Published 18th January 2022 by Totally Bound. Available in ebook and paperback.
The third and final installment in our Romantic Novel of the Year Award-shortlisted de Chastelaine Chronicles trilogy.
|Amid the shifting sands of Egypt, is an ancient evil stronger than even the most timeless bonds?|
|In the heat of 1920’s Cairo, Raf and Cecily are looking forward to making their honeymoon one to remember. Instead, they find themselves caught between a British nobleman on a mission to loot Egypt’s ancient tombs and a mysterious local woman who will do whatever it takes to protect the land she loves.
When a foreboding pyramid rises from the sands and the scent of decay fills the air, Raf and Cecily find themselves caught in a terrifying race against time to vanquish a murderous mummy and put right the wrongs of the past. But is evil stronger than even the most timeless bonds?
Cecily leaned over the ship’s railing, shielding her eyes from the hot Mediterranean sun with her hand. They’d travelled across Europe to get here, and now they were almost at their destination, a place Cecily had only ever dreamed of before.
“And tomorrow we’ll see Egypt, just there on the horizon!” she excitedly said to Raf, her husband.
If only I could wish and wish and it’d appear there right away.
“And tomorrow night, we’ll be snuggled in bed in the Rosetta of the Nile, counting the stars above Cairo.” Raf beamed. He put his arm around Cecily’s waist and said, “It’s the perfect honeymoon, Sissy.”
“It feels like a dream, Raf, like it’s not quite real!” Cecily pictured pyramids and deserts, a world away from their home in Yorkshire or the places in Europe they had journeyed through. “We’ll go everywhere by camel, of course, and eat nothing but dates.”
“Just like we do in Yorkshire,” he told her with a grin. Then he pecked a kiss to Cecily’s cheek and asked, “Happy, Mrs de Chastelaine?”
“Oh, so happy I might go pop!” Cecily said excitedly. Then with affection, she added, “But then, I have been ever since I first met you, Raf.”
Not so long ago Cecily would never have dreamed that she’d be married to a man—or dhampir, really—like Raf de Chastelaine, let alone be honeymooning in Egypt, but here she was. Her life had taken an unexpected turn and as she stood here beneath the sun, the botanical scent of Raf’s homemade sun lotion mingling with the heat and sea salt, she’d never been happier.
A breeze rippled the brim of her sunhat, and Cecily turned to see another passenger lean against the railings a few feet away. Miss Mansour was a very glamorous Egyptian lady, who they’d sat with at the captain’s table the night before, along with Miss Mansour’s party of archaeologists. Cecily had been over the moon to sit at such an important table on her first long sea journey, and with a party who were travelling to Egypt to uncover its wonders, too.
But Miss Mansour seemed preoccupied and hadn’t noticed them. Instead, she stared off towards the horizon.
Cecily’s sixth sense, her ability to pick up on others’ emotions, began to twitch.
She’s homesick, Cecily thought, although she realised that was obvious.
“Raf,” Cecily whispered, “let’s say good afternoon.”
Raf glanced towards the woman, then gave a nod. “Yeah, let’s say how do,” he decided.
Cecily moved along the salt-covered railing. “Good afternoon, Miss Mansour!” She smiled. “You must be very glad to be so close to home again.”
Miss Mansour removed her sunglasses and smiled back, but there was something sad in her expression. “Oh, of course, if one has a happy home, then one is glad to return. I am thinking of all the work I must do when we arrive. Lord Bath has such great plans for his dig. I think we might uncover many wonderful things.”
“It must be terribly exciting!” Cecily said. “All those treasures that haven’t seen the light of day for years and years and years, and you brush away the sand, and there in your hand there’s a little golden Anubis!”
“Lord Carnarvon hasn’t put him off?” Raf asked. “If you believe the papers, pyramid-diving is a bad business. I don’t know… I feel like perhaps English lords should leave Egyptian treasures in Egypt.”
A flicker of amusement crossed Miss Mansour’s face. She maybe didn’t hear that sentiment often enough. But Raf’s Romanian accent no doubt told her that he had no patience with the meddling of the English. “It is strange to me to think of my ancestors lying in museums across the world. I cannot think it was what they expected when they died—that one day their remains would travel the world, to be stared at.”
“I heard that Lord Bath reckons he’s found a tomb that nobody believed existed at all,” Raf replied. “But legends sometimes turn out to be true, don’t they?”
And Raf would know all about that, wouldn’t he? Not many advertisements for family businesses that spanned the generations read, ‘Ghosts need laying? Rates negotiable on application.’ Raf didn’t work alone anymore though—Cecily was part of the family business, too.
But what fates had Raf’s ancestors faced? His father might be human, but his late mother certainly hadn’t been. After all, it wasn’t many newlyweds who spent Christmas at a castle perched atop a precipice on the edge of the Carpathian Mountains. Cecily would never have guessed that vampires could be such generous and attentive hosts.
“The tomb of Menkare II,” Miss Mansour replied, with a note of distaste. “He is sure that he has discovered it, even though the sands covered it from human sight longer ago than you can imagine. A pharaoh who has almost been entirely forgotten, but the legend of his missing tomb has persisted down the centuries. And now Lord Bath thinks he’s found it.”
Cecily shivered with delight at the thought. “Do you think we might come along to the dig and have a look? We won’t touch anything. We’ll be on our best behaviour. Won’t we, Raf?”
“I don’t want to touch anything that’s been inside a forgotten tomb.” Raf chuckled. “I’ve got an allergy to curses. I’d love to have a nose at the site, though…history’s a bit of a hobby of mine. Along with gardening. And tinkering. I love tinkering.”
Miss Mansour chuckled. Then she looked Raf and Cecily slowly up and down, as if she was assessing them. Cecily did her best to smile under her scrutiny. It felt as if Miss Mansour wasn’t just looking at them, but into them. Although Cecily told herself she couldn’t be. Then Miss Mansour nodded.
“Yes, why don’t you come along? I believe I can trust you.” Miss Mansour pointed to the jumble of necklaces and amulets around Raf’s neck. “You’re wearing a scarab, I see. And the Eye of Horus.”
Raf nodded. “It’s not my first time in Egypt,” he admitted, almost bashfully. “And I like to pack on the protection. Whether it’s from the sun, or…whatever else is floating about.”
“You are very sensible to do so,” Miss Mansour said. “Lord Bath scoffs at such ideas, of course. And I am told sometimes that I am too superstitious, but you never can be too careful. Especially not when you’re robbing graves, even ancient ones.” She paused for a moment, before adding, almost to herself, “Especially ancient ones.”
“We’re very careful about such things,” Cecily said, knowing she couldn’t go into detail with someone they’d not long met. “We always treat the dead with respect.”
“They’re people too,” Raf pointed out, straight-faced. “Just like us.”
“Oh, they are…” Miss Mansour glanced away for a moment, towards the southern horizon. Cecily sensed her homesickness again, a feeling of loss and loneliness. Then Miss Mansour turned back to face them. “You see, I knew I could trust you. There are not many people on this earth who share that sentiment, Mr de Chastelaine.”
Raf smiled gently and admitted, “It’s just something life’s taught us.” And he glanced towards Cecily, his eyes filled with love.
“Miss Mansour!” It was Lord Bath’s braying voice, and it was coming closer from inside the ship. “I say, Miss Mansour, where are you hiding?”
Miss Mansour sighed. “I apologise. I must speak to Lord Bath.” She raised her voice and replied, “I am out here on the deck, Lord Bath, taking the sea air.”
“Dreaming of the old homeland, eh!” Lord Bath stepped out onto the deck. He put his hands on his hips and drew in a deep breath of sea air. “Good Lord, it’s hotter than ever today!”
He was dressed in a linen suit, as most of the European men on the ship were. But Lord Bath’s looked particularly expensive, cut to fit just right. His square jaw jutted out as he took the air, as though he was the master of all he surveyed. And the truth was, men like him were.
Not women like Cecily or Miss Mansour, not men like Raf. But wealthy English aristocrats in Jermyn Street linen suits ruled the world.
“This is not hot!” Miss Mansour chuckled. “You have the sea breeze here. But out in the desert, it doesn’t matter how hot it gets, you hope the wind won’t start up or a sandstorm might follow. But I will be glad to see my home again, yes. Are you not pleased to see yours when you return to England?”
“One has several, and one is always happy to see them. But the tomb of Menkare II is my life’s work. I’ll happily take a long-lost legendary treasure horde over even the nicest family pile in Bath.” Bath guffawed. He lifted his Panama hat to Raf and Cecily. “Good afternoon, Mr and Mrs de Chastelaine. Egypt awaits, what!”
“Oh, it does!” Cecily replied. “You must be so excited about the dig. I know I am, and I’m not even digging anything. But then I’ve never been to Egypt before, and you’re all experts on it. Miss Mansour especially.”
Miss Mansour smiled wistfully. “Egypt and her myths and legends have been my life’s work.”
But it wouldn’t be Miss Mansour’s name connected with the find. Rather, the name of a man born in a country far away, in a land without a single desert to its name.
“I must confess this was a last throw of the dice,” Bath admitted. “Seven failed digs over the years. But our Miss Mansour isn’t only a dashed pretty face. She’s got a very clever little brain in that head of hers!”
Little brain? Cecily had once been married to a man who spoke like that about women. She bristled on Miss Mansour’s behalf.
“How kind of you to say so,” Miss Mansour replied, acknowledging his backhanded compliment with a nod. “I have worked very hard—studied very hard—to acquire the knowledge I now have of my country’s ancient past.”
“And we’re all terribly grateful,” Bath assured her. “Miss Mansour was able to interpret the last clues to the location of the tomb. When the treasures of Menkare II are exhibited in London, I’m sure this young lady’s beauty will dazzle almost as much as the pharaoh’s gold.”
Young lady’s beauty?
Cecily bristled anew. She could sense that Miss Mansour didn’t appreciate the way Lord Bath spoke about her either, but she didn’t say anything.
“And everyone will want to talk to her to find out how she worked out the last clues,” Cecily said.
Miss Mansour gave Cecily a smile, as if telling her that she appreciated her support. “I would be more than happy to.”
Lord Bath met that with a bark of uproarious laughter. He clapped his hands together and exclaimed, “Quite so, Mrs de Chastelaine, quite so!” He wiped his eyes on a pristine white handkerchief. “And when one dines at the Ritz, one lauds the waitress for the chef’s splendid work, eh?”
“But without Miss Mansour, you wouldn’t have found the tomb,” Raf pointed out, frowning. “Isn’t that right?”
“And without my money to hire her, Miss Mansour wouldn’t have been part of the party at all.” Lord Bath’s smile had become rather tight. Cecily could tell that he didn’t take kindly to such ideas. “And she certainly wouldn’t have had access to the tablets and very rare papyri that held the secrets of Menkare II’s tomb. Believe me when I say that such treasures are highly prized and priced accordingly. Far beyond the reach of the Miss Mansours of the world.”
Miss Mansour raised an eyebrow before putting her sunglasses back on. A chill breeze rose from the sea. “That is because the tablets and papyri I needed to study are held in a private collection in England.”
“Guilty as charged.” Bath chuckled. “And I may yet have one surprise left up my sleeve, madam. A little showmanship, if you will.”
“Is that so?” Miss Mansour sounded like someone who was not easily surprised. She tapped her fingers against the ship’s railing, her rings clanging on the metal. “I shall look forward to it.”
“Well, you’ll excuse me. I must dress for dinner.” Bath gave a polite nod of farewell. “Miss Mansour, might I escort you to your state—cabin?”
No stateroom for the hired help then, no matter how valuable their knowledge.
“No, thank you, Lord Bath. I believe I can just about remember the way there. Good evening.” And with that, Miss Mansour inclined her head, then turned and glided away along the deck.
Cecily glanced at Lord Bath, wondering if he had taken offence. But how else could Miss Mansour have reacted without any further dents to her dignity?
“She’s homesick,” Cecily told Lord Bath by way of explanation.
“Ah, England’s green and pleasant land. We all miss her, of course,” Bath replied, apparently untroubled by her departure. And somehow unaware that perhaps Miss Mansour, his Egyptian associate, might not consider England home, no matter how green or pleasant.
“Egypt,” Raf said bluntly.
“Yes, she misses Egypt,” Cecily prompted Lord Bath. “I think maybe she’s glad not to be in England.”
“Well, I certainly won’t be asking her to come back to England if she prefers to remain in Egypt,” the Earl of Bath replied with a magnanimous smile. “I shan’t be requiring her expertise once the tomb is open. Miss Mansour can go wherever she might wish.”
Raf frowned and asked, “You won’t give her the credit for her work, then?” He added innocently, “I thought you said you couldn’t have done it without her.”
“She’s terribly clever,” Cecily added. “Just think of the number of languages she understands, modern and ancient ones. And she knows a terribly vast amount of things about the ancient world as well!”
“And dashed pretty too,” the Earl of Bath replied. “Well, I shall take my leave. Good afternoon to you both!”
“We must go and dress for dinner. Good afternoon,” Cecily responded, the words sticking in her throat. The earl gave another nod and retreated back towards the ship.
“Cheerio,” Raf called, but Cecily knew that his bonhomie was an effort. He didn’t like Lord Bath any more than she did. If the nobleman realised, of course, he didn’t care. Instead he disappeared into the ship, whistling a cheery tune as he went.
Cecily waited until he had gone, then she whispered to Raf, “What a dreadful man, robbing Miss Mansour of her discovery. I really don’t like him at all, Raf. But then, maybe I’ve known one too many men like him in my life.”
Raf nodded. He put his arm around Cecily’s shoulders and whispered, “Not my sort of bloke either. Do you want to head in and get ready to eat?” Raf kissed her cheek. “Do I have to wear shoes to dinner?”
“Oh, yes, let’s go back to the cabin.” Cecily chuckled. “Shoes? Well, if you don’t wear shoes, we might not be invited to the captain’s table tonight. But if the delightful Lord Bath’s sitting there again, maybe that’s a good thing.”
“I’ll put shoes on,” Raf assured her. Then he added with a wink, “But I’ll slip them off when I’m sitting down,”
Raf really didn’t like shoes. He was happiest barefoot, wandering through the garden at home. Cecily smiled at him. “I’d expect nothing less, darling! Right, let’s get ready for dinner.”
Arm in arm, they strolled along the deck towards their cabin.