he’d gotten an eyeful of the person who had been
shooting at them. If he had, they would now no longer
be a threat.
“It all happened so fast. The car plowed into us,
we went off the road and flipped a couple of times, but
Beth and I managed to climb out of the wreckage.
Thankfully we were both wearing our seat belts so
sustained simply bumps and bruises.”
“And a pretty good gash on your forehead,” Jake
observed. “Do you need to see a doctor?”
Antoine raised a hand to the wound which had
finally stopped bleeding. “No, it’s fine. Anyway, by the
time we managed to climb out of Beth’s car, the other
car was gone, but somebody started shooting at us.”
Jake released a weary sigh. “And I suppose you
didn’t get a look at who was doing the shooting.”
“I’m afraid we were too busy scrambling for cover
to pay much attention. Eventually the shooter must
have left the area and we made our way back here.”
“You had no security with you?” Jake lowered his
dark eyebrows in obvious disapproval.
“Beth and I were on our way to her place. I felt a
need to escape everything and everyone, and that
included my own security team.”
Jake frowned. “You royals would make my life
much easier if you’d either avail yourself of your own
security or stay holed up here in your rooms. Better
yet, perhaps it’s time to wrap things up here and head
back to your country.”
“That’s not going to happen until I find out about
Amir’s fate,” Antoine replied firmly. “I understand the
difficulties our being here has brought you and I
apologize for that, but I have no plans to return to
Barajas at the moment.”
Jake waved a hand. “I guess it’s all in a day’s
work,” he replied. “At least I can’t say things have
been boring around here lately. So, let’s start at the
beginning and you tell me exactly what happened
It was almost an hour later that Jake left the suite
with what little information Antoine had been able to
give him. Jake had made arrangements for Beth’s car
to be towed although Antoine was relatively certain it
couldn’t be salvaged for anything but junk.
The minute Jake left Antoine headed toward the
master bathroom to check on Beth. She hadn’t put in
an appearance the entire time that Jake had been
He discovered the reason for her absence the
minute he walked into the bedroom. Clad in his white
robe, she was curled up asleep in the middle of his
bed, a hand towel folded up and clutched in one hand.
As he watched her sleeping he felt his heart constrict
just a little bit.
During the entire trek back to the resort she
hadn’t complained. She hadn’t worried about the fact
that she now didn’t have a car. She hadn’t accused
him of getting her into a bad situation. Her entire
concern seemed to be getting him back to the resort
so she could take care of the cut on his forehead.
She was unlike any woman he’d ever met before
and she was definitely getting under his skin. She
looked so beautiful with her long lashes dusting her
cheeks and her lips slightly parted as if anticipating a
Despite his words about taking her to bed, he
knew the best thing he could do for both of them was
to back away. When she woke up he needed to take
her back to her cottage and then leave her alone.
The last thing he wanted was to bring danger to
her doorstep and this afternoon had been too close a
call for him to want to continue having her near him.
Antoine stared at her for a long moment. He’d
never wanted to get too close to a woman because
he’d never wanted to feel responsible for a woman’s
He’d never forgotten that his father’s past had
lunged up to destroy not only his own life, but
Antoine’s mother’s life as well. Antoine was
determined not to make the same mistakes as his
As quietly as he’d entered the room he left, more
confused than ever about what to do with her.
They had gotten little sleep the night before and
with the dramatic events of the day he knew the best
thing for her at the moment was sleep. That would
allow him to figure out whether he should cut her loose
or keep her close.
He returned to his computer to find out what he
could about Verovick. He didn’t know how long he
worked before darkness and hunger drove him back
out of his chair.
He ordered dinner from room service and turned
on lights against the night, then once again checked
on Beth who was still sleeping soundly.
There was a part of him that wanted to get into
the bed with her, to pull her warm sleeping form
against him and allow himself to relax for the first time
However, Jane’s clock ticked loudly in his head,
reminding him that minutes were slipping by and he
had only two days left before she’d take the
information in the notes to Jake Wolf.
He returned to the desk and stacked the pages
he’d printed off the computer. He leaned back in the
chair and began to read.
There was no question that plenty of speculation
swirled around Aleksei Verovick with little solid fact.
He was reputed to be behind a scam that had stolen
hundreds of credit card numbers and personal
information that had yielded hundreds of thousands of
dollars for the mob.
His name had been linked to kidnappings and
killings, but a lack of solid evidence and plenty of
palm-greasing had apparently kept him a free and
very powerful man.
He picked up one of the printouts and stared at a
photo of the man. Verovick had a thick, beefy body
and a square head with a prominent jaw. His hair was
dark and cut with military precision and his eyes were
round and black like those of a reptile. He looked like
a formidable enemy to have.
Antoine frowned as he noticed the fountain in the
background of the picture. It was large and made of
stunning marble, with finely sculptured sea nymphs
rising out of the huge base.
He knew that fountain, had stood before it many
times when he’d visited the island of Saruk. In their
area of the sea there were a total of five independent
islands—Barajas, Kyros, Nadar, Jamala and Saruk.
Saruk was the largest of them all and the only
one that had chosen not to participate in the COIN
So, why would a man like Aleksei Verovick be
visiting in Saruk? More important, who had he been
visiting while in that country? Antoine’s mind raced
Kalil Ramat, the leader of Saruk, had made no
secret of the fact that he disapproved of the COIN
coalition and their goals, but surely his disapproval
wouldn’t go so far as to hire members of the Russian
mob to destroy the leaders of the other nations.
Antoine picked up his phone and dialed his
friend, Darek Ramat, Kalil’s son.
“Antoine.” Darek’s deep voice held a warm
welcome when he answered. “How are you, my
“Good,” Antoine replied. He figured the fewer
people who knew about the attacks against him and
the others, the better.
“It’s good to hear you’re well.”
“It’s good to be well,” Antoine replied with a touch
of humor. “And how are things on the beautiful island
“Wonderful. I have plans tonight to club it with a
couple of beautiful women so life is definitely good,”
Darek said with a hardy laugh. “And when are you
planning a visit here?”
“I don’t know, Darek, things are still very much up
in the air with nobody knowing anything about Amir.”
“I pray for his safety,” Darek replied. “There have
been no new developments?”
“None,” Antoine replied and felt the edge of grief
he always suffered when thinking about Amir. “Aleksei
Verovick, you know the name?” Antoine asked,
getting to the point of the call.
“No, should I?” There was obvious confusion in
“He’s reputed to be a high-power player in the
Russian mob and he was recently a visitor to your
“Really? Well, I don’t know the man. I have
nothing to do with reputed mobsters.”
“So you would have no idea what he was doing in
“Antoine, many people visit Saruk. This is a
beautiful place where tourism thrives. Do you think
this man has something to do with Amir’s fate?”
“Perhaps,” Antoine replied, not wanting to tell
Darek about the notes that had been found, notes that
were directly tied to Verovick.
The two men talked for a few minutes longer and
then hung up. Antoine leaned back in his chair and
fought against a new wave of exhaustion.
Was it possible that Kalil’s disapproval had gone
over the top? Had he taken his disapproval of the
COIN coalition to the next level and actively worked
against them by hiring the Russian mob to take them
Antoine had a difficult time believing that about a
man who had many times opened his household to
him in welcome, a man who was the father of
somebody Antoine considered a good friend.
Had Verovick simply been vacationing on the
beautiful island of Saruk? He supposed even
mobsters needed a vacation now and then.A knock on the door pulled him from his thoughts.
Dinner had arrived. As the server left the suite Beth
appeared in the doorway from the bedroom.
She had dressed back in her own clothes sans
the ruined pantyhose and looked far more refreshed
than he felt.
“Ah, sleeping beauty awakes. I hope you like
steak,” he said. “I took the liberty of ordering a latenight dinner for us.”
“It smells delicious and right now I think I could
eat anything you put in front of me.” She walked
across the room to the dining room table where the
plates had been placed with meticulous care. “Did
He nodded. “He did. I made the report and Jake
will be looking for a dark sedan with front-end
damage. There’s no way that car could have hit us
with such force and not sustained some damage.”
“I’m sorry I slept through it all. After the bath I sat
on the edge of the bed and before I knew it I was out
like a light.”
“I had Michael pick up replacement cell phones
for both of us,” he said. “Thanks.”
She sat at the table. “And once we finish eating
I’ll call somebody on staff to take me back to my
“That won’t be necessary,” he replied. “I bought
you a new Jeep, complete with four-wheel drive and
all the extras. It’s down in the parking lot now with a
red ribbon tied to the antenna.”
He’d expected joy to light her eyes, or at least a
little bit of relief that she didn’t have to worry about not
having a vehicle anymore. He’d sent Michael to take
care of the details and Michael had managed to get
everything done while she’d slept.
But, instead of joy, her green eyes narrowed and
her lips thinned with a hint of displeasure. “I didn’t ask
you to buy me a new car.”
“No, you didn’t,” he replied easily. “That’s not in
your nature. But, you needed a new one and so I got
“I can’t accept a new car from you.”
“Of course you can,” he replied and sat next to
her at the table. “It’s already tagged and licensed in
your name. It was because of me that your car was
destroyed. Don’t look at it as a gift, but merely a
replacement of the one I ruined.”
What he didn’t tell her was that a tracking device
had been placed on the Jeep to allow him to keep
track of her movements by his computer. It was just a
precaution, given what they’d just experienced.
Her cheeks were flushed pink as she stared at
him. “I’ll make payments to you until I’ve paid for it,
every dime that it cost you.”
Damn, but he wanted her now, this very minute
with her eyes blazing and her chin thrust forward in a
show of stubborn defiance. But, as much as he’d like
to think of his own wants, his own needs, he couldn’t
forget what had happened to his mother and father.
It was time to let her go.
Beth sat at her desk the next morning with a cup
of coffee in hand and thought about the night before.
They had been halfway through dinner when Antoine
had told her he didn’t feel comfortable with her going
back to her cottage alone.
Truthfully, she hadn’t felt all that good about going
home alone, either. The small house was far too
isolated for her to be comfortable there alone after
what had happened to them.
Antoine had told her she was welcome to stay in
his suite, but she knew where that would lead and she
wasn’t willing to go there with him.
Once she’d slept good sense had prevailed and
the desire she’d felt for him while the two of them had
been in the bathroom had ebbed.
The fact that in the blink of an eye he’d bought
her a new car reminded her of how very different their
worlds were, how foolish she would be to think that
there was any kind of future with Prince Antoine
She’d wound up spending the night in a hotel
room that was available for staff and she always kept
a spare uniform in her office.
She’d spent the night tossing and turning,
thinking about what had happened with the car wreck
and the shooting and ultimately her thoughts had
returned to Antoine.
She took a sip of coffee and rose from her chair,
ignoring the faint groan of muscles that had been
overworked in the accident. She stared out the
window, unseeing, lost in her thoughts.
People who stayed at the hotel were in transition.
They were coming from somewhere or going
someplace. They were conducting business or on
vacation and had lives that had nothing to do with their
stay at the resort.
Other than Mark she had never allowed herself to
get involved in anything personal with a guest, aware
that this was just a short stop in their lives that had
little to do with reality.
There had been plenty of men who had flirted
with her, who had made it clear that they might have
pursued her given half an opportunity, but she’d shut
them down easily.
Still, she was precariously close to losing her
heart to Antoine. Not only was he handsome as sin,
as sexy as satin sheets, but he was also a kind man
and had a great sense of humor. He’d even started
her bathwater for her. Damn, he was absolutely killing
If the knock on the door hadn’t stopped them,
they would have fallen onto Antoine’s bed and made
love. She’d been ready to succumb to him, to give
herself completely with no thought of tomorrow. It
would have been foolish to do so.
“Beth?” Barbara Kintell, one of the maids, stuck
her head into the room. “Do you have a minute?”
“Of course,” Beth replied, grateful to focus on
work and not on the wondrous charms of Antoine
Cavanaugh. This was where she belonged, dealing
with hotel housekeeping business and not anywhere
near a prince who had everything it took to break her
It was noon when Beth realized she’d promised
Antoine the night before to look at the personnel
records and see who had been hired in the weeks
before the royals had arrived.
It was possible somebody here at the hotel had
seen Antoine and Beth leave together the day before
and had been responsible for what had happened
after they’d left the lab.
This thought brought with it a sense of personal
betrayal. Beth had always considered the staff here at
the resort part of her extended family. She didn’t want
to believe that anyone here could be guilty of such
It was also possible somebody in town had seen
them together and had decided it was a perfect
opportunity to take out another member of the COIN
Beth spent most of her waking hours here at the
hotel and rarely went to town for anything but
groceries or to meet a friend for dinner.
There was one person who would probably know
any newcomers in town and that was Beth’s friend,
Haley Jenkins, who worked at the most popular café
She dialed Haley’s number and smiled as her
friend’s voice filled the line. “Hey girl, I haven’t heard
from you for a while. I was beginning to think you’d
fallen off the face of the earth.”
“I’ve just been really busy here at work,” Beth
“Rubbing elbows with all those hunky sheiks, I’ll
bet,” Haley said.
Beth laughed although she felt the warmth of a
blush on her cheeks. “Actually, a prince rather than a
sheik,” she admitted.
Haley squealed in delight. “Do tell all!”
“There isn’t a lot to tell,” Beth said hurriedly. “I’ve
just been spending a little time with Prince Antoine
Cavanaugh, but it’s strictly on a professional basis.
I’m helping him with a little investigative work.”
“Beth, I’ve seen photos of him and his twin
brother. They are definitely the hottie twins. I hope
some of your work is undercover…as in under the
covers of one of those big, king-size beds.”
Beth laughed once again and tried not to think
about her and Antoine under the sheets of his bed,
making love. “Not hardly. The reason I called is
because I’m trying to get the names of people who
came to town just before the visiting royals arrived,
people who seem to have no real reason to be here.”
“God, girl, that’s a tall order. With all the reporters
and journalists and all those kooky protestors, it’s
hard to figure out who has a reason to be here and
“This would be somebody who isn’t a journalist,
somebody who is probably a loner,” Beth replied.
“Can I give it some thought and get back to you?”
“Of course,” Beth replied. “And Haley, I really
“Whatever I can do to help. But, I will tell you that
sooner or later I’m going to want details about you
and the handsome prince.”
Beth laughed again and when she and Haley
hung up she typed in the password on her computer
that would take her to the personnel files.
It took an enormous staff to keep a hotel and
resort of this size running smoothly and Beth intended
to check new hires for any position on staff.
It took her most of the afternoon to plow through
the records with interruptions to attend to normal
housekeeping duties and coworkers popping in just
to say hello.
There was very little turnover at the hotel. People
who worked here liked what they did and knew that in
this economy good jobs were hard to find. The hotel
provided not only comfortable wages, but excellent
benefits as well and there was definitely a certain
prestige in working for the Wind River Ranch and
However, she did find one name, a member of
her own staff, who had been hired a little over a month
before the royals had come to the resort.
Janine Sahron had told Beth when she’d been
hired that her husband was from a small
Mediterranean island and that they had recently
moved to Dumont. At the time the information had
meant nothing to Beth, but now she had to wonder
Was it possible they had moved to Dumont
specifically to get Janine hired, specifically to infiltrate
the hotel and gain access to knowledge about the
movements of the members of the COIN Coalition?
Beth grabbed her cell phone and called Antoine.
She tried to still the leap of her heart as he answered,
his deep sexy voice washing over her in a wave of
“Beth, I was just thinking about you,” he said in a
distinctly sensual tone.
She wanted to tell him to stop it, to stop thinking
about her, and to stop saying her name as if he were
making love to it. “I was just thinking about you, too. I
have a name for you—a maid who was hired a month
before you all arrived here. I also remember her telling
me that her husband was from a small Mediterranean
“What’s her name?” Antoine asked, all softness
gone from his voice. “Janine Sahron.”
“Sahron,” he repeated the name thoughtfully.
“Doesn’t sound familiar, but that doesn’t mean
anything. I would like to meet with her immediately.
Can you arrange it for me?”
“Unfortunately today is her day off,” Beth replied.
“You have her address?”
“Yes, but what are you planning to do?”
“You and I will pay her a visit at her home. I will
interrogate her and her husband and get the truth from
A faint shiver walked up Beth’s spine at the cool
resolve in his voice. “Shouldn’t you call them first and
let them know you’re coming?”
“Absolutely not. I would prefer the element of
surprise. So, when are you available to take me to
She had told herself that she was done with
Antoine, that what she needed more than anything
was to distance herself from him, but she also knew
that he had nobody he trusted as much as her. And
the truth be told, she didn’t want to distance herself
from him—at least not yet and at least not physically.
“I can take off at about six this evening,” she
finally said and tried to ignore the dance her heart did
at the thought of seeing him again. It didn’t mean they
would sleep together, she reminded herself. Helping
him and sleeping with him were two very different
With arrangements made for her to meet him at
the side door, they hung up. Beth directed her gaze
out the nearby window where she had a view of the
stunning formal gardens.
Was it possible that Janine and her husband
were somehow tied to the Russian mobster who had
written those threatening notes? It was so difficult to
imagine the red-haired, blue-eyed, soft-spoken
Janine involved in any kind of international intrigue.
But she reminded herself that lately the news had
been filled with stories about spies living like the
Joneses next door, people who looked like Sundayschool teachers and Boy Scout leaders who were
actually planted for years as deep-seated spies.
Who would have thought that some of the local
law could be bought off, that professional security
teams could be compromised? She couldn’t imagine
living a life where you didn’t know who to trust, where
even the people closest to you could betray you in the
blink of an eye.
Was it any wonder that Antoine found it easier to
trust a virtual stranger like her than anyone close to
By the time six o’clock arrived nervous energy
coursed through her. She was determined to take
Antoine where he needed to go, support him in what
he had to do, and yet try to maintain a healthy
emotional distance from him.
That emotional distance was difficult to maintain
the minute she slid into the interior of the new black
Jeep. Despite the fact that Antoine had been suffering
from a gash in his forehead and from the trauma of
somebody trying to kill him, within minutes of getting
to safety he’d thought about her and the fact that she
no longer had a car she could use.
Sitting in the new beige leather seat, smelling the
new-car scent that surrounded her and staring at all
the bells and whistles he’d included, she felt a wave of
emotion press tight in her chest and bring a haze of
tears to her eyes.
Nobody had ever done anything so nice for her
before and while she intended to pay off every dime,
she couldn’t help but be touched that he’d thought
about what she’d lost, that it had mattered to him.
She sucked up the uncharacteristic sentimental
tears and headed for the side door where Antoine
awaited. As always her pulse raced at the sight of
Although he wore his customary black dress
slacks, this evening he had on a pale blue shortsleeved dress shirt that both showed off his biceps
and emphasized the blueness of his eyes.
As he slid into the seat next to her and gave her
the smile that threatened to turn her into a puddle, she
knew maintaining any kind of emotional distance from
this man was next to impossible.
Somehow he’d managed to dig in beneath the
defenses she’d erected after the debacle with Mark.
The lyrics to a Mariah Carey heartbreaker flew
through her head, a reminder that she desperately
had to quickly rebuild the defenses to keep her heart
“You slept well last night?” he asked once they
were headed in the direction of the Sahron residence.
“I would have slept better in my own bed, but yes,
I slept okay. What about you?” She cast him a quick
glance and noticed that he looked tired. The lines
around his eyes appeared to cut deeper than they
had the day before. “Nightmares?”
“No, no dreams. There were just too many
thoughts in my head for me to sleep well,” he replied.
“You need to talk about your thoughts?”
He cast her a warm smile. “I’m not used to
sharing my thoughts with anyone, except perhaps
Sebastian.” He leaned back in the seat and a frown
tugged his dark eyebrows downward. “I keep trying to
figure out how to tie Aleksei Verovick to everything
that has happened. I keep wondering if perhaps he’s
here in town and pulling strings behind the scenes.”
“I called a friend of mine at a café in Dumont to
see if she could give me a list of anyone who had
come to town in the weeks before you all arrived. I
haven’t heard back from her yet. But sooner or later
everyone who comes to Dumont eats at that café.”
“You’re a very smart woman, Beth.”
She hated how she warmed at his words of
praise. “If I don’t hear back from her today, I’ll give her
a call first thing in the morning.”
“I don’t know what I would do without you, Beth.
Without Sebastian here I have nobody else I can
trust.” She felt his gaze on her.
“Do you really worry that you can’t trust your own
security team?” she asked.
He frowned once again. “I want to trust them, but
I’m naturally wary after what happened with Sheik
Efraim’s head of security. The promise of money and
power can corrupt even the truest of heart.”
“Money has never meant much of anything to me,
except as a way to eventually finance my dream of
owning horses,” she replied. “I’ve never longed for
designer clothes or fancy shoes. I love my simple life.”
“A simple life sounds wonderfully attractive to me
at the moment,” he replied.
They both fell silent as she reached the Dumont
city limits and she turned onto the street where the
Sahron family lived.
“It should be just ahead,” she said as she slowed
to read the numbers on the mailboxes.
The Sahron house was a two-story that looked as
if it was in desperate need of a face-lift. The white
paint was peeling and weathered and some of the
dark green shutters at the windows hung askance.
The lawn was wild and dead bushes lined the
“Apparently money is an issue with the Sahrons,”
Antoine said drily as she stopped the car in the
“I’ll go up and knock on the door,” Beth said.
Although she was relatively certain they had not been
followed and hopefully nobody knew about her new
vehicle, she didn’t want Antoine standing on the porch
and potentially making an easy target for somebody.
“We’ll go together,” he replied firmly and opened
his car door.
So much for attempting to save a prince, she
thought as she got out. Although Antoine definitely
wasn’t the kind of man who would ever need saving
by a woman. With his military training and his quick
mind he could probably take care of himself in most
She felt a nervous flutter in her stomach as
Antoine rang the doorbell. She didn’t want to think that
a member of her own staff might be at least partially
responsible for the horrible things that had befallen
the visiting dignitaries.
Janine Sahron was a hard worker and a team
player. She was a soft-spoken woman whom Beth
had instantly liked. Was it possible Beth had
completely misjudged her character? Janine had
melded seamlessly into the team which was why Beth
hadn’t thought about her until she’d looked over the
It certainly wouldn’t be the first time she’d
misjudged somebody. A vision of Mark filled her
head. Mark with his charming smile and laughing
brown eyes. Oh yes, he’d fooled her with his promises
of love and marriage and she’d bought into each and
every one of his lies.
Her attention returned to Antoine as he knocked
on the door with an impatient rap. “I guess they aren’t
home,” he finally said in frustration after knocking a
“What now?” Beth asked as they returned to the
“I think we should park along the curb across the
street and do what you call a stakeout.”
“If that’s what you want,” Beth replied. “But, it’s
possible they’re out for the evening.”
Within minutes they were parked where he’d
indicated with the engine off and the windows down to
allow the refreshing evening air to flow around them.
“We’ll give it an hour or so,” he said. “And while
we wait you can tell me about the man who broke your
She looked at him in surprise and a small,
uncomfortable laugh escaped her lips. “What makes
you think some man broke my heart?”
His eyes gleamed a silvery blue in the waning
light of day. “It’s the only thing to explain why a woman
like you is still alone.”
She broke eye contact with him and stared
unseeing out the front window as her mind drifted
back in time. “I always had a firm policy not to date
any of the guests who stayed at the hotel. It just
seemed smart not to get involved with men who were
there on business or on vacation and had lives to get
“But, you made an exception,” he said softly.
She turned back to look at him and nodded.
“Yes, I did. His name was Mark Ferrer. He was some
sort of a medical salesman who worked the state of
Wyoming and about every two weeks or so he’d
spend a couple of nights at the resort. I ran into him in
town one evening. He had just finished up a business
call and I was in town to buy some groceries. We
bumped into each other and he invited me to have a
drink with him.”
She thought about that night. It had been the oneyear anniversary of her mother’s death and she’d
been filled with an aching loneliness. “On impulse I
decided to take him up on the invitation.”
“And that was the beginning.” It wasn’t a question
but rather a statement of fact.
“Yes, we started seeing each other whenever he
was in town and he’d call me during the time he
wasn’t in town. He told me he lived in a small town
about three hundred miles from here.” Once again
she cast her gaze out the window. “He was very
romantic, seemed to be head over heels in love with
me and it wasn’t long before I believed I felt the same
She removed her hands from the steering wheel
and felt the faint tick of the errant nerve in the side of
her neck. It was embarrassing to admit how incredibly
foolish she’d been.
Antoine reached over and took one of her hands
in his. As always when she looked at him she wanted
to fall into his arms, lose herself in the blue waters of
his eyes. “You loved him and he didn’t love you
She wished it had been that easy. Unrequited
love would have been a cakewalk compared to what
she’d been through with Mark. “No, he professed to
love me desperately up until the very end when I told
him to get out of my life and stay out forever.”
Antoine looked at her in confusion. “I don’t
understand. What happened?”
Beth sighed. “One night Mark stayed with me and
the next morning when he left I realized he’d forgotten
his briefcase. That evening I looked up his home
number in the hotel records and I called him. To my
surprise a woman answered the phone, a woman who
introduced herself as Mark’s wife.”
How well she remembered that moment of
shock, of utter betrayal that she’d felt. Married? Mark
was married? Worse than that, she’d heard the sound
of young children in the background.
She would never forget how humiliated she’d felt
at that moment, how her heart had ached not only for
herself but also for the woman on the other end of the
“What did you tell her?” Antoine asked.
“That I was head of housekeeping here at the
hotel and Mr. Ferrer had left his briefcase in his room.
She thanked me and told me Mark would be in touch.”
“And I’ll bet he was,” Antoine said drily as he
gently squeezed her hand.
“He called me an hour later, told me that nothing
had changed between us. He said he loved me and
was grateful that the truth was finally out. He said his
wife didn’t understand him, that she was jealous and
vindictive but ultimately he didn’t want to divorce her
because he had to think about his children. He told
me that now that the truth was out, there was really no
reason why we couldn’t keep the status quo.”
The words tumbled out of her. She’d never
shared this with anyone. Not even her best friends
had known about Mark’s ultimate betrayal.
“He assured me that nothing had changed
between he and I, that he still loved me, still wanted to
be with me whenever it was possible. I was appalled. I
don’t do affairs.”
“Of course you don’t. So, that was the end of it?”
She frowned. “For the next three months Mark
called me incessantly. He couldn’t believe that I didn’t
want to be with him anymore. He sent me flowers and
candy and other gifts. I finally changed my cell phone
number, but he’d call me at work.”
“Did you think about filing a restraining order of
“No. I didn’t want to destroy his life. I didn’t want
his wife to know what he’d done. I just wanted him to
leave me alone. Finally one day he stopped calling,
stopped trying to make contact. That was almost a
year ago. He hasn’t been back to the hotel since and I
figure he found himself a new hotel and a new
girlfriend who he’s probably lying to like he lied to
“Men like that are predators,” Antoine said with a
touch of indignation.
“Women like me are foolish,” Beth replied wryly.
“I should have asked more questions, checked him
out before getting involved with him. I was stupid just
to take everything he told me about himself at face
One thing surprised her, talking about Mark didn’t
bring the pain she’d expected. She realized that
whatever heartbreak he might have caused her had
“Beth, you can’t blame yourself for being a
trusting, loving woman. Those are very positive traits
for a person to have, they are the very traits that draw
me to you.”
She pulled her hand from his. “Now that’s enough
about me. Why don’t you tell me why you haven’t
found a woman to make your princess?”
“I will never marry.” His voice rang with firm
She looked at him in surprise. “But why? Antoine,
you’re a good man and you deserve someone to
share your life with.” Not that she believed in a million
years that woman could ever be her.
His eyes, which had been warm and inviting just
moments ago, turned to pale ice. “I’m not a good
man, Beth. I’ve done some terrible things in my life,
things that I fear might put your life in danger.”
Her beautiful eyes widened at his words. “What
are you talking about?”
He looked toward the Sahron house and
frowned. “You say this woman is scheduled to work at
the hotel early in the morning?”
“Yes, she should be in by seven. She’s never
been late and never missed a day of work.”
“Then let’s go to your place. I’m in the mood for
some peace and quiet and a cup of your wonderful
She said nothing but started the engine and
headed out of the neighborhood. He knew she had
questions about what he’d said, but he didn’t intend to
share any of his past with her until they were alone at
He’d already had a difficult day. Thoughts of his
friend Amir had plagued him, along with questions
about the crash and the shooting he and Beth had
All day long he’d played and replayed the events
in minute detail in his head. What he couldn’t make
sense of was that after he and Beth had crawled out
of the wreck, the gunman had shot at her when she’d
stood to go back into the car and get their cell
Why shoot at her? If Antoine had been the
primary target, then why not wait for him to stand up
and then take him out? The shot at Beth had served
as a warning to him. Had it simply been an amateur
mistake or something else, something darker and
The more he thought about it, the more
concerned he’d become that it was possibly
somebody from his past who had caught up with him,
somebody with a burning need for revenge who had
finally found him.
And that meant he might have put a target on
Beth’s head. By spending time with her, perhaps
being seen in her company somebody might have
gotten the impression that she would make a good
vehicle for revenge against him. That was the only
thing that explained the gunman shooting at her
instead of waiting for a bead on Antoine.
Darkness was falling fast as they reached Beth’s
cabin. Antoine felt the same welcome this evening as
he had the other time he’d come here with her. The
house seemed to attempt to embrace him in a serene
quiet but his mind was filled with too much chaos for
that to happen.
“I’m going to get out of my uniform,” Beth said as
she headed down the hallway. “I’ll be out in just a few
minutes. Make yourself at home.”
He didn’t hang around in the living room but
instead walked into the kitchen, where Beth’s
presence in the house was most vibrant.
He walked over to the bank of windows and
stared out where the deep purple shadows of night
were starting to pool beneath the trees and seep
across the land.
In the distance he could see the faint sparkle of
the dying sun on a stream. Despite all the troubles in
his mind, he momentarily felt a peace he rarely
This place had a rugged beauty that called to
something deep inside him. From its jagged
mountains to the sparkling streams, he felt an
elemental pull, a sense of being where he belonged.
Which was crazy. He belonged in Barajas, he
reminded himself. That was his home, not this place.
He turned at the sound of her voice. She’d
changed into a dark pink sweatshirt and a matching
pair of jogging pants. The fleece material hugged her
body like a lover and the peace he’d felt earlier
dissolved beneath a wash of desire that threatened to
weaken his knees.
He sank down at the table, disturbed by how
profoundly Beth affected him, by how much he wanted
her. He’d always been able to manage his emotions,
his desires with little trouble. He was a master at
manipulating others, but had always managed to stay
completely in control of himself.
He narrowed his gaze as he watched her start
the coffee. She moved with an efficient grace, despite
her earlier claim of possessing two left feet.
“I tortured people.” The words slipped from his
lips, as if he knew these thoughts alone would drive
any desire for her from his mind, would drive her away
She gasped and turned to face him. He saw the
nerve ticking violently in the side of her long, slender
neck, letting him know she was anxious.
“What are you talking about?” Her voice was a
soft whisper as she walked across the hardwood floor
and sank down in the chair next to him.
He saw no fear in her eyes, only confusion and
questions. The coffeemaker gurgled and began to
drip its fragrant brew, but a cup of coffee was the last
thing on his mind.
“It’s what I did in the military,” he said. “I was one
of the top interrogators for my country. I broke people,
sometimes mentally, sometimes physically.”
The darkness that was never far from the surface
rose up inside him, filling him with the bitter tang of
regret and a weight of sorrow he felt as if he’d never
climb out from under. He was a thirty-five-year-old
man who suffered nightmares because of his past. “I
did terrible things, things that haunt me now.”
“Antoine, you were in the military.” She leaned
toward him, her green eyes lit with the flame of
conviction and holding a faint sense of redemption for
him if he were willing to take it. “You were in charge of
the security of your nation. You did what you had to do
for your country,” she said softly.
Unable to stand the easy acceptance in her eyes,
he stood and returned to the window, his back to
where she remained seated.
“I hate what I did.” He spit the words out as his
emotions careened out of control. “I hate who I had to
become to get the job done. I found weaknesses and
exploited them, I smiled with friendliness as I sought
ways to destroy people, to break them to the point
that I could get what I wanted from them.”
He hadn’t heard her rise from her chair, but
suddenly her hand was on the small of his back. “The
fact that you hate what you did shows me what kind of
a man you are in your heart.” Her soft voice soothed
some of the rough edges in his soul.
He turned to face her. “It’s what I dream about
sometimes. It’s the stuff of nightmares.”
She tilted her head slightly and he realized the
pulse in her neck had stopped its frantic beat. “Is that
what you were dreaming about the night that I woke
He gave her a curt nod. “That and my parents’
murder. Most of my nightmares are either of their
murder or about the things I did in the name of
“Antoine, you can’t change what happened to
your parents and you can’t beat yourself up for doing
your job for your country. You have to find a way to
forgive yourself, to understand that you did what you
had to do.”
He wanted to fall into the softness of her green
eyes, wanted desperately to believe he was the kind
of man she thought him to be. She was so naïve, so
accepting of not just his positive traits, but also of the
dark side he’d tried to keep hidden from the world,
“What you don’t understand is that I’ve made
plenty of enemies. There are people out there who
would like nothing better than to make me pay for
what I did to them, or to their family members.”
She frowned. “And you think that’s who attacked
us and not somebody out to destroy the coalition?”
Her green eyes darkened slightly.
“I think it’s possible and I also think it’s possible
they believe the way to hurt me is to hurt you.”
“But why? I’m not your family.” Her cheeks
bloomed a dusty rose. “I’m just head of housekeeping
at the hotel where you happen to be staying. I’ve just
helped you out with some personal things.”
“You know you’re more than that to me,” he said
“But how would anyone else know what kind of a
relationship you and I have?”
He led her back to the table and they both sat
once again. “Somebody obviously saw us leave the
hotel together, or as we drove to Jane’s lab. Perhaps
they drew certain conclusions about us being together
in a more intimate way.”
A frown once again sliced across her forehead.
“But what makes you think it’s somebody from your
“There was no way the attack on us was done by
professionals. It was clumsy and wrought with
potential for errors. We could have seen the face of
the driver, he might have wrecked his own vehicle in
the process of trying to wreck ours. There were too
many variables that could have made things go
wrong. If he was trying to kill me after we got out of the
crash, he shot too soon.”
“He shot at me instead of you.” Her voice was
flat, as if she was just now starting to believe what he
was trying to tell her.
“If it had been a professional wanting to stop my
participation in the COIN coalition, he would have
waited until I stood to fire his first shot. That way I
would have been clueless about his presence…and
The nerve in her neck reappeared and began to
beat more distinctly and he reached out and tenderly
placed a finger against the pulse. “Beth, I don’t want
to scare you, but I thought you should know that I might
have brought danger to you.”
Her eyes were amazingly soft as she gazed at
him. “Then we’ll just have to deal with it,” she said.
A hardness that had been around his heart
cracked apart and fell away. “That means I don’t want
you staying here alone.” He moved his hand from the
throbbing muscle in her throat and reached up and
stroked a strand of her silky blond hair. “That means I
don’t even want you out of my sight.”
“We’ll figure it out,” she replied, her voice a little
As he continued to look at her, his brain whirled
with suppositions. If somebody was after her because
they thought she was his lover, there was no real way
to disabuse them of that notion.
He’d already made her a target and the best he
could hope for was that he could keep her safe until
he returned to Barajas. He felt confident that once he
was out of the country the threat would follow him.
But for tonight he didn’t intend to go anywhere.
And all he could think about was that they had been
damned by what they weren’t doing—so why not go
ahead and do it? Why not become her lover?
He stood once again and took her by the hand
and pulled her up from her chair. He was immediately
surrounded by the delicious scent of her that was as
much a welcome as the aura of her home.
“The coffee is ready,” she murmured as he drew
her into his arms. Her body warmth radiated through
the soft, fleece material.
“Hmm, suddenly I’m not in the mood for coffee.”
He leaned down and touched his lips to the warm
flesh of her neck, then nibbled at the skin just beneath
her ear. He felt the quickened beat of her heart
against his and a faint tremor that stole through her. “I
think it’s time I made good on that earlier promise.”
She didn’t ask what promise he was talking
about, rather she drew a shuddery breath and took
him by the hand and led him down the hall toward her
IT WAS LIKE A DREAM and she didn’t ever want to
wake up. Antoine’s hand was warm and firm around
hers as she led him into her bedroom.
This time it wasn’t fear that caused her heart to
crash wildly in her chest. It was a heady anticipation.
She felt as if despite her internal protests to the
contrary, they had been headed to this place when
she’d first entered his suite after finding the notes in
They had danced around each other with sensual
intent every moment they had spent in each other’s
company and finally it was time for them to reward
themselves with a payoff.
She dropped his hand and walked over to the
nightstand and turned on the light. A soft spill of
illumination filled the room and in the glow she saw
the ravenous hunger that lit his pale eyes as he gazed
Waves of heat swept over her as her mouth went
dry. The look in his eyes was like an exquisite form of
foreplay. He didn’t even have to touch her for her to
feel him on her skin, deep inside her.
“Are you sure?” His voice was deeper than usual
as he stood at military attention at the foot of the bed.
It was the first time since she’d known him that he
appeared the least bit uncertain and that only made
her more sure of what she wanted from him.
She walked to where he stood and laced her
arms around his neck. “I want you to hold me, Antoine.
I want you to kiss me until neither of us can think of
anything but each other. I want you to make love with
me and then hold me tight until morning comes.”
Blue flames shot from his eyes. “I can do that
starting right now.” His mouth feathered over hers in a
surprisingly light kiss that teased her senses and
made her yearn for more…so very much more.
He wrapped his arms around her back and
pulled her close and she didn’t know if the rapidly
beating heart she felt was his or her own.
His mouth blazed a trail down her jaw and to her
neck, where his lips lightly nipped at the sensitive skin
just below her ear.
She’d expected command and he gave her a
gentleness that stole her breath away. “Sweet Beth,”
he whispered softly. “You are absolutely amazing.”
He made her feel amazing, like she was the
brightest, the sexiest woman in the world. Nobody had
ever made her feel the way Antoine did and she had a
feeling that nobody would again. This moment was
magic. This man was magic and she wanted to savor
When his lips took hers again in a fiery kiss she
was ready to rip her clothes off and get beneath the
covers with him. But he seemed to be in no hurry.
Languidly his hands stroked up and down her back as
his mouth continued to ply hers with heat.
She didn’t want to think about what would happen
when they left the bed in the morning. He was a hotel
guest and had a country to return to and she knew in
the very depths of her heart he would leave without
She would go back to being the highly efficient
head of housekeeping with nothing but memories to
keep her warm. But even knowing that she wanted
Perhaps someday in the distant future she could
tell her grandchildren about the time she had shared
with a handsome prince whose life had been in
danger. Of course, she wouldn’t tell them about this
night of desire, but she’d tell them how she’d helped
him in his quest to save his life and the lives of his
All thoughts of grandchildren fled out of her mind.
There was only Antoine and his fiery lips and the
smooth slide of his hands down her back.
He finally released his hold on her and stepped
back. As she stood frozen in place he leaned down
and removed the gun that had been strapped to his
ankle. He placed it on the nightstand, along with his
wallet, and then began to unbutton his shirt.
With each button that was unfastened more of his
dark, muscled chest was revealed. Beth felt her knees
weaken as he finally shrugged the shirt off and it fell to
the floor behind him. Taut chest muscles and six-pack
abs attested to the fact that he was a man who
worked out regularly.
It was only then that he approached her again.
“You look adorable in that pink sweatshirt, but I have a
need now to take it off you.” The fact that he’d spoken
his intent out loud only made her hotter.
Her heart hitched in her chest as he took the
bottom of the shirt and effortlessly pulled it over her
head and then threw it into one of the darkened
corners of the room. She desperately wished she was
wearing a sexy black or red lacy bra instead of the
“Beautiful,” he whispered.
She splayed her hands across his hard chest
and smiled up at him. “Beautiful,” she agreed as the
heat of him warmed her palms.
“Do you have any idea how crazy you make me?”
His fingers trailed a path across her bare collarbone.
“It can’t be any more crazy than you make me,”
she replied breathlessly. “Antoine, nobody has ever
made me feel the way you do.”
He moved his fingers from her collarbone to her
cheek. “I like that…and now I think we’ve talked
She released a delighted gasp as he swept her
up into his arms and carried her to the bed. He lay her
down and then sat next to her and removed the
slippers she’d put on when she’d changed out of her
When her slippers were gone he took the
waistband of her jogging pants and pulled and she
raised her hips to help him remove them.
Her heart now thundered as he once again stood
and kicked off his shoes and then moved his hands to
the waistband of his slacks. He hesitated. “Are you
still sure about this? I need you to be sure, Beth. I
don’t want regrets from you, now or ever.”
“I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life,”
she replied fervently. It was true. Right or wrong, she
was going to make love to him tonight.
With surprisingly graceful movements, he took off
his slacks, exposing black briefs beneath and long,
muscular legs. He was perfection and the sight of him
nearly naked only served to increase her desire for
As he joined her on the bed their legs wrapped
together with the comfortable ease of longtime lovers.
Their bodies fit perfectly, like yin and yang symbols.
Kisses became caresses and it wasn’t long
before both of them were impatient with the
underwear that kept them separate. As he removed
her bra his mouth eagerly covered one of her nipples.
She felt the pull of his lips deep in the pit of her
stomach as her nipple responded to his touch,
pebbling into a hard knot. She tightened her hands on
his shoulders, loving the play of his muscles beneath
He teased the tip of her nipple with his tongue,
first licking and then nipping until she was gasping
with the fiery sensations that coursed through her. Her
blood was hot in her veins and she wanted more…
more of him.
Within minutes the last of their clothing was gone
and his hot caresses seemed to be everywhere…
across the swollen rise of her breasts, down the flat of
her stomach and whispering softly on her inner thighs
until she wanted to scream with her need of him.
“I love the little sound you make in the back of
your throat when I stroke you here,” he whispered as
he once again ran his hot, wicked fingers lightly over
the inside of her thigh.
“And what kind of a sound do you make when I
touch you here?” She moved her hand slowly down
his stomach and encircled his hardness. A small
moan escaped his lips and she smiled. “I like that
“You are a wanton woman, Beth, and if you aren’t
careful this will be over long before I want it to be.”
Gently he shoved her hand from him and instead
touched her where she most wanted him.
Instantly she tensed with pleasure. His fingers
were magic and she felt the swell of not only her
physical reaction to his touch but also the surge of
emotion that accompanied her impending release.
Tears misted her eyes as the waves built up…up
and then finally came crashing all around her and she
cried out his name over and over again.
“Please,” she said when she’d managed to catch
half her breath. She knew she was begging but she
didn’t care. She wanted him fully, wanted him to
possess her completely. “Please, Antoine, take me
He rolled over toward the nightstand and
grabbed his wallet and withdrew a condom. A small
relief flooded through her. She hadn’t even thought
With the condom in place he moved between her
thighs and entered her with an agonizing slowness
that spiraled her upward once again.
When he was deep within her, she clung to his
shoulders as she moved her hips to meet his thrusts.
She was glad they’d left the light on, so that she could
see the hunger in his eyes as he plunged into her
faster and faster.
Suddenly he slowed and nearly stopped moving.
She bucked beneath him as her well of want grew
bigger. He smiled down at her and then resumed his
He teased and tormented her, bringing her
almost to the brink and then stopping. She could tell
by the taut cords in his neck that he was teasing not
only her, but himself as well.
She tightened around him, and saw his control
snap with the blaze of his eyes. Wildly he moved
against her, groans of pleasure escaping his lips.
She cried out his name as she shuddered with
another climax. He stiffened against her in response
as he found his own.
They clung to each other, breathless for several
long moments. He finally got up and went into the
bathroom while Beth remained sated and boneless
beneath the sheets. When he returned, he turned off
the light on the nightstand and then got back into bed
and pulled her against him.
She snuggled into the warmth of his body, feeling
safer, more content that she could ever remember
feeling. He stroked her hair and pressed his lips
against her forehead.
“That was amazing,” he said in a soft whisper.
“You were amazing,” she murmured drowsily.
“We were amazing together,” he replied with a
She burrowed closer against his chest and as
sleep reached out to claim her, she tried not to think
about the fact that Prince Antoine Cavanaugh of
Barajas was definitely going to break her heart.
They got up and drank a cup of coffee and
shared a piece of cake together, giggling like
teenagers in the middle of the night.
Antoine entertained her with stories about his
and Sebastian’s childhood antics, loving the sound of
her laughter and the way amusement sparkled in her
He thought it possible that he could have a
lifetime of her laughter and never tire of the sound.
“You had a happy childhood?” he asked.
“I had a wonderful childhood,” she replied. “The
woods were my playground and before my mother got
ill we spent lots of time exploring. We’d have
wonderful picnics when the weather was nice.”
“And you’d prepare gourmet food for the
occasion?” he asked.
She smiled and shook her head. “I really didn’t
start getting interested in cooking until after my
mother was ill. Her appetite wasn’t good and so I
started trying new recipes to tempt her. That’s what
led to my love of cooking.”
When the cake was gone and her eyelids were
drooping with sleepiness, they turned out all the lights
in the house and got back into bed.
She cuddled up beside him and he stroked her
hair, more at peace than he could ever remember
being. He could hear a faint night breeze through the
window that tinkled the wind chime, and a rhythmic
clicking from some kind of insect. The sounds only
added to the peace that invaded his soul.
“Antoine, I know you said you’d never marry, but
have you never wanted children?” Beth asked softly.
He hesitated a long moment before replying. “I
never thought much about children until I spent time
with Samantha Peters.” His heart softened as he
thought of the four-year-old little girl who would
eventually call him Uncle. “She was quite a little
charmer and I must confess for a moment I wondered
what it might be like to have a child of my own. But,
just like I have no place in my life for a wife, there’s no
place in my life for children.”
“That’s sad,” she said softly. “You would make a
wonderful father, Antoine.”
He tried not to allow her words to ache in his
heart. What kind of father would he make always
looking over his shoulder, always worried that
somehow, someway his enemies would find him?
“What about you? You want children?”
“Definitely. At least two and I want them to know
the kind of love my mother showed me.” She
snuggled closer against him and within minutes he
knew she’d fallen asleep.
Antoine remained awake long after Beth had
fallen asleep, watching her in the faint spill of
moonlight that fell into the window.
He loved the feel of her in his arms. He hadn’t
expected making love to her to fill him with such a
depth of emotion. He’d thought she’d be like all the
other women he’d had in his life, easy to make love to
and just as easy to walk away from and forget.
Was this how his father had felt about his
Had his father known the danger of loving her but
been unable to stop himself? Had he fought what he
felt with all his might, only to realize that love was
stronger than fear?
Surely what Antoine felt wasn’t love. It was simply
the pleasure of their lovemaking that had him feeling
such craziness. He’d spent his entire life telling
himself that his heart was not meant to love.
Perhaps his feelings for Beth were tied up with
the fact that he had nobody else he could trust, that
she provided a safe haven of sorts from the madness
that had become his life here in the United States.
Perhaps it was time for him to consider returning
to Barajas. He wasn’t really accomplishing anything in
his mission to find Amir. The COIN summit had been
canceled and he certainly wouldn’t be making any
trade deals while he was here. That would happen at
another place, at another time.
Was it time to go home? A tiny bit of rebellion
burned in his belly at the thought. There had been
times over the last three weeks that he’d considered
not going back to Barajas. Sebastian was perfectly
capable of carrying the leadership of the nation alone
and Antoine had never truly been comfortable
beneath the mantle of responsibility.
He loved this wild and beautiful state he’d found
himself in, loved the idea of being a cowboy and
settling into a different kind of lifestyle. But, he also
wondered if this wasn’t just a need to escape the
intrigue that had surrounded him for the past couple of
Closing his eyes he breathed in the sweet scent
of Beth and told himself that no matter what happened
he couldn’t love her. He was the master of his
emotions, in total control of his feelings and he
absolutely, positively refused to allow himself to love
He drifted off to sleep and the dream came
almost immediately. Big, muscular men clad all in
black surrounded the bed where he and Beth lay, their
dark eyes filled with intense hatred, with the
bloodthirsty need for revenge.
Antoine could smell their rage in the room, an
acrid scent that let him know they were dangerous,
that he and Beth were in terrible trouble.
“You took my father’s pride and he died a broken
man,” one of them said. “He was a farmer and had
nothing to do with politics.”
“You stole my brother’s honor and now you’re
going to pay,” another exclaimed.
All the men began to shout and Antoine found
himself powerless to respond, unable to move a
single muscle. Beth remained sleeping next to him,
unaware of the danger that surrounded them.
Panic seared up the back of his throat as he
struggled to respond. But, his efforts were to no avail,
he remained mute and motionless, unable to defend
himself or Beth against the attack.
“You took from us and now we’ll take from you.”
One of the men gazed at Beth as he pulled a long,
wicked knife from his belt.
Agony screamed through Antoine’s head as he
realized they intended to hurt her. Kill me, he silently
screamed. I’m the one who broke your father. I’m the
one who hurt your brother. Take me and leave her
He awakened with a start and bolted up, gasping
for air as he gazed around the moonlit room. Alone.
He and Beth were alone in the room. There were no
men hovering next to the bed, nobody in the shadows.
It had all just been a terrible nightmare.
He raked a hand down his face and drew several
deep breaths. A cold sweat chilled him as the last of
the horror of the dream faded away.
With a sigh he lay back down and looked at Beth,
who was curled up on her side and still sleeping
soundly. His heart crunched painfully in his chest.
He felt as if by involving her in his little
investigation he’d damned her. By merely being in his
presence he’d made somebody believe that she was
important enough to him to be used as a weapon
He didn’t believe in the prophecy of dreams, but
there was no question that the nightmare he’d just
suffered had the aura of a warning. The problem was
he felt as if it was too late to change anything where
Beth was concerned. The dream and his knowledge
of what had happened to his father only made him
more certain that he would never have a woman, not
even Beth, as a permanent part of his life.
Closing his eyes he tried to find sleep again,
praying that it would be a slumber without visions, that
if there were dreams they would be happy ones.
He had to believe that Amir would be found alive,
that the rest of the coalition would be okay and that
Beth would be all right when he eventually returned to
He’d just about fallen back to sleep when he
thought he heard the faint tinkle of breaking glass.
He froze. Was it part of a new dream? Or a trick
of his imagination? Had the wind picked up and what
he’d heard was the wind chime outside the window?
There was no repeat of the noise that would make
him believe it was simply the wind.
He tried to relax but after a moment sat up once
again, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to go back to
sleep until he went to investigate what had made the
Silently he slid out of the bed and pulled on his
briefs and his slacks, then grabbed his gun from the
nightstand, his heart beating unsteadily as he made
his way out of the bedroom.
He paused in the darkened hallway and listened,
and heard a faint sound he couldn’t identify. He took
several more steps and ahead he could see a faint
flickering light coming from the kitchen area.
What the hell? He frowned and gripped the gun
tighter in his hand as he entered the living room. He’d
gotten halfway through the room when the acrid air
reached his nose and he saw the dark swirl of smoke
that waved ghostly fingers in front of the windows.
The word exploded in his head in alarm.
Shielding his nose and mouth with the back of his
hand, he entered the kitchen. One of the breakfast
nook windows was broken and fire danced up the
curtains and ate at the wooden wall.
He smelled the distinct scent of gasoline and
guessed that a Molotov cocktail had been thrown
through the window and had exploded.
Dammit! Somebody must have followed them
here. He’d assumed with the new vehicle they
wouldn’t be noticed for at least a couple of days.
He coughed as the viscous black smoke
thickened, not only obscuring his visibility but also
invading his lungs. They had to get out of the house.
With the wooden structure to feed it, the fire would be
completely out of control within minutes.
He raced back to the bedroom and flipped on the
overhead light. “Beth, get up.” He ran to the side of the
bed and pulled at her arm.
She gazed at him in sleepy confusion. “What?
“Quickly, put some clothes on. The house is on
fire. We have to get out of here,” he exclaimed.
The sleepiness instantly left her eyes. She
jumped out of bed but instead of grabbing for her
clothes, she reached for the phone on the nightstand
and called 911 to report the fire. Only then did she
grab the sweatshirt and sweatpants and pull them on.
By this time the smoke had snaked down the
hallway and had begun to drift into the bedroom. He
shoved his gun into his waistband and stepped into
his shoes while she pulled on her sneakers. He was
aware that every second they wasted meant the fire
was getting bigger, hungrier and the danger to them
grew more intense.
“We should be able to get out the front door,” he
said as he took her by the hand and pulled her out of
the bedroom. He got them halfway to the front door
when he halted, his brain working to process the
“Wait!” He stopped her from opening the front
door as his brain snapped and fired. It was a perfect
ruse. Set a fire in the rear of the house and then wait
for the occupants to run out the front door. It would be
easy to pick them off as they came out of the door.
“We can’t go out that way,” he exclaimed.
Thankfully she didn’t take time to question his
words. “The back door,” she replied and started to tug
him toward the kitchen.
He remained grounded and shook his head and
then realized she probably couldn’t see the action
through the thick smoke that surrounded them. “It’s too
dangerous. The fire is near the back door.” Besides,
he had no idea if more than one person might be
waiting outside for them.
Her hand clutched his in a death grip. “How do
we get out?” she cried and then was taken over by a
violent spasm of coughing.
“Come on.” He pulled her back down the hallway
and into the main bathroom where he closed the door
behind them. “Don’t turn on the light,” he cautioned
her. He didn’t want to alert anyone outside as to
exactly where they were in the house.
“Somebody is out there, aren’t they?” she
whispered. He felt her frightened gaze on him as he
opened the bathroom window. When he turned to
face her, she was barely visible in the faint moonlight
that spilled into the window.
He placed his palms on either side of her face,
his heart racing with a rush of adrenaline. His only
desire at that moment was to keep her safe.
“Somebody is out there,” he replied with a sense of
urgency. “I think they set the fire and now they’re just
waiting for us to leave the house. We can’t stay
inside, the smoke is getting thicker and it’s too
She opened her mouth as if to say something,
but he slid his finger over her lips to still her. “They will
be expecting us to go out either the front or the back
door. I’m hoping we can get out this window without
She nodded and he pulled his finger away from
her mouth. “I’m going to go out first and you follow me.
Once you hit the ground don’t wait for me and don’t
look back. Just run like your life depends on it,
because I’m afraid that it does.”
Without waiting for a response, he slid his head
out the window and looked around. Nobody. He saw
nobody lurking in the darkness. He raised himself up
and over the window ledge and dropped silently to the
Gun firmly in hand, he once again scanned the
area and then motioned Beth to climb out. Just as
he’d instructed, she hit the ground and headed for the
trees, not looking back as she ran.
He tightened his grip on his gun and went into a
crouch position as he began to move along the side
of the house and gave one last look toward the trees,
praying this wasn’t the very last time he’d see Beth.
SHE RAN THROUGH THE TREES like a rabid animal,
darting first one way and then another as terror kept
any rational thought out of her head.
Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home. Your house
is on fire and your children all gone.
The nursery rhyme repeated itself over and over
again in her head and she felt a burst of hysterical
laughter rise to her lips.
But she swallowed it, unsure who might be hiding
behind a bush, who might be in the shadows of the
night waiting to discern her location.
Who had seen them? Had somebody been
hiding in the woods, watching her cabin and hoping to
catch them here? On the drive she’d checked her
rearview often, but had seen nobody following behind
them. How had this happened? What would happen
She finally collapsed at the base of a tree and
held her breath, listening for the sound of Antoine, for
the sound of anyone who might be near. A stitch in her
side burned painfully, but she ignored it.
Where was Antoine right now? Was he hiding in
the trees or had he gone chasing the danger? She
feared the latter and the only thing that made her feel
the slightest bit better was that she hadn’t heard the
sound of any gunfire…at least not yet.
She didn’t even want to think about her house…
her home. It was just stuff, she told herself, and she
didn’t need stuff. What she needed was for Antoine to
be okay. The last thing she wanted was for him to try
to be a hero. Dead heroes held no appeal except in
He had to be all right. She sent a dozen prayers
toward the sky, praying for Antoine’s safety. It would
be tragic if anything happened to him, tragic for her
and for all the people of Barajas.
Her heart banged so loudly in her chest she
wasn’t sure she’d hear if anyone snuck up behind her.
Even though she was on the ground every muscle in
her body was tensed for flight.
Who had done this? Was it somebody from
Antoine’s past, like he suspected? There was no
doubt that this act had been meant to hurt not just him,
but her as well. She sensed true hatred behind this, a
hatred that went beyond political goals and into
something far more personal.
Her heart leaped at the sound of sirens in the
distance. Help was coming! She pulled herself back
up to her feet and began to silently move in the
direction of the cabin.
She hid behind a stand of trees that gave her a
perfect view of the house and as she saw the flames
eating at the kitchen, tears welled up in her eyes.
The kitchen, the place where she’d spent many
happy hours. Had the fire broken the cookie jar that
had belonged to her grandmother, burned the
cookbooks that had been handed down through the
generations? Had the dish towels her mother
embroidered turned to char?
At that moment strong arms encircled her from
behind and a hand shot over her mouth to still the
scream that begged to escape.
“It’s me,” Antoine’s voice whispered in her ear
just as she was ready to whirl around and fight for her
He released his hold on her and she turned and
threw herself into his arms. The tears she’d shoved
back finally spilled from her eyes as he held her close.
Their heartbeats raced against each other as
they clung together. “I was so afraid,” she finally
managed to gasp. “I was so afraid for you.”
His arms tightened around her. “We’ll be safe
now. Sheriff Wolf is here.”
The clearing around the house had become filled
with firemen, lawmen and equipment. By the time she
and Antoine left the cover of the trees the fire was
under control and nearly out, although smoke still
lingered in the air.
Jake Wolf stood near the back of the house,
talking to the fire chief as they approached. When he
spied them he left the man and came over to talk to
“Thank God you both got out safely,” he said. He
looked as tired as Beth felt. Soot dusted his high
cheekbones and his eyes held a weariness. It
seemed like an eternity since Beth had been sleeping
peacefully in Antoine’s arms.
“What happened?” Jake asked.
“We were sleeping and I woke up when I heard
breaking glass. I got up to investigate and found the
kitchen on fire. I think perhaps it was a Molotov
cocktail that broke the window.” Antoine placed an
arm around Beth’s shoulder. “We managed to get out
through the bathroom window. I told Beth to hide in the
woods and I went to investigate.”
Jake’s features tightened. “Prince Antoine, I
would prefer you leave the investigating to me.”
“In any case I didn’t see anyone,” Antoine replied,
but it was obvious by his voice that he wished he had
Jake looked at Antoine and then at Beth and she
felt the unspoken questions the sheriff had. She tried
not to feel embarrassed about the fact that it would
probably now be obvious to Jake that she and
Antoine were in an intimate relationship.
“Are you okay?” Jake asked her, his gaze uncharacteristically soft.
“I’m fine,” she replied and fought a new wave of
tears as she looked at the house. Even though she’d
told herself it was just things and not important, they
had been her things and the fact that somebody had
willfully destroyed them both made her angry and
made her want to weep.
“It’s not as bad as it looks,” Jake said, as if
reading her thoughts.
“I have insurance,” she replied and stiffened her
shoulders. “I’m sure it will all be okay.”
Jake looked back at Antoine. “We’ll know more
tomorrow when things cool down and the fire chief
can get inside and take a look around. In the
meantime me and some of my men will search the
area and see what we can find. I’ll also make sure
somebody stays here on the property until
arrangements can be made for Beth to return.”
“Thanks, Sheriff. Can we go?” Antoine asked.
“It’s been a bad night and Beth needs to be
“I’ll have a deputy drive you back to the hotel and
another one to drive your car back there,” Jake
replied. “But I’m sure I’ll have more questions for you
in the morning.”
Minutes later they were in the back of a patrol
car. Beth could smell the acrid scent of smoke that
clung to them as she leaned against Antoine’s side.
“Try not to worry,” he said softly. “I’ll do whatever it
takes to fix things.”
“Insurance will take care of it,” she replied
wearily. It wasn’t his job to fix things for her. He’d
already bought her a new vehicle and she absolutely
refused to accept anything else from him.
They were silent for the remainder of the ride
back to the hotel, where the deputy insisted he
accompany them to Antoine’s suite. Thankfully at this
hour of the morning the lobby was empty except for a
few members of the staff who were cleaning the area.
They watched openmouthed as the three walked
through and down the hallway that led to the suite.
Beth could only imagine the gossip that would roar
through the place in the next couple of hours. At the
moment she was too tired to care. She’d deal with it
in the morning.
A second deputy appeared to hand them the
keys to the Jeep and then they were left alone. Beth
stood in the middle of the living room area, unsure
what her next move should be.
She was beyond numb. It had all been too much,
the car crash, the bullets and now the fire. She was
simply overwhelmed by it all.
“Come.” Antoine took her by the hand and led her
into the master bathroom. He started the water in the
huge, glass-enclosed shower and then turned back to
her and began to undress her.
Gently he pulled the smoky, soot-covered
sweatshirt over her head and tossed it to the floor.
When he pulled down her pants, she stepped out of
them, still numb to the world.
There was nothing sexual about his actions. It
was only tenderness she felt, along with his obvious
need to take care of her. And she let him, grateful that
she didn’t have to think, didn’t have to do anything but
submit to him.
When they were both naked he pulled her into the
warm spray of water. Using the clean-scented soap
the hotel provided he quickly washed and rinsed
himself and then began to wash her.
He dragged the soap-filled sponge over her
shoulders and down her chest. She stood impassive
and merely accepted, like a child being washed by a
parent. He washed every inch of her until she was
slicked with soap.
When he was finished he pulled her back
beneath the warm spray and she closed her eyes as
the scent of smoke finally disappeared down the
drain. With her body cleaned, he used the shampoo
and began to wash her hair.
She leaned with her bare chest and face pressed
against one wall of the shower, the glass warm as she
dropped her head back. His fingers worked against
her scalp in a hypnotic fashion. Her brain was
emptied of all thoughts as she completely gave
herself to his care.
Slowly, she felt herself beginning to relax, leaving
behind the terror that had filled her through the long,
seemingly endless night.
By the time he was finished and her hair had
been rinsed until it squeaked with cleanliness, she
was beyond exhaustion. He turned off the shower,
dried himself and pulled on one of the thick robes the
resort provided, then dried her off and pulled his own
robe around her.
She reveled in the scent of him that clung to the
robe. It smelled like caring. It smelled like safety. He
then picked her up and carried her into the bedroom
where the bed had been turned down and was ready
“I should make arrangements to return to Barajas
and take you with me,” he said once they were in the
bed, with his body spooned around hers and his arm
around her waist. “I feel responsible for you and there I
can arrange for your safety without problems.”
“Let’s discuss it in the morning,” she said and
squeezed her eyes as tears once again burned. For
in that moment she realized she didn’t need him to fix
her house. She didn’t want to be his responsibility.
The only thing she really wanted was for Antoine to
Antoine awoke and knew by the cast of the sun
slanting in through the windows that it was late
morning. For several long moments he remained in
the warm bed, reluctant to leave the comfort and the
faint scent of Beth that filled the air.
He glanced over to the other side of the bed
where she was curled up facing him. Her features
were soft and his fingers ached with the desire to
touch her cheek, to awaken her with a sweet kiss and
then make love to her while her body was soft and
warm and yielding.
She’d lost so much because of him. And last
night she could have lost her life.
He fought his impulse to reach over and draw her
into his embrace, repeat the lovemaking that had
blown his mind. She deserved her sleep after all
she’d been through.
But, it didn’t take long before he grew restless,
knowing that there were many things to attend to and
staying in bed wouldn’t accomplish anything. With
Beth still soundly sleeping, he slid from the bed,
grabbed his robe and left the room.
The meeting with the housekeeper Janine
Sahron would have to wait until later in the day. He
knew there would be much business concerning the
events of the night before to take care of this morning.
The first thing he did was order coffee and
breakfast from room service and then arranged for
housekeeping to dispose of the smoky clothing they’d
worn the night before. Finally, he called the gift shop
and ordered a pair of slacks and a blouse for Beth to
put on when she awakened.
With the immediate needs taken care of, he sank
down in one of the leather chairs by the fireplace and
replayed the night’s events in his head.
Why hadn’t he considered that they might be in
danger at her cabin? Had he allowed his
overwhelming desire for her, his need to get her alone
and make love to her to completely muddy his brain?
It was the only explanation for his foolish
judgment and he hated himself for it. He’d allowed
himself to be ruled by his emotions and that had
nearly gotten them killed. It was definitely a mistake
he wouldn’t allow to happen again.
He could only hope that either the fire chief or
Jake Wolf would be able to find some clue in the ruins
of Beth’s cabin that might lead them to arrest the
person responsible for this latest attack.
He still believed the attacks he and Beth had
suffered were too amateurish to be part of a bigger
conspiracy with professional players in the mix.
Verovick wouldn’t have used a Molotov cocktail,
when he or his men could have planted an effective
bomb in the car or in the house. There were any
number of ways a professional killer could get to him
without resorting to something as primitive as a
gasoline-filled bottle stuffed with fabric.
Once again he suspected it was someone with a
personal vendetta rather than anyone connected with
the COIN coalition.
Who could it be? Who had the resources to
follow him across the sea with the sole purpose of
revenge? He didn’t know how to begin to identify a
person or persons who might be behind all this.
Dammit, he should have never pulled Beth into
his drama. He should have insisted he take the notes
from her and then left her to go on her merry way.
One thing was certain. She would not be
returning to her home. She would not be going
anywhere anytime soon. She didn’t know it yet, but he
intended to make her a prisoner in this suite until he
knew for sure that the danger to her was gone for
He jumped as his cell phone rang and answered
to hear Sebastian’s voice. “My brother, how are things
in Barajas?” he asked.
“Very well,” Sebastian replied. “Jessica and little
Samantha are settling in quite nicely and our people
seem to be pleased that I finally have a woman by my
side. What about there? Any news on Amir? Any
“I’m afraid there’s been nothing new on Amir,”
Antoine replied and then told his brother what had
happened since last time they spoke. “I have a bad
feeling, Sebastian. I don’t think these attacks are
related to our reason for being here in the States. I
think it’s somebody from my past and my biggest
regret is that now I believe Beth is in danger as well.”
The two brothers discussed what Antoine had
learned about Verovick and speculated on the
Russian mob’s involvement in the conspiracy against
As he spoke with his brother, confessing all his
concerns about Beth and how much his involvement
with her had cost her, once again he was struck by
her bravery. She was a woman unlike any other that
he’d ever known. She would make some man a
wonderful wife. She would be a courageous and
beautiful mother and the fact that he wouldn’t be
around to see that broke his heart. The conversation
was interrupted by a knock on the door.
“I think breakfast has arrived,”Antoine said into
the phone as he got up from his chair.
“Then I’ll let you go and enjoy your food. Stay
“I’m doing my best, my brother,” he replied.
“And keep in touch,” Sebastian added. With a
promise to do just that, Antoine hung up.
At the door was not only breakfast, but also an
employee from the gift shop with the items he’d
requested for Beth. As the meal was being set on the
table, he carried the clothing into the bedroom where
he discovered that Beth was out of bed and in the
He knocked on the door. “Beth, I have some
clean clothes here for you.”
She opened the door and he saw that she’d
neatly brushed her hair and her face was dewy with a
recent scrub. She looked achingly beautiful and for
just a moment he wanted to pull her from the
bathroom and back into the bed. He wanted to forget
what had happened, not worry about what might
happen and just hold her once again in his arms.
“Thank you,” she said and took the clothes from
him and then closed the bathroom door once again.
There had been a touch of distance in her eyes,
he thought as he quickly got dressed for the day. And
could he blame her? She’d simply offered to drive him
where he wanted to go and now she’d lost a vehicle,
her house had been damaged and her privacy
He hadn’t missed the shocked looks on the faces
of the cleaning crew working in the lobby when he and
Beth returned to the suite last night.
He knew the gossip that would be flying around
the resort this morning, gossip about the prince and
the head of housekeeping.
Long after he left here she would have to deal
with the aftermath of her involvement with him. He had
brought her nothing but trouble, was it any wonder her
eyes had held a distance?
He returned to the dining area and poured
himself a cup of coffee and by that time Beth had
joined him. The navy slacks he’d bought kissed the
length of her legs with perfection. The peach-colored
blouse brought out the blond highlights in her
shoulder-length hair and the bright green of her eyes.
Had it only been the night before when he’d
tasted the sweetness of her lips? Felt the burn of her
body next to his? Desire once again nibbled at him,
like a voracious hunger that refused to be ignored, a
hunger that would never be completely satisfied.
“Thank you for the clothes,” she said.
“I didn’t think you’d want to put the soot-covered
smoky things from last night back on.”
“Have you heard anything from Jake this
morning?” she asked as she poured herself a cup of
coffee and took a seat at the table.
“Not yet. If I don’t hear anything from him by the
time we finish our meal, I’ll call him.” He joined her at
the table. “I’m hoping he’ll have some news for us.”
“You ordered enough breakfast for an army,” she
He looked at the food on the table. There were
pancakes and eggs, fresh fruit and oatmeal and
biscuits and bagels. He looked back at her. “I woke
She must have seen something in his eyes that
let her know he was talking about more than just an
appetite for breakfast. Her cheeks grew pink as she
speared a pancake and placed it on her plate.
He watched as she took banana slices and
placed them on the pancake like eyes, then used an
orange slice to make a mouth on the pancake. She
looked up to see him watching her and a small smile
curved her lips.
“My mother used to do this to my pancakes when
I was a little girl and was being crabby. She’d say,
‘Look, Beth, your pancake is smiling at you and he
wants a smile back.’” She looked at him and her
cheeks were pink. “Silly, I know, but whenever I was
upset it always worked to bring a smile to my face.”
He hated that the implication was that she was
upset now and had reached back into the memories
of her childhood to feel better. Again he mentally
cursed himself for getting her involved in his mess.
He sought words to comfort her, but recognized
at the moment he had none. He couldn’t tell her
everything was going to be okay when he didn’t know
what to expect next. He refused to mouth empty
platitudes. She deserved so much better than that.
“Do you have happy memories of your mother?”
she asked as they began to eat.
The most easily accessed memory Antoine had
of his mother, Nephra, was of the night of her death.
Certainly not a happy one.
He now fought past that particularly horrific
memory in an attempt to find others more pleasant
from his earlier childhood. And they were there, just
waiting to be tapped into.
“She loved to sing,” he said, surprised by the
sudden recollection. “And she had the voice of an
angel.” His heart warmed as he thought about the
lullabies his mother would sing to him and Sebastian
before they drifted off to sleep each night.
And releasing that pleasant memory from his
past prompted others to spring free. “I remember her
taking Sebastian and me to the beach where we built
sand castles and played in the waves. She loved the
water and swam like a fish. She taught both
Sebastian and me to swim. She had a laugh that
could fill a room and she loved us and my father to
Beth laid a hand on his forearm. “Those are the
memories you should dream about, Antoine.
Embrace the love your parents had for you and for
each other and let it be your place of dreams.”
It was at that moment that he knew that the most
difficult thing he’d ever do in his life was tell Beth
JAKE WOLF ARRIVED AT THE SUITE at the same time
they finished breakfast. Antoine gestured him into the
living area where Jake sat on one of the chairs facing
Antoine and Beth who were seated on the sofa.
Beth looked at him anxiously, knowing he’d
probably spent the morning at her place. “How bad is
it?” she asked.
“The good news is the fire damage was confined
to the kitchen area,” Jake said. “There is some mild
smoke damage throughout but a good cleaning
company should be able to take care of all that.”
A touch of relief filtered through her. Pots and
pans could be bought again and held no sentimental
value. Of all the rooms in the house she could only be
grateful that it had been the kitchen that had taken the
brunt of the flames.
Jake turned his attention to Antoine. “You were
right. It was a Molotov cocktail. We found pieces of
the bottle near the window and gasoline was used as
“The type of bottle?” Antoine asked.
“An ordinary beer bottle that was loaded with
gasoline and had what looks like part of a bed sheet
as a wick,” Jake replied. “We’re hoping to pull some
prints from the fragments of the bottle we collected.”
Jake looked formidable as his eyes narrowed. “If we
lift a print, then I’ll see to it that the person is behind
bars for a long time to come. This wasn’t a simple
case of arson, it was definitely attempted murder.
Whoever threw that bottle had to have known that you
and Beth were in the house.”
Antoine nodded, looking equally grim. “I have
dispatched a couple of members of my security team
to sit on the house and make sure there is no issue
with looting. Beth will not be returning there until
somebody is behind bars.”
Jake nodded. “That seems like a wise idea to
“Hello?” Beth said in irritation. “I’m right here and
I will make my own decisions.” Both men turned to
look at her. “And I won’t be returning to the house until
somebody is behind bars, although I would like to go
there and pack some things.”
“We also found some tire marks in an area near
the house we think might belong to the perpetrator.
We cast them and hopefully we’ll be able to figure out
exactly what kind of car it was,” Jake added.
As the two men continued discussing all the
events that had taken place over the last couple of
days, Beth thought about what her next move should
The one thing she wouldn’t do was pick up her
life and go to Barajas where Antoine thought he could
keep her safe. She wouldn’t become a weighted ball
around his neck, another responsibility he had to take
care of. That was simply not an option.
She would stay in a room here in the hotel until
her place was put back together. What she wouldn’t
do was stay in the suite with Antoine.
As crazy as it seemed in the short amount of time
they’d spent together, she’d fallen in love with him,
and now each minute that she remained with him only
deepened her love. Somehow she had to cut her
losses now, not get in any deeper than she already
She knew that when he left the country, when all
this was said and done, she would be left with a heart
that wasn’t just bruised, but rather battered.
“If you’d like, I can take you to get your things
from the house right now,” Jake said, pulling Beth
from her thoughts.
“That would be wonderful,” she replied and stood.
“I’ll go as well,” Antoine said.
Beth shook her head. “No,” she said firmly. “I’ll be
fine with Jake and he doesn’t need to worry about
both of us.” She raised her chin slightly and held
Antoine’s gaze. She needed some time away,
wanted to see the damage to her home without him
“I would prefer you remain here, Prince Antoine,”
Antoine hesitated another moment and then gave
a curt nod of his head. “Very well, but I insist you return
to my suite when you have your things,” he said to
Beth. “I need to know that you’re safe and sound.”
“Okay,” she replied. It was easier to comply for
now than to argue in front of Jake. But, she had no
intention of spending another night in Antoine’s bed,
another night of wanting him and loving him.
It was time she get back to reality and the reality
was Antoine had made it clear to her that he wasn’t
interested in marriage and babies. Although she
knew without doubt that he cared about her, that he
wanted her physically, she also knew there was no
future with him.
Minutes later she was in Jake’s car and headed
to her house. “How are you holding up through all
this?” he asked.
“I guess as well as can be expected,” she
replied. “I certainly didn’t realize what I was getting
myself into by becoming friendly with Antoine. What
about you? Your workload has certainly been crazy
since all this began.”
He gave her a wry smile. “I’ve definitely had to
stay on my toes.” The smile fell from his face. “I’ve
never felt such frustration as I have over the last
several weeks. I have a missing sheik and can’t seem
to find a clue that might tell me what happened to him.
I’ve got attacks happening on everyone and no real
“I don’t think any of us will be the same when the
royals return to their countries and life gets back to
normal.” She gazed out the side window. She’d
certainly never be the same. There would always be
memories of Antoine and at the moment she couldn’t
imagine ever loving another man.
“I’m not sure any of us will recognize normal when
it does happen again,” Jake replied drily.
Within minutes they were back at her cabin. As
she got out of the car her heart constricted in her
chest. A big, burly man stood at the front door and
wore a uniform that identified him as part of the
security Antoine had provided. He was definitely big
enough that anyone with half a mind would think twice
about trying to get past him.
Jake flashed his badge and the man nodded at
them and stepped aside as they approached the front
door. Beth used her key to unlock it and then went
The scent of smoke still lingered and the knot that
was her heart tightened painfully. Hearing about the
damage and actually seeing it were two different
The breakfast nook had been the focal point of
the fire. The windows were gone, had exploded from
the heat and the walls around the area were
blackened. Still, it wasn’t quite as bad as she’d
imagined. The walls looked solid and the fire had
been contained to the nook area.
Jake placed a large hand on her shoulder. “This
will pass and all will be well again,” he said.
She nodded, but she doubted that everything
would ever be well again. She left the kitchen and
went into the bedroom to pack a suitcase.
It was crazy, how in the space of three days
Antoine had completely taken over her life, her heart.
The fact that he’d told her he’d done terrible things as
an interrogator for his country didn’t taint the love she
felt for him. It would be like blaming a soldier of war
for having to kill his enemy in the middle of a
The fact that he was tormented by what he’d had
to do in the name of his country only spoke of the pure
heart that beat in his magnificent chest.
When she had finished packing what she thought
she needed for a couple of weeks away from the
house, she and Jake got back into his car and
returned to the hotel.
“We should have an official report on the fire
within the next couple of days,” Jake said. “Have you
contacted your insurance agent yet?”
“Not yet. I’ll do it sometime this afternoon,” she
“Beth, I don’t know what your relationship is with
Prince Antoine, but please take care of yourself. Bad
things seem to happen around these royal visitors.”
For a moment she had the urge to tell Jake
everything, about the notes she’d found and about
Aleksei Verovick, everything about Antoine’s
suspicions that the attacks weren’t about the COIN
coalition at all but rather about something more
But, she would be betraying Antoine’s trust if she
told, and besides she reminded herself that by this
evening he’d know it all anyway. Jane’s deadline was
quickly approaching and there was no doubt that she
would stick to her word and pass the notes to Jake
When they reached the hotel Jake lifted her
suitcase from his trunk and insisted he walk her back
to Antoine’s suite.
Antoine opened the door and she saw the relief
on his face. “Thank you, Sheriff,” he said as Jake
dropped the suitcase just inside the door.
“No problem,” Jake replied. “I’ll be in touch when I
have more news and please, next time you decide to
leave here, take your security with you or call me and
I’ll do my best to provide protection.” With that Jake
left and Beth turned to face Antoine.
“You can unpack your things in the dresser,” he
said, “and there’s plenty of room in the closet.”
Beth shook her head. “I’m not staying here,
His handsome features pulled into a deep frown.
“Of course you’re staying here,” he replied with a
touch of that natural command in his voice. “It’s the
only place I can ensure your safety.”
“I’m going to stay in the hotel room where I was
the other night. I have to get back to my real life,
Antoine. I have duties and responsibilities here and I
can’t just hole up here with you and forget everything
He walked toward her, his eyes pleading. “Beth,
please. My heart will only be at peace if you’re here
with me, where I know no more harm can come to
She took a step back, not wanting him to touch
her in any way, afraid that he might be able to change
her mind. What he didn’t understand was that harm
would come to her if she stayed here with him.
There was no doubt in her mind that they would
make love again, that he would make her fall deeper
in love with him. Then there was a chance that her
heart might start believing that somehow, someway,
they had a future. And it would all be a lie, a fantasy
that would never come true.
“I’ll be fine here in the hotel,” she replied. “We
have a good security team and I feel safe here in the
confines of the hotel.”
“Have I done something wrong? Something to
offend you?” he asked and then didn’t wait for her to
respond. “Beth, you’re the most important woman in
my life. I couldn’t bear anything happening to you.”
“Nothing will happen to me,” she replied, a lump
rising in the back of her throat. He was breaking her
heart even now, telling her how important she was and
yet unable to speak any words of love.
She picked up her suitcase and started for the
door. “Beth?” he called and she turned back to look at
“The woman, Janine Sahron. Can you still
arrange for me to speak to her?”
With everything that had transpired she’d
forgotten all about Janine. She glanced at her watch
and then back at him. “Give me a little while to get
settled into my room and then I’ll go to the office and
call her in. I’ll let you know when she’s there and you
can speak with her.”
“Thank you. Unfortunately, I only have the
remainder of the afternoon before the notes will
become public knowledge.”
She nodded and then left the suite. She realized
as crazy as it seemed, she’d wanted him to stop her
from leaving, she’d wanted him to break down and tell
her that he was madly, passionately in love with her
and she’d completely changed his mind about never
marrying, about never having a family of his own.
She was such a fool. Funny, she could swear that
there had been moments when she’d felt not just redhot passion, but also real love emanating from him.
And if she were perfectly honest with herself
she’d admit that deep inside her was a crazy little
niggle of hope that somehow, when this was all over,
they would find a way to be together.
And that little bit of hope almost scared her as
much as everything else that had happened in her life
since she’d handed those notes over to Antoine.
She seemed to take the very air out of the suite
when she left. Antoine eased down in the leather chair
by the fireplace and stared toward the bank of
windows, his thoughts consumed with Beth.
How had she managed in such a short space of
time to do what no other woman had ever done
before—get so deeply under his defenses?
As he imagined leaving this place and returning
to Barajas without her in his life, his heart ached with
a pain it had never felt before.
He loved her.
The knowledge blossomed inside of him. He
wanted to wake up each morning with her head on the
pillow next to his. He wanted to hear her laughter
every day of his life. He needed to go to bed at night
and hold her in his arms.
He loved her.
And he intended to do nothing about it.
He sighed wearily and leaned his head back.
She deserved a man with no baggage, children
whose safety she would never have to worry about,
and a life filled with happiness and nothing else.
He couldn’t give her that.
All he could give her was bad dreams and fear, a
lifetime of wonder and worry, looking over her
shoulder and wondering when somebody from his
past might find them.
No matter how much he loved her, he would
never allow her to have a meaningful place in his life.
She meant far too much to him. The best thing he
could do for her was let her go so she could find a
man who could love her the way she was meant to be
loved, a man who could give her a future filled with
nothing but joy.
He stood as a knock sounded at his door. It was
Sheik Efraim Aziz. Antoine gestured the tall, darkeyed man inside, grateful for the distraction from his
“Would you like something to drink, my friend?”
Antoine asked as Efraim sat on the sofa.
“No, I’m fine. I just wanted to check in, see how
you were doing since your brother’s return to
Antoine eased down in the chair opposite
Efraim. “Of course I miss him being here, but it was
important that he return to Barajas and continue the
job of running the country.”
Efraim raked a hand through his black hair and
released a sigh. “Who would have thought when we all
got together and planned the COIN Coalition to
benefit our nations that we would be sitting here now
with one of us missing and betrayal surrounding us.”
“You’ve learned nothing more from the other
members of your security as to who Fahad might
have been working with?”
Efraim frowned. “Nothing. The man took his
secrets to his grave and I’m still not sure who we can
trust at the local law-enforcement level.”
“What do you think of Sheriff Jake Wolf?” Antoine
asked, aware that within hours Jake would have the
notes Beth had found in his possession.
“He seems an honorable man, but Fahad
certainly blindsided me and that makes me wary of
Antoine offered his friend a small smile. “I hear
there’s one woman you’ve come to trust pretty well.”
A responding smile curved Efraim’s lips. “Callie.”
He said her name with warmth. “Yes, she has become
important to me.”
Callie McGuire was Assistant to the Secretary of
Foreign Affairs based in Washington, D.C. She’d
come to Wyoming to help facilitate the COIN summit.
Her family owned a ranch locally and it had been on
her land that Fahad had tried to kill Efraim. It had
been Callie’s brother who had killed Fahad when he’d
believed his sister was in danger.
“From what I know of her, she seems to be a
good woman,” Antoine said.
“She is my heart,” Efraim replied in a surprising
show of emotion.
“I’m happy for you.” Antoine felt the lump that
formed in his throat as he thought of Beth and all that
he would never share with her. “Do you plan to take
her with you when you return home?”
“We have no plans beyond today,” he replied.
“Right now it’s one day at a time, but whatever
happens, wherever I go I know that she’ll be at my
“Do you have any new theories about who was
behind the attack on Amir?” Antoine asked, wanting
to steer the conversation away from matters of the
A frown once again swept across Efraim’s
features. “I have worked any number of theories in my
brain, but can’t make sense of any of them. I have
thought about this until my head hurts and I can’t come
up with any definitive answers. What about you?”
“I wondered about Kalil Ramat.”
Efraim’s eyes widened. “We all know the people
of Saruk and Kalil himself were against the coalition,
but we have all been guests at Kalil’s home. His son
is our friend. I can’t imagine that Kalil would be behind
a plot to kill us all.”
Efraim only echoed what Antoine felt in his heart.
“Beth Taylor, the head of housekeeping, found some
notes in Amir’s room taped to the bottom of a
drawer.” Antoine decided it was time to share what he
Antoine told Efraim what the notes contained and
about he and Beth taking them to Jane for
fingerprinting. “She managed to pull a print from
Efraim leaned forward in the chair, his features
radiating a deadly calm. “Who?”
“A man named Aleksei Verovick. He has ties to
the Russian mob.”
“The mob would have no vested interest in us
making trade agreements with the United States,”
Efraim scoffed. “What we need to do is find out who
hired this Verovick.”
“I agree. But that’s easier said than done.”
Antoine released a weary sigh.
“You’ve given this information to Sheriff Wolf?”
“Not yet. He’ll have the information tonight. If
Verovick is here in town, then hopefully Wolf can find
the man and get the answers we need.”
“And find out what happened to Amir, although I
must confess I fear the worst where he’s concerned,”
Efraim said, his dark eyes filled with sadness. He
stood. “I won’t keep you any longer, I just wanted to
see how things were going and if there were any
developments since last we spoke.”
Antoine walked him to the door, wishing he had
the answers to who was behind all the attacks, and
more importantly, what had happened to Amir. “We’ll
speak again soon,” he said and clapped Efraim on
the shoulder. “And we’ll pray for our friend.”
Efraim nodded and then left.
When he was gone Antoine walked to the
window and stood staring out at the Wyoming
landscape that spoke to a place in his soul.
When would this all end? When would they finally
have the answers they sought? Frustration burned
inside his gut. If the Sahrons were somehow tied to
Aleksei Verovick, then he would find out and they
would finally have a trail to follow to the source.
And then, he would leave here and try his
damndest to forget about a woman named Beth
Taylor and the pieces of happiness she had given
When Beth finally called him he was ready. He
felt a cold, hard resolve as he left his suite and
headed to her office. He knew it was possible that
Janine Sahron and her husband had nothing to do
with anything that had been happening, but he needed
to assure himself of that fact.
He knocked on the office door and his heart sang
at the sound of Beth’s voice bidding him entry. When
he saw her he felt as if it had been days rather than a
couple of hours since he’d last seen her.
He wondered if she knew that her smile let him
know how deeply she’d grown to care about him. He
tried to rein in his own emotions as he greeted her.
“Janine is on her way,” she said as she sat
behind the desk and gestured him into one of the two
chairs in front of her. “You won’t be too rough on her,
will you? She seems to be a very nice woman.”
“Then I’ll keep the whips and chains hidden until I
think we really need them,” he said teasingly.
“Good, because I can’t have that sort of thing
happening in this nice resort. We do have a
reputation to uphold, you know.”
He was glad to see the teasing light in her eyes
but once again he was reminded of all that he would
never have with her.
At that moment a knock sounded at her door.
The woman who entered was a thin redhead with
big blue eyes that instantly became guarded when
she saw him. “You wanted to see me, Ms. Taylor?” A
nervous twitch appeared at the corner of one of her
“Yes, Janine, please have a seat,” Beth said.
“This is Prince Antoine Cavanaugh. He’d like to ask
you a few questions.”
The nervous tick fluttered once again as she
sank down on the chair. She nodded to Antoine and
clutched her hands together in her lap and then
looked back at Beth. “Is something wrong? Have I
done something wrong with my work?”
“No, it’s nothing like that,” Beth quickly assured
her. “Your work here has been exemplary.” Janine
seemed to relax a bit.
“Mrs. Sahron, I hope you don’t mind me taking a
few minutes of your time,” Antoine said and gave her
his most charming smile.
“Uh…no, I don’t mind,” Janine said.
Antoine could tell she was nervous not only by the
eye twitch but also by the way her tongue slid over her
lips, as if her mouth was unaccountably dry. It didn’t
mean she was guilty of anything. It was possible she
was simply nervous because she was probably
speaking to a prince for the first time in her life.
“Beth mentioned that your husband is from a
Mediterranean island. Which one would that be?” he
asked. He kept a light, easy tone to his voice.
“Nadar. Actually it’s his parents who are from
there. Hakim, my husband, was born here in the
United States,” she replied. The tick at the corner of
her eye stopped and although her fingers remained
laced together he noticed that some of the tension
“Ah, Nadar is a beautiful place. Do you visit
there?” Antoine leaned back in his chair and looked
at her as if he was interested in learning everything
Her cheeks flushed slightly and she nodded.
“We’ve gone to visit family there several times over
the years. It is a beautiful place but it’s expensive to
“And what does your husband do here?” Antoine
asked. He was aware of tension wafting from Beth,
but he kept his focus on Janine, seeking any sign of
deception in her body language.
“He’s a math teacher, but during the summers he
works at a video store to make some extra money.
The house needs a lot of work.” Once again she
looked from Antoine to Beth. “Is something wrong?
I’m afraid I don’t understand…”
“I just hungered to speak with somebody from my
area of the world,” Antoine said and once again
infused his smile with warmth. “What brought you and
your husband to Dumont? I understand you’ve only
recently moved to the area.”
For the first time since she’d arrived in the room
Janine unclasped her hands and leaned back in her
chair and he knew she was starting to fully relax. “My
grandparents are from Dumont. Five months ago they
decided to go into an assisted-living facility and gifted
Hakim and me their house. We were living in Texas,
renting an apartment and trying to save up money for
a house so it was like a gift from heaven.” She was
completely relaxed now, all signs of stress gone from
her body language. “The house needs lots of work, so
both Hakim and I are doing what we can to get extra
money to make the repairs.”
“Do you have sisters or brothers, Janine?” He
leaned forward and gently touched her on the
shoulder. She seemed to melt toward him.
“Two sisters,” she replied.
“And you are very close to them, I can tell.” He
pulled his hand away from her shoulder but leaned
into her, as if she were the most important person on
the face of the earth.
A smile curved her lips. “Very close,” she agreed.
“It’s been a difficult couple of weeks for me,” he
said and saw the spark of sympathy that darkened
her eyes. “I’m sure you’ve heard about the bombing of
my friend Amir’s car.”
“Of course, everyone knows about it. It was a
horrible thing that happened.”
“He was a good friend to me…like my brother. If
you’d heard anything about his whereabouts, if you
had any clue as to who might have been behind the
bombing, you would tell me, wouldn’t you?”
Janine’s eyes widened. “Of course. I’d want the
people responsible brought to justice.”
“And your husband? If he knew anything about it,
he’d come forward to the authorities?”
Her brow crinkled in confusion. “Why would
Hakim know anything about it? He knows about
movies and math, but he doesn’t know about what
happens here at the resort unless I share it with him.”
He believed her.
There were absolutely no signs of deception from
her. If her husband was involved, then he was
confident she had no idea about it.
“I appreciate you coming in to speak with me,” he
said as he stood. Just to be on the safe side he would
give her husband’s name to Jake Wolf and let him
check out the man more thoroughly, but Antoine’s gut
instinct told him this was just another disappointing
Beth had watched him charm Janine, set her at
ease with his warm, engaging smile and his gently
orchestrated touch to her shoulder. A hard knot
formed in the center of Beth’s chest.
It was all so familiar, the way he’d manipulated
her so easily.
Just like he’d manipulated Beth on the day she’d
found the notes. She remembered that look in his
eyes, the soft touch of his hand on her shoulder.
Manipulation 101 and like Janine, Beth had fallen
right in line and agreed to do whatever he wanted.
And she’d continued to be manipulated by him.
He’d needed her. As Janine left the office Beth
realized that the nice things Antoine had done for her,
the caring she’d seen in his eyes, the passion she’d
felt in his touch had probably all been a ruse to get
what he wanted, what he needed from her.
That’s what he did. That’s what he’d been trained
to do. He found weaknesses and exploited them and
the biggest weakness she’d had was her aching
loneliness and her overwhelming attraction to him.
“That was probably a waste of time,” he said
once Janine was gone. “I didn’t detect any deception
from her and my gut is telling me she doesn’t know
anything about Verovick or what’s been happening.”
“You’re very good at what you do,” she said as
anger built up inside her.
He must have heard something in her tone for he
closed the office door and then turned to face her
once again. “I only asked her some questions.”
“Oh, you did so much more than that.” She
remained on the other side of the desk as her anger
continued to build. “That soft touch on the shoulder,
that pain-filled gaze, so practiced and so effective at
getting women to tell you whatever it is you want, to do
whatever you need.”
His eyes narrowed. “Beth, what is going on in
that beautiful head of yours?”
“I think for the first time in days I’m finally seeing
things clearly.” She felt as humiliated and as stupidly
naïve as she had when she’d found out that Mark was
married. God, she’d been such a fool. He’d made her
feel important, had acted like he was interested in
every area of her life because he’d needed to use her
to achieve his ultimate goals.
“And what is it that you think you’re seeing
clearly?” He walked toward her and she steeled
herself not to allow her thoughts to get muddied by the
familiar scent of him, by his very nearness.
“I was easy, wasn’t I, Antoine. I was lonely and
already had something of a crush on you. I was just
ripe for the picking when it came to you finding
somebody to use.” To her horror hot tears burned at
her eyes, but she swallowed hard against them,
refusing to allow him to see her cry.
He stared at her in surprise. “Beth, you’ve got it
all wrong,” he said. He rounded the desk and reached
for her, but she held up a hand to stop him before he
could touch her in any way.
“Really? You didn’t use manipulation and
interrogation skills when you called me into your room
the day I found those notes?” She gazed at him
belligerently, daring him to lie to her.
His cheeks reddened slightly and he opened his
mouth to speak and then paused as if he were
collecting his thoughts. “Of course I did,” he finally
replied and the hard knot in her chest expanded.
“I knew that you’d found something in that room
that was important and I wanted to know what it was,”
he continued. “Did I like what I had to do? Absolutely
not. Did it have anything to do with what we’ve shared
since then? Absolutely not.”
She didn’t believe him. She was afraid to believe
him. Any crazy fantasy she’d entertained about them
somehow having a future together had died a final
death as she’d watched him talk to Janine.
It was over. Her heart had finally shut down. She
refused to be a fool any longer. “Antoine, I think it best
if we just say goodbye to each other here and now.
You should call Jake and give him the information
about the notes and your suspicions. I’ve done
everything you needed and so there’s really no reason
for us to see each other anymore.”
His eyes were the soft blue that beckoned her to
fall into their depths, but she knew she’d be foolish to
allow herself to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“Beth, not like this.” His voice was a soft caress
that only served to break her heart a little more. “I can’t
let this end with you thinking this has been nothing
more than what I needed to help solve Amir’s
disappearance. It was about so much more.”
“Please, just go,” she said as new tears begged
to be released.
Still he hesitated, as if wanting to say more and
for a moment she imagined what she saw in his eyes
was love, but then he took a step backward and gave
her a stiff bow. “As you wish,” he said and then turned
on his heels and left the office.
The minute he was gone Beth sank down at her
desk and allowed the tears to fall. She hadn’t realized
until now the tiny flare of ridiculous hope that had
burned bright in her chest. And now it was gone and
she was left feeling empty inside.
She hadn’t really considered marriage to him, but
she had desperately wanted to believe that when he’d
made love to her it had been because he desired her
to distraction and not because he’d needed to keep
her on his side.
But, the truth of the matter was that he’d needed
somebody who didn’t have a stake in any of the
intrigue that surrounded him. He’d told her again and
again that he didn’t trust the people around him. He’d
needed a driver, a confidante, and she’d fit neatly into
what he needed.
She could have been anyone…another maid, a
member of room service or a clerk in the gift shop.
And that’s what hurt the most—that she could have
been anyone whom he could manipulate into fitting
what he needed.
She was grateful that nobody called or came into
the office for the next hour; it took that long for her to
shed the tears that had built up.
Antoine had been everything she ever wanted in
a man. Her attraction to him had nothing to do with the
fact that he was a prince. She’d loved him for his
teasing sense of humor, for the soft heart she knew
beat beneath his tightly muscled chest. She loved him
for the way he’d made her feel—and that had been
the biggest lie of all.
He’d warned her that he didn’t want a wife, that
he would never have a family. He’d at least been
honest about that. And it was shame on her for
thinking that what they had might make him forget his
resolve to live alone for the rest of his life.
When her tears had finally been spent she went
into the adjoining bathroom and fixed her makeup and
at that moment her cell phone rang. She checked the
ID and saw that it was Haley from the café.
“Hey, girl, sorry it’s taken me so long to get back
to you,” Haley said.
“It’s not a problem,” Beth replied.
“You gave me a tall order,” Haley continued. “I’ve
been keeping an eye on the people who come in and
I’ve got a couple of names for you.”
“Hang on, let me get a pen and paper.” Beth
pulled a small notepad and pen from the desk. “I’m
“The first name is Dimitri Petrov, he’s a Russian
who told me he’s in town on business, but he was
vague about what his business is. The second man
told me his name is Abdul Jahard and that he’s here
in Dumont visiting relatives, but his relatives must not
feed him because he’s here for almost every meal.
Unfortunately those are the only two I’ve identified as
being slightly suspicious.”
“How did you manage to get them to give you so
much information about themselves?” Beth asked.
Haley laughed. “You know me, I could get a rock
to confess its sins to me if I had enough time. I just
struck up a conversation with them while they were
waiting for their orders.”
“Thanks, Haley, I really appreciate it,” Beth
“Are you okay?”
“I don’t know, you sound kind of funny…sad.”
Darn. Beth should have realized her friend would
pick up on her emotional state just by talking to her.
“I’m fine,” she said and forced more life into her voice.
“Just tired, that’s all.”
“We need to do lunch sometime soon,” Haley
said. “It’s been too long.”
“I’ll call you and we’ll set something up.” With that
the two disconnected. Beth wasn’t interested in
meeting for lunch too soon. She needed to get over
the pain of Antoine before she felt like going
anywhere with anyone.
She looked at the two names she’d written down.
She’d finish her day and then she supposed she’d
take the names to Antoine. A couple of hours wouldn’t
make any difference as to when he got the names
from her. At the moment all she wanted to do was get
back to the work of running her staff and spotchecking rooms.
She left her office but stayed away from the
suites, not wanting to run into Antoine until she was
better prepared to see him again. If he hadn’t already
contacted Jake Wolf about the notes she had found
and the fingerprint that Jane had pulled, within hours
Jane would be talking to the sheriff.
There was nothing more to be done. Even though
Antoine feared there were dirty people working for the
Sheriff, he had no choice but to give up the
information. Maybe she’d just give the names Haley
had given her to Jake. That way she wouldn’t have to
speak to Antoine again.
She could only hope that if Antoine remained
here he would be safe. No matter how much her heart
ached because of him, it was important to her that he
stay well and return to his home to rule his nation with
his twin brother.
It was after five when she finally grabbed her
purse from the desk and decided to call it a night.
She’d called her insurance agent while she’d waited
for Antoine and Janine to come to her office and he’d
assured her that they’d work to get her back into her
house as soon as possible.
Hopefully if she and Antoine had nothing more to
do with each other, then she could eventually go home
without worrying about her own safety and all she’d
have to deal with was her broken heart and the fact
that she felt like she’d been played for a fool.
Once she got to her room she’d call Jake and
give him the names of the two men Haley thought
might be suspicious and then the intrigue with the
visiting royalty and any connection to Antoine would
be over for her.
As she left her office, she was plagued by an
exhaustion deeper than anything she could ever
remember feeling. It was an emotional weariness that
she feared would be with her for a long time to come.
Being a fool for a man seemed to come naturally
to her, she thought as she started across the lobby. It
would be a long time before she put her heart on the
line again for any man.
She was halfway across the lobby when a slightly
overweight brunette waved from across the room and
hurried toward her with a bright smile.
Beth racked her brain frantically in an effort to
identify the woman. A former employee? A returning
guest? She came up blank but forced a responding
smile as the woman reached her.
“Beth…Beth Taylor?” Faint shadows darkened
the skin beneath her brown eyes, as if she hadn’t
been sleeping well.
Beth steeled herself, wondering if there was a
complaint coming over the quality of the pillows or the
bedding or any number of other things that could keep
a guest from sleeping well. “Yes, I’m Beth,” she
replied. “May I help you?”
The woman took a step closer, invading Beth’s
personal space. “Yes, you can help me, but more
importantly you can help Prince Antoine and the other
royals staying at the hotel.”
Beth froze, her heart suddenly pounding a
thousand beats a minute. “What are you talking
about?” she asked in a half-whisper.
“Keep smiling, Beth,” the woman said, her eyes
like hard brown pebbles. “I’ve planted a bomb in the
prince’s suite and all I have to do to detonate it is flip
this little switch.” She opened her hand to show Beth
what looked like a remote control of some kind.
Everything in the lobby faded away as Beth
struggled to make sense of what she’d just said. A
bomb? In Antoine’s suite? “What do you want?”
“You have your car keys?”
Beth gripped her purse tightly and nodded. She
wished there was a gun inside her purse instead of
her keys, some lipstick and her cell phone.
“You’re going to walk nice and slowly toward the
door and we’re going to get into your car.” The smile
never left the woman’s lips. “If you move too fast, I’ll
push the button. If you try to get anyone else’s
attention or do anything at all, I’ll blow the roof off this
place. Do you understand?”
Beth wasn’t sure if she nodded or not, but she
must have for the woman nodded with satisfaction.
“Good,” she said. “Let’s go.”
Beth didn’t know about bombs. She had no idea
if this woman was lying, but she couldn’t take that
chance. She couldn’t put Antoine’s life at risk. Or
“Move it,” the woman said, her voice rough
despite the fact her smile never faltered.
Beth felt as if she were in a horrible dream as her
feet moved her across the lobby toward the front door.
They had considered the Russian mob, they’d worried
about Antoine’s security team and the local law
officials. But, nobody had told her to be worried about
an overweight brunette with tired brown eyes.
“YOU SHOULD HAVE BROUGHT THESE TO ME immediately
when Beth found them.” Jake Wolf was not a happy
Antoine had left Beth and come directly to his
suite, more upset than he could ever remember
being. But, instead of dwelling on what had just
happened with Beth, he’d immediately called the
sheriff to meet him.
“At the time that the notes were found I wasn’t
sure who I could trust,” Antoine replied. “And that
included any local law enforcement.”
“Even if you didn’t trust me or my men, you could
have taken them to the federal agents who have been
working this case,” Jake replied as he sat on the sofa.
“I know less about them than I do about you and
your men,” Antoine replied. “There was no way I was
going to give them what I thought might be vital
Jake released a weary sigh and laid the copy of
the notes he’d just read on the ornate coffee table
before him. “When I became sheriff I inherited a
corruption that had been in the ranks for years.
Payoffs for a variety of things were common and I
swore that I’d clean things up. Unfortunately, it’s not
done yet. I’m still working on it.”
Antoine didn’t know if he was a fool or not, but he
trusted the man in front of him. Or maybe it was just
the fact that he now found himself in a position where
he was forced to trust him.
“In any case, Beth and I took the notes to Jane
and she was able to lift a print that belonged to
Aleksei Verovick.” As he told the sheriff everything he
had learned about the man, he tried to keep thoughts
of Beth at bay.
He didn’t want to think about the yawning pain
he’d seen in her eyes, the utter sense of betrayal that
had laced her tone. She’d been shattered by what she
believed had been his lies and manipulations. Like
one of the military criminals he’d once interrogated,
he’d broken Beth.
“When I get back to my office I’ll begin a search
for this Verovick. If he’s here in town I’ll know about it,”
Jake said, his features hard with resolve. “Is there
anything else you’ve been holding back from me?”
“No, that’s it. And I apologize for not bringing the
notes to you sooner.” In trying to investigate on his
own he had only managed to put Beth’s life at risk and
break her heart.
Jake pulled himself up from the couch. “I’ll see
what I can do with this and be in touch.”
“Thank you, I appreciate it.” He followed Jake to
the door. “I was desperate to see if I could find out
anything about Amir’s disappearance. I had hoped he
was still alive, but with each day that passes my hope
gets more difficult to maintain.”
Jake’s eyes grew darker. “I hope we get some
closure where Sheik Amir is concerned,” he replied,
but Antoine knew by his tone of voice that he, too, was
having difficulty maintaining any real hope that Amir
was still alive.
Once Jake had left, Antoine paced the living area
of the suite, his thoughts once again on Beth. He
figured he’d give her a little while to cool off and then
he’d try to speak to her again.
He couldn’t allow her to believe that she’d been
nothing but a pawn for him to manipulate and use and
then discard when he was finished with her.
She’d been so much more than that and he
needed to make her understand. The weight of what
he’d done to her coupled with his own heartbreak
nearly crippled him.
He needed her to understand that she deserved
more than he could ever give her, that he loved her but
sometimes love wasn’t enough to overcome life’s
He finally threw himself in the leather chair and
buried his face in his hands. There was nothing worse
than to love a woman and be unable to allow her fully
into your life.
Beth was everything he wanted, everything he
needed. She was the woman he wanted beside him
every day of his life, the woman who made him want
to be a better man. But he’d made a vow to himself
long ago and he couldn’t, he wouldn’t make the
mistake his father made.
Perhaps it was best that she was angry and felt
completely betrayed by him. Maybe this was the
kindest way to end their relationship.
He held on to that thought until he could stand it
no longer and then he grabbed his cell phone and
called her. He couldn’t allow it to end this way, with her
thinking she had been stupid to believe in him and
had meant nothing to him.
Her phone rang three times and then went to
voice mail. She was probably screening her calls and
didn’t want to talk to him. He tried a second time with
the same result and then returned his cell phone to his
pocket and decided to go in search of her.
He could not let it end this way. Somehow he had
to make her understand that she hadn’t been the fool,
but perhaps he was.
He left the suite and headed for her office, hoping
she would still be there despite the fact that it was just
She wasn’t in. He drifted back to the lobby,
sickened with the overwhelming need to make things
right with her, to somehow make her understand that
he hadn’t been using her.
He peeked into the coffee shop area, wondering
if maybe she was getting a bite to eat, but she was
nowhere in sight and he had no idea what room she
was staying in here at the hotel. He also wasn’t at all
sure that anyone who worked at the hotel would give
him that information.
He smiled as he approached one of the young,
attractive women working the front desk. Her name
tag read Julia. “Ms. Julia,” he said in greeting.
“Prince Antoine,” she replied with a touch of
breathlessness. She was little more than a teenager
and Antoine had a feeling she was not only
intimidated by his presence, but also more than a little
bit tickled. “How can I help, Your Majesty?”
If he hadn’t been so worried about Beth, he might
have found her grandiose title humorous. “I was
looking for Ms. Taylor. Have you seen her recently?”
“Beth Taylor? She left for the day,” the girl
“Yes, I checked her office and I know she’s gone
from there, but I also know she’s staying in a room
here in the hotel and I really need to speak with her.”
“Is this a housekeeping issue?” she asked. “I’m
sure I can find somebody else for you to speak with if
there’s a problem.”
“No problem,” he replied smoothly. “And it’s a
“I’m afraid I can’t help you. Ms. Taylor left the
hotel a few minutes ago.”
Antoine stared at her, certain that he must have
heard her incorrectly. “What?”
“I saw her leave just a little while ago.” She
pointed toward the front doors.
Antoine’s heart began a rapid beat. Why would
Beth leave the hotel? She knew there was danger
outside. She’d told him she was going to stay in a
room here at the hotel. “Was she alone when she
Julia frowned. “I think she was with another
Another woman? His mind raced with
suppositions as he left the desk and hurried to the
front door. Once there he checked the parking lot and
saw that her Jeep was gone.
Why would she leave the hotel and who had she
left with? Although there was no real reason to panic,
that’s exactly what he felt—a screaming alarm that
something wasn’t right.
He hurried back to his suite, his heart pounding
as fast as his footsteps clicking against the marble
floor. Once he got inside his suite he powered up his
laptop, grateful that he’d thought about having the
tracking device placed on her car.
Her Jeep was on the move, but it was not going
toward her home, rather it appeared to be headed
into an area where he thought from his trips back and
forth to her place that there was nothing but woods.
He stared at the monitor screen as the alarm in
his head screamed louder. She was in trouble. He
had absolutely no facts to support his belief, but every
instinct he possessed told him she was in danger.
He yanked his cell phone from his pocket and
dialed Michael. “Get David to bring the car and meet
me at the front door immediately,” he said to his head
“Yes, sir,” Michael replied without question.
Antoine grabbed his laptop and raced out of the
suite, a frantic anxiety clawing at his insides. It made
no sense. It made no sense at all that she would have
left the hotel, that she would be heading into an area
where there was nothing but wilderness.
He’d headed into battle many times over the
years, but never feeling as if so much was at stake.
When he ran out the front doors, David, his driver, had
the car pulled against the curb with Michael riding
Antoine slid into the backseat and slammed the
door. “Beth Taylor is in trouble. We must get to her
before it’s too late.” He handed Michael his laptop
over the seat. “Find her. We have to get to her.”
David looked at the screen, put the car into gear
and headed for the hotel exit.
“What kind of danger are we facing?” Michael
asked, his tone clipped and all business as he pulled
his gun from his shoulder holster.
“I don’t know. I only know she shouldn’t have left
the hotel. She knew she might be in danger if she
ventured out and she’s not a foolish woman. The
woman behind the desk said she left with another
“Could she not just be going with a friend for
dinner or something?” Michael asked.
Antoine gestured toward the computer screen
impatiently. “And where will they find food in the
middle of nowhere?” He shook his head. “I feel it in
my gut, Michael. She’s in trouble.”
“We’ll find them,” David said as he stepped on
the gas. They couldn’t go fast enough to ease the burn
in Antoine’s stomach.
It was Antoine’s worst nightmare come true. He
was certain that somebody from his past had taken
Beth and they were going to make her pay for all his
“Who’s paying you to do this?” Beth asked, trying
not to lose it because the woman now no longer just
held the remote control, but also a gun.
“Shut up,” she snapped. “Slow down and turn in
between those two trees on the right where there’s a
Beth held the steering wheel so tight her fingers
cramped. There had been a dozen times in the last
five minutes of driving she’d thought about bailing out
of the car, but she was afraid of that remote control,
afraid that any wrong move on her part would mean
And as if that wasn’t worry enough, there was the
problem of the gun in the woman’s hand and the
deadly intent in her eyes. She looked like somebody
who wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.
Beth made the turn the woman had indicated and
had to bring the car to a halt because of the grove of
trees in front of them. The area was isolated with
overgrown brush and thick trees crowding together.
The woman next to her seemed nervous. Beth
noticed that her hands shook slightly and she chewed
her bottom lip. That was the only thing that gave Beth
a little bit of hope…that somehow she might be able
to talk her way out of this mess.
“He won’t care, you know,” she said. “If you kill
me he’ll still eventually follow through and make trade
agreements with the United States.”
“I told you to shut up,” the woman screamed, as if
she were hanging on to her control by a very thin
thread. “Get out of the car and don’t be stupid. If
you’re stupid then I’ll shoot you and blow him to
Tears blurred her vision as Beth got out of the
car. She had no idea what this woman intended, but it
couldn’t be good. They were in a wilderness area,
where nobody would hear Beth scream, where
nobody would blink at the sound of a gunshot.
Nobody knew where she had gone. She wasn’t
even sure anyone would know that she’d left the hotel.
She was in deep trouble and she knew she could only
depend upon herself to get out of it.
As the woman punched the barrel of the gun in
the small of her back and ordered her to walk, Beth
knew she had to be patient and wait for the perfect
opportunity, pray that the perfect opportunity would
come and she’d be able to take the woman down
without getting killed in the process.
As they continued to walk deeper into the woods,
Beth began to realize that she’d probably been a
fool…again. She knew nothing about bombs, but she
was beginning to think that there was no way a
remote control could blow up the suite considering the
distance they had traveled from the resort.
Still, she now had to worry about the gun and her
own life. Was this woman somehow tied to Antoine’s
past? Was she seeking revenge against him? Was
she a part of Antoine’s nightmares?
She cried out as she stumbled over a fallen tree
and fell to her knees. The woman grabbed her by the
arm and yanked her up, muttering curses beneath her
“Keep moving,” she said as she once again
pressed the gun painfully into Beth’s back.
Beth felt as if they walked for hours, but in reality
knew that it had probably been less than an hour
since she’d made what might turn out to be a fatal
mistake by walking out of the resort.
How she wished she could replay that moment
when the woman had walked up to her in the lobby.
How she wished she would have taken a risk and
signaled for security instead of foolishly allowing
herself to be put in the position she was in now.
The deeper they walked into the woods, the more
the woman muttered unintelligibly beneath her breath.
Maybe she was some crazy extremist, Beth thought.
She definitely appeared unstable, but Beth didn’t
know if that was to her advantage or would ultimately
work against her.
There was an unnatural silence in their
surroundings, as if all of the woodland creatures
sensed the danger that had entered their midst and
held their breath in fear.
They finally reached a small clearing. “Stop,” the
woman said. “Turn around.”
Beth slowly turned to find the gun now directed at
the center of her body. “Are you working for the
Russian mob?” Beth asked. She had to somehow
make the woman talk. She needed to know who had
hired the woman for her own sake, but more important
she needed to buy herself some time to find a
weakness and somehow exploit it.
The woman’s eyes darted around the area and
then settled back on Beth. “This is perfect. Nobody
will ever find you here.”
“Is this where you brought Amir? Is he buried
somewhere in this clearing?” Beth didn’t think her
heart could beat any faster than it already was, but as
she thought of the missing Sheik’s body being buried
in a grave in the clearing, it beat even faster.
The woman frowned and took a step back from
Beth. “I don’t know Amir and the only body who will be
buried in this clearing is yours.”
“Please, don’t do this,” Beth said, her heart once
again fluttering frantically in her chest. “Whatever you
want, whatever you need, killing me isn’t the answer.”
Tears misted her vision as she thought about never
seeing Antoine again, about not living long enough to
find true love, to have children and to achieve the
dreams she’d always wanted.
“I have to kill you,” the woman screamed once
again. The gun trembled in her hand, but didn’t sway
enough from Beth’s center for her to make a move.
“You have to be gone,” she continued. “It’s the
only way, the only way things will be better.”
Beth tensed, waiting for the perfect opportunity to
leap forward and wrestle for control of the gun. “How
does killing me make things better?”
“Because he’ll stop thinking about you, because
he’ll finally stop loving you.” The woman spat the
words as her features twisted with a rage that nearly
took Beth’s breath away.
“Antoine doesn’t love me,” Beth exclaimed.
“Not him, you stupid bitch. Mark!”
The frantic beat of Beth’s heart paused as she
stared at the woman. Mark? Mark Ferrer? “Who are
you?” The question fell from her lips on a whisper
even though in her heart she knew the answer.
“I’m Karen, you stupid cow. Karen Ferrer. I’m his
wife, the woman who had his children. I’m the one who
takes care of him, who loves him and you ruined it all!”
A hysterical burst of laughter rose to Beth’s lips,
but she quickly swallowed it down. They had been so
worried that somebody from Antoine’s past might use
her to get to him. But, the real threat hadn’t been
somebody from his past…it had been somebody
THEY FOUND THE JEEP PARKED in a stand of trees and
Antoine’s heart leapt into his throat when he realized
the vehicle was empty.
“What now?” Michael asked.
“We go hunting until we find her.” Antoine got out
of the car along with Michael. “David, you stay here
with the car ready in case she’s been hurt, and call
Jake Wolf, tell him where we are and to get out here
as soon as possible.”
Antoine pulled his gun and looked at Michael
who also had his gun at the ready. Which way?
Antoine scanned the area carefully, seeking signs that
the brush had been disturbed, that the grass had
been tamped down by footsteps. Tension held him so
tight he felt as if he might snap at any minute.
He knew if he didn’t pick the right direction they
would lose precious minutes…minutes that could
mean Beth’s death—if he wasn’t already too late.
He mentally shook himself, refusing to allow his
thoughts to go there. She had to be okay. He
steadfastly refused to believe otherwise. He knew that
if she wasn’t he’d be forever destroyed.
Seeing some tall grass that looked slightly
trampled, he motioned for Michael to follow him,
praying that they were going in the direction that
would take him to Beth.
As they moved with the silence of ghosts through
the woods, Antoine wondered who in the hell had
gotten to her, which of his enemies had managed to
get her from the hotel and into these woods? What
possible ruse could they have used to get Beth to
walk out of the hotel?
Julie had indicated that she thought Beth had left
with a woman. How clever. Beth would have never
considered going anywhere with a man she didn’t
know, but a woman? Perhaps using some sort of a
God, part of what he loved about Beth was her
trusting nature and it was possible that was the trait
that might bring her to her death. He tightened his grip
on his gun. He could shoot a woman as easily as he
could a man if she intended to harm Beth.
Every few steps he motioned for Michael to halt
and they listened for any sounds of other human
presence in the woods. There was nothing, no noise
to indicate there was either human or beast nearby.
The only sound Antoine could hear clearly was
the frantic beating of his own heart. He’d done this to
her. He’d brought danger to her doorstep and he’d
never forgive himself if he’d ultimately gotten Beth
They walked for what seemed like forever when
Antoine thought he heard the faint sound of a voice
coming from up ahead. He raised his hand to Michael
and they stopped. Antoine strained to listen and his
heart leaped as again he thought it was a female
voice he heard.
He leaned toward Michael. “No sudden moves,”
he whispered. “We need to assess the situation
before either of us makes a move.”
Michael nodded and together the two men
moved forward. The voice grew louder and after
several more steps Antoine saw a clearing ahead
and what stood in the clearing made his heart nearly
Beth stood facing a woman Antoine had never
seen before, holding a gun pointed directly at Beth.
He noticed several things instantly—Beth’s terror
showed in the strain of her features and he could
easily imagine the tick firing off in the side of her
slender neck, a neck he wanted to save.
The woman with the gun was nervous. She
shifted her weight from foot to foot as her hand
trembled. Antoine knew her nervousness made her
even more dangerous.
“You ruined my life,” the woman screamed. “We
were happy and in love until you came along.”
“I didn’t know he was married,” Beth exclaimed,
her voice filled with her fear. “I haven’t seen him or
talked to him for almost a year.”
Antoine frowned as his mind raced. This wasn’t
somebody who was after him, this was somebody
seeking revenge against Beth.
Mark Ferrer’s wife. The name of the man who
hurt Beth was emblazoned on Antoine’s brain.
Antoine could only imagine the emotions raging
inside the woman. It was obvious she believed that
Beth had destroyed her marriage, ruined her life.
“You’re lying,” she screamed at Beth. “I knew
something was wrong with him for a long time and
finally a week ago he confessed that he’d had an
affair with you, that he’d tried to break it off but you
were obsessed with him.”
It was obvious Mark Ferrer had lied to his wife,
but it was equally obvious his wife wasn’t going to
believe anything Beth said.
As she grabbed the gun with both hands and
steadied herself, Antoine knew he only had seconds
to act. He shoved his gun in the back of his waistband
and stepped out into the clearing. “Mrs. Ferrer.”
She jumped and thankfully didn’t shoot, but she
whirled the gun in his direction. He immediately
raised his hands to show her that he didn’t have a
“Don’t come any closer,” she yelled. She pointed
the gun back at Beth. “If you come closer I’ll shoot
The woman’s brown eyes were huge and filled
with a combination of rage and fear and more than a
little bit of crazy.
“I won’t come any closer,” Antoine said in a
gentle tone. “I just want to speak with you, that’s all.”
He knew that Michael had his gun pointed at the
woman’s head, that if Michael sensed any imminent
danger to Antoine he’d kill the woman without blinking
an eye. But, Antoine hoped he could save both
women who were suffering from the same fate—
“Mrs. Ferrer…can I call you by your first name?”
She stared at him as if he was the one who had
lost his mind. “Karen,” she finally said with a shrug of
her shoulders. “My name is Karen.”
“Karen, I’m Antoine.” He forced what he hoped
was a charming smile to his lips. “Karen, I’m so sorry
you’ve been having a rough time lately.”
Her narrow lips trembled and tears sprang to her
eyes. “You have no idea. Everything has been broken.
She broke it!”
“I know. She was a selfish fool to mess with your
husband,” Antoine said smoothly. He kept his gaze
focused solely on Karen and away from Beth. “It was
you who tried to burn down her house?”
“She deserved to lose her house after she ruined
my marriage. I ran her off the road, too.” Her entire
body shook with fury. “I would have made her pay that
day but the two of you managed to get away from
“You said you have children? How many?” He
needed to try to defuse some of the rage that made
her entire body tremble.
A softness swept over her features. “Three.
Jason is six, Matthew is four and Angela is three.” The
last of her words choked out of her on a sob. “We
were a family, a happy family until she came along.”
The gun wavered and Antoine took the opportunity to
take a step closer. “We were a family until she came
along,” she cried again, tears streaking down her
“And you believe that if she’s out of the way then
you can be a family again,” he replied.
“Yes! She has to leave him alone. She has to go
away,” Karen exclaimed and once again focused the
gun on Beth.
“If you kill her then you’ll go to jail, Karen. What
about your children? Who will raise them while you’re
in prison?” Antoine took yet another step closer to the
obviously distraught woman.
“Karen, let me help you,” he continued, keeping
his voice as soft, as non-threatening as possible. “I
can make her go away. I’m the prince of a
Mediterranean island. I can take her there and make
sure she never returns to the States, that she never
bothers you again.”
At that moment hope flared in her eyes and she
let down her guard. The tip of the gun lowered toward
the ground and Antoine sprang.
Too late, his brain screamed as he saw the gun
rise once again and point at Beth. Everything seemed
to happen in slow motion. In his peripheral vision he
saw a blur and at the same time he yelled Beth’s
name as the gun exploded.
He tackled Karen to the ground and wrestled the
gun from her hand. Screaming and cursing, she
fought him, but he easily got her under control.
A glance in Beth’s direction nearly stopped his
heart. A rush of relief whirled through him as he saw
her still standing, but the relief was short-lived as he
saw Michael on the ground at her feet.
At that moment his driver, David, arrived and
Antoine thrust the still-cursing Karen at him. “Take her
to the car,” Antoine said, his gaze going to Beth who
had crumpled to the ground next to the fallen Michael.
As David took control of Karen, Antoine rushed
forward and fell to his knees at Michael’s side.
“I’m all right,” Michael said as he struggled to sit
up. He gripped his upper arm where a stain of blood
had begun to appear on his shirt. “I think it’s just a
Antoine helped him to his feet as sirens sounded
in the distance. “Can you make it back to the car?” he
asked. “It sounds like help is on the way.”
Michael nodded and took off walking in the
direction of the car. Antoine turned back to Beth, who
was still on the ground and weeping softly into her
It was only then that the complete relief began to
wash over Antoine. She was safe. Thank God, she
was safe. He crouched down next to her, wanting
desperately to take her into his arms, but afraid of
overstepping his boundaries considering what had
taken place between them in her office.
“It’s over,” he said gently.
She dropped her hands from her face and gazed
at him with tear-washed eyes. “She said she had a
bomb planted in your suite and if I didn’t come with
her she’d blow it up. I thought maybe she was telling
the truth and I couldn’t take the chance that she’d hurt
Her words tumbled over themselves as her tears
continued to flow. “I thought maybe she was working
for the Russian mob, or maybe she was some kind of
fanatic trying to stop the trade agreements. And then
she had the gun and I knew there was no way for me
to get away from her.”
He could stand it no longer. He pulled her up and
she came willingly into his arms and buried her face in
the front of his shirt as he held her tight.
He closed his eyes, unable to believe how close
he’d come to losing her. If it hadn’t been for Michael
the shot might have found Beth. He would never doubt
Michael’s trustworthiness again.
They were still standing in each other’s arms
when Jake Wolf and several of his men arrived. Jake
shook his head as he approached them. “You two
hotshots seem to be keeping me busy lately.”
Beth stepped out of Antoine’s arms and he felt
not only the bereavement of her physical nearness,
but her mental connection as well.
The danger was over and he realized they were
back to where they’d been when he’d walked out of
her office earlier in the day. He and Michael had
managed to save her life, but nothing had really
The night was endless. They all convened at
Jake’s office and statements were taken. Michael
was treated and released with a bandage over his
wound of courage and Karen was locked up to await
trial on kidnapping and attempted murder charges.
When they were finally free to go, Antoine and
Beth walked out of the building side by side. They had
scarcely spoken to each other after Jake had arrived
and throughout the long hours of interrogation.
During that time Antoine had reached a painful
decision. As she headed for her Jeep in the parking
lot he stopped her by taking hold of her arm.
In the illumination from the parking lot lights
overhead he could see the weariness on her face,
that faint pulse in the side of her throat and a raw
vulnerability that would forever haunt him.
She pulled away from him, as if his very touch
hurt her. He dropped his arms to his sides and fought
his need to pull her to him and hold her close, hold her
until she no longer fought him, until he’d convinced her
of what she meant to him.
“I’ll be returning to Barajas in the morning,” he
She looked at him in surprise. “I thought you were
staying until there was news about Amir.”
“I’ll leave the investigation in Jake’s capable
hands. I haven’t been successful in helping anything.
It’s time I go home, but before I leave it’s important to
me that you understand that it was real, the emotions I
feel for you are real and deep. I told you that I would
never marry, but I will carry the memory of you with me
for the rest of my life.”
She studied him for a long moment. “You don’t
have to worry about your enemies finding you to get
revenge.” The pain in her eyes became sadness.
He frowned, confused by her words. “What do
“They’ve already gotten their revenge on you. You
will forever be alone because you fear what they might
do, what might happen.”
She released a weary sigh. “We all have things in
our past, Antoine. Tonight was a perfect example that
danger can come from unexpected places and
people. You can get hit by a car, or get a terminal
illness. It’s what you do with the life you’re given that’s
important, not the things you don’t do because you’re
She didn’t wait for his response but instead
turned on her heels and headed for the Jeep in the
distance. He remained frozen in place as she got into
the vehicle and then a moment later disappeared into
the darkness of the night.
At eight-thirty the next morning Antoine and his
entourage were at the airport where the private jet
was being readied for departure.
As they waited Antoine turned to Michael. “It will
be good to get home,” he said, as if the words
themselves would be enough to convince him.
“I’ve had enough Wyoming to last me a lifetime,”
Antoine studied the man for a long moment.
“Your job has always been to protect me from harm.
Why did you risk your life by throwing yourself in front
Michael met his gaze evenly. “Because I knew
how important she was to you.”
Antoine swallowed around the lump that rose in
the back of his throat. He had spent most of the night
trying not to think about Beth, telling himself that the
best thing he could do was return to Barajas and put
his time in this beautiful state of America behind him.
He needed to forget the woman who had stood
by his side through danger, kissed him with a passion
that had stirred his very soul and made him think of
dreams that could never be his.
“It’s time to board,” Michael said as one of the
men on the tarmac motioned to them.
Antoine nodded, straightened his shoulders and
headed for the plane.
BETH SAT AT HER DESK IN HER OFFICE and stared out the
window. This morning the events of the night before
seemed like nothing more than a bad dream.
Amir was still missing, Karen was in jail and
Antoine was now winging his way back to where he
belonged. It was time for her to put the last week away
in her mind, in a place where it couldn’t be accessed
and create any more pain.
“Easier said than done,” she muttered under her
breath. She turned away from the window and looked
at the inventory list in front of her.
For a moment her body recalled every moment of
being in Antoine’s arms. Her skin warmed with the
memory and a wistful sigh brought the sting of tears to
Funny, but in the brief conversation they’d had in
the parking lot at the sheriff’s office, she’d believed
him. She’d believed that she had been more to him
than somebody to use and then discard at will.
Even a man as good as Antoine was at
manipulation couldn’t have manufactured the look of
love in his eyes when he’d gazed at her and didn’t
know she saw him. She’d tasted the desire in his
kisses, felt the caring in his touch and had finally
believed in her heart that he had loved her.
A lot of good it did either of them. He was a man
tied to a tragic past that wouldn’t allow him to move
forward, a man who would forever be trapped by what
he considered the sins of his father.
And what had his father done? Simply loved a
woman, loved her enough to put his fears behind him
and risk everything for that love.
Time for her to get back to her real life, she
thought as she once again tried to focus her thoughts
on the paperwork in front of her.
Fifteen minutes later a knock was heard on her
door. “Come in,” she said. The door opened and for a
long moment she stared, mouth agape at Antoine.
“You can’t be here,” she said in confusion.
“You’re on your way back to Barajas.” He looked so
incredibly handsome in a military jacket covered with
metals and ribbons. He looked every inch the prince
that he was and her heart squeezed tight.
She stood, her legs feeling ridiculously weak.
“What are you doing here?”
He walked over to the window and stared out
with his back to her. She held on to the edge of the
desk, wondering what was going on, why he was
prolonging her agony by attempting to speak to her
When she thought she might scream with anxiety,
he turned and looked at her. “I had every intention of
returning to Barajas this morning. I got to the airport
where my plane was waiting and told myself it was
what I wanted to do, what I needed to do. But, when it
came time to actually get on the plane, I couldn’t.”
He stepped away from the window and walked
close enough to her that she could smell that dizzying
cologne of his, see the silver shards that glinted in his
pale blue eyes.
“I never wanted to rule Barajas. Sebastian is
much better suited for the role of leadership. I’ve
discovered that I’ve fallen in love with Wyoming. The
land speaks to me and whispers that this is the place
where I belong.”
Is this what he’d come to tell her? That he
intended to make a home here in Wyoming? In
Dumont? God, the idea of running into him at the
grocery store, seeing him on the streets was
horrifying. How could she forget him if he was right
here under her nose? It would have been so much
better if he’d gone back to his island.
“You don’t look happy,” he said.
She mentally shook herself and pasted on a
smile. “I want you to be happy, Antoine, and if you find
happiness here then I’m glad for you.”
His gaze seemed to pierce right through her as
he took a step closer. “I’ve also been thinking a lot
about what you said to me last night.”
“Oh?” The word froze in her throat as he began to
unbutton the dress military jacket.
“I think if I had the opportunity to ask my father if
he had any regrets about loving my mother, about
making her his wife, he’d tell me no. And my mother
would have no regrets either. I remember their love for
each other and know that even if they knew what the
future held for them, they would have chosen to have
the years that they did of love and family together.”
She stared at him, her breath caught in her chest,
afraid to try to guess where this all might lead.
“The past can be a tricky thing, Beth. It can bring
you enormous joy or it can cage you like an animal at
the zoo. I’ve been caged for a very long time.” He
shrugged off the jacket, exposing a white shirt
beneath. He dropped the jacket to the floor and
stepped so close to her she could feel the heat of his
body warming hers.
“You take my breath away, Beth Taylor. For you I
want to bend the bars of my cage and break free. I
want to rebuild your house and make it big enough for
a family. I love you, Beth, and I want to stay here with
you and raise children and horses and embrace the
happiness I know my parents would want for me.”
Joy blossomed inside her, a joy that brought
tears to her eyes as she threw herself into his arms.
He wrapped her in a tight embrace that felt like love,
that felt like safety, but more importantly felt like home.
“Antoine, I love you with all my heart, with all my
soul,” she said.
He released a sigh of sweet contentment and
smiled. “You know that when we marry, you’ll become
“I don’t care about that,” she replied. “Just being
ordinary rancher Antoine Cavanaugh’s wife is more
than enough for me.”
“Then I think we should go to the suite and start
practicing to make the babies that you want,” he said
as his hands cupped her buttocks and pulled her even
closer against him.
“Impertinent,” she exclaimed, “definitely
He laughed and his eyes blazed as his lips found
hers and took them in a kiss that promised everything
Beth had ever dreamed of, a kiss that spoke of love
and passion and forever.