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Authors: Erin Yorke

Desert Rogue

BOOK: Desert Rogue
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Desert Rogue
Erin Yorke

For Tracy Farrell—with sincere thanks for all your encouragement in this roller coaster of a business. You make it easier to ride the ups and downs.

For Marion Willoughby, and all the other women who trudge across the treacherous sands of life without a hero to guide them—may he be waiting just over the horizon.

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter One
Cairo—1881
T
he whoosh of a clenched fist traveling past Jed Kincaid's ear momentarily drowned out the exotic wail of the snake charmer's flute as it mingled with the usual chaotic noise of Cairo's
medina.
Raising a questioning eyebrow, Jed spawned a lazy grin that didn't quite reach his hard green eyes, and turned around to face his attackers.

“Damn, you really are angry, aren't you? And here I had just about given up hope of finding any more excitement tonight...at least before I went to bed. But if you boys want to fight, despite the fact that I told your little sister she was too young for me and sent her on her way, then I'll be more than happy to oblige,” Jed drawled. Knowing these Egyptians didn't care about explanations, he stretched his long, muscular frame so that he appeared even larger, his stand obviously taken.

Senses heightened, he noted a sudden absence of noise in the bazaar. Even the snake charmer's melody was silenced. Most of those who had been outdoors only a moment before had sought refuge from the impending melee behind the shutters of the small shops squeezed together along the narrow, twisting alleyway. Absently, Jed brushed back a wayward lock of dark brown hair from his forehead and raised his fists, readying his body for the onslaught to follow.

He wasn't disappointed. All at once, three men clad in
gallabiyas
charged at him, and Jed's powerful forearms made contact with the midsection of one Egyptian before he whirled to face another.

Though Kincaid's stance was easy and graceful as he delivered blow after blow, his steps swayed slightly, a result of the
zabeeb
he had been imbibing rather than any damage he sustained from the brawl itself. After all, there were only three of them, and Jed Kincaid had oftentimes discovered himself in much worse scrapes.

Somehow, trouble usually managed to find Jed, and when it didn't, he went looking for it. While others not born in Egypt might spend their time sequestered in their own sectors, which were nothing more than transplanted slices of their homelands, the dark-haired American preferred to experience everything foreign shores had to offer. In fact, after two grueling months in the desert, Jed had yearned to avail himself of the sweet pleasures of the Middle East. But even he hadn't hoped for an evening as entertaining as this promised to be with its drinking, its brawling, and his still undaunted intentions of finding some passionate desert blossom to share his bed.

Prodded by the one appetite he had yet to satisfy, Jed savagely thrust his elbow to the rear and was pleased to hear a grunt. Fights like this one reminded him of the constant tussles he and his brothers had indulged in while growing up in the woods of Kentucky. Steeped for a moment in boyhood memories, Jed barely managed to evade a lethal blade before he cautioned himself that there was one important difference between this and the scuffles of his childhood. These boys were playing for keeps.

The realization didn't sober him. He was a man who thrived on danger, and he decided not to allow the deadly attitude of his opponents to detract from his own enjoyment of the moment. After all, they were the ones missing out on all the fun, needlessly angry as they were. It was just a damn shame that most people didn't know how to enjoy life and its many challenges.

That thought foremost in mind, Jed threw himself with greater abandon into subduing the three Egyptians. After a few more minutes of exertion, one man lay groaning at Jed's feet while another was heaped over a pile of baskets. Two down and one to go, Jed noted with satisfaction. If the third assailant had any sense, he would learn a lesson from what had befallen his companions. But as the man lunged at him with renewed rage, Jed concluded that this fellow was no brighter than the other two. Couldn't the idiot understand that he hadn't approached the girl, that she had tried quite unsuccessfully to solicit him?

Now that the first blush of excitement had worn off, an impatient Jed decided to dispatch his remaining attacker quickly. Heaving a sigh, he sent the Cairene a wallop that had to have loosened some teeth, and received a blow to the jaw in return. Crouching and coming in suddenly under a fist meant for his head, Jed grabbed the Egyptian, wrapping his hands around the unfortunate man's throat while he heaved him against the wall of a small brassware shop. The
gallabiya-
clad villain landed heavily, scattering neatly displayed brass plates, tables, vases and coffee sets with a loud clatter.

Satisfied that the Egyptian wouldn't be getting to his feet for quite a while, Jed wiped the dust from his hands and turned away. Now that the fracas had been settled, he had no intention of being in the vicinity should the local police arrive anytime soon. After all, he still had one very pressing need that remained unfulfilled.

Setting forth with a determined glint in his dark green eyes, Jed had gone no more than a half-dozen steps when he heard an excited voice filling the narrow alleyway.

“English! Wait! Wait, English!”

Jed kept going. Whatever it was, it had nothing to do with him, and he had things other than curiosity on his mind at the moment. Yet, as he made ready to round the corner of the twisting street wending its way through the middle of the bazaar, the voice became louder and more insistent, until suddenly it was punctuated by the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps.

Muttering a curse, Jed readied himself for another fight, be it with recovered assailant or arresting police in pursuit. Damn! Didn't these people have better things to do, he asked himself in annoyance?

But the sight that greeted his eyes when he turned around was neither constable nor thug. It was, however, one very irate Egyptian, a shopkeeper from the looks of him.

“English, I will have a word with you,” the man demanded indignantly when he reached Jed.

“Say, you're not talking to me, are you?” Jed asked with exasperation as he sized up this newfound obstacle to the pleasure beckoning him like the song of a siren across a turbulent sea.

Of Bedouin extraction by the look of him, the man was almost as tall as the American he confronted. From the expression of his sharp, angular features, the merchant was agitated about something, but Jed had neither the inclination nor the patience to find out what it was.

“Yes, you, English. I am talking to you. Where do you think you are going?”

“Now, see, that's where you make your mistake. I'm an American, not some overly civilized, staid Brit, and I guess I had better warn you that I don't play by their silly rules of proper behavior,” Jed growled softly, angered that he had been mistaken for one of the sedate and unflappable Englishmen who had overrun the Land of the Pharaohs. “And as to where I'm headed, it's none of your damn business.”

“But it is,” the man insisted in spite of the formidable picture a scowling Jed Kincaid presented. “I will not have you run off without payment for the damage you did to my wares. I am Ali Sharouk. It was against my brass shop that you threw one of the men who had challenged you, ruining an intricately wrought coffee service in the process.”

“Challenged? It was more a bushwhacking they had in mind than an open and honorable challenge,” Jed said with a snort of derision. “As for damage to your coffeepot, get the money for it from one of those bastards who started the fight. I'm certainly not paying for it!”

“But they appear to be poor men. Where would they get the piasters to pay me?” the shopkeeper asked plaintively. “No. It is you I hold responsible, you who heaved my countryman into a pile of my lovely brassware.”

“If they don't have any money, take it out of their hides,” Jed suggested, turning to walk away once more. “From experience, I can assure you that you might find it real gratifying to do so.”

“I am not excessively violent by nature,” the tall Egyptian asserted, dogging Jed's footsteps as he dismissed the situation and set out on his way, “yet neither am I a fool. I will have my money from you.”

“Like hell you will,” Jed promised in a dangerous voice. For emphasis, he brought his face within inches of this latest nuisance, a man not much older than his own twenty-eight years, though by all appearances, a hell of a lot more domesticated. “A decent man walks down your street and is attacked and you expect him to pay for the goods you had heaped at your doorway? I don't think so. In fact, my friend, I know that is not going to be the case. Now, leave me alone before I lose my temper.”

“Your temper does not mean as much to me as recovering the price of the goods that were damaged,” the Egyptian replied with more persistence than Jed would have given him credit for.

“I said to forget it, Ali,” Jed pronounced, lengthening his stride so that the other man was finding it increasingly difficult to keep pace with him.

“I will do no such thing,” the Egyptian replied, reaching out a hand to slow this argumentative American down if not stop him altogether.

“Listen, I suggest you take your hand off my shoulder,” Jed whispered fiercely, “and go back to your shop. That is, unless you have a hankering to wind up like the last men who touched me.”

Ali involuntarily released his grasp but planted himself in Jed's path and kept up his harangue. Finally Jed Kincaid had had enough. The muscles of his lean jaw clamped tightly, and he shoved Sharouk out of his way with such force that the shopkeeper found himself sitting in the midst of refuse strewn across the dust of the alley.

Without another thought for the man, Jed left him there, ignoring Ali's shouted promise to track him down and recover what was rightfully his.

But to Jed's aggravation, the recent events in the
medina
had befouled his mood, robbing him of the euphoria he had found in the bottle of
zabeeb.
With an exasperated sigh, he decided to attempt to recapture his good humor with a few more cups of the native liquor before continuing his search for a woman. He had enough control to postpone his gratification awhile longer, and he had no wish to bring anger to his bed that night, wherever it might eventually be.

* * *

The estates of wealthy foreigners were a far cry from the poverty and exotic life of the Arab quarter. Behind the gates of the British and French dwelt beauty, great wealth and an ordered grace, if not the actual comforts of home. At least that was how Victoria Shaw viewed her world.

The sultry heat of the Egyptian sun hung oppressively over the Nile, the air visible in the shimmering distortion of the land across the river. Though Victoria had dressed in as cool a manner as was proper, in a loose-sleeved white chambray blouse edged with piping that matched her blue skirt, and had long ago dispensed with corsets and stays, the twenty-year-old was frightfully uncomfortable. Indeed, ladylike behavior or not, Victoria Shaw was actually perspiring in the early twilight.

Wearily tucking yet another errant curl back into her rapidly dissolving coiffure, the petite blonde sighed and moved further into the ineffectual shade provided by a nearby palm. What wouldn't she give to be under a true English oak, or even a walnut tree.

Over the years since the family had settled in Egypt, her father's servants had struggled assiduously to turn the Shaw property fronting the river into a small oasis of refreshing greenery, but, attractive as it was, it could never compare to the cool grassy meadows of Warwickshire that Victoria remembered so fondly from childhood. Even ten years of living on the outskirts of the Egyptian desert hadn't erased her vivid recollections of running barefoot across the dewy lawns of the Shaw holdings in England.

“Mother,” the young woman said thoughtfully, removing her straw bonnet and using it as a fan in a vain attempt to stir a sympathetic breeze, “do you know, the experience I'm most looking forward to on my honeymoon is feeling cold again, being truly and properly frigid from my head to my toes.”

“Oh, surely not, Victoria,” gulped Mrs. Shaw, horrified that her daughter should entertain such a notion. She had thought Victoria adored Hayden and wanted marriage; whatever had come over her? Before she could express her dismay, however, Victoria laughed gaily and explained herself.

“For heaven's sake, Mother, don't look so grim. I don't mean with Hayden. I expect to be kept quite warm learning the ways of husband and wife,” she admitted, recalling the embrace he'd caught her in the night before. “However, I am anticipating English weather with great delight, even if it will be November when we dock. As warm as I've been lately, I cannot think of a single discomfort to be suffered in a real English winter.”

“What about that raw, damp chill that penetrates your bones, no matter how well banked the fire, how warm your gown, or how much tea you drink?” asked Grace from under her parasol, a concession to her fair complexion and the strong Egyptian sun. “That is nothing I would choose to experience again. Your father and I are quite content here in Cairo, but I suppose it will be different for you if Hayden moves up in the diplomatic corps—”


When,
not
if,
Mother,” corrected Victoria, immediately indignant at the implied criticism of her fiancé. “Hayden Reed is invaluable to the British Consulate and soon they'll recognize it and give him a more prestigious posting. You wait and see how quickly my future husband advances in his career.”

“Of course, darling. Hayden is a fine young man and your father and I are pleased you are happy with him.” Idly playing with her parasol, Grace chose her next words carefully. “As much as we appreciate Hayden's sterling qualities, we had hoped you would marry a titled Englishman.”

“Mother, Hayden comes from an impeccable family. His bloodlines are nothing to wince at,” said Victoria with a pout.

“Nonetheless, society is much more pleasant when others must curtsy to you, my dear. Still, eventually your father might be able to arrange a title of some kind, baron or viscount, perhaps. Cameron does have Gladstone's ear on foreign affairs, you know.”

BOOK: Desert Rogue
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