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Flaming Scorpion studied the man struggling across the sand, each step sinking deep into the soft dunes. An American she’d been told though it didn’t matter what race he was from. To Scorpion he remained an unwelcome visitor, along with his burden of murder and death. She smiled with a grim satisfaction as he nearly stumbled in the sifting flow of soft silver. Wherever he came from the stranger was not accustomed to a land that moved beneath him and his lack of adaptability showed. So far Scorpion had foiled all his criminal forays into her country.
She adjusted the focus of the night vision binoculars. Even though she was hidden hundreds of feet away, just beneath the top of a majestic dune, Scorpion could feel the stench of death flow around him. So far those murders had been in another country, it was Scorpion’s duty to ensure he didn’t bring his poison here.
When the American reached the top of the dune that’s when he appeared. Heart pounding from more than the danger of her situation Scorpion drew her veil more tightly around her face, and then loosened the scarf around her neck to cool herself from the sudden warmth. He may be a terrorist suspect she was keeping under surveillance but Abu al Khayr’s approval of her as a woman meant more than it should have. Besides, the veil was the color of the sand, she needed to make sure she was camouflaged well. If she said it enough, Scorpion thought ruefully, she might eventually believe it.
Not that any color existed in this world of silver grey.
“Hey Scorp! Your tats are showing.” Dragon’s warning hissed through Scorpion’s headpiece.
Scorpion blushed, instinctively throwing her hands around her neck then quickly sliding backwards, well beneath the brow of the dune. She felt the double burn of embarrassment. Firstly that she’d accidentally caused her scarf to slip and let the fiery images become visible, and secondly that she’d been caught exposing them in a mission by an outsider. Furball had insisted she let Shimmering Dragon and Omniscient Otter work with her on this assignment yet, beyond the all too frequent cultural faux pas, Scorpion still hadn’t seen their worth. Although Dragon’s corporate credit card meant they were enjoying finer accommodations on this mission.
“There’s a breakaway,” Otter added. She was several dunes over to Scorpion’s left, the opposite direction from Dragon’s location. “Three, four men, armed, moving towards your position. They’re using Stealth.”
Which meant, Scorpion cursed softly, a watcher had seen the fire of her tattoos in the night and now Abu al Khayr’s men were searching for her.
“Fall back,” Scorpion ordered reluctantly. “Regroup at base.”
She could sense the other’s disappointment as well as she could feel her own. But there was no point taking risks, with their presence revealed they would be learning no more about the American’s deal tonight.
Hurrying around a couple of the tall dunes she pulled on the ripcord of her backpack. A spider-like lattice of ultra thin alloys and sheer windproof silk spread out from her shoulders like wings of a black demon. Somewhere out in the dunes Dragon and Otter would be doing the same. Climbing almost to the top of a dune, she daren’t go any further, she gave a small prayer that the height and breeze would be enough as she slipped her arms into the wing’s retaining straps.
One small push and the wings quivered as the small engines kicked silently in tiny rockets, almost as noiseless as the wind. Tremoring in the breeze, the wings lifted her above the sand and she began to glide, slowly and low at first to avoid being seen by those who chased her. Then, once she felt certain she was beyond their sight, she caught the uplifts in her wings and took herself higher. A slow, circuitous route that would eventually lead her back to their base.
“So, what do we do now?” Otter asked, taking a small sip of her coffee, screwing her face up with the bitterness. Shrugging she eagerly downed the rest of the caustic, hot liquid coughing as she swallowed some of the thick grounds.
Scorpion stroked her neck, she felt the warmth of the tattoo just below her ear and remembered how it had nearly been her undoing last night. Her mentor, Deadly Diamondback, had thought it egoistic when Scorpion had purchased it. She knew he never fully understood. Her whole life from when she had been a very small child had been training to love and protect her land and people. She did that with pride and her tattoo was a symbol of that dedication.
Even now when she looked in a mirror it still amazed her. Created out of special electroluminescent inks, powered by miniaturized solar cells and an implanted circuit chip, the image of a red scorpion with flames flaring backwards from it, would soak up the sun during the day. Then at night, the tattoo would burst into light, the flames flickering realistically in reds, oranges and yellows from the incandescent body of the creature.
It may have cost a small fortune but it made interesting conversation at the many social events she had to attend, often leading to contacts she’d been able to use in her missions. It also, she admitted caused the occasional problem when she had to keep herself hidden. Regrettably no one had thought to include an off switch.
Scorpion sat back in the overstuffed chair and sipped her coffee the way it should be sipped—slowly, so as not to disturb the grounds in the bottom of the cup. Out through the window the sea beat relentlessly on the beach and the bustle of tourists in the hotel was slowing down as the heat became unbearable.
“We continue to act as tourists until we can determine another suitable time for intercept,” she decided.
“That could take weeks,” Dragon said, giving her stun needle gun a final polish before spinning it around her finger, tossing it in the air, catching it and firing immediately at the far wall. Scorpion could just see the mosquito the needle had pinned there. Thankfully the needle guns were virtually silent.
“I suspect not,” Scorpion mused. “Al Khayr and the American seem keen to get their new business started. We may have to move deeper into enemy territory, but I suspect they will be meeting again, very soon.” They had to meet soon. It was Scorpion’s duty to confront Al Khayr and stop him.
Otter put the final polish to her needle gun, tossed it, fumbled the catch and accidentally fired it twice.
Scorpion could see two more mosquitoes pinned to the wall. Otter gave her gun a stunned look, then tossed it into her purse before it could bite her, looking like she’d love to pretend nothing had just happened. Dragon gave a disgruntled “Hmph.”
“Furball’s credit card will fix the wall.” Dragon reached for the room service menu. “I think we need another bottle of that champagne. I wonder if Rashid is still on shift...?”
Scorpion hid her smile behind another sip of coffee, then remembered Al Khayr as he’d walked across the dune. She put the cup down, realizing how foolish it was to drink hot drinks in the middle of the afternoon. She wiped her brow with some nearby tissues, hoping the flush of heat it had caused would pass quickly.
“He sure was a good looking guy,” Otter said wistfully. “It’s a shame he’s one of the bad ones.”
“Who?” Scorpion could barely keep the disgust out of her voice. “Rashid? He was ugly.”
“No, that Abdul wotsis guy.”
“Abu al Khayr,” Scorpion corrected sharply. “He is a child of the desert.”
Like me, Scorpion thought, fanning herself with the hotel menu.
She watched as Dragon and Otter gave each other a Look.
“Ah…” they both said together.
Scorpion, wisely, did not reply.
This time, dressed in midnight black so she could blend more easily into the shadows, Scorpion climbed four stories up the naked girders to the final, barely started fourth floor. Once here she walked, half-climbed, to a darkened and enclosed corner where the darkness lay thick and heavy. A midnight deep enough for her to hide in without being seen.
Abu al Khayr was funding the construction of this place, it was to become a hospital for the poor. Here there would be free treatment for those who couldn’t afford the services of doctors and nurses in the more affluent parts of the city. How could a man do such a thing, and yet be evil? Scorpion was determined to discover the reason for that tonight.
It had been just over a week since the aborted meeting within the dunes and during that time the American had become more confident, and bold, about moving under al Khayr’s wings. The freedom the killer had within al Khayr’s company now infuriated her, making it harder to defend the man.
Pulling herself up onto the girders in the corner Scorpion settled herself in for a long wait. She would end it tonight, one way or another. Al Khayr must be innocent, he had to be.
She looked across the city to the business building roughly half a mile away. Otter would be there now, sniper needle rifle already loaded and pointing her way. Dragon, wings safely hidden in her backpack, was waiting below. Dragon would give them their first warning of company. Scorpion checked one more time that her minute headset and microphone were working. Last time it, and Dragon’s warning, had probably saved her life.
“Movement,” she heard Dragon mutter. “It’s Abu.”
“Al Khayr,” Scorpion noted absently.
“Looks like he’s leaving his goons behind. So you’ll just be dealing with him and Carson. Your tat’s aren’t showing, are they?”
Blushing, Scorpion checked her scarf. It was tightly in place and the tattoos covered.
“Can you see me, Otter?”
“Barely,” Otter said. “Even the night scopes can’t seem to get that far into the shadows. Keep away from the South-West corner though. The wall work they’ve started there blocks my sight.”
Scorpion looked at the offending wall, she could see how it would get in the way of Otter’s aim.
She stilled as the sound of the temporary elevator started up. The wind began to rise too, thankfully. The cold desert nights were just way too hot for her recently, she was fairly stifling in this heat. She let the air move over her, becoming one with the flow, as Diamondback had taught her she could taste the storm within it.
“The wings of the wind,” he’d once told her. “The breath of Allah.”
Scorpion shivered, in spite of her flush. Diamondback had passed on over nine years ago yet, now and then, she could still feel him at her back.
Al Khayr arrived alone and Scorpion wondered that he couldn’t hear the pounding beat of her heart. The elevator came to a noisy stop and he stepped out, towards the middle of the construction where the floors were more completed and safer.
Even with her eyes closed she would have recognized him. His scent, heat, his very presence seemed to fill the world around him as she became acutely aware of everything he did. From his soft, steady breathing to the slow confident steps as he walked closer towards her.
In the middle of the floor he stopped, lifting his face to the wind as if tasting it with his thoughts.
Scorpion blinked, startled. He knew she was here? Her heart skipped and she shivered, recognizing the pleasure in his voice; understanding his excitement at finding her here with him. He turned on the spot looking for her, knowing she was present but unable to see.
“I have searched many years for you, Raging Scorpion. At last we get to meet.”
Searched for her? He’d called her Raging Scorpion, a name she’d heard whispered about in discreet circles for years. Could al Khayr have been the one who’d been looking for her?
Knowing what she was doing was foolish, Scorpion dropped silently from her hiding place, stepped out of the shadows behind him. She moved cautiously, not quite able to trust, but wholly unable to resist.
This close and he filled her senses, hot musky male, and an aura of strength and kindness. This one had been aptly named. For one brief flickering moment she’d been tempted to tear away her veil and submit herself to him. Fortunately the moment passed and her modesty remained intact.
“The sands hold many a truth, and buries a mountain of lies,” she said.
He span to face her. Scorpion smiled, she’d surprised him. That was good, he had to know he could still be surprised.
“What are you Abu al Khayr? A bringer of truth, or a giver of lies?”
Al Khayr walked towards her and Scorpion suddenly realized how stupid she’d been. Being this close to him, seeing his walk and understanding how dangerous this man could be, caused her to swallow nervously and freeze. Her legs felt too weak to run, her mind couldn’t function to think. If only the wind were wilder, maybe it would cool her down and aid her.
He stopped before her, the cold silver of the moon reflecting sharply into his eyes unable to hide the inferno within them. An inferno matched only by the heat within her that was raging uncontrolled.
He reached up to her face, for her veil.
“No!” The word came out as a gasp as she, somehow, found the strength to stop him.
Al Khayr chuckled, a warm and gentle chide as he touched a finger to her lips through the veil. The touch, even through the coarse silk, set her lips aching. A hungry pain that leached slowly into the rest of her body.
“Child of the desert,” he soothed, settling her veil firmly into place. “You think I’d be disrespectful and expose you to my gaze?” Scorpion didn’t know what to think, and didn’t think she really cared anymore. “What I was reaching for was this.”
His hand touched her neck, sliding the silken scarf away from her skin with a thousand torturous pinpricks of desire.
She felt him gasp as her neck and tattoo’s became clear to his sight, his movement so small and undetectable. His fingers touched the scorpion, trailing liquid fire on her flesh as he traced the design.
“…white?” She finished his question for him, finding herself amused by his shock.
“Yes. But you’re like one of us. As one with the sands.”
Scorpion nearly purred as his fingers stroked and caressed her neck.
“I was reborn here when my parents died.”
It was all she would give him. The evil crimes that had murdered her family and sent a toddler into slavery only she and her mentor had known. There was no one she could trust with that truth.
“Child of the desert,” he repeated. Scorpion heard the truth in his words.
Then felt the warmth of his lips on hers.
Hunger, frustration, her mind began a whirl of sensations—none of them lessened by the thin rough cloth of veil between them. His heat, his breath, permeated the silk and burned her, sending ripples of delight to spark and rage in the very heart of her womanhood.
Unknowing she wrapped her arms around him, fought to deepen the kiss and press herself hard against his firm body.
“So, you’ve finally brought me the witch who’s been ruining my plans.”
Stunned, moving as if she’d been plopped straight into a vat of treacle, Scorpion looked over he shoulder to see the American standing by the elevator. The wicked looking gun in his hand was pointing at her.
How did he…? Had she truly been too deep in al Khayr’s spell to hear her enemy arrive? Was she now betrayed unto death?
She jumped, startled as a gun was fired by her ear. al Khayr looked grim as he put the gun down and stepped in front of her. The American, shock written over his face, fell to the ground.
The stranger who stood before her, turned to face her, concentrating his gaze into her eyes. Behind him Dragon appeared on her wings, her stun needle gun aimed at his back.
“Don’t let him confuse you,” Dragon’s voice in her earpieces helped her focus a little. “We have to get you out of here now, that’s a full bloodbath going on down below.”
Dragon took aim, then squawked as a heavy wind caught her, tossing her away from the building.
“Damn,” Otter muttered. “talk about a huge blow job.”
Scorpion ignored the antics of her friends and turned to face al Khayr, anger brewing in her heart.
“What are you?” Scorpion demanded, alternating her stare between his face and the dead American. “Why did you kill him?”
On the ground below she could hear the sounds of a fierce gun battle. Obviously al Khayr’s and the American’s friends had decided to talk things out.
“Yours isn’t the only agency to protect our land from those who bring terror, drugs and bloodshed,” he gave a careless shrug. “We’d considered arresting him, but his ‘bodyguards’ killed three civilians last week while trying to introduce his ‘product’ to them.”
Scorpion’s mouth went dry. PIACT hadn’t passed on that news to her yet, but it would explain their sudden demands to speed up the operation.
al Khayr nodded, resetting the safety on his gun and slipping the weapon under his jacket where it was so well placed even Scorpion couldn’t detect it was there.
“A teacher and two of her students,” he explained. “He was looking to open a market at the University. They stumbled in on the deal.”
Killing three innocents, shooting the American was probably an act of mercy if al Khayr spoke the truth. His arrest and trial would have been a foregone conclusion, and his life in prison before his death a living hell.
Something in her stance must have softened because he reached out and touched her neck again, sending waves of yearning through her.
“We should…collaborate,” he said. “I know we’ll be much more, if we…work together.”
Deluged with a sudden desire Scorpion slipped a hand around his neck, pulled him down for a kiss. A kiss as frustrating as it was devastating, the veil now an irritation and barrier to her need.
She reached up, determined to tear it away.
al Khayr suddenly fell towards her. Barely able to hold his weight, she gently dropped the unconscious agent to the floor. Down below the sounds of gunfire was slowing. The battle was almost over.
“Hey, girl!” Otter announced over the headset. “You’ve gotta learn to play a little hard to get.”
Not sure whether to be relieved or angry Scorpion gave a short laugh. “Well, thanks to you, he’ll always think of me and that knock-out kiss. Thanks.”
“No problem,” Otter replied. “You’d better get your wings on and get out of their before his friends come looking. We’re going to have to find Dragon too. No doubt she’s got herself into more trouble again.”
Scorpion studied al Khayr’s face one more time, her memories burning within and making her blush. Yes, it was as well Otter had stunned him. She needed time to consider this man, and what an “alliance” would mean. Just how much could she afford to reveal?
Scorpion needed some time to consider the consequences of such a partnership. Retrieving her pack from the corner she slipped into its harness, reluctant to leave, yet eager to put a fair distance between them.
Before pulling the ripcord and releasing the wings she picked up the silk scarf and started to wrap it around her neck.
Pausing she changed her mind. Instead she knelt and wrapped the black silk around al Khayr’s left hand knowing he’d guess what she’d done. Then, lifting her veil, touched her lips against his tasting the forbidden fruit. The soft warmth threatened to envelop her with uncontrollable desire and, even in his unconscious state, he smiled.
Done, Scorpion forced herself to step away from him and open her wings. The storm was fast approaching but she should have enough time to escape. Finding Dragon would be another matter.
Blowing one kiss to her unconscious lover she turned to the wind, and stepped into its hungry maw.
It was wet. Still, Dragon considered herself pretty lucky seeing that the wings had departed only a short while ago. Landing in a swimming pool like this had probably been one of her best breaks in this mission so far.
“Are you okay?”
Uh oh, the deep male timbre hit her straight between the legs, and she hadn’t even been able to clear her vision to see him yet. Swimming until she could feel the bottom and stand comfortably on it she took a moment to scrub her eyes clear of water. Then blinked.
A dozen or so men, dressed only in tight fitting speedos, were gathered about the pool—all of them looking at her with varying degrees of curiosity and concern. She also noticed the huge bulges in their nether regions. Looking down at her wet cat suit as it vacuum packed to her breasts and nipples she guessed she wasn’t exactly hiding much herself.
“I kinda got lost, blown off course,” she mumbled. Not quite sure how to explain her sudden appearance.
“So it seems.” The owner of that voice spoke again, allowing her to pick him out from the crowd. He had to be a Hugh Jackman clone. Just had to be. “Gentlemen, help the lady out of the pool. Qasim, fetch the Aloe oil, she probably has a few bruises we need to attend.”
“Uhm, that’s okay…” Dragon started to protest, then one of the younger men picked her up, carried her like she was a Barbie doll to one of the poolside loungers. Strong hands began to give her a rather delicious massage.
“We would be much amiss,” the Hugh lookalike told her as she let the wonderful sensations take a hold. “If we sent you home ill cared for.”
“Oh, yes,” Dragon agreed. “As long as it isn’t too much trouble.”
All of the men looked at her and grinned in a hungry sort of way.
“Rest assured,” the man chuckled deep and low. “It will be no trouble at all.”