Principal Enemy Mine
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[bookmark: OLE_LINK2] [bookmark: OLE_LINK1] Contents Synopsis . 2 Chapter One . 3 Chapter Two . 18 Chapter Three . 36 Chapter Four ; 53 Chapter Five . 70 Chapter Six . 87 Chapter Seven . 103 Chapter Eight 120 Chapter Nine . 136 Chapter Ten . 153 Chapter Eleven . 169 Chapter Twelve . 185 [bookmark: _Toc266110776] Synopsis DANGEROUS TERRITORY [bookmark: OLE_LINK4][bookmark: OLE_LINK3]Tyler St. James was courting disaster when she teamed up with wily [bookmark: OLE_LINK6][bookmark: OLE_LINK5]Kane Pendleton to hunt for the gold chalice. But being alone in the Colombian wilderness with a sniper on her tail made even a shaky truce with her fiercest rival look good. She and Kane had been competing for years, tracking rare art objects across the globe, delighting in their daredevil games of one-upmanship. Tyler made a living out of braving danger-and mastering it. But she couldn't control the desire, or the secret terror, Kane unleashed. Love posed a challenge too risky for the lady adventurer... until Kane showed her anything worth having was worth the dare. [bookmark: _Toc266110777] Chapter One "Pendleton! Oh, great, that's just great. It had to be you!" "Nice seeing you again, too, Tyler. Damn it, will you get your foot off my—" Tyler found a bit of purchase against his upper thigh and managed to boost herself higher. "Go to hell!" she snapped, holding on to an all too narrow ledge. "We're both likely to get there any minute now," he told her, a little winded but entirely his normal insouciant self. His left hand groped and discovered a murderously narrow crack in the rock about two feet below her shoulders; wedging his long fingers into that, he hung by one hand long enough to remove her foot from his thigh and place it on an almost nonexistent ledge she couldn't see. Tyler would have choked thanking him, but she felt more secure. Kane Pendleton worked his other hand into the crevice and pulled himself higher, the strain bunching powerful muscles beneath his khaki shirt and cording his forearms. Rock splintered a scant few inches from his shoulder, but he paid no attention even when the crack of the rifle echoed down the ravine. His boots scrabbled for a foothold, discovering one finally, and he was hanging on to the same ledge, showing her white teeth as his tanned face split in a grin. "Fancy meeting you here," he said cheerfully. Tyler ducked instinctively as another rifle shot chipped rock above her head, but her voice was as steady as it was fierce. "What're you doing here, Kane?" "The same as you, I'd bet. Work your way along the ledge; the one you're standing on gets wider a couple of feet to your left. Come on, honey, move—that guy can't keep missing us forever." "Don't call me honey!" she muttered, but began moving cautiously to her left. The ledge beneath her feet was soon wide enough to lend considerable security, and her tense fingers eased somewhat, no longer forced to bear most of her weight. Since Kane was occupying himself in finding a more secure perch, she risked a glance at him. She didn't know whether to be relieved or annoyed to see that he had changed not at all in the several months since their last encounter. Only his face, throat and forearms were bared to her sight, and she could see no scars, no recent marks on his flesh. He was, as always, darkly tanned, his big, broad-shouldered body unnervingly powerful, those beautiful long-fingered hands of his still filled with their amazing strength. He wore no hat despite the heat, and his thick, shining black hair was, as always, a little long and somewhat shaggy. A black-maned lion, she had always thought, proud and strong in the summer of his life. Annoyed with herself, Tyler returned her full attention to the task of moving along the ledge, seeking some shelter from the sporadic gunfire far below them. She sent mental advice to the part of her that wanted to look at him, reminding herself that nothing would be different this time, nothing at all. They were after the same thing—again—and neither would stop until the chalice was found and claimed. By one of them. It had been a beaten gold necklace last time, she remembered, working her way along the ledge slowly and carefully. And before that—What had it been before that? Oh, yes... An un-catalogued Rembrandt offered for sale by a private collector in France. Three years since their first meeting under the burning sun of Egypt, where they had met and fought for a golden figurine. And during those years they had clashed a dozen times all over the world. Mexico, Budapest, Hamburg, Madrid, the Sudan, Athens, Venezuela, Madagascar. To date, she thought wryly, the honors were evenly split. In twelve face-to-face confrontations, she had come away with the prize six times—and so had Kane. Tyler found it incredible that she and Kane worked for bitter rivals, two indecently wealthy men who thought nothing of sending their representatives halfway around the world in a hurried and often dangerous search for certain carefully chosen rare art objects, antiquities and artifacts. She still found it hard to believe that those two men enjoyed a mutual bitter delight in their games of one-upmanship, each spending vast amounts of money to get the objects each coveted—and to get them first. She could hardly complain that her own part in the games had not been both exciting, adventurous and profitable—all three being reasons she had taken the job in the first place. Her employer had found her in a small antique store in London, where her reputation for possessing an unerring instinct for detecting genuine antiquities over faked ones had grown so that even some museums kept her on a retainer. Robert Sayers had introduced himself, talked to her for less than an hour and then offered her a job. Tyler had been twenty-three and restless; she had spent most of her life in following her archaeologist father into some of the most remote parts of the world, and her settled life since his death had taught her nothing if not that the gypsy in her was still strong. She had been ripe for Sayers's offer. Her mind in the past, Tyler stepped off the ledge and into thin air. Her fingers scrabbled for a hold and she felt Kane's hard arm lock around her waist. "I'd hate to lose you now," he remarked, his deep voice showing none of the strain he must have felt; he was leaning outward from the cliff face to support her, one hand jammed in a crevice above them—and she was not a little woman. She managed to regain her fingertip hold on the ledge and get her feet beneath her again. "You can't lose what you've never had!" she snapped, turning her head to glare at him. "And I thought you said the ledge widened." His remarkably vivid green eyes were amused. Ignoring her second comment, he responded to the first. "Now that's a provocative thing to say. A challenge, no less." His arm tightened around her waist before releasing her. "One of these days—when we have time—we really should explore that. I wonder if I would lose you once I had you." Tyler showed him a smile that was all teeth and no humor. "Don't hold your breath, pal," she advised. Kane laughed softly. "Right. The ledge did widen by the way, and it widens again, on the other side of this spur. But we'll have to go around the tip." She looked in the opposite direction and winced, grateful that he couldn't see her expression. Unnoticed by her, the ledge they'd traversed had swung outward to follow the spur that protruded into the ravine like some granite giant's elbow. They couldn't climb higher since the cliff face was sheet-smooth, and they certainly couldn't descend into the ravine where that gunman waited with his trusty rifle. They had to go on. "Great," she muttered. "Give me your hand," he instructed, "and stay pressed against the cliff. Try to stretch your foot around to the other side; the ledge should be within reach." Tyler usually trusted Kane Pendleton about as far as she could throw a bull elephant, but she didn't hesitate to give him her hand and follow his orders. If she had learned nothing else of him during their past encounters, she had learned to trust him in times of danger. He might well pull every trick he could think of in order to beat her to whatever they both sought, but he would no more abandon a bitter enemy in trouble than he would his best friend. She fell somewhere between. And the strength of his big hand was comforting as she braced one foot on the ledge and stretched the other around the spur, keeping her body pressed to the rock. She searched blindly with that extended foot, holding her breath, feeling the rock dig into her painfully. She was no mountain climber, but this wasn't the first time she'd been forced to broaden her horizons out of the need to escape something or someone. The survival instinct, Tyler had learned, was a great motivator. Her foot finally located the ledge, and she was pinned there momentarily while her hand searched for something to hold. Then she was sliding cautiously around the point of the spur, knowing that Kane wouldn't let go until she felt secure. "Got it," she called breathlessly, all of her once more on one side of the spur. She moved along the ledge, pausing once she was a couple of feet away from the point to watch Kane work his way around. Within seconds, he appeared, moving far more easily than she. But then, he was a mountain climber. Among other things. Securely on her side of the spur, he nodded toward what looked like nothing more than a crooked gash in the face of the cliff. "There's a cave, and it's invisible from the bottom of the ravine; if we get inside fast enough, our friend with the gun may lose us." Tyler didn't waste time in working her way toward the cave, but she wondered silently how Kane could possibly know of it. Still, she didn't doubt his knowledge. Kane, damn his black-hearted soul, was always right. Always. It was enough to give a woman a complex. She slid into the narrow opening of the cave easily and stood staring, discovering that he could still surprise her. "Hey, you're blocking the door." Casting an irritated glance over her shoulder, Tyler moved farther into the cave, muttering to herself. Obviously he hadn't planned to be absent long, because he'd left a lantern on. The welcome scent of coffee filled the small cave, and Tyler's jaundiced eye took in the creature comforts that Kane always—somehow—managed to scrounge from what anyone else would consider barren wilderness. A double-sized, double-thick sleeping bag was unrolled welcomingly a short distance from a small fire burning brightly in the center of the roughly ten-by-twelve-foot cave. A backpack leaned against the wall near a rifle, with two plastic jugs of water close by. A camp chair was set up on the other side of the fire, and it was here Tyler sat, frowning at the lantern. It shouldn't have surprised her, she thought. Kane had an absolute genius of making himself comfortable wherever fate happened to drop him. He would, she knew, abandon most of his stuff before he moved on, but he'd find more later when he got tired of roughing it. He always did. She had once seen him find the only sleeping bag within two hundred miles. And he'd made it look easy. "Coffee?" he asked, folding gracefully into a cross-legged position before the fire. Even though she was thirsty, Tyler was in no mood for pleasantries. "What're you doing here?" she asked tautly Kane poured coffee into a gaily decorated ceramic mug and sipped, gazing at her with thoughtful, shuttered green eyes. 'The chalice, of course," he said, calm. 'You didn't come way the hell out here without a rifle, did you?" Tyler gritted her teeth. "No, I didn't come here without a rifle. I dropped it in the ravine when that maniac started shooting!" Kane shook his head pityingly. 'That was hardly the best time to lose your only means of defense," he pointed out. "You didn't have your rifle, either. You left it in here like the rawest tenderfoot." "Touché," he murmured. She saw the hidden smile and realized he had sidetracked her—again. It was a favorite ploy of his, and one she was ridiculously prone to accept. Determinedly she reclaimed her major grievance. "You won't get the chalice. I talked to the man who found the cache, and he—" 'Told you he'd give you the chalice if you brought the rest of the stuff back to him," Kane finished smoothly. He smiled a little as surprise and rage widened her fine amber eyes. His had been a guess, but her reaction was proof enough; they'd both been suckered. "Funny. He told me the same thing." Kane sipped his coffee and watched her while she absorbed the implications. Tyler St. James was nothing if not quick, and Kane enjoyed the play of emotions across her delicate, expressive face. He remembered those tense moments on the cliff face and kept a grin off his own face with an effort. How many women, he wondered, could have spit curses at a man while dangling from a cliff by her fingertips? With someone shooting at her? Not many. She was one in a million, Tyler was. A strong, intelligent woman with the beauty to launch ships and the courage to follow them into battle. Kane could recall a number of past occasions when he'd been glad to have her at his side when things had gotten sticky. Tyler never waited for the cavalry to come charging to the rescue, but instead grabbed a big stick and started swinging. She'd very nearly brained him once or twice. That memory helped alter admiration to uneasiness. Apparently history was about to repeat itself yet again, and the duration promised to be bothersome. A hunter by choice and by nature, Kane certainly had no objections to Tyler's company on this particular hunt—in theory, that is. He wouldn't have minded another opportunity to discover what made the lady tick, for one thing. And, as partners went, she was far better than most at this sort of thing, and unlikely to panic if things got rough—and they almost always did at some point. The trick, he thought, would be to come to some sort of understanding with her. They were rivals, after all, both after the chalice and both determined to have it. Still, with unknown dangers lying ahead of them and the gunman—who might or might not be after the cache, as well—possibly tagging along, two stood a better chance than one of making it. Kane met that amber gaze, reflecting that he'd never met another woman who hid her thoughts so well. She made no secret of her emotions, but the thoughts behind them remained enigmatic. One in a million. Her musical, deceptively gentle voice was even. "We both have the same information. The same directions to where the cache is hidden. So it's a race." "Is it?" Kane freshened his coffee, frowning a bit. Apparently going off on a tangent, he said, "I was out reconnoitering when I saw you coming along the ravine. Then that shooter chased you up on the cliff face. Since you and I were obviously both after the chalice, I thought it'd be smarter if we teamed up." "Really?" Kane kept his gaze on the coffee; he wasn't sure that his ability to hide his thoughts was as good as hers. "Why not? We make a good team. When we aren't trying to con each other six ways from Sunday, that is. This clearly isn't going to be a piece of cake, not with a trigger-happy unknown likely dogging our steps and after the same thing." "How do you know he is?" "I don't," Kane replied promptly. "But I think we'd better assume he is. We're in the middle of nowhere with no reason to draw gunfire, unless you consider a hidden cache of antiquities. So what else could he be after? And since our cagey friend back in Panama obviously decided to hedge his bets by sending two of us after the cache, it's probably safe to assume we'll run into trouble somewhere along the line." 'Trouble that a team would stand a better chance of surviving than either of us alone?" she asked dryly. "Stands to reason." "And when we find the cache—assuming we do— and get it back to Panama—assuming we do? And assuming that our friend Tomas holds up his end of the bargain and gives us what he promises? Who gets the chalice, Kane?" He ran a thumb along his jaw, half frowning and half smiling. "We draw straws? Flip a coin? Arm wrestle? Split the thing down the middle? I'm open to suggestions, Ty." "I've told you not to call me that," she said, more or less automatically. He looked vague. "Did you? I don't remember." Tyler gave him one of the looks reserved especially for him, a combination of intense suspicion and total mistrust; Kane was, she knew, about as vague as a defense computer. And about as likely to raise the flag of surrender. He was up to something. "Well? Look, Ty, we can waste time and energy in racing each other to the cache, or we can team up until we get the stuff back to Panama. Then, when we're on solid and relatively safe ground, we can decide about the chalice. Maybe we could even make like Solomon and call our respective bosses, asking which would prefer to hand the chalice over to the enemy rather than get only half." Gloomily Tyler said, "They'd both say split it, you know they would. And neither of us could do that." Kane was a little surprised that she knew that about him, but obscurely pleased as well. "We'll come up with something." Tyler studied his face, keeping her own expressionless. All things considered, she'd rather he was within sight until the chalice was found and carried safely out of Colombia; it was simply safer to know what Kane was doing whenever possible. And if there was danger to be faced, he was the next best thing to a loaded gun and a mean dog to have at her side. She smiled despite herself at the comparison, and saw Kane's green eyes drop to her mouth. And that slight flicker of his gaze brought home to her vividly the danger of spending any amount of time at all with him. Risky as it was to count him a partner for the duration, it was nothing less than insanity to place them both in the peculiar intimacy of a situation where they would be forced to depend on each other, possibly for their very survival. Their past encounters had consisted of a series of brief meetings between fiercely competitive surges of independent action as they'd each fought to claim the coveted prize first. All told, they'd spent little time together—being mostly occupied with finding ways to trick each other—but even that had been taut with a tension that was far more intense than mere rivalry could have accounted for. She could, Tyler thought, barely keep him in line now; what would happen if they turned that corner? And how did she feel about the possibility? "Ty?" For a moment she couldn't seem to breathe, but then her mind had neatly assigned Kane his proper place in her life. He was a rival. Usually an enemy. Sometimes a partner. Occasionally the strong arm that would prevent her careless dive off a cliff. Nothing more. Her breathing resumed, steady and even. "1 don't see a choice myself," she said calmly. "It looks like we're partners—for the duration." She ignored her mind's gentle siren song. Seduce an enemy and earn his loyalty. No. Not Kane. Seducing Kane for the wrong reasons would mean more than playing with fire; it would mean a blithe trek into a live volcano just to see what molten rock looked like. "Then we've agreed," he said in a brisk tone. He glanced down at the broad watch on his wrist. "Nearly sunset. Our friendly gunman out there can't get close without alerting us, so we'll stay in here tonight and get an early start tomorrow. That okay with you?" "Fine." "When did you lose your backpack?" If Tyler's teeth gritted again, at least it was a silent indication of annoyance. "When I lost the rifle." Kane didn't seem disposed to make sarcastic comments on her ineptitude. Perhaps he was mellowing. "Well, my sleeping bag's big enough for two." He met her gaze, his own mild. "Unless you object?" There was, Tyler decided, a middle ground strewn with land mines between assertive feminine independence and the coming decidedly chilly night. She swallowed her instinctive objection, determined to be rational about things. "Fine." Kane seemed not to notice her struggle. He poured more coffee into his mug and handed it to her. "Have some. I haven't eaten yet; how about you?" "Not since this morning." He reached for his backpack and opened it, digging in and producing a wide array of packaged and canned foodstuffs. Tyler watched him retrieve his Swiss Army knife from his pocket, and when he looked quizzically at her, responded haughtily. "Caviar, of course." Kane grinned, but opened the can and arranged crackers on a tin plate. "Ought to taste good with coffee," he murmured. "You mean you don't have champagne?" she demanded, offended. He reached into the backpack and produced a bottle. Tyler's mouth fell open. "Damn. And I thought I had you." "I like champagne," he responded simply. Annoyed by her inclination to giggle, Tyler set her mug aside and watched him neatly open the champagne and pour the foaming liquid into two tin cups. (For some obscure reason she'd never had the nerve to question, Kane always carried a variety of plates, cups, and utensils rather than just enough for himself. As if he always expected a party, no matter how unlikely.) She accepted a cup from him, wondering if he would propose a toast. Being Kane, he did. "To our partnership." She tapped her cup against his, a wry smile curving her lips. "Right. And let's hope we don't kill each other." "I'll buy that," he murmured. Silence fell as they sipped champagne and munched caviar and crackers. Tyler avoided looking at him, asking herself fiercely why on earth she had agreed to this. If asked to name the ten people she trusted least, she would put Kane Pendleton's name at the top of the list, underscored and in bold print. In fact, his name would probably occupy the first three places on that list. It was insane to agree to even a temporary partnership. She could grudgingly admit that the man had a basic core of integrity, some kind of private code of honor he adhered to, but she knew nothing much else about him. Oh, she knew he'd garnered survival training somewhere in his past, and that he was a sharpshooter with any handgun or rifle. That he was physically powerful and blessed with singular endurance. That he had a quick temper and quick humor. That he was smart, tough and ruthless when he had to be. That he loved antiquities even as she did, and possessed a certain rare, intuitive "feel" for them, even as she did. From their past encounters, she knew he was not cruel even to enemies, but did not hesitate to employ rough tactics if information was needed or if escape or survival depended on quick action. She knew he slept like an animal with every sense alert and that he was cool to the point of iciness under stress. But what did she really know about the man? He might well have sprung full-blown into life, there on the sands of Egypt, for she knew nothing of his background. She had no idea of where he lived or what he did between assignments. The silence was bothering her. In a casual tone, she said, "Tomas has a buyer for the cache, don't you think?" Kane nodded. "I'd say so. As a matter of fact, I think he'd lined up more than one buyer, and that he's beginning to feel the pressure. He was jumpy as hell when I talked to him." "Drugs," Tyler offered. "No, I think his vice is gambling. I got the feeling he needed a lot of money very quickly. Maybe that's why he sent the both of us after the cache; he figured one of us was bound to make it." A silence fell again. Tyler glanced across the fire at him, studying him beneath her lashes. Her interest in Tomas was fleeting; she couldn't keep her mind off Kane. There was in him, she thought, something just barely tame, a cloak of civilization hiding what lay beneath, and women always seemed to sense that; Kane drew women like a magnet drew ore. And he was attractive, possessing aside from his rough good looks a sexual aura that was almost a tactile thing. Her stomach tightened, and Tyler ordered her body to ignore that. Not that it did. He was the most physically compelling man she'd ever encountered, and in a world where various types of liberation sought to overhaul the male nature, she found his toughness of spirit and blatant sexuality more than a little attractive. Damn it. In the past she'd found her thoughts turning speculatively to him because of that. In another age he would have been a warrior, a conqueror, even a king if there had been kingdoms to be won; in this day and time he appeared on the surface to be just that slight degree out of step with the times. A throwback to a more dangerous age. And yet he never treated Tyler as if her sex made her weaker than he, as if she needed his protection. The man was an enigma. "Ready for bed?" She blinked and stared at him. "What? Oh—right." "We should move out of here before dawn if we want to lose our trigger-happy friend," he observed mildly. "So we'd better get some sleep." "Uh-huh." She shook off the uncharacteristic passivity, adding with spirit, "I hope you don't snore." "I don't. How about you?" Tyler gave him a look, set her cup aside and went over to the sleeping bag. She sat down and hauled her boots off, muttering to herself, then wiggled into the bag and tried to get as far over to one side as possible. Conscious of his watching gaze, she kept her face expressionless and hoped the heat she felt suffusing her skin wasn't visible to him. Turning her back to him, she resolutely closed her eyes, wishing she could have removed her bra; she hated sleeping in it. She listened to the faint sounds of Kane's movements, stiffening when she felt him slide into the sleeping bag beside her. He was a big man, and even the double bag was cramped with both of them inside it. She felt a weakness in her limbs when his hard body brushed hers, her breath catching despite herself. Zipped into the bag, she felt trapped, helpless, and her own vulnerability shocked her as a wave of panic swept over her. How could she defend herself? She could barely move— A hard hand grasped her shoulder, turning her over onto her back, and Kane's head blocked out the flickering firelight when his lips found hers unerringly. His kiss was rough, overpowering in its male demand, and Tyler pushed against his chest fiercely in a panicky rejection that was mental rather than physical. The banked heat inside her flared at the touch, and she almost moaned aloud in frustrated anger when she realized her mouth was opening to him, responding to him in the face of all reason and despite the cold mental panic. Her fingers curled, digging into his chest, and a dizzying wave of raw desire swept over her. Abruptly Kane broke the kiss and turned away from her. "All right," he said dryly, "I've made my move. The attempted ravishment you were worried about. Now we can go to sleep. Good night, Ty." Tyler nearly smothered trying to hide her ragged breathing, staring at him uncomprehendingly. And this time when her fingers curled, it required a supreme effort of will to keep herself from raking her nails down his back. Mentally calling him every violent thing she could think of, she turned her back to his. "Good night, Kane," she managed evenly. She thought she heard a faint chuckle from him, and spent a good ten minutes silently plotting to get even. Soon. Far below them in the ravine, the watching man saw only a dim flicker of light at the cave entrance. He stood undecided for a moment, then shrugged to himself and moved silently away. Some distance down the ravine he found the woman's backpack and rifle, and gathered them thoughtfully. He made camp out of sight and hearing of the cave, eating and then settling down to sleep. His powerful body relaxed totally in sleep, but like his quarry he slept like an animal with every sense alert. He didn't stir until nearly dawn. Tyler had peculiar dreams. She was in a straitjacket and moved irritably to free herself, muttering in disgust at the feeling of confinement. The straps were cutting into her back and beneath her breasts, and her shoulders were chafed. She complained about the matter to her shadowy companion, whispering her grievance in annoyance. Then she felt one of the straps give and sighed in relief as the ones on her shoulders were smoothed away. Her arms were constricted for a moment as the elastic straps were worked free of them, and then there was an odd tickling feeling of something sliding away beneath her shirt, leaving her breasts free. Content, she murmured wordlessly and snuggled down in the warm pocket surrounding her, barely aware of something hard and warm at her side. The dream faded away. The delicious scent of coffee woke her, and Tyler stretched luxuriously before opening her eyes. The rough ceiling of a cave met her startled gaze, and it was several confused moments before she remembered where she was. And whom she was with. Sitting up abruptly, she remembered her dream. But it hadn't entirely been a dream, she realized, because she was definitely— "Where the hell's my bra?" she demanded, glaring across a cheerful fire at a man with quizzically raised brows. Kane gestured toward a small mound of folded material lying near the sleeping bag. "There. I took it off," he explained casually. "You weren't comfortable, and you wanted it off." "How do you know?" "You told me in your sleep." She stared at him, trying to remember. No, she didn't think he'd removed her khaki shirt to get the bra off. Had he? She was wearing it now, buttoned correctly. Granted, it was short-sleeved. And it was entirely possible to remove a bra without first taking off a shirt, as long as the straps were elastic; she had done it often when she'd wanted the thing off but hadn't been ready to change her outer clothing. But she certainly didn't remember asking him for help. Had he—? "I didn't see anything, if that's what's worrying you," he murmured. Glaring at him, Tyler reached out and snagged her bra, then slid down a bit so that the material of the sleeping bag hid her chest from his steady, faintly amused gaze. Given a choice—and another companion—she would have gone braless, but she was full-busted and preferred to wear support when she was active. The trick, however, was getting her bra back on without removing her shirt or otherwise giving Kane an eyeful. Putting a bra on under a shirt was a bit more difficult than taking one off. She wasn't overly modest, and her own behavior in Kane's company bothered her; why didn't she just turn her back to the man and wrestle the bra into place? Somehow she couldn't respond to the awkward situation with simple directness. She had to remain sitting in order to get her bra back on, but the flap of the sleeping bag kept dropping to her waist. Finally, annoyed by the ridiculous picture she knew she was presenting, she gripped the material in her teeth and glared at Kane, daring him to say a word, while she managed to slip her arms from the sleeves of her shirt and get the bra on beneath it. He watched her quite steadily, but in silence, and if he was amused he hid it well. Decently attired at last, she scrambled from the bag and got to her feet, tucking her shirttail into the snug waistband of her jeans. Her long hair, having come free of its braid during the night—it always did—swung about her shoulders and persisted in falling forward over her face. Muttering, she pushed it back, only then noticing the comb Kane held out to her. For only an instant Tyler hovered between stubbornness and need, then sighed and accepted the offering, sinking back down onto the sleeping bag to begin the task of restoring some order to her unruly hair. Kane set the ceramic mug filled with coffee near her, then sipped coffee from his own tin cup while he watched her. Silence never bothered him, not even the prickly silence generally to be found in her company, and he enjoyed watching her tame her long, thick mass of red-gold hair. She was concentrating entirely on what she was doing, and Kane found his gaze dropping to her full breasts when her lifted arms drew the khaki material taut across them. He should have tossed the bra into the fire. [bookmark: _Toc266110778] Chapter Two The shooter was nowhere in sight, and no gunfire greeted their cautious exit from the cave. Kane suggested that they climb rather than descend just to be on the safe side, and much as she wanted to, Tyler couldn't really disagree. The ravine below was narrow and appeared miles long, meaning that it was a dandy place from which to be ambushed, should their friend with the gun have that in mind. The cliff face above them, Kane pointed out, was climbable. Tyler stood outside the cave on the narrow ledge and gazed upward, controlling a shiver. Tearing her eyes from the fifty-foot expanse of jagged rock rising above her head, she watched Kane crouch on the ledge and dig a long nylon rope from his backpack. He had, as she'd expected, abandoned most of his equipment, settling on the backpack and sleeping bag, two canteens, and his rifle. Tyler carried one of the canteens, the strap slung bandolier-fashion across her chest; Kane had arranged the rest for himself to carry, but now he piled the gear on the narrow ledge. Kane slung the rope over one shoulder and across his chest, then stood gazing upward with narrowed, measuring eyes. Then he sat down on the ledge and, unperturbed by the sheer drop below him, began unlacing his boots. "I'll go up first," he told her, "and drop a line for you and the backpack. Tie the pack securely. Keep the rifle with you, and when you're ready to come up, don't use the rope to climb. Just hold on and I'll pull you up slowly. All right?" "I— Yes." Tyler watched him stow his boots in the backpack, and felt her throat tighten when he rose to his feet. "I know you've done this before. You have done this before?" "Sure." "So you're just going to climb using nothing but your fingers and toes. Right?" "That's the plan." "I thought this was a democratic partnership." Kane looked at her, half guarded and half amused. "It is—as much as possible." She ignored the qualification. "Then I vote we go down into the ravine. The shooter's gone." "And maybe waiting up ahead for us. It's an easy climb, Ty, and we need to move to higher ground anyway. We should climb toward the coast and then head south." Tyler didn't have to ask if Kane knew what he was talking about; he did. He probably had a map of Colombia imprinted on his brain, and she knew he spoke Spanish like a native. But Tyler wasn't exactly ignorant of the geography herself, never mind that she knew little Spanish. "Why the coast? It'll be murder traveling through those swamps and forests. Why not stick to the mountains and just head south?" He studied her for a moment. "I get the feeling you're arguing the way a kid whistles in a graveyard—just to hear yourself." His perception annoyed her. It also disturbed her in a way she didn't want to think about. She fought a brief silent battle with her pride and lost. "I'm not very good with sheer drops, that's all." She looked at him defiantly, daring him to make some smart crack about her phobias. Kane glanced down at the drop below them, then back at her. "You hide it well, I must say." In a put-upon tone, she said reasonably, "I'm standing on a ledge of rock; it may not be much, but it's solid. You expect me to dangle at the end of a rope. I don't like ropes. I don't trust them." Matching her tone, he said, "Look, Ty, if we go down, we'll have to either take our chances there isn't an ambush ahead, or else follow the ravine about eight miles north before we can get to higher ground the easy way. In this terrain, that'll cost us a day at least. You really want that?" After a moment Tyler sighed, picked up the rifle and held it ready for anything, and then leaned back against the rock. "All right, damn it. Climb." He winked at her, solemn, then began climbing. The morning air was chilly; Tyler told herself that was why she shivered as she watched him scale the cliff with the ease of a mountain goat. He never seemed to put a foot wrong, testing the placement of each finger and toehold with exquisite care before allowing his weight—and his life—to depend on it. He obviously knew what he was doing. And Tyler watched, her head tilted back against rock, her eyes fixed on him always. Her mouth was dry and her heart seemed to have lodged in her throat, choking her with its pounding. She wasn't worried about him, she assured herself fiercely. After all, he thought too much of his own hide to risk it unnecessarily; he wouldn't have begun climbing if there had been any great danger. No, it was just that it was getting lighter, and they didn't know where their friendly gunman was. It was eerily quiet, as it always was in the dawn hours, and Tyler's anxious sense of urgency grew as the light strengthened. Even in his khaki shirt and jeans Kane was obvious against the cliff, she thought, his thick black hair shining in alien darkness against the light-colored rock. If the shooter was still around, and chanced to look up... She jerked her gaze from Kane and began searching the ravine, eyeing each jumble of rock suspiciously. Nothing moved, and there was no sign of anyone save themselves. It didn't reassure her particularly. The ravine was deep and wide. Rocks, brush. There were so many places someone could hide— A rock nearly as big as her head bounded downward suddenly, striking the ledge not a foot from where she stood. Forgetting the gunman, she looked swiftly up to find that Kane had nearly reached the top; he seemed to be having no difficulty at all, but the khaki shirt showed damp patches indicating his task wasn't nearly as easy as it appeared. Tyler felt dizzy as she watched him pull himself up over the top, realizing only then that she had held her breath, and her lungs were aching. She allowed herself to breathe normally now, faintly irritated by her reaction to his danger. She certainly wasn't worried about the man, it was just that this was a lonely area and it was nice to have someone to talk to, even if the someone was Kane. If he hadn't made it, she would have been forced to talk to herself. But once she got up there... It occurred to her only then that she herself would be a dandy target while he pulled her up—and that neither of them would be able to hold the rifle ready to return any gunfire. The nylon line snaked downward, and she knelt to tie the backpack securely, her mouth twisting ruefully as she remembered who had taught her to tie a decent knot. Kane. In North Africa during their first meeting— and first clash. She watched the backpack ascend, then slung the rifle across her back as the line dropped down again. She tied the end around her waist loosely, making certain not to use a slipknot, then waved to Kane to signal she was ready. The line tightened immediately, and she kept her feet braced against the cliff, "walking" upward as he pulled the rope. She didn't look down. She didn't look at anything at all, in fact, and realized that only when Kane hauled her over the top and spoke. "You can open your eyes now." He was laughing, and all Tyler's misgivings about the situation suddenly exploded within her. Her reaction, she knew, was excessive, but knowing that did nothing to lessen it. She dropped the rope and swung at him furiously and accurately, missing his jaw only because he ducked with a fighter's lightning reflex. "Damn it, woman—" Tyler lunged at him, both fists doubled and her legs tangling with the rope trailing from her waist. She told herself that rope gave him the advantage, told herself it was because of that Kane was able to wrestle her to the ground. Her pride wouldn't admit how pathetically easy it seemed to him. He didn't make the mistake of allowing her to get a knee anywhere near him; she had used that trick before. Roughly pinning her hands to the ground above her head, he threw a leg across her and sat astride her hips, his two hundred pounds easily holding her still despite her best efforts to throw him off. And she tried, bucking beneath him furiously, her impotent rage and sudden panic growing because he was holding her down and she felt smothered, helpless. She never wanted to feel like that again. Never. "Damn you, you son of a—" "Tyler!" He glared down at her, his handsome face less humorous than she'd ever seen it, his mouth hard. "Just what the hell is wrong with you?" "You laughed at me!" she practically screamed, panic clawing at her mind. "I hate that, I hate being laughed at!" His flying brows drew together. "And that's why you attacked me like a wildcat? For God's sake, Ty, I wasn't laughing at you. You might have been scared to death, but you climbed the damned cliff. I happen to think that took a hell of a lot of courage." "You laughed," she insisted between gritted teeth, fighting to hold the anxiety at bay. He was still frowning. "Honey, I was laughing because I admired your guts." She didn't want to believe that, but his steady green eyes were honest. And she believed him. Her rage drained away, leaving her shaking and oddly bereft. With anger gone, there was nothing left to insulate her from those other disturbing feelings. He was sitting on her and she was more helpless than she could bear, but the clawing panic was fading with astonishing speed. The rifle beneath her jabbed into her back, but she hardly felt it. Instead she felt the warmth of him, the heavy weight of him, and he was leaning down so close she could see his oddly expanding pupils blocking out the green, and smell the musky male scent of his big body. Her wrists were held together by one of his hands, while the other lay on her shoulder just inches from her breast, warm and heavy. The abrupt urge to feel that big hand close over her breast washed over her in a dizzying wave, and she could feel the tight prickling of her nipples in response to the astonishing burst of desire. Her belly knotted, and beneath his heavy weight something flamed inside her, heating her loins. Her own response shocked her, not the least because helplessness had always been a fear and she knew only too well that sexual helplessness was the greatest fear of all. How could he make her feel this way? How? She almost moaned aloud, and her teeth gritted while she tried frantically to control the insane impulse of her body. Dangerous. Dear God, it was dangerous! "All right," she said in a small, husky voice. "I believe you. Now let me up." "I'm not sure if that's a good idea," he said whimsically, his eyes darkening even more. "You're an unpredictable lady, Tyler St. James. And I've had cause to be sure of that. I remember it well. After North Africa— and Budapest—I ached for days." Tyler could feel heat sweep up her throat, and with an effort she kept her gaze on his face. "That was your fault. You tricked me. You made me furious; I struck out without thinking. And I could have done worse." "I suppose you could have used that knife you carried. Instead of being bruised and sick, I would have been a total eunuch. I've heard about places in the world where a woman does that to her man in revenge for betrayal." "You're not my man. Get off me!" "I'm comfortable," he murmured wickedly. "I may make a day of it. D'you still carry that knife, by the way? You didn't have it on you last night when I took your bra off." Tyler gritted her teeth in helpless rage, welcoming the return of anger because it overwhelmed those other feelings. "Maybe I'm just hiding it more carefully these days!" she snapped. "Shall I search you and find out?" he asked softly. She watched his gaze move considerably over her chest, where khaki material was pulled taut by her position and the rifle and canteen straps cut diagonally between her breasts. The khaki was thin, like the silk of her bra, and neither hid the jutting response of her nipples. A different kind of panic swept over her. In a desperate, mindless need to stop this before something irrevocable happened, she fed her anger wildly, and a snarl tangled in the back of her throat. In such a situation as this, unable to match his strength, she knew that only words could serve as her weapons. And Tyler had learned in a number of very hard and dangerous situations to use every weapon available to her. Keeping her voice low and even, she said, "Is this the way you get your kicks, Kane? The old macho domination routine? Well, you weigh nearly twice what I do and you're strong even for your size, so I'm defeated from the start. I can't possibly win. Satisfied? Or d'you want me to cry and beg? I'm not very good at begging, Kane, but if that's your game, I'll play. Because I'm very good at surviving." And the flat, fierce truth of that was in her voice like a knife pulled from its sheath to gleam starkly in the sunlight. Curiously blank green eyes met her wild amber gaze, and Kane was still and silent for a long moment. His mouth was hard again, his face expressionless. Without a word, he freed her wrists and lifted his weight off her, leaving himself vulnerable to an avenging knee for just an instant. Tyler didn't take advantage of that. She sat up and untied the rope at her waist with shaking fingers, then got to her feet as he coiled the line and returned it to the backpack. He didn't look at her as he sat down on a boulder to put his socks and boots back on. Then he shrugged into the pack, his face stony, and started moving east into the forest. Tyler followed. Her breasts felt heavy and achy, and she could still feel the imprint of him against her lower stomach and hips. She could feel his hand on her wrists, and looked at them vaguely, wondering why there were no marks. There should have been marks. Absently she adjusted the rifle so that she carried the strap on one shoulder. She had the feeling that Kane had deliberately allowed her to keep the gun. To make a point? She didn't know. Her legs felt shaky and she had the curious urge to cry. Her eyes were hot, and she thought something had torn loose inside her. She didn't know what it was. Gazing steadfastly at the middle of Kane's broad back, she trudged along behind him. His mood didn’t bother her at first, but Tyler soon discovered that Kane's silence was inexorably stretching all her nerves as taut as bowstrings, and she wasn't a nervous person. It would take days for them to find the cache even if there was no trouble; the thought of days filled with his brand of silence was enough to make her forget the childish determination not to be the first to break the deadlock. "How far to the coast?" She addressed his back, since he was still leading the way. Kane said nothing. "He's obviously mad at me," Tyler told the surrounding forest, keeping her voice light. "I must have bruised his pride." No reaction from Kane. She gripped the rifle's carrying strap more tightly. "So now I'm getting the silent treatment." Nothing. Tyler began to feel seriously alarmed. She hadn't realized it until then, but in the days it had taken her to get this far, she had missed the sounds of human companionship. Even the voice of an enemy was welcome, she told herself miserably. Falling silent, she stared at his back and thought about their confrontation. So he resented what she'd said? Because she'd hit too close to home, or because what she'd said had been an insult to him? Curiously enough, she thought it was the latter. Kane wasn't the type to sulk because his ego was bruised. No, his reaction was something else. Did he believe she had meant what she'd said? Had his perception failed him this once so that he hadn't realized she had said the most hurtful thing she could think of— She felt an odd jolt. The most hurtful thing? Had she been that certain of him? Some men would have taken her own words and used them to taunt her, proving their truth. But not Kane. And she had known that. She wondered then, uneasily, if that was why her usual panic at being helpless had been brief. Had she known instinctively that her fears would always be groundless where Kane was concerned? Was she sure of him in a way she had never been sure of any man for ten years? She didn't want to think about that, didn't want to consider what it might mean. Swallowing hard, she said, "I'm sorry, Kane. I didn't mean— I knew you weren't trying to dominate me." Kane paused for a moment, consulting the compass that was a part of his multifunction watch. Then he continued. Silently. Tyler bit her lip and followed. By midday they were descending, leaving the mountains behind as they moved toward the coast. The forest grew more dense, slowing them; at times they had to force their way through underbrush. Kane halted at last near a narrow stream, and Tyler sank thankfully onto the trunk of a fallen tree. She took the rifle from her shoulder and leaned it against the tree, watching him shrug off the backpack. "We're moving again in half an hour," he said flatly. At least he said we. Sighing, Tyler moved to the stream and followed it a little way until she was out of sight. She knelt on the bank and pulled a big linen handkerchief from her pocket, wetting the cloth and wringing it out before washing her face and neck. It was when she was wiping her hands thoroughly that she noticed the KP monogram on one corner. She stared at it for a moment, shaking her head unconsciously. His. His, and she hadn't realized she had it? She stood up, waving the handkerchief gently to dry it. It was hotter now; they were closer to sea level, nearer to the hot, flat land of the eastern plains. The linen dried quickly, and she watched it, bothered by the small indication of his persistent presence in her life. But—no. That was nonsense, of course. She just happened to have his handkerchief, and she'd kept it and carried it only because it looked like one of her own large linen squares. Would he laugh, she wondered vaguely, if she were to confess that she carried large handkerchiefs always because of an old and popular movie? Would he think it amusing that a thirteen-year-old girl had gazed at a huge screen and listened to the hero tell the heroine that never in any crisis of her life had she had a handkerchief while he dried her tears with his own? Odd the things one remembered. Tyler loved Gone with the Wind now, but then she had only despised Scarlett because she hadn't had a handkerchief and hated Rhett because he'd shot the pony. And she was determined to always dry her own tears. Shaking her head again, Tyler folded the dried linen square neatly and returned it to her pocket. Then she headed back to Kane. Back to her silent enemy. He was sitting cross-legged on the ground, eating from a package of trail mix. He tossed another package to Tyler, watching her with unreadable eyes. She sat on the fallen tree again and began eating, enjoying the mixture of granola, dried fruit, and nuts partly because she was hungry and partly because she liked the stuff. She returned his steady gaze as long as she could, then looked away. "Damn it, Kane, I apologize! How much longer will I get the silent treatment?" "Sorry." He didn't sound it. She took a deep breath and released it slowly. Without looking at him, she said, "Doing the kind of work we do, I've run into plenty of men who used muscle as a—a sexual weapon. If you had been that kind of man, you would have loved my recognition of that. It would have been a turn-on. But you aren't that sort of man, Kane. And I knew that. So I used it as a weapon, because I felt helpless and vulnerable. It's—it's almost a phobia with me, feeling like that. I can't take it, and I strike out. Do you understand?" After a moment he said, "Yes. I just hope you really believe I wouldn't do that, Ty." She almost slumped with relief at the shortened version of her name. "I—I do." She managed a twisted smile, looking at him finally. "And I won't be able to use that as a weapon again, will I? You'll know it for what it is—a bluff." "There's always your knee," he murmured. Tyler matched his tentative smile, but her heart sank momentarily when his face abruptly went hard. Within a few seconds, though, she heard the faint sounds that had alerted him. "Take the rifle," he said softly, rising. "Move about twenty yards downstream and wait for me. If that's our gun-happy friend, he's going to stop right here." She rose, as well. "But, you'll need—" "Move, Ty! Go on. I'll be fine." There was no time to argue; the sounds were getting closer. She snatched up the rifle and moved swiftly and silently downstream, tense and worried. Alone, Kane dropped the backpack behind the fallen tree, annoyed with himself because he hadn't thought to have Tyler take it with her. He wore a hunting knife on his hip, and loosened it in its sheath now as he moved across the tiny clearing and got behind a shielding thicket of low-growing bushes. He could just barely see the clearing, and fixed his eyes at the point where he expected to see their visitor emerge. But what burst through the underbrush a few moments later was hardly what he expected to see. It was a woman, her long black hair flying around her face in wild tangles, her brightly colored peasant blouse torn and her jeans filthy. She looked absolutely terrified, and Kane moved almost instinctively toward her, drawn by the helpless fear in her big black eyes. For once, all his survival instincts failed him. She was babbling incoherently in Spanish, her eyes widening even more when she saw him, and though Kane understood the language he couldn't get a word of hers. He stepped toward her, making soothing noises, removing his hand from the haft of his knife when she backed away shakily. He wanted to reassure her that he meant her no harm. But then, in the blink of an eye, a curious transformation took place. She straightened, smiling, and the fear in her eyes became a sultry wickedness. Bemused, Kane's instincts were just that fraction of a second slow in reacting. And that was all it took. The cold male voice came from behind him, speaking steadily in all-too-understandable English. "No sudden moves, senor. I have a gun." Kane turned very slowly, hoping that someone besides Tyler was well-versed in the art of bluff. The hope died a small, resigned death. It was no bluff. Tyler waited for ten minutes, tense and uneasy. She had heard voices, at least one of them speaking Spanish—a feminine voice. It had definitely been a man shooting at them yesterday, she knew. She hesitated, worrying. Then, silently marshaling arguments in case Kane got mad, she crept back upstream until she reached the clearing. The deserted clearing. She found the backpack, but no Kane. She had taught herself years before never to give in to panic in a crisis. There was, after all, time for that once the crisis was past. So she didn't panic now. Her mind went still for an instant, then began working coolly. She searched the clearing, foot by foot, her eyes trained on the ground. There was little to see, few signs available. But Tyler had learned to follow tracks as a child, and she knew what to look for. It took nearly half an hour, but she was finally able to distinguish a faint trail leading from the clearing. North. Kane very nearly found the situation amusing. He'd been caught off guard, pure and simple, and both the woman, Valonia, and the man, Silvio, were delighted that their trick had worked. Kane was almost amused because a pair of black eyes might well have sealed his fate. They talked freely as Silvio's gun nudged Kane through the woods to higher ground. They were bandits, they explained, hiding in the hills after their last raid in Bogota. And boredom had nearly driven them mad. Happily they had heard Kane passing not far from their shack and had followed him. Clearly they hadn't realized he was not alone. This ingenuous explanation might have disarmed another man, but Kane wasn't about to let his guard down twice in one day. The gun in his back was damned real, and Silvio had the lifeless eyes of a shark. And if Kane was any judge, Valonia was a woman who would definitely castrate a man who had betrayed her. Or even one who had annoyed her. Kane had heard of recent raids in Bogota and other areas, and those accounts came back to him as he was herded through the forest. There was no romantic Robin Hood myth clinging to these bandits; reportedly they were educated and well-off, and simply raided because they enjoyed it. They didn't bother to spout political or social rhetoric; they merely attacked in cities, towns and remote villages, destroying property, stealing whatever they fancied and killing anyone who got in their way. Comforting thoughts. This wasn't the first tough situation Kane had found himself in and, as always, his mind was working, seeking a solution. He had an ace up his sleeve in the shape of Tyler; he doubted she'd abandon him to his fate. She was adept at tracking, and would likely be able to follow them. What worried him was that Tyler was apt to jump into danger with both feet and damn the consequences. He had to get himself out of this before Tyler could act. The thought of what cruel men could—would—do to her didn't bear thinking of. But he did think of it, of course, and his guts clenched in a tight knot of fear for her. It never occurred to him to think along those same lines regarding himself, but other possibilities did present themselves. Torture. They'd maybe torture him just for fun. Or curiosity. See how much the guy can take. What'll make him scream? How do you break a strong man? Something like that had happened to him once before, and he still bore the scars to remind him. If he'd needed reminding. He didn't. Bile rose in his throat as he remembered. Still, he had survived. It was something to keep in mind. When they emerged from the forest, Kane realized that these bandits had been here for a while. Three crude shacks had been thrown together and looked it. In front of one, three men were restlessly playing cards on a rickety table, and all looked up with brightening faces when Kane and his escorts approached. Kane kept his own face immobile, his eyes roving constantly as he measured his opponents and looked for a means of escape. He barely listened as Valonia and Silvio explained how they had captured him, the laughter of the men rolling off him easily because he didn't give a sweet damn what they thought. But when they began discussing ways and means of enjoying their captive, he paid a bit more attention. An argument broke out over the subject, one man holding out for slow torture while another was determined on more exotic pursuits. Stalling for time and only dimly hoping for success, Kane told them in fluent Spanish that he was on the trail of a vast cache of treasure, and if they'd only come with him— It didn't work. He hadn't really expected it to. These bandits didn't give a damn about riches even if they had believed his tale. They just wanted to have fun. "I want him," Valonia told the men. It seemed the lady was the leader of these bandits, for her statement instantly halted the arguments. Even Silvio, his shark eyes blank, nodded obedience. Recklessly Kane directed a few exquisitely polite and choice obscenities toward the woman. Spanish was such a wonderfully fluid language, filled with lots of pretty flowers—and lots of sharp thorns. He was clubbed beneath an ear for his trouble, and there was red-hot pain for an instant before blessed darkness claimed him. He woke with an aching head to find himself tied securely to a narrow cot. He was alone, and he lay there for long moments just trying to clear his sluggish mind. Once that had been accomplished, he attempted to free himself and found it impossible. He was tied with leather thongs and the cot's frame was stronger than it looked. Flat on his back, he couldn't get enough leverage to wrench himself free. He was trapped and helpless. For the first time he truly understood what Tyler had done earlier in the day, and why. It was an unnerving feeling, helplessness, and one he wasn't familiar with. He wondered, then, if she would come after him. Why should she, after all? She wanted the chalice, and "losing" him would remove at least one rival for it. Certainly Tyler wasn't afraid of possible trouble; she didn't need a man for protection. The lady could take care of herself, in all honesty. And she'd survived twenty-some-odd years without his help. Of course, North Africa might well have ended her career if he hadn't been there. But if he hadn't been there, she never would have fallen into that pit while trying to steal the figurine back from him. She didn't need him. It was a curious, unwelcome shock. Not that she didn't need him, but that he minded. Kane avoided emotional baggage in his life, and his thoughts of Tyler looked suspiciously like just that. But it was absurd, of course. He was only thinking about her, regretting that he'd never see her again in all likelihood, because she had never, however briefly, belonged to him. During the past occasions when they'd fought each other for antiquities, he had been always conscious of her as a woman. He would have had to be blind and senseless to have not been conscious of her that way. Kane was neither. And he had wanted her. In the midst of bitter arguments, he had wanted her. In the midst of trickery, he had wanted her. In triumph and defeat, he had wanted her. But Tyler was... Tyler. Different from any woman he had ever known. Somehow beyond his reach. And desire was all the more strong and bitter-sweet because of that. Last night in the sleeping bag, he had ached with wanting her. And unfastening her bra, slipping it off beneath her shirt while she had murmured pleasurably, he had very nearly gone out of his mind. But she was Tyler. Sometimes enemy, sometimes partner and even friend. A fiery hellion who would fight at his side or guard his back with that intriguing explosive determination of hers. A woman who was a woman, one hundred percent feminine; yet she had a bedrock-solid core of strength and clearly felt no need to prove herself to anyone, man or woman. Tyler. He wanted to see her again. It grew dark as hours passed, and Kane bore the passing time stoically. He blanked his mind and waited, knowing that they would come for him. But when a lantern was carried into the one-room shack, he saw that Valonia held it. He had been told, by a number of ladies in various parts of the world, that he had a charming smile and charming ways. He had been told he possessed the gift of being able to persuade a woman even against her own nature. But when he looked into Valonia's black eyes, he felt a primitive shock tingle down his spine. Because there was nobody there. And on the beautiful face that housed that soullessness was a smile never meant to be worn by a woman. A smile never meant to be worn by anything human. A smile of pure evil. "You have a name?" Her voice was soft, gentle, her Spanish investing the question with a curiously erotic sound. "Kane." She had cleaned herself up, he saw, and was wearing only a man's shirt that reached halfway down her thighs. She set the lamp on an upended crate that served as a table, then turned to face him with her hands on her rounded hips. "Kane. Have you ever been at the mercy of a woman, Kane?" She laughed when he was silent. "No, I see you have not." She approached the bed and bent down, beginning to unbutton his shirt. Her own shirt gaped away from her breasts, giving him a view all the way to her navel. He moved suddenly in resistance, realizing what she had in mind. And his mind balked violently. She was right; he'd never been at a woman's mercy before. Not like this, not physically. Not even emotionally. He didn't know if she planned to tease him sexually or simply torture him, but given her scanty outfit he thought the former was most likely. And the excitement gleaming in her eyes was purely sensual. She intended to... But he couldn't believe she meant to— "A man can be raped," she purred, running a hand down his chest and curling her fingers under his belt. "But I want your full cooperation, lover." Laughing, she backed away from him and began moving slowly, sensuously, in a dance expressly designed to arouse a man. She unbuttoned the shirt, dropping it teasingly off one shoulder, then the other, her hips moving in a rhythmic gyration. Twirling on bare, light feet, she danced close to the cot and then away, her hair flying, the material of her shirt baring and then concealing golden flesh. In all his varied adventures, Kane had never before had a woman dance to arouse him. He wondered if he could be aroused totally against his will. Somehow, he didn't think it would happen. Not this time, at least. His mind was blank, his body chilled. Valonia literally radiated sex, but it was a hungry, grasping thing. Like a black widow, she would consume her mate once his duty was done, whether or not he performed to her satisfaction. And though everything male in Kane acknowledged her beauty and sensuality, his instincts icily rejected the attraction and a hard inner core of self-preservation kept a wary guard on his senses. Even when she danced close enough to stroke his chest and teasingly unbuckle his belt, Kane felt only a deep, cold distaste, a grinding revulsion so strong he could hardly keep it out of his expression. Her flesh was hot, burning, the red-painted nails curved like the talons of a bird of prey. He watched her dance, his face immobile, his eyes detached and dispassionate. He wondered what kind of rage her failure would unleash. Tyler had been forced to bide her time after trailing Kane and his captors to their camp. Reckless in some ways she certainly was, but she wasn't fool enough to storm a camp containing four armed men and a woman who, unless Tyler didn't know her own sex at all, was more dangerous than the rest together. It was dark when she managed to move closer to the shacks. She flitted silently from one patch of darkness to another, using cover wherever possible, careful to remain downwind. Peering cautiously between the warped boards of the shacks, she managed to place all four of the men in one; they were sitting around a fire talking, laughing. One was jabbering away in his own language and making graphically obscene gestures as he talked. Tyler was glad her Spanish was almost nonexistent; she really didn't want to know what that one was saying. Slipping away, she headed for the third and last shack. It stood apart from the others and seemed in better shape structurally. It was lighted from inside, and Tyler was cautious as she circled it far enough to find a few warped boards. She looked inside. For a long moment she remained frozen. Then, moving silently back, she searched until she found a piece of wood a little over a foot long and fairly heavy. Hefting it, she started around the shack toward the door. Kane found himself looking up into black eyes holding nothing but mindless, animal fury. His entire body grew taut, expecting that anger to explode into action. Deadly action. She was hissing obscenities as she whirled toward the door, groping almost blindly for his hunting knife where she'd left it on the upended crate. As she turned back toward him, jerking the knife from its sheath, the door opened silently behind her. She barely had time to step toward him, arm raised to begin the vicious downward plunge, when a thick board cracked across the back of her head. She went down instantly. Tyler eyed her for a wary moment, then knelt to check her pulse. Muttering to herself and completely ignoring Kane, she methodically shredded Valonia's abandoned shirt, bound the naked woman and gagged her. She picked up his knife, then rose to her feet and looked at him expressionlessly. "I thought you were probably having fun, but the lady seemed a mite upset. If you'd rather, though, I can untie her and come back later—" "Just untie me, if you don't mind," Kane managed. "I got tired of the party a long time ago." Like Tyler, he kept his voice soft. She used his knife to cut the thongs binding his hands, then sliced the ones at his ankles while he sat up and buttoned his shirt. Still expressionless, she said, "Well, I owed you one. You saved my skin last time in Hong Kong. And just like this—from a fate worse than death. Would it have been a fate worse than death? I'm just curious, you understand." Kane grabbed her arm and pulled her down across his lap, holding her tightly and completely ignoring the knife she still held. He kissed her quickly, hard, and said in a rough voice, "Yes, it would have been—except that that lady didn't turn me on and this lady tracks better than Daniel Boone. Let's get the hell out of here." "Sounds good to me," she murmured. [bookmark: _Toc266110779] Chapter Three They retrieved the backpack from where Tyler had hidden it, and within half an hour they were back at the clearing by the stream. Kane led the way from there, moving downstream swiftly to put as much distance as possible between them and the bandits. Around 2:00 a.m. they left the stream, heading due west. The night air was warm and sticky, and the forest grew even more dense. By 4:00 a.m. Tyler decided that enough was enough. "Hey, let's stop, okay? I knocked that she wolf silly, and from the look of them, the men weren't about to interrupt her little games. We've got hours before they even know you're gone." There was no moon visible, and it was almost pitch black in the forest. Tyler had been walking directly behind Kane, at his very heels, in fact, and when he stopped she banged into him. She grabbed at his shoulders to keep her balance, but almost instantly rebounded away from him nervously. Damn it, why did she react to just touching the man? She hadn't been aware of it before this encounter. Kane spoke calmly, apparently not noticing her reaction. "If I know where we are, there's another stream about twenty minutes' walk from here. You game?" "You've been here before?" "No. I once met a man who'd traveled all through this part of the country." It figured; Kane had a phenomenal memory. She sighed. "All right, but walk a little more slowly, will you? My night vision is practically nil." Kane took her hand in a firm grasp and began walking again. She was beside him, a little behind, and didn't want to admit to herself that she felt more secure with her hand lost in his. Nor did she admit to the tingling warmth of his touch; what lay behind that was too frightening and dangerous to think about. But she found herself comparing this adventure to the ones that preceded it. This was different not only because they were wary partners almost from the moment of encountering each other, but also because their surroundings were completely unlike the others. In North Africa they had maneuvered in baking cities and tumbled ruins, outguessing and outfoxing each other half a dozen times before temporarily joining forces to outwit a sophisticated gang of art thieves. Most of their other clashes had been equally harried and brief, with little time available to dwell on anything other than the goals they had shared, and they had rarely been alone together. In Hong Kong, their most recent adventure several months before, it had been an all-out race for an elusive necklace. In that extremely crowded, overpopulated city, they had each won and lost the necklace, tricking each other a number of times before teaming up to smoothly con an expatriate American of Chinese descent who had a nifty racket going in stolen antiquities. Kane had saved her from a fate worse than death on that occasion. He'd had the necklace and could have just left her to the tender mercies of the Tong leader. But he had come back for her, bursting in mere hours before she would have been shipped to parts unknown where her new life promised to take place inside a house with a red light at the door. Dangerous circumstances, those. And even Tyler's innate craving for adventure had wavered from time to time. Still, she had found a fierce enjoyment in sparring with Kane, and her anger at his various tricks and betrayals had contained more than a nugget of reluctant and somewhat rueful admiration for his cunning. She had missed his presence on the few occasions that one or the other of them had located what they sought first and departed; as galling as it had been for her to admit he had beaten her to something, she'd found little pleasure in winning herself—unless it had been a face-to-face contest with both of them on the scene. And their sparring in the past had been just that: a contest, a game with both working to win. Always on the move and generally surrounded by other people, with foes to outwit alone or together, foes they both recognized. Now, this. The surroundings were curiously elemental, the circumstances new ones. They had teamed up for the duration. And there was a mutual enemy or two—they thought. The bandits had been unexpected, but fought successfully. The gunman lay behind them or before them, and they didn't know his face or his reasons for being involved in this. They were virtually alone, moving cautiously through a lonely wilderness that was ever changing. First the cool grandeur of the mountains, and now the sticky, cloying heat of the approaching lowlands. The dense forest was gradually becoming marshy, the ground giving spongily beneath their feet. "Wait here." He released her hand. "Kane?" The question was instinctively uttered before she could get her bearings. She saw they had reached the stream; it was little more than a glittering ribbon of darkness whispering softly. He touched her shoulder lightly. "I'm just going to check out the area. Stay put." Tyler remained there, absently pulling the material of her shirt away from her skin. She was uncomfortable. It was hot and misty, and she felt dirty. She could tolerate any amount of dust, but the sticky dampness of heat and high humidity combined was something she hated. But not even that distraction could pull her mind from thoughts of this strange new relationship with Kane. They could sharpen their wits on each other, face-to-face, both wary and a bit uncomfortable with this new arrangement. Like stray dogs they circled each other uneasily, both just on the point of lunging but holding back because territorial rights were maddeningly undefined. They had declared themselves partners, but their background was not such as to lend certainty or trust to the partnership. And there was that other thing, that sexual awareness between them. It hovered just beneath the surface of words and looks and touches, as much mistrusted as their ability to depend on each other. And as likely to explode in some confrontation neither was ready for. Tyler realized then that her misgivings about the situation had little to do with her ability to trust Kane; she hadn't trusted him before, yet they had been able to work together at the need. What had disturbed her instinctively was the intimacy inherent in a partnership in this place and time. They were too alone, too much together in surroundings that would spark primitive emotions between a man and woman. Even if the seeds of those emotions had not been sown thousands of miles away and many months in the past. She started when she felt him beside her again; she'd expected him to move silently, but was nonetheless unprepared for his lithe soundlessness. In a city he could move like a shadow; here in the forest, he moved like a jungle cat. "We'll stay here," he told her. "I'll start a fire." He faded away again, and very faint noises indicated he was gathering wood nearby. Tyler stood still until she saw the flickering of his lighter, then stepped toward him. The firelight shadowed and highlighted his lean face, and with his head bent as it was he looked curiously savage. His flying brows and hooded eyes gave him a devilish appearance, and the broad shoulders looked even more massive than they actually were. Tyler thought then that it would be easy to be afraid of him, and wondered why she wasn't. He glanced up at her as she approached the fire, then reached to dig into the backpack he had laid aside. "How d'you feel about creepy-crawlies?" Tyler shrugged a little. "Well, I don't like them. But I'm not deathly afraid of them, either." "How about snakes?" "The same." Kane pulled a bundle of material from the backpack; it appeared to be a woolen blanket. "This is a ruana," he told her, indicating the slit in the middle of the blanket. "Put your head through here, and then you can belt it around your waist." She glanced toward the stream, realizing what he had in mind. "I'm going to build a lean-to," he continued, producing a plastic-wrapped bar of soap from the pack, "because it'll likely rain by dawn. If you want to rinse out your things, they'll probably be dry by then." Tyler accepted the ruana and the soap, but stood her ground. "Why'd you ask about snakes and creepy-crawlies?" "We're on the edge of the swamp, can't you smell it? Fair warning, Ty; you may share your bath with a snake. But this is a mountain stream, so maybe not. There's a deeper pool just around that bend; it looks pretty good. It's up to you." She hesitated, then said, "We'll turn south when we head out again, won't we? Through the swamp?" "Around it, if possible. But this may be your last chance for a decent bath for a couple of days. Is that what you wanted to know?" "That's what I wanted to know." She turned away, then glanced at him over her shoulder. "If I yell, it won't be because the water's cold!" "Gotcha," he murmured, smiling a little. Tyler found the pool, discovering that the forest thinned out here and that dim light was able to show her the way. She eyed the peaceful water suspiciously, but laid the ruana on a rock and sat down to pull off her boots and socks. Her jeans felt stiff and damp, and she had to roll them over her hips and down her legs. The shirt, too, was damp, and her bra and panties had to almost be peeled away from her flesh. She hesitated for a moment, feeling ridiculously like a wood nymph standing there naked. A glance over her shoulder showed her that she could barely see the campfire, and she could faintly hear Kane at work building the lean-to. She freed her hair from the braid, slipping the rubber band around her wrist since it was her last one, then unwrapped the soap and fished the handkerchief from the pocket of her jeans. Stepping cautiously into the water, she shivered at the delicious coolness. The pool was waist-deep in the middle, the water moving sluggishly, and the bottom was sandy and fairly firm. Tyler ducked completely under the surface, straightening with a gasp and blinking away water. It seemed lighter suddenly, and she looked up to find that the moon had peered through a break in the clouds. She held the handkerchief in her teeth and worked up a lather with the soap, washing her hair quickly but as thoroughly as possible. When it was clean and rinsed, she moved toward the bank until the water reached her knees, then soaped the handkerchief and left the bar on a rock while she washed every inch of her skin. There was still no sign of a snake, but Tyler wasn't anxious to push her luck. After a brief debate, she washed out her shirt, socks and underthings, reasoning that they would be the most likely to dry before she needed them again. The jeans were damp, but fairly clean, and too heavy to dry quickly if she attempted to wash them. She returned the soap to its plastic and pulled the ruana over her head, realizing only then that she had nothing to belt it with; she never wore a belt with jeans. The light woolen material hung in folds to the middle of her thighs, and felt faintly scratchy against her flesh; it wasn't an uncomfortable sensation. Shrugging, Tyler gathered her jeans and wet clothing together, picked up the soap and her boots and headed back for the campfire. The small clearing was deserted, but the lean-to had been completed and a small tin pot filled with some kind of stew simmered over the fire beside another pot of coffee. The lean-to was built near the fire, and she hung her wet things and the jeans over the line Kane had strung with his rope just beneath it. Where was he? Bathing himself downstream? She looked at the soap she still held, then went to the stream's bank and called softly, "Kane? If you need the soap—" "Downstream," he called back immediately. Tyler followed the stream, seeing him just a couple of minutes later. He was submerged to his waist, and his chest and shoulders gleamed in the faint moonlight. He looked like something pagan, a part of the forest. A part of the wilderness. She glanced down at the pile of his clothing at her feet and swallowed hard. "If this is our only bar of soap, do I dare throw it to you?" she asked him, striving for lightness. Unlike Tyler's, Kane's night vision was excellent; in fact, it was too good at the moment. He could see her all too clearly, especially since the ruana she wore wasn't belted and tended to gape open at the sides. The darkness had stolen the fiery color from her hair, and it hung about her shoulders gleaming wetly and curling as though it were living. And despite her shapeless garment, the thrusting mounds of her firm breasts were as obvious to him as though she were naked. He cleared his throat softly and tried not to think about her naked. "I don't think I should come out and get it," he returned, managing to keep his voice equally light. After a moment Tyler stepped into the water and waded out until she was knee-deep. "Catch." She tossed the bar carefully, relieved when he caught it. "Thanks, Ty." "Sure." She retreated to the bank. "Oh, d'you mind if I use a piece of that rope? I don't have a belt for this thing." "I noticed," he murmured. "Help yourself." Tyler realized then that she hadn't exactly been holding the poncho securely; it covered front and back completely, but the sides were open. She wrapped it about her and headed hastily for the camp, further unsettled. Once there, it took several minutes' work with the rope to get herself decently covered, and even then she reminded herself not to bend over or move suddenly. She found his comb and used it to untangle her wet hair, then returned it to the backpack. She unrolled the sleeping bag and used it as a cushion to sit on, then scrabbled in the backpack until she found the mug. She poured some coffee, wrinkling her nose at the first hot, strong sip. Black, and strong enough to raise the dead—she hated it that way. But she'd learned to drink it in the past, and since Kane always drank it like that, he wouldn't bring sugar or milk along as one of his little luxuries. Kane returned to the camp a few minutes later, wearing only his jeans and carrying his wet shirt. His hair was wet, gleaming, and the thick mat of hair on his chest drew her eyes like a magnet. She looked away, angry with herself. What was wrong with her? She was too aware of him, too conscious of his every movement, and too apt to watch. He hung the shirt on the line beside her things, and she glanced at him again without being able to stop herself, her gaze fastening on to the faint scars on his back. How had he got those? She'd seen them before but had never asked him about them. She wondered if he'd tell her if she did ask. Then she saw him finger the handkerchief with his monogram. "I didn't know you still had this," he murmured. Tyler could feel herself flushing, and looked hastily back to her coffee. "I don't remember how I came to have it," she said casually. "Don't you?" He sank down beside her, cross-legged, reaching to dig into the pack for another cup and to return the bar of soap. "North Africa. The figurine was wrapped in it the first time you stole it from me." Tyler could feel her hackles rising. It took a supreme effort of will to keep her eyes off him, and she was deeply disturbed by that. Anger was safe, and she allowed it to build. "You mean when I rightfully took it back after you tricked me to get it in the first place?" "I suppose that's one way of looking at it." He sipped his coffee meditatively. "And it doesn't matter now, does it?" He was all too aware of her warmth beside him, and his eyes were drawn again and again to the bare length of her golden legs. Hard to think of the past—hard to think of anything at all when he looked at her. "Maybe it doesn't matter," she was saying tightly. "Maybe I should keep it in mind. You've tricked me before; you'll trick me again. I can't trust you out of my sight, can I, Kane?" He frowned a little, staring into the fire. "You'll have to make up your mind about that. There's nothing I could say to convince you." "Is your word any good?" she asked bitterly. Kane had the certain feeling that she was whistling in a graveyard again, deliberately starting an argument to divert herself—or him—from something else. But even with that feeling, he was aware of a slow, curiously bitter anger coiling inside him, tangling with the hot, building desire he felt for her. She always got under his skin. Somehow, she always got under his skin. "Is yours?" he snapped back. He could feel her stiffen, feel the tentatively open doors between them slamming shut. "I don't lie," she said shakily. "You made up the rules in this little game of ours—anything goes. I should have left you to the mercies of the she wolf and gone after the damned chalice alone!" "Then why'd you come after me?" He gave a small, hard laugh. "The she wolf, as you call her, would have cut my throat in another few seconds. You would have been rid of me for good. So why'd you come after me, Ty?" She swung around on the sleeping bag, her eyes glittering at him. "Beats the hell out of me!" Kane didn't know whether to laugh or goad her until they both found out just why she'd gone after him. He wasn't given the chance to decide, however, because her fierce scowl faded abruptly and quick concern darkened her amber eyes. "What happened?" She reached out, her fingers brushing aside his hair and lightly touching the bruised swelling just behind and below his left ear. Bemused, Kane stared at her, highly conscious of her cool, gentle touch on his aching flesh. "One of the bandits." He cleared his throat. "I said something nasty to her majesty and one of her boys conked me." Tyler set her mug aside and scrambled up in a flash of golden legs; she snagged the handkerchief from the line, going over to the stream and wetting it in the cool water. Returning, she knelt beside him and applied the folded pad to his head. "You should have said something," she told him irritably. "You must have a horrible headache."