Home > To Tempt a Sheikh (Pride of Zohayd #2)

To Tempt a Sheikh (Pride of Zohayd #2)
Author: Olivia Gates

One

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

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

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

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

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

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

The hostage Harres was here to free.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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