Read an Excerpt
By Heather Graham
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1984 Heather E. Graham
All rights reserved.
Tomorrow, Alex thought, A sweep of excitement seeming to swell within her like an ocean tide, I will be in Paris. And then I will be in Cairo, and I will see Dad, and we'll start searching ... living out a dream.
And I can talk to Dad about another dream. Wayne. Maybe now is the time for all dreams to come true.
Stop it! she railed at herself. Wayne was nothing but a dream, and her divorce from him had been a nightmare.
That thought reminded her that she was sitting at her desk, staring at a half-finished page that had to be completed if she was ever going to leave the museum.
There was nothing, she told herself dryly, quite like thinking about Wayne to bring her back to reality. The cold, hard facts about Wayne brought her crashing back down to earth so that she could forget her fingers were quivering with excitement and get back to the tedious paperwork. She placed her fingers on the typewriter keys and picked up with her next paragraph.
"Only the pharaohs were entitled to life after death in the Old Kingdom, as exemplified by the three Great Pyramids at Giza, the Step Pyramid and other grand structures built during this era. By the dawning of the New Kingdom, after Egypt had broken into various sections and been restored to glory by the kings of Thebes, it was accepted that all men might seek an afterlife. Still, it was the rich and powerful who went to their final resting places with the greatest display of grandeur. The more a man had, the more he would have for his rebirth after the judgment of Osiris. It was from these dynasties, beginning with the eighteenth (1570–1300 B.C.), that we are bequeathed the 'Valley of the Kings,' and hence the forever famed discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb by the determined archeologist Howard Carter in 1922.
"Many believe that the treasures of 'Tut' were the last that remained to be discovered by contemporary man. Still, there remains documentation of eighteenth-dynasty kings who remain mysteries. One of these is Anelokep, a man who reigned for approximately a decade. He was terrified of grave robbers and left this threat: 'He who enters here shall be avenged by the gods, and by myself. My ka [soul] and my ba [physical vitality, believed to flee at the moment of death] shall remain to protect that which goes with me, which assures my comforts through eternity!'"
Alex finished typing and pulled the sheet from her typewriter to add to the papers in the folder on her desk. She glanced up to see that the offices were empty. She smiled as she remembered that several of her co-workers had stopped to tell her good-bye and wish her good luck.
After gathering her things, she left her office and listened to the eerie echo of her heels in the empty hallways. The guards were still on duty, of course, and they nodded to her as she passed out of the building and hurried to her car.
The summer heat was so intense that the asphalt on Michigan Avenue shimmered. To the east, Lake Michigan itself appeared to be an eternity of indigo crystal; the air was heavy and humid.
But as she left the museum parking lot and battled her way through the hectic late-afternoon traffic, Alex gave no thought to her present environment. Her mind was on a different heat—that of the desert. As she waited at red lights, vaguely hearing the impatient honks of numerous horns, she made a mental checklist. Yes, she was ready to leave. She was packed, she had copies of all the documents Jim had requested, and she had her passport and tickets in order.
She sighed softly as a red light turned green and she shifted her small Datsun from neutral to first, then back to neutral as the traffic again snagged. She started her checklist all over again. She had a very meticulous mind, so there was no reason to make a checklist, but reviewing her plans kept her from thinking about Wayne, and she didn't want to think about Wayne again. A year ago the divorce had been final. She had learned to live without him, and now, suddenly, she had heard from him again. "Perhaps we can talk, Alex. Negotiate our problems. Learn to compromise...."
How she would love that to be possible! She had handled the divorce with quiet dignity; few knew how deeply it had wounded her.
But she had loved Wayne, and even when she discovered he hadn't loved her enough to be either faithful or encouraging of her career, she had missed him with an excruciating pain that seemed to eat at her physically. She had managed to be strong and realistic, fully aware that a relationship could not be full—or even decent—with one partner giving up everything.
But if he wanted to come back, would she still be strong enough to resist him? There had been times when it had been so incredibly beautiful between them, times when she knew that he did love her, and appreciate her, and find her irresistible.
Don't be an ass! she warned herself. If he was reaching out to "negotiate" now, it was only because Jim was on to a find that might rock the world beyond the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb decades ago.
"Back to the checklist, girl," she whispered softly.
But thinking of the checklist meant thinking about Egypt again; and thoughts of Egypt made her remember how Wayne had hated her enthusiasm in his field of expertise—a field that had been her own since she had been a little girl.
Wayne wanted fame—and a wife who would sit in the background. He had never wanted her to use her degrees; they should merely have left her competent to join in his conversations when he entertained others in the academic world.
But maybe I'm wrong, she told herself. Maybe he understands now. Maybe he really wishes to remarry, to make our marriage a partnership, to believe that I will not tolerate his casual infidelities.
He had been shocked when she actually filed divorce papers. He knew that she loved him. He had signed the papers but had not contacted her at all in the past year. There had not even been the recriminations she had expected.
Nothing, Alex thought bitterly. Nothing at all. Because of Wayne, she had been unable to date, unable even to enjoy a cup of coffee with another man other than a colleague.
Logically she tried to tell herself that Wayne hadn't changed, but as little strings seemed to pull at her heart, she also argued that she was being illogical and closed-minded not to give him the benefit of the doubt. And she still loved him. That was actually the deciding factor. If he wanted to talk, she would be willing to listen.
Finally she reached her apartment building. When she opened her mailbox there were two letters. The first, with its Egyptian stamps—a row of sleek portraits of a bust of Queen Nefertiti—caught her attention immediately. She hurried into her apartment and ripped open the envelope as she entered the living room, plopped down her shoulder bag and research folders and sank into the caramel-colored sofa.
I am riding on a cloud of exhilaration so incredibly high that sometimes I am afraid I shall explode with it. I read over a papyrus in the Cairo museum that I had read a dozen times—and there it was! The final proof! The burial chamber of Anelokep, eighteenth-dynasty Theban king, is in the Valley of Kings! I am no longer going on conjecture, Alex, but on documented proof. All the little clues tied together—I had just stared at them so long that I was blind to the piece in the puzzle that made it a whole! Between the hieroglyphics you deciphered in the Field museum and the papyrus here, the story is told.
I can hardly wait for you to get here. It is really more your victory than mine. After all, it was you who first insisted against all expert opinion that another unplundered tomb could exist—did, in fact, exist—and that the mystery of Anelokep could be solved in the Valley of the Kings.
Alex, the characters with whom I've become involved are right out of Arabian nights! Ali Sur Sheriff is as extraordinary as any movie sheikh racing across the desert upon his black stallion. He has a running feud with another nearby sheikh of the same emirate—Omar Khi Haman—and he too is out of a fantasy. Potbellied and jowled, he sits upon his satin pillows while his harem girls pare his fingernails all day! (Here, dear Alex, I realize you are gritting your teeth and huffing away in your mind about the ill use of the female gender! But we are talking about a different world, as well you know.)
Anyway, this Sheikh Haman has become interested in me because Sheikh Sheriff is financing my "mysterious" project! Mysterious? For the moment, I suppose so. I fear what could happen if those of—what shall I say?—crasser values?—should discover exactly where I am going until I am ready to be there. The wealth, both material and historical, that we will find will be beyond the imagination!
As for Dan D'Alesio, he is nothing less than pure energy, Alex. Intense, striking, brilliant—not even his fantastic programs can give you a true picture of the man himself. But then I've mentioned before how I admire him. I guess I'm still attempting to find a way to describe him on paper. He's mercurial, magnetic, hypnotic! (Of course, I suppose he could also be described as quicksand—he suckered me into agreeing that he could join me with his film crew!)
Ah ... the desert! And the Arab world and the history of the ancients unfolding. The sky at night is indigo velvet, littered with stars seemingly so close you could reach out and touch them. Enigma and mystery ... and ever-elusive danger!
I hear via the grapevine that your ex-husband has been snooping around. You're an adult, Alex, so I won't give you a lecture. I'll just remind you that you're a beautiful and bright young woman, and your life stretches before you. You deserve nothing less than the best.
Since I shall see you soon, I will end here. Oh—if anything should go wrong, get hold of Sheikh Sheriff. I am on my way to the UAE now to see him. A few things are making me a little nervous. Our compelling Mr. Dan D'Alesio is the link to the sheikh. See you at the Cairo airport, July 6, ten P.M. Don't be late!
Alex smiled as she refolded the letter and carefully replaced it in the envelope. Tingles of excitement raced furiously up and down her spine. She didn't doubt Jim for a second—he knew where he would discover the tomb of Anelokep. And she would be there.
It was the ultimate fantasy. Since she had been a child and first heard Jim weave tales of the mystical and awesome wonders of ancient Egypt, she had dreamed of just such a discovery. Since she had first seen the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx standing a silent, ageless sentinel, she had known her life would be dedicated to the quest of new understanding of the people who had created such indestructible magic.
"I'll be there right on time, Jim," she whispered tenderly to the letter as she stuffed it into her bag. I wouldn't miss it for the world. She leaned her head back against the sofa and closed her eyes to dream again for a minute. A frown suddenly puckered her brow, and she pulled the letter out again.
"If anything should go wrong, get hold of Sheikh Sheriff ... A few things are making me a little nervous...."
Thanks, Jim, she thought. Now you're making me nervous. You can sure explain that paragraph to me when I get there!
Thoughtfully she refolded the letter a second time.
Only then did her eyes fall upon the second envelope she had drawn from her mailbox. Her heart seemed to leap and squeeze. It was from Wayne. She would recognize his chicken scrawl anywhere.
Slowly, hesitantly, almost as if it were a snake and would bite, she opened it.
Alex, Not Dear Alex, she thought dryly, just Alex:
Understand Jim is in Cairo and that you are going to meet him. Happen to be in Luxor myself. Meet me in Cairo at the Hilton on the seventeenth. I believe we can get it together.
Love you, Wayne
Love you, love you, love you, love you....
The words rang in her mind until she felt dizzy. Then she twisted the envelope around. Yes, it too had Egyptian stamps; she hadn't noticed them because she had seen Wayne's writing.
She swallowed and took a deep breath. I won't be in Cairo on the seventeenth, she thought sickly, I'll be somewhere in the Valley of the Kings.
She bit her lip and stood, stretching to shake off the painful dizziness and churning in her stomach. Maybe I can get back to Cairo for the day, she thought. Travel by the Nile was slow, but now there were plenty of flights from Luxor.
"Don't let him ruin your life," Jim had warned.
She bit her lip again, then hurried to the cherry wood secretary where she kept her correspondence. You are right, Jim; I am an adult and I have spent my life studying and researching and dreaming of just such a venture as ours.
She drew out a sheet of her monogrammed paper with the tiny etched oasis scene in the far right corner.
Wayne [No Dear Wayne, just Wayne. Anyway, how had he known she was going to be in Egypt? A lucky guess? He knew her father, he knew her own expertise. If he had read that James was bringing an assistant, wouldn't he expect it to be her? It didn't really matter. When she saw him, she could ask him. Right now she had to write a brief, noncommittal note],
I'm sorry, I cannot make Cairo on the seventeenth. If you wish, I will meet you in the dining room of the Luxor Egyptian on same date.
She hesitated a long time before signing the short note. And then she brought her pen back to the paper.
Feeling satisfied with her solution—one that proclaimed her her own person and yet stated she would be willing to see him, Alex copied off the Luxor address on Wayne's envelope and applied postage to her letter. She would have to mail it first thing in the morning. She strode with light steps into her kitchen.
Life suddenly seemed incredibly beautiful—a dream in process of fulfillment, a chance to begin again.
Fifteen minutes later Alex brought a small broiled steak and a large salad with all the trimmings into the living room. For company she turned the TV on, not bothering to check the program listings.
It seemed strange that one of the men Jim had mentioned in his letter suddenly came to life before her.
It was a rerun, the special on the different hotbeds of unrest in the Middle East, delving into the turmoils of centuries past which, never resolved, now exploded again and again.
It was an excellent documentary, and D'Alesio was good. He was a striking man, dark, well built and apparently agile. He climbed the cliffs of Afghanistan as well as the soldiers he accompanied. His report was intelligent and articulate and more. He gave it something—a rare insight.
Alex could understand why Jim had agreed to let him film the expedition.
She had never met D'Alesio, but Jim had been impressed by him at their first meeting. And she would be meeting him soon. For a totally inexplicable reason, she felt a tiny trail of chills shoot down her spine as D'Alesio's dark eyes seemed to meet hers across the barrier of the color screen.
They were powerful eyes, she thought, chuckling and giving herself a little shake. So dark, brooding, yet sharply alert. They were jet; they were the intensity of slow-burning fire. They were cool, and yet they were a tempest.
Alex finished her steak and rose to carry her dishes into the kitchen. Meticulously she washed and dried them and tidied the kitchen. She wanted the apartment in perfect order before she left.
She showered and carried a few of her books into the bedroom, hoping to make it a very early night. She was susceptible to jet lag and therefore liked to fly across the Atlantic with an abundance of sleep behind her.
With a glass of wine at her side, she went over various notes, then idly thumbed the pages of a large pictorial book on ancient Egypt. But it was hard to concentrate on either her notes or the pictures. Her mind kept leaping from Jim to Wayne, from hieroglyphics to Wayne, from the Sphinx to Wayne. She even began to wonder if she should back out of the expedition. This was her chance to reconcile her personal life.
Don't be more of a fool than you've already been! she warned herself harshly, and as if in emphasis to the warning, the phone at her bedside began to ring stridently.
She answered it hastily. "Hello?"
"You were supposed to call!"
"Oh, Kelly! I'm sorry, I—"
"No excuses," Kelly said and chuckled, and as the soft, husky sound reached her, Alex shook her head slightly. Kelly's natural voice was incredibly sexy. She should have been doing voiceovers for escort services rather than compiling dinosaur bones all day.
"I am sorry. I forgot," Alex admitted ruefully.
Excerpted from Arabian Nights by Heather Graham. Copyright © 1984 Heather E. Graham. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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