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Prince Under Cover
By Adrianne Lee
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMartha's Vineyard
"Hurry, Javid," Zahir Haji Haleem urged his twin as they raced up the stairs to the second level of their American grandparents' Victorian summer house, their movements as quick and furtive as the warm, sea-scented breeze stealing in through the open windows.
Their destination: the attic, that forbidden refuge of irresistible treasures - Grandfather Hayward's stash of antique war relics, daggers, swords, helmets and rifles. All were tinged with a musty scent of bygone days, of mysterious lands, of adventurous times, their lure irresistible. Especially after Nana Hayward, ever fussing at Grandfather about the dangers of weapons and "boys being boys," insisted he store "that junk" away under lock and key. Grandfather had informed Nana that what she called "junk" belonged in a museum. She'd suggested he put them in one, but he refused to part with even one item. In the end, he'd stored them in the attic not only under lock and key, but with an alarm system for protection against theft.
The rattle of the keys Zahir had taken from Grandfather's desk brought Javid up short. He hesitated as Zahir worked the right key, disarmed the alarm, shoved the door wide and quickly ducked inside.
Torn between the pull of temptation andthe push of wrongdoing, Javid held back, weighing the pros and cons of disobeying Father. He could no more help his prudent nature than Zahir seemed able to help his reckless one. His brother was forever rushing into mischief as though he didn't understand right from wrong, as though he hadn't been taught the same virtues as Javid, as though his DNA makeup was the polar opposite to Javid's.
But that was impossible. They were identical, their fourteen-year-old faces mirror images, down to their pitch-black hair and date-brown eyes, down to their love of competition, their need to win.
But there were differences. The boys - sons of Anna Hayward, American playwright; and Salim Rizk Haleem, Emir of Anbar, a small oil-rich nation on the Arabian Gulf - had inherited traits, good and bad, from both parents' diverse gene pools.
While Javid hated incurring Father's disapproval, Zahir, who would one day succeed to the throne of Anbar, seemed to relish it, as though his manhood relied on his asserting his will, on defying authority. Javid, younger by five minutes but quicker both mentally and physically, worried that this streak in his brother was more than defiance. There had always been in his twin something ruthless - something dark and indefinable.
"I've found the case, Javid. Come." There followed a click of a latch being opened. "Ahh."
Zahir's sigh held pleasure as thick as the velvet protecting the specially lined case that cradled the matching daggers, and despite Javid's struggle with right and wrong, he was seduced into the attic by the thrill swirling in his belly. He hurried to Zahir's side, shoved back a hank of unruly raven hair and eyed the weapons, the prize of Grandfather's treasures. Father had given them to Grandfather on the day of the twins' birth. One had been forged in Anbar, the hilt shaped like the head of a king cobra, the other forged in America, the hilt shaped like a bald eagle. The daggers represented the equal halves of the twins' heritage. More than once, the boys had been warned not to touch the dangerous weapons - which made touching them ever more tantalizing.
Zahir fingered the solid gold hilt shaped like the head of a king cobra. Full-carat rubies served as eyes. The twenty-two-inch blades were curved at the tip and honed to razor-keen edges.
"Careful," Javid cautioned as his brother lifted the bald eagle-headed dagger and presented it to him, hilt first.
Javid gathered the handle in both hands, surprised at the heft, at the surge of something almost electric that undulated from his grip into his flesh, heating his veins as though the weapon possessed the potency of lightning, as though it had imbued him with the power and strength of the eagle. A grin tugged at his mouth, and he lifted his gaze to meet his brother's.
Zahir's handsome face was alight with wicked pleasure, and Javid's guilt at touching the forbidden object dissolved in a soft chuckle. He hoisted the blade chest level and took an offensive stance learned in fencing classes. "I am Khalaf, Sheik of Imad, come to slay the Emir of Anbar and claim his country as my own."
"I will see your blood ground into the sands, hyena," Zahir spat, accepting the challenge with a fierce arch of one ebony eyebrow. He raised his dagger, the curved blade glinting in the lamplight as it connected with Javid's. The ensuing metallic click echoed in the vast attic, but neither boy feared discovery. The adults had walked into town and would be gone for at least an hour.
The swordplay ensued with exuberance, the boys thrusting and parrying, leaping and sidestepping, kicking up dust as they ducked between antique dressers and tables, their excitement raising their voices.
Javid laughed, danced, light on his feet. Sweat popped across his forehead, beneath his arms, at his groin - and he grew bolder. Confident in his ability to best Zahir as he always bested him in fencing class.
They leaped and dodged and darted dangerously close several times more. But the heavy dagger was not an epée and soon its heft made Javid's arms ache from the weight. But he would not give up. Or in. Not with victory in sight. For Zahir was also tiring. He could see it on his face. Tasting triumph, he swung at Zahir as Zahir dipped toward him. Too late, he wrenched the blade back. Zahir yelped, dropping his dagger and grabbing his ear. Curses spewed from him.
Javid stood horror-stricken at the injury he'd inflicted on his brother, at the blood seeping between Zahir's fingers. All the guilt he'd abandoned earlier rushed at him now and the dagger slipped from his hand, clattering to the dusty floor near his feet. "Zahir, I'm sorry. I didn't mean -"
Zahir's furious growl cut off the apology. He lunged. His head rammed into Javid's gut, punching the wind from him, knocking him off his feet. Javid's spine smacked the floor. Zahir landed on him, pinning him down.
Blood from Zahir's wound - not to the ear, but behind it, he realized - dripped onto Javid's dusty, sweat-smudged T-shirt. He started to apologize again, but the fierce hatred emitting from his brother stilled his tongue.
"You did this on purpose. Your jealousy offends me, Javid. You must always best me. Humiliate me. As though you, and not I, deserve to be the next Emir of Anbar."
"No -" Javid choked. "Accident." Stunned at the accusation, he tried bucking Zahir off, but Zahir, in his fury, possessed inhuman strength.
"Well, that will never happen, brother." Zahir grabbed something off the floor and scooted higher on Javid's chest, cutting off his intake of air.
Then Javid saw it, the eagle-headed dagger that moments before had been his confederate. Fear shot through him. He wrenched against his twin's hold. But for once, Zahir was faster. He sliced a small X into Javid's chest, right over his heart.
Javid's breath hissed as the pain and his shock gave way to fury. "Let me up, Zahir!" Blood sprang from the wound, wetting the front of his shirt. "We're even now, brother."
"Even?" Zahir's laugh chilled Javid. "I don't want to be even. Not with you. Not with anyone."
Pure hatred shone in Zahir's eyes, a light so clear it was as if a window had opened on his soul. Javid shuddered at what he saw there. "Get off me, Zahir."
"X marks the spot." Zahir lifted the eagle-headed dagger high, the ruby eyes as bright as fresh blood. He meant to thrust the blade into Javid's chest, right through the X he'd sliced there.
"No!" Javid bucked. Twisted. Squirmed. He couldn't get free. He was going to die.
Excerpted from Prince Under Cover by Adrianne Lee Copyright © 2002 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.