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It was creepypacking away the personal belongings of a guest who nobody knew was dead or alive. Beth Taylor, head of housekeeping at the luxury Wind River Ranch and Resort, unlocked the door to one of the exclusive plush suites and pushed it open.
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 man.
"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 them."
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 behind her.
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 king-size 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 the closet.
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 returned.
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 stayed safe.
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 bottom.
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 page.
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 threatened.
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 threats.
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 hottest-looking 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 her.
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 stomach.
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 allowed it.
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 think about."
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 room.
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 walking.
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 other guests.
Sebastian had left a week ago to return to the country of Barajas where he and Antoine were co-rulers, 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 Antoine again.
"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. She'd lied.
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 lineshe'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 them.
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 doorway.
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."