Excerpt from To Protect a Princess
Logan’s gaze swiveled back to hers. “So, what is this about?”
Dara carefully chose her words. It was too dangerous to tell him everything, at least for now. She only hoped he didn’t hear much news out here.
“I’m an archeologist,” she said, since that was true. “And I’m studying Quillacocha, the lost Inca city.” That was true, too.
She shifted the pack she’d slung over her shoulder, met his relentless gaze. “I’ve heard that you’re the only one who knows where it is. I’d like to hire you to take me there -- so I can study it, take photos of the ancient tombs.”
He stared at her, his dark eyes etched with disbelief. “You came all the way through these mountains alone to see some tombs?”
Her face warmed. He made her sound foolish, reckless. As if she were really the daredevil her people believed.
But she couldn’t tell him the truth -- about the fabled dagger, the murders, the secret society that was killing the Roma worldwide. He probably wouldn’t believe her if she did.
And if he did believe her, he would never take the risk to help her. Especially if he knew who she was.
“It’s important work,” she argued. “Quillacocha is the link we need to understand Incan sacrificial rites. And I only need to find out where the city is, take a few photos. It won’t take much of your time. I’ll come back later with a team to explore it more.”
His gaze pinned hers. “And it’s worth risking your life to see these tombs?”
No, but finding the dagger was.
“I didn’t have time to get the permits or assemble a team,” she continued. There had already been too many Gypsies killed. “My colleague is working on that part. I’m going to meet up with him after I locate the tombs.”
He shot her a look of incredulity, disgust, then scowled down at the village again. And she knew she hadn’t convinced him. But she would. She had to. More people would die if she failed.
She took in his tall, muscular build, the barely leashed power in his dominant stance. He was a tough man, a dangerous one. A man honed for battle and ready to fight.
Exactly the man she needed up here.
And the most appealing man she’d ever seen.
A restless feeling hummed through her nerves. And she had a sudden urge to feel those hard biceps under her palms, stroke her hands up those muscled arms.
What would it be like to kiss him?
The thought sliced out of nowhere, shocking her, and she caught her breath. Despite her sheltered upbringing as the Roma princess, she’d kissed a few men before -- mostly gadžos, non-Roma she’d met at school. But none of them had looked like Logan Burke.
She studied the dark, hollowed planes of his face, the black beard shadow coating his jaw, the muscles of his throat. He looked disreputable, masculine. Exciting.
His gaze swerved to hers again, and he went still. And a sudden awareness vibrated between them, touching off the same edgy, dizzy feeling that had pulsed through her in the bar.
His gaze dropped, lingered over her lips, her breasts. Her lungs seized up. She stood cemented in place, unable to breathe. Her heart nearly beat from her chest.
And his eyes turned darker, hotter, more dangerous. As if he knew what she was thinking. As if he wanted to kiss her, too.
And then he drilled his gaze into hers. “Like I told you before, darlin.’ No way in hell.” He turned on his heel and strode back to his horse.
She pulled in a tremulous breath. “I’ll pay you.”
“I don’t need your money.” He strapped his rifle to his horse, adjusted a pack.
“Then why won’t you help me?”
He checked the horse’s cinch. “I’ve got commitments. I need to make another freight run over the mountains before the rains hit. And it’s too dangerous.”
“I’m not scared.”
“You should be.” His eyes snagged hers again, and shivers ran over her skin. “There aren’t many women up here. You’d be a target for every renegade in Peru.”
“I’ve made it this far. And I’ve got a gun.”
He scoffed. “You’ve got no idea what you’re up against.”
“Sure I do.” She’d faced a few tough moments on her trip so far, but she’d survived. And she wasn’t weak or afraid. “I can handle myself.”
He stalked back toward her. And before she could guess his intention, he stepped close and grasped her chin. He leaned over her, so close his thighs brushed hers. Her breath backed up in her lungs.
“You think you can stop a man who wants you?” His voice was graveled now, raw, and his dark eyes burned into hers. “Hell, you think you could fight me off?”
She trembled, lost in those hot, hot eyes, the feel of his callused thumb on her throat. “You wouldn’t hurt me,” she whispered. “I trust you.”
“Then you’re a fool. Because I stopped playing the hero a long time ago.” His eyes stayed on hers for a beat, long enough for her to see his anger, his desire, and then he dropped his hand and stepped back.
She swayed, shaken by the stark intensity in his hungry eyes, her nearly overpowering urge to pull him close.
“I’ll take you to the next village over,” he said, his voice stripped flat now. “I need to pick up my string of llamas and board my horse. Someone there can take you to a safer town.”
He strode back to his horse, launched himself into the saddle, then rode up to where she still stood. He hauled her up, and she settled behind him, wrapped her arms around his back.
But if he thought she’d given up trying to convince him, he was wrong. Because her people needed that dagger. And no matter what happened, she couldn’t let them down.
His soft curse brought her attention back to the village. “What is it?” She scanned the streets, saw the three men mounting their mules. Her pulse sped up, and she gnawed her lip. “They won’t follow us, will they?”
“You can bet on it.”
She swallowed, and a nervous flutter invaded her chest. She didn’t need more danger dogging her trail -- that mysterious man she’d glimpsed was enough. “So what are we going to do?”
“Ride like hell.”
He wheeled the horse around, prodded him into a run. But as they thundered up the road and into the mountains, she remembered the hunger in Logan’s eyes, that thrilling heat.
And she wondered who was the greater threat -- the outlaws or Logan Burke.
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Copyright 2008 by Gail Ellen Barrett. Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.