Excerpt from THOUSAND DOLLAR PHARAOH
The Deception Series Book 2
by Sherry Morris
August 1945 in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt
Chloe gingerly shook her head, giggling. She marveled at the cultural differences. Here they were. Two young women out in the middle of the night alone and they had been inhaling an illegal drug. Illegal in their homeland. But it was perfectly acceptable in this context. Actually it was part of their cover.
Undercover agents for the United States Secret Service. On the trail of counterfeiters. A far cry from the life she’d led in Shrew, North Carolina.
The thunder of hoof beats approached from the north. Orpha fought to keep the camel under control as it stumbled into a crow-hop. Nefertiti meowed and Chloe screamed as she was thrown.
A chariot arrived.
Orpha had jumped off the camel before his legs splayed.
Chloe was thrown. She landed on her belly. Through blurry eyes, she scrutinized the interloper by the light of his lantern. A man. Tall. Face covered with cloth, only eyes and brows showing. Egyptian garb.
In her muddled mind, the only clear notion was to retrieve the carpet bag. Chloe pushed herself up and staggered over to the camel. As the man approached, she grabbed the bag defiantly, yanking it from the saddle horn. He seized Chloe roughly by the waist and threw her over his shoulder.
Great just great. I’ve been camel-napped. Now I’ll be a full day late for my summons. No way of making that tricky Moroccan connection now.
She realized her arm no longer hurt. Whatever Orpha had injected it with had a firm grip on her. The numbness was welcome, especially in this position.
The kidnapper stepped into the chariot. His grip was tight around Chloe’s legs.
She heard the crack of the whip as he grunted a command. The pair of horses galloped.
Was this guy crazy? I won’t survive a gallop through the desert flopped over his shoulder. All the blood is rushing to my head. I detected the heat. Actually once the dizziness set in, I enjoyed a little buzz like the one I had from Orpha’s incense cone. Hey, where was Orpha? Why didn’t she help me fend off this beast? Surely she didn’t run the other way. . . Oh, she must have a plan. She went for back up. Yeah, that’s it.
Chloe struggled to tuck her injured arm between her chest and his back. Her hand gripped tight to the mewing sack. She let her left arm dangle and then grabbed onto his buttocks for security. Maybe she should pinch him. Or spank him?
Trying to get a clue to the kidnapper’s identity, she inhaled deeply. Spicy lime aftershave. Wow, all the way down here. He must wash his dishdash in it. She giggled at her double entendre.
She had been kidnapped. Not the first time, but such is the life of a secret agent. Chloe had been held captive on a yacht and taken to Bermuda to make a money drop. Her friend, Shirley Fiddler, had made the money drop, and that’s what had landed her in jail. Poor Shirley. All because she got mixed up with the wrong fellow. He sweet talked her into becoming a gangster’s moll. Well, not exactly gangster. Myron Wimpledink, the timid little smarmy personnel director at the Washington Bureau of Engraving and Printing was no rough and tough gangster. Counterfeiter, yes.
Chloe hated Wimpledink and his band of merry marauders. That had been the mission from Hell. And it had only been her second assignment. The first was pleasant enough. Too bad she had blown their cover in the barn that night in Pennsylvania with Mike.
Her third assignment had been dreamy. Bodyguarding the Vice President in paradise.
This fourth one pretty much sucked, almost as much as the second. Perhaps there was a pattern. Even numbered assignments stank. Odd ones were lovely larks.
Chloe sneezed and smacked her hand against the captor’s boot. Why wasn’t he wearing sandals? Her next big inhalation was unpleasant. All she smelled was what had just come out of one of the horse’s hind parts. Funny how horses, elephants and camels can do that at full gallop. Elephants. . . Little Laughter. Chloe smiled and closed her eyes, remembering the beach resort her daddy had worked at during the summers. Tending to that baby elephant was a lovely memory.
Closing her eyes made her nauseous. She opened them and raised her head. “Ouch!” The sky appeared to have brightened a bit as they slowed to a stop. Too bad she had a sutured wound in her right arm. She could have done a somersault and rolled away from the bad guy. That wouldn’t be of much help, for she was not leaving without the carpet bag. Everything else being goofed up, knowing there was no way she’d make it to Washington in time now, at least this new wrinkle would give her an excuse. No, not really. The pencil pushing honchos would be mad at her for placing herself in a vulnerable position and point out that had she completed the mission on schedule, then she never would have afforded the kidnapper this opportunity.
Slipping his hands around Chloe’s waist, the man stepped off the chariot. He set her on her feet on the ground. She stumbled in the sand and brushed the tangled curls from her eyes. The captor stationed himself behind her and with gentle fingers, combed her snarled hair. She inhaled the night air and enjoyed the tingling sensation he created. How bizarre, but I like it.
Chloe focused on an oasis. Three date palm trees, illuminated by a dying fire in front of a tent. In the distance, about a city block away, if this had been a city, other tents, trees and fires reposed along the banks of a river.
He slipped his arms around her waist, hugging her close from behind. Running his fingers around her wrists. It might have been intoxicating had the circumstances been different.
“What do you want of me?” Chloe demanded.
“I have traveled across three continents and o’er two oceans seeking nothing but your lips.”
Chloe whirled around. Staring at the base of his sternum, the man was easily a foot taller than she. His unbuttoned shirt revealed a tuft of golden chest hair. As she raised her gaze up toward those baby blue eyes and his masked face, she already knew. He was Mike Taurus.
Ripping the mask down, she focused on the smirk as he parted his lips. Those plump lips she’d been dreaming of. When he parted them and she spotted the white gleam of his slightly crooked two front teeth, she couldn’t help herself. Tiptoeing up, she pressed her lips to his. He hesitated, on purpose of course, until she was ready to explode with anticipation. Gently he kissed her. Soft closed mouth butterfly kisses, increasing in intensity.
Tears flowed from her heart. Trickling onto their lips. He pulled away and studied her eyes. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
Chloe sniffled. “I’m sorry, it’s just I’m so overwhelmed to see you. How did you get here? I love you so much forever and ever and ever and eternally, my love. My husband.”
“Well, let’s not cry about it,” he said.
“I should have bugged-out yesterday but I had to finish the mission. . .and didn’t anyway.” A feeling of warmth and safety settled over her. She could care less about any mission right now. Wrapping her left arm around his back, she softly rubbed his taut flesh through the cotton fabric.
Mike scooped her into his arms and ducked inside the tent. He gently eased her down on a pallet of green silk and white fur. Four thick gold candles with sapphires, rubies and amethysts embedded in the wax illuminated the small blue canvass hideaway. An incense pot in the shape of a hippopotamus smoked in the center.
Chloe set the carpet bag down. Mike secured the entrance and uncorked a bottle of wine.
She dreamily said, “Everything will be all right now. I’ll fill you in, and we’ll capture the perps together, man and wife. . .”
“You’re bloody!” He set the bottle down and nervously yanked her sleeve, exposing the filthy shoulder and bandaged arm.
“Oh, it’s nothing. Just met up with the wrong end of a jealous wife.”
He pried the bandage loose, peeking underneath.
“Stop! That hurts.”
“I’m sorry. So you got into a cat fight with Cleopatra?” he let go of the bandage and gently kissed it instead.
As if cued, the Sand cat rubbed up against Mike’s leg.
“And where did you find your little friend here?” Mike picked the cat up and looked into her eyes.
“Nefertiti found me.”
“So you aren’t going to tell me how you got stitched up?”
“I think it was probably old Hundred Dollar Bill’s wife, Vera who shot me.”
“I’m fine. Orpha dug the slug out. But enough of that. It’s been so long. Let’s just concentrate on getting back to our honeymoon. Mr. and Mrs. Man and Wife.”
“About the man and wife bit. . .” He cleared his throat and set the cat down. “We aren’t.”
“Hunh? What do you mean we aren’t?” Chloe sat up.
Mike poured two glasses of wine. He handed one to her. “We’ve been annulled.”
She laughed in disbelief. “Yeah, right.”
“I’m dead serious.”
“Why would you have our marriage annulled?” Chloe wracked her brain, trying to figure out what she’d done to make him hate her. Memories of their young marriage seemed to pass before her eyes. Him gratefully gobbling the food she had prepared. Long walks in the shifting sand on Make Believe Island. Bathing each other in the claw footed tub. Lying in each other’s arms. Listening to the rain’s romantic symphony atop of the bungalow’s tin roof. They hadn’t even spat. . .spit. . .quarreled. Not ever. As far as she could remember anyhow.
“I didn’t instigate the annulment of our marriage. The government did.”
“Why? They can’t do that! We were married twice! In a civil ceremony and in an Episcopal ceremony at the National Cathedral in Washington for heaven sakes! And the President of the United States witnessed it!”
Mike took a thoughtful sip from his fluted glass, swirled the nectar in his mouth and swallowed. Inhaling deeply, he blew out a breath and rambled, “I finished my mission early. Missing you terribly, I figured I’d ask the brass if I could slip over on a crocodile and give you a hand, since you’d soon be wrapping yours up too.” He downed the rest of his wine. “How could I have been so stupid?”
“That’s a wonderful idea. Not stupid. We could collar the counterfeiters together. Just like at Momma’s house in Shrew.”
“You’d think so, hunh? And it’s not like I’d be getting extra pay or anything, since we’re meager salaried employees,” Mike lamented.
“Then what was their beef?”
“I made a fatal error by blurting out we’re married.”
“So? Would they rather have us fornicating?”
“It seems we’re not only in violation of their nepotism rule, but alas, female agents are not allowed to marry, let alone to another agent.”
“That’s not fair! So what if I got married. It’s logical and natural and good. And so what if I married another agent? That is just none of their dagnab business.”
“Something about we’ll both lose our edge, respond to crisis with our hearts instead of our heads, jeopardizing missions. And the mere fact you are married automatically makes you pregnant and disabled.”
“I am neither pregnant nor disabled.”
“You sound disappointed.”
“I just had this fantasy of you and me and baby Taurus makes three. All living happily ever after on Make Believe Island.”
“Mike, please don’t talk about babies,” she whispered.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart.” He refilled their glasses.
A vision of the two headstones on the island brought tears back to my eyes. “It’s too soon.”
“I’m really sorry.” Using a piece of green silk bedding, he wiped the black kohl smudges from under her eyes.
“I wish I had a camera. You are the most gorgeous Egyptian princess I have ever laid eyes on. God you are beautiful.”
“And just how many Egyptian princesses have you laid?”
“A whole herd of ‘em. But that was long before I met you.”
“Herd?” I laughed. Bevy, harem maybe, but herd?” Sniffing the insense, I gazed deeper into his mesmerizing eyes and sighed.
“Sweetheart, I consented to the annulment.”
“Why?” Chloe was absolutely gob smacked. How could he do such a thing?
“Because I know how much you love your country and your job. As do I. It’s only paperwork. It has not a whiff to do with what’s in our hearts. We were married before God—.”
“And before a baker.”
We both smiled, conjuring up images of Paddycake whispering their vows in the back alley behind the bakery with the Miami Beach flat-foots about to burst through the back door. Hot on their trail. Mistaken identity, of course. Wow, what an adventure. . .
He continued, “We’re married in our hearts no matter what they say. They can never take that away from us.”
“So we are not married, but we are married?”
Wine glugged out of the bottle as Mike refilled the glasses. He held his up. “To our annulment. May we live on happily ever after, despite a world overrun by fools.”
Chloe held her glass up and clinked it to Mike’s. “To our annulment.”
Mike took their glasses and set them on a small crate. He cranked a record player and set the needle on the 33 1/3 inch disk. Mitch Miller’s band wafted through the heady perfumed air, playing “Make Believe Island” as he sidled up to her. Chloe flinched as he caressed her right arm.
She cautioned, “We’re not married anymore. We can’t make love. . . It would be immoral. . .”
“That is all right, Miss Lambert. I only want to hold you tonight. I know you aren’t that kind of girl.”
Mike rolled her onto her left side and pressed up behind her. She cradled her sutured arm close to her body. He slipped his around her waist. She heaved a heavy sigh and let herself disappear into the warmth of his love. The only man who had ever loved her. The only man she would ever love.
“Hey,” he whispered, snuggling closer, pressing up against her rear end.
Through the layers of cotton, Chloe could feel his dishdash thrilled to be near her.
He offered, “If you change your mind and decide you want to be that kind of girl, I won’t tell.”