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MR. IMPOSSIBLE





LORETTA CHASE





BERKLEY SENSATION, NEW YORK



* * *





THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

Penguin Group (Canada), 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4V 3B2, Canada

(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England

Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)

Penguin Group (Australia),

250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria

3124, Australia

(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)

Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India

Penguin Group (NZ), Cnr. Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany, Auckland 1310, New Zealand

(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)

Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd.,

24 Sturdee Avenue

, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196,

South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.



A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author



PRINTING HISTORY

Berkley Sensation edition / March 2005



Copyright © 2005 by Loretta Chekani. Cover art by Dan O'Leary. Cover design by George Long. Interior text design by Stacy Irwin.

All rights reserved.



ISBN: 0-425-20150-3



BERKLEY® SENSATION

Berkley Sensation Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,



375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

.

BERKLEY SENSATION and the "B" design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.



PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



* * *





If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this;  book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."





* * *





A Note on Spelling

An 1898 edition of Baedeker's guide to Egypt laments the difficulties of rendering Arabic into English spelling. "It is greatly to be wished that the Arabs would adopt a simpler alphabet," says the author, "with a regular use of the vowel-signs, and that they would agree to write the ordinary spoken language." In the ordinary spoken language, furthermore, he complains, not everyone pronounces vowels the same way. The consonants are consistent, but some have no equivalent English sound.

More than a century later, we still encounter a mad variety of ways for spelling Arabic and Egyptian words using the English alphabet. I ended up choosing one approach for place names (familiar modern spellings) and one for words and phrases (easiest to read). A number of these words and phrases, like customs—and many monuments— have changed or disappeared since the early 1800s.





* * *





Chapter 1

Contents / Next



Outskirts of Cairo, Egypt, 2 April 1821



THANKS TO HIS MOTHER, RUPERT CARSINGTON had hair and eyes as dark as any Egyptian’s. This did not mean he blended in with the crowd on the bridge. In the first place, he was easily the tallest man there. In the second, both his manner and attire marked him as an Englishman. The Egyptians and Turks, who judged men by the quality of their dress, noticed, too, that he was not a man of low birth.

The locals had the advantage of the Earl of Hargate’s fourth son.

Having arrived in Egypt only six weeks ago, Rupert was not yet able to distinguish among the numerous tribes and nationalities. Certainly he couldn’t size up social status at a glance.

He could, however, recognize an unequal match when he saw one.

The soldier was large—a few inches shy of Rupert’s six-plus feet—and armed like a man-of-war. Three knives, a pair of swords, a pair of pistols, and ammunition protruded or hung from his wide belt. Oh, yes, he brandished a heavy staff, too—in an unfriendly way at the moment, at a bruised, limping, filthy fellow in front of him.

The poor devil’s crime, as far as Rupert could see, was being too slow. The soldier roared some foreign threat or curse. Stumbling away, the terrified peasant fell. The soldier swung his staff at the man’s legs. The wretch rolled to one side, and the staff struck the bridge, inches away. Enraged, the soldier raised the weapon and aimed for the unfortunate’s head.

Rupert broke through the gathering crowd, shoved the soldier, and yanked the staff from his hand. The soldier reached for a knife, and Rupert swung, knocking the blade to the ground. Before his adversary could draw another weapon from his arsenal, Rupert swung the staff at him. The man dodged, but the edge of the weapon caught him in the hip, and over he went. He reached for his pistol as he fell, and Rupert again swung the staff. His opponent howled in pain, dropping the pistol.

“Go!” Rupert told the dirty cripple, who must have understood the accompanying gesture if not the English word, because he scrambled to his feet and limped away. The crowd parted to let him through.

Rupert started after him a moment too late. Soldiers were forcing their way through the growing mob. In an instant, they’d surrounded him.





* * *





NEWS OF THE altercation, greatly embroidered, traveled swiftly from the bridge to el-Esbekiya. This quarter of Cairo, about half a mile away, was where European visitors usually lodged.

During the inundation, in late summer, the overflowing Nile turned the square of the Esbekiya into a lake where boats plied to and fro. The river being low at present, the area was merely a stretch of ground enclosed with buildings.

In one of the larger houses, a mildly anxious Daphne Pembroke awaited her brother Miles. The day was fading. If he did not arrive soon, he would not get in, because the gates were locked after dark. They were also kept locked during times of plague or insurrection, both regular occurrences in Cairo.

Daphne was only half-listening for her brother’s arrival, though. She gave the better part of her attention to the documents in front of her.

Among them was a lithographic copy of the Rosetta Stone, a recently acquired papyrus, and a pen-and-ink copy of the latter. She was nearly nine and twenty years old, and had been trying to solve the mystery of Egyptian writing for the last ten years.

The first time she’d seen Egyptian hieroglyphs, Daphne had fallen madly, desperately, and hopelessly in love with them. All her youthful studies had aimed at unlocking then-secretive little hearts. She had become infatuated with and wed a man nearly thrice her age because he was (a) poetically handsome, (b) a language scholar, and (c) the owner of a collection of books and documents for which she lusted.

At the time, she’d believed they were ideally suited.

At the time, she’d been nineteen years old, her vision obscured by the stars in her eyes.

She soon learnt, among other painful lessons, that her brilliant scholar husband, exactly like stupider men, believed that intellectual endeavors put too great a strain on the inferior female brain.

Claiming to have her best interests at heart, Virgil Pembroke forbade her studying Egyptian writing. He said that even male scholars familiar with Arabic, Coptic, Greek, Persian, and Hebrew had no hope of deciphering it in her lifetime. This he deemed no great loss: Egyptian civilization being primitive—greatly inferior to that of classical Greece—decipherment would contribute little to the store of human knowledge.

Daphne was a clergyman’s daughter. She’d made a sacred vow to love, honor, and obey her husband, and she did try. But when it became clear that she must pursue her studies or go mad with boredom and frustration, she chose to risk perdition and disobey her husband. Thereafter, she continued her work in secret.

Virgil had died five years ago. Sadly, prejudice against women scholars did not die with him. This was why, even now, only her indulgent brother and a select group of friends knew the secret. Everyone else believed her brother Miles was the linguistic genius of the family.

Had he been, he might have known better than to pay two thousand pounds for the papyrus she was studying. However, a merchant named Vanni Anaz had claimed it described the final resting place of a young pharaoh, name unknown—as was the case at present for most Egyptian royalty. The story was clearly the product of the romantic Eastern imagination. No educated person could possibly believe it. Nonetheless, it had apparently captivated Miles, much to her surprise.

He had even gone to Giza again to study the interior of the second pyramid, because, he said, it would help him understand the thinking of ancient tomb builders and aid in locating the young king’s tomb and its treasures.

Though Daphne was certain the pyramids could tell him nothing, she held her tongue. He delighted in exploring Egypt’s monuments. Why spoil his fun? She merely made sure he took sufficient supplies for the overnight stay he planned.

She declined to accompany him. She’d gone with him once to Giza and explored the two pyramids it was possible to enter. Neither contained any hieroglyphic writing, although various visitors had scratched their profound thoughts upon the stones, e.g., “Suverinus loves Claudia.” Equally important, she was not eager for another squeeze through the pyramids’ long, small, hot, smelly passageways.

At the moment, however, the pyramids were far from Daphne’s thoughts. She was deciding that Dr. Young had incorrectly interpreted the hook and the three tails signs when her maidservant Leena burst through the door.

“A bloodbath!” Leena cried. “Stupid, stupid English hothead! Now the streets will run with blood!”

She tore off the head and face veils she despised but must wear in public, revealing the dark hair and hazel eyes of an older woman of mixed Mediterranean origins. Daphne had hired her in Malta, after her English maid proved unequal to the rigors of foreign travel.

Leena not only spoke English, Greek, Turkish, and Arabic, but could read and write a little in these languages— unheard-of accomplishments for a woman in this part of the world. She was, on the other hand, deeply superstitious and fatalistic, with a tendency to discern the dark cloud attached to every silver lining.

Accustomed to Leena’s histrionics, Daphne merely raised her eyebrows and said, “What Englishman? What has happened?”

“A crazy Englishman has been fighting with one of the pasha’s men and broke the pig’s head. They say it took a hundred soldiers to capture him. The Turks will cut off the Englishman’s head and put it on a pike, but that will not be enough. The soldiers will make war on all the Franks, especially the English.”

Unlike most of Leena’s Impending Doom announcements, this sounded all too plausible.

Egypt’s Ottoman rulers would have been right at home in the Dark Ages. Beatings, torture, and beheading were their methods of maintaining order. Egyptian and Turk alike had no great regard for “Franks,” the despised Europeans. The military—comprising a homicidal assortment of Egyptians, Turks, and Albanian mercenaries—took a hostile view of everybody, including at times their leader Muhammad Ali, Pasha of Egypt. They made Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes look like giggling schoolgirls.

And Daphne was alone, but for her servants, all of whom were, most intelligently, terrified of the soldiery.

She was aware of alarm stirring within, of a chill and a welter of thoughts tumbling one over another. Outwardly she remained calm. Her marriage had taught her how to hide her true feelings.

“This is difficult to believe,” she said. “Who would be so foolish as to fight one of the pasha’s men?”

“They say the man is new to Cairo,” Leena said. “Only this week he has come from Alexandria to work for the English consul general. They say he is very tall and dark and beautiful. But I think he will not look so beautiful when they carry his head through the town on a pike.”

The revolting image rose in Daphne’s mind. She hastily banished it and said briskly, “The man must be fatally stupid. Which ought not surprise us in the least. The consulate has too much to do with persons of dubious character.” This was because the English consul general,

Mr. Salt, was here mainly to collect as many antiquities as he could, and he was not overscrupulous about how the task was accomplished.

Now, thanks to his adding a violent imbecile to his staff, the military had an excuse to run amok. No European in Cairo would be safe.

And Miles—on his way back—blond, blue-eyed, tall, and unmistakably English—was all too tempting a target. As was she, a green-eyed redhead like their late mother.

She looked down and saw her hands shaking. Calm down, she commanded herself. Nothing’s happened yet. Think.

She had a brain, a formidable brain. It must be able to formulate a solution.

She stared at the lines of Greek characters praising Ptolemy while she debated what to do.

Sarah, the wife of the famous explorer Giovanni Bel-zoni, had a few years earlier donned the dress of an Arab merchant and safely visited a mosque forbidden to women and infidels. With any luck, Daphne could escape Cairo in such a disguise and meet her brother en route. Then they could hire a boat and head upriver, out of danger.

She opened her mouth to tell Leena the plan. At that moment, the courtyard erupted in shouts.

An anguished wail rose above the other voices.

Daphne bounded up from the divan and hurried to the latticed window, Leena beside her. Coming up the stairs from the courtyard was a group of Egyptian men.

They bore the inert body of Miles’s servant Akmed.





* * *





The following morning

IN A MANSION in another part of the Esbekiya, His Majesty’s consul general was reflecting with mixed emotions upon the prospect of Rupert Carsington’s head parading on a pike through the city streets.

In the month and a half since the Earl of Hargate’s fourth son had arrived in Egypt, he had broken twenty-three separate laws and been jailed nine times. For what Mr. Carsington had cost the consulate in fines and bribes,

Mr. Salt might have dismantled and shipped to England one of the smaller temples on the island of Philae.

He now knew exactly why Lord Hargate had sent his twenty-nine-year-old offspring to Egypt. It was not, as his lordship had written, “to assist the consul general in his services on behalf of the nation.”

It was to saddle someone else with the responsibility and expense.

Mr. Salt brushed sand from the document before him on the desk. “One ought to be grateful, I suppose,” he told his secretary Beechey. “The soldiery might have used this as an excuse for slaughtering the lot of us. Instead they merely demand an extortionate fine and twice the usual assorted bribes.”

Amazingly enough, the injured soldier’s comrades had not hacked Carsington to pieces and let their superiors make up a law to explain it later. He’d certainly tested their patience on the way to the city. Though outnumbered twenty to one, he attempted escape three times, inflicting many injuries in the process.

Yet the city remained quiet, and Lord Hargate’s troublesome son was alive and in possession of all his limbs, confined to a rat-ridden hellhole of a dungeon in Cairo’s Citadel.

Though this conveniently kept him out of trouble, one could not leave him in the cesspit indefinitely.

The Earl of Hargate was a very powerful man who could easily arrange for Mr. Salt’s exile to some godforsaken, antiquity-less corner of the globe.

But getting Carsington out—Good God! The consul reviewed the figures on the document in front of him. “Must we pay all these people?” he said plaintively.

“I’m afraid so, sir,” his secretary said. “The pasha has discovered that Mr. Carsington’s father is a great English lord.”

Muhammad Ali was an ignorant, illiterate man, but he was not stupid. After someone had read to him Machi-avelli’s The Prince, the pasha of Egypt had said, “I could teach him some things.”

One thing Muhammad Ali could do to admiration— besides lead an army of deranged killers repeatedly to victory—was count, and he had counted up a ludicrous sum to free the great English lord’s son.

If Mr. Salt paid the sum, his rapidly dwindling funds wouldn’t cover his excavation expenses—and the instant he abandoned a site, his French competitors would move in.

If, on the other hand, he did not arrange for Carsing-ton’s release, Mr. Salt might easily end up as British am-bassador to the Antarctic Peninsula.

“Let me think,” said the consul.

The secretary went out.

Five minutes later, he came in again.

“Now what?” said Mr. Salt. “Has Carsington blown up the Citadel? Made off with the pasha’s favorite wife?”

“Mrs. Pembroke is here, sir,” said the secretary. “A matter of great urgency, she says.”

“Ah, yes, Archdale’s widowed sister,” said the consul. “Something of earthshaking importance, no doubt. Perhaps he has discovered a vowel. I can scarcely contain my excitement.”

Though Mr. Salt was mainly interested in acquiring impressive Egyptian artifacts, he did have a scholarly interest, and had made his own attempts at deciphering the baffling code. But today he was not in the mood.

He’d returned from a too-short holiday in the suburbs to the Carsington fiasco. Swiftly sinking into the gloom of his perpetual money troubles, he could not view Mrs. Pembroke with scholarly detachment.

The deep mourning she wore, head to toe—and her elderly husband dead more than five years!—did nothing to raise the consul’s spirits. She always put him in mind of certain ghostly shadow figures he’d seen on the walls of royal tombs.

On the other hand, the late Mr. Pembroke had left his young wife everything, and everything comprised a magnificent property and an even more magnificent fortune.

If Mr.Salt could feign excitement about whatever little squiggle she imagined Archdale had deciphered, she might feel inclined to invest a part of her wealth in an excavation.

As she entered, Mr. Salt arranged his mouth in a smile of welcome and advanced to greet her.

“My dear lady,” he said. “How good of you to call! What an honor this is! Please allow me to offer you refreshment.”

“No, thank you.” She put back her widow’s veil, revealing a pale, heart-shaped face. Shadows ringed the unnaturally green eyes. “I have no time for social pleasantries. I need your help. My brother has been kidnapped.”





* * *





AKMED WAS NOT dead. He had been badly beaten, though, and when at last he reached the Esbekiya, he’d collapsed.

It was long past sunset yesterday by the time he regained sufficient strength to speak, and then he was barely intelligible. By the time Daphne made sense of his tale, it was too late to act. At night the streets of Cairo belonged mainly to the police and the felons they hunted.

In any event, Europeans in difficulties must apply to their consul, not local officials. Mr. Salt and his secretary being away yesterday, Daphne had had to wait through the long night.

Now, body and spirit exhausted, she was on the brink of hysteria. She could not succumb. Men merely humored emotional women. She needed to be listened to. If she wanted men to take action, she must first make them take her seriously.

After her initial shaky declaration, she let Mr. Salt lead her to a shaded portico overlooking the garden. She drank the thick, strong coffee a servant brought. It restored her fortitude.

She told the story from the beginning, as requested.

Her brother, servants, and crew had returned from Giza early yesterday morning. Shortly after Miles disembarked from the ferry at Old Cairo, some men who claimed to be police took him away. When Akmed attempted to follow— to find out where they were taking his master and why—he was taken up, too. The “police” dragged Akmed to a solitary place, beat him senseless, and left him.

“I did not understand why they beat Akmed and abandoned him,” Daphne said. “He believes these men were not police, and logic compels me to agree. If they truly were law officers, why did they not take Akmed to the guardhouse with Miles? Moreover, it is impossible that my brother committed any crime. No person of sound intelligence would dream of running afoul of the local authorities. Everyone knows that diplomatic conventions mean little here.”

“It will turn out to be a silly misunderstanding, I daresay,” said Mr. Salt. “Some of these petty officials are over-quick to take offense at trifles. They are not all as honest as one could wish, either. Still, there is no need for alarm. If Mr. Archdale has been jailed, you may be sure the authorities will inform me before the day is out.”

“I do not believe he has been jailed,” Daphne said. Her voice climbed. “I believe he has been kidnapped.”

“Now, now, I am sure it is nothing of the kind. Merely an official looking for a bribe. An all too common occurrence,” the consul added bitterly. “They seem to think we are made of money.”

“If money was all they wanted, why not send Akmed directly to me with their demands?” Daphne said. “Why beat him senseless? It is illogical.” She waved her hand, impatiently exiling all disorderly thinking from the discussion. “I believe the servant was beaten to prevent his promptly reporting the incident. I believe that while you try to humor me with comfortable explanations, the trail to my brother grows ever colder.”

“The trail?” the consul said, startled. “I hope you do not seriously consider that Mr. Archdale is the victim of a plot of some kind. Who would risk torture and beheading to make off with a harmless scholar?”

“If you, who have been consul general in Egypt for six years, cannot produce a plausible motive, it is absurd to ask a woman who has been here scarcely three months,” she said. “It strikes me as illogical as well to debate villains’ motives. It would make more sense to find the persons responsible and ascertain their motives by interrogating them, do you not think? And this ought to be done sooner rather than later, I believe.”

“My dear lady, I beg you to recollect that we are not in England,” he said. “Here we have no

Bow Street

officers to undertake an investigation. The local police are no substitute, being for the most part pardoned thieves. I dare not abandon my many other responsibilities to search for missing persons, nor can I spare my secretary. None of my agents is within a hundred miles of Cairo at present. As it is, we are sadly undermanned and underfunded for the work we are expected to do. We are all of us a great deal occupied, with scarcely a minute to collect our thoughts.” He added, after the briefest pause, “All of us, that is to say, except one.”





* * *





Two hours later

ALTHOUGH DAPHNE WAS covered from head to toe, her face veiled, she’d forgotten how clearly her clothes proclaimed, “European, female.” Until she entered the Citadel and became aware of the men staring at her, then looking away and muttering to one another, she hadn’t considered she might be unwelcome.

She told herself that (a) women were unwelcome in all too many places, and (b) these men’s opinions didn’t signify. In addition to her maid Leena and the consul’s secretary Mr. Beechey, she had an official escort, one of the district sheiks. They followed the prison guard down a deeply worn stone stairway that grew steadily darker while the air grew increasingly rank and oppressive.

By the time they reached the bottom, the stench was making her sick, and she was wishing she hadn’t insisted on coming. She might have left it to Mr. Beechey to arrange matters. She didn’t need to be here.

But she hadn’t been thinking clearly. She’d been too aware of time passing, every minute taking Miles more deeply into danger.

She needed help, and the only help available, apparently, was being held in a dungeon deep enough to be flooded during the inundation. Was that one of the tortures employed here? she wondered. Would they leave a man chained, to watch the water rise until it drowned him? Was Miles in such a place?

She gave one quick, involuntary shudder, then firmly banished the image from her mind and squared her shoulders.

Beside her, Leena murmured a charm against evil.

The men waved the odd torches that worked like dark lanterns, lightening the gloom a few degrees. They could not lighten the air, which was thick and unspeakably foul.

“Rejoice, Ingleezi,” the guard called out. “See who comes. Not one but two women.”

Chains clanked. A dark figure rose. A very tall, dark figure. Daphne could not make out his features in the gloom. Surrounded by protectors, she had no reason to be alarmed. All the same, her heart picked up speed, her skin prickled, and every nerve ending sprang into quivering awareness.

“Mr. Beechey,” she said, her voice not as steady as she could wish, “are you sure this is the man I want?”

An impossibly deep voice, most definitely not Mr. Beechey’s, answered with a laugh, “That would depend, madam, on what it is you want me for.”





* * *





Chapter 2

Contents - Prev / Next



THE SOUND OF AN ENGLISH VOICE-AN ENGLISH woman’s voice—was more welcome than Rupert would have guessed.

He had been growing exceedingly bored. The feminine sound instantly revived his good humor.

He knew which of the females had spoken. His eyes had long since grown accustomed to the darkness. Though both women were veiled, the taller wore European dress. He knew she was not only English, but a lady. The cultured accents of her clear, musical voice—a trifle unsteady at present—told him so.

He could not, however, determine whether she was old or young, pretty or not. He knew, too, that one could never be absolutely certain of a woman’s figure until she was naked. But looking on the bright side, she must possess all the necessary parts—and if she’d made it down all those hundreds of stairs, she couldn’t be decrepit.

“Mrs. Pembroke, may I present Mr. Rupert Carsington,” Beechey said. “Mr. Carsington, Mrs. Pembroke has generously agreed to pay for your release.”

“Have you, indeed, ma’am? That’s deuced charitable of you.”

“It is nothing of the kind,” she said stiffly. “I’m buying you.”

“Really? I’d heard the Turks were severe, but I never guessed they’d sell me into slavery. Well, well, you learn something new every—”

“I am buying your services,” she cut in, the musical voice frosty.

“Ah, I stand corrected. And which services would you be requiring?”

Rupert heard her sharp inhalation.

Before she could retort, Beechey said smoothly, “It is an assignment, sir. Mr. Salt has released you from your regular consular duties so that you may assist Mrs. Pembroke in searching for her brother.”

“If all you want is a brother, you’re welcome to one of mine,” Rupert said. “I’ve four. All saints. Ask anybody.”

He was not a saint, and no one had ever mistaken him for one.

The lady turned toward Mr. Beechey. “Are you sure this is the only man available?”

“How did you contrive to lose your brother, by the way?” Rupert said. “In my experience, the feat’s impossible. Everywhere I go, there they are. Except here. That was one reason I jumped at the chance when my father offered. It came as a vast relief, I’ll admit. When he summoned me to his study, I thought it was going to be one of those devil-and-the-deep-blue-sea choices, like the one he offered Alis-tair three years ago: ‘Get married or suffer a fate worse than death,’ or something like that. But it was nothing of the kind. It was, ‘Why don’t you go to Egypt, there’s a good boy, and find your cousin Tryphena some more of those stones with the picture writing on them.’ Stones and—What else did she want? Those brown rolled-up thingums. Paper rice or some such.”

“Papyri,” came the melodious voice, strained through gritted teeth, by the sounds of it. “The singular is papyrus. The plural is papyri. The Latin word derives from the ancient Greek. It is a paper made, not from rice, sir, but from a reed plant native to these regions. The articles you refer to, furthermore, are not ‘thingums,’ but valuable ancient documents.” She paused, then said in milder, puzzled tones, “Did you say Tryphena? You do not refer to Tryphena Saunders?”

“Yes, my cousin—the one with the hobbyhorse about the comical picture writing.”

“Hieroglyphs,” said the lady. “The decipherment of which—Never mind. Attempting to explain to you their importance would be, I have not the smallest doubt, an expenditure of breath to no purpose.”

She turned abruptly, in a delicious rustle of silk, and started away.

Beechey hurried after her. “Madam, I do apologize for detaining you in this disagreeable place. Naturally you are distressed. However, I must beg you to recollect—”

“That man,” she said in low but still audible tones, “is an idiot.”

“Yes, madam, but he’s all we’ve got.”

“I may be stupid,” Rupert said, “but I’m irresistibly attractive.”

“Good grief, conceited, too,” she muttered.

“And being a great, dumb ox,” he went on, “I’m wonderfully easy to manage.”

She paused and turned to Beechey. “Are you sure there’s no one else?”

“Not between here and Philae.”

Philae must be a good distance from here, else the lady wouldn’t be scouring the dungeons of Cairo for help, Rupert thought. “I’m as strong as an ox, too,” he said encouragingly. “I could lift you up with one hand and your maid with the other.”

“He’s cheerful, madam,” Beechey said, sounding desperate. “We must give him that. Is it not remarkable how he’s kept up his spirits in this vile place?”

Obligingly, Rupert began to whistle.

“Obviously, he doesn’t know any better,” she said.

“In the present circumstances, fearlessness is a great asset,” Beechey said. ‘The Turks respect it.“

The lady said something under her breath. Then she turned to the Turk who’d brought them—someone important, apparently, with an immense turban—and said some-thing in one of those impossible Oriental tongues. The big-turbaned fellow tsk-tsked a good deal. She talked some more. He didn’t seem happy. It went on.

“What’s she saying?” Rupert called out.

Beechey said they spoke too quickly for him to follow.

The maid drew closer to Rupert. “My mistress bargains for you. I am sorry for you that your wits are so slow. When we came, she was willing to pay almost the full price, but now she says you are not worth so much.”

“Really? How much were they asking?”

“With all the bribes, it came to three hundred purses,” she said. “A white girl slave—the most expensive slave— is only two hundred purses.”

“I don’t suppose you know what three hundred purses amounts to in pounds, shillings, and pence?” Rupert said.

“It is more than two thousand English pounds.”

Rupert let out a soft whistle. “That does seem steepish,” he said.

“This is what she tells the sheik,” the maid said. “She says you are of little worth to anybody. She says your head on a pike would be good for entertaining the Cairenes, but this is all the value she sees. She tells him that lords are as common in England as sheiks in Egypt. She says only the oldest son of an English lord is valuable, and you are one of the youngest. She says your father sent you away because you are an imbecile.”

“Astonishing,” he said with a laugh. “She can tell all that—when we’ve only just met—and in the dark, too. What an amazingly clever woman ”

The turbaned fellow launched into a harangue. The lady shrugged and started to walk away.

The price of release was ridiculous; no one in his right mind would pay it, including Lord Hargate. All the same, Rupert was disappointed to see her depart.

Searching for her brother could be interesting. It had to be more interesting than digging in sand for broken chunks of stone, and a good deal more amusing than prying papyri from the clutches of ancient corpses. Yes, he knew what the correct word was. If he’d heard it once, he’d heard it a thousand times from Tryphena. He’d said it wrong only to hear Mrs. Pembroke’s reaction—and that was highly entertaining.

Now he might never find out what she looked like.

The maid left to follow her mistress. Beechey threw up his hands and started after them.

Rupert watched the taller feminine figure until the gloom swallowed her up.

Then the turbaned man called out something.

Mrs. Pembroke emerged from the gloom, and Rupert’s heart gave a small but unmistakable leap.





* * *





DAPHNE DIDN’T STAY to see Mr. Carsington released. Having settled on the price, she left Mr. Beechey to sort out the details and distribute bribes—the baksheesh that oiled most transactions in the Ottoman Empire.

She couldn’t wait to be away from the Citadel. Her skin crawled. She berated herself for bargaining with the sheik for so long. But to discover the sort of blockhead upon whom her hopes were to depend, then to be bullied by an official who very likely couldn’t write his own name—

It had made her nearly wild.

Her brother was in trouble—lost, hurt, possibly dead— and all the men she’d encountered so far made light of it, mocked her, or tried to thwart her. She wanted to weep with frustration.

But above all, she wanted to get away—from the Citadel and that stinking pit and all those callous men.

As she emerged at last through one of the fortress’s doorways into the light, she drank in gulps of hot late-morning air.

“Do you know why they put him there, mistress, so deep under the ground, in chains?” Leena said as she caught up with her.

“It’s obvious,” Daphne said. “Mr. Salt said Mr. Carsington is the man who assaulted the Turkish soldier yesterday. The man is a brainless, brawling ruffian.”

She walked faster toward the Citadel gate, beyond which their donkeys and donkey drivers waited. “I truly hope the other sons are saints, as this one claims,” she con-tinued irritably. “It might compensate Lord and Lady Har-gate for the affliction—” She broke off as she discerned the logical conclusion of her own words. “Oh, what have I done?”

Daphne stopped short, and Leena bumped into her.

When they’d disentangled their respective veils, Daphne said, “We must send a message to Mr. Salt, declining Mr. Carsington’s services.”

“But you bought him,” Leena said.

“I wasn’t thinking clearly,” Daphne said. “The place stank so, and the rats were so bold. Meanwhile, there was the illiterate sheik trying to frighten me—and Mr. Carsing-ton behaving so provokingly with his ‘paper rice’ and ‘thingums.’ If I had not been so beset, I should have realized that no man could be more ill suited for my purposes than he. We shall be dealing with villains, I’m sure of it. The task wants a cool, calculating brain. What I need is another Belzoni: a man who knows when to employ persuasion, even guile, and when to use force.”

“When first we came here, and Mr. Beechey took you to meet the sheik, I heard the guards talking,” Leena said. “They said no guardhouse could hold this Englishman. He is quick and cunning and without fear. This is the reason they chained him in the deepest dungeon of Cairo.”

“Anyone who is utterly fearless is either demented or dim-witted,” Daphne said.

Leena pointed to her head. “You have enough up here for six men. You do not need a man with a great brain. You need a man with big muscles and great courage.”

Daphne didn’t know whether Mr. Carsington had big muscles or not. All she’d seen was the tall, dark form. Yet there was nothing shadowy about his presence. She’d been aware of him the entire time she haggled with the sheik. She’d heard the deep voice in the background—a rumble tinged with laughter, when he had nothing to laugh about. She’d heard the scrabbling rats. She’d smelled the filth. And she knew what his captors were like.

While she’d argued with the sheik, her mind had wandered repeatedly to the prisoner. Twenty-four hours he’d spent in that place, in the dark, figurative and literal. He’d no idea what would become of him, whether his captors would whip or torture or mutilate him, whether his friends would ever find him or he’d die there, alone.

Miles might be in the same plight.

A cold knot formed in the pit of her stomach.

“I feel filthy,” she said. “I need a bath. We’ll have plenty of time. It will be an age before Mr. Beechey and the sheik have completed all their bureaucratic rituals.”





* * *





THE BATHS WERE a sinful luxury Daphne had discovered early in her stay here. The tiled chambers of the women’s bath shut out the outside world and its troubles. Here one need only yield to being pampered and listen to the other women laugh and gossip.

Even today the bath worked its magic. She left with a clearer head and a calmer spirit. She was perfectly capable of working out a method for finding Miles, she told herself as she mounted her donkey. She only needed a man to do what she couldn’t. In that case, the bigger the better, as Leena suggested—and Mr. Carsington was taller by a head than most of the men hereabouts. He had to be strong, too, to survive a collision with Muhammad Ali’s brutal soldiers. All Mr. Carsington needed was a brain—and Daphne could supply that.

Letting the drivers manage their donkeys and clear the way through the crowded streets, she and Leena proceeded at the usual fast clip—dodging camels, horses, peddlers, and beggars—to the house in the Esbekiya.

Outside its gate they dismounted. Leaving Leena to pay the donkey boys, Daphne entered the shaded passageway bordering the courtyard. She was nearing the stairs when a tall form emerged from the shadows and a deep, instantly recognizable voice said, “Twenty quid?”

She stopped short, and her heart skidded to a stop as well, then started again, far less steadily.

The area was well shaded, but it wasn’t nearly as dark as the Citadel dungeon.

She had no trouble seeing him now, even through her widow’s veil. He was tall and broad-shouldered, as she’d discerned in the darkness. What she had not been able to see was the starkly handsome face.

Black eyebrows arched over dark, laughing eyes that looked down at her over a long, insolent nose. Laughter lurked at the corners of the too-sensuous mouth.

Heat washed through her in waves, burning away her hard-won calm and confidence and leaving her, for a mo—ment, swamped in self-consciousness, like the gawky schoolgirl she’d once been.

But she’d never been as shy as she ought, as Virgil had made clear often enough. She wasn’t too shy now to take in the rest: the exquisitely tailored coat, waistcoat, and trousers, the crisp shirt and neckcloth. The instant’s glance was enough to sear into her mind a vivid image of the lean, powerful body the close-fitting garments only emphasized.

Her mouth went dry and her brain went away, and for a moment nothing made sense at all. Only for a moment, though. Her brain came back, and “Mr. Carsington,” she said as soon as she got her tongue untied.

‘Twenty quid,“ he repeated. ”Three purses. That’s what you argued Sheik Whatshisname down to. At the baths I learned it’s the going rate for a eunuch.“

“The more expensive eunuchs, yes,” Daphne said, quickly adding, “I did not expect to see you so soon. You’ve even had time to bathe. Miraculous.” Her mind produced an image of the gentleman wearing only a mahzam—a Turkish towel—wrapped about his waist.

She told her mind to stop it. She should not have smoked at the baths, even to be polite. It left a bad taste and made one dizzy. She should not have listened to the women’s lewd talk. It had given her smoke-addled mind all sorts of improper ideas.

Ordinarily she took no notice of men, except as obstacles in her path, which in her experience appeared to be their primary function.

She moved past him and started up the stairs, talking rapidly. “It is amazing, is it not, Leena? The Turks usually take hours and hours for the smallest negotiations. I had thought we’d no hope of getting started before tomorrow.”

“I don’t doubt the sheik would have liked to drag on ne-gotiations in the usual leisurely style,” Mr. Carsington said, “but you wore him out.”

“The prison was disgusting,” Leena informed him as she trailed Daphne up the stairs. ‘To get rid of the stink, we went to the baths. We smoked, we talked with the other women, we learned some rude jokes, and now we are not so sick in the stomach and crazy in the head.“

“Smoking?” he said. “Rude jokes? Excellent. I knew this would be more interesting than collecting stones.”





* * *





RUPERT WATCHED MRS. Pembroke continue up the stairs and through the door in an angry swish of black silk. She had flounced away from the sheik in much the same fetching way.

Since he’d found her entertaining, Rupert was delighted to learn, shortly after her departure, that she was not, as he’d assumed, of Tryphena’s generation—old enough, in other words, to be his mother.

Beechey had told him that Miles Archdale, the missing brother, was an antiquarian scholar in his early thirties, and the sister a widow a few years younger.

Rupert had also learned that the plague, which had kept him confined to Alexandria for weeks, had trapped those in Cairo as well. The quarantine had only recently been lifted. Otherwise, Mr. Archdale and his sister would be in Thebes by now. According to the secretary, Archdale was eager to test his language theories on the temples and tombs of Upper Egypt.

Beechey also said that the brother was bound to turn up sooner or later, perhaps the worse for dissipation. One couldn’t tell the sister this, of course, but the consul general was certain the servant Akmed had lied.

Cairo offered entertainment for all tastes, and men “disappeared” for days into brothels and opium dens. Archdale was probably still carousing in such a place. No doubt his servant had smoked too much hashish, and ended up annoying somebody, who paid him with a flogging.

Rupert was on no account to enlighten Mrs. Pembroke. He was to humor her.

“You might inquire at the guardhouses and that sort of thing,” Beechey had said. “I’d advise you to question the servant privately. If you do run Archdale to ground, or he turns up on his own, as is more likely, give her whatever version of events he prefers. I cannot stress enough the importance of remaining on cordial terms with them. They are in a position to contribute a great deal to our efforts here, in both the scholarly and financial senses. Mr. Salt relies upon you to exercise the utmost discretion, tact, and delicacy.”

Rupert had nodded wisely while privately wondering if Beechey, like Archdale’s servant, had been smoking too much hashish lately.

Any sober person would have understood that Rupert Carsington was exactly the wrong man for any assignment requiring discretion, tact, and delicacy. Rupert himself could have said so, and normally would. But he liked the way Mrs. Pembroke twitched her skirts when she was vexed, and he wanted to see what she looked like. And so for once he held his tongue and tried to look tactful and discreet.

It wasn’t a pose he could maintain for long, he knew.

He followed the maidservant up the stairs and into the house, through a zigzagging series of halls and rooms— each a step up or a step down from the previous one—and finally into a lofty room.

At one end was a raised area, its floor covered with Turkey carpets. Along its three sides ran a low banquette covered with cushions. A wide, squat table, heaped with books and papers, occupied most of the space in the center of the raised area. A narrow shelf on one side of the room held a great lot of small wooden figures.

The widow looked at the table, then sank to her knees and started shuffling through the heaps.

“Mistress?” said Leena.

“This isn’t the way I left it,” Mrs. Pembroke said.

“How can you tell?” Rupert said.

“I was working on the new papyrus,” she said. “I always arrange the materials in a certain way. The papyrus to the right for reference. The copy in the center. The table of signs below. The Rosetta inscription here. The Coptic lexi-con alongside. The grammar notes here. There is an order. There must be. One must work systematically, or it is hopeless.” The pitch of her voice climbed. ‘The papyrus and the copy are gone. All that work… all those days un-rolling it… all my care in making a precise copy…“

She rose unsteadily. “Where are the servants? And Akmed . Is he all right?”

“Check on the servants,” Rupert told Leena. To Mrs. Pemroke he said, “Calm down. Count to ten.”

She looked at him—or appeared to have her head turned in his general direction.

“Do you never take that thing off?” he said impatiently.

“He must have been remarkable, the late lamented, to war-rant so much grief.” He made a sweeping gesture encom-passing the heavy veil and the black silk. “It must be as hot as Hades under all that. No wonder you’re addled.”

She went on looking in his direction for a moment, then abruptly threw the veil back from her face.

And Rupert felt as though someone had given him a sharp thump in the head with a heavy Turkish staff.

“Well,” he said, when he’d mustered the wind to speak again. “Well.” And he thought that maybe they should have worked up to it more gradually.

He saw green, green, deeply shadowed eyes set above high cheekbones in a creamy heart-shaped face framed with silky, dark red hair. She wasn’t pretty at all. Pretty was ordinary. She wasn’t beautiful, either, not by any English standard. She was something altogether out of the common run of beauty.

Tryphena owned numerous volumes dealing with Egypt, including all of the French Description de I’Egypte that had been published thus far. Rupert had seen this face in somebody’s color illustration of a tomb or temple. He remembered it clearly: a red-haired woman, naked but for a golden collar about her neck, her arms stretched toward the heavens.

Naked would be good. His experienced eye told him the mortal lady’s figure might well be as extraordinary as her face.

Rather like a temperamental goddess, she pulled off the gloomy headdress and flung it down.

Leena hurried in. “They have disappeared!” she cried. “All of them!”

“Really?” Rupert said. “That’s interesting.”

He turned to the widow. Her face was chalk white. Devil take it, was she going to faint? The only feminine habit he feared and hated more than weeping was fainting.

“We all thought your brother was lost in a brothel,” he said. “But this news makes me think, maybe not”

A flush overspread her too-pale countenance, and her green eyes sparked. “A brothel?”

“A house of ill repute,” he explained. “Where men hire women to do what most women won’t do unless you marry them, and oftentimes not even then.”

“I know what a brothel is,” she said.

“Apparently, the Cairo brothels make the Paris ones look like Quaker nurseries,” he said. “Not that I speak with absolute certainty. The truth is, my recollections of Paris are hazy at best.”

Her eyes narrowed. “What you do or do not remember of Paris is of no relevance whatsoever at present,” she said.

“I only wanted to point out how immense a temptation it is,” he said. “Only a saint—like one of my brothers—could resist it. So naturally, not knowing how saintly your own brother was—”

“You and your associates simply assumed that Miles was cavorting with prostitutes and dancing girls.”

“And what with the hashish and opium and whatnot, we supposed he’d lost all sense of time.”

“I see,” she said. “And so you were assigned to keep me occupied until Miles came or was carried home.”

“Yes, that’s how it was all explained to me,” he said. “It seemed simple enough. A brother missing—we can put it down to drugs and women. But now we’ve lost a papyrus, not to mention the servants. Matters grow complicated.”

“I do not understand how bad people could come here,” Leena said. “The doorkeeper Wadid was in his place when we came. He said nothing of any disturbance.”

“That fellow sitting on the stone bench near the gate?”

Rupert said. “He seemed to be praying. He certainly paid me no heed.”

The mistress and the maid exchanged glances.

“I will go to Wadid,” Leena said.

She went out.

The widow turned away from Rupert and returned to the ransacked table. She knelt and moved a book to the left. She shook sand off a paper and set it under the book. She picked up pens from the floor and set them back on the inkstand. The angry spark was gone from her eyes, and the flush had faded, leaving her face dead white, which made the smudges under her eyes appear darker than ever.

Rupert wasn’t sure what made him think of it, but he had a vivid picture in his mind of a long-ago time: his little cousin Maria weeping over her dolls after Rupert and her brothers had used them for target practice.

He didn’t have any sisters, and wasn’t used to girls crying, and it made him frantic. When he offered to try to glue the dolls’ mangled parts back together, little Maria whacked him with one of the larger mutilated corpses and blackened his eye. What a relief that was! He vastly preferred physical punishment to the other thing: the nasty stew of emotion.

The dark smudges under Mrs. Pembroke’s eyes and the cold white of her face affected him much as his cousin’s tears had done. But he hadn’t broken any dolls. He hadn’t hurt this lady’s brother—wasn’t sure, in fact, he’d ever clapped eyes on the fellow. Rupert certainly hadn’t touched her precious papyrus. There was no reason for him to feel… wrong.

Maybe it was something he’d eaten. The prison swill, perhaps. Or maybe it was a touch of plague.

“The thing’s definitely gone, then?” he said lightly. “Not misplaced, or mixed in with the other papers?”

“I should hardly confuse an ancient papyrus with ordinary papers,” she said.

“Well, I’m dashed if I can make out why anyone would go to so much bother for a papyrus,” he said. “On the way here, I was accosted at least six times by Egyptians waving so-called artifacts in my face. You can hardly pass a coffee shop without some cheery fellow popping out to offer you handfuls of papyri—not to mention his sisters, daughters, and extra wives. Virgins, all of them, certified and guaranteed.”

She sank back on her heels and looked up at him. “Mr. Carsington,” she said, “I believe it is long past time we settled one important matter.”

“Not that I’d be interested, if they were the genuine article,” he went on. “I could never understand the great to-do about virgins. In my view, a woman of experience—”

“Your view is not solicited, Mr. Carsington,” she said. “It is unnecessary for you to ‘make out’ why this or that. You are not here to think. You are to provide the brawn in this undertaking. I am to provide the brain. Is that clear?”

It was clear to Rupert that irritating her was an excellent way to prevent waterworks. The light was back in her eyes, and her skin, though still pale, was not so taut and corpse-white.

“Clear as a bell,” he said.

“Good.” She indicated the divan opposite. “Kindly sit down. I have a great deal to say, and it is tiring to look up at you. You needn’t take off your shoes first. Eastern custom is inconvenient for those wearing European dress. Not that I am at all sure why people here go to the trouble of taking off their shoes before stepping on the rugs, when the sand easily covers rugs, mats, divans, and everything else with no help from us.”

He took the seat she indicated, plumped up a cushion, and leaned back on it. As she settled onto the divan opposite, he noticed that she had shed her shoes. He caught a glimpse of slim, stockinged feet before she tucked her legs under her.

He doubted she’d done it on purpose. She was not that type of female at all. But those nearly naked feet teased all the same, and the usual heat started down low.

The lady opened her mouth to start lecturing, or whatever she had in mind, and he was turning his mind to imagining the view from her ankles up when Leena burst in. She pulled in after her the sturdy, cheerful fellow Rupert had waved to in the courtyard a short while earlier.

“Drugged!” the maid cried. “Look at him!”

Everyone looked at Wadid. He smiled and salaamed.

“All day long he has been smoking hashish—or perhaps it was opium—mixed in his tobacco,” Leena said. “I could not tell what it was, because a perfume disguised the smell. But anyone can see that Wadid is in a heavenly place, and looks kindly upon everyone. He can tell us nothing.”

Rupert got up, walked up to within inches of the gatekeeper’s face, and peered down into his half-closed eyes. Wadid smiled and nodded and said something in singsong.

Rupert grasped him by the upper arms, lifted him off the floor, and held him aloft for a moment. Wadid’s eyes opened wide. Rupert gave the man a shake, then set him down.

Wadid stared at him, mouth opening and closing.

“Tell him, the next time I pick him up, I’ll pitch him out the window,” Rupert said. ‘Tell him, if he doesn’t want to test his flying skills, I recommend he answer a few questions.“

Leena spoke rapidly. Wadid stuttered an answer, occasionally darting a frightened look at Rupert.

“He says thank you, kind sir,” Leena said. “His head is much clearer now.”

“I thought it might be,” Rupert said. He looked enquiringly at Mrs. Pembroke.

Her remarkable eyes, too, had opened very wide. Her mouth, previously taut with disapproval, shaped an O. The prim expression had acted, apparently, as a sort of corset. Freed of it, her mouth was soft and full.

He would like to pick her up, too, and bring that amazing face close to his and test the softness of those lips…

But he was not that stupid.

“You wished to interrogate him, I believe?” he said.

She blinked, and turning to Wadid, launched into a stream of foreign talk.

Wadid answered haltingly.

While they went back and forth, Rupert departed, in search of coffee.

After a few wrong turns in the maze, he found the stairway, and soon, on the ground floor, what looked like the cooking area.

Its occupants had apparently deserted the place in great haste. He saw evidence of a meal in preparation. A bowl of chickpeas, partly mashed. Wooden implements on the floor. A ball of dough on a stone. A pot on the brazier.

He found the silver coffee service with its tiny, handle-less cups, but discerned no signs of coffee.

He stepped into a small, adjoining room, which looked to be a sort of pantry. He started opening jars. Then he became aware of movement. A faint rustling. Rats?

He looked in the direction of the sound. Several tall crockery jars stood in a dark corner. He saw a fragment of blue cloth.

He crossed the room. The lurker attempted to dart past him, but Rupert caught the back of his shirt. “Ah, not so quick, my fine fellow,” he said. “First, let’s have a friendly chat, shall we?”





* * *





Chapter 3

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THOUGH ONE COULD NOT TELL BY LOOKING AT her, though she seemed her usual controlled self, it took Daphne a good deal more time than it did Wadid to recover from Mr. Carsington’s demonstration of brute strength.

She had felt, for a moment, like a character in The Thousand and One Nights who’d inadvertently let a genie out of a bottle. A large, powerful, and uncontrollable genie.

She tried to concentrate on her few clues, but her mind wouldn’t cooperate. It produced, too clearly, the look on Mr. Carsington’s face when she raised her veil.

She had no name for the look. He was a man far outside the narrow bounds of her experience. She could hardly name her feelings, either: a wild hammering within and a chaos of thoughts and no way to make sense of a single one. There was only a powerful awareness—of the world having turned wild, unpredictable, and unrecognizable— and the sense of something dangerous let loose.

This was irrational, she knew.

But she was too overset to think clearly: Miles gone, the fine papyrus stolen, the house abandoned, the doorkeeper drugged.

When her mind worked in the proper manner, Daphne did not believe in genii, good or bad.

She made herself examine matters logically.

Mr. Carsington was merely an English male of above average but by no means unusual height, she reminded herself. He appeared larger than life because (a) the average Turk or Egyptian was several inches shorter, and (b) he had the muscular physique more commonly associated with certain members of the laboring classes, such as blacksmiths—and boxers, possibly, although she couldn’t be certain, never having seen a boxer in the flesh.

Furthermore, the demonstration of brute strength proved how well Mr. Carsington suited her purposes. With him about, no one would dare intimidate her or stand in her way or refuse to cooperate.

True, he was a blockhead, but that, too, was to her advantage. He could not confuse or cow her as her erudite husband had done so often and easily. Mr. Carsington would not assume, as Miles did, that she was too intellectual and unworldly to comprehend everyday life’s coarse realities.

Considered calmly and rationally, in short, Mr. Carsington was perfect.

Her mind once more in proper order, she focused on Wadid.

He was more than willing to talk now. The trouble was, he didn’t know anything.

He didn’t know which coffee shop boy had delivered the drugged tobacco. How could he? There were scores of such boys in Cairo, he said. They ran away. They died of plague. They found work elsewhere. Who could keep track of them? He had no idea where the tainted tobacco had come from—assuredly not from Wadid’s usual source, one of Cairo’s more respectable coffee shops.

As to who had invaded the house and driven the other servants away, Wadid was equally in the dark. He’d been in a beautiful dream, he said. People came and went. Dream people or real people, he could not say.

On learning that someone had stolen the master’s beautiful papyrus, he wept and blamed himself. He hoped the master would return soon and beat him, he said.

But please, he begged, would the good lady tell her giant not to tear him limb from limb? The lady was kind and merciful, everyone knew. Had she not brought Akmed back from the dead? The men carry him in, and all the breath is gone from his body. Then she gives him a magic drink, and behold, he breathes again.

Akmed had in fact been breathing, and the “magic drink” was tea from Daphne’s precious stores, the sovereign remedy for every ailment, physical, emotional, or moral. But having started talking, Wadid showed no signs of stopping. She let him carry on his monologue while she wondered what had become of her “giant.”

He’d been gone rather a while.

Gone back to the consulate, no doubt, she thought grimly. And who could blame him?

She had a man’s mind in a woman’s body. The feminine arts were a far greater mystery to her than Egyptian writing. She had at least a rational hope of solving the latter. But when it came to femininity, her case was hopeless. Virgil’s efforts to change her had only infuriated her—quite as though she were a man.

Had she learnt those mysterious arts, had she behaved more prettily with Mr. Salt, he might not have been so quick to dismiss her concerns and fob off on her his aristocratic lummox of an aide.

She had behaved even less prettily with Mr. Carsington. A proper woman would have exercised more tact. Even dumb beasts had feelings, and men could be sensitive about the oddest things.

She rose. She would have to find him. She would return to the consulate, if necessary, and apologize.

“We’ll speak more of this later, Wadid,” she said. “Go back to your place. Perhaps while you sit quietly, you’ll remember more.” She hurried across the room and out of the door through which Mr. Carsington had vanished.

“Mistress?” Leena called behind her.

Daphne turned her head to answer.

And collided with something big, hard, and warm. Very big. Very hard. Very warm. Physical sensation knocked out thought, and she tottered, unbalanced.

A large hand clamped on her upper arm and steadied her.

“What a dervish you are, always hurrying this way and that,” Mr. Carsington said. “Pray consider the heat and the possibility of a brain fever.” He released her arm.

The warmth lingered, and she still felt the impression of long, strong fingers on her skin.

She retreated a pace.

“I came looking for you,” she said, her voice strained, as though she’d labored up a pyramid to find him. “I thought you were… lost.”

“Oh, I never get lost,” he said. “Not for long, at any rate. I only went looking for coffee. Turkish coffee is a wondrous beverage, and I thought we all needed a stimulant.”

“Coffee,” she repeated stupidly.

“Yes. And see what I found.” He moved aside. Behind him the twelve-year-old Udail carried the coffee service. “Lucky thing I was in front, eh, Tom, else she might have bowled you over.”

“His name is Udail,” Daphne said.

“Tom,” said the boy, gazing worshipfully up at Mr. Carsington. “Esmi Tom.”

My name is Tom.

In mere minutes, the man had frightened one servant into submission and cajoled another into idolatry.

And he was tying her mind in knots.

Daphne did not believe in genü. At that moment, however, she had no doubt that her trip to the Citadel dungeon had released a dangerous force.





* * *





HER MOUTH, RUPERT noticed, was not only soft and full but mobile: forbiddingly grim at one moment and adorably bewildered in the next. He watched it change from bewildered to grim in the instant it took her to recover from their lovely collision.

He’d seen it coming. He’d also seen no reason to prevent it. Quite the contrary.

Her grim look did not trouble him in the least; neither did her telling him he was not to rechristen her servants.

“How would you like it,” she demanded, “if I were to rename you Omar or Muhammad?”

“A pet name, do you mean?” he said. “I shouldn’t object.”

After a visible struggle to rein in her temper she said, “What you do or do not object to is not the point. He is an Egyptian boy, not English.”

“Tom doesn’t mind,” Rupert said. “In any event, I couldn’t tell which part of the earful he gave me was his name.”

“He was probably trying to tell you what happened,” she said. “I have no idea how you occupied yourself on the voyage to Egypt or during your stay in Alexandria. It is clear, however, that you employed not a minute of the time learning the language.”

She turned sharply away and started back into the room she’d just exited: Cairo’s version of a salon or drawing room, with the usual unpronounceable name.

“I thought you were to do all the brain work, and I was in charge of the physical side,” he said. “Surely you weren’t expecting me to interrogate the lad? I had the devil’s own time getting him to understand I wanted coffee.”

They entered the large room. Wadid had left. Leena was there, though. After Tom set down the coffee service—on top of Mrs. Pembroke’s precious papers—Leena grabbed the boy by the shoulders, shook him, then hugged him, talking great guns all the while.

Once Tom had recovered from near suffocation against Leena’s ample bosom, he launched into a very long recital.

Several tiny cups of coffee later, Mrs. Pembroke gave Rupert the shorter English version. Apparently, persons calling themselves police had come, saying they must search the house. When Akmed heard their voices, he ran away.

When the lady came to this point of her narration, Tom attracted Rupert’s attention. Saying, “Akmed” and something else, the boy did a comical imitation of a man limping.

A green glare from Mrs. Pembroke brought the performance to a halt.

Because Akmed ran away, the widow continued, all the other servants did, too. Tom, who was cautiously sneaking back into the house when Rupert entered the cooking area, had ducked into the nearest hiding place.

Mrs. Pembroke returned her cup to the tray. “Since it’s obvious we’ll learn nothing more from the other servants, I see no reason to await their return,” she said. “The only logical course of action is to retrace my brother’s footsteps.”

“We ought to check the guardhouses first,” Rupert said, recalling Beechey’s advice.

“Miles is not in a guardhouse.” She rose abruptly from the divan, all impatience and rustling silk. “The men who came here were no more police than I am. And my brother is not in a brothel or an opium den, so you needn’t get your hopes up about visiting any of those establishments. We shall talk to those with whom Miles most recently associated. We shall start with his friend Lord Noxley.”

“Garnet,” Rupert said as she picked up her hat and veil.

She turned and looked at him, her expression wary. “I beg your pardon?”

“Garnet. If someone asked me what color your hair was, I’d say, ‘Garnet.’”

She clamped the hat onto her head. “Did you hear a single word I said?”

“My mind wandered,” he said. “You’re on the tallish side for a woman, I think?” Something over five and a half feet, he estimated.

“I do not see the relevance of my height or hair color,” she said.

“That’s because you’re not a man,” he said.

Very much not. The dress seemed designed to play down her assets rather than enhance them. She couldn’t disguise her walk, though. She walked like a queen or a goddess, chin high, back straight. But the arrogant sway of her hips bespoke a Cleopatra kind of queen, an Aphrodite kind of goddess. The walk was an invitation. The attire was a Keep Off sign. The combination was fascinating.

“To a man, you see,” he continued, “these facts are immensely important.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” she said. “A woman’s looks are all-important. Her mental capabilities don’t signify in the least.”

“That would depend,” he said, “on what she was thinking.”





* * *





DAPHNE WAS THINKING it was very hard to think with Mr. Carsington in the vicinity.

She was good at solving puzzles, usually. But the only idea she had about recent events was a ridiculous one, and no more ideas were forthcoming.

She was not easily distracted. One must possess tremendous powers of concentration, not to mention an obstinate and tenacious character, to contend with ancient Egyptian writing.

She might have easily ignored an earthquake or a barrage of artillery fire.

She could not ignore him.

She was aware of his abstracted expression while he calculated her height and decided what color her hair was.

Now, as she sent Udail out to order the donkeys, she was aware of Mr. Carsington’s attention drifting away from her person to the table containing her materials.

She recalled her agitated reaction when she first spied the disorder. What had she said? Had she given herself away? But no, she couldn’t have. The ruse was a habit by now, practically instinctive. It was Miles who had the more difficult task, pretending to be the brilliant scholar. Luckily, very few people in the world understood enough about decipherment to suspect him—and he took care not to meet those people face-to-face.

Mr. Carsington was frowning down at the copy of the Rosetta Stone. “That papyrus,” he said. “I collect it was something out of the ordinary.”

She, too, stared at the lithograph, wondering what he saw there. A fragment of hieroglyphic text. Below that another nearly complete section written in the script some scholars called demotic. Then the battered Greek text with its all-important final lines, announcing that all three texts were identical in content.

“Like the Rosetta Stone?” she said. “I wish it had contained some hints in Greek. But it was all in hieroglyphs.;..” She looked up at him. “Are you asking whether it was valuable?”

He nodded.

“I daresay it was,” she said slowly, the truth dawning as she spoke it.

She hadn’t thought of the papyrus in that way. She knew it had cost more than most, but then, it was a superior specimen. But that’s all it was to her. Perhaps Miles was right, to an extent: She was rather unworldly. It hadn’t occurred to her to lock it up, any more than it would occur to her to lock up a book.

“I suppose one could call it valuable,” she said. “It was expensive.” She related the merchant’s tale of the mysterious pharaoh and his presumably untouched tomb.

“I told Miles he encouraged such tall tales and probably set a bad precedent by paying so much,” she went on. “Yet it was remarkable. Written entirely in beautifully drawn hieroglyphs. Exquisite illustrations. The others I’ve seen are not works of art, and most were written in the script form. None was in such good condition. It isn’t hard to understand why Miles couldn’t resist it.”

Mr. Carsington’s dark gaze shifted from her study materials to her face. He wore a perplexed expression. “And it didn’t occur to you why robbers might want it?” he said. “A guide to buried treasure?”

“No, it didn’t,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine anyone could be so foolish as to believe that story.”

“Yet it might seem to others that your brother—a scholar—believed it.”

Miles certainly had seemed to believe it—perhaps because he was a little boy in some ways. And he had a romantic streak.

Her romantic streak had shriveled and died years ago. Her marriage had mummified it.

“No educated person could believe that Vanni Anaz or anyone else knew exactly what was written on that papyrus,” she said. “No one—I repeat—no one can read hieroglyphic writing. But the papyrus did contain symbols associated with royalty. Naturally Miles planned to look for those symbols in Thebes. A number of tombs have been discovered there. More will certainly be discovered. Whether any remain filled with treasure is impossible to know.”

“Someone believes it,” Mr. Garsington said. “Someone went to a deal of trouble to steal that papyrus.”

“But what good will it do them?” she said impatiently. “They can’t read it.”

“My eldest brother Benedict takes an interest in criminal proceedings,” Mr. Carsington said. “He says the average felon is a person of low cunning, not high intelligence.”

At that moment the absurd idea she’d kept pushing away stomped to the forefront of her brain.

Miles kidnapped. Papyrus stolen.

“They believe Miles can read it,” she said. “Good grief. They must be completely illiterate—or desperately gullible—or—”

“French,” said Mr. Carsington.

“French?” she said. She gazed at him in plain incomprehension.

“I hope they’re French,” he said. “My brother Alistair was at Waterloo.”

“Killed?” she said.

“No, though they did their best.” He clenched his hands. “He’ll be lame for the rest of his life. I’ve been waiting for a chance to repay the favor.”





* * *





NOT VERY FAR away, in another corner of Cairo, an elegant middle-aged man stood by one of the windows overlooking his house’s courtyard. He did not gaze out of the latticed window but down, reverently, at the object in his hands.

Jean-Claude Duval had come to Egypt with Napoleon’s army in 1798. Along with the soldiers had come another army—of scientists, scholars, and artists. These were the people responsible for the monumental Description de VEgypte. To Monsieur Duval, this army of savants was proof of French superiority: unlike the barbaric British, his

countrymen sought intellectual enlightenment as well as military conquest.

He had been in Egypt when his compatriots found the Rosetta Stone and, being intellectually superior, instantly understood its value. He was here in 1801 when the English defeated the French at Alexandria and took the stone away, claiming it was “honorably acquired by fortune of war.”

He was still here, and he still hated the English for a long list of reasons—including, most recently, their employing the infuriatingly lucky Giovanni Belzoni—but their “stealing” the Rosetta Stone constituted Reasons Number One through Five.

Duval had spent twenty years working to even the score.

However, though he had sent to France a great number of fine Egyptian artifacts, he had found nothing approaching the Rosetta Stone’s significance.

Until now.

Very cautiously he unrolled the papyrus. Not all the way. Only enough to reassure himself that this was the one. His men had blundered enough already. But it was the one—his chief agent Faruq was no fool—and M. Duval closed the document up again, with the same gentleness, and no small degree of frustration.

The first time he’d seen it, he’d understood it was above the common run of papyri. Even so, he had not believed the story the merchant Vanni Anaz told to justify the insane price he asked. Only the most ignorant persons would believe it. Everyone else knew that no one could read hieroglyphs or any other form of ancient Egyptian writing; therefore no one could tell what this papyrus said.

Still, it was a rare specimen, and Duval had determined to get it.

But before he could arrange to have it stolen, Miles Archdale, one of the world’s foremost language scholars, had gone to Anaz’s shop, listened soberly to the tale of long-hidden treasure and forgotten pharaoh, and paid the horrendous price. Without a murmur.

One need not be a linguistic genius to comprehend why: Archdale had found the key to deciphering hieroglyphs.

He’d kept it a secret because it would lead to great discoveries, and he wanted all the honor and glory.

He’d seen that this papyrus would lead to the greatest discovery of all, far surpassing anything Belzoni had done and at least equaling the Rosetta Stone in importance: an untouched royal tomb, filled with treasure.

Duval unrolled the foolscap copy of the papyrus. Its margins held numerous notes in English, Greek, and Latin, along with a number of odd symbols and signs, all of it incomprehensible.

“But he will explain it to us,” Duval murmured. “Every word of the papyrus. The meaning of every sign.”

And once Archdale had given up all his secrets, he would die, and no one would ever find his body. The desert kept secrets even better than he. Jackals, vultures, sun, and sand combined to make corpses vanish with amazing speed.

In the meantime, however, Duval must deal with the infuriating complication. “These must leave Cairo at once,” he said. “But I must stay, for a time at least.”

The man who’d brought the documents stepped out of the shadows. Though he called himself Faruq, he was Polish. He was educated, one of the more intelligent of the many mercenaries and criminals who found in Egypt a profitable market for their talents.

Duval wished he’d sent Faruq after Archdale. But how could he have guessed he’d need his top agent to carry out a simple kidnapping?

The men sent after Archdale failed to take him in Giza. He was too well-guarded. They could not get to him until he crossed the river again and dispersed his escort in Old Cairo. When the men finally did capture him, they beat his servant and left him for dead, without making sure. The servant had somehow crawled back to the sister, who promptly reported the incident to the consulate. By tomorrow, everyone in Cairo would know.

The local authorities did not worry Duval. They were slow, incompetent, and corrupt.

The one who worried him was the Englishman known as the Golden Devil.

He had become Duval’s nemesis in the last year. In addition to being cunning, ruthless, and as hungry for glory for England as Duval was for France, the Golden Devil was slightly insane.

Duval hated crazy people. They were too unpredictable.

“The sister will care only to find her brother,” Duval said. “She will be easy to divert. The Golden Devil is the graver problem. You must go ahead, to join the others at Minya as we planned. You must take the papyrus. Whatever else happens, it must not fall into his hands.”

Though he spoke coolly, Duval was close to weeping with vexation. Everyone dreamt of finding an intact royal tomb. The key was in his hands, in this papyrus. The man who’d finally unlocked the secrets of hieroglyphic writing was Duval’s captive, and barely a day’s journey away.

But Duval must remain in Cairo to divert suspicion. If he left, his most feared and hated rival would instantly know who was behind the kidnapping and theft. If Duval stayed, he would become merely one of several possible suspects. If he arranged matters well, suspicion would soon shift elsewhere.

And so M. Duval put the two documents into a battered old dispatch bag that wouldn’t tempt thieves, gave the bag to Faruq, and told him where and when they would next meet.





* * *





RUPERT HAD NOT failed to notice that his comments about the French distracted Mrs, Pembroke from asking the logical question: What will they do to my brother when they find out he can’t read the papyrus?

It was a question Rupert had rather not answer. He did not count Archdale’s life worth a groat once the villains discovered their error. He doubted the man’s life would be worth much even if he could read the papyrus.

Still, there was a chance. In Archdale’s place, Rupert would pretend and prevaricate, putting off the moment of truth as long as possible. Meanwhile, he’d be looking for a way to escape.

If the villains did discover the truth sooner than was convenient, one might be able to persuade them to demand a ransom. That way at least, he would tell them, they needn’t come away empty-handed.

Rupert kept these thoughts to himself and concentrated on keeping Mrs. Pembroke’s mind from dwelling unhappily on her brother.

Fortunately, Rupert Carsington had a natural talent for driving others distracted.

Because she’d found his renaming the boy Tom so provoking, the first thing Rupert did when they’d mounted their donkeys was christen his Cleopatra.

“That is not the creature’s name,” said Mrs. Pembroke. She told him the Arabic name.

“I can’t pronounce it,” Rupert said.

“You don’t even try,” she said.

“I don’t understand why these people don’t speak English,” he said. “It’s so much simpler.”

He could not see her face—she’d put on the evil veil— but he heard her huff of exasperation.

They set out at a surprisingly fast clip, considering how narrow, congested, and busy the streets were. He thought it was wonderful: the donkeys trotting steadily on their way while carts, horses, and camels came straight at them; the drivers running alongside and ahead, calling out incomprehensibly and waving sticks, trying to clear a path while everyone appeared to ignore them.

He praised the donkeys to their drivers, congratulated the beasts on particularly narrow escapes, and told the men anecdotes about London hackneys.

Mrs. Pembroke bore it for as long as she could, which was not very long, before she exploded, “They have no idea what you’re saying!”

“Well, they’ll never learn, will they, if one doesn’t make an effort,” he said.

If the streets hadn’t been so noisy, he was sure he’d have heard her teeth grinding.

She said nothing more, but Rupert was confident she was too preoccupied with his breathtaking stupidity to fret overmuch about her brother.

Still, Rupert was not a man to leave anything to chance.

When they reached their destination, he was off his mount even before it had come to a complete halt, and instantly at Mrs. Pembroke’s side.

He reached up and grasped the lady firmly at the waist.

“That is not nec—” She broke off as he lifted her up from the elaborate saddle. Instinctively she grasped his shoulders. Smiling into her veiled countenance, Rupert held her in the air at eye level for a moment. Then slowly, slowly, he lowered her to the ground.

She did not immediately let go of his arms.

He did not immediately let go of her waist.

She remained utterly still, looking up at him.

He couldn’t see her face, but he could hear the hurried in and out of her breath.

Then she let go and pushed away from him, and turned away in that quick, angry flurry he found so delicious.

“You are absurd,” she said. “There is no need to show off your strength.”

“That hardly wanted strength,” he said. “You weigh far less than I’d have thought. It’s the layers and layers of mourning that fooled me.” Not completely, though. There was the walk.

“I can only hope that you will be as diligent about finding my brother as you are about ascertaining the dimensions of my person,” she said crossly.

By this time the gatekeeper had appeared. He looked to Rupert, but Mrs. Pembroke got in the way and spoke in impatient Arabic.

The gate opened, and they entered the courtyard. Another servant appeared and led them into and through the house.

As they navigated the labyrinth common to Cairo’s better houses, Mrs. Pembroke dropped Rupert a few hints.

“Do keep your mind on why we are here,” she said in an undertone. “We can’t afford to waste time. Please resist the temptation to give Lord Noxley’s servants nicknames. I doubt he will appreciate it, and I had rather not spend valuable minutes smoothing matters over. And please try not to wander from the subject. Or tell anecdotes. You are not here to entertain anybody. You are here to obtain information. Is that clear?”

“You’re so forgetful,” he said. “Don’t you remember telling me that you’re the brain and I’m the brawn? Naturally I expect you to do all the talking. And naturally I shall knock heads and toss people out of windows as required. Or did I misunderstand? Did you want me to think, too?”





* * *





Chapter 4

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RUPERT DISLIKED THE VISCOUNT NOXLEY ON sight.

He was a few inches shorter than Rupert and not so broad across the shoulders and chest, but he was fit enough. His hair and eyes were the tawny color properly belonging to cats. Rupert especially disliked the eyes and their expression when regarding Mrs. Pembroke.

It was the look a hungry lion cast upon the gazelle selected for dinner.

Rupert wished she’d left her veil down.

But she’d thrown it back as soon as she entered the room, and his lordship’s face lighted up, bright as the sun, at the sight.

And then, as soon as she’d explained what had happened, it was as though a vast thundercloud mounted over the fellow’s head.

Servants hurried in with the obligatory coffee and sweets and hurried out again at his brusque signal.

“This is incredible,” Noxley said. “I can scarcely take it in. What fool would leap to such a conclusion, let alone act upon it? But no, it must be a madman. The idea is monstrous. I am sure your brother never gave the smallest indi-cation of a breakthrough of that magnitude. Quite the contrary. He is exceedingly modest about his work. One can scarcely persuade him to speak of it.”

“I agree that it is bizarre,” she said. “But the two matters must be connected. Or do you believe it is mere coincidence?”

“No, no, yet I hardly know what to believe.” He shook his head. “It is shocking. I need a moment to collect my thoughts. But I am remiss.” He indicated the coffee tray with its array of elegant silver dishes. “Do take some refreshment, I beg. Mr. Carsington, you may be unfamiliar with the local delicacies.”

He explained the food while lovingly arranging a plate for Mrs. Pembroke. Less lovingly, he prepared one for Rupert. Once this task was done, Noxley forgot about Rupert and devoted his attention to the lady.

Rupert let his attention wander to his surroundings. The room was entirely in the local style. Acres of Turkey carpets. Plastered and whitewashed walls. Elaborately carved and painted wooden ceiling with chandelier suspended therefrom. High, latticed windows. Low banquettes running along three sides of the room, heaped with pillows and cushions. Paneled cupboards above the banquettes. Paneled doors almost but not quite facing each other. The one they’d entered was shut; the other stood partly open. The opening was clearly visible from where Rupert sat. A figure moved past, then returned and hovered there. A veiled face peeked round the edge of the door, and a dark gaze met his.

He pretended to study the design of his coffee cup while covertly watching the woman watching him.

After a moment, she grew bolder and showed more of herself. There was a great deal to show, the veil being the only modest feature of her attire. It must have been too heavy for her, because she dropped it once or twice.

Still, Rupert was attuned to the conversation nearby. Mrs. Pembroke was prodding Noxley to remember something Archdale might have said or done to cause someone to leap to conclusions.

Noxley still seemed bewildered. He described the small dinner party—merely three guests besides Archdale, all English: one artist and two colonels. “I did wonder,” he said, frowning. “Your brother’s reason for going to Giza this time seemed odd to me. But I supposed I must have misunderstood him. Either that or he had some private business there he preferred to keep private.”

Rupert came to attention. “A woman, do you mean?” he said.

Mrs. Pembroke stared at him.

Noxley looked, too, and his expression chilled. “I had not considered that possibility,” he said.

“Really?” Rupert said. “It’s the first thing that occurred to me.”

“Mr. Archdale would never be so unwise as to become entangled with any of the local women,” Lord Noxley said frigidly. “The Muslims have strict notions of propriety, and the consequences of violating them are severe.”

“Those notions don’t include the dancing girls, I’ve noticed,” said Rupert. “From what I’ve seen—”

“Mr. Carsington,” Mrs. Pembroke said.

He gave her an innocently inquiring look.

“We seem to be straying from the main point,” she said. “That point, which may have eluded you, is the possibility of my brother’s going to Giza for reasons other than those he gave me.”

“Given your theory about the two incidents, Mrs. Pembroke, I find myself wondering whether Mr. Archdale did, after all, make a discovery of some kind at the pyramids,” his lordship said. “Or perhaps while at Giza he said or did something to arouse curiosity and speculation. The Egyptians are formidable gossips, as you know. They will endlessly debate the most trivial matters, elaborate on every tale they hear, and pass it on to everyone they meet. News travels up and down the Nile with prodigious speed. Then there are the French and their spies watching everything we do, as though we were still at war. They are so jealous of our accomplishments here—and we all know their agents are not the most savory persons.”

“The French?” Rupert said.

“They seem to believe that Egypt and all it contains be-long exclusively to them,” Noxley said. “They are completely unscrupulous. Bribery, theft, and even violence are nothing to them.”

“Now here’s something like it,” Rupert said. “Violence. Unsavory persons. And French besides.” He looked at Mrs. Pembroke. “Well, we’d best set out after the scoundrels, hadn’t we? By the way, where exactly is Giza, and what’s so irresistible about it?”

They both stared at him. Mrs. Pembroke wore a comical look of wondering exasperation.

Rupert was well aware that the Giza plateau lay across the Nile. He must be blind not to be aware. The famous pyramids were plainly visible from any number of places in the metropolis.

He’d asked the stupid questions just to see Mrs. Pembroke’s reaction.

“Mrs. Pembroke, I beg you will allow me to assist you,” said Noxley. “I am sure the consul general wishes to do all he can to help you, but his resources are limited.” He glanced briefly in Rupert’s direction. “Please allow me to put my staff at your disposal. And myself, of course. I am sure we shall get to the bottom of this very quickly.”

Far more quickly than Hargate’s brainless son, was politely left unsaid.

Rupert had to agree about the brainless part. He’d blundered badly. Why should she not discard him in favor of a man presenting clear signs of intelligence?

And how could Rupert blame her?

Noxious obviously knew her brother better than Rupert did. The man had lived several years in Egypt. He seemed to know everybody. He spoke the language.

“Why, thank you,” said Mrs. Pembroke. “I shall be very glad to have your help.”

Idiot, Rupert berated himself. Imbecile. Now Noxious would have all the fun of a search with her, and Rupert would end up in the desert, looking for rocks with writing on them that no one could read.

Then she and Noxley began to talk, as though Rupert didn’t exist.

He gave a mental shrug and redirected his attention to the partly open door. The dusky beauty lingered still.

What a hypocrite Noxious was, acting so prim when Rupert spoke of dancing girls, when a member of his lordship’s harem stood only a few yards away, half-naked and clearly objecting to her lord and master’s attention being diverted elsewhere.

She disappeared and reappeared at intervals, looking more and more vexed at each reappearance.

Watching her, Rupert only half-heard the conversation nearby. Noxley had some people he promised to talk to, starting with the men who’d come to dinner the other night. He’d send some servants out to collect the latest street gossip. He’d call on some district sheiks.

He summoned a servant and gave orders in Arabic. Mrs. Pembroke chimed in.

The servant exited.

Then it was time to leave.

A good deal more subdued than when he set out, Rupert escorted her home. He was vaguely aware of its being later than he’d supposed. He wondered how long they’d been at Noxious’s.

“Weren’t we going elsewhere?” he said as they reached her street.

“Weren’t you paying attention?” she said. “Lord Noxley is going to call on the others. It is very good of him. I had not realized how tired I was until now. But I never slept at all last night. I must have a proper night’s rest. I shall be no good at all in Giza otherwise.”

“Ah, so you’re going to Giza,” Rupert said wistfully. He would like to explore the inside of a pyramid, especially with her. He’d heard the passageways were dark and narrow.

“Yes, well, he doesn’t know that,” she said.

Rupert turned sharply toward her. But there was the hateful veil, hiding her expressive face. “How can he not know?” he said. “He’ll see you there.”

“Lord Noxley?” she said.

“Who else?” Rupert said.

“But he’s not going to Giza,” she said.

“He’s not?”

“No,” she said. “You are.”

They arrived at her door. “I am?” Rupert said stupidly.

She let out a long sigh. “Really, Mr. Carsington, I wish you would try to attend. Surely you heard him. He is like Vir—like Miles. They think women—Oh, never mind. It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t need to know, and you wouldn’t understand. But do pay attention now. You are taking me with you to Giza, no matter what he says. You are to come and collect me tomorrow at daybreak. Is that clear?”

“Clear as a bell,” Rupert said.

He saw her safely indoors, left the house, and with a wave at Wadid, passed through the gate and set off down the street, whistling.





* * *





ONCE MRS. PEMBROKE had gone, all the sunshine went out of his lordship’s countenance.

Asheton Noxley liked to have things his way—exactly his way. This wasn’t easy anywhere. In Egypt, it was particularly difficult because people here—even, or perhaps especially, Europeans—acted according to no known rules of civilized behavior.

Very early in his stay he had learnt that official documents became increasingly meaningless the farther away one was from the official who’d provided them. For instance, the pasha might give him the exclusive right to excavate at such and such a place or to remove this or that object. But if the site was in, say, Thebes, and the pasha four hundred fifty miles away in Cairo at the time, the one who actually got to excavate was the one who either paid the local officials the largest bribes or produced the largest band of thugs and ruffians to insure his rights.

Lord Noxley had found local officials unreliable. They accepted bribes from rival parties. They were accommodating one day and obstructive the next. They withheld workers, food, and boats when the mood struck them.

Consequently, he had amassed a large band of men he could depend upon to make people behave as they ought.

He now employed agents in most of the major villages between Alexandria and the Second Cataract.

Though Miles Archdale and his handsome sister didn’t know about it, his lordship was making arrangements for them, too. His lordship was cultivating the brother, reputed to be one of those nearest to unlocking the secrets of the ancient script. They would make an ideal team, Lord Nox-ley believed. Together they would unearth a great find, greater than anything Belzoni had discovered.

Equally important, Lord Noxley would make the sister his viscountess. He’d wanted her from the first moment he saw her because she, rather like the papyrus her brother had bought, was a rarity.

Countless beauties in England had thrown themselves at him, and he’d had his pick of their exotic counterparts in Egypt. Mrs. Pembroke had no counterpart.

She was not pretty, not beautiful. He was not sure she was handsome. But her face was striking and her figure magnificent, and she was as rich as Croesus. Moreover, she was conveniently here. His lordship need not return to England to renew the tedious search for a suitable bride. He could remain in Egypt for years. When he did return, it would be to great fame and honors.

But someone had disrupted his plans. Archdale, one of the world’s great linguists, might be in deadly peril. Meanwhile the Earl of Hargate’s hellion son was sniffing about the future Viscountess Noxley’s skirts.

Lord Noxley sent for his agent Ghazi, who arrived within the hour.

Ghazi was his lordship’s right-hand assassin.

Lord Noxley told him what had happened and asked why he was one of the last to know.

“I will send men to Old Cairo,” Ghazi said. “They will discover who took your friend. But it is very strange. One day they steal the man. This I understand. They do it for a ransom. But today they steal a papyrus? This I do not understand. The merchant Vanni Anaz has an endless supply. He has men who make them, too. The peasants sell them in all the villages. Why go to the trouble of stealing?”

Lord Noxley explained.

“Ah,” said Ghazi. “But is it true?”

“Someone thinks so,” Lord Noxley said.

“It must be the French,” Ghazi said. “They grow desperate.”

This was because Lord Noxley’s agents were steadily driving the French away from the richest sites. He wasn’t sure desperation explained it completely, though. Had he erred regarding Archdale, mistaking secrecy for modesty?

“The question is, who possesses the means and is ruthless enough to undertake such villainies?” he said.

Apart from Lord Noxley himself, only one man met the requirements.

“Duval, then,” said Ghazi.

“I rather think so.”

“I will talk to his people.”

The word talk, both men knew, was a euphemism for a very broad range of activities.

But Lord Noxley knew Ghazi didn’t require specifics. His lordship only added, “And that idiot Carsington.” He briefly described Lord Hargate’s fourth son. “He’ll be in Giza tomorrow. I want him out of the way.”





* * *





Wednesday 4 April

RUPERT ARRIVED AT the widow’s domicile at daybreak as ordered.

He found they would travel with a retinue. All of her cowardly servants but Akmed, it turned out, had skulked back to the house by the time she returned the previous evening. She’d decided they must come along to Giza today.

It took Rupert a while to take this in because he was still trying to digest her appearance.

She’d abandoned the black silk for a costume: a gold-trimmed maroon jacket over full Turkish trousers of a bright blue. And a turban. They would pretend she was a man, his Maltese translator, she said.

She did not in any way resemble a man, Maltese or oth-erwise. She made Rupert think of harems and concubines and dancing girls. In those thoughts clothing of any kind was not a prominent feature.

He remembered how surprised he was when he lifted her off the donkey: she was smaller than he’d guessed, though quite as generously curved. He could almost feel it still: the inward turn of her waist… the flare of her hips where the edge of his hand had rested. A familiar heat, having nothing to do with the morning’s temperature, settled into his nether regions. As a consequence, a long moment passed while he tried to get his mind on business.

The ludicrous turban didn’t help matters. It begged him to unwind it by spinning her round and round like a top until she was giddy and giggling… then pick her up…

But he couldn’t. Not yet. If he moved too quickly and put his mouth or hands where she thought they didn’t belong, she’d send him back to Salt. Rupert would end up toiling in the desert, supervising natives shifting sand and rocks. Lord Noxious would have the fun of a search with her and fights with unsavory, very likely French, persons, while Rupert died of boredom.

Picturing Noxious with his hands on her waist promptly squelched Rupert’s lascivious urges.

He turned a skeptical eye upon the cringing servants. He made his expression stern, and adopting the same disdainful tones his father used on such occasions, said, “I should like to know, madam, what good you expect this lot to do, except give you a prime view of their backs the instant trouble threatens.”

“We cannot travel unaccompanied,” she said. “Not only is it not respectable, it is not at all safe. And we haven’t time to apply to the local sheik for replacements.”

If they had to apply to a sheik for servants, it would take forever. While Rupert understood almost nothing of Arabic, he knew that phrases such as “make haste” or “we must not lose a minute” or “I mean now ” were not in the local lexicon.

In short, he must make do with the material at hand.

“Leena,” he said, “please be so good as to tell these fellows that there will be no running away today. Tell them that no matter what terrible thing threatens, it will not be half so terrible as what I will do to them if they desert their mistress.” He provided a brief, vivid description of what he would do to them, emphasizing with gestures.

Leena rapidly translated.

“For all the good it will do,” Rupert said, half to himself. “I should have to catch them first, shouldn’t I?”

“They won’t run away,” Mrs. Pembroke said.

He turned back to her, and his stern demeanor crumbled before the turban and the strange, heart-shaped face that didn’t belong under it.

“Won’t they?” he said, smiling helplessly.

“Rumors have spread that you are a genie,” she said. “Wadid by now has told them what you did to him yesterday, and the feat has been exaggerated beyond all recognition.”

“Good,” Rupert said. “That saves me deciding which of them to use for the demonstration.”





* * *





A WHILE LATER, fists on his hips, the long, muscled legs straddling a gap between masses of broken stone blocks, the man who’d brought Daphne to Giza without a murmur of objection stood looking up at Chephren’s pyramid.

By swift degrees, Mr. Carsington had discarded his gloves, hat, neckcloth, and coat. Now barely dressed and glowing in the sun’s glare, he seemed a bronze colossus.

Daphne was only dimly aware of the pyramid, one of the world’s wonders. All she could see was the man, and far too much of him: the shirt taut across the broad shoulders, the thin fabric almost transparent in the harsh light, revealing the contours of muscular arms and back.

It was some comfort to know she wasn’t the only one whose gaze he drew. Her servants cast him frequent, wary glances. The men who loitered about the pyramids to help visitors ascend to the top or penetrate its interior also watched him from a respectful distance.

And she might as well have been his shadow. The guides hardly noticed her or seemed to care who or what she was.

They all felt it: the magnetism of that tall figure, the danger crackling in the air about him. All understood that an unpredictable, uncontrollable force had come among them.

Daphne had felt it even before she could see him, when he’d been only a shadowy figure in the dungeon’s gloom.

“It’s big,” he said at last.

“Yes, it is,” she said. “I suppose you want to climb it.” Men could not resist.

“Not at the moment,” he said. “If I climb to the top, it’ll only be a prodigious long stairway. No, for the present I like it as it is, immense and impressive.” He turned to her. “Unless you think we might find a clue at the top?”

She shook her head. “Miles said he wanted to study the interior. He seemed to think it held clues that would help us find other tombs.”

The guides hadn’t any useful information about Miles. Yes, they remembered the Englishman with the “white” hair. He had come a few days ago. No one recalled anything unusual about the visit.

Mr. Carsington climbed down from the stones and joined her. He’d unfastened the button at the neck of his shirt, which allowed the garment to hang open in a large V. She directed her gaze away from the expanse of bronzed chest and toward the pyramid.

“Why did Lord Noxious find your brother’s reason for coming here so odd?”

“Lord what?”

“You heard me,” he said. “I wondered how that insufferable bore could be your brother’s—or anyone’s—boon companion. But English-speaking fellows are thin on the ground, I notice. Noxious must have won the position by default.”

“You didn’t like him,” she said. Which was about as astute an observation as Mr. Carsington’s remarking that the pyramid was big.

There was too much male in view—too much insufficiently clothed male. It was shocking, really. Small wonder she couldn’t think. She ought to tell him to put his clothes back on.

“It wasn’t my liking he was after,” he said.

Her gaze shot back to him. The black eves glinted.

“How concerned he was for you,” he said. “So understanding of your predicament. He didn’t assume your brother was lolling about in a whorehouse, visiting the Garden of Allah by means of a hashish pipe. No, indeed. His lordship was properly sympathetic and desperately eager to do your bidding.”

“I should like to know how this makes him noxious,” she said.

“He was so quick to imagine the worst,” Mr. Carsington said. “Most men would say, ‘There, there now, I’m sure it’s nothing to fret about. There’ll be a simple explanation—a message gone astray or some such.’ Instead, he made a great to-do about it, shoveling on veiled and unveiled suggestions to make you more anxious, rather than less.”

“I detest ‘there, there now,’” she said. “It is patronizing. And I vastly dislike being made to feel like a child who is imagining things. That is how Mr. Salt behaved toward me. It is exceedingly provoking.”

“Maybe the consul general likes