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By Allison Leigh
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Oh, hell, you can't be serious."
Tyler Murdoch muttered the words aloud even though there was no one to hear.
He squinted against the sunlight - particularly bright and unrelenting as it reflected against the limitless expanse of arid, tan dirt surrounding the minuscule airfield - and focused on the woman who'd just stepped outside. There was only one small patch of shade afforded by the utilitarian building that served the so-called aeropuerto and she'd paused in it. But that didn't mean he couldn't see her just fine.
He wished he couldn't see her just fine. Then he could pretend that she wasn't the person he was there to meet.
Despite the checklist in his hand, he looked her way again. No way could she be the linguistics expert he was to hook up with before flying down to Mezcaya. No damn way.
But he had a bad feeling in his gut that she was.
And Tyler Murdoch trusted his gut instincts. They'd kept him alive too many times in his thirty-five years of life to be disregarded now just because he didn't like the way that woman looked standing over there in that patch of shade. Besides, he'd checked the airfield from east to west and knew that the site was secure. The dust-coated SUV that had arrived and had hastily departedonly minutes ago had been exactly the vehicle that Tyler had been watching for. There was no reason for anyone else to be here at this carefully and deliberately abandoned airfield other than the person he was there to meet.
He managed not to swear a blue streak and looked away from her to focus on the clipboard in his hand. But he knew the checklist of supplies by heart and all he saw in his mind was the woman.
No, he didn't like the way the woman looked. The last thing he needed was to be distracted by some female on an op this important. Westin's life depended on Tyler. There was no damn way he'd fail his former commander; he owed the man too much.
None of which alleviated the impatience rising in him, or his annoyance with his superiors for sticking him with that woman. Everyone knew he didn't like working with females. He didn't care what kind of statement that made about him. He wasn't interested in being politically correct, nor was he particularly concerned with equality between the sexes. As far as Tyler was concerned, a woman could sell out her country just as easily as a man.
God knows Sonya had.
He reached through the open door of the plane and tossed the clipboard into the cockpit where it landed next to the captain's seat. His seat.
He might be in charge of this expedition down to Mezcaya, but he was well and truly stuck with Miss Universe over there standing in the shade.
He'd been told his linguistics expert was a native of Mezcaya who'd been in Embassy service for a while, but Tyler was damned if he could see how. From this distance, she looked too young to have done much of anything. Except maybe graduate from college. Maybe.
But then, Sonya hadn't exactly been decrepit with age, either, and she'd managed to cause plenty of damage.
Disgusted with thoughts that were too old to be plaguing him now, Tyler spun on his heel and deliberately strode toward the building. He had a mission to accomplish, and no one, particularly a beautiful woman, was going to get in his way.
It was the heat, Marisa told herself, that made her feel unsteady on her feet. The heat. And maybe a touch of nervousness over the opportunity she'd been presented. It was just so important. If she could only succeed at this, so much could be changed.
The heat and nervousness. Yes, that was all.
She kept her hands folded loosely over the handle of her slender briefcase by sheer willpower. What she wanted to do was run a hand over her hair; make sure that the unruly waves were still neatly contained in the chignon at her nape. She wanted to shield her eyes from the glare of the sun that even the small overhang above her could not soften.
She watched the dirt cloud up in small puffs around the man's heavy, laced boots as he approached, and told herself firmly that she did not want to turn tail and run. She'd endured things far worse than that steady, grim glare of his. Much worse.
The thought ought to have steadied her. It unsettled her that it didn't. So she schooled her expression and stared right back. Right up until the moment when he stopped, a mere yard away. If it was possible, his hair was even darker than hers. No glints of red, no strands of chestnut, or even silver. It was jet-black. Not quite military short, but definitely an uncompromisingly no-fuss cut. And it suited the blade of his nose, the sharp cheekbones and hard jaw. There was nothing at all about his hard appearance, including the camouflage pants and khaki T-shirt that strained against his broad shoulders to suggest he was anything but what he was - a warrior.
Pressing her lips softly together, she inhaled deeply and kept her leather-shod feet firmly planted. She'd been warned that Tyler Murdoch might be somewhat difficult to work with - his expression certainly indicated just that - but she was on this mission whether he liked it or not.
She stuck out her hand in greeting. "Mr. Murdoch."
His eyes, as darkly brown as the coffee her abuela had fixed every morning of her childhood, flickered disinterestedly over her outstretched hand. "They didn't tell me that M. Rodriguez was a woman."
As a beginning, it could have been worse. It also could have been better. "Marisa," she supplied, aware of the difference between his softly drawling speech - pure U.S. of A - and her speech that still held a trace of her homeland no matter how many diction classes Gerald had foisted upon her.
She finally lowered her hand and took a slender envelope from the pocket of her briefcase. She held it out. "A letter from the former ambassador to Mezcaya."
He took the envelope from her, sliding it in his back pocket without a second look. "Do you have any other ID?"
Excerpted from The Mercenary by Allison Leigh Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.