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"A toast. To my dear sweet baby sister and her future husband, who may just be the scariest man I've ever met." Jonathan Carnahan raised an unsteady hand in the air, some of the champagne from the glass he held sloshing over his shirt cuff.
"Scariest?" Rick O'Connell protested. "Have we all forgotten about the indestructible mummy that came back to life?"
His fiancee leaned over in his direction. "And which of you is still alive?"
"Well … that's not a bad point," Rick admitted. "Still …"
"Darling, remember, you want Jonathan to be afraid of you. He's much less likely to swindle your money out of you that way." Evelyn Carnahan smiled at her fiance and her brother in turn. She loved them both, but it would be difficult to find two greater, or more charming, scoundrels in all of Egypt.
"Hey!" Jonathan tried to remain offended, but he couldn't hold it for long.
Rick subsided, easing back into his chair next to his bride-to-be, who he firmly believed was the scariest—as well as the smartest and most beautiful—person he had ever met.
It was a small group for their celebratory dinner. Because she had spent so much of her life with her nose buried in a book, Evelyn had few friends. Most women found her boring, or so she said. Rick was well aware that women didn't find him boring, but he certainly didn't know any he wanted to introduce to his intended. None of his male friends were particularly suited to meeting her, either.
But it didn't matter. All he needed was her. He could hardly believe that in just a few short days this woman next to him would be his wife.
It was a thought that brought as much fear as excitement, if he was being honest with himself. What did he know about being married? He'd grown up in a Cairo orphanage; gone on to the French Foreign Legion; and once he'd mustered out of that, he'd drifted about with other people like him, rootless wanderers with questionable morals. Before he'd met Evelyn, his morals had been drifting past questionable and dangerously close to nonexistent. She had saved his life in more ways than one.
Now here was this lovely girl, innocent in so many ways, who looked at him with such trusting eyes. He wanted desperately to be the man he saw reflected in those eyes … and was afraid with equal desperation that he never could be.
Evelyn leaned against Rick's shoulder, wondering what he was thinking of that had wiped the smile off his face. She hoped he wasn't having second thoughts about marrying her. He wasn't exactly the settling-down type, and she wasn't really the kind of girl an adventurer like him would have chosen. Oh, yes, she had fought Ankh-su-namun's corpse when she had to, she had found the inscription to locate the Book of Amun-Ra … but that wasn't her real life. Her real life she spent in dusty libraries poring over old books. Rick would find that very boring. Could she really hold his interest?
A burst of laughter from another table brought her out of her thoughts. Looking up, she caught the steady, enigmatic eyes of Ardeth Bey, looking at her from across the table. Did he know what she had been thinking? It was so hard to tell. She wondered what he thought of all this, if he had a wife waiting for him, a child.
Even if she asked, he wouldn't tell her. He would merely raise an eyebrow and say something cryptic. She wondered what it said about her that the men of this strange new life of hers, as an adventurer, were so secretive about their pasts. All she really knew about Rick was that he had grown up in an orphanage.
Then again, what had her parents known about each other? A nobleman's son, in Egypt to study history and archaeology—to dig up treasure, actually, although Evelyn didn't like to think of her father that way. He'd been a lot like Jonathan, really. And her mother, the mysterious and beautiful Egyptian woman who had saved his life in a daring adventure and stolen his heart at the same time. They had made a life in Egypt together, never quite fitting in anywhere. Both Evelyn and Jonathan had been sent to school in England when they were old enough, and their parents had died, of a fever, they were told, while they were there.
They'd had only each other left to cling to. If their mother had had any family, they never knew it, and their father's distant relatives in England had little interest in his half-blood children. So they had come back to Egypt, where their parents had made their lives, and embarked upon their own careers as Egyptologists. Or, rather, Jonathan had scammed and squandered and stolen his way through one dig after another while Evelyn had buried herself in her books and never done anything the slightest bit interesting. At least, not until Jonathan had met an adventurous ruffian in a bar and picked his pocket, she thought, smiling lovingly at that ruffian, who sat next to her today as her promised husband.
After all, what did their pasts matter? They would make a future together, built on what they had learned about each other in dire peril, and whatever came they would handle together. Evelyn reached for his hand, feeling the warmth of the calloused fingers as they closed around hers.
"What?" he asked, leaning a little closer.
"I love you."
There was a surprise in his eyes, a wonder, that she found absolutely intoxicating, as though he found her as impossibly wonderful as she found him, and Evelyn couldn't help but kiss him, bold though it was to do so here in public.
For a moment he was startled, but then he returned the kiss hungrily, one big hand coming up to cup her cheek and hold her to him.
Evelyn lost all sense of time and place, as she always did when he kissed her, until Rick pulled back, blinking at her hazily. She felt a fierce pride that she could affect him that way, inexperienced as she was … experienced as he no doubt was.
"That is my sister," Jonathan protested. "Have some respect!"
She turned to grin at him. "I think you'll have to get used to it, brother dear."
He groaned, but she could see he was happy for her.
"Do you want to get out of here?" Rick whispered in her ear, and Evelyn nodded. They said their good-byes to the few friends they had deemed acceptable to introduce to one another and made a hasty exit out into the damp heat of the Cairo night.
They walked down the street, Evelyn holding Rick's arm. He was heavily armed, as always, and fairly well-known amongst the Cairo underworld, but he kept her on his left side so his right hand was free at all times, just to be on the safe side. Looking down at her, he smiled. "Alone at last."
"My favorite part."
Rick stopped walking and pulled her into his arms. "Mine, too." His mouth came down on hers, and Evelyn responded eagerly for a moment, relishing the warmth that flowed through her at the touch.
Then she pushed at him. "Rick. Not here, on the street. It isn't … decent."
Rick grinned. "No, I suppose not. Come on, then." He took her hand and they hurried along the streets and alleys to her little flat. Not to be hers much longer. While they hadn't determined for certain where they would live when they were married, they intended to travel for some time immediately afterward, and Evelyn would no longer need her flat.
The saddlebags of the camel they had ridden away from Hamunaptra had been filled with treasure, no doubt brought out by Rick's squirrelly little friend Beni before he was sealed in the tomb. They had sold only a few of the least interesting items, hiding most of it to be researched properly later, but had still managed to salt away a tidy nest egg—with some put aside for Jonathan's use, as well. In addition to the money left by Evelyn's parents, they were well set to do whatever they wanted with their lives. The fact that they had not spent a single moment discussing what they wanted to do with their lives worried Evelyn occasionally, but right now, with Rick's hand in hers and the prospect of the end of the evening kisses in front of her, the future was the farthest thing from her mind.
At her door, Rick took her into his arms again. At the touch of his lips, Evelyn sighed, leaning back against the door, letting herself be held up by his arms and the solid wood behind her as the melting warmth weakened her knees.
He felt good against her, his hands restless on her back and his lips exploring the side of her neck. One hand slid around to the front to cup her breast, his thumb unerringly finding the nipple beneath layers of fabric and rubbing little circles over it until it hardened beneath his touch, the sensation making Evelyn gasp and squirm against the cool, hard wood of the door. She wanted to touch him, too, and she reached for his shirt, pulling it out of his pants and running her hand beneath it across the smooth, hard muscles of his stomach, the light dusting of hair there soft beneath her fingers.
Rick drew in his breath sharply, pressing against her hands. "Evelyn."
She smiled, loving the way she affected him. Her fingers touched his waistband, hesitated, then boldly moved lower, feeling the hard ridge there.
Grabbing her hand, Rick held it there. And then he moved her away, lifting her hand to kiss her fingers. "We said we weren't going to do that."
Through the haze of her desire, Evelyn could barely remember making that agreement, and certainly not why they had made such a hasty promise. "We're almost married; what's the harm?"
Rick shook his head. "I want to do this right. To … be worthy of you."
"Maybe. But there are rules. I've never done anything by the rules in all my life, but I want to do this the right way, the way your parents would have wanted it."
"My parents were adventurers," Evelyn said tartly. "They were hardly tied to convention."
Rick grinned. "Maybe not for themselves, but I'll bet it would have been all different when it came to their daughter."
Evelyn thought back to her parents, her dim memories of them from her childhood. Would they have been that way? In their will, they had requested to have Jonathan and Evelyn raised in England, sent to school there. Perhaps they had wanted a more conventional life for their children. And now here was Jonathan, swindling his way through life, and herself marrying an orphaned American soldier of fortune. She wanted to think that her parents would have been happy for her, proud of her, glad to have her following in their footsteps, but she would never truly know.
"Do you ever wonder what they were like?" she asked softly.
"Who, your parents?"
"You know what I mean."
Rick shrugged, uncomfortable as always with being asked to look back into his childhood. "Not really."
It wasn't true; Evelyn felt it in her bones. But she also felt that this was hardly the time to push the topic.
And she couldn't have, even if she'd wanted to, because at that moment, the night was split by screams.