Title: Expected Reunion
Fandom: The Mummy
Sequel: to “Unexpected Comfort”
Pairing: Jonathan/Ardeth Jonathan/Rick UST
Disclaimer: The Mummy and the characters of the show don't belong to me in anyway whatsoever. I'm not that lucky. This story is written for enjoyment, not for profit. Again, I'm not that lucky. Litigation would be a waste of time, people. I'm a member of the Starving Student Sect.
Summery: Rick and Evie are getting married...Yay! Jonathan returns to Cairo...Yay! Ardeth is in town...Yay! The sexual tension abounds...Yay!
Warnings: Um, none, really. Y’all should know about what to expect from me by now <g>.
Closing the door softly behind himself, Rick leaned back against it and sighed in relief. He’d probably find a few minutes’ respite there, hidden away in a forgotten bedroom. That was one of the benefits of the massive house he’d bought with the treasure he’d brought back from Hamunaptra: plenty of places to hide.
Shaking his head ruefully, Rick tried to remind himself that he was a fearless adventurer. After all, he was a former mercenary who’d seen his share of battles; he’d faced down the ultimate horror of a all-powerful mummy. He was definitely a tough guy - people got out of his way on the street, rather than the other way around. So why was he cowering in a deserted bedroom of his own home?
Four simple words: Evie. Wedding. Two weeks.
Need he say more? The walking undead were nothing compared to his fiancée on a wedding-planning induced rampage. There was so much to be done that he’d never even considered: invitations, location, food, clothing, members of the wedding parties, music, the ceremony, who would perform it...and probably a thousand other things he wasn’t permitted to help with, so he wouldn’t be able to mess them up.
Really, as a groom, he had no other purpose except to say “I do” and dance with the bride. That was fine - he loved Evie, and seeing her so happy as she threw herself into the preparations made it all worth it. She went at them with the same enthusiasm with which she approached everything in life, and the sparkle in her eyes and excitement in her voice reminded him all over again why he fell in love with her. That was worth any number of visits to the tailor or questions about what kind of wine would best compliment the pate.
Life had been good in the months since they’d returned to Cairo. Thanks to the treasure, all of them were set for life; working was no longer necessary. Even better, the research Evie had done on them had eliminated the Benbridge Scholars’ objections about her lack of field experience, and she had been admitted as one of their members. Still working in the Cairo Museum of Antiquities, she now had the status and recognition she’d worked so hard and so long to attain.
Evie was happier than she’d ever been, and her laughter and excitement let everyone know that. Between work and being in love, her life was full and content.
It was a feeling Rick shared with her. He’d set himself up as a sort of consultant, dispensing advise to would-be adventurers based on his experience - for a generous fee, of course. Nothing of value came cheap, after all. He spoke with people a few times a week, nothing too strenuous. He spent most of his other time working on the huge house he’d bought; it really was too large, he’d never find uses for all the rooms, but he enjoyed finally owning a place that he could call his own. Besides, he’d always sorta wanted a big family....All in all, he was enjoying the easy life, the indolence. He needed a break after facing down the horror of Hamunaptra.
The rest of his life should just about do it.
Sitting down gingerly on the long-used bed, Rick admitted to himself one of the main reasons he was most excited about the wedding. Well, of course marrying Evie was the big one - unconventional as she might be in some ways, she was faithful to the ‘wait until marriage’ school of thought, and it had been a *long* six months.
No, the reason he barely dared to acknowledge was far more complicated: Jonathan would be returning for the wedding.
He hadn’t seen the Englishman in months. A week after returning to Cairo, Jonathan had kissed Evie good-bye and left, saying only that he was off to see the world in style. For the past six months, all the information they’d had of him came from brief, amusing letters posted from far flung corners of the globe, filled with assurances of his continued survival and witty comments about the people and areas he was seeing. It was useless for them to send any reply; he moved too quickly, and mail was never quite able to catch up with him. They knew he would be at the wedding; the date for it had been set before he left, so he knew when to return.
Rick stretched out on the bed, clasping his hands behind his head. He’d missed Jonathan, more than he’d thought he would. At first he’d thought his feelings for the other man would fade if he wasn’t around. After all, he loved Evie; if Jonathan wasn’t there to tempt him, maybe the attraction he felt toward him would disappear completely. That’s what he wanted to happen, even knowing that Jonathan was also attracted to him. He shared the Englishman’s desire to avoid hurting Evie. He truly did love her and that undoubtedly was a part of what drew him to Jonathan: as siblings, they shared many of the same traits. Still, he’d left the desert resolved to putting the attraction behind him and move forward with his life with Evie.
Like most of his life, things hadn’t exactly worked out like he’d planned.
Despite all his good intentions, there were nights when he woke up gasping after a dream and found that he was covered in the evidence of his own pleasure. That, or that he had an urgent erection demanding his immediate attention. The reason? Dreams, dreams of Jonathan naked beneath the desert moon, calling out to Rick, seducing him, then laying with him as he’d lain with the Med-jai. The excitement and pleasure of finally touching Jonathan, finally having him as his own, completely undid Rick, sending him over the precipice of pleasure.
It was a good thing Evie was so insistent on being a good girl, else the wedding might be off. What if he’d had the dream while with her? It didn’t bear thinking about. He really didn’t want to piss off a woman who was knowledgeable about ancient forms of torture.
Still, he love for Evie and his desire not to hurt her weren’t enough to banish the feelings he had for Jonathan. He knew they were foolish and unfair, but he couldn’t help it. He didn’t want to hurt either one of them, really. He had no idea what would happen when Jonathan returned, but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was finally seeing the other man again.
And without any interference from meddling Med-jai. He was beginning to regret allowing himself to be persuaded by the desert man to leave Jonathan alone. Was it really any of Bey’s business? Whatever claim the other man had on Jonathan, it ended where the desert became the city. Rick didn’t need Bey’s permission for anything, least of all his relationship with Jonathan.
He sat up as he heard raised voices coming from downstairs. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and headed for the door. Raised voices were no good. If Evie was having another fight with the tailor...it was fortunate for all the people hired to work on the wedding that the ancient books of Hamunaptra had been lost in the city’s destruction; otherwise, she’d likely be casting ancient curses upon them every time they tried to change a price or a fabric or a bouquet.
She could still do damage without resorting to magic, and in the excitement over the coming wedding, she might do just that. Rick knew he had to get down there and prevent bloodshed.
As he walked down the stairs, he realized that Evie’s voice was raised in excitement and that she was laughing. He listened more closely, and suddenly recognized the other voice, the voice that was laughing along with Evie.
Jonathan had finally returned.
Jonathan snuck into the house he’d been directed to after making inquiries after Evie and Rick, easing his way in through a side door with a decidedly flimsy lock. They’d have to look into fixing that. It wasn’t safe at all.
He knew Rick had bought a house, but he hadn’t expected it to be so large. It easily qualified as a mansion, if such a thing could exist in the dusty streets of Cairo. Jonathan approved. His sister deserved to have a nice place to live and he was glad that Rick could provide her with one.
He nodded approvingly as he crept down the hallways. He could see Evie’s touch in the decorations, so reminiscent of the house they’d grown up in England. They served to tell him that the house would definitely be her home. She could be happy there, and that was all that mattered.
He made his way into the main living room, and saw Evie sitting on the couch studying a piece of parchment with intense concentration. There was that line between her eyebrows that he remembered so well, a sign that she was bending all her attention upon a problem. She looked good, happier than he could ever remember seeing her before.
Love had a tendency to do that, he’d been told. The fact that she’d finally been accepted by her peers as a Benbridge Scholar was just icing on the cake.
He was so proud of her. She’d come so far, and attained everything she’d ever wanted. Her career was on the ascendant: her monographs on Hamunaptra were the wonder of the archaeological world, her name on the lips of every person in the field. Add to that the fact that she’d found someone who truly loved her, someone to spend her life with, and her success was undeniable.
Taking a deep breath, he stepped fully into the room and exclaimed, “I say, Evie, the house is quite nice, but there is a deplorable lack of spirits in the kitchen. What good are all these rooms if there isn’t any alcohol to be found in any of them?”
Her gaze jerked up away from the parchment, eyes wide with surprise. She stared at him for a moment, disbelief clearly written across her features. “Jonathan? Jonathan!” She dropped the parchment - carefully - and jumped to her feet. “You’re really here!”
“I certainly hope so, old mum!” He crossed the room and caught her up in his arms, holding her close. “Missed you, Evie,” he admitted, face buried in her hair as he inhaled her scent, more familiar to him than his own.
“Oh, I missed you, too,” she said, arms wrapped around him firmly. “I can’t believe you were gone for so long.”
He hugged her harder instead of answering. He couldn’t. As much as he missed her, leaving was the right thing to do. He’d needed the time and the distance in order to finally get Rick out of his head. Traveling fast, seeing new places and people every day, was exciting and exhausting, but it had served it’s purpose: it made him forget. He’d gone to bed bone-weary most nights, staggering drunk on others, but he’d slept without dreaming of Rick after the first week.
He believed he was finally over Rick. Unrequited love was never pleasant, and he was glad to be rid of it. With no contact with Rick, and no hope, the emotion he felt toward the other man had slowly faded. He was mildly nervous about seeing Rick again, but knew he could face it now that he was freed of his love for him. Attraction would still remain, of course, but attraction was far less painful, and wouldn’t stand in the way of him being happy for Evie.
Ardeth, now, he was a different story entirely. Jonathan hadn’t been able to get over the Arab nearly so easily; more, he wasn’t sure he wanted to. During the few weeks he’d spent in Cairo before embarking on his travels, he’d been tempted to return to the desert and try to find Ardeth again. Sleep came hard, without a warm body beside his. He missed the feel of the other man, the taste of his mouth and skin, the scent of his dark hair. Even more, he missed his voice, the sound of his gentle laughter, the caring and compassion and affection so clear in his tone.
Now that he was back, he debated returning to the desert. Not right away, of course. He’d come back to see Evie married, and he wanted to visit with her for a while. But the sands and endless sky called to him, beckoned him to return and find his lover again. He wanted to follow the call, yet he was also afraid to. He and Ardeth had made no promises to each other; what if the other man didn’t feel the same way?
It was something to worry about another time. For now, he just wanted to concentrate on his sister, on catching up with her and her life, on helping her get ready for and celebrate her wedding. Concentrating on that, he squeezed Evie once more, then released her and stepped back. Staring down at her, he grinned. “You look good, Evie.”
She smiled up at him. “Thank you. I feel good. Everything is going so well at the Museum and with my studies, and I think I may have the preparations for the wedding finally under control.” She looked him up and down critically. “My word, Jonathan. You’re browner than I’ve ever seen you.” She frowned a little. “And you’re thinner, too. Haven’t you been eating?”
“Not at all. I’ve been saving myself for your wedding dinner, and all the free food that will be there.” He bent and kissed her cheek. “Don’t fuss, old mum. Traveling always thins me down a bit. I’ll be back in top form in no time.”
“You’d better be.” The determined glint in her eyes reminded him why he called her ‘old mum’: she was by god going to mother him, whether he liked it or not.
Before he could make another smart remark, a voice drifted down from the stairs. “Jonathan?”
The Englishman looked up and froze for a moment. Rick stood on the stairs, staring down at him and Evie. He looked just like Jonathan remembered him: his blue eyes were still intense, his hair tumbling down his forehead and hiding those eyes a little. He was still strong, still handsome. Jonathan was relieved to find that while he found Rick attractive, there was no pulling at his heart when he looked at him. He’d half-feared his emotions would rise up and overwhelm him when he was once again in the other man’s presence.
Knowing that the love he’d once felt was gone gave Jonathan the confidence he needed to step forward and meet Rick as the American descended the rest of the way down the stairs. “Rick,” he said, extending a hand. “You’re looking well.”
“Thanks. So are you.” Rick took his hand and shook it. “When did you get back?” His gaze held Jonathan’s for a few moments longer than usual.
Jonathan looked away, back toward Evie. What ever was going on with Rick, he wasn’t going to get involved. He’d made peace with his heart, and he didn’t want to get sucked back into his past mistakes. “Just today, actually. I couldn’t wait to see my baby sister.” He grinned. “And my baby sister’s kitchen.”
Evie laughed and took his arm, pulling him away from Rick. “No need for hints, Jonathan. I want to get you fattened up again. I’ll feed you, and you can tell me all the things you left out of your letters.”
“Now, Evie, why would I go and do a thing like that? I’d end up tarnishing your sterling opinion of me.”
“Just tell me you didn’t get arrested.”
“I didn’t get arrested,” he repeated obediently, albeit with a devilish smile.
“You are impossible,” she said fondly.
“And you love me for it.”
She shot him a stern look, then smiled and continued to lead him to the kitchen. Jonathan smiled back at her. It was good to be back with his sister; he really had missed her. Even if he didn’t see Ardeth again, his return to Cairo was well worth the journey.
Rick trailed after Evie and Jonathan as his fiancée dragged her brother through the market streets of Cairo, listening to them talk and laugh and catch up on old times. As he walked, his gaze shifted constantly back and forth between them, studying them both with equal intensity.
Looking at Evie was always a pleasure: the wonder with which she regarded the world around her made everything seem new again to him. The way she exclaimed and remarked her way through life made every trip he took with her well worth while.
As for Jonathan, Rick was drinking in the sight of the other man. It had been months since he had seen him last. The Englishman didn’t look much different: he was thinner, browner, but he looked good. His eyes still claimed to know secret jests, which filled them with sly laughter and hidden light. When Rick had shaken hands with him, Jonathan’s had felt warm, hard: the calluses on it told him that no matter what else Jonathan had been up to during his months away, he’d kept up working with his hands.
Of course, he was probably picking pockets, but at least he hadn’t been idle.
Rick had felt a small start of surprise when he’d first seen Jonathan. The other man looked healthy, happy and at peace. The American had thought that Jonathan might have missed him, might have pined for him, just a little. He knew the Englishman was in love with him when he left Cairo, but Jonathan didn’t seem to be the worse for being separated from him. He knew it was selfish, but he wanted some sign of the other man’s feelings. He wasn’t sure what he himself was feeling, what he was going to do about the way he felt, and he wasn’t able to get any sort of clue from Jonathan about how he felt. For the week since his arrival, Jonathan had focused on Evie. He didn’t ignore Rick, exactly, but the majority of his attention was definitely reserved for his younger sister. He considered confronting Jonathan, telling him that he knew about the feelings he’d once had for him, but wasn’t sure that was a good idea either.
He was distracted from his confusing thoughts by the sound of a rising argument. Jonathan and Evie were bickering good-naturedly over the merits of a pot and things were getting heated. Finally, Evie turned to him. “Rick! Come here and settle this. I say this pot is perfectly darling.”
“And I say it is the ugliest thing to ever grace this illustrious market place,” Jonathan countered. “Who’s right?”
Rick stepped forward to stand between them. The pot was fairly hideous, so much so that it actually had a certain charm to it. He was torn. It was awful, but he liked it, too. He searched for a diplomatic answer, and finally came up with, “I think it would be perfect for the house.”
Evie squealed delightedly and embraced him. Rick returned the hug, holding her close. When they separated, he glanced over to where Jonathan had been standing, intending to apologize for siding against him.
Jonathan wasn’t there.
Rick glance around, and couldn’t catch sight of him anywhere. “Jonathan?”
Evie realized her brother was gone, and frowned. “Where could he have gotten to? Jonathan!” Together, they began to look for him.
Jonathan stepped back, watching Evie try to persuade Rick to her point of view concerning the pot, pointing out features that she felt were most compelling about it. As he watched them, he thought about how good they looked together, how *right*. He was happy for Evie, and happy for Rick. He snorted a little at himself. He must be getting mellow and maudlin in his old age. He was glad that he was finally able to feel glad for both of them without reservation. They deserved each other, and the happiness they found in each other.
A hand fell on his shoulder, startling him out of his thoughts. He turned around and stared at the dark-robed figured that accosted him. The man’s face was veiled, concealing his identity from the people who swarmed through the busy streets. Jonathan started to pull away, but then he looked into the man’s black eyes, which stared into his with intensity and affection.
He recognized those eyes.
“Ardeth?” he asked. “What are you doing here?”
The dark eyes smiled at him, but Ardeth made no reply. He slid his hand down Jonathan’s arm and grasped his wrist. Silently, the Med-jai led him away a little ways, to a secluded nook where they could talk. Once there, Ardeth pulled away his veil, revealing his face and his wide smile.
“What are you doing here?” Jonathan repeated, a grin stretching his features. He hadn’t realized how badly he’d wanted to see Ardeth until the man was right in front of him. His gaze eagerly traced the lines of the taller man’s face, learning the look of him all over again.
“I came to see you,” the Arab replied, his voice as deep and rich as Jonathan remembered. It still had the power to send a shiver down his spine.
“How did you know I was in town?” he asked, feeling warmth course through him. Ardeth came here to see him? Then perhaps his feelings weren’t as one-sided as he had feared. “And why did you sneak up on me? I know you’re capable of greeting people like a normal person. I’ve seen you do it.”
Ardeth licked his lips. “I only came to see you, so I wanted to keep this reunion...quiet. Private. And I knew you were in town because I was told. I have a man stationed to keep an eye on O’Connell and your sister. It seemed a wise thing to do.”
Jonathan laughed out loud. “Most prudent of you,” he agreed. “Once they’re married, they’re potential for destruction and chaos can only grow.” The warmth inside him grew. Ardeth must have ridden for Cairo as soon as he received word that Jonathan had returned; ridden at once and ridden hard to make it so swiftly.
“How are you?” Ardeth asked, gaze running up and down Jonathan’s body.
“Fine. Good. I did some traveling, visited some places I’d begun to miss. It’s good to be back.” He swallowed and took a chance. “I missed you. The first few nights without you were...difficult.”
Ardeth reached out a hand to him. He aborted a move to stroke his fingers across Jonathan’s face and trailed his hand down his arm in a light caress instead. “I missed you as well. I found myself worrying about you, quite a bit.”
Before Jonathan could reply, the sound of his own name caught his attention. He could hear Rick and Evie yelling, calling his name as they searched for him. He glanced back over his shoulder toward where they were. “Speaking of worried,” he began. When he turned back to face Ardeth, the Med-jai was gone.
“What the hell?” He looked all around himself, but the other man had well and truly vanished. “One day I’m going to figure out how he does that,” Jonathan muttered as he walked out of the nook, back toward where he could hear Evie and Rick. His thoughts began to drift to all the pleasant ways he could torture the other man into telling...
“Jonathan! Wherever did you wander off too?” Evie’s question brought him back to reality.
He gave her his best unabashed grin. “Sorry, Evie. I got distracted and moved off a bit.” He glanced back and forth between her and Rick. “What was the verdict on the pot?”
“We’re getting it!” she exclaimed triumphantly, brandishing the item aloft. “Rick sided with me.”
Jonathan shook his head and shot a mournful glance at Rick. “Not yet married, and she’s already got you whipped. Not a very auspicious beginning to a marriage, old son.”
As Evie mock-scolded him for his comment, Jonathan felt something itching within his sleeve. Dreading the possibility of a wandering insect, he gingerly reached within his shirt and searched for the offending item. His fingers closed on a piece of paper rather than a wriggling invader, for which he was grateful. As he pulled the paper free, he recognized it as being from Ardeth: it was just like the ones he had received from him while in the desert.
He grinned at the sheet of paper. He’d have to wait to read it until he was alone, but just the sight of it filled him with anticipation. He glanced up before tucking it away in his pocket, and caught Rick staring at it. The American looked surprised, then anger and something else passed over his face so quickly that Jonathan wasn’t sure that he’d really seen them. It was strange, but Jonathan shrugged it off. Rick was probably just stressed out, what with the oncoming wedding and all. After all, the other man never knew about the other notes he had received, so his reaction couldn’t have anything to do with the note itself.
Evie couldn’t wait to go install her pot at the house, so they returned to the house. That was fine with Jonathan; he couldn’t wait to get some privacy for himself. He left Evie to figure out where to place the clay monstrosity and excused himself to his room.
“Wait!” Rick called. “Jonathan, don’t you want a vote in where this goes?”
Jonathan shook his head. “Oh, no. I’m not going to start getting involved in this now. You two are just going to have to learn to get along without me. I won’t always be around to settle disputes.” He laughed at the frustrated look on Rick’s face as he headed up the stairs to his room on the third floor.
He felt a little silly closing the door behind himself, but he didn’t want anyone to interrupt. What he had with Ardeth belonged to him alone, and he wasn’t eager to share it with anyone. Not yet, anyway. He liked keeping the Arab all to himself.
It took his a little while to translate the note. His Arabic was getting better, but reading it still didn’t come quite naturally. A grin crossed his face as he read.
//Sky-eyed One -
I have missed you while you were away. The desert sands never seemed so lonely, the nights never so cold.
I shall come to you after sunset. Await me in your room.
Jonathan trailed a finger down the note, remembering the first he’d ever received from the other man. He could still remember how nervous and unsure he’d been the first time he’d gone to Ardeth. That first please had convince him before.
He carefully placing the note away among his things. No matter what happened, he was going to want to keep it, as he had kept all the others.
Stretching out on his bed, Jonathan sighed contemplatively. He was going to have to scrounge up some supplies before dinner. He had thought about this reunion while he was away, and there were a few things he wanted to do for his once-lover.
With an anticipatory wriggle, Jonathan began to plan.
Ardeth nodded to his man on the roof of the building across from Rick’s house. He’d intended to be there sooner, but had been detained by business in the city. The other Med-jai nodded back, then destroyed his impassive image by smiling at his leader. “The Englishman is inside.”
Ardeth smiled back. “So he waits for me? Good.” He had missed Jonathan after the other man had left, more than he’d thought he would. What had started out as a form of mutual distraction and pleasure had become far more serious, far more necessary, than he would have ever believed. He’d eagerly awaited news of his return, the months dragging by as O’Connell’s wedding approached.
The people close to him had noticed. His friends knew of his affair with Jonathan, had understood his reaching out to the other man, and had seemed amused by how quickly he had become attached to him. No one had said as much, but judging by how swiftly the message had reached him that Jonathan had returned, they approved of the relationship.
“They seem to have retired,” the watcher told him. The lights have all been extinguished.” He shot a sly glance at Ardeth. “All except the one in that room on the third floor, there, do you see? That is the Englishman’s room.”
“Thank you.” Ardeth clapped his hand to his friend’s shoulder, then backed up a few feet. He took a running start, and leapt from the roof of the watcher’s building to that of O’Connell’s house. He landed lightly, rolling forward onto his shoulder then back to his feet. He paused, holding himself absolutely still while he listened to see if anyone had noticed his landing.
Hearing nothing from inside, he quickly made his way to the trap door that led into the house. There was a lock on it, but nothing that could stop him. He reckoned that it wouldn’t stop Jonathan for long, either.
A grin on his face at the thought of his lover, he crept into the house. He knew that Jonathan wouldn’t be the only expecting his visit. He’d watched Jonathan rejoin his sister and O’Connell, and had seen him discover the hidden note. He’d also seen O’Connell notice the note as well and knew that the American understood its import. O’Connell had never said he’d discovered the first notes Ardeth had sent Jonathan, but Ardeth had read the recognition and jealousy in his eyes when he’d seen what Jonathan held. O’Connell no doubt expected him to be contacting Jonathan.
The jealousy in O’Connell’s eyes told him that the American hadn’t really given up on his feelings for Jonathan, no matter what he had said in the desert. Ardeth didn’t want to have to confront him about that, not until he’d had the chance to see Jonathan again, to speak to him without worrying about time or being overheard, to hold him, to breathe in the warm scent of him, to....
But he was getting ahead of himself. First he had to make his way to Jonathan’s room without encountering O’Connell. Ardeth made his way on cat feet to the room the watcher had pointed out, encountering no one in the darkened hall on his way there. Apparently, O’Connell hadn’t expected him to come in through the roof.
He knocked softly on the door, watching the flickers of candlelight that he could see coming from under the door. There was no answer. He dared not knock harder; he didn’t want to attract anyone’s attention except Jonathan’s. After a pause, he tested the door and found it to be unlocked. Hesitating no longer, he pushed his way into the room. Taking in the sight before him, he carefully shot the door behind him and leaned back against it, wanting to appreciate the view before it changed.
The room was filled candles, which cast their light in a flickering cascade of illumination, creating intriguing shadows on everything they touched. In the center of the light stood the bed, the covers pulled back. Sprawled on top of them, his clothing pulled awry and his hair disheveled by sleep, lay Jonathan. He’d obviously been waiting up for Ardeth; the room was decorated in anticipation of his arrival. The Englishman had fallen asleep waiting for Ardeth.
The Arab took a moment to drink in the sight of the other man: the way the light found red highlights in his air, the gentle rise and fall of his chest, the lean hard lines of his body. As enticing as the other man was asleep, Ardeth wanted to see those dark blue eyes, hear that dryly amused voice, both of which had thoroughly captivated him. He reached out and placed a careful hand on Jonathan’s shoulder.
The Englishman stirred slowly under his hand. Sleepy blue eyes drifted open, hazy for a moment with just-awakened confusion. As soon as he took in the sight of Ardeth, Jonathan’s eyes took on a look of pure happiness that warmed Ardeth to the core. “Ardeth,” he murmured, sitting up and stretching. “I seem to have drifted off.”
“I am later than I planned to be,” the Med-jai admitted. He glanced around at the candles. “You left a light on for me.”
“I find I’m very fond of candles now.” Jonathan shot him a heated glance. “They remind me of firelight.”
Ardeth couldn’t resist any longer. He was finally back with Jonathan and having the man so close to him was too much. He leaned down and claimed the seated man’s mouth in a hungry kiss, hands coming up to cup the back of his head. Jonathan responded eagerly, fisting his hands in Ardeth’s robes and pulling him closer. For long moments they shared that kiss, tongues dueling wetly as they became reacquainted.
Finally, Jonathan pulled away to smile up at him. “Missed you,” he said, before reaching up to card his fingers in Ardeth’s hair and pull his close once more. Ardeth followed the gentle urging, pushing Jonathan back down onto the bed and landing lightly on top of him.
Giggles erupted from the man beneath him, prompting laughter in Ardeth. He’d missed Jonathan’s humor, missed the dry wit and relentless amusement. Grinning, he began to undress his lover, pulling away the clothing that kept him away from the warm skin he craved. Clever fingers burrowed within his clothing, working at the fastenings. Soon they were both naked, skin to skin at last.
It was as if he couldn’t get enough of the other man; his hands stroked over Jonathan’s flesh, tracing the strong lines of his limbs, the flat planes of his body. The warm scent of his lover filled his senses, intoxicating him. He added taste to the sensations captivating him, trailing biting kisses down Jonathan’s neck and across his shoulders, the salty sweet taste of him as addictive as he remembered.
Beneath him, Jonathan arched his back, attempting to get closer to him. Strong hands caressed Ardeth’s back and flanks, tracing lines of fire over his skin. “I want you,” he gasped. “It’s been so long since I’ve felt you, and the dreams and memories aren’t enough, not now that I have you here.”
The words fed the fire inside of Ardeth, prompting him to increased action. “If you want me, then you shall have me,” he promised against the lightly sweating skin beneath his lips. He licked his way down Jonathan’s chest, scraping his teeth over his nipples. A soft cry escaped the Englishman, proving he was as responsive as Ardeth remembered. He continued his course downward, nipping his way across trembling stomach until he came to Jonathan’s erection, leaking and straining toward him. Locking his gaze with his lover’s, he lowered his mouth over the hard flesh, the feel and taste of it proving to him that he was indeed finally with his lover, that it wasn’t a dream. After a few moments, urgent hands tugged him upwards, and he went reluctantly. “Is something wrong?” he asked, concerned.
Jonathan shook his head. “God, no. Perfect...*you’re* perfect. I want to come with you.” His hand fumbled at the table beside the bed as he retrieved a container of oil. “With you inside me.”
Ardeth groaned and kissed him, ruthlessly claiming the other man’s mouth for his own. “You are sure?” he asked as he pulled away after long minutes.
Jonathan nodded, panting. “Please...”
The Med-jai prepared his lover with exquisite care, not willing to risk hurting him. The other man felt tight to him, and he took his time. “It has be awhile for you?” he asked hesitantly.
Blue eyes became more intense as the Englishman blushed. “No one, nothing, since you,” he admitted.
Ardeth shuddered and lowered his head, resting it on Jonathan’s shoulder for a moment. “It is the same for me,” he said quietly. “I did not want another, after you.” Strong fingers pulled his face up for a kiss, near violent in its intensity and passion.
Jonathan knelt on the bed, his back to Ardeth. He looked over his shoulder, eyes dark with want and need. “Hurry,” he urged. “I need you.”
Ardeth slicked oil over his own erection, then wrapped his arms around Jonathan’s middle, even as he slowly pressed himself within his lover. Gasping from the sensation of finally being reunited with the other man, he held himself still, reveling the silken heat that surrounded him. One of his hands crept down to encircle Jonathan’s hardness and together they began to move with aching slowness, their mutual thrusts matched by the strokes of Ardeth’s hand.
Soon, the feeling of being joined once more was too much and their rhythm broke down, becoming an erratic frenzy of need and desire. Ardeth drove himself and his lover relentlessly toward orgasm. Jonathan shuddered and came with a muted wail and Ardeth followed him over the precipice, his own cry muffled in Jonathan’s shoulder. They collapsed together on the bed in a sweaty tangle of limbs.
The Arab was first to recover. He drew Jonathan into his arms, holding the treasured body close, reveling in the scent of their shared pleasure. Nothing compared to this. Nothing ever could. They exchanged soft, slow kisses of contentment and thanks.
Finally, Jonathan pulled away, regret shadowing his eyes. “I wished to see you every day,” he said. “Missed you every day, and every night as well. And now I have you in my arms at last...”
“...and you have to ask me to leave,” Ardeth finished for him. “I understand.”
“Do you? I want you to stay, want to sleep with you in my arms, but if Evie found out, she’d be upset. There’s only a week before her wedding, and I don’t want to upset her or do anything that could ruin it.”
Ardeth silenced his lover with a kiss. “I understand,” he repeated. He did; Jonathan loved his sister, and finding out about them would definitely upset her. He could respect Jonathan’s wish to protect her. He had family of his own.
After a final kiss that was more a declaration of ownership than a farewell, Ardeth slipped out of the bed and pulled his clothing on. “I will leave you now, but you will see me again,” he promised.
“When?” Jonathan asked. Heavy-lidded and satiated, the way he looked laying amid rumpled sheets tempted Ardeth to disrobe and stay, regardless of what was prudent.
“Soon.” Ardeth tipped a wink at him. When Jonathan yawned, the Med-jai dropped a note on the bedside table, where the other man would be sure to find it in the morning. He would return the next night, but he knew Jonathan enjoyed the tradition of the notes and so he kept it going. With a final memorizing glance, Ardeth left the bedroom, closing the door behind him once more. Now he just had to make it to the roof and find a way to occupy himself until the next sunset.
Rick glanced suspiciously up the stairs leading to the third floor. He’d thought he’d heard footsteps in the hallway on the third floor earlier, but he must have been mistaken since Jonathan had never appeared.
That was fine. Rick was ready for when he wouldn’t be mistaken; as soon as Jonathan made a move to leave, Rick would be there to stop him. He knew the Englishman was going to try to sneak out and meet Bey, and he was going to catch him and stop him. He’d recognized the piece of paper Jonathan had fished out of his sleeve. It was on the same sort of paper as all those notes Bey had given him the desert. Upon seeing it, Rick knew Jonathan hadn’t just wandered off in the marketplace; instead, he had encountered the Med-jai. The note was obviously some sort of message trying to set up a rendezvous.
Damn Bey, anyway. How had he known Jonathan was back in Cairo? Had he left the desert just to see the other man? Rick was still unsure of his feelings for Jonathan. He knew he was attracted to the other man and suspected it might be something more. He still didn’t know what he was going to do about how he felt, but he did know that he didn’t like Bey sniffing around Jonathan. The man had his chance in the desert and let Jonathan go then. He should just accept that and move on, leave Jonathan alone.
He fought down a yawn. It was getting pretty late. Maybe he was wrong; maybe Jonathan wasn’t going to try to leave tonight. Maybe the meeting was set up for tomorrow. Feeling confident that he’d hit upon the right answer, Rick decided to take a quick look upstairs at Jonathan’s room, just to give himself peace of mind. He crept up the stairs carefully. He didn’t want to wake up either Evie or Jonathan.
He turned the corner down the hall toward Jonathan’s room and froze. So did the other man in the hall. The Arab loomed dark and forbidding in the hall. His face was unveiled, so Rick had an unimpeded view of his face, which had a look of unalloyed satisfaction and peace. “Bey,” Rick hissed, keeping his voice down. “What the hell are you doing here?”
The Med-jai’s features slid into an impassive mask. “O’Connell. Come outside. I won’t wake him.” He shouldered past Rick, leading the way down the stairs.
Rick stared unbelievingly after him for a moment, then shrugged and followed. He didn’t want to wake the others up either, so it really couldn’t hurt to go outside. There was probably going to be some shouting, and he was never really quiet when kicking someone’s ass.
Once they were outside, Rick grabbed Bey’s elbow and pulled him around to face him. “Now, what the hell are you doing here?”
“I’m sure you already know.” Bey’s eyes were dark, nearly unreadable.
“Yeah, I know.” Rick pushed forward, invading the other man’s space. “I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but I’m not going to stand for it.”
“Keep your voice down,” Bey said, not budging a bit. “You’ll wake up Jonathan or his sister, and I know you don’t want to upset your fiancee so close to your wedding.”
That brought Rick up short. The wedding was going to be in less than a week. Finding her fiancé fighting with another man over her brother would *not* make Evie happy and the last thing he wanted to do was make her unhappy. He loved her, no matter what he felt for her brother. “If you stay the hell away from him, no one will be upset. Get back on your camel and go back to the desert.”
Bey shook his head. “You know I’m not going to do that. In the desert you accepted the choice you had made.”
“Not this. You are going to marry his sister. Leave Jonathan alone. This can only hurt all of you, especially Jonathan.”
“It’s none of your business. What are you going to do if I do tell him?”
Furious dark eyes stared down at him, but Bey made no reply. Without saying anything more, Bey turned and disappeared into the darkness.
Rick stared after him. Bey was right about one thing: he was risking just about everything in pursuing Jonathan. Unsure once more, Rick decided to keep doing what he had been: stay quiet and wait. He’d have to watch Jonathan, and Evie, and try to figure out what to do.
Jonathan stretched deliciously in his rumpled sheets, relishing the ache in his body and limbs that reminded him of exactly what he’d been up to last night. He blinked lazily and glanced around the room. Candles were half-burned down all around him. His gaze caught something on the table by his bed: a note. He reached over and picked up the small twist of paper.
//Love, I will return to you this night. I cannot stay away.//
Smiling, he climbed out of bed and washed up, then pulled on his clothes before heading downstairs. He felt energized, ready to face the day and whatever wedding preparations Evie threw his way.
He found Evie and Rick sitting in the dining room. “Good morning, Evie,” he said cheerfully. “What are our battle plans for today?”
“Jonathan, you’re exaggerating.” She stirred her coffee and looked at him through her eyelashes. “We’re laying siege to the tailor.”
He laughed approvingly and sat down. He looked up and caught Rick staring at him. “Morning, Rick.”
“Morning, Jonathan.” Rick’s voice sounded off, strange. “Sleep well?”
Jonathan fought the urge to shoot a suspicious glance at him. Rick couldn’t possibly know, could he? “Better than I have in ages,” he answered truthfully.
Rick didn’t respond; he just kept staring at Jonathan. It was unnerving, but the Englishman managed to hide his discomfort until he and Evie were at the tailor’s. While Evie obsessed over her wedding dress and Rick’s tux, Jonathan sat in a chair and brooded.
Could Rick know? Could he suspect that Ardeth and he were involved? How could he knew? How long had he known? Would he tell Evie?
With a quiet groan, Jonathan dropped his head into his hands. Things were getting far too confusing. He was finding himself more attached to Ardeth with every moment that passed. His feelings went beyond admiration and friendship: they’d evolved and grown into what he feared was love. He didn’t want to lose the other man again, never wanted to be parted from him. God, he even wanted to tell Evie about Ardeth, so he wouldn’t have to hide him any more.
A smooth hand on his shoulder distracted him from his thoughts. He looked up into Evie’s concerned gaze. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” he answered, smiling immediately. “Just trying to believe that my baby sister is really getting married.”
Her concern dissolved into a look of pure happiness. “It’s wonderful, isn’t it?”
“The best,” he agreed, standing and enfolding her in his arms. “I’m happy for you, Evie. Happy for you, and incredibly proud.” After a few moments he added, “And hungry.”
She laughed and stepped away, slapping his arm. “I can take a hint, Jonathan. I was here for quite a while, wasn’t I? Let’s get you home and fed.”
He took her arm and led her out into the street. “That’s my old mum.”
Back at the house, Rick continued with his staring campaign. He made barely relevant comments during dinner and afterwards about keeping secrets and dangerous companions. It unnerved Jonathan and Evie was beginning to pick up on the fact that something was wrong, which made her snappish. Jonathan became glad that Evie had spent so much time at the tailor’s: it meant that he could flee upstairs to his own room that much faster, since so much of the day was gone. He said his goodnights and isolated himself in his room. Laying down dispiritedly on his bed, he held Ardeth’s note and waited for his lover to arrive.
A little after sunset, after the rest of the house had gone quiet, soft knocking sounded at his door. He rose quickly and jerked the door open, pulling Ardeth inside. If Rick was suspicious, he didn’t want the American to find them standing in the doorway.
Ardeth picked up on his agitation. He ran soothing hands up and down Jonathan’s arms, staring intently down into his eyes. “What is wrong?”
“It’s that obvious?”
A slightly embarrassed smile touched the Arab’s lips. “To me.”
Jonathan made a conscious effort to calm himself down. “It’s probably nothing. I usually have a healthy sense of paranoia and I fear it’s gotten out of control. I’ve managed to convince myself that Rick knows about us.”
Ardeth’s hands tightened on his shoulders. “What?”
“He’s been acting strange, staring at me, asking how I slept. It sounds foolish when I describe it, but the way he looked at me, it was like he knew and disapproved.” Jonathan scowled. “Not that I need O’Connell’s approval, but this could upset Evie and the wedding’s too close for anything like that to happen.” He looked up at Ardeth and froze, startled by the look of fierce anger on his lover’s face. Before he could ask any questions, Ardeth’s mouth descended on his in a gesture of fierce claiming. He pulled Jonathan close in a convulsive movement even as he deepened the kiss. Jonathan closed his eyes and responded with equal passion. He wasn’t sure what prompted it in Ardeth but he knew he never wanted to be separated from his lover, knew finally that he was falling in love with him. Finally, Ardeth broke the kiss, leaning his forehead against Jonathan’s as he continued to hold him close.
“What was that about?” Jonathan asked, breathing hard.
Ardeth sighed, his hold on Jonathan tightening. “O’Connell does know about us,” he said quietly.
“What?” Jonathan tried to pull away, but the arms around him refused to release him.
“He found out about us in the desert. He followed you to me one night and saw us together. I confronted him and he agreed to stay quiet and leave you alone about what he saw.” Full lips brushed his temple. “I believed he was sincere, that there was no need to tell you.”
Jonathan finally managed to jerk himself free and he began to pace the room. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me. You let me think that our secret was safe when you *knew* it wasn’t. At least now I know I’m not going crazy.” He faced Ardeth and shook his head. “I trusted you and you lied to me.” He couldn’t believe it. If the Med-jai had lied to him in this, what else had he lied about?
Gentle fingers ghosted down his cheek . “I never wanted to lie to you. I only wished to protect you. There is something else you must know if I am to be completely honest with you.” Jonathan had never seen him look so sorrowful. “Your feelings for Rick are not entirely unrequited. At the very least, he is attracted to you. At the least.”
Jonathan shook his head. He opened his mouth but nothing came out. He tried again. “I want you to leave.” To keep this from him...he needed time alone, time to think. He didn’t want to look at Ardeth and be reminded of the lies he’d told, of what he’d hidden. He had too much to think about and the sight of his lover wasn’t making things easy.
Ardeth nodded, looking more hopeless then when he’d faced the horde of mummies within the bowels of Hamunaptra. He reached out for Jonathan, but his hand fell lifelessly to his side when Jonathan flinched away. He murmured quietly in Arabic and left.
Jonathan sank down on the bed, betrayal and confusion twisting within him. His state was only worsened by Ardeth’s last words which echoed in his head.
//Forgive me, Sky-Eyes.//
The next morning found Jonathan still sitting on his bed. He’d resolved nothing in the long lonely hours before dawn: his thoughts had tumbled chaotically about in his mind in a never-ending litany of confusion. Should he confront Rick? How could he ever trust Ardeth? Was Evie going to find out before he was ready to tell her? Was there even anything to tell her, now that he’d pushed Ardeth away?
Ardeth...from the beginning, everything they’d had together was based on trust. Friendship and pleasure and trust. But the other man had been lying to him, letting him believe a lie. Would he ever have told him the truth if Jonathan hadn’t pushed him into it?
Eyes gritty from lack of sleep, he forced himself to wash up, shave and change his clothes. Looking into the mirror, he knew there was no way to hide his exhaustion. He was just going to have to laugh it off and distract Rick and Evie while he tried to get his thoughts in order.
“Jonathan!” Evie’s eyes widened in concern. “You look awful. Are you feeling all right?”
The Englishman shrugged as he sat down beside her on the couch. “I didn’t sleep well last night.” He threw a grin at her. “Too excited about the upcoming wedding, I suppose.”
She nodded, but the concern didn’t leave her eyes. In a chair facing the couch, Rick watched him, face reflecting the same concern. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
Watching him from beneath lowered eyelashes, Jonathan nodded. Now that he had Ardeth’s information, he could see the Med-jai’s words were true. There was a certain hunger in Rick’s gaze that was out of place, a way it had of lingering on him, of traveling the length of his body. Usually he was too busy trying to conceal his own attraction to Rick to study the other man at length.
Ardeth had been telling him the truth, at least.
Jonathan, pleading weariness, excused himself from spending much time with Rick and Evie. He spent most of the day alone in various rooms, trying to come to terms with what he had learned.
He was over Rick. While still attracted, he no longer felt the miserable unrequited love that had haunted him earlier. He just wanted Evie to marry Rick and be happy.
So what about himself? What about Ardeth? No amount of thought helped him come up with any answers there. He’d been made miserable by his love for Rick and he didn’t want to go through the same thing again with Ardeth. If Ardeth was willing to lie to him, did he ever mean any of the things he’d said? Did he ever really care about him at all?
Finally, night fell once more and Jonathan retreated to his room, nothing resolved except his desire to see Rick and Evie married and happy.
Stripping off his shirt, his gaze fell upon his pillow, where he spotted a folded note awaiting him. Hands shaking a little, he picked it up and sat down on the bed. His gaze shifted back and forth between the letter and the candle burning on his bedside table.
Read it, or burn it?
If he read it, he’d be opening himself up to more pain. He was in love with Ardeth, but he didn’t trust him. Was it worth it? He could just burn it, and after the wedding he could continue drifting, leaving all the turmoil behind. Travel had helped him forget Rick; maybe it would help him forget Ardeth as well.
Holding the note over the flame, Jonathan wrestled with his need for Ardeth and the desire to escape.
Risk or run?
Hope or disillusionment?
Read or burn?
Ardeth wondered where all his hard-learned control had gone. He couldn’t sit still; he stood, he paced, he fidgeted with the ties of his robes that Jonathan could never quite manage to figure out.
What was Jonathan going to do? He’d left him a note, but he had no idea if Jonathan would read it. He knew the other man was upset, feeling betrayed. The last thing he had wanted to do was upset Jonathan, but he couldn’t let the lie between them go on. He’d kept the truth from Jonathan in order to protect him, but the time for protecting him was past. Besides, he couldn’t stand to let the deception between them continue. He had fallen in love with the Englishman. He wanted that love to be real, to be what Jonathan deserved, so he couldn’t let the lie live on. He had to tell him the truth so there was nothing standing between them, if they were ever to have a chance.
He glanced out the window at the night sky, feeling hope die within him. If Jonathan was going to come, he would have already. His note had been in vain, his love unreturned.
Pacing inside the house beside O’Connell’s, Ardeth called himself a thousand different kinds of fool. He’d ruined what could have been the greatest part of his life. Jonathan’s humor, his dedication, his mischievous spirit, his refusal to give up: they made him irresistible, binding Ardeth’s heart to him so firmly he doubted it would ever come free. Shoulders bowed in defeat, he sank down into a chair. He had lost Jonathan. He had lost the most precious thing he’d ever had.
“You know, as handsome as you are when you’re brooding, you’re absolutely devastating when you smile.”
At the sound of the voice from the doorway, Ardeth’s head shot up. He stared at Jonathan as he lounged in the door frame, hardly believing what he was seeing. Jonathan smiled hesitantly and took a small step forward into the room.
Ardeth was instantly on his feet and moving toward him. He grabbed him, needing to feel his heat to know he was really there. Hands traveling with greedy intensity over the wiry body, Ardeth kissed him reverently, breathing in the scent of his lover. “I didn’t think you’d come.”
Lean, strong arms closed about him. “I almost didn’t,” Jonathan admitted. “I almost burned the note without reading it. I couldn’t believe you’d lied to me, didn’t want to hear anything more from you.”
“What made you change your mind?”
Jonathan leaned back a little, gaze flitting about the room nervously. “I had to read it, in the end. Didn’t have much choice, did I?” Blue eyes stared up at him. “I’m in love with you.”
Time seemed to freeze for a moment as Ardeth stared down at him. There it was: everything he wanted, right there in his arms. He leaned forward and pressed his lips to Jonathan’s again and again, gasping out words in between frantic kisses. He lapsed into Arabic, professing his love, calling Jonathan his soul, his heart, his sky-eyed love.
Jonathan returned the kisses with equal fervor, pressing himself closer and closer. He painted a scorching trail of kisses across Ardeth’s cheek, making his way over to his ear. Sharp teeth closed on the Med-jai’s earlobe, drawing a hiss of pained pleasure from him. An agile tongue laved the small hurt. A sigh, then Jonathan whispered, “I can’t stay.”
Ardeth frowned. “Why not?”
“I didn’t sleep last night.” Jonathan stopped Ardeth’s apologies with a lingering kiss. He smiled regretfully. “I have to go back tonight, first to sleep, and second to avoid Rick checking up on me and finding me gone. I’ve got a big day tomorrow.”
Ardeth nodded. “You plan to confront O’Connell?”
“I have to, before the wedding. I’m not going to let his temporary lapse into insanity ruin Evie’s chance for happiness.”
“Fine.” Ardeth made no move to release him. “This is the last night you spend away from me,” he insisted.
“You’ll never be rid of me,” Jonathan promised. He captured Ardeth’s mouth possessively, and the dark-eyed man was only to pleased to let him have his way. He held Jonathan even closer, trying to eliminate all space between them.
Finally, Jonathan pulled away. “I have to leave.”
“Mm.” Ardeth kissed him once more. “I’m not sure I can let you go.”
“You have even stickier fingers than I do.”
Ardeth laughed and released him. “I will see you tomorrow.”
“And every day after that.” With a smile, Jonathan was gone.
Ardeth stared at the empty doorway. Only one more night apart. He could do this. Warmed by hope and love returned, he set himself to readying for sleep.
Rick tried to keep himself from staring at the door, from anticipating Jonathan’s appearance downstairs, but it was a losing battle. Judging by the Englishman’s behavior, something had gone wrong with Bey. Perhaps they’d had a fight. Perhaps Jonathan had come to his senses and gotten rid of the other man.
He was sorry Jonathan was upset, but he couldn’t restrain the triumph that surged through him. With Bey out of the picture, at least half of his problems were solved. He still wasn’t sure what he was going to do about Jonathan, but at least now he didn’t have to worry about Bey taking him away.
The sound of voices brought his attention back to the door and he watched as Rick and Evie walked in. The blue-eyed man was laughing, eyes crinkling at the corners as a sign of the truth of his good humor.
What the hell had happened? Yesterday Jonathan had been exhausted and silent. Rick frowned and watched the siblings talk and joke their way through breakfast. After the food had disappeared, Jonathan looked seriously at his sister. “Evie, I need to talk to Rick. Is there anything you need to take care of at the museum?”
“If this is about one of those beastly bachelor’s parties I’ve heard rumors about...” she began warningly.
He raised his hands in a gesture of innocence. “Can you really see me being involved in anything like that?”
She shot him a disbelieving look, but admitted, “There are a few things I’ve been neglecting. You two boys play nicely while I’m gone.”
Rick and Jonathan watched her leave. After she was gone, Rick met Jonathan’s gaze with some trepidation. “What do you need, Jonathan?”
“For you to cut the bullshit, Rick.” Jonathan continued to smile pleasantly, but his eyes were hard. “I know you know about Ardeth and me.”
“He told you?”
“He told me. He told me everything.”
Rick felt an unpleasant shock run through him. Everything? He wasn’t ready for Jonathan to know everything! “Jonathan-”
“Me first, Rick. There are a few things you don’t know. The most important thing is that I’m in love with him.”
Rick stared. “In love?”
“He loves me as well.”
“No. No, you don’t. You can’t love him. You hardly know him!” This wasn’t happening. All his half-formed plans were falling apart.
“We did more than have sex in the desert, Rick. I know him as well as I’ve known anyone. I missed him while I was away, not like I missed Evie; it was deeper inside, like I’d miss my heart or my soul.” There was a dreamy, contented look in his eyes. “I don’t ever want to feel like that again.”
“I can’t believe this.”
“That doesn’t make it any less true.” Jonathan stood. “I’m going to tell Evie about this, after the wedding. I figure after the honeymoon will be about right. You’re not going to say anything to her.”
“No. You’re going to marry her and make her deliriously happy for the rest of her life.”
Rick tasted bitter disappointment in the back of his throat. “I suppose you’ll be going back to the desert with him?”
“Bright boy.” He walked to stand beside Rick. “I like you, Rick. I want you to marry Evie. I want you to be my brother-in-law.” He extended his hand.
Rick was a bright boy. He got it. He was being offered Jonathan’s friendship, a place in his family, but nothing more. His attraction to the other man was being declined, any chance for something to exist between them denied. He stared up into Jonathan’s firm, hopeful gaze. Slowly, he reached out and took his hand. “Sounds good to me.” When Jonathan started to pull away, he held onto his hand for a few moments longer. “You’re sure about this?”
Jonathan nodded and extracted his hand. “I’m sure. I have you’re word not to talk to Evie before I do?”
Rick nodded. “It’s your secret to tell.” As Jonathan walked toward the door, he couldn’t resist asking, “He told you everything, and it doesn’t matter-”
“Evie matters,” Jonathan said without turning around. “Her happiness matters. Anything else is just what-ifs, Rick. You can’t be happy with what-ifs.” He disappeared out the door.
Rick nodded slowly. He was happy with Evie. But he was always going to wonder about the what-if he could have had with Jonathan.
Jonathan crouched down by his door, listening carefully. Ardeth would be coming to him soon, and he was going to pay his lover back for every time he’d scared the living hell out of him.
The day had gone well. Rick had kept his word, and kept his mouth shut. Evie had been pleased by the return to normalcy, so all was right with her world. Jonathan planned to let her and Rick enjoy their honeymoon, then tell her about Ardeth. He knew Evie - it would take her a moment to process it, but in the end she’d be happy because he was happy.
She was wonderful like that.
The barely-audible sound of footsteps came to his ears, and he readied himself. When they sounded just in front of his door, he surged to his feet and jerked the door open. He reached out and dragged a wild-eyed Ardeth inside.
His lover glared at him even as he gasped a little for breath. “You...you...”
“I scared you,” Jonathan gloated. “You never expected that, and I scared you.”
Ardeth’s eyes narrowed, and Jonathan raised his hands defensively. “Now, it was only fair. You’ve been pulling stunts like that on me as long as I’ve known you. I had to get some of my own back.”
The explanation did nothing to modify the Arab. He advanced on Jonathan, crowding him backwards until the back of the Englishman’s legs hit his bed. A well-timed shove and Jonathan was sprawled back on the bed. Ardeth quickly straddled him, knees planted firmly on either side of his waist. He leaned down and kissed Jonathan lingeringly. “You spoke with O’Connell?”
“Rick and I have come to an understanding. Don’t worry about him anymore.” With a sudden burst of effort he reversed their positions, so he was staring down at his lover. “Worry about me.”
Ardeth’s strong body relaxed beneath his and Jonathan began to strip away his clothing. “I explained to Rick that you belong to me, that I’m not giving you up. It took a little while, but he’s convinced.”
“I belong to you?” A dark eyebrow arched delicately.
What a clever trick! Jonathan leaned down and ran his tongue over the arched brow in reward. “You most certainly do. I’ll prove it to you.”
The fire in Ardeth’s eyes ignited, burning even hotter. “There’s no need to prove it. But if you’d like to reaffirm it...” He reached up and pulled Jonathan’s mouth down to his own.
Jonathan clung to the kiss, refusing to end it. He struggled loose from his own clothing, tossing it aside to the floor. He then turned his hands to Ardeth’s, tearing away the clothes that remained to him. Finally, they were skin to skin, the heat rising ever higher between them.
The blue-eyed man scattered biting kisses across his lover’s chest, scoring the hard nipples with his teeth, relishing the tortured groans he wrung from the other man. His hands mapped miles of hard flesh, relearning the feel of the body that was as necessary to him as breathing.
Knowing he wasn’t going to last much longer - the excitement of knowing that the man he loved him was pushing him over the edge - he fumbled for the flask of oil, quickly preparing himself and his lover. He urged Ardeth to roll over onto his stomach, admiring the play of muscles under the skin of the broad back.
With an ecstatic groan, Jonathan pressed himself inside his lover, gasping a little at the tight heat that welcomed him home. They moved together with perfect rhythm, Ardeth breathing out soft words in Arabic even as Jonathan whispered his own words of devotion. Ardeth’s climax wrung Jonathan’s from him, and they collapsed together, twisting about so they could hold each other.
Jonathan burrowed into his lover’s embrace, nuzzling into the tangled dark curls. “Love you,” he murmured.
His lover’s arms tightened around him. “What happens now?”
“I don’t know yet,” Jonathan admitted. “I’m staying for the wedding, of course. I plan on telling Evie about us after her honeymoon. It’s not fair to distract her during.” Ardeth attempted to kiss the silly grin off his face, but he failed. Jonathan could still feel it when the kiss ended. “After that, I don’t know. Do you have any suggestions?”
“You’re not leaving me.” The words were soft, not nearly as commanding as they were probably meant to be.
“I couldn’t,” he said quietly.
“Then you’ll come with me to the desert? To my people?” Hope lit the dark eyes.
“Anywhere you are, I am,” Jonathan promised. “But what am I going to do in the desert? Tend to the bloody camels?”
A sly grin crossed Ardeth’s face. “There are many forgotten ruins in the desert. Hamunaptra was not the only one known to my people.”
Jonathan sat bolt upright. “You mean there’s another city with an undead monster buried in it out there? Are you out of your mind? What the hell were your ancestors thinking? Didn’t they-” His disbelieving tirade was cut off by warm lips. He continued to mumble distractedly into the other man’s mouth for a few minutes, and then gave in to the caress.
The Med-jai pulled back and grinned at him. “No more monsters like Imhotep, I swear to you. Just ancient cities, lying abandoned, waiting to be discovered.”
Jonathan nodded slowly. He could scout the ruins out, then call on Evie for more expert study. It would work - it would help him, help his sister, and he could stay with Ardeth. He smiled mischievously. “Might these abandoned cities also contain abandoned treasures?”
“You are impossible.” Ardeth’s exasperation was too fond to hurt.
“Are they? Just think of the possibilities! Gold fortunes, just waiting to be rediscovered. There could be millions of dollars, just waiting for me...” He gave up his greedy daydreams for the future as Ardeth pulled him close once more. Here was the only treasure he would ever want, the only future he would ever need.
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