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A night breeze swept down from the peaks of the Wind River Mountains and cooled the high Wyoming prairie. At his home five miles outside Dumont, Sheriff Jake Wolf opened his arms wide and welcomed the wind against his bare chest. His arms stretched over his head for a couple of modified jumping jacks. His twelvehour workday was over. Thankfully, there had been no major catastrophes. No sniper attacks. No bomb explosions. No murderous abductions.
After he adjusted his jeans on his hips, he picked up a basketball and began to dribble slowly. The smack of the ball against concrete reminded him of his glory days at the Wyoming Indian High School when the Chiefs had won their first state tournament. Basketball meant more to him than the powwow drumming and the traditions of his Arapaho people. The first thing he did when he'd bought this twostory, cedarframe house was mount a hoop and backboard above the garage doors. Earlier this summer, he'd hung a couple of floodlights so he could play after dark.
He made a quick pivot in his sneakers, dodging an invisible foe and went in for a layup. Swish through the net. Two points. He backed up, dribbled, aimed a hook shot. Another score. The physical exertion felt great. He ran and shot, ran and shot. Sometimes a hit, sometimes a miss. He wanted to sweat, to get his blood pumping, to feel alive. All day long he'd been clenching his fists, holding on to his selfcontrol while he fended off reporters, coordinated with other law enforcement agencies and investigated a series of crimes the likes of which Wind River County had never seen. It all started a few weeks ago when the princes and sheiks of four island nations in the Mediterranean arrived for a summit meeting at the exclusive Wind River Ranch and Resort. The trouble wasn't over yet; Sheik Amir Khalid was still missing.
Jake ran back for a threepointer, turned and shot. The ball dropped neatly through the hoop. Nothing but net, baby.
"And the crowd goes wild." His sister, Maggie, strolled from the twostory cedar house. "Come inside and eat. I made a recipe from the Food Network. Linguini with meatballs."
"Not hungry." With the way his sister cooked, he expected the meatballs to be the consistency of petrified elk droppings.
"Come on, Jake. You're in decent shape for an old man of thirtyone, but you need to watch it. You're going to get too skinny and no woman will have you."
"Says the worldly nineteenyearold."
"Seriously." She knocked the ball from his hand and shoved a bottle of water at him. "I'm only here for the summer. Who's going to take care of you when I'm back in college?"
"I'll manage." Before the royals came to town, his time had been structured and sane. Usually, he'd come home for a lunch break when he tended to the three horses in the barn behind the house.
"It's not like you have a social life," Maggie said. "In the time I've been here, you haven't gone on one single date."
True enough. He'd been elected sheriff less than a year ago and was still preoccupied with cleaning up the mess left behind by Big Burt Maddox, the former sheriff. He uncapped his water bottle and took a drink. "Too busy."
"The whole family is worried about you."
He had two other younger sisters. One was married. The other had a steady job in Denver. Mama still lived on the rez. When all four of these women got together, they were a force to be reckoned with. "I'm fine."
She dribbled toward the basket and made a layup. Her cutoffs and baggy Tshirt didn't match her weird curlicue hairdono doubt a style she'd picked up from some fashion program on cable. Signing up for satellite television with over two hundred channels had been a mistake; his sister was starting to quote supermodels.
She flipped the basketball back to him and said, "There's a name for what's wrong with you. The lone wolf syndrome. Just like that stupid belt buckle you always wear."
He touched his lucky pewter belt buckle with the howling wolf design. "What's wrong with this?"
"If you'd sit down for a minute, I could explain. Lucky for you, I'm majoring in psychology."
He looked toward the road and saw headlights turning off the road into his driveway. Gravel crunched under the wheels of a dark green sedan that pulled up and parked in front of his porch. A glance at his wristwatch told him that it was ninefortyseven, which was too late for a friendly visit. Now what?
A slender woman with shining black hair emerged from the driver's side. Her jacket was metallic gold, and her jeans fit like a second skin. Balanced on sandals with high platform heels, she came toward them. "Are you the sheriff? Jake Wolf?"
He nodded. "Who are you?"
She stepped onto the concrete, straightened her shoulders and announced, "I am Princess Saida Khalid of Jamala." Inwardly, he groaned. Not another royal! His sister approached the princess and attempted a curtsy that looked ridiculous in sneakers and cutoffs. "I'm Maggie, Jake's sister. Love your jacket. Is it designer?"
"Don't remember." She shrugged. "I've had it so long, it's practically vintage."
Maggie laughed as though this comment was the cleverest thing she'd ever heard. "Please come inside, Princess. Is that right? Should I call you Princess or Your Highness?"
"Call me Saida."
"Did you come here from Jamala?" Maggie frowned. "Is that far? I don't know exactly where Jamala is."
"An island nation in the Mediterranean. But I live in Beverly Hills."
Judging by Maggie's rapturous response, California was right next door to Heaven. She babbled about Hollywood and movie stars and some kind of shopping area called Rodeo Drivea place that didn't sound as though they sold saddles and bridles. She tugged at her curled hair in an attempt to match Saida's smooth bangs and straight shoulderlength style.
Nothing good could come from his sister idolizing a princess. He grabbed his dark blue uniform shirt from the ground where he'd tossed it, stuck his arms in the sleeves and fastened two buttons. "What can I do for you, ma'am?"
Saida smiled at Maggie. "Will you excuse us, please?"
"Absolutely." His sister scampered toward the house. "You're coming in, right? I have linguini."
"I'll be right there," Jake said.
"I wasn't asking you."
He knew what Maggie meant, and she was going to be disappointed. He had no intention of encouraging the princess to stay.
"I adore linguini," Saida said, "with clam sauce."
"I've got to get your recipe." Maggie rolled her eyes. "What am I saying? You don't cook for yourself. I mean"
"Maggie," Jake interrupted, "that's enough."
He was sick and tired of all this kowtowing to the royal entourage. As individuals, he'd come to respect the princes; they were decent men stuck in a bad situation. But he was more than ready for them to get the hell out of Wind River County.
As Maggie disappeared into the house, Saida strode across the basketball court toward him. She made direct eye contact, compelling him to meet her gaze. A striking woman with flawless olive skin and full lips, she was as pretty as the models in his sister's magazines. Looking into her caramelcolored eyes, he was surprised by the depth of sadness he saw there.
"You must help me." She grasped his arm, and he felt the trembling in her fingers. "Please. Help me find my brother."
Her pain was honest, not a facade. He could tell that her heart was aching, and her vulnerability touched him. He'd always been a sucker for the underdog; it was his nature to protect those who couldn't fend for themselves.
But he doubted that the princess fell under that category. She had too many advantages. Not only was she rich and royal but her beauty was an undeniable asset. All she needed to do was flutter those thick, black eyelashes and most men would jump to do her bidding.
Very deliberately, he removed her hand from his arm. "Amir went missing a while ago. Why are you coming here now?"
"Do you think I waited because I don't care about my brother?"
Or she was too busy getting a manicure. "Why now?"
"All my life, my brother has tried to shelter me. He's almost ten years older than I am. His friendsSheik Efraim and the othersthought they were doing as Amir would wish when they told me not to worry, that everything was fine." Her amber eyes flashed. "They lied to me."
A harsh judgment. Even if the princes had deceived her, news reporters and paparazzi had been all over this case. "You must have seen the reports."
"The media." She flicked her hand as if swatting an irritating gnat. "I know better than to believe what I see on the ten o'clock news. I thought I could trust my brother's friends. But I've given up on them. They won't answer my questions. The FBI agents refused to speak to me. I have come to you to hear the truth."
"Lucky me," he muttered.
"I read about you on the internet. You promised change when you ran for sheriff. You want to help people and fight corruption. There were some amazing endorsements."
He eyed her skeptically. "If you've been in this country for any time at all, you must know that you can't believe much of what's said during a campaign."
"I've lived in America since I was sixteen."
That must be why she had only a slight accent, just a hint of the exotic.
She continued, "It's true that politicians will say anything to win. But you're different. I trust you."
He had a pretty good idea that she was shining him on to get what she wanted. "You figured out that I'm trustworthy by looking me up on the internet?"
Her full lips parted in a smile, showing off her perfect, white teeth. When she leaned toward him, he caught a whiff of perfume that smelled like mint and peaches. Her nearness was having an effect on him. As Maggie never tired of pointing out, he hadn't been with a woman for quite a while.
"Now that I've met you," she purred, "I know that I made the right choice. I read all about you, Jake. You're Native American."
"Arapaho," he said.
"Is that like Navajo?" Her hand rested on her hip and she struck a calculated pose with her head cocked to one side. "I simply adore turquoise jewelry."
"Perhaps you could explain it to me. I'm very interested."
The woman was flirting her cute little tail off. Jake had three sisters; he knew how these feminine games were played. "Don't waste my time, Princess."
"Will you help me?"
"I'll do my job. My department and the local police and the FBI are looking for your brother, but a lot of time has passed. He might not even be in this area."
"He's not dead." She spoke with sudden sincerity. "If Amir had died, I would have felt his absence as surely as if part of my soul had been ripped away."
In the blink of an eye, she'd gone from flirty to serious. The transformation impressed him. "I'm sorry, Saida."
"Please. Tell me what happened. The truth."
He could give her that much. "It was late at night. The other royals and their entourages had returned to Wind River Ranch and Resort. Your brother set out in one of the limos with a driver. We don't know his destination. There was nothing remarkable about the area where the car bomb exploded."
Saida sucked in a breath. "And then?"
"The driver was killed in the explosion. There were indications that your brother was injured. His blood was found at the scene." He paused. "I can't show you the forensics reports, but the CSI was Jane Cameron, and she's good."
"What did she find?"
"Tire tracks showed an unidentified vehicle at the scene. A witness saw him exit the burning limo so we know he was still alive at that point, but there hasn't been any communication from him."
Her brow furrowed. "You're leaving out a lot."
"I am," he readily admitted. "I could write four books about the things that have happened since Amir disappeared."
"I have time," she said.
He glanced toward the house where his sister hovered in the doorway, waiting for him to bring their royal visitor inside. "It's best if you go to the resort where the other royals and their bodyguards are staying. You could be in danger."
"The attack on my brother might have been politically motivated," she said. "Our four nations "
"COIN." He used the acronym. "The Coalition of Island Nations."
"Yes, COIN owns extensive oil resources. We have enemies, including the Russian mob, who would do anything to gain control of our wealth."
"And these dangerous people could come after you."
"Not me," she said. "As a woman, I have no power in Jamala. The leadership of the country would never pass to me. It's my destiny to be forever a princess. Never a true leader."
He heard an edge of bitterness in her voice. There was something fascinating about her, but he couldn't allow himself to get tangled in her web. "For tonight, you have a choice. Either you can go to the resort, or I can turn you over to the FBI for protective custody."
She waved her manicured hands in front of her face. Her fingernails had purple tips. "I can't be in custody. I have to be free to investigate."
"Then it's the resort." He walked toward the house. "Let me get my keys, and I'll follow you in my car to make sure you get there safely. Tomorrow, you can call me for an update."
"If you won't help, I'll pursue my own investigation." That had to be one of the worst ideas he'd ever heard.
He couldn't imagine Saida flouncing through the streets of Dumont and asking questions. She'd stand out like a giraffe in a herd of prairie dogs.
Before he could object, she went to her car, started the engine and backed away from the porch.
He ran inside and grabbed his keys from the table by the door. Maggie glared at him. "What did you say to her? Why did you chase her off?"
"Because that woman is trouble."
"Lone wolf," she snapped. "You and Saida would make a really cute couple."
He couldn't believe she was playing matchmaker. "Trust me, Maggie. If I ever settle down, it won't be with a highmaintenance princess. No matter how pretty she is."
His sister beamed. "You think she's pretty?"
"She's not for me."
When he stepped outside onto the porch, he saw the taillights of a truck on the twolane road beyond his driveway. A black sedan followed. Both were driving fast, and they seemed to be in formationin pursuit of the princess.