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By Alexis Fleming
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.Copyright © 2006 Alexis Fleming
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Why would anyone want to harm a professor of Egyptology? It's only a little scrap of parchment, for heaven's sake." Pushing her glasses back up her nose, she turned toward Professor Williams, the Dean of the University of Sydney. "I can't understand why you felt the need to tell the federal government about this anyway. Or why you didn't wait until I at least had the thing translated."
Professor Williams wiped the grin off his face before he answered her. "Emily, if what you say is correct, this is an important discovery. I had no choice in the matter. Any major research project affecting the security of the nation has to be reported."
"The security of the nation? You're kidding, right?" She wanted to laugh, but the serious expressions on both agents' faces stopped her. "This is ridiculous." She was seriously tempted to stamp her foot in frustration. "From what I can gather, this is recipe for invisible paint. Invisible paint?" Now she did laugh. "I'll grant you the pharaohs did some remarkable things in their time-they were even doing brain surgery back then-but I don't believe they found a means of making themselves invisible. And even if it did work, I can't understand how it would be of use to the defense department. For crying out loud, it's probably some elaborate hoax."
"But the papyrus is real, isn't it?" Agent Banks cut in, now recovered from his coughing fit.
"Oh, it's real. I've had it carbon-dated, but until I've finished translating it, I'm not certain how important it is, beyond its antiquity value in the academic world."
"If it does happen to work, its value to the military would be astronomical. The applications for such a product would revolutionize military warfare for all time. It's an important find. And someone else seems to think it's important, too, and that's why you need a bodyguard."
Emily sighed as she shoved back her chair and surged to her feet. Heels clacking loud enough even the cheap carpet couldn't mute the sound, she strode across to the window overlooking the parking area.
"Damn it, I don't need a strange man cluttering up my little house," she muttered. "I like living alone, except for Ria, and who knows how long it will take to complete the translation?"
Having someone else there meant cooking meals at regular times. Not being able to slouch about the house in next to nothing when the heat became unbearable. Always having to present an image.
She sighed again and tapped her fingernail on the windowpane, the sound beating in time with the thoughts whizzing through her brain. A bad habit, one that annoyed her as much as it would anyone else listening. Like a pencil tapping rhythmically on a desk. She forced herself to stop and gazed out into the parking lot.
A solitary man stood near the bonnet of a sleek black car. As if he felt her watching, he turned to face the window, hands thrust into the pockets of his dark suit trousers, the fabric pulling tight across his well-muscled thighs.
The rest of him was just as impressive. He had to be at least six feet tall. Dark hair, perfectly cut. Emily grinned. The wind wouldn't dare to ruffle that well-groomed look. And his face ... Oh, man!
Even from two floors up, with her slightly myopic gaze, his stunning good looks made the hormones go on a sudden rampage throughout her body. She deliberately tamped them down. "Nice. But too pretty."
She spun about when she heard the muffled sound of coughing from behind her. Marty Tomlins stood there, struggling to keep a straight face. She frowned at him in annoyance. "I can't see what's so damn hilarious, Agent Tomlins."
Tomlins straightened up, all sign of amusement wiped from his face. "Um, that's your bodyguard." He gestured to the man in the car park. "I think we should go down and you can meet him."
He didn't wait for her reply. Instead, he picked her purse up off the desk and thrust it into her hand. Then he took her arm and guided her out of the office. Agent Banks and Professor Williams followed closely behind.
Emily's mind was awhirl. "This whole thing is farcical. I don't need a bodyguard, certainly not one who'll be living with me twenty-four hours a day." She didn't want, or need, any man in her life, not for any reason. She'd had enough of handsome men like the one in the parking area.
One go around with a picture-book-perfect, so-called hero was enough. No way was she going to put herself in the same situation again.
They'd reached the steps leading down to the parking lot before she had the presence of mind to gather her scattered wits. She planted her feet, dragged her arm from the agent's hold and refused to go any further.
"Enough is enough. I do not need a bodyguard," she enunciated clearly. "I will not have a bodyguard. Now I know the dangers involved, I'll take more care. So if you'll excuse me, I have lectures to prepare." She turned to walk away, only to have Agent Banks grab her arm.
"Excuuuse me." She glared down at the hand holding her tight.
"You're not going anywhere, miss. This is not up for discussion. We're not taking any risks. You saw the state of your office here at the university. Totally trashed. And every file wiped from your computer, after someone copied it, no doubt. You'll take a bodyguard or you'll hand the parchment over to us."
A shiver traced its way down Emily's spine as she thought of the mess she'd found when she'd unlocked her office this morning. Someone had pulled the place apart. Campus security did rounds on all the offices between twelve and one each night, so it had to have happened some time after one. Thank God she hadn't worked late last night as she often did. She'd been home working on the translation instead. Funny, she hadn't even given the papyrus a thought when she'd realized someone had broken into her office.
She gave one final burst of token resistance, already knowing it was futile. "Look, guys, if I promise to take more care with my security, lock the papyrus away when I'm not working on it, will you lay off the bodyguard bit? I'll even consent to him being there during the day. Then I'll lock myself in after he goes. He doesn't need to stay full time." She tried for what she hoped was a winning smile. "It's only a birthday present, or at least a part of it, and probably a total hoax, knowing my friend."
"From what Professor Williams tells us, it's a lot more than that. It could be a very powerful weapon in the wrong hands. The scientists at the Department of Defense are eager to see the formula when you've finished translating those hieroglyphics, and with that end in mind, they're making certain you have no interruptions."
"No buts. The discussion is ended," he stated emphatically, his face set in a serious cast.
Emily knew when she was beaten, but she didn't have to like it. "Did you have to choose such a good-looking agent for a bodyguard? Why couldn't I be assigned a woman? Handsome men have such ego problems. They all seem to think they're God's gift to the female race. They can't help but hit on a woman, for no other reason than to prove their virility. How can I work under those conditions?"
Damn, now she sounded as if she thought every man in her vicinity was out to score with her and that wasn't what she meant at all. Agent Tomlins looked like he was about to swallow his teeth. Emily frowned at him, daring him to laugh at her.
"It's all right, Miss Emily, Agent Farley is a professional. No way would he try to hit on a woman in the course of his duty. Besides, he's gay. You won't have any problems at all. It'll be like having a girlfriend staying with you."
He turned, bounded down the stairs and made his way over to the man in the parking area.
The sound of Tomlins' smothered laughter trailed after him. Emily shook her head in disgust. "Great. Now I don't have to worry about fighting off his advances. Instead, I'll have to fight for bathroom space. With a face like that, he probably spends all his time in front of the mirror."
Professor Williams patted her on the shoulder. "Now, Emily, it won't be that bad," he said in a patronizing, humor-the-little-woman tone of voice. "You're our top expert on Egyptology. If this is for real, it means a lot of money for the university. We need the translation on the papyrus as soon as possible. Agent Farley is there to see that it happens and to keep you safe, that's all."
"But I have lectures."
"It's been dealt with. Maxwell is going to take over your classes. All you have to do is concentrate on the translation."
Emily bit back another protest, knowing it was useless. "Terrific. Not only do I have crazy friends who send me Egyptian pots with ancient recipes in them, and a neurotic cat who goes into a fighting frenzy as soon as she sees it, now I get to spend time with Tinkerbelle, the fairy prince."
Excerpted from Project: Man by Alexis Fleming Copyright © 2006 by Alexis Fleming. Excerpted by permission.
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