Coming in October from Samhain...
Khanu’s heart clenched at the spectacle that met him when he returned from the courtyard. The sight of Nayari lying limp in the arms of one of the priests nearly sent him to his knees.
“What have you done to her?” He didn’t wait for a reply but scooped her fragile body into his arms. The other priest bowed and backed up a step.
“I had to stop her from escaping. I found her scurrying through the back corridor searching for a way out through our chambers.”
“You had no right to injure her. You should have called me.” Khanu swung Nayari around and headed for her room.
“This way, warrior. We’ll take her to a room below where she won’t escape so easily.”
Khanu hesitated. He looked down at her face, so beautiful in this artificial sleep. Her shallow breathing worried him.
“What did you do to her?”
“A balm to make her sleep.”
Khanu growled. She’d be groggy and sick when she awoke. Grudgingly, he followed the priest to a dark flight of stone stairs. He squeezed his broad shoulders through a narrow door and set Nayari on a small cot in a windowless chamber lit only by a torch in a sconce on the wall.
“Bring water.” He cradled her head in the crook of his arm. “Then stay out of my sight.”
“Of course.” The priest bowed out of the room, and Khanu indulged in a curse upon the man’s family ten generations to come. Why would she try to escape? Surely the priest was mistaken. As the dutiful concubine of the magistrate, it should have been her pleasure to await the arrival of Ammonptah.
She lay in his arms, her face a portrait of innocence. He brushed her lustrous hair from her brow and pressed the back of his hand to her fevered skin. What would Ammonptah do if he found her thus?
The priest returned with a bowl of water and a cloth, and Khanu glared at him. “Post a guard at the temple gate. Enemies of Ammonptah are everywhere it seems.” Even in this room, he added silently.
Once the priest had gone, Khanu tended to Nayari. Drops of cool water squeezed from the cloth onto her head roused her slightly, and she moaned.
“You’re safe,” he said when her eyes fluttered open. She stared at him for a moment, her eyes blank. Then she surged upward, fear clouding her expression. She screamed once—a short, tortured sound that Khanu cut off by clamping a hand over her mouth. She struggled in his arms, and he hushed her, rocking her against his chest.
“No, I’m not.” Her voice trembled as she recounted what the acolyte had told her.
Khanu had heard the name Benak-Ra before. He’d seen tales of the man’s cruelty strike fear in the hearts of many seasoned warriors. A fragile creature such as Nayari would wither at his hands.
His loyalty to Ammonptah dissolved as she finished telling him about the plot to unseat Pharaoh. “I will not let them give you to the wizard.”
She settled against him finally, and her breathing returned to normal. When he looked down at her, tears spilled over her cheeks. “But Ammonptah is our master.”
“Not any longer.”
“What?” She trembled in his arms. The sensation of her supple body shuddering against his turned his thoughts to further betrayal of Ammonptah.
“We will escape.”
“How? The priests are watching.”
“They’re watching the front of the temple. They believe I’m loyal to Ammonptah and will do as I say. We will leave here in a few hours, before they rise for their morning prayers.”
Her honey-colored eyes searched his and, beneath the fear, he saw trust and admiration. She put her hands on either side of his face and brought her lips close to his. Her breath was sweet. “Tell me your name.”
“Khanu,” he whispered, so close to her mouth that the word echoed between them. “Servant of Nayari.”
She kissed him then, and a sensation that had to be borne of the gods shot through his body. Every muscle went taut, and the ache in his loins exploded into flame as her tongue slipped between his lips.