>Tessa’s Treasure-Prologue

>Thought I’d post the prologue in celebration of finishing the third draft!

PROLOGUE
Aswan, Egypt 1946

Olivia brushed the back of her hand across her perspiring forehead and looked around her. Each summer, the Nile spilled over its banks replenishing the scorched earth, and over the centuries Egyptians had given thanks in prayer to the sun god Re for keeping the land plentiful. If it weren’t for the Nile, the whole of Egypt would have been a barren wasteland of desert engulfing any life endeavoring to survive. The Nile Valley, bordered on both sides by desert sand and stones, would be a hostile world of thirst without the life-giving channel of Northern flowing water.

Olivia opened her knapsack, pulled out a bottle of water and took a long drink allowing some of the liquid to drip over her chin and neck to the front of her khaki shirt. The fluid was warm but wet, gentling the Aswan sun blazing down on her. They’d been digging in the sandy rock since daybreak, but even her fatigue and the late afternoon heat could not quell her excitement.

The treasure was here; she just knew it.

After graduating from the University of Texas with a degree in Anthropology she’d taken her graduation money, and against her parents’ fervent wishes, had made her way here. Her parents feared the inherent dangers to a young woman traveling alone, but none of their fears could deter her. She’d heard enough legends and deciphered enough of the hieroglyphs in Nefertari’s tomb from the Valley of the Queens to know she was in the right place. Ramses II had given Nefertari the Evol stone after her death sometime during the 19th Dynasty, and although no one had found it in her tomb and some even doubted its existence, Olivia was convinced that she was close enough to it now to feel its power. Nothing else could explain the excitement she felt as her heart pounded in her chest.

Olivia had seen the tomb paintings of Nefertari wearing, in addition to traditional clothing and a wig, a special necklace unlike any others in all of the tomb paintings. Health and beauty had been essential to the Egyptians leading them to develop formulas for creams and oils to provide protection from sun, dust and wind. Wigs were typically woven from human hair and padded underneath with vegetable fibers since care of one’s own hair was difficult due the relentless problem of head lice. Most Egyptians cut their hair very short or shaved their heads. Wigs felt cooler and looked consistently beautiful. Gray hair and natural baldness were considered repulsive. Kohl, or eye paint, was considered attractive and pleasing to the gods while giving fortification from the sun and insects. And clothing was accented by jewelry, decorative headdresses, and colorful neck collars.

Olivia had read the love poems of Ramses II on the tomb walls. She knew the amulet in the necklace of the painting had to be the Evol Stone, no matter what anyone else said about it all being legends, folklore, or fantasy.

She stretched her back and took a deep breath of the hot and arid Egyptian air. She’d begun this dig months ago searching for the right spot. Then, three weeks ago she’d finally pieced all the clues together, walked around the site of Nefertari’s tomb literally slapped her hand own face. She’d shouted to her partner and friend, A’waan Amud that they were digging in the wrong place.

Now that they were here, at Abu Simbel in Aswan, the other two people in her little group of amateur archeologists had begun to show their skepticism to her epiphany. The first, her dear friend, A’waan, had known her long enough to know he could not dissuade her from what he called her “flights of fancy.” He would continue to dig with her no matter where she went or what his personal feelings might be. But the other pair of hands A’waan had enlisted three weeks ago was attached to a handsome, young archeologist student who was not so inclined to believe in fantasy and folklore.

The second pair of hands belonged to Huntington Ryan, and although he was an open skeptic, he was intelligent and an excellent digger and remained a welcome addition. They didn’t have much money to work on this project, and unpaid volunteers were always received, even if they didn’t believe in her dream. She believed enough for all of them.

Huntington thought the legends were just that, and although he’d agreed to come along on this dig, he didn’t believe in the existence of the Evol Stone. It hardly mattered what he believed or why he’d agreed to come along, she told herself. There was a large, bright yellow amethyst in this sand, and she intended to find it.

“You all right over there?” A’waan called.

Olivia turned and shading her eyes, looked up at A’waan a few dozen yards away. He squatted in the sand, a white linen garment reminiscent of the pharaohs stretching from his neck to his sandaled feet bunched up around his knees. She smiled. “I’m fine,” she said. “Anything?”

He smiled back and shook his head. “You?”

She nodded. “Plenty of sand.”

Huntington walked up behind her. “I found some of that, too,” he said, putting his large, warm hand on her shoulder. “The only real treasure around here is you, you know.”

Olivia ignored the gesture and the comment and returned to her work. The daylight waned, and she couldn’t stop to have the conversation she knew he would undoubtedly begin again.

“Hunt, aren’t you supposed to be digging on the other side?”

He crouched down next to her and picked up her sifter. “I was, but I think I’ll help you for a while. Maybe I can talk some sense into you.”

Olivia didn’t look at him. Plunging her shovel deep into the sand, she concentrated on her work. “I’m not going to marry you.” She lifted the shovel full of sand and poured it into the sifter. “Shake that gently.” She could feel his eyes on her, but she did not look up.

He slowly moved the small box back and forth. “Olivia…”

“The answer is still no, so please don’t ask me.”

“I love you, Olivia,” he said, his voice happy and light. Olivia couldn’t imagine why he sounded so pleased. Maybe she’d said no to his proposals so many times it had become a joke between them. Joke or no joke, she wished he would stop asking. They had a professional relationship, nothing more.

“I love you,” Huntington continued, placing his hand over hers holding the shovel. “You and your digging for buried treasures that don’t exist. You don’t want to go through your life without me, do you?”

She pulled her hand away from his grasp and glared up at him. “I’ve known you for three weeks. Three weeks. How could you possibly fall in love with someone in three weeks?” She asked, hearing the strain in her voice. She looked back at the ground before her. She wanted to focus. She was so close to it now. It had to be right here, somewhere.

She scooped up another shovel of sand and tossed it into the box.

“I didn’t need three weeks. I fell in love with you in the first three minutes,” he said, shaking the box sifter back and forth. “When you know, you just know.”

“As I’ve told you numerous times, Hunt, I am not interested in marriage, to you or anyone else,” she said staring into the sifter as grains of sand drifted through the screen at the bottom and floated through the constant dry wind. “So would you please drop it?” She took a deep breath and scooped up another shovel of sand then tossed it into the box. The sand landed with a clunk, and she looked up.

“What was that?” she asked, feeling her heart hammering in her chest.

“Another rock?” he asked, moving the box back and forth slowly while staring at her. “Don’t change the subject. Marry me.”

She looked back into the sifter and though she felt his eyes on her, she ignored them. She’d tried to make it clear that this was not the time in her life for romance. She’d done everything but hit him over the head with a Pharaoh’s crook and flail. She had bigger dreams than becoming a wife, having children, settling down, as she’d told him many times. As of late, he’d taken to joking with her about it, but she knew that it was a cover, and he was painfully serious.

She didn’t want to hurt him, but marriage was not in the cards for her. She had other plans, the most imperative being finding the elusive Evol Stone.

Something began to emerge from the grains of sand and rock in the sifter, and Olivia reached inside to retrieve it. As her hand made contact with the hard object, she felt a strange sensation come over her. The object, whatever it was, radiated a warmth that spread through her whole body.

She blinked. “What is that?” she asked, her voice just above a whisper.

“Take it out,” Huntington said, holding the sifter still in his hand.

Olivia lifted the object from the box, feeling the warmth from it flow over her like a warm desert breeze.

“There’s a chain attached to it,” Huntington said. “It’s a necklace.”

Olivia sifted the remainder of the dust and sand through her fingers and lifted her hand closer to her eyes. The bright yellow stone lying in her hand glinted in the late afternoon Egyptian sun, its thin gold chain draping down the side of her hand.

She looked around her and saw the sun setting in the west. The heat from the stone spread through her whole body, and she shifted her gaze to the handsome man crouched in the vast sand next to her.

“You have flecks of gold in your eyes,” she said. “I’ve never noticed that before. The same color as this stone.”

Huntington stared back at her, his smile disappearing. “Is that it? Is that what you’ve been searching for?”

She leaned forward and touched her lips to his. A shock like bolts of electricity surged through her as he slowly took her face into his hands and deepened the kiss. She grasped the stone tightly in her hand and wrapped her arms around his neck. His body hard against hers, his mouth sweet yet utterly masculine.

He ended the kiss and looked at her, his eyes searching. “What was that for?”

“I don’t know how I missed it before,” she heard herself saying. Her voice sounded far away in her ears. “You are what I’ve been searching for. Do you still want to marry me, Mr. Ryan?”
He stared at her, and his mouth dropped open. “What?”

She smiled and traced her hand over his cheek. “I asked if you still want to marry me.”

He shook his head slowly in apparent shock, and grasped her hand holding the stone. She looked down at his hand on hers and saw the tender way his fingers wrapped around hers, the stone nestled comfortably in their palms. She gazed up at his broad shoulders, his dark hair, his gold-rimmed eyes. Love and desire for him surged through her as he stared at her.

“This is it, isn’t it? It’s the Evol stone,” he said, opening her hand and staring down at it. “The treasure was here all along. You found the key to the past! You were right.”

“You are the key to my past,” she said, clasping both of his hands in hers. “I haven’t seen the treasure that has been right in front of me until now.”

Huntington looked into her eyes. She smiled and kissed him again.”Marry me, Hunt,” she said, tightening her arms around his neck. “Before the line forms to marry the most famous Egyptologist since Henry Carter discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb.”

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