Authors: Lisa Manuel
For Benay Unger and her mother, Pauline Unger,
whose encouragement and enthusiasm for the romance
genre are reason enough to keep a writer writing
Published 2008 by Medallion Press, Inc.
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is a registered tradmark of Medallion Press, Inc.
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 from this “stripped book.”
Copyright Â© 2008 by Lisa Manuel
Cover Illustration by Adam Mock
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.
Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Printed in the United States of America
Typeset in Adobe Garamond Pro
With heartfelt appreciation for
The untiring efforts of The Florida Romance Writers to advance the careers of its members, and for always having chocolate on hand during good times and bad.
Special thanks to my agent, Evan Marshall, and to Helen Rosburg and the professionals of Medallion Press, whose collective vision and hard work help keep this industry exciting and innovative.
ir Graham Foster sucked blistering air into his lungs, gave his Arabian gelding a firm pat on the neck, adjusted his feet in the stirrups, and raised his saber high above his head. Glaring sunlight arced along the steel, sending a shimmering signal to the men assembled before him.
Boot heels dug into drought-scorched earth. A plaintive creaking arose as hemp ropes tightened and clenched. Some two dozen workers strained forward beside ten of the best camels British pounds could buy. Slowly, painstakingly, and with a screech that set Graham's teeth on edge, the barrier to the tomb inched open.
He prayed the ropes would hold. And that the laborers handpicked from a local tribe of nomads wouldn't choose that moment to start an uprising or observe one of hundreds of incomprehensible religious rituals. Or simply decide it was time to return to their colorful tents on the desert.
He gripped a handful of damp shirtfront and unstuck it from his chest. It had taken three months to find this tomb, a modest vault of stone and mud brick laid out on a rectangular slab about twenty feet below ground. It hadn't always been subterranean, but part of the once-prosperous village of Deir el-Medina, now buried beneath centuries of blowing sand. It wasn't a place one would expect to find the remains of a pharaoh, but rather a pharaoh's master craftsman.
Which suited Graham Foster fine. He wasn't searching for a king's treasure or anything of great historical value. Not this time. A text in the Alexandria archives had indicated this to be the burial site of a wealthy goldsmith from the second millennia BC, and Graham expected a handsome return for his pains. He only hoped the poor dead chap wouldn't mind extending him a bit of a loan for a good cause.
It had taken another two months to raise the money and manpower needed to excavate. An additional four weeks to successfully bribe Pasha Mohammed Ali, Egypt's temperamental Turkish ruler, into allowing the “pesky British swine” access to the area. Of course, this excavation was merely a means to a more important end. If it proved fruitless, there would be more searching, more money to raise, more bribes to offer, and more nomads to deal with.
“My lord! My lord!”
Shaun Paddington, his friend, assistant, and, when necessity dictated, imposter British consul, hailed from the top of a rise some thirty yards away. Graham swore under his breath. What could be so important that Shaun would interrupt him at such a crucial moment?
A high-pitched groan snared his attention. The workers were moving too fast, putting undue strain on both the ropes and the entrance slab. Too much tension on the stone could literally rend it to pieces and cause a cave-in.
Graham cupped his hands around his mouth. “Slow down before it shatters!”
The perspiration rolling down his sides had little to do with the hundred-degree heat pounding down from an unimpeded sun. He sucked another breath in preparation of a second warning when he saw the lead camel drivers signal to their snorting, spitting charges.
Graham held the searing oxygen in his lungs. Done without the proper skill, the drivers could stop the progress altogether instead of simply slowing it. The momentum would be lost. That meant starting over.
“My lord!” Shaun shouted again.
Damn. From the corner of his eye, Graham saw his friend descend a sand dune at top speed. As his image undulated in the heat waves, Graham noticed something white flapping in Shaun's outstretched hand.
“Blazing hell, Shaun, not now.”
But within seconds, the overseers had brought the pace under control. The whining complaint of the ropes and the slab ceased. With a whoop of mixed relief and triumph, Graham swung from the saddle.
“Did you see that, Shaun?” he called to the panting man, whose running steps kicked up whorls of sand around his legs. “Can I pick them or what? Are these fellows not princes of their trade?”
They weren't completely out of danger yet, wouldn't be until the slab cleared the tomb and was secured with more ropes and scaffolding. But already Graham felt the charge of adventure, the anticipation of entering the three-thousand-year-old grave site.
Shaun loped to a halt a few feet away, waving what Graham now identified as a sheet of paper practically under his nose.
“What have you got there?” Graham asked. “A grant from the same university that sent me packing ten years ago? Tell them I don't need it.”
“No, it'sâ¦a letterâ¦from yourâ¦solicitor.” Puffing, Shaun bent full over, resting a hand on his knee in an effort to recapture his breath.
“I don't have a solicitor.”
His friend maintained his bent posture and continued gasping. Finally, hand pressed to his chest in a manner that would have worried Graham if he wasn't familiar with the man's dramatics, he straightened. “You do now. And it seems you're needed at home.”
“The devil I am. Bad joke, old man.” An oddity struck him. How had Shaun hailed him? With cries of
He'd been Sir Graham Foster since his twenty-fourth birthday, after presenting His Majesty, King George, with assorted artifacts from various digs. Tanis had yielded a gilded ebony statue of the god Osiris; from Karnak came a bejeweled pectoral pendant featuring the eye of Horus; and from Akhenaten, an elaborate burial mask. Baubles that had granted him a solid footing on England's social ladder.
But a lordship?
“Shaun, my friend,” he said with a laugh and a swat to the other man's broad shoulder, “you've been baking in this sun too long. Go back to your tent. Have a little nip. It'll restore perspective to that addled mind of yours.”
Shaun shook his head and the paper at the same time. “There's nothing wrong with me, my lord. Your cousin twice removed and then some,” he jabbed at the information with his forefinger, “Everett Foster, has died andâ”
“Your second cousin twice removed. Or is it thrice? Here, it lists the lineage tracing you to him.”
Scowling, Graham peered at the page. “Oh. Old Man Monteith. Only met him a couple of times, and that was years ago. But this is absurd. He has a nephew.”
“Dead, as well, within weeks of his uncle.” Shaun squinted down at the page. “Says here you're the great-great-grandson of the first Baron Monteith's younger brother.” He dropped the paper to his side and met Graham's gaze with a mixture of disbelief and amazement. “It would appear you've been the new Baron Monteith for quite some time now, my lord.”
“Call me that again, and I'll knock you a facer. Now tell me how I can avoid this calamity.”
Shaun stared back, lips compressed. A hot gust nearly ripped the letter from his hand, but he whisked it tight against his chest. Then he said, “There's more.”
“Out with it.”
“Your solicitor sends his apologies for having allowed your family access to your new London town house. He didn't think it would be a problem. They are your family, after all.” Shaun paused to swallow. “But it seems they've amassed some debts.”
Gritty sweat trickled into the corner of Graham's eye. He swiped at it with his sleeve. “Blazing hell.”