Grief has brought Lucia, a young widow, to Egypt, where she hopes that the ancient ruins will provide an escape from her overwhelming loneliness. She doesn't expect to find Mark, who tries very hard to take her late husband's place in her life. Her interest in him can't erase the memory of the man she still loves more than anything, though--the man she called her Master--especially when she begins to catch haunting glimpses of Richard in the mysterious shadows of tombs and temples. And even as Mark tries to capture her heart, Lucia becomes convinced that Richard is passionately trying to communicate with her from what the ancient Egyptians called the land beyond the sunset.
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Crook & Flail by Maria Isabel Pita
"I'll bet you're a good cook," she teases him.
"No, I just have a great tongue, baby."
She laughs. She has not, it strikes her suddenly, laughed this much since before Richard died. "I think I've had a little too much to drink," she remarks self-consciously.
"Are you kidding? We've barely even started."
The confidence with which he gestures for the waiter has a conductor-like effect on her senses and emotions and she can't seem to look away from him even as she protests. "No, Mark, that's it for me, thanks."
"That's what you think. Fortunately, I know better."
"I don't want anything more to drink," she insists half-heartedly.
"Yes, you do," he insists right back and when their waiter appears he orders a bowl of cold fresh fruit for dessert.
"Is it safe to eat the fruit here?"
"Perfectly," he assures her, "if it's washed, which it is. It couldn't have tasted better in paradise. It'll also help us digest all that spicy meat."
"Poetic and practical all in a single breath. I like that."
"Thanks. Give me your hand."
Too surprised to protest, she stretches her right arm over the table.
He grasps her hand gently in one of his and turns it so her palm is facing up as if he is about to read her fortune. But instead he raises it toward his lips so his warm breath caresses her skin as he says quietly, "There's always tomorrow, Lucia." He kisses the center of her lifeline. "And the day after that. Someone has to break the seal on your tomb sooner or later, princess." He lets go of her fingers.
Suddenly not sure what to do with them, she clenches her hands in her lap, almost as if holding on to the feel of his warm lips on her skin.
He sits back. "The treasure is still there, intact and waiting," he drains his glass, "and there are two ways to handle it. I can caress my way to it, gently removing one block after another." He looks deep into her dark eyes, assessing her reaction to this approach. "Or I can force my way in."
This time she doesn't look away.
He pushes his chair back abruptly. "Forget the cold fruit." He stands up and slips a tattered black leather wallet out of a back pocket. "Let's go," he says, tossing a handful of large, colorful bills onto the table.
Willingly allowing herself to be hypnotized by his commanding tone, she gets up and precedes him out of the dining room.
What looks like an entire nursing home on tour is milling before the elevators out in the lobby, the red lights tracking the slow progress of the cars up and down the shafts appearing to monitor their collective pulse.
"Let's take the stairs," Mark suggests at once.
"But my room's on the ninth floor," she protests.
"It'll help us work off dinner."
"What floor are you on?"
"I'm right off the garden, of another hotel." He opens the door to the stairwell. "After you."
Pride forces her to set a good pace up the steps but she has time to think about what is happening now. On the third landing she stops abruptly and turns to face him. "Mark, I don't think--"
He grips her arms as his mouth opens slowly over hers.
His tongue is pleasantly dry and tastes of wine and spices and it is also shamelessly forceful.
After a moment he pulls back and smoothes the hair away from her face as she catches her breath. "You don't think what?" he whispers and then smiles triumphantly down at her silence.
When they reach the ninth floor he opens the heavy door for her and then lets it thunder closed behind them.
Her fingers feel awkward, like strangers with each other, as she fishes the key out of her purse.
"I hear all the rooms in the Etap have a Nile view," he comments while she unlocks the door.
"Yes..." She steps into the lamplit space and quickly navigates through the maze of suitcases.
This time he closes the door quietly behind them.
"It's stuffy in here," she says and parts the curtains just far enough to slide open one of the glass doors leading out onto the balcony. She gasps at the surprisingly cold breeze that caresses her dress as it enters the room.
"The temperature drops dramatically at night in Egypt, Lucia."
She has no choice now but to turn and face him.
"Come here, princess."
She approaches him slowly.
Slipping his arms around her waist, he presses her body and her lips firmly against his and his tongue begins leading hers around and around in a passionate dance like a fierce gentleman in a ballroom.
After a timeless while she turns her face away to catch her breath in disbelief. "Oh God," she sighs.
"What's wrong?" he whispers.
"Nothing." That's precisely what she cannot believe.
He genuflects before her, slips his hands up into her dress and pulls her black bikini panties all the way down her legs in one swift gesture. He leaves their soft shackle around her ankles as he rises with the hem of her black dress in his hands and lifts it over her head with the same elegantly controlled force. "How long has it been, Lucia?"
"Too long," she replies fervently.
He snaps her black bra open in front and moves back. "Take it off," he commands, "slowly."
She obeys him, unable to look away from his eyes, which shine flat and silver as a cat's in the dim light.
He watches her, his stare moving down from her beautiful face to her delicately full, perfectly round breasts as he unbuttons his shirt. "Very nice," he says, slipping off the white cotton and tossing it behind him.