Warrior of the Nile (The Gods of Egypt)

BOOK: Warrior of the Nile (The Gods of Egypt)
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Warrior of the Nile
By Veronica Scott

Egypt
,
1500 BC

Lady Tiya is bound to the service of the goddess Nephthys, who plans to sacrifice Tiya’s body to protect Egypt from an ancient terror. She embarks to meet her grim fate alone but for the hardened warrior Khenet, who is fated to die at her side. Tiya’s dreams of love and family now seem impossible, and Khenet, who is the last of his line, knows his culture will die with him. Struggling with the high cost of Nephthys’s demands, both resolve to remain loyal.

Neither expects the passion that flowers when Tiya’s quiet courage and ethereal beauty meet Khenet’s firm strength and resolve. On a boat down the Nile, their two lonely souls find in each other a reason to live. But time is short and trust elusive.

Without the willing sacrifice of Tiya and Khenet, a great evil will return to Egypt. How could the gods demand their deaths when they’ve only just begun to live?

Book two of The Gods of Egypt

67,000 words

Dear Reader,

Usually I begin these letters with some chatty information, but I’m departing from my norm this time to give you the opportunity to talk to me. At Carina, we’re always discussing our books and making sure we’re meeting your needs—not just with story and content, but also in the way they’re put together. This month, I’d like to reach out to you and ask your opinion on how the Carina Press books utilize the front and back matter. Do you like having the dear reader letter in the front? Would you prefer if it were in the back? Is there something more—excerpts, book lists or other information—we could be providing after the books? We welcome your comments and hope you will reach out to us with your thoughts at
[email protected]
.

In the meantime, it’s business as usual here at Carina Press headquarters, and that means a lineup of excellent books (no bias here!) for the month of September. We welcome author Jael Wye to Carina Press with her science-fiction fairy-tale retelling,
Ice Red
, in which the tale of Snow White plays out on the deadly and beautiful planet Mars 300 years in the future. Joining her in launching a new series is return author Nico Rosso, who grabbed my attention the first time he pitched this series to me as “demon rock stars.” Misty is thrown into rock star and immortal demon Trevor Sand’s supernatural world of music, monsters and passion in
Heavy Metal Heart.

More unique voices this month include urban fantasy author R.L. Naquin’s newest Monster Haven novel,
Fairies in My Fireplace
, as well as
Agamemnon Frost and the Hollow Ships
, book two of Kim Knox’s male/male science-fiction trilogy.

Sandy James wraps up her Alliance of the Amazons series with
The Volatile Amazon.
The Water Amazon leads the Alliance as they face their archenemy in their last and greatest fight. Veronica Scott joins Sandy in the paranormal category with Egypt-set
Warrior of the Nile.

We have multiple releases in the erotic romance genre this month, including
Love Letters Volume 5:
Exposed
, in which the Love Letters ladies strip away everything but the hot truth, and four couples see each other in a tantalizingly revealing new light.
Forbidden Obsessions
by Jodie Griffin features Bondage & Breakfast owner Gabe McConnell, who finally gets his chance at love when he meets a novice submissive who touches a part of his dominant heart no one else ever has. In Lynda Aicher’s
Bonds of Hope
, former America’s sweetheart Quinn Andrews has an opportunity to revive her career by playing a sexual submissive in a highly anticipated new TV series. Quinn is ready to throw herself into the role, and sex club The Den is the ideal place for a crash course.

Also in the erotic romance genre, we’re pleased to welcome author Lise Horton to Carina Press with
Words of Lust.
A career spent teaching erotic literature does not prepare brainy Professor Serafina Luca for NYC construction foreman Nick Stellato, but his lessons in lust promise to fulfill her wickedest desires, and his promise of love, her wildest dreams.

For historical romance fans, Alyssa Everett offers up
A
Tryst with Trouble.
The arrogant heir to a dukedom and a blunt-spoken spinster take an instant dislike to each other, but must join forces to solve a murder mystery in this clever regency romp.

Kaylea Cross returns with another edge-of-your-seat romantic suspense novel,
Lethal Pursuit.
An air force pararescue jumper and a female security forces officer are locked in an intense battle of wills, but when they’re captured by an enemy warlord, it takes everything they have to survive and fight their way back to friendly lines together. Check out the other books in this series,
Deadly Descent
and
Tactical Strike.

We’re excited to present
Corroded
, the next book in Karina Cooper’s St. Croix Chronicles. Now fixated on revenge, bounty hunter Cherry St. Croix must bend all her intellect on catching a murderer—no matter whose help she must ask, and to whose demand she must submit.

Last, I’m thrilled to announce the release of three debut authors this month. Rebecca Crowley’s contemporary sports romance,
The Striker’s Chance
, gives us passion on and off the pitch when ambitious PR manager Holly Taylor has to revamp the playboy image of sexy, stubborn professional soccer player Kepler de Klerk. Michelle Witvliet breaks onto the romantic suspense scene with
Breaking Protocol.
She can’t let go of a tragic past; he faces an uncertain future; so they live in the moment and discover all they really need is each other. And in our new adult lineup, debut author Melissa Guinn offers a new adult romance novel about first love, second chances and learning to let go in
Headfirst Falling.

I hope you enjoy this month’s releases as much as we have, and find them satisfying, remarkable and memorable!

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to
[email protected]
. You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James
Executive Editor, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com
www.twitter.com/carinapress
www.facebook.com/carinapress

Dedication

To Valerie, Elizabeth, Evan and David—without their support and encouragement there would be no Khenet and no Tiya.

Acknowledgments

Much appreciation to my wonderful editor Alison Dasho for keeping me mindful that a satisfying journey needs the right blend of conflict and tension on the way to Happily Ever After.

Chapter One

Khenet waited in Pharaoh’s private chambers eyeing the gilded chairs pulled up to Pharaoh’s ebony table, but no one, not even him, dared to sit without the ruler’s express permission.

A dull ache had settled in his head and Khenet blamed the oppressive weather cursing the city. Unseasonal thunderstorms rumbling all night long had made sleep impossible.
And I had that damn dream again.
Rubbing his forehead, he sighed.
Talk about bad omens.
The palace summons had come to the barracks that morning before he’d even had time for breakfast. His stomach growled and he stiffened his spine. Whatever Pharaoh Nat-re-akhte needed him for, he swas ready. Too much leisure between battles wore on his nerves.

The door flew open and Pharaoh strode into the room, approaching Khenet. The ruler’s face was more careworn than it had been a year ago, and a few gray strands prematurely peppered his short black hair, but the unusual green eyes were bright and sparkling as always. “My brother, it’s been too long since we spent time together.” They clasped arms, leaning in for a quick hug.

“Not since we harried those Hyksos raiders from the neighboring province,” Khenet said, stepping back, eyeing the physical changes in Pharaoh’s appearance.
The cares of ruling Egypt are starting to weigh on him
,
clearly.

Pharaoh picked a handful of dates from a golden platter and sank into his favorite lion-footed ebony chair. Propping his bare feet on an ivory stool, he gestured at the ample spread of food on the table. “Will you have anything? Wine or beer, perhaps?”

Reaching for a meat roll, Khenet shook his head. “Early for beer, my lord.”

Pharaoh poured himself a goblet full and, perhaps sensing Khenet’s disapproval said, “Trust me, it’s necessary today. Sit.”

Khenet glanced at the closed door across from him.
Unusual informality
,
given that he sent for me.
This is no casual chat.

“We won’t be disturbed—don’t worry. But we also don’t have much time.” Having made the declaration, Pharaoh fell silent. He sipped at the beer and frowned, as if the taste failed to please him.

One did not speak unless spoken to in the presence of the Living God, but everything else had been unusual today. Khenet and his pharaoh did not stand on much ceremony when they were alone.
Time to find out what’s going on.
“Your family is well?”

“Fine. The queen and my boy are healthy, praise the gods.” Pharaoh set the goblet down with a thump, splashing beer on the table, and leaned forward, green eyes narrowed. “I need a personal favor. A dangerous, complicated task lies before me and only the right man can carry it out.”

Action at last
. Khenet straightened. “My brother has but to name the thing, and I’ll undertake it.”

Pharaoh held up one hand to forestall him. “Not so fast, brother. I’m seeking a volunteer, not giving orders today. The fact that I’ve started my quest with you doesn’t mean you’re required to accept. I had the Chief Scribe summon two other candidates, should you choose to pass on the assignment, but I won’t lie—you’re my first choice.” The monarch waited until Khenet nodded, then leaned forward over the table, lowering his voice. “What we speak of must not go beyond these walls. The Great Ones are involved.”

A rush of adrenalin coursed through Khenet’s body and set his heart to racing. Becoming involved in anything directly related to the gods daunted even him. After pulling the nearest chair closer, he sat opposite Pharaoh. Suddenly needing a drink himself, he reached for the beer. “I give you my oath. No one’s hearing a word from me.”

Nodding, Pharaoh took another long pull from his mug. “Let me set out the terms of the mission. The goddess Nephthys wants a woman escorted south to the Viper Nome, to marry the provincial ruler, Smenkhotep. The journey is to be by boat and chariot. I’m to supply a single bodyguard. No other soldiers, no retainers. Nephthys decrees that the man must be from my personal guard, must be someone close to me.”

Considering the information, Khenet raised his mug and took a long drink.
Odd indeed
,
from many aspects
. He swallowed. “The Viper Nome isn’t loyal to you. Yet you’ll do Smenkhotep honor by sending him a bride?”

Pharaoh grunted and toyed with a knife on the table, spinning it in lazy circles. “From what the goddess Nephthys told me last night, the nomarch is as treacherous as the snakes which give his province its name. He worships the god of our enemies, Qemteshub, and seeks to provide our foes a new foothold in Egypt. Apparently when Lynefaraht the Usurper occupied my throne, she struck a deal with Smenkhotep. She agreed to send him a girl from one of the ancient Houses of Egypt, to help him somehow. I overthrew her before this wedding plan could go forward so no candidate was ever identified.” He gestured at an untidy pile of papyrus scrolls at the end of the table. “I had the Chief Scribe locate the correspondence between Smenkhotep and the Usurper this morning. All is as the goddess stated, including the need to send only one guard—a personal envoy, close to Pharaoh in blood or affection or both.”

Glancing at the tumbled scrolls, Khenet raised his eyebrows. “And why is this issue arising now? The Usurper is dead. You’ve been on the throne for a year.”

“According to the goddess, Smenkhotep practices black magic so powerful even the Great Ones are barred from entering his realm. His plans are reaching some kind of climax and he still desires a Theban noblewoman of one particular lineage to marry. I found a tablet renewing his request, sent shortly after I took the throne, which was overlooked in the chaos of the time. Nephthys now orders me to grant the marriage request. She intends to take over this girl’s body at the right moment, allowing Nephthys to cross the border in secret, in human form.” Pharaoh frowned, his worry clear as he raked a hand through his hair.

Khenet was shocked at the very notion of a goddess possessing the body of even a willing priestess.
Poor girl
,
loss of a home for one’s soul is worse than death.
“To what purpose?”

“It’s part of a larger plan ending in the Smenkhotep’s death...and the girl’s.” Staring across the table at Khenet, Pharaoh lifted the dagger and pointed the blade at him. “And the death of my envoy as well.” He threw the knife and the tip bit into the wood of the table, quivering there. “So Nephthys says. I don’t like any of it very much.”

Khenet stroked his chin.
If the volatile goddess Nephthys is at the bottom of this
,
the stakes are indeed high.
Human life has no value for her.
She leaves such softness for other gods to fret over.
In a neutral voice, he asked, “If I accept the assignment, you want me to murder the girl and Smenkhotep? And give myself up for execution?”

“Gods, no.” Pharaoh paused to gulp more beer. “Nephthys was far from clear as to why or how the escort—
you
, if you go—will die. From what I gathered, she’ll kill the Nomarch herself, using the girl somehow. And then the girl perishes.” He gestured impatiently. “Details of magic, especially black magic, are never straightforward. You know this. Nephthys wasn’t forthcoming. Great Ones don’t entertain questions, even from me.”

Pharaoh pushed to his feet and strode over to Khenet, who scrambled to his own feet. The ruler laid his hand on Khenet’s shoulder and squeezed. “It makes me heartsick to order a man to certain doom. In battle against overwhelming odds a soldier has the chance to survive, no matter how slim.” He frowned, eyebrows drawing together in a fierce V of disapproval. “Asking for a volunteer to march to death at Nephthys’s command angers me. But then I remembered you, my brother, have faced bleak odds before, more than once, and survived. Time and again I’ve seen how an uncanny force or spirit watches over you. I pray whatever power guards you might be enough to bring you safely through this tangled mess of magic and sorcery.”

Khenet touched the two braided leather bands on his left wrist, smoothing his fingers over the carved jade and carnelian beads woven into the worn black straps. Below them, the hidden disc of translucent purple stone was cool against his pulse point. “If I choose to accept the mission, I have your permission to evade death if possible?”

Pharaoh nodded. “Save the poor girl from Nephthys’s plots as well, if you can, as long as Smenkhotep and his black magic are thwarted. The safety of Egypt must be paramount, however.”

“Agreed.”

“I think no other man in Egypt stands any chance at all.” Pharaoh plucked the knife from the table and set about peeling some fruit. “I also remember that the legends speak of your people having come from the Upper Nile, in the time before our civilization began. Perhaps from this very area we’re discussing, where Viper Nome stands now.”

Khenet nodded, never comfortable discussing his long-lost tribe. That tragedy he kept buried in his heart.
Except when I have the cursed dream.

Pharaoh looked at him somberly. “I know it distresses you to speak of your loss. It wasn’t my primary reason for making you my first choice.”

“I’ll accept this duty, on three conditions.”

“Name them.” Pharaoh didn’t seem surprised.

Ticking them off on his fingers, Khenet was momentarily amazed at himself, dictating terms to his pharaoh, adopted brother or not. “One we’ve discussed, that I may seek some other solution to Nephthys’s problem, one that resolves the threat of black magic without my own death. Two, I’ll swear my oath to you, not to her. I can’t give my allegiance to Nephthys.”

“Agreed. You serve me and therefore you serve my patron, Horus. And your own gods.” Nat-re-Akhte smiled. “Have you forgotten I helped you build that small shrine when we were boys, hidden away from my grandfather’s priests? Kept watch for you when you went to worship? I understand your qualms about Nephthys—say no more on that issue. What’s the third condition?”

“I want time in the royal library before setting out on this mission.”
I’m not going into this battle without any idea of the terrain
,
of the general conditions.
Too much is at stake.

He nodded. “Wise. Not much is known about the Viper Nome but I’m sure the oldest scrolls contain some maps, maybe some other useful scraps. I’ll give orders for the Court Librarian to assist you. However, there won’t be much time. You’re due at the temple of Nephthys at the midmorning hour as my envoy, to witness her selection of the girl. Then you will conduct the chosen one back here so that I may give her the documents pertaining to the marriage decree, after which it’ll be straight on to the docks, so you can get in a couple of hours’ sailing before night.”

“Nephthys is impatient,” Khenet said.

“That she is. The goddess told me she doesn’t want the bother of having to do more than check in occasionally on the girl and my envoy as they journey. No time to nursemaid humans, she said.” Frowning, Pharaoh took another long drink.

Khenet shrugged. “I’ve little to take care of.”

“No entanglements?” Pharaoh half smiled. “None of the beauties of my capital city have made an impression on you?”

Khenet grimaced as he shook his head. “Great ladies of the Court have no interest in a tumble with a rough-and-ready soldier. Nor do I have any interest in them. A night spent in the bed of a tavern wench provides as much pleasure. And fewer expectations.”

“Good, sending you on this duty causes me enough pain without bringing grief to any who may have come to love you.” The sovereign closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m more grateful than I can say. Ask anything of me and it shall be granted.”

“You’re my family. Though I was adopted into your House, not born as your brother, I need nothing more.” Khenet met Pharaoh’s eyes steadily, unblinking.

Pharaoh nodded, and with the gesture he seemed to shed the formal severity of his title and was, for a brief moment, simply Khenet’s brother, Nat. “If you return from this assignment, I’ll heap gold of valor on your head. And if you don’t, my queen and I will mourn you with broken hearts. I’ll personally perform every ritual in the Book of the Dead to assure your
ka
safe passage to the Afterlife. I’ll make a plea to the Great Ones of Judgment myself if needs be.”

“We shall see, my lord.” He gave his commander a formal salute. “May the Great Ones watch over you.”

“And you.” Pharaoh rapped the blade of his knife against a small gong at the edge of the table.

A moment later Chief Scribe Edekh was bowing his way into the room. “Marnamaret and Sebnihotep await your pleasure in the outer chambers, Great One.”

Stabbing the knife into a honeyed date on the platter, Nat said, “Their presence is unnecessary after all.”

Eyebrows raised, Edekh glanced at Khenet before saying, “I’ll inform them they’re released from duty today.”

“No, tell them I need companions for a hunt, this afternoon. Bid them get everything ready.” Nat shook his head at Khenet. “I’ll need to get out of this palace after the ceremony we were discussing, clear my head from the taint of Nephthys’s wishes. Edekh, please escort our friend to the library and tell the librarian he’s to have immediate access to anything he desires.”

Without another word, Nat left the private chamber.

Wheeling, Khenet marched out of the office, past the guards, through crowds of courtiers and scribes, traversing long corridors on the way to the library, his old friend Edekh keeping pace silently beside him. Once or twice the scribe cleared his throat as if to say something but then kept his own counsel. Khenet’s surroundings blurred. He preferred to be in motion, the physical exertion allowing him time to think over the daunting assignment he’d accepted. Only when he’d reached the embossed wooden doors to the library did he pause to take deep breaths.

What have I gotten myself into?
What do I know about black magic?

He set his shoulders, resolute.
Well
,
I
know much about strategy
,
and I may have some surprises Nephthys or the weasel of a nomarch won’t be expecting.

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