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Danger stalked his land.
Amir Jalil Hakim Ibn Hamad, Prince of Duraza, felt the dark weight of that growing peril. Facing east, he reined in his stallion and scanned the high plateau from Eagle Mountain in the northern volcanic ridge of his province, Qasim, to as far west and south as he could see.
All looked serene. In the distant valley, fields of drought-resistant wheat ripened in the early morning heat. Higher up the mountainsides, cultivated Argan trees grew heavy with nuts.
Riyad, the capitol city of Qasim, glowed in the autumn sunshine. In the four years he'd governed, the buildings had gradually been repaired and given fresh coats of whitewash. Mosaic inlays had been cleaned and restored, and flowers bloomed again in walled gardens. Beyond them, the new hospital and office buildings proclaimed the growing prosperity.
He studied the barns and fenced pastures north of his palace. Yearlings peacefully grazed or raced across a green pasture. In another, brood mares contentedly cropped grass, or raised finely modeled heads to watch the frolicking yearlings.
On the surface, it looked peaceful. But underneath, menace lurked like a wily, old lion waiting in ambush for unwary prey.
Jalil tightened his hands on the reins. This predator had a name–Tarif Asad Ibn Kalif Hamad–traitor and exiled prince of Duraza. His attempt to seize the throne had nearly cost the life of Jalil's father.
"Uncle Hamad…" Jalil muttered, once more regretting a rebellious act in his teens.
His uneasiness communicated itself to Fire Dancer. The Arab stallion nervously stepped sideways, and Jalil patted his mount'sneck.
For three days, the awareness of menace had grown. This morning it was far more intense. Why couldn't he see? For once, his special ability to glimpse the future had deserted him. Instead, he caught images of rich red hair and sapphire-blue eyes. Why did Rose Maguire intrude into his thoughts? They'd only talked once since the night of that single, explosive kiss.
He'd left the next morning to help his father and brother defend their country from a coup by Tarif. From the moment he'd returned to the university, Rose had made it clear she didn't want to continue their friendship. After that, she'd ignored him.
Probably just as well. I can't afford to be attracted to any woman not of Durazan birth.
At the sight of a helicopter coming toward his palace, Jalil's speculations were cut short. He directed Fire Dancer down the steep path, and kept track of the aircraft.
He relaxed when he saw the blue against white–Duraza's colors–and the gold trim of his brother, Kadar, now the sultan.
At that moment, Jalil's scalp prickled with a premonition. Kadar carries with him the key to both peril and the chance of a rich future for Qasim and Duraza.
By the time Jalil had given his stallion into the care of the stable master and strode to the landing pad, the royal helicopter had landed and the whirling blades were already slowing.
Ali, Captain of the Palace Guard, had formed his men into an honor guard to greet Sultan Kadar.
Moments after Jalil took his place at the beginning of the double line, the door popped open and Kadar jumped down to the ground carrying a brown leather sports bag.
Jalil heard the rustle of movement behind him when each man in the guard placed right fist over heart in salute.
Copyright © 2003 by Barbara Clark