In His Own Time
The Lineage, Book 2
by Melissa Jarvis
eBook ISBN: 978-1-62242-237-1
Victoria has fought hard for her independence, and has no time for arrogant know-it-all men. When both Victoria and Banderan are assigned to 1848 Gold Rush California, they find themselves entangled in a web of deceit and lies. And when they are cut off from the Lineage, it will be up to Victoria to decide if the man she has come to love is a traitor or a hero.
Egypt, February 16, 1923
The scales of the cobra gleamed in the shimmering sun as it reared its head, ready to bite into soft flesh. Sharp fangs descended, connecting with hard leather just as the tip of a boot connected with its midsection. It twisted through the air, landing amidst sand and rocks.
“Stupid culebra,” Victoria muttered.
She wiped her hand across the back of her neck and coughed through the dust that blanketed the air, her clothes, and her hair. Gritty sand itched down her legs, and the practical cotton dress was soaked with sweat.
She stared at the opening of the tomb, its inky blackness swallowing the hot afternoon sun. The Valley of the Kings spread out before her, the tall cliffs overlooking the plateau standing sentry. Nodding to the guard at the entrance, she picked her way carefully down the stone steps, pulling out her handkerchief to cover her mouth. A light suddenly flared, illuminating the rubble-strewn passage. The sound of chisels and hammers rent the enclosed space, followed by an excited shout. Victoria halted, her heart beating in her throat. This is it.
Sharp, prickly fingers of stone dug into her back as she turned and pressed up against the wall, her eyes darting from the entrance of the tomb to the antechamber ahead. A slight wind whipped her skirt, and hurried footsteps crunched the gravel. She stepped out quickly, colliding with another person. Her hand shot out to grab the newcomer’s arm.
“Lady Evelyn. I’m so sorry, I did not see you.” It was a lie, but it came much easier than she thought it would.
The short-haired woman looked disconcerted for a moment as Victoria’s fingers dug into her sleeve. “That’s quite all right, Ms. Vasquez, was it?” Lady Evelyn glanced pointedly at her, and Victoria abruptly released her grip. “My father and Mr. Carter are just about to break through to the burial chamber and I really must…” She moved to step around her, but Victoria dug in her heels.
Just a few seconds more, Victoria thought. “Yes, we’re all waiting with bated breath. I heard Lord Carnarvon shout a few minutes ago. I suspect they’ve almost got the seal broken by now.”
Another excited cry echoed around them, along with the sound of something falling, crumbling. Victoria’s breath hitched, then slowly released. Her knees went weak, and she sidestepped Lady Evelyn, who brushed past her almost at a run. Victoria resisted the urge to follow her and leaned her head against the passage wall, the cool stone a welcome relief from the heat outside.
Her first mission for the Lineage had been a success.
Victoria’s steps were light as she made her way back up the stairs, blinking at the brightness outside. Clusters of people thronged around the entrance, and she shielded her eyes against the pops and flashes of photographers’ bulbs. Darting like the snake had earlier, she fought her way through the crowd to one of the countless numbers of tents pitched around the site. It was blessedly empty, save for the lone cot and archeologist’s tools scattered about.
The discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb had been heralded and hyped by the media as the find of the century, although considering said century was only twenty-some-odd years old, it was not a hard claim to make. The press had descended on their quiet little dig like a myriad of ants swarming over dead animal carcasses in the desert. Every move Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon made was reported with breathless anticipation and embellishment. Already, rumors of a mummy’s curse were floating around the site, fueled by trifling incidents and more than one reporter’s overactive imagination. Of course, Victoria knew the real story.
When she’d first been approached by the organization calling itself the Lineage, she’d been skeptical. Time travel existed solely in the worlds of authors like HG Wells and had no place in practical science. She’d mockingly asked if they’d built their time machine out of spare parts in the basement. But Derek Massey, the head of the Lineage, had explained that not only was time travel possible, but he had shown her how.
Once she’d realized that time travel was actually feasible, that Derek wasn’t just some fruitcake with too many nuts, she’d been tantalized by the possibilities. She’d imagined herself traveling through the centuries, unlocking ancient secrets and being heralded throughout the world.
That wasn’t quite how it worked. She hadn’t even left her own backyard.
She ran her fingers through her hair in a vain attempt to dislodge the dust and grime that had turned her ebony locks nearly silver. Half of it had come undone from her ponytail. She eyed the water pitcher and basin with envy, but its contents were too precious to waste on something as frivolous as washing her hair.
With a sigh, she collapsed on the sturdy canvas cot, her muscles aching, straining from months of cataloguing Carter’s finds from the king’s antechamber.
The discovery of time travel had brought with it numerous problems, which was why the Lineage existed. Apparently, time was a lot like life—things didn’t always happen the way they were supposed to. The Lineage had agents stationed throughout the centuries to scout out these “anomalies” and prevent them. Sometimes they were minor, such as the near cave-in that had almost prevented the opening of the tomb, and sometimes they were more serious, such as the president dying the day before he signed the peace treaty ending the war. Which president and which war, Derek wouldn’t say. Too much knowledge was dangerous. If she heard that one more time in response to her questions, she would rip that answer straight out of his throat.
Up until today, though, things had been fairly uneventful. Relatively speaking.
Victoria closed her eyes briefly, intending to let them rest for a moment before she went back up to the site.
* * * *
The night pressed in on her when she awoke, the moon and stars shining almost as vividly as the sun had earlier. Her muscles were so stiff they felt like they might crack and snap the minute she moved.
Victoria grabbed a hat from the trunk under the cot and swept her hair up under it, its fine netting shielding her face. The Lineage had asked her to keep her eyes and ears open, and she’d made it a habit to go down to the tomb every night to check for anything…suspicious. Out of the ordinary. She wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, given that they were disturbing the resting place of a three-thousand-year-old corpse.
The maze of tents was eerily silent, as if they were afraid to awaken whatever had been found today in the burial chamber. The glow of lamps and electric lights flickered through thin walls, casting shadows and throwing them into the dark.
Victoria stopped several feet in front of the tomb, where guards stood sentry against prying tourists and media. She heard a yell behind her and whirled, just as several rocks came crashing at her feet from the ledge overhead. One of the guards moved from his post, his gun cocked in front of him. He pushed her out of the way, and she stumbled before managing to right herself.
The remaining guard also had his gun drawn. “Richard!” The whisper sounded loudly against her hushed breath as the guard paused and then shifted stealthily in the opposite direction.
A flash of movement caught her eye, and she turned toward the entrance of the tomb just in time to see someone descend from the rocky outcropping above and run down the steps, blending into the stone and darkness.
She hurried after the intruder, taking the steps two at a time, her feet sure of the way. The long passageway loomed ahead, and she could see the figure ahead of her—black clothes silhouetted by the electric lights that had been erected, and hair darker than the night outside. The intruder paused at the entrance to the antechamber before disappearing inside.
Praying that the night guard, Richard, had been awakened by the other guard’s shout, she swept past the stone door and seal and noted with dismay that the overpaid oaf was asleep, slumped against one of the gold couches that hadn’t been removed yet. She saw the heel of a black boot disappear through the newly opened door to the burial chamber and hesitated a fraction of a second before following.
Glittering gold dazzled her vision, and she stared at the huge shrine that dwarfed the space, towering at least nine feet. Her breath caught in awe. She understood what Carter must have felt earlier, why Lady Evelyn had been so impatient. Strange symbols whose meaning had long been lost clashed with scenes of gods and men on the walls, their colors as bright as the day they were painted. Amidst the overwhelming brilliance, flashes of blue shimmered like the sun striking ocean waves. She’d never seen anything so magnificent.
Her slight gasp caused the intruder to straighten from his position on the floor to the right of the structure. “Who are you?” a voice barked.
Victoria jumped slightly and wrenched her eyes away to the man now looming in front of her, his eyes, darker than her own, blazing.
“I might ask the same question, but I already know the answer. Trying to get an exclusive?” Victoria’s voice dripped venom.
“I am not a reporter.” The man tilted his head, black hair falling around his shoulders, as if trying to stare her down. Bigger men than he had tried and had generally found themselves on the receiving end of a sharp tongue and even sharper boot heel.
“Of course you aren’t.” She stared pointedly at the pad of paper in his back pocket. “I will admit, that little distraction at the front entrance was clever, more so than I usually give your kind credit for. But whatever it is you came for, I suggest you quickly and quietly forget it.” Victoria’s entire being itched to explore the chamber, and it was taking all of her concentration to remain focused on the man in front of her. Her legs trembled beneath her skirt from the effort of keeping her knees locked.
The man’s face sharpened to the point where he almost looked as if he were chiseled from the same stone as the funerary statues surrounding them. “I’m afraid I cannot do that.”
Victoria’s expression was hooded beneath her hat. “Good, at least you are afraid.” The stranger’s full mouth smiled, and his stance relaxed. Long brown fingers reached out to caress the panel next to him.
She knew she had the advantage. He was underestimating her.
“I promise I am not here to do any harm. If you will but give me a moment, I will be out of your, ah, life, forever.”
There it was. The faintest trace of an accent, but it was there. This man didn’t belong here. “Quien eres?” she asked softly in Spanish, watching his eyes widen, his jaw clench. She’d touched a nerve. And if he moved even one centimeter, she’d touch a lot more of them.
“I do not have time for this.” The words were forced finally, the accent now noticeable. The man whirled, his black coat sending up swirls of long-undisturbed dust. Victoria coughed and shook her head, barely able to see through brown mist as the man knelt next to the shrine.
The sound of wood connecting with flesh echoed throughout the small chamber, and the man pitched forward, hands scrabbling to steady himself against the heavy structure.
“I suggest you leave quickly, sir, since quietly is no longer an option.” Victoria stood directly in front of him, one of the ceremonial wooden oars left behind to ferry the Egyptian King to the underworld clutched in her hands. The man nodded slowly, inching himself upward, his gaze fixed on the oar pointed at his midsection. Victoria noticed his eyes shift slightly downward and correspondingly moved the oar.
“Please, you do not understand. I must finish this, or—”
“You’re not in a position to talk.” She pressed the oar against him, only to gasp as he wrenched the weapon out of her hands, deftly twisting it to pin her against the wall.
He loomed over her as she felt her breasts compress under the hard wood. She refused to heave, to give him the satisfaction of maidenly distress.
“Next time, I suggest you learn how to wield this type of weapon before you actually attempt to use it.” His breath tickled over her face, just as his lower body arched away from her knee.
Damn him and damn the Lineage. She hadn’t completed her training yet. Staff weapons were still at least a few months off, although she was already starting to master most of the martial arts. She found the idea of using a man’s weight against him vastly appealing. Her teachers had always praised her as a quick student.
He was using his weight against her, limiting her options. “Release me, or I’ll—”
“Or what? You will scream? How many times have I heard this before?” His voice hissed along her nerves. She knew what he was thinking. They all thought it, before oh so casually caressing her breasts or leaning in for clumsy kisses. She opened her mouth to flay him alive, and then abruptly shut it.
Dark hair brushed against her neck as he murmured, “That is what I thought.”
The man clasped his hands to his ears, letting the oar drop. Victoria pushed her hands into his chest, and he stumbled back before he grasped her nape, arching her neck.
“What’s going on in here?”
Victoria twisted her head slightly to see a bleary-eyed Richard standing in the door, his gun halfway out of his belt, his hair standing on end.
Whatever words she might have uttered were smothered under hot lips, hot breath, and a demanding grip that crushed her against a hard chest. She tried to bite down on the tongue that invaded her mouth, tried to fight the body that seemed to want to meld with hers. The man was hard, head to toe.
She barely heard the night guard’s laugh, his “Oh, it’s you, Miss Victoria. I’ll just leave you two alone,” through the blood roaring through every part of her. Her eyes went wide, trying to discern the mockery or triumph in the stranger’s gaze. But the questioning glint was something she’d never seen before.
It was gone in an instant as his eyes closed and his tongue pushed deeper. She pushed back, her fingers digging into the lapel of his coat, the stale air closing in around her.
He pulled away, and the pressure on her lips, on her body was gone, but she could still feel it, heavy, waiting.
“Now your chest is heaving.” The mockery was there in his voice and eyes.
She resisted the urge to slap him, knowing he expected it. “I suggest you leave.” The coldness of her tone was in stark contrast to the heat still coming from her, from him.
“Quickly?” He arched a brow at her.
She reached down and picked up the discarded oar, holding it in front of her the way he had earlier. “I learn quickly, too.”
He looked like he wanted to say something, but shaking his head, he strode toward the entrance to the chamber.
“Canalla,” she called softly, hoping he would understand the insult.
The man paused, turned. His eyes flashed. His fists clenched. His feet moved. And his voice, softer than hers, said, “My name is Banderan.”
* * * *
He stood crouched behind the hill above the valley, watching her leave. The night air whispered across the sand, blowing soft whirls in front of his still figure. His ears strained to hear the shouts of the guards, the raucous barking of the dogs as they labored to catch his scent.
Had she not alerted them? Banderan expected she would have called half of Egypt down on him by now, although she would be hard-pressed to discover what he’d done.
Why had he been sent here? The Lineage assigned its agents to periods of great historical activity, but a dusty tomb and some old bones were not his idea of significant. He was a veteran agent and didn’t need to waste his time on anomalies that probably didn’t even rate a Level One. There were more important things to take care of. Unless Derek was beginning to suspect…He dismissed that thought quickly. Derek couldn’t know everything, despite appearances otherwise.
The dry, musty air of the tomb still filled his nostrils, the faint scent of decay present even from his vantage point above the valley. Quiet reigned around the site, the locals’ fears of what lay beneath the sands affecting even the Americans’ exuberance, although only at night. Banderan had learned long ago not to be afraid of the dark.
He would hold his position a while longer, in case the woman had even more surprises up her sleeve. His teeth clenched at the insult she had hurled after him as he left the chamber. The woman knew nothing about him. How dare she imply he was without morals, worse than those troubadours at court who had no control over themselves or their wandering loins? Her body had given consent for that kiss even if she hadn’t. Briefly, he wondered what she looked like underneath the hat and drab gray dress, outside in the bright daylight instead of those new flickering electric lights.
He sighed. If he’d been thinking with his head instead of his pride, he would have pretended not to understand her. And he certainly would not have revealed his name. Hopefully, she would quickly forget it. Lineage agents were meant to be like ghosts, although, he remembered fondly, his colleague Alex had certainly disobeyed that edict.
Something slithered over his foot, and he caught the gleam of scales in the moonlight. The place was literally crawling with snakes in search of prey, and uneducated, fearful humans were easy targets. He stayed absolutely still and watched the snake disappear into shifting sands.
A small, subtle breath escaped, and tense muscles relaxed. Cautiously, he straightened, eyes scanning the landscape ahead that stretched and blended into the distance with no relief from the sand or black. Below him, the guards had resumed their posts in front of the entrance to Carter’s tomb, and only a few people had dared leave the safety of their white tents.
His cloth-covered feet made little impression on the desert floor as he left, almost as if he’d never been there.
* * * *
Victoria lifted her hair off her neck, sweat trickling down her back. The last few weeks had been quiet, and there had been no sign of the intruder returning. Pulling the damp locks into a braid, she thought about cutting it, although she knew her grandmother would never forgive her. A woman’s hair was a sign of her beauty as well as strength and was what separated her from the common joven, those insipid young men that Mama Rosa was forever chasing away. Mama Rosa’s hair was nearly as long as she was and midnight black with only a few strands of silver artistically showing, as if her grandmother had placed them there instead of nature.
The sun beat high overhead, refusing to act the coward and hide behind the clouds. Swatting at the myriad of flies buzzing around her face, Victoria picked up her chisel, carefully chipping away at the centuries of grime that covered the statue of the cat goddess Bast. Her schooling at Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford had certainly prepared her for this, although not for the wonders she hoped to discover working for the Lineage. Her fame would spread far and wide, and school children would be forced on pain of ruler to study her exploits and memorize her every word. Simpering, pimply college boys would dedicate their theses to her, and she’d be admitted to the halls of Oxford as an acclaimed fellow. She’d pave the way for other women.
A shout split the heavy air, and Victoria dropped the rough chisel, daydreams forgotten. Pushing aside the tent flap, she saw several men running toward the entrance of the tomb. The chatter of voices was almost too fast for her to follow, but she caught one word. Accident.
Hitching her skirt, her feet flew over the hot sand. She’d learned how to move quickly over the rough terrain by training in one of the local rivers, the water and muddy bottom having nearly the same consistency as sand. Her sadistic Lineage instructor had also added weights to her ankles.
A myriad of people were clustered around the entrance to the tomb, the guards vainly trying to keep them at bay. Cameras flashed and popped, and white smoke and the smell of magnesium curled into the sky. She spotted Richard, the night guard, whispering in hushed tones to Carter’s assistant, Mr. Callender. Victoria pushed her way through bodies and photographers and pads of paper shoved in her face to where the two men were standing at the top of the steps.
“What’s going on?” she demanded.
Mr. Callender turned around with an expression of surprise that seemed to be permanent. “Miss Vasquez, I…” He glanced at the crowd in front of them, then at Richard. “We can’t talk here.” Quickly, he ushered them both down the steps into the tomb.
He glanced around nervously at the darkened passage, the electric lights barely flickering. “There’s been an incident. With the shrine.”
Wet air brushed over her skin, and Victoria stiffened, every nerve suddenly on alert. “What happened?”
“Howard wanted to try and take a peek at the shrine.” Mr. Callender refused to meet her eyes.
“But we’re under orders from the Egyptian government to not disturb anything further until they’ve figured out who has the rights to this site.” Victoria turned to Richard. “Did you know about this?”
The guard nodded. Victoria shook her head in frustration. She’d carefully nurtured Richard along as an informant to keep her apprised of anything significant happening at the tomb when she couldn’t be there. Despite his fondness for sleeping on the job, he was her only option. The information was vital for the Lineage to discover and prevent any anomalies from occurring. And now, something had happened right under her nose.
“I know we’re still working this out with the government, but we thought we could just take a look with no one the wiser. We brought in a few men early this morning before anyone was up, and Howard had them try and move one of the parts near the right wall. The whole thing is like one of those Chinese puzzle boxes.” He tugged absently at his shirt collar.
The right wall. The right wall. Victoria’s mind flashed to the strange dark-haired man in the burial chamber. She had dismissed him as an overzealous journalist, although she hadn’t been able to as easily dismiss that kiss. She’d never been kissed like that, and never had she kissed back. But the man…he had been kneeling near the right of the shrine.
“They were lifting one of the pieces when that whole section just collapsed.”
She didn’t need to hear anymore. Brushing past both men, she hurried into the now empty and barren antechamber, pausing at the door to the burial chamber. The huge golden shrine listed precariously to the right, several of the joinings snapped in half, their jagged edges gleaming. Howard Carter stood at the opposite end, she noted with relief, safe and whole, although a gash showed in the sleeve of his shirt. On the ground in front of the shrine lay one of the workers, his dark skin pale, the gleam of white from a break in his arm clearly visible. The local medic knelt in front of him, trying to reset the bone. The man’s groans echoed throughout the small space, sounding as if the dead themselves were protesting their presence. Several other men stood around the chamber with expressions of disbelief and horror. Cuts and bruises abounded, the harsh gold metal unforgiving of frail human skin.
She’d seen enough. Victoria whirled around and ran straight into Mr. Callender.
“You can’t let this leak out. We’re already in enough trouble, and it will only fuel the rumors of a mummy’s curse…” His voice and grip on her arm were urgent.
Victoria’s gaze locked on the man. “Don’t worry, I know how to keep a secret. But I need you to keep one as well. Don’t tell anyone I’m leaving.”
* * * *
Heat from the midday sun blanketed the plateau, more intense than in the Valley of the Kings. Victoria cursed the amount of time it had taken her to get here, although a few days probably didn’t matter in the scheme of things.
The ancient pyramids at Giza rose up toward the sky, unconcerned by the passing of time. Men and kings had died for their secrets hidden beneath the golden sands, in each block of stone, in passages tunneled underneath. The sphinx stood silent guardian, its huge paws lightly resting on the sand as if ready to spring into action or beguile tourists with unsolvable riddles.
She adjusted the netting from her hat over her face to prevent the sand from choking her as she knelt at the base of the Great Pyramid of Khufu. The edifice would yield at least one of its secrets today.
She glanced around to make sure no one could hear her before muttering the code to activate the Lineage’s Transport site. A passerby might mistake the bright flash of light as the sun striking the stones above her. She still remembered the intense cold, the overwhelming feeling of déjà vu that had enveloped her on that first trip through the Transport at the ancient ruins of Stonehenge, of blinking and opening her mouth to scream, and then suddenly, standing before a large building that hadn’t been there before. The scream came out as a whimper.
Tick, tick, tick. She counted the seconds, each one lasting longer than her breath.