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By Caroline Burnes
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Chapter OneThe world is a strange and wondrous place! Alexandria, Egypt! Imagine. I stepped off that big jet plane and into a world where humanoids have finally come to their senses - they're all cat worshipers.
My fellow felines are all around me, lounging in the airport as if they owned the place. Of course, cats are so far advanced in thought and spirit that we understand that "owning" anything is ridiculous. But it is refreshing to see a culture where humans know their place.
Ah, Egypt. Home of the Sphinx, Cleopatra, the Sahara Desert, and a million and one magical dreams. Peter, my humanoid and veterinarian, is here to discuss the latest programs for helping felines control their population. It's going to be a hard sell, but as the populations of humans and animals swell on the planet, we're all going to have to do our part.
There go Peter and the lovely Eleanor with our bags. I suppose I should follow along like a good kitty. I can sightsee once we're checked into our hotel.
Now who is that little pixie with the fire in her eyes? My goodness, she's handing out orders like a drill sergeant. And she has a whole troop to do her bidding. Dig those khaki shorts and those utilitarian hiking boots. All she needs is a pith helmet and she can sally forth into the desert in search of Dr. Livingston. But she is cute as a button.
Normally I go for the taller model humanette, but there's something about MissExplorer that just makes me want to watch her. It's her determination. I can almost smell it. She's here on a mission, and nothing is going to stand in her way. I think I'll sidle over, do a little eavesdropping and see what she's up to.
Hmm. She's an anthropologist, and she's brought enough equipment to examine the tombs of the pharaohs. I just love women who dig up bones. That's sort of my job - digging up bones and clues and anything else that helps solve a mystery.
So she's looking for a lost civilization. Interesting, and not just to me. There's a man behind that pillar who's just as curious about Miss Explorer as I am. In fact, I'd say he's even more interested.
My, my. This man reminds me of nothing if not a hawk. And Miss Explorer seems to be his chosen meal. He's watching her as if he's about to dive down and attack at any moment.
At last she's got all her stuff together, and all those people who seem to be with her. There must be five people in her party, and from the looks of them, they all work outdoors. They're moving to the bus to go into town. Good. The man who was watching her is going in the opposite direction. Perhaps he was just a pickpocket.
Nah! I'd be willing to bet my elegant black hide that he's not a common thief. The way he was watching Miss Explorer sort of made my hide itch.
I guess the only noble thing to do is get on the bus with Miss Explorer and head into town. Peter and Eleanor are staying at the Abbula, the ritziest hotel in town. I can find them there in time for dinner.
You know, I love this place. I can stroll around and no one pays the least bit of attention to me. There are cats everywhere. Some really hot little purr-furs, too. It's a little-known fact, but Cleopatra was a cat in a former life. That's when she learned to become such a seductress. She had a definite appreciation for her feline nature, and boy, did Mark Antony learn about it the hard way! I see one long, elegant black puss that might have a bit of the Cleopatra bloodline in her veins. But I have to behave. My heart belongs to the beautiful Clotilde, and I would never betray her trust.
I'm on the bus and settled just beneath the feet of the intrepid female explorer. The other members of her crew are calling her Beth. Now that's a nice sensible name. I'll just have to keep tabs on her for a little while to make sure that man from the airport isn't following her.
Eleanor and Peter will be worried, but I'll be back with them by dinnertime - and that's one promise I intend to keep. The last time they took me abroad and I disappeared in Ireland, they said they were never taking me out of the country again. I can't screw up my second chance at international travel, or they really won't let me out of Washington.
* * *
Beth Bradshaw felt as if her body was on the verge of rebellion. She was exhausted. It had taken all of her energy to get her band of archaeologists and anthropologists onto the plane in New York and down in Alexandria. It was only when the jet had begun its descent and she'd looked out the window and seen the jewel of the Mediterranean shimmering like a blue opal beneath her that she realized she was actually about to land in Egypt. After months and months of planning, the real adventure was about to begin.
As the bus lumbered through the crowded streets of the city, Beth looked out the window at the passing sights. It was as if she was in a dream. The streets were full of men and women in the flowing robes of the Middle Eastern culture, though there were a few in western garb. Dark eyes gazed back at hers with mixed expressions of interest, curiosity and mild amusement.
And cats were all over the place. She felt something brush against her feet and leaned down to discover a big black feline purring against her ankles.
She sighed. She wasn't particularly fond of cats. She was more a dog person. Cats had a streak of arrogance that left her feeling cool toward them. Dogs were always glad for a pat and some attention. Sort of like herself. Yep, she was definitely a dog person, while her best friend and self-appointed sister, Amelia, was the cat person.
"Beth, I thought our guide was going to meet us in the airport."
She looked up to find John Gilmore standing over her. She was already exhausted and John was an energy drain. No matter what was happening, he always found fault and something to worry about obsessively. "The guide knows the hotel we're staying at. I'm sure he'll find us there."
"But he said he was going to meet us in the airport. It upsets me that he didn't show. We're going deep into the desert with this man. We have to be able to trust him. Is he reliable?"
It was a question Beth had asked herself, but as she looked around the bus and saw that all her employees were listening, she knew she had to show absolute faith in the missing Omar Dukhan - even if she wanted to string him up for failing to live up to his word.
"Mr. Dukhan has an impeccable reputation as a guide. I'm sure there's a reason he didn't meet us in the airport. Once I talk to him, I'm certain I'll be satisfied with his explanation."
"And if you're not?" John asked.
"Then I'll find another guide." She looked around, meeting the eyes of the four other members of her crew. "I won't risk your lives or mine with someone I can't rely on." She forced a smile. "Many of you have worked for me before. I believe you call me Mama Beth behind my back, because I tend to mother my crew." She lifted an eyebrow and waited for the denials that didn't come. "Good. You know I'll take care of everything." She refocused on John. "I'll handle it, okay? Please don't worry anymore about it."
Excerpted from Familiar Mirage by Caroline Burnes
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.