From This Beloved Hour
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by William Maltese
Description: ROMANCE IN EGYPT! Jenny Mowry believed that she could handle any complications that might arise on her archaelogical expedition to Egypt. But she hadn't anticipated that two dynamic men would pursue her from the moment she arrived in the desert: Sheikh Abdul Jerada, powerful, darkly handsome, and openly passionate--and Peter Donas, as elusive and seductive as the sands themselves. Two men wanted her love. Only one could succeed. And as the past intersects the present, and her emotions become entwined with her quest for antiquity, Jenny must choose between the exotic--and the dangerous!
eBook Publisher: Wildside Press, 2007 USA
eBookwise Release Date: April 2009
4 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [442 KB]
Reading time: 272-380 min.
"THE BENNU," he said, referring to the hieroglyph of a heron with two long feathers growing from the back of its head. The man had quietly joined Jenny in the small alcove on the first floor of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. She was facing a sandstone relief that had been saved from the area around Abu Simbel when the Nile had been backed up behind the multimillion-dollar Saad al-Ali--the Aswân High Dam.
She was surprised by his company. Although the museum was kitty-corner from the Nile Hilton, and therefore quite accessible, most tourists usually kept to the more impressive Tutankhamen exhibit located on the second floor. Jenny was saving that until last, rather like saving a fine dessert to be savored after a thoroughly enjoyable and deliciously filling meal. She assumed the man was a tourist--he spoke perfect English, albeit with a thoroughly enchanting accent that was more British than American. She should have been forewarned by the fact that he was able to identify a key figure in hieroglyphic script. Jenny knew very few people, besides her colleagues in the archaeological profession, who were so thoroughly informed. "Yes," she said, turning to him, quite prepared to further define the heron character so he would know he wasn't the only one with a modicum of knowledge on Egyptology. Despite being handicapped by the warehouse dimness for which the Egyptian Museum was notorious, Jenny had recognized him immediately.
"It really isn't a heron at all, you know," he said, failing to notice in the poor lighting how the blood had drained from her face. "It represents the phoenix--that legendary bird that lived for five hundred years before converting its nest into a funeral pyre and cremating itself in the searing flames." He held up his hand as if to prevent an interruption. In truth, Jenny hadn't found her voice yet. It was caught somewhere at the base of her throat, where it had become lodged when she first realized who he was. "But there is a happy ending," he continued, "for it emerged a new from its own ashes to live for another five hundred years--give or take a hundred years, of course."
He smiled--a very attractive smile. If he'd been smiling from the beginning, she might not have recognized him, because his pictures always showed him as very somber. Oh, yes, she had his picture--several of them, in fact, culled from archaeological journals and magazines. She had faithfully filed them in an album begun in 1922. Not that he or Jenny had been alive in 1922. No, the album's first pictures hadn't been of him but of his grandfather, followed by his father, then by him.
"I do believe you have a place in the United States called Phoenix, do you not?" he asked. Jenny got a strange feeling at the roots of her hair, feeling that shivered its way down to the soles of her feet. She had assumed he had recognized her, too. However, if that were the case, she couldn't believe he could still be blasé about it. "It's in Arizona, isn't it?" he asked.
"Arizona?" Jenny said, sounding very much like a parrot and feeling silly because of it.
"Phoenix, Arizona," he elucidated. "That is the place, isn't it?"
"Oh, yes," she admitted, trying desperately to get her thoughts back into some semblance of order. If he could carry this through with such aplomb, Jenny was determined to match him. Her whole problem was that she hadn't expected this ordeal quite yet. She had arrived in Egypt early just so she would have time to get herself mentally prepared for their scheduled meeting in Hierakonpolis. Oh, she had told herself she needed the extra days so she could take the leisurely boat trip up the Nile to the excavation site, but the real reason had been her need for a little time here in Egypt to prepare.
"It symbolized the morning sun rising out of the glow of dawn," he said. For a moment Jenny didn't know what he was talking about, and then she realized he was still giving her a lesson on the heron hieroglyph. She found his patronizing attitude just a little insulting. He must have known she was as well acquainted with what he was saying as he was. "Hence it was conceived as the bird of the sacred sun-god, Re," he continued. If he sensed her growing chagrin, he certainly didn't let on. "It represented the new sun of today emerging from the body of the old sun of yesterday--a manifestation of Osiris, the symbol of resurrection and light." He finished off with a quote from Job that, some scholars argued, indicated that the phoenix legend had passed over into Judeo-Christian teachings: "'Then I said, I shall die in my nest, and I shall multiply my days as the sand.'"
"'Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases, who satisfieth thy mouth with good things, so that the youth is renewed like the eagles,'" Jenny shot back, glad her voice had finally lost its confused squeak. Her quotation had come from Psalms. While neither reference probably had anything whatsoever to do with the phoenix, although that mythical bird had always been represented as an eagle in Greco-Roman art, she had at least proved she could match him obscurity for obscurity.
"I say, that's very good!" he complimented her, seeming genuinely appreciative. Jenny really couldn't believe he hadn't expected her to be as knowledgeable on the subject as he was. She might not have got her education at Oxford, but she had all the accreditation in their mutually shared field to match him diploma for diploma. There were some people who might even have said, after her work at the dig at Avaris on the eastern side of the Nile delta, that she was far more qualified to work on this excavation at Hierakonpolis than he was. "My name is Peter," he told her. "Peter Donas."
She automatically held out her hand. She hadn't wanted to. At least that's what she told herself. Hers had merely been a natural reflex born of introduction after introduction at lectures, college teas, or while meeting the never ending stream of academicians who moved in, out of and around Jenny's circle. She certainly wanted her hand back the moment he took it, finding he held it far longer than was prescribed by good etiquette. She would have pulled it away by force, except she found that the power in his calloused fingers had somehow drained her of all her strength.
"Yours?" he asked, making her wonder whether he was referring to her hand, which he wouldn't release. Her fingers seemed insignificant within the cupping of his powerfully larger ones.
"Yours?" she questioned, unsure just what he was asking. She continued to be a little muddled, this whole scenario somehow unnerving her. She didn't know why their meeting couldn't have taken place later, as scheduled, instead of now. She had so hoped to be calm, cool and collected.
"I've already told you my name," he said, clearing up the problem and delivering a delighted laugh. "Peter Donas, remember? What I was hoping, of course, was that you might tell me yours. I know you're American because I overheard you ask the guard back there a question about the present location of Ramses II's mummy and I detected your accent. So, since we both speak a common language and are both far from home, I was hoping you might not take too unkindly to some company."
She did find the strength to pull back her hand. What's more, she managed with a force that surprised him. She had to admit, however, that he was exceedingly quick in his recovery.
"I assure you," he said with an accompanying laugh of apparent pleasure, "my intentions are purely admirable. I have nothing more sinister in mind than a mutually shared wander through these murky halls and then, perhaps, a bit of tea back at the hotel. By chance are you staying at the Hilton, too?" Jenny was furious. Whereas she had blanched stark white upon first seeing him standing beside her, she was now a dark pink. He stepped back just a bit, as if to verify that he wasn't about to leap at her. "Really, I'm all innocence," he assured her. "Cross my heart; hope to die. All I'm suggesting is walk, talk and tea."
Apparently he thought she was concerned that he might try to make a pass at her there in the alcove of the museum, thought she was upset because he appeared to be some kind of lothario out to sweep a poor young--twenty-nine wasn't that old--American tourist off her feet. Yet that was not what was bothering her. He hadn't recognized her; that was the trouble. She had known him right off, but he still hadn't recognized her. Which meant he'd thought she hadn't known the bennu hieroglyph from that of a ba--a depiction of the Egyptian soul by a bird's body with a human head. No wonder he'd been so surprised when she'd shot back her biblical text about youth renewing itself like an eagle. It had been bad enough when he'd confronted her, engaging in harmless small talk. To find he'd been assuming from the start that she was a Miss Everyday Tourist was frankly a blow to her ego--professional and otherwise. He should have known. He should have recognized her. She was Jenny Mowry. His grandfather had jilted her grandmother. Jenny and this man might well have been brother and sister had Geraldine Fowler and Frederic Donas married.
"Jenny Mowry!" she wanted to scream at him. "Remember my treatise on Crete? I said that Crete was all that remained of Atlantis after it had been destroyed by the volcano on Thira, and you came out publicly and said my theory, while not a new one, was still as much poppycock as it had always been." What audacity to call a person's work and research poppycock when he couldn't even recognize her as he stood right next to her! The lighting was bad. The lighting was very bad. But the lighting was definitely not that bad. "You'll have to excuse me; I have to go," she said, hearing her voice sound with strained breathlessness. She wondered why she couldn't make her legs follow through with her intentions, put one foot in front of the other to move her right out of there. Possibly she thought that he would yet come to see who she was.
"Let's talk over tea, then" he said. "You're heading back to the hotel now, you say?"
"No," she answered. "I didn't say that, as a matter of fact."
"Oh," he said, seemingly chastised and a bit at a loss.
She should have moved right then and there, swept right by him out through the large vestibule and into the hot dusty Cairo street. Then, when they met again in a few days in Hierakonpolis, he would realize his faux pas. "Tea?" she said instead.
"Tea?" he echoed.
"You did offer to buy me tea, didn't you?" she asked, as if he were the awkward one. She had better grasp of the situation now and felt more in control. "Or did you?"
"Yes, of course," he affirmed. "I did indeed offer you tea. I was, however, somehow under the impression that you had said no."
"You've no doubt heard it's a lady's prerogative to change her mind?" Jenny said. "Well, it might be a hackneyed and unfair truism, but I have changed my mind. Actually, I'd love that cup of tea." What she wanted to do was get them out into the full light of day. She wanted that bright Egyptian sun to shine down on her like a spotlight, pointing out her honey-colored hair that haloed her oval face like a lion's mane; pointing out her dark brown eyes, her pert nose with its five freckles, her sensuous but not too sensuous mouth, her dimple, her skin that unlike that of so many blondes tanned to even perfection. Then she would see that flicker of recognition sparking at last in his golden yes. Yes golden eyes--dark and rich gold. Jenny had seen such eyes only on certain birds of prey. No, that wasn't quite true. The eyes of the birds had been piercing, decidedly dangerous. Peter's eyes were a warm gold that pulled her toward them, seduced her into an awareness of them even more intensive than her awareness of the attractive squareness of his jaw and the dimple in his chin that would have made her want to reach up and touch it, had his eyes not kept drawing her back to them.
"Great!" he said. He took her upper arm, obviously thinking she would have trouble negotiating the corridors of the museum, when in fact she had got around quite nicely before he had appeared on the scene. If there was anyone who needed help in seeing in the inadequate lighting, it was he. She had certainly had enough light by which to see him. She didn't pull away, though, having successfully fought down the impulse. After all, it was gentlemanly courtesy on his part, and Jenny, though she believed in women's rights and wanted equal work opportunities, equal pay and equal recognition of her qualifications, still enjoyed having doors opened for her, hats tipped and gentlemen stand to greet her whenever she entered a room. She couldn't very well jerk away from his hold without being unduly impolite, but his hand was doing something to her it shouldn't have been doing. Not that she could really put her finger on what was bothering her, because she couldn't. He wasn't holding her too tightly. He wasn't even moving his fingers. His hand was simply there, simply sending these funny little vibrations up her arm, into her throat and breasts, down.... She found consolation in knowing he would be taking his hand away soon enough once he realized just whom he had in tow.
Thank God, daylight! There it was right up ahead, framed by the massive open doors of the museum's main entrance. It wouldn't be long now. Just a few more steps. One, two, three....
"Ohhhhhh!" she groaned, not believing she had tripped. There hadn't seemed anything on which to trip. Yet there she was, stumbling in the dimness of the Egyptian Museum, as if she had to give Peter Donas some valid excuse for having taken the liberty of putting his hand on her arm in the first place.
"Gotcha!" he announced triumphantly. He had her all right, like an octopus--all arms. Such big arms they were, too. Such strong arms. And how hard his chest felt beneath his shirt as her uncertain steps brought her into direct contact with him when he turned to stop her fall.
"I'm fine," she said. "Really, I am fine." She was trying very hard not to sound as if she had just tripped over the edge of a precipice and was still on her way down.
"They're supposed to be remodeling this place soon," he told her, his arms no longer wrapping her, his chest no longer hard against her breasts. He was back to just his hand on her arm. "They're scheduled to use some of the revenues from the Tut exhibit that went on world tour."
They exited into the sunlight, and to Jenny's increased chagrin he still didn't recognize her. In any case, he didn't give any indication he did. "The museum was dark, but at least it was cool," was all he said when they paused on the porch outside the large ocher-colored building. "It must be over a hundred out here." She was somewhat mollified by the fact that he was obviously having trouble seeing anything at the moment. One hand shielded his golden eyes, the other still held her arm, as if he expected her to stumble down the steps leading to the courtyard. She rationalized that where the museum had been too dark, the outside was too bright. She was squinting, too, and he could hardly be expected to recognize her with her face all screwed up. So if he couldn't recognize her in the dark of the museum and he couldn't recognize her in the light of the Cairo sunshine the next step was to go into the better lighting of the hotel. Although she continued to have no problems seeing him.
He was bigger than she had thought he would be. She was five foot seven, and he towered more than five inches above that, making him taller than six feet. He looked younger than his pictures revealed--probably because he always seemed so sober in the photographs. Editors of scientific journals had a penchant for somberness, thereby instigating rumors that no one in the scientific community ever had any fun. This simply wasn't true.
Peter remained intent upon getting Jenny across a street congested with traffic that ranged from an expensive Mercedes to a cluttered donkey cart. The herd of goats that suddenly came barreling round the corner added to the mess. Jenny could never get used to seeing livestock parading through the middle of busy streets in a metropolis of close to ten million people. Peter's grip tightened on her arm, warning her that she had better stop or risk getting run over by a vintage-model American car that would have been relegated to the wrecking yard in the United States. Not only was it still running in Egypt, but it would probably continue to run for a good many years to come, held together by prayers and chicken wire.
Ahead loomed the Nile Hilton, a modern structure among a conglomeration of new buildings and old. Cairo was one more of those age-old cities trying to make the transition from past to present. What resulted was a hodgepodge of East meeting West and old meeting new, all of which left the visitor imagining he was caught up in a time flux that tossed him from medieval minarets one minute to glass-and-chrome discos the next.
Jenny glanced sideways, once again taking in Peter Donas in full sunlight. Damn, he was handsome, although that had nothing whatsoever to do with anything! He and she had been destined long before they'd been born to meet as enemies. That this meeting was progressing the way it was now was only because Peter didn't realize who she was. And it was obvious he still didn't know her when, sensing her eyes on him, he turned in her direction and smiled. Peter Donas smiling at Jenny Mowry was certainly something she had never expected to see. It was a decidedly pleasant smile, too, one that carved faint crinkle lines at the corners of his golden eyes. If his eyes didn't relay any hint of danger, that didn't mean Jenny was feeling safe. She was feeling anything but safe, although she wasn't quite sure just why. She certainly didn't feel fear of any physical harm. His hand on her arm, its slightly increased pressure telling her when it was all right to move once again, was actually reassuring.
"Safe at last!" he announced, guiding her up onto the sidewalk and toward the entrance to their hotel. Jenny almost laughed at his choice of words, coming as they did at the same moment as her thoughts of danger. She realized that the danger she feared was a threat to her emotional, rather than her physical, well-being. In fact, she had probably seen that from the moment she had first agreed to come to Egypt knowing Peter Donas would be here. Which was why she had wanted a week on Egyptian soil to prepare mentally for their meeting. But he had managed to put her into the arena without allowing her time to psyche herself up. She was vulnerable, made more so by the fact that she had always assumed the day would come when they would meet, recognize each other and feel the tragedy that linked them. Well, the day was here, and they had met, and she had recognized him, feeling the invisible links that bound them. But he hadn't recognized her. He had obviously felt nothing--which left Jenny questioning whether she hadn't been living an illusion all of this time. Maybe there was no such thing as predestination. Maybe the affinity she felt for her dead grandmother had nothing whatsoever to do with the here and now, only with the fanciful imaginings of a child who, once standing in front of a portrait of Geraldine Fowler, had been told that her face and the one in the painting were mirror images. Geraldine, dead at thirty-four in Egypt, dead like so many others who had been there when the Earl of Carnarvon's workmen, under the direction of Howard Carter, had unearthed at Thebes the stairway leading to the tomb of King Tutankhamen. Dead not because of the ancient curse on the tomb, but because the man she had loved--not her husband--had married another woman merely for a dowry.
Peter's grandfather hadn't looked any more dangerous than Peter looked now. Jenny knew because she had pictures of Frederic Donas. He had looked young, but he had been young--ten years Geraldine's junior. He had been handsome, although not as handsome as Peter. He had told Geraldine he loved her, and then he had gone off to marry Peter's grandmother in England. It was more than just a coincidence that the granddaughter of Geraldine Fowler and the grandson of Frederic Donas were now in Egypt, both heading for an archaeological dig only a few miles upstream from the scene of that tragedy long ago.
Peter stopped her at the door of the hotel. They both stepped back as a group of German tourists came sweeping by. They were probably off to visit the treasures of Tutankhamen, which, Jenny suddenly realized, she had left without taking in. Oh, she had seen the smaller pieces of the collection--those that had made the rounds of the world capitals--but not the bigger items kept on display at the Cairo Museum, among them the sarcophagi that, fitting one within the other, had held the boy-king, his mummy wrapped in wings of gold cloisonné. Twice previously Jenny had come to Egypt and not viewed the legendary treasures. There had been no time during the first trip. She had flown into visit her father at the dig at Saïs and had flown out to Crete the very next day. There had been more time when she had helped excavate sections of Avaris, but the museum had been closed the one day she had made it to Cairo, interrupting a busy work schedule specifically to see the treasures. She had never got back until now, and now she had missed them because Peter Donas had invited her to tea. She couldn't believe it and still wasn't really sure how it had all come about.
The tour group passed; Jenny and Peter entered the hotel. Immediately she was possessed by that same feeling she experienced every time she entered a Hilton--the feeling that undoubtedly had something to do with her father once having said, "Blindfold me, sit me down in any Hilton Hotel in the world, take off my blindfold, and I'll give you odds I can't tell you what country I'm in, let alone what city." He might have found the locale easier to identify in this Hilton, however, since there was a definite sense of the Middle East about the men standing around in their long galabias, wearing headdresses and sandals.
Peter guided her into a small area just off the lobby where she had a good view of the foot traffic. He removed his hand from her arm, and surprisingly she wished he hadn't. She sat down, and he took the chair across from her. Separating them was a small brass coffee table typical of Egypt's internationally renowned brass work. He motioned to a waiter in an off-gold jacket and ordered tea. "Now it might be easier to carry on a conversation if I did know your name," he said, turning his attention fully to Jenny. He sat back in his chair, crossing his legs so that his left ankle angled across his right knee. He was wearing black riding boots, black slacks, and a short-sleeved shirt. He had black hair on his forearms and on the backs of his large hands, but Jenny couldn't see evidence of any on the V of tanned chest visible at his open collar. She found herself speculating on whether he had much hair on his chest or whether there was only a smooth expanse of bare skin stretched tightly over his well-defined muscles. No doubt about there being muscles. She could see evidence of them despite his shirt ... something about the way the material rested against him. "Or shall I call you Miss X?" he said. "Mrs. X?" He suggested the alternative playfully.
Jenny was brought up short by the teasing tone of his voice. "Mrs. X?" he had asked, and she couldn't help wondering if it would have mattered to him if she had been a married woman. It had certainly not mattered to his grandfather that Geraldine Fowler had been married, or that she'd had two children, or that she'd left her husband and children in an effort to find happiness with him, only to discover too late that he had made plans to marry another woman for money. The sooner Jenny got this charade over, the better it would be. Peter hadn't recognized her in the museum, outside, or here. He didn't have a clue. "Jenny," she said, giving him that clue. "My name is Jenny."
"Very well, then," he said, and she could tell by the way he said it that her name wasn't ringing any bells. "What brings Jenny to Egypt? A holiday?"
She was Jenny Mowry, come to assist him in the excavation of the dig at Hierakonpolis. She was the granddaughter of the Geraldine Fowler who had been jilted by his grandfather. Surely he had heard the story. Unless a young man wasn't as easily taken in as a young girl by the romanticism of unrequited love or by the pathos of a woman who, after having successfully begged her husband into taking her back for the sake of thief children, simply lay down one morning at Thebes and died of a broken heart. Anyway, the doctor present hadn't been able to offer a more suitable diagnosis.
The tea arrived and Peter poured, asking if she wanted hers "white," adding milk when she nodded. She noticed that he took his "black." She also noticed that he managed the handling of the delicate tea service without appearing awkward, despite the largeness of his hands. There was, in fact, a certain magnificent grace in the way he lifted his cup to his mouth, sipped, made an expression of genuine satisfaction at the taste, and eyed her over the rim of his cup. In any case she thought he was eyeing her over the rim of his cup. This was why she was so pleasantly shocked when he whispered. "Absolutely beautiful!"
"What?" she asked. It seemed a rather inadequate response, but it was all she could come up with at the moment.
It was when his eyes finally did focus directly on her that Jenny realized his compliment hadn't been directed at her but at something or someone directly behind her. "Will you please excuse me just a brief moment," he said, rising to his feet.
She turned to follow his retreating figure, immediately spotting what had caught his eye. Off to one side of the lobby, the object of inquisitive glances even from the members of the local population was an Arab wearing a heavy leather glove that covered his left hand and much of his forearm. A falcon was perched firmly on the man's clenched fist. There were strips of leather attached to the bird's legs, restraining it on the glove. The falcon was hooded with a colorful leather cap that hid its entire head except for its sharp beak. The hood was bright orange, with a plume of cock's hackle feathers garnished with colored wool and bound tightly together with fine brass wire affixed to the crown. Jenny watched Peter approach the man. She was more than a little piqued he had deserted her in favor of some hunting bird. She was also a little embarrassed she had thought his "Absolutely beautiful!" had been directed at her. How silly of her! She should have known better, because she certainly wasn't beautiful. Oh, she had all of the right ingredients, but somehow they just didn't come together in a way she considered beautiful. Attractive, yes. Maybe even pretty. But not beautiful. She was beset by conflicting emotions: jealousy that the bird had elicited a compliment she could not; gratitude that Peter's comment hadn't been directed at her so that she was saved the embarrassment of telling him his flattery would get him nowhere.
She sipped her tea, more and more indignant at his desertion. She found it typical of a Donas man to be caught up in the fascination of a sport as cruel as falconry. Oh, Peter could no doubt provide all sorts of rationalizations for his interest and for the existence of such a barbaric pastime. People were always very good at justifying something they enjoyed. Jenny, who had done a good deal of field excavation in Middle Eastern countries and therefore knew of the continued popularity of the blood sport among the aristocracy, had heard all of the excuses before. None of them held water as far as she was concerned! It simply wasn't right to take a bird as free as the wind and train it to kill for man's pleasure, to tie up its legs, stick a hood over its head and carry it around on a fist in a hotel situated in downtown Cairo. The bird belonged out in the freedom of the sky, where God had intended it should be, and that was exactly what she told Peter when he finally got around to returning to a cup of tea that had gone cold in his absence.
He made her furious by simply ignoring her comment, brushing it aside with a slight wave of his hand, as if it had obviously come from a woman who couldn't possibly know anything about the mater. "Spectacular bird!" was what he did say, adding hot tea to the cold liquid in his cup. "A female peregrine that, I venture to say, cost her owner a pretty penny. Belongs to one of the sheikhs down south. A Sheikh Abdul Jerada."
Jenny couldn't have cared less, except that someone ought to have stuck Sheikh Jerada's head in a hood, bound his feet and carried him around the Nile Hilton to see how he liked it. Someone should have done the very same thing to the man sitting across from her. "It's barbaric!" she said firmly, pouring herself more tea. "It's something straight out of the Middle Ages."
"It's a very ancient sport," he replied, as if somehow to insinuate that old was good, purely by definition.
"So was burning witches," Jenny informed him. "You don't find that practice flourishing much anymore, do you?"
"No, well," he muttered, leaving it at that, as if he and she both knew one didn't really have anything to do with the other. There was a moment of pregnant silence between them.
"Do you do much hawking in England, Mr. Donas?" she asked, unable to leave the subject alone. It gave her an inner satisfaction to know that, just as she had always suspected, Peter Donas did have a slightly perverted and sadistic streak, much like the one his grandfather must have had.
"No," he said, obviously disappointed. "I've always wanted to engage in the sport, but it takes such a good deal of time, you know, and I never seem to be in England long enough to select a bird and put it through the proper paces."
"But you would if you had the time?" Jenny inquired, pressing on. She could see him now, delighting in snatching helpless baby birds from their nests, just as his grandfather had snatched a mother from hers.
"I doubt if I'd ever have the time for a peregrine like that one," he replied, nodding in the direction of the man who still stood in wait for Sheikh Jerada. Jenny had watched Peter all through their conversation; he had been shifting his gaze back and forth between her and that damned bird. Why hadn't he taken it to tea? He was obviously more interested in it at the moment than he was in her. To think she had missed out on the museum for this! "Few people I know can do justice to a superb bird like that one," he went on, as if he believed she was interested. "It's a matter of finding suitable quarry, for one thing. Peregrines are flown at small game like partridge and grouse." Yes, Jenny knew. "Besides," he continued, "and this is the really difficult part, in this day and age of cramped living space, access to anywhere from one thousand to three thousand acres of open land is hard to come by."
Jenny thought she had had quite enough even before he added something about a dog--a pointer or a setter--being a necessity for grouse hawking. "I really musts be going, Mr. Donas," she said, setting down her teacup very gently and flashing him a smile that, she hoped, had little more warmth in it than an ice cube. "It's been charming talking birds with you, but I really do have other things to do since I'm leaving the day after tomorrow on the Osiris for a trip up the Nile." She could have been more specific and said to Idfu and then to Hierakonpolis, but she didn't, wondering why. It would have been the perfect time to burst the bubble.
"You're planning to squeeze a few meals in there somewhere, aren't you?" he asked. Jenny couldn't see what that had to do with him. "So, why don't you let me take you to supper this evening?" he suggested. She thought he was pretty bold--and sure of himself. There was no apparent rhyme or reason for his invitation. The man should have been able to see as clearly as she could that the two of them were as different as night and day. Not only that, but since he had asked her to tea and had spent the whole time ogling the spotted breast feathers of some bird, she could just imagine what it would be like trying to hold his attention for the duration of a whole meal. "I know a spot in town that serves simply excellent hamama," he said. Hamama was pigeon..Their conversation had moved from phoenixes to hawks to pigeons. At least she could say he was consistent, even if he did have a one-track mind. "Do you know what hamama is, Jenny?" he asked. Yes, she knew what hamama was. Yes, she knew what gambari--shrimp--and firakh--chicken--and gamoosa--water-buffalo meat--were, too. "It's pigeon," he said, obviously having been unable to read her mental affirmation. "Very popular in Egypt. Raised all up and down the Nile Valley. Watch when you pass the houses on your Nile trip and you'll invariably see large domed pottery structures attached to them. They're put there expressly for raising the pigeons that are later usually grilled over a low fire."
"That does sound delicious," Jenny said. Actually, she had tasted hamama previously, and she had liked it. "However, I'm afraid..."
"You don't know what you'll be missing," he interrupted. Jenny got the distinct impression that, as if he thought he was God's gift to woman, his insinuation of her missing something had more to do with his company than with Egyptian cuisine. Really, the man was insufferable!
"Let me guess," she said, "you simply can't bear to see someone who isn't a convert to falconry, and you've planned a whole evening around proselytizing over hamama and moz bi-laban." She hoped he'd noticed that she could throw around an Arab word or two of her own. Mozbi-laban was a local fruit drink made by blending bananas with milk and sugar. In fact, it often became a meal in itself.
"I won't utter a word about falconry," he promised, his golden eyes blazing like those of a zealot as he once again glanced covetously over his shoulder at the female bird still perched on the waiting Arab's fist.
"All right," she replied, thinking how amusing it was going to be for Peter Donas to arrive at Hierakonpolis and discover that a supposedly simple tourist, the one he had wined and dined in Cairo, was none other than the granddaughter of Geraldine Fowler and his associate on the dig.
"Great!" he said, her acceptance bringing his attention back to her for the moment. "About eight o'clock?"
"I'll meet you here in the lobby," she told him. She stood. "Until then...."
He came to his feet when she did, stooping slightly to put his teacup back on its saucer. "I shall be looking forward to it," he said.
With a nod in parting she left him and headed across the lobby for the elevator. She couldn't wait until they met in Hierakonpolis and.... She had been so caught up in her thoughts that she almost collided with a tall dark-complexioned Arab in a flowing white galabia. "I am sorry," he said in pleasantly modulated English. The fact that she was an American must have stood out like a sore thumb. He was obviously being polite to a foreigner, since it was apparent to everyone, him and Jenny included, that their near collision had been entirely her fault.
"I'm the one who should apologize," she said. "I should have been paying more attention to where I was going."
He had dark velvety eyes, a mustache and a nearty trimmed beard. He was probably in his early thirties ... as tall as Peter, if not a bit taller. Jenny should have been off having supper with someone exotically handsome like this! She was, after all, in Egypt--land of desert sheikhs and harem tents with floors covered by Tunisian carpets--Egypt wasn't known for its rugs--and walls hung with tapestries. No, she had to find herself attracted to an Englishman who.... Yes, she could perhaps get away with admitting that the word attracted was applicable here. But even so, it was simply a matter of her being drawn to him because he was who he was, she was who she was, and their grandparents had been who they were.
She realized suddenly that she was still standing in the middle of the hotel lobby, face to face with the attractive Arab. She couldn't imagine what was getting into her. She certainly couldn't help wondering what the man was thinking, even if the slight upturn at the corners of his full mouth did indicate amusement. She hoped her reverie had taken mere seconds instead of the minutes it now seemed. "I really am sorry," she said, curious if she was blushing through her tan. He bowed slightly as she finally managed enough locomotion to get herself headed for the elevators. Naturally, the elevators were busy stopping at every floor but this one, seemingly determined to leave her standing there forever. Her back to the lobby, she imagined that the Arab was probably musing on why the foreign tourists in his country didn't at least keep their eyes open. She speculated as to whether Peter had seen the near collision. If so, he probably thought it had been caused by her excitement over having been asked to supper by him. The elevator door slid open on an empty compartment. Jenny stepped inside, turned and pushed the button for the tenth floor. Just before the door closed in front of her, she chanced a hurried glance out into the lobby. She was definitely disappointed to discover that neither the Arab nor Peter seemed at all interested in her. They were together in front of the man with the peregrine falcon. It was quite obvious from their rapturous expressions that they were not discussing Jenny at all but were talking about a rather disgusting blood sport in which they obviously had a common interest.