Author's Notes:

Well, after a lot of encouragement (okay, two e-mails, one of which was from myself) I've decided to embark on a new adventure--a full-length chapter story. But I'm not going to post it if no one's going to read it. Most of my latest posts have gotten a number of reviews which I could count on my fingers. So, in the words of Olivia Newton-John, if you love me, let me know. ;) I'll post more chapters if anyone out there wants them.

The title is from that fabulous old Mack Gordon/Harry Warren tune, "At Last", which I think everyone will agree I did not write. All chapter header quotes are from Elizabeth Peters' even more fabulous novel "Crocodile on the Sandbank", which I also did not write (alas!) and which I suspect Stephen Sommers, or someone else who worked on the movie, must have read at some point. Incidentally, neither Peters' characters nor Sommers' belong to me, a fact which, besides causing much wailing and gnashing of teeth, means that I need to remind everyone that I'm not making any money off of all this fanficking.

So, without further ado, I present:

"Never Spellbound by a Starry Sky"

by Eve

I was never spellbound by a starry sky,
What is there to moonglow when love has passed you by?
Then there came a midnight, and the world was new;
Now here am I so spellbound, darling,
Not by stars, but just by you...

--"At Last"


"Archaelogy is a fascinating pursuit, but after all, one cannot work day and night..."


I suppose it all started with Jonathan. Most of the stranger events in my life have. Honestly, the man is able to find trouble more easily than he can his own shadow! (Some people have--rather unfairly, I think--suggested that it runs in the family.)

On this particular day, however, not one of us could have predicted any sort of problem--not even Rick O'Connell, my own dear beloved doomsayer, who sees curses everywhere he looks. The air was clear, the sky was blue, the sun was clearly visible, and there was not a single frog or locust as far as the eye could see. For this we were all very grateful--almost as grateful as I was, at this point, for simple conveniences such as fresh clothes, clean, soft sheets and pillows, hot water, and a good slice of English bread and butter.

We were no longer staying at the fort, but at an hotel; Jonathan and Rick in one suite, and I in the adjoining one. It was a dangerous time for white Europeans in Egypt, particularly those associated with the military. British officials and soliders were often attacked in broad daylight. A few had even been killed. Truth be told, the Egyptians had good reasons for despising us; we had done little to help them, and much to hinder their survival. The weeks we'd spent travelling to and from Hamunaptra had opened my eyes to what Egypt was now, where before I'd only been able to see what it had once been. European landowners forced farmers to grow cotton instead of food; families were starving. Many sickened and died without proper medical services or even a reliable clean water supply. And my precious antiquities were regarded only as curiosities to the Europeans, as toys for their amusement. The mummies of the poor were ground into powder and sold as medicine--or worse, used as firewood.

I needed to go back to England and write about this. I would give lectures at the museum, and publish. People needed to know the true state of affairs in Egypt. The Museum wouldn't like it, I reflected; they'd barely had time to get used to women in their ranks, and now I was going to come along and stir things up even more by suggesting we should be protecting Egypt and not pilfering it.

Rick, who had spent more years in Cairo than he had in his homeland, was far more in touch with the situation than I had been. He spoke Arabic like a native, and had quite a few friends in the streets and the teeming markets. (That many of these friends were associates from his short time in prison, I chose not to dwell on.) He carried himself in even the most disreputable parts of the city as though he had every reason to be there.

Now, however, he wasn't looking quite so self-assured. Neither, for that matter, was the tailor's assistant, who assiduously avoided any kind of eye contact as he crept closer.

"Evelyn, if you think I'm gonna let this guy keep touching my ass, you--"

I should probably interrupt to explain (particularly since the rest of the sentence isn't something I'd like to repeat in any case) that Rick was being measured for the suit he would be married in. Not that I was rigidly attached to pomp and ceremony, but I didn't think a nice, English-made suit was too much to ask. I would have preferred to wait until we got home, but then I spoke to an old friend of my father's at the consolate, who pointed out that it would be much easier for Rick to become a British citizen if we were married when we arrived.

"It is for me no great pleasure, effendi, you are assured," remarked the assistant.

"Don't call me that," growled my fiancé, fists clenched. He refuses to be addressed by that archaic term, which so many of the white Cairenes still demand as a sign of respect and deference.

"Enough!" I cried, halting him mid-step. "Now, darling, just hold still a moment longer," I placated, gesturing for the tailor and his man to get on with it. "It will all be over in a moment, and then we can go for a walk in the garden."

Rick's posture altered, almost imperceptibly, and his hands relaxed. In recent days our walks in the more secluded areas of the hotel's garden had afforded little opportunity for talk, but had involved plenty of other activities I knew he enjoyed. He flashed me that grin that he thinks is dashing and debonair, and I smiled back in spite of myself.

The tailor's assistant hesitantly resumed his work. Rick held perfectly still, but through his teeth, he calmly remarked, "If he puts so much as a finger on me again, the last thing he'll ever see is my knee coming towards his nose."

I sighed. "Do you want the suit to fit, or don't you?"

"I have plenty of clothes that fit okay--"

"Cheap clothes. Which my brother bought you. Off the rack."

"Actually, it wasn't a rack, it was more of a... camel."

"You are not helping your case, effendi," whispered the tailor's assistant, into the cuff of Rick's trousers.

Rick's affable expression never wavered as he dealt the man a swift kick to the posterior.

I ushered the somewhat irritated tailor and his even more irritated assistant out of the suite, assuring them that we would finish this at a later time. I pressed a folded bill into the tailor's hand, and suddenly it was no trouble at all.

As I closed the door behind them, I heard Rick ask hopefully, "So now we go for a walk in the garden, right?"

I glared at him. "Wrong. And take that off before you crease it," I added, gesturing to the pin-laden suit.

"You got it."

He shrugged out of the jacket, dropping it to the floor. Next the waistcoat and suspenders. Then he lifted his shirt up over his head and discarded that as well, the result of which effectively erased whatever thought had been on the tip of my tongue. He was making short work of his trousers when it occurred to me that perhaps I ought to ask him to... "Stop!"

He was at my side in an instant, throwing one arm around my waist and gathering me close. "What? What is it? What's wrong?" Well, perhaps I had yelled a bit loudly. The look of concern on his face made me feel quite foolish for scaring him that way. After everything we'd been through, I suppose it was somewhat over the top. "Evie, it's okay, I'm here." He looked down at me tenderly. "What is it?"

"Don't you think... you should do that in the other room?" I asked, suddenly finding it very hard to speak.

Out came the grin again, as well as an ostentatious display of his upper arms that--I confess!--made me feel a bit wobbly about the knees. "Maybe. Are you gonna come too?"

"Rick... please."

"What, am I embarrassing you?"

Embarrassed was not the word I would have used. Thrilled might have been a bit more to the point. But I wasn't about to admit that to him.

"Someone might come in and see you," I replied, weakly.

"Yeah? So?"

"Well, what would they think?"

"Oh, I don't know... maybe that we're a very happy young engaged couple?"

"Not that happy." I gently removed him to a respectable arm's length. Rick hitched up his trousers and looked so crestfallen that I favoured him with a devious little smile. "Not in the middle of the day with all the curtains wide open and the door unlocked, anyhow."

His face lit up. "You mean if I shut the curtains...?"

"Look, why don't you go get dressed, and we'll take a--" The last word of the sentence was muffled by Rick's mouth. For a single moment, I abandoned every misgiving I'd had about the open windows, the unlocked door--

"Evie...? Oh, terribly sorry! Mea bloody culpa! I can't even walk into my own hotel room anymore without..."

--and the propensity of my brother to turn up wherever he wasn't wanted.

"Jonathan, come back here," I called, grabbing Rick's shirt, waistcoat and jacket and tossing them at him. "You, go and change your trousers."

Rick fixed me with the wounded look, but I was determined not to be affected by it this time. "I thought we were going to go for a--"

"Trousers! Now!"

He backed into the bedroom, the bundle of clothes under one arm, and closed the door behind him.

Jonathan edged back into the suite, warily, as though something were about to leap out and bite him. He carried a funny sort of package under one arm, wrapped in what appeared to be a sheet of cheap, mass-produced papyrus, the type that are manufactured in the local markets and sold to tourists at inflated prices. He held it out in front of him, gesturing for me to take it. "Sorry the paper's not that fancy, sis, but as the happy event's in a few days, I thought I'd better get a move on, and this was nearest to hand. Rather pretty, I thought--nice little painting of Tefnut on there..."

"What is it?" I asked, carefully opening the package. It wasn't like Jonathan to give me anything he'd personally paid for. Papa had--very wisely, I thought--left control of the family finances to me when he passed on. I provided Jonathan with a monthly stipend, and backed the occasional gambling debt for him--but other than that, he was left to fend for himself.

"Oh, you know, old mum, something in the way of a wedding present, hmm?"

It was an amulet of gold, blue, and black. I weighed it in my hand; it felt surprisingly light.

"It's old what's-his-arse," Jonathan put in, rather incoherently. "You know, the funny one who dragged everyone off into the desert to worship the sun. His wife's on there too. Bloody romantic, I thought."

I looked closely, and found that, yes, Akhenaten, the so-called "heretic" king, was featured in relief on the amulet, along with his 'Great Royal Wife', Nefertiti. They were easily recognized because of the stylistic peculiarities in their portrayal; Akhenaten's elongated features and curvaceous body were unmistakeable. Some believed the king had been a eunuch, or possibly even a woman disguised as a man. I'd have to be careful how I explained it to Rick, otherwise he might end up belting my brother a good one across the mouth. Not that I didn't sometimes contemplate that myself, but still.

"It's beautiful." I eyed my brother, who was looking suspiciously disingenuous. "Where did you get it?"

Jonathan mumbled something about a little stall in the suk.

I fixed him with my very sternest look. "You didn't steal it, did you? If that's the case, it'll have to go back to whoever you took it from."

He had the outright nerve to look affronted by my question. "Heavens, no--of course not! What do you take me for, Evie? I... found it."

I sighed.

"Oh, all right. I won it in a card game. Are you happy now? It's not genuine, of course--forged by one of those little blighters you can find roaming the marketplace. But it's a fine piece of work, and a damn sight more authentic than any of these Van Cleef and Arples knock-offs, I dare say." Several prominent jewellers, including Cartier, had already begun producing imitation Egyptian trinkets. Rather gaudy, most of them.

I placed the tiny amulet in the palm of my hand and regarded it critically. Probably a paste piece, molded and painted in imitation of gold and lapis lazuli.

"Knock-offs? You've been talking to Rick again." Jonathan had become almost as enamoured of American slang as he was of the British variety, and relished any chance to practice his new vocabulary.

At that exact moment, as though he'd been summoned, Rick walked in--fully clothed, much to everyone's relief (although I will confess to some slight disappointment). "What's a knock-off?" he demanded, snatching the amulet from my grasp. He examined it a moment, then clamped his free hand down on my brother's shoulder. "Jon, buddy, you swipe this?"

"Swipe? You mean--look, why does everyone naturally assume I bloody stole something just because I happen to have a bit of good luck?"

Rick and I looked at each other, then at Jonathan. Silence.

"Can't you just take my word for it?"

More silence.

"Oh, well, yes, fine, I can see how this is going to work--you two against me, well, that's just fan-bloody-tastic. First you couldn't stand the sight of the man, Evie, but now it's all smiles for him, and none for your own dearest brother. Traitor."

"He won it in a card game," I explained, ignoring the amateur dramatics.

Rick grunted. "He says. Think it's real?"

"I very much doubt it. All the same, it's the thought that counts... thank you, Jonathan."

Rick sat down in a corner of the settee to look over the piece, handling it delicately as he did so. Though he claimed his knowledge was limited exclusively to treasure, I could tell Rick had the makings of a very fine field archaeologist.

I turned to my own dearest brother, who had collapsed theatrically into a nearby chair and thrown one arm languidly across his forehead. "Jonathan, did you, by any chance, remember to finish even one of the errands I sent you out to do?"

"The whole sodding lot, thank you very much," he murmured into his sleeve.

"Did you book our passage home?"

"I did indeed."

"Did you arrange for our, er, luggage to be sent along directly?" As much as I wanted to donate the Hamunaptra treasures to the museum, explaining where we'd found them without revealing the exact location would have proven to be something of a difficulty. So we'd wrapped the various articles too precious to part with up in our own suitcases, which would travel with us, and the rest was being sent on to the house. Over the next several years, we would "discover" the most valuable pieces during the course of our excavations. It pained me, as a trained scholar, to fool my colleagues in this manner, but there simply wasn't any other way to ensure that the treasures found their way into a museum and not into the hands of some unscrupulous character or other.

"Yes. I'm so well-prepared that it's really quite disgusting."

"You've settled all your debts?"

"Absolutely, old mum. I tell you, I thought of everything."

"In that case, I assume you sent a telegram to the house."

He straightened in the chair. "Ooh. Er... yes, right, I was just going to--"

"Here, let me write down what I want you to send." Jonathan's telegrams were always far too wordy and rife with unnecessary--and expensive--detail. I grabbed a nearby sheet of paper, scribbled down a few brief words, to the effect that Rick would be with us, added instructions about which rooms were to be opened, and handed it to him. "There."

"Sister mine, is there any chance you could..." he held out his hand shamelessly. "I'm just a teeny bit short, you see, and--"

"Yeah, and he doesn't have any money either," was Rick's helpful contribution.

"Yes, thank you, O'Connell. Evie...?"

I pulled a wad of notes from my bag, peeled off one, and handed it to him. Jonathan looked singularly nonplussed--even more so when I informed him that I expected change. Don't mistake me, I love my brother dearly; but, if I let him, he'd quite cheerfully spend until we were both living in the street, at which point he would wager me in a card game--and most likely lose.

Jonathan having been thus dispatched, I returned my attention to Rick, who was still intent upon the little amulet. I went over and perched beside him on the settee. "It's supposed to be a wedding present. It's actually quite pretty, isn't it?"

No response.

"I thought I might put it on a little chain, and wear it around my neck."

Nothing. Hmm.

"When I dance naked on the bar for pocket change, as I do every Thursday evening."

He didn't miss a beat. "Make sure they give the money to you and not your brother."

I watched him a moment--watched the beams of the afternoon sun catch and glow in his hair, on his brown skin; watched the play of muscle and sinew against the linen of his white shirt; watched the intensity of his expression as he studied the amulet. Finally, he looked up. Our eyes met, and something electric passed between us; that sort of beautiful, intimate understanding we had at times, where words were no longer required. He leaned forward, gazing deeply into my eyes, and, his voice husky with emotion, said,

"Dammit, Evelyn, what do you want?!"

Bloody romantic, as Jonathan might have said.