Sunday, November 09, 2008

Excerpt from The Lady and the Libertine

Working on edits. It's beautiful outside, sigh. So I'm in the Florida room, enjoying the breeze. In the meantime, while I work away, here's a sneak peek at April's historical, from the first chapter. You might say the hero is an anti-hero. Definitely. :-)

The Lady and the Libertine
copyright 2008 by Bonnie Vanak

Khamsin camp, Eastern desert of Egypt, 1908

He would not be the virile groom tenderly deflowering her on their wedding night.

Her virgin breasts, hidden beneath the white kuftan, he would never caress, causing a sigh of passion to wring from her slender throat; the sparkling ruby dangling between them stood out like a blood droplet against a snowy bank. His hands, accustomed to stroking the skin of whores, were not worthy of touching her.

They were, however, quite capable of stealing the ruby. As they had swiped other priceless Egyptian antiquities.

Crouched beneath the shade of a cigar-shaped ben tree, Nigel Wallenford, rightful earl of Claradon, studied his prey as he clutched the oily rifle in his sweating palms. The silent woman picked up scattered seeds on the ground. Karida was her name. She guarded the ruby he needed to complete the key and locate the treasure of the sleeping golden mummies.

All week, during his visit here on the pretext to buy Arabian mares, he’d heard her relatives praise her virtue and honor as if she were not a living, breathing woman but a limestone statue. Nigel wouldn’t have cared if she was as corrupt as he; he cared only about the ruby.

Ben trees, acacia trees and yellow-green plants peppered the water source near the Khamsin camp. The burning yellow sun played off jagged mountain peaks and peach-colored hills of sandstone. A cooling breeze chased away the sultry afternoon heat shimmering off the tawny sands. Black mountains and endless desert ringed this part of Egypt’s eastern desert.

Jabari bin Tarik Hassid, the Khamsin sheikh, thought Nigel was currently at the water source to kill desert hares, but he had chosen the spot to pursue Karida. Each afternoon since his arrival she came here to gather seeds. Like a good hunter he’d learned her habits, knew her movements. Like a hare struck down by a bullet, Karida would never know what hit her. The ruby would soon be his.

Karida kept stealing glances at him. Her face, hidden by a half-veil out of courtesy to the visiting al Assayra tribesmen, was expressionless.

A good hunter knew how to disarm his prey, make them feel false security. Nigel set down the rifle and offered his most charming smile. He gestured to the bullet-hard seeds she dropped into her goatskin bag but kept his gaze centered on the ruby. His fingers itched to swipe the stone. Soon. “Are those for eating?”

Karida blinked, as if startled to hear a human voice. “Samna. Cooking oil.”

Like her Uncle Ramses and the rest of her family, she spoke perfect English. Yet her accent was odd, as if she’d lived somewhere other than here in Egypt.

“I’m marrying tonight. This will be my last time gathering the seeds.” She gave a little sigh, as if pondering her fate.

“Do you love him?’ Nigel blurted, then could have kicked himself. A rude question. But he was a foreigner; maybe she’d forgive him.

“I do not know him.” Karida gave a little laugh, as sweet and musical as the jingling of gold bracelets. “I don’t know who has chosen me. But all the al Assayra warriors are honorable and noble, and so will be my husband.”

Her large, golden brown eyes, so exotic and mysterious, seemed to pierce him. “He will never lie to me or steal, and he will be admirable all his days.”

Nigel stared at Karida in sudden bleakness, feeling the shadows of old ghosts smother him. She was so damn perfect, an angel compared to the demon lurking inside him. His gaze dropped to his hands, and he rubbed them violently against his khaki trousers. Knowing he wasn’t fit to touch her.

You would never marry me. I can’t father your children. My own sire lied about my birthright because I was sterile, and though I was older I could not give him an heir like my twin brother. I wouldn’t give you my heart, but I could steal away yours.

Or worse. I could kill you.

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