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“When Blaze awoke she found herself lying on a silken soft surface amid the seductive scent of strange perfumes. A cool night breeze the air of the desert, exotic and amorous stroked her naked flesh. Naked? A soft cry escaped her voluptuous lips as she realized the truth. Where were her clothes? What unknown hands had stripped them from her helpless body? Where was she?
“Lamps carved of alabaster gave enough light to answer the last question. Overhead a silken canopy shielded her from the night sky, a patch of which, glittering with stars, was visible through the open flap of the tent. Scarcely had she realized this when the stars were blotted out by a dark form. Stooping, he entered the tent, and Blaze's white hands fluttered, trying in vain to conceal her softness. It was the Arab who had stared at her so boldly in the bazaar. Intense blue eyes studied her over the folds of the kaffiyeh that hid the lower part of his face. ‘You are no Arab,' Blaze gasped. ‘I know those eyes you are you are '
“ ‘Your husband.' The kaffiyeh fell away; it was indeed the face of Lance, Earl of Deptford, his chiseled lips curved in a mocking smile. ‘Come to claim the rights you have so long denied me, my love. The disguise disturbs you? Off with it, then.' And he flung the robe aside.
“Blaze's eyes moved from the bronzed chest, seamed with the white scars of a hundred duels, to the narrow waist and flat, muscled abdomen, down to...”
Jacqueline's eyes bulged. “My God,” she said aloud. “It's The Lusful Turk.”
Jacqueline looked up from the pages of Slave of Lust. The stewardess stood beside her, trying to read over her shoulder. Obligingly she held the book up so the girl could see better.
The young woman's eyes lit up. “It's the new Valerie Vanderbilt! I haven't read that one yet. But I just love her books, don't you?”
Jacqueline inspected the cover of the paperback. Blaze (“the streak of silver in the midnight blackness of her flowing locks had given her her name”) reclined on silken coverlets, her softness discreetly veiled by the broad bronzed body of the Earl of Deptford. The title and the name of the author were printed in brilliant scarlet letters.
“Valerie Vanderbilt,” Jacqueline repeated. “I must admit this is the first of her books I have read.”
“She's divine.” The stewardess sighed voluptuously. “They say she's really a countess or something, but she doesn't use her title because her noble family has disowned her on account of she's had so many love affairs. This one is about a Turk?”
“You misunderstood my reference,” said Jacqueline. She glanced at the cart, with its rows of bottles and glasses, whose progress along the aisle of the plane had been interrupted by the stewardess's literary interests. “Are you by any chance selling drinks? I'll have Scotch. No. I'll have a double.”
It was an unseemly hour for alcohol barely eight a.m. but as the airlines had learned to their profit, some passengers resorted to liquor in an effort to dull their fear of flying. Jacqueline was not afraid of flying. What she wanted to dull were her critical faculties.
Her reminder of duties unfulfilled was reinforced by a chorus of requests from nervous customers nearby. Murmuring an apology, the attendant filled Jacqueline's order. When she gave Jacqueline the glass, a pair of miniature bottles, and a small package of petrified peanuts, Jacqueline said, “You can have this when I'm finished, if you like.”
“Really? Oh, that's really nice! But you won't finish it before we get to New York.”
“Oh yes, I will.”
“Well, that is really nice of you. Books are so expensive. I read four or five of them a week, and that really adds up, even though my friends and I exchange when we ”
A wild-eyed businessman in the seat ahead leaned out into the aisle, waving a five-dollar bill and babbling incoherently.
“Yes, sir, right away.” With a smile at Jacqueline, the girl moved on.
Jacqueline refreshed herself copiously but decided she still wasn't prepared to return to the perfumed canopied tent. I should have ordered three drinks, she thought. At least I can be sure of getting the attendant's services from now on. Four or five of these books a week? If all the examples of the genre resembled Slave of Lust, it was a wonder the hard-core readers could talk at all, much less frame a coherent English sentence.
She turned her gaze to the window. There was nothing to be seen except an undulating blanket of gray cloud. It had been raining when she left Nebraska. It had rained in Nebraska every day for the past two weeks. The farmers were tearing their hair and the local papers carried dire predictions of crop failures rotting corn, mildewed hay higher prices, and general despair. Jacqueline had lived in Nebraska for three years, and in her experience the farmers were always complaining and food prices were always going up. It was either too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry. She had no great opinion of Nebraska or the agricultural community, and in this particular spring she had had far too much rain to suit her. It was one of the factors that had prompted her passionate outcry the previous Sunday, as she stood at the window of her apartment watching raindrops pelt the puddles on the balcony.
“I've got to get out of this backwater before I lose my mind!”
“Backwater is not inappropriate,” her friend replied, putting his stockinged feet on a hassock and reaching for his glass.
“Where do you want to go?”
“A city.” Jacqueline gestured dramatically at the window. Beyond the red brick college buildings, empty fields...Die for Love. Copyright © by Elizabeth Peters. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.