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Trouble was coming.
The warning shivered down Logan Burke's neck like the graze of a cobweb, that whisper of danger, danger, he'd learned not to ignore. He knocked back his shot of whiskey, hissed as it scorched a raw, hot path through his gut, then slid his left hand to the Imbel .45 tucked into the waistband of his jeans.
The men lurking in the shadows of the cantina shifted, and the muscles along Logan's broad shoulders tensed. He eased himself into shooting position, flicked his gaze to the open door.
The newcomer stood in the doorway, backlit by sunlight, but there was no mistaking her long, slender legs and female curves.
He sucked a long, slow breath through his teeth. Trouble was right. A woman in this hellhole meant gunfights, bloodshed.
But damned if the blood would be his.
She strolled into the cantina, and the outlaws tracked her, watching her with feral eyes. These men were renegades, ex-guerrillas and terrorists hiding beyond civilization in a remote Andean village laid waste by poverty and war. Men with nothing to lose. Men waiting to die.
Men he just might have to kill.
The woman seemed oblivious to the danger. She sauntered straight toward him across the packed dirt floor, her fine-boned chin raised, the hips in those snug jeans swinging to the kind of sweet, sensual beat that compelled a man to watch. She drew closer, and he made out high, exotic cheekbones, dark, tilted eyes. And round, ripe breasts that shifted beneath her T-shirt, daring a man to touch, to taste, to take.
The men stirred. Mutters broke the tight silence. The air reeked of testosterone.
"Logan Burke?" Her voice was throaty, low-pitched. And anyhope he had of avoiding trouble died.
"I'm Dara Adams." She pulled a small pack off her shoulder, held out a slender hand. The motion swept her thick, black braid past her hips.
He ignored the hand, slid his gaze across the dim room to assess the danger. Three men. Five empty bottles. Enough firepower to run a war.
But armed or not, he knew these men wouldn't challenge him outright. They were cowards by nature, hyenas who skulked in the shadows, finding strength in packs. They'd watch, wait until they could shoot him in the back.
This woman would give them the courage to try.
She pulled her hand back. Her dark eyes flashed, and a flush climbed up her cheeks. "I need to talk to you. I heard you could help me."
"You heard wrong."
She blinked. Her sultry lips parted. "But you don't even know what I want."
"Doesn't matter." He worked alone, lived alone, never got involved. That was the rule he lived by. The rule he'd die by.
The one rule he could never forget. His wife's death had guaranteed that.
"Of course it matters." She frowned, glanced back at the outlaws. "Can we go somewhere to talk? Alone? I have a proposition for you." She lowered her voice. "I promise it's worth your while."
The edge of his mouth ticked up. And for a second he indulged himself, letting his gaze slide over those erotic lips and creamy throat, those perfect, tempting breasts.
Hunger kicked low in his gut.
"A business proposition," she added, sounding breathless, and he tugged his gaze back up.
"Sorry. I'm not interested."
"But I've spent three weeks trying to find you." Her voice rose. "I've hiked all over Peru."
"Then you wasted your time."
"Listen, darlin'. Let's make this clear. Real clear." He leaned close, locked his gaze on those harem eyes, tried not to inhale her female scent. "Whatever you want, the answer is no. No way in hell."
He slapped a coin on the bar, touched the brim of his leather hat, then strode across the silent room. He angled his shoulders and ducked through the open doorway, hoping she had the sense to do the same.
Because damned if he'd go back and save her.
He paused, squinted in the blazing sunshine, then headed down the dirt road to where he'd tied his horse. It didn't matter what she wanted. He knew better than to get involved with a woman like her, even for business. He'd have every renegade in Peru on his tail.
Determined to forget the woman in the bar, he strode past the crumbling huts, their thatched roofs and mud walls destroyed by warring senderistas and drug lords. His horse nickered, bobbed his head as he approached.
"Hey, Rupper." He rubbed the gelding's forehead and ears, grinned when the horse bumped him back. Rupe was a fifteen-hand Peruvian Paso, spirited and smart, five centuries of brio breeding evident in every step. And Logan hated to leave him behind on this trip. But he had a job to do—silver to haul— and he needed his sure-footed llamas for that.
He flipped a coin to the Quechua kid who'd begged to watch the horse. The boy's white teeth flashed in a smile. "Yuspagarachu." Thank you. He darted off barefoot down the rutted lane.
Logan tightened the horse's cinch and checked his packs, made sure the dynamite and his AK-47 were undisturbed. He doubted anyone would have touched them. His reputation was deadly enough to keep most thieves away. But a man didn't stay alive in these mountains by letting his guard down.
His thoughts swerved back to the woman in the bar. He frowned, glanced up the empty road, and an uneasy feeling gnawed at his gut. What was she doing in the cantina for so long? He'd expected her to be out by now, heading safely down that road toward some town.
He shoved the worry aside. She wasn't his problem. He wouldn't let her be. He couldn't fail another woman like he had his wife.
And he couldn't afford to waste more time here. He glanced at the mountains looming above him, scanned the ancient Inca terraces that ringed the distant peaks. The sunshine was deceptive. The seasonal rains would hit any time now, turning the trails to mud. He'd have to hustle to get that last load of silver over the mountains before the passes closed.
Scowling, he swung himself into the saddle, nudged the gelding's flanks, and set off. The horse pranced sideways, tossed his head, oddly nervous in the quiet air, as if menace lurked in the abandoned huts.
And Logan felt just as restless. He scanned the deserted hovels, the faded graffiti on the crumbling rock walls. It was too quiet. Even the pigs and stray dogs were lying low. And that damned sense of danger, danger kept bludgeoning his nerves.
Then suddenly, a gunshot shattered the silence. Birds scattered and took to the sky. He jerked the rifle from his pack, wheeled his horse back toward the cantina and swore.
He'd been right. That woman was going to cause trouble.
Thank goodness she'd brought a gun.
Dara Adams stood with her back to the cantina door, her heart careening against her rib cage, the blast from her pistol still thundering in her ears. She steadied the gun in her trembling hand, took another step toward the open door.
"Stay back. Aléjense" she warned the three thugs who'd tried to stop her. Her shot had missed them, just taken out some bottles behind the bar. But at least it had forced them back.
But not for long.
She lifted her chin to stare them down, but their mean eyes, fueled by pisco and whiskey, glittered back. There were three of them, one of her. And slung over their ponchos were the deadliest weapons she'd ever seen.
They crept closer, fanning out this time, and her heart wobbled into her throat. "I said get back," she said again, sharper now, determined not to let them see her fear.
God, she didn't need this. Her forehead pounded from the too-thin air. She was spooked about the man she'd spotted following her for the past three weeks. And she was exhausted after trekking through endless villages, searching for the elusive Logan Burke.
And now that she'd finally found him, she couldn't let him get away.
She moved closer to the door, getting ready to run. But one of the outlaws lunged. She leaped back, her pulse rocketing, and raised her pistol to fire. But he caught her wrist, twisted hard, and a sharp bolt of pain shot up her arm. She gasped and dropped the gun.
He jerked her close, and she shoved back, fighting to loosen his hold. But he was strong. He pulled her tighter against him and groped her breast.
Outraged, her fear for her safety growing, she struggled to knee him, gagging on the stench of unwashed flesh. But he twisted her arm higher, trapping her against him. The men behind them laughed.
And that made her even madder. She despised bullies like this, cowards who preyed on the weak. As the Roma princess—royal representative of the Gypsies—she'd witnessed the hatred and discrimination her people endured. And she refused to let this bully win.
Furious, she struck out with her free hand, clawed at his face, slammed her hiking boot into his shin. He grunted, loosened his hold, and she managed to stumble back.
She caught her balance, her breath coming fast, but she couldn't reach her gun. The man circled her, fury contorting his face.
"Agdrrala, pendejo" one of the other men taunted, then laughed. And she realized with a sudden chill the danger she was in. She'd humiliated him, enraged him. And now he wanted revenge.
He leaped forward, lunged for her arm. She jumped to the side and whipped back.
"Problem, boys?" a lazy, graveled voice drawled from the doorway. The thug hesitated, looked up, and Dara's breath rushed from her lungs.
He'd come back.
She dragged in air, shook her aching wrist, took advantage of the distraction to dart over and pick up her gun. Then she turned and faced the man who'd saved her.
He filled the doorway with his muscled frame, looking every inch the desperado. His eyes were dark and grim beneath his battered hat, his mouth a lethal slash. He radiated danger, ruth-lessness, from the black beard stubble darkening his rigid jaw to the assault rifle trained on the thugs. His powerful maleness made her nerves race.
Seconds passed. Tension vibrated in the stifling air.
Then suddenly, Logan's gun barked. The blast sprayed up dirt, roared in her ears, and she flinched back in shock. She gaped from Logan to the men at the bar, and the man who'd attacked her inched up his hands.
She hadn't even seen him move. But Logan had—and he'd made his point. All three men shuffled back.
"Go wait by my horse," Logan told her. His eyes never veered from the men.
She opened her mouth to argue. "Now," he added, his deep voice hard.
She stiffened. She didn't take orders, didn't let others fight her battles for her.
But then she caught the flat, mean stare of the man who'd touched her, and her dread rose. She'd made an enemy here, a dangerous one. Maybe she'd be smart to leave.
She hurried out the door into the dusty road, spotted a huge black gelding standing by some mules. His sleek coat gleamed in the sunshine. Muscles rippled in his powerful neck. He wore a worked silver browband across his strong forehead, two oiled leather packs draped over his flanks. Logan's horse. He looked as dangerous as his owner did.
Logan strode from the cantina a second later. He glanced at her, his dark eyes shadowed beneath the brim of his hat, then vaulted into the saddle and reached out his hand. "Come on."
She blinked, hesitated. "We're going to ride double?" She was a Gypsy—Roma—and proper Roma women didn't get that close to men. But then, nothing about this trip was proper.
"Unless you want to stay here."
She flicked her gaze back to the cantina, then shivered hard. "No, thanks."
She stuck her pistol in her backpack and grabbed his hand. His palm was warm, callused, his strength impressive as he tugged her up. She swung her leg awkwardly over the horse, settling behind the saddle on the horse's rump.
"Hold on," he warned. He wheeled the horse around, and she clutched his shirt. The horse took off at a lope.
She gasped at the burst of speed, wrapped her arms around Logan's waist to keep from falling off. She buried her face in his shirt, inhaled the comforting scent of wool and man, felt his solid muscles bunch under her hands. The gelding streaked down the road, flying over rocks and ruts in easy strides, making the huts pass by in a blur.
They fled the tiny village, scaled a rocky hillside, then raced down a dusty trail. The horse's hooves drummed on the sunbaked earth. The warm wind lashed at her eyes. Minutes later, they reached a sparse stand of pine trees and slowed.
"Are you all right?" Logan asked.
"Sure." But she realized she was plastered against him, probably squeezing the air from his lungs. She pried her hands from his waist and leaned back.
But even with the added space between them, it still seemed strangely intimate to be sitting so close to him, with only the edge of the saddle separating their thighs. Unsettling.
But then, everything about Logan Burke unnerved her. He wasn't at all what she'd expected. When her archeologist colleague had urged her to contact him—the only man rumored to know the ancient trails—she'd envisioned a grizzled old tracker, not this virile man in his prime.
She ran her gaze over the straight black hair edging his collar beneath his hat, the strong, sinewed lines of his neck. He cradled the assault rifle in one big hand, held the reins in the other with practiced ease. He'd rolled his sleeves to his elbows, exposing tanned forearms roped with tendons. Faded jeans gloved his muscled thighs.
Flutters rose in her belly, pranced through her nerves. She couldn't deny that the man appealed to her in a very basic way.
But she'd come here to get to Quillacocha, not ogle Logan Burke. She squinted in the brilliant sunshine, gazed at the distant peaks edged with snow. The ancient city was up there in the wilderness somewhere. And only this man knew where it was.
Now she had to convince him to take her there.
They rounded the cluster of pines. Logan leaned back and hauled on the reins. The horse danced sideways and stopped.
He glanced at her over his wide shoulder. "How did you get to the village?"
"I hitched a ride partway, then hiked the rest." Her stomach growled in protest. She'd hoped to find food in the village, but the place was little more than a shelled-out ghost town. And she hadn't had a chance to eat in the bar.
He muttered something she didn't catch. "Slide off," he said. He grabbed her arm, and she dropped to the ground, then stepped away from the horse in case he kicked.
Logan leaped easily down beside her, and she realized again
how big he was. At five-six, she wasn't tiny, but she barely reached his chin. He looped the horse's reins over a branch, then strode through the trees to a rocky outcrop, still carrying his gun. She followed more slowly, rubbing her bottom and stretching her arms.