A/N: Took a bit longer than planned, but this chapter didn't really do anything according to plan. Writing it is getting a little more like work now instead of just fun, but I'm still enjoying it. Hope you are too!
Walking back along deck towards her cabin, Maryanne recognised the messy brown bun and yellow jacket clad shoulders of the woman sitting with her back to her. As she got closer, she smiled to see Evy's glasses perched on the end of her nose which was, as Jonathan had predicted, buried in a book.
Thinking that Evy might take to interruptions just as unkindly as Arthur did, Maryanne briefly considered carrying on past without saying anything. However, worried that might look rude, she decided to offer a polite greeting.
"Good evening, Miss Carnahan."
Evy raised her head sharply at the sound of her voice, a little startled by her presence, but then her face lit in a smile that seemed genuinely glad of the interruption.
"Oh, please don't call me that, Mrs Chamberlain, it makes me feel like my spinster aunt," she said, putting her book down on the table and letting her glasses fall off her nose to dangle from the chain around her neck.
Maryanne smiled back. "All right, as long as you stop calling me Mrs. Chamberlain, which makes me feel like an old married lady."
Evy nodded in agreement of their bargain. "Maryanne then. I'm glad I've seen you actually. I want to apologise for the way I left dinner, it was so rude of me."
Maryanne shook her head. "No, I should be the one apologising for my husband's behaviour. I'm afraid he's not very liberal minded when it comes to women working, but it was unforgiveable for him to belittle you like that. I think it's wonderful that you have a job you take so much pride in."
Evy beamed at her, gesturing for her to take the seat opposite in anticipation of a lengthy chat. "Well, finding employment was something of a necessity after my parents died, and Jonathan wasted no time making use of his inheritance to virtually bankrupt the Carnahan estate, but I love having my independence. I can't imagine how useless I'd feel if I had nothing to do with myself all day."
Maryanne looked down at her hands awkwardly, and Evy realised what she'd said.
"Oh, I didn't mean..."
"It's all right," Maryanne said, making a valiant attempt not to look offended. "I do feel a little useless sometimes. I used to do a few odds and ends to help my father, typing up papers, organising his research, that kind of thing, but Arthur doesn't think it's fitting for his wife to do the job of a secretary."
"So what do you do with yourself all day?"
Maryanne sighed. "Read. I love books, so I envy you working in a library. I don't think I'd ever get any work done if I were surrounded by so much temptation though."
Evy was delighted by this turn in the conversation, especially at the tentative smile it brought to Maryanne's face. "I do find myself reading more than reshelving sometimes," she admitted with the look of a schoolgirl caught playing truant. "What sort of books do you like to read?"
Maryanne smiled bashfully. "I'm afraid I'm a bit of a romantic, and I just adore your English novelists. Jane Austen is my favourite. Lizzie Bennett is my absolute heroine."
"Because she shunned the marriage her family tried to force her into and followed her heart?" Evy prompted, tilting her head to regard the girl opposite out of the corner of her eye. She was sure that this poor girl was trapped in a loveless marriage by the wishes and expectations of others, and felt sorry that the only romance in her life had to be sought vicariously in books.
Maryanne shrugged. "After all that is bewitching about the idea of one's happiness depending entirely upon a particular person, it is not possible that it should be so."
Evy frowned. There was something very familiar about those words. After a moment she realised why. "That's a line from Sense and Sensibility!"
Maryanne chuckled. "I'm afraid you've caught me out. I said I was a romantic, but I never claimed to be a poet. All my best lines are borrowed."
"As, so it seems, are your clothes," Evy remarked, suddenly noticing that the jacket draped around her shoulders was Jonathan's - the whiskey stain on the sleeve gave it away. "My brother seems to have taken rather a shine to you, Mrs Chamberlain," she said, deliberately using her married title.
Maryanne looked at her hands as she began to turn her wedding ring on her finger. "He has been very thoughtful in making sure that I'm looked after while my husband takes care of his other concerns."
"Well, you credit him with more disinterested thoughtfulness than I," Evy muttered. Seeing Maryanne's blonde head come up sharply, Evy sighed. "I don't mean to speak ill of my brother, Maryanne, but his reputation is against him. Jonathan may have acted like a perfect gentleman with you so far, but it would be remiss of me not to put you on your guard in case that should lure you into an awkward situation. I have rued the consequences of my brother's indiscretions before, and I would hate for our friendship to be ruined by any improper behaviour on his part."
Maryanne looked quite taken aback. It had never crossed her mind that Jonathan's kindness had any dishonourable intention behind it. She could tell that he was something of a practiced charmer, but that rough edge of boyishness had reassured her that he was harmless and completely without guile. But in light of his sister's warning, now all his attentions towards her seemed to take on a more sinister motive. Not wanting to be seen to encourage any overly familiar gesture by him, especially one that might necessitate seeing him again, she hastily got up and shrugged off his jacket.
"Please would you return this to your brother, with my thanks," she said as she handed it to Evy. "I think I shall be too busy in the morning to return it to him personally."
Evy nodded in understanding as she took the jacket from her, and laid it in her lap. As she did, she felt something round and heavy hit her leg. But she didn't want to alarm Maryanne even further by searching through her brother's pockets in front of her, especially as she was unsure exactly what she would find.
"Well, it's going to be a long day tomorrow, and I should get some rest," Maryanne said, preparing to leave. "Good night Evy, and good luck on your dig. I hope you find what you're looking for."
Evy placed the jacket on the table and stood up to grasp Maryann's hand. "I hope you do too," she said with sincere affection. "Good night, Maryanne."
After watching the stunning American disappear into the cabin building, Evy sat down again and grabbed Jonathan's jacket. She found the solid metal object in his left breast pocket. "The little sneak-thief!" she hissed as she brought out the octagonal puzzle box. "That was in my travel bag this morning!"
When Jonathan reached the covered deck in front of the cabin building, where several tables had been set up for after-dinner entertainment aided by the ambient piano music drifting out from the open saloon doors, the poker game was already in full swing. The three Americans were seated around the card table, embodying the descriptions Maryanne had given of them that afternoon; Burns was scowling at the others over his cards with deep distrust, Henderson was spinning his revolver by the trigger guard like some gunslinger in a western, and Burns was polishing his glasses. The pot looked pretty healthy, with several stacks of notes arrayed around the gas lamp in the centre of the table, and although Jonathan realised, rather belatedly, that he had left his wallet in his jacket pocket, along with the puzzle box, he still had a few items on his person that should be enough to buy him into the game.
With no need to stand on ceremony, having already been invited to join the game when they'd met in the bar that afternoon, Jonathan dragged over a chair for himself and sat down.
"So, chaps, fancy dealing me in on the next hand?"
"Hey Jon, you would not believe how badly Burns's gettin creamed," Henderson laughed. "I knew he was near sighted but now we're robbing him blind!"
"Well, save some of the action for me," Jonathan said as he laid his father's gold watch down on the table and noticed the bottle of bourbon next to Daniels. "I say, is that your Jim Beam there?"
"Sure, help yourself," Daniels said, sliding him over the bottle and an empty glass. "The more drunk you get the better I play."
As he poured himself a large measure and waited for the current hand to finish, Jonathan looked around the deck. A few of the other tables were occupied by passengers enjoying the warm Egyptian evening over a glass of mint tea or an after-dinner brandy, but Jonathan felt his back stiffen when he saw the professor sitting at the one nearest them. He had to bite back his anger when he thought of the excuses Maryanne had made for her husband, saying that he needed to speak to the other members of his party, when Chamberlain showed no interest whatsoever in interacting with them as he nonchalantly puffed away at a hookah pipe, monocle jammed firmly in his eye socket to read the book propped open on his lap. So this was what he had abandoned his lovely wife for. Jonathan felt like throttling him.
"So, Jon," Daniels sneered, looking for someone to take out his contempt on as he threw in his hand and let Henderson claim the pot, "you n yur sis doin a bit o sight seein?"
The cantankerous yank's mocking tone irked Jonathan. Usually it wouldn't have bothered him, but for some reason he resented the insinuation that that he was just on a frivolous pleasure cruise. Taking another swig of bourbon he grinned tightly as the amber liquid burned his throat. "Not exactly, old boy. We're on a bit of an expedition ourselves. My sister thinks she's discovered the location of an artefact she's been researching and I said I'd help her out - you know, lend my archaeological expertise."
Daniels gave a derogatory laugh. "Expertise? What's she trying to locate, an ancient bottle of whiskey?"
The others round the table laughed, and Jonathan felt his colour rise. "Well, I didn't want to show off, but since you ask..." he said off-handly. "Actually it's not just one artefact, but an entire city, full of so much treasure it'll make Tutankhamen's tomb look like a poor prince's piggybank! No one's managed to find it in more than three thousand years, but yours truly here found the clue that revealed where it is!"
Suddenly sitting up at his table a few feet away, the professor's monocle dropped from his eye. "You and your sister are looking for the lost city of Hamunaptra?"
Henderson let out a whistle, then slapped his thigh. "Well I'll be damned!"
Jonathan swallowed his annoyance and forced himself to assume a light tone. "Yes, no doubt you think it's all a load of old pigswallow, and that Evy's just a silly girl for believing in fairy stories. Oh well, no harm in indulging her, eh?"
The professor smiled tightly. "On the contrary, Mr Carnahan, I just think that the search for the most important archaeological site in Egypt is best left to professionals, not foolish young librarians with delusions of grandeur! I'll thank you and your sister not to interfere with my expedition, and keep out of my way!"
Jonathan felt his stomach drop as that information sank in. That was the site of the professor's dig? He couldn't believe it. Evy was going to have kittens when she found out Dr Chamberlain was hoping to claim her discovery for himself! But that thought quickly took second place to another that occurred to him. If the professor and his team were searching for Hamunaptra as well, that meant... "You mean you're taking that delicate wife of yours all the way out into the desert on your honeymoon?"
"How my wife and I decide to spend our honeymoon is none of your business!" the professor snapped. Henderson sniggered, and the professor shot him an irritated look. "It just so happens that these gentlemen had already agreed to fund my expedition, and Maryanne wanted to see Egypt. I offered to let her stay at the Winter Palace in Luxor while I carried out my necessary fieldwork, but devoted as she is to me, she insisted on coming along. Now if you don't mind, I will speak no more on the subject. For all I know you only invited yourself to dine with my wife and I this evening in order to pick my brains about the whereabouts of the lost city!"
With that the professor jammed his monocle back in and returned to reading his book.
Jonathan was as close to furious as he ever got. The vengeful part of him hoped that Chamberlain was leading his damned expedition on a wild camel chase halfway to Timbuktu. But the other part, the part that was already missing Maryanne's soft voice and blushing smiles, hoped the American party ended up in the same place O'Connell was leading them.
That was a point, where the devil was O'Connell? Jonathan had hardly seen hide nor hair of the formerly condemned man since he'd turned up on the quayside shiny as a new penny, and he'd had to endure countless 'casual' enquiries from Evy as to his whereabouts. That girl was definitely more interested in their reluctant guide than she made out.
Suddenly Jonathan was snapped out of his thoughts as Daniels slammed the deck of cards down on the table in front of Burns, who was once more cleaning his wire-rimmed spectacles. "Quit playin with yur glasses and cut the deck, would ya Burns?"
"Without my glasses I can't see the deck to cut it, can I Dave?"
Then, as if in answer to Jonathan's question a moment ago, the cabin door behind him banged open and shut again, and Jonathan glanced behind him to see the solid six-feet-plus of American muscle looming over him, looking sceptical and sardonic as ever.
"Ah, O'Connell, sit down, sit down," Jonathan said, glad to have another member of his party to even the odds, "we could use another player."
"I only gamble with my life, never my money."
Jonathan took another drink and resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Trust the gun-toting American to disappear all day then just nonchalantly swagger over and exude his macho presence with such irritating aplomb. While it was good to have a man like O'Connell in his corner, standing in his shadow made Jonathan feel rather like the puny sidekick to the chisel-jawed hero in one of those silly American comic books.
Jonathan's smile slipped briefly. All of a sudden he was rather glad the ex-Legionnaire had been AWOL for most of the day. Otherwise his sister might not have been the only one to fall under the spell of his rugged good looks. Maryanne would not be immune to them either, he supposed bitterly, imagining a further complication to the trip which for one moment had looked like going in his favour. Frowning at the prospect of having two rivals for Maryanne's attention, Jonathan wasn't aware that he himself had drawn the attention of the entire table until he looked up from his cards just as the Americans pointed towards him.
"He does," they accused in unison.
Jonathan shrugged with a sheepish grin, unsure what he was supposed to have done now. Turning to O'Connell for an explanation, his gaze met with steel blue eyes narrowed at him from under an all-American-hero flick of copper bronze hair.
Jonathan gulped. He got the feeling he was rapidly being demoted from puny sidekick to annoying insect to be squashed under O'Connell's size fourteen boot.
A/N: Like I said, that chapter didn't really go according to plan, but I wanted to show a different slant on the poker game, so I hope I've done that. As this is all a bit 'seat of my pants' with no plan as such, I'd love to hear your thoughts on what you think I should do with the Medjai attack / sinking scenes :-)