Authors: Bonnie Vanak
THE PANTHER & THE PYRAMID
Book 4 in the Khamsin Warriors of the Wind series
THE PANTHER & THE PYRAMID - Copyright 2005 by Bonnie Vanak
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This book is a work of fiction. With the exception of recognized historical figures, the characters in this novel are fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Published 2011 by Bonnie Vanak
The red hair haunted him, as it always did, in his deepest nightmares.
Red. The color of blood. His blood. The hair... its crimson shock flapping in the air like a warning flag. The thick tangle of red-gold billowed from the force of the wind whistling across the desert sands. Always the desert, the harsh yellow sun searing his sweating body, mocking his dry, childish screams for help. Green eyes, brilliant as glossy emeralds, stared at him with scornful challenge.
He moaned, tossing and writhing. Hands clawed the air in a desperate attempt to fight his attacker—his attacker who wanted the magic wishing casket buried deep in Egypt's sands. He tried, oh, he tried so hard to wrest it away, to keep its awesome power hidden, but his tormentor grabbed the box. Then, words drifted from those mocking lips.
"There's no escape from the truth. You can't hide from what you really are."
With a strangled yell, he sat up. Sweat dampened the soft Egyptian cotton sheets beneath his naked torso. His hand shook uncontrollably as he wiped moisture from his forehead with the sheet's edge. An ominous foreboding shook him.
It wasn't the red hair this time, nor the words that caused him to tremble. It was the face. This time, it wasn't the face of the man who'd abused him that one day in the desert. It was the face of a woman. And she would make him scream until only hoarse cries wrung from his dry throat. Only this time, his screams wouldn't stop with a dirty rag frantically shoved into his mouth.
This time his screams would not end....
The Duke of Caldwell had chosen a most unusual way to lose his virginity.
Graham Tristan stood quietly in Madame LaFontant's wine-colored private receiving room. Sweat trickled down his back, gathered in the waistband of his fine buff trousers. Summoning all his courage, he faced the brothel owner and said in a quiet, commanding tone, "She must be... untried. And not a redhead. My brother assures me your establishment is the most discreet in London."
The saucy, chestnut-haired madame gave him a slow, thorough assessment. "Of course, Your Grace. I pride myself on discretion and fulfilling the deepest desires of many of your peers. Your request was not unusual." She paused and tapped an elegant nail thoughtfully upon the back of the horsehair settee. "That is why I sent my note. The type of woman you want just arrived. Not quite young. She's twenty-two. A honey-blonde. Very well-spoken. Quite lovely. Is that acceptable?"
A tiny puff of air escaped his lungs. Graham forced his face into an expressionless mask. "Is she a virgin?"
"Most assuredly. Of course, for such a jewel I'll have to charge double."
"Of course," he murmured, his heart galloping with a mixture of excitement and dread.
Madame LaFontant's corset stays creaked as she rose from the chaise. "Remain here and I'll prepare everything. Please, make yourself comfortable. There's brandy on the sideboard."
And with a swish of starched taffeta skirts, she whisked out the door. Graham ran a finger along the soaked white collar of his otherwise immaculate dress shirt. He eyed the sideboard with its gleaming array of crystal and decanter of amber fluid. He'd never drunk alcohol before, either.
"There's a first time for everything," he muttered.
In three strides, he was pouring two fingers of brandy into a snifter. Graham gulped down the liquor, coughing violently. He wiped his mouth and set down the glass. Good God, he hoped sex was going to be a hell of a lot more pleasurable than drinking.
"Is there such a thing as a monkish duke? Or a dukish monk?" he asked himself and laughed.
All the debutantes who'd eyed him as the Season's parties and balls began, marriage glinting in their eyes at the thought of snaring the very eligible, very rich duke, would be scandalized to know he was as innocent as they. A twenty-eight-year-old virgin.
But no longer. Knowing full well he'd hang for the crime he planned to commit, the revenge he would take, Graham vowed he'd experience pleasure in a woman's soft arms for the first time. Tonight, no skilled whore who would detect his inexperience. He wanted a woman as inexperienced as he, a woman too nervous to notice his awkward fumblings and hesitation. A virgin who would not ridicule him if last-minute panic flowered and he decided he couldn't bear to be touched after all...
Graham fisted his hands, staring at the scarlet silk-paneled walls. The man who'd robbed him of his boyhood was long dead. Graham had killed him with his scimitar in a duel, ruthlessly avenging the abuse he'd suffered after having been taken captive by an Egyptian tribe at age six. But that other man, the redheaded Englishman who'd wanted the same—he still roamed free. The man who'd promised a desperate eight-year-old that, if he wouldn't struggle, if he would do something very despicable, he would be freed from his tormentor and returned to England. Graham had closed his eyes and sold his soul to the devil. That devil with red hair and green eyes...
And then he'd screamed in anguish as the man rode off in a cloud of dust, leaving him behind to face his laughing captor and the nightmarish stench of the dirty, gray sheepskins grinding into his face each night.
Graham's eyes flew open. "Never again," he whispered fiercely. "I am not that same child."
Abandoning the sideboard, he paced the fine wool carpet, trying to contain the restless agitation welling inside. He stopped, forcing himself to remember: He would not be the only virgin in bed tonight. Surely his first lover would be very nervous.
Think of her
, he admonished himself.
Focus on her
Kenneth, his brother who had relinquished the family title to him upon Graham's return to England last year, had given him a few very explicit words of advice. He'd also loaned him explicit books with illustrations. "The key to arousing a woman's passion is to make love with your mind, not merely your body. Woo her with words, not just touch," he'd suggested.