The wall slid open with a heavy grating noise, sand crunching and sliding between the stones, the floor of the chamber shaking under Evelyn's boots. She tweaked the scarf she'd pulled over her nose as protection against the dust, and shone her flashlight beam into the dark space which had opened up in front of her. The beam caught the silt stirring in the air and, for a moment, she thought she saw a face with a wide, yawning mouth.
She reached back and clutched the front of Rick's shirt.
"What?" he asked, already on edge, his gun raised ahead of him and pointing over Evelyn's shoulder.
"Nothing." She watched the dust settle again, and shone her flashlight around the walls. She batted his gun away. "For Heaven's sake, don't fire that thing so close to my ear."
"You make it sound like you don't trust me," Rick said, stepping past her. He kept his gun in one hand and a flickering torch in the other.
She tugged the scarf down off her face completely. "You were the one who said I should watch you with both eyes."
"That wasn't what I meant," Rick said, edging his way forward carefully, testing his weight on the sandy floor with each step.
Evy grinned, and followed by stepping into the imprints of his boots. "What did you mean, then?"
"You're intentionally ignoring context," Rick said. "When I said that, we were in the bath."
"And I was watching you," Evy said, her voice low. She touched her hand against the small of Rick's back, stroking a gentle line with her thumb, and she watched his shoulders straighten in response.
He cast a look at her over his shoulder, his eyebrow raised. "Context, honey."
"Not the time," she agreed, shining the flashlight ahead of him. The chamber behind them was lit with torches, the flames licking at the dark and making the space warm and yellow — but the path ahead was inky black, a faint breeze stirring from somewhere within to touch their faces as they edged forward.
"Just think," Evy whispered in awe, "we're the only two people who have been in here for thousands of years."
"I'm sure you've said something like that to me before," Rick murmured. "Right before disaster struck."
"Just finding the lost temple is more than any of those stuffy scholars have done," Evy said breathlessly. "Of course, many have laid claim to finding it, but the proximity to the gold mines allowed for numerous decoys and dead ends."
"And this isn't a decoy?" Rick asked. He shone his torch across the walls, the flame shimmering over the stone.
"Hardly," Evelyn said. "Ooh, I can't wait to see their faces when we return with the Golden Scroll."
"Let's not get ahead of —" Rick broke off with a gasp. The torch fell as the earth tilted suddenly beneath them. Evy heard Rick's boots scrape on the layer of sand covering the stone floor, saw the glint of his gun as it fell out of his grip.
She lunged for him, even as she herself was falling, and the floor slid out from under her and opened up into a dark chasm, her flashlight toppling through the air and disappearing from view.
Rick shouted her name and it bounced all around them — he tried to catch her as she slid past him; he accidentally kicked her in the ribs and knocked the wind out of her, and she caught herself with both arms locked tightly around his leg, her palms leaving clean sweat marks on the dusty leather of his boot.
"Shit," Rick gasped, clinging to the edge of the floor above them. Somewhere up there was his torch, still burning against the sand and casting enough light for them to see by.
Evy tried to look up, but sand was still filtering over them. She looked down again, watching her boots swaying helplessly above the black void below. She blinked furiously, trying to get the grit out of her eyes.
"You need to climb up," Rick panted. "And fast, Evy, because I don't know how much longer…"
She reached up and hooked her fingers into his belt. "Okay," she gasped, "I'm just…" She lifted herself with a burst of strength she didn't know she had, just far enough to reach her other hand up and grab Rick's shoulder holster. It was buckled tightly, but the leather still stretched and strained under her weight. She looked up again at the lip of stone above them, Rick's hands gripping the edge with white-knuckled determination.
"You can do it," he said. "Keep going, honey."
Adrenaline throbbed through her veins, but the ledge was too far — she had nothing between it and the holster to anchor herself, there was nothing more to use in her climb upwards.
More sand filtered down. Rick spat it past his feet. "Evelyn," he said desperately.
"I can't." She found herself blinking back tears. "Rick, I can't reach, I…" She thought for a moment about letting go. It would save Rick, and that would make it right. He'd do the same for her — and besides, maybe it wasn't that far down, and maybe the centuries had built up enough sand below to cushion her fall against whatever the Egyptians had put down there…
"Don't even think about it," Rick said through gritted teeth.
She looked up to find him glaring at her.
"If you let go, I'm dropping straight after you," he said.
She glared back at him. "There's not need for the both of us to die, O'Connell, you stubborn —" She broke off as a thick coil of rope flew from the ledge above and unfurled past her, falling into the darkness below. She looked up again, but there was no sound. Nothing to indicate friend or foe.
"Grab it," Rick urged.
Evy kept her fingers tight around his belt, but let go of his holster to test her weight against the rope. It gave a little until her weight had taken the slack out of it, and then it held firm.
"Who's there?" she shouted, her voice bouncing and echoing off the stone around them.
The rope tightened and began to steadily draw her upwards. She let go at Rick at the last possible moment, unsure if she was truly safe — unsure if the rope would suddenly drop and let her fall into the darkness below. But soon a strong hand had found hers, and pulled her easily onto firm ground again. She squirmed backwards on the sandy floor and looked up at her rescuer's face.
"Good morning, Evelyn," Ardeth said conversationally. He tossed the rope forth again and braced himself for Rick's weight.
"Hello, Ardeth," she answered weakly. "What are you doing here?"
Rick's head and shoulders emerged with him muttering curses under his breath. His relief upon seeing Ardeth was palpable — he reached forward and grabbed his hand, and Ardeth hauled him onto the floor beside Evy.
"I see the two of you are still making a habit of ignoring all sense and caution," Ardeth said.
The morning had drawn out and it was nearing noon when the three of them made it back to the mouth of the temple. Rick and Evy had left their camels tethered in the shaded entrance, which looked like nothing more than a sink hole in the desert; a mere well in the dips and curves of desert which stretched to the horizon.
Evy stared out at it glumly. "There's something incredibly, impossibly grand beneath us," she said, trying once more.
"And there it shall remain," Ardeth said firmly. He stroked his horse's nose in greeting.
"At least you found it," Rick said, trying to be comforting.
"And how did you find us?" Rick asked Ardeth.
"Are you so naive to believe the Medjai weren't watching for your return to this land?" Ardeth asked.
"Well, taking into account what happened last time, I guess…" Rick's muttering faded off into something unintelligible.
"I'm glad you followed us," Evelyn said. "Thank you, Ardeth. We — we'd almost certainly be dead if it weren't for you."
"Thank you," Rick added. He clapped Ardeth's shoulder and got a smile in return.
Evelyn, still feeling a little put out about having to turn back, folded her arms and leaned against the rough wall. "I suppose we're stuck here until nightfall now? It's simply too hot out there to travel now."
Ardeth glanced at the sun. "There is a place not far from here which will be more comfortable," he said. "We can wait out our time there."
"How far is not far?" Evy asked doubtfully.
"Perhaps an hour's ride by camel. If you are prepared, we can leave now and be there before the heat truly arrives."
Evy only hesitated for a moment. She could feel the heat pulsing off the sand and encroaching into their shade already. She pulled the scarf from around her neck and draped it over her head, winding it carefully over the back of her neck and praying against sunburn.
"I hope this comfortable place has a bar," Rick muttered, trying unsuccessfully to coax his camel to its feet.
Ardeth fished in his robes and tossed him a silver flask.
"Hey," Rick said, pleased. "The next best thing."
The desert was casting numerous shadows and lakes before Evy's eyes, all of them shimmering and wavering under the sun. She squinted past Ardeth's shoulders to the thin line which seemed to grow darker and longer as they approached, everything else disappearing in a horrid blur of heat and sand.
Another hole in the desert, the land sinking away from the surface — only this was no temple. A breath of cool air washed over them as Ardeth found the path which zig-zagged down the steep cliffs of rock. Below, a blue ribbon of water glittered as it wound its way through the hidden canyon, lush trees and colorful wildflowers swaying and bending in the light breeze.
"What is this place?" Evy asked, knowing it was on none of the maps she had seen.
"Many simply call it the Secret Valley," Ardeth said. "Becoming less and less secret all the time."
"Doesn't look like the tourists have found it yet," Rick said.
Ardeth made a soft noise of agreement. "I hope they never do."
It took almost half an hour to reach the bottom. It was cool down here, and darker, the sun only managing to catch its light on the river before the towering cliffs cut into it and threw shadows. At the far end of the canyon, over a stretch of lush grass, half a dozen horses stood in the shade of the cliffs. A sandy beach, pocketed with hoofmarks and wallowing bowls, was cut into the curve of the river. Colorful birds flitted across the surface, catching insects, and the water bubbled over shallow stones and swirled into deep green pools before it disappeared beneath the cliffs, sinking far below the desert.
"This is beautiful," Evelyn sighed. She was starting to feel the aches and pains from the terror-laden suspension act she and Rick had completed that morning, and an hour in the saddle hadn't helped. She looked longingly towards the water and wondered if there were any crocodiles likely to spoil her sudden desire to bathe.
They unsaddled their animals — Ardeth's horse tossed his head and pranced towards the others, who seemed unimpressed by a new arrival. The camels wandered after him slowly.
Evelyn touched a hand to her ribs, which were achingly tender after Rick's inadvertent kick earlier. He caught her wincing, and was at her side immediately.
"Are you hurt?" His hands were grazed and he had a bruise starting to show on his chin.
"Just a little bruised," she admitted.
Rick's hand immediately shucked her shirt up over her ribs, his thumb brushing over the tender skin.
"It could have been worse," she added, glancing at Ardeth gratefully.
He gave her a small smile and then politely looked away when Rick's other hand lifted her shirt further to inspect her other side.
"I'm fine," she insisted, tugging her shirt down again. "Goodness knows it's not the worst thing that's ever happened to either of us."
"Yes, you should both be congratulated on your failure to wake the dead this time," Ardeth said.
"You really get sarcastic when you're not being kept busy with killer mummies," Rick said, his hands still lingering up under Evy's shirt. "And the day's not over, so don't write us off just yet."
Ardeth laughed and wandered towards the river's edge, where he crouched and began to wash the travel dust from his hands and face.
"Really, though," Rick said anxiously, sliding his palms over her bare skin very carefully. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." She touched the bruise on his chin. "Are you?"
He kissed her nose and hugged her gently against his chest. "Hundred percent."
"That's a little lower than usual," she said, missing his standard wise-crack hundred-and-ten-percent.
"I nearly lost my wife," he said indignantly. "That's bound to take a little wind out of a guy's sails."
She laughed and kissed him, pulling away to follow Ardeth down to the water. He'd stripped his shirt off and had waded out into one of the deeper pools, and she was immediately envious.
"No crocodiles?" she called.
He shook his head no.
Rick was toeing his boots off beside her.
"You're going in too?" she asked.
He grimaced. "I know you Brits are polite by nature, but don't tell me you haven't noticed how much that camel stink has stuck to me."
She grinned. "Now that you mention it…"
He stripped his shirt off without unbuttoning it, and undid his belt, sloshing forward into the water naked without a second thought.
Evy watched him lunge at Ardeth and drag him under in a display of inherent male bluster and immaturity. They both came up laughing, and Ardeth grabbed Rick's shoulders and dunked him under again in revenge.
Considering them both occupied, Evy pulled the combs from her hair and stripped off her own shirt before pulling Rick's on instead. She wriggled out of the rest of her clothing and marched into the river.
The water was swift, cold and clean, and she let it tug at her as she waded deeper, her scrapes and bruises seeming to shrink in their aching and pounding as the river swirled around her. She sank under and let her hair slowly unfurl from where the combs had held it back off her face, sand and silt drifting away in the current.
When she came up for air, Rick and Ardeth had stopped their tussling, and she headed for them, having to walk and slosh at certain points where the river was broken into shallows.
"That's my shirt," Rick said, trying to sound accusatory. His eyes ran over her with intent, the shirt clinging wetly to her bare skin from shoulder to thigh, hiding nothing.
"I'm rinsing the camel smell out of it," she said, sinking into the pool he and Ardeth were sitting in.
He laughed and pulled her into his lap, and she nestled into him and let the water lap at her shoulders as Ardeth continued on an already-begun story, his voice mapping out the Medjai's never-ending footprints around Hamunaptra, and the magic there which never completely went away.
The grass was soft and green, and the towering cliffs either side of the canyon loaned a strange twilight quality to the air, though Evy knew it must still be early afternoon.
The three of them had retired from their swimming and had found a shady clearing under the trees, the breeze and the afternoon heat drying the river water from their hair and their clothes.
Rick was behind her, bare-chested and snoozing with his arm slung across his eyes, his pants loose and low on his hips. Evy had her back to him, her ribs still too tender to lie on that side. Rick had kissed her there gently, whispering unnecessary apologies and looking worried, and she'd taken his hand and felt the scabs and scrapes he'd suffered clinging to the ledge, keeping them both suspended, safe.
She drew in a quiet breath, remembering her panic; remembering the sudden thought to drop, let go, you'll fall but it won't be for long...
She screwed her eyes shut for a moment, trying to banish the thought altogether. She tried instead to remember the feeling of being dragged to safety, Ardeth's hands strong and sure as he'd reached for her.
She glanced up to find him watching her. Her heart thumped in her chest and she felt the answering ache in every bruise.
He had pulled his shirt back on, but it had ridden up an inch or so, exposing a strip of golden skin and taut muscle. Without thinking, she reached out and traced her fingertips over him.
He closed his eyes, lashes long and dark, and his mouth twitched like maybe her touch was tickling him.
She slid her hand over his stomach, trailing her fingers lightly, letting her nails graze him, but aside from the hint of smile, he didn't stir. Rick was helplessly ticklish; she knew all of his weak spots now. She knew how to make him writhe and laugh beneath her, until he was teary and flushed in the face and begging her for mercy.
Ardeth barely stirred.
She withdrew her hand carefully, aware she was dangerously close to crossing a line she couldn't step back over.
She looked up at him again, but he hadn't opened his eyes. His hair was curly from the river and she had the strongest urge to pull her fingers through it. She wriggled back so her hips bumped up against Rick, and he reached over, still half-asleep, spreading one wide hand over the curve of her waist.
She felt the flutter of something deep in her belly — something that connected to the adrenaline she'd felt after Ardeth had pulled her to safety, and Rick's grazed hands had closed over hers carefully, firmly; we are alive, we are okay.
She remembered the days in Cairo after Hamunaptra — locked in a hotel suite with Rick, both of them jumping at every loud noise and every questionable shadow in the night, not quite able to believe it was all over, all safe. They had distracted themselves in each other's arms, slow and intent and falling deeper and deeper.
She felt it again, unfurling and warm inside her, that need to touch and be touched; the need to have her heart set racing and her blood pumping through her veins.
She rolled onto her back and reached for Rick, letting her hand trail down his bare stomach to where his pants were lying unfastened and open.
He stirred, lifting his hips a little, arching into her touch. He peeked at her from underneath the crook of his arm, eyebrows raised.
She smiled at him and her fingers slid lower. His hips twitched in response.
He glanced over the top of Evelyn's head, at Ardeth, but said nothing.
Her hand closed around him gently, and she could feel him growing hard. She stroked him and his eyes fluttered closed for a moment, his lips pressing together briefly to suppress the noise she knew he wanted to make.
When he opened his eyes again they were darker, and his voice was low and rough. "We have company," he reminded her.
"I know." Evy kept her voice low, barely whispering. "I want him too." She looked at Rick, almost afraid, wondering if she'd have to leap to defend her marriage — she loved Rick; she regretted nothing with him; she wanted him forever, but if she could have this as well…
Rick gave her a slow, wide grin in response, looking delighted, looking smug, like it was something he had already thought about. "Is that so?" he asked, his fingers trailing over the inside of her arm, tracing the sensitive skin there, pushing the sleeve of the shirt up to her elbow.
She nodded wordlessly, her heart pounding, an ache starting between her legs. She pressed her thighs together tightly and watched Rick's eyelashes flutter as she stroked him, feeling him grow harder, listening to his breath catch.
He rolled towards her, one hand on her hip and pushing lightly so she rolled onto her side. She was face to face with Ardeth again, and she wasn't certain he had heard her, but she was suddenly certain he knew. He gazed at her quietly and the air between them felt charged. She felt her face flush as Rick slid his knee between her thighs to part her legs.
She let out a soft gasp, a whispered, "Hi," and her face burned hotter as Ardeth smiled at her and Rick's fingers slid between her legs to find her already wet.
Ardeth reached forward with one hand and unbuttoned the front of the shirt Evy wore, plucking the buttons open one by one. Rick's mouth brushed a warm kiss over the back of her neck, flaring the light touch of sunburn she had there.
Ardeth slipped his hand between the open buttons on her shirt and cupped his palm over her aching ribs, where a bruise was surely starting to color her skin. His thumb glanced the underside of her breast and she sucked in a breath, only to expel it again in a soft sigh as Rick's fingers twisted inside her and curled just so, stroking her in a way that made her hips buck and her fingers clench.
She reached up with both hands and pushed her fingers through Ardeth's hair, his curls slightly stiff from bathing in the river. He ducked his head to mark a kiss at the hollow of her throat, his lips soft and warm on her skin.
Rick nuzzled the back of her neck, forcing the collar of the shirt lower, and Ardeth slid his hands past her ribs. She held him close, her fingers wound through his hair, wanting them both to press against her, craving a sort of confinement between them.
Rick's fingers rubbed inside her and she bucked and wriggled, another gasp releasing itself against the top of Ardeth's head. He pushed against her, lower still, opening his mouth over her nipple and sucking it between his teeth to bite gently, his hand sliding beneath the open wings of her stolen shirt to cup her waist and hold her in place.
Evy arched, craning her head back in attempt to find Rick and kiss him. "More," she whispered. "Please, Rick."
He grinned, and his fingers started moving faster inside her, harder, rougher, his teeth catching her lower lip as he kissed her. "More?" he asked. "How much more, Evelyn? Do you want another man here? How many do you think you can take?"
She whined and fumbled within the loose, oversized shirt sleeves, wanting to find his cock and guide it between her legs, but Ardeth gripped his fingers in the material and pinned her arms to her sides, sucking red marks over her breasts and breathing softly against the dark bruises on her skin.
Evy groaned into Rick's mouth and he laughed and kissed her, easing a third finger inside her so that she ached and opened her legs wider. She slipped one leg over Ardeth's waist and dragged him closer and he gripped the material of her shirt, pinning her and sucking her nipples until she arched and shivered helplessly, a soft cry of pleasure getting lost in Rick's open kiss as his fingers thrust inside her.
She shivered through another breath, her pulse hammering under her skin, and Rick nestled up behind her, his erection sliding between her legs where his fingers had been, and Ardeth squirmed closer to her too, pinning her between them, cupping her face in his hands and kissing her.
She felt electric and full of sparks, ready to burst again and again like fireworks. Rick was thick and still inside her, reaching his hand down between her legs again to finally touch her clit. She rolled her hips, gasping and moaning as Ardeth kissed her, his fingers dragging through her hair.
Ardeth sucked a kiss against the hollow of her throat as Rick's fingers flicked and stroked between her legs and he ground slowly inside her, whispering low and dirty things in her ear; "If I'd known how much you loved getting fucked by two men I would have had them lining up at the door and paying to take you, Evelyn."
She buried her face in Ardeth's shoulder and gave a cry as she came again, too sensitive and on edge to hold back. She felt his arms reach past her and circle Rick, drawing him closer as she shuddered through it. Rick didn't last either — he gave a couple of short thrusts, pushing deep inside her as he came, one hand tangled in her hair and the other still working between her legs.
Her breath was hot in her throat and her heart hammered fiercely in her chest. She could feel the cool breeze on her damp skin, lighting the path Ardeth had left with his tongue, tightening all of her nerves and making her shiver. She looked up at the blue sky as he kissed her neck and whispered low in her ear, "We are not done yet."
She squeezed her thighs together and heard Rick laugh breathlessly behind her, his touch still insistent as Ardeth kissed her. He slid his knee between her legs and she came again from Rick's fingers, her hands clenching helplessly within the sleeves of his shirt, still tangled beneath her.
She was satisfied, exhausted, the charge all burned up and burned out, and still they had their hands on her, rolling her over and dragging her into place so she was face-to-face with Rick, above him, her knees pressing into the green grass either side of his hips as Ardeth knelt behind her.
"Is it any man?" He grinned up at her, breathless and flushed in the face. "Or just Ardeth?"
Ardeth thrust inside her, thick and hard between her slick thighs, and she gasped as another shock raced along her spine, making her tremble. Sweat gleamed on her skin and curled her hair; every touch seemed to send her quivering and trembling uncontrollably.
Rick's fingers pinched at her nipples, tugging her forwards so she leaned against him, and Ardeth's hand placed gentle pressure between her shoulder blades, pinning her to Rick's chest.
"He'll have to come home with us," Rick said, his voice low and rough. "I can't be expected to satisfy you by myself after this." He wrapped his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. Ardeth's fingers sought between her legs to rub at her clit.
"Oh," she gasped, "no, wait..." Over-sensitive, knees trembling. Ardeth withdrew his hand, dragging his fingertips up the back of her thighs instead.
Rick grinned against her brow. "You never wait for anything." He held her close against his chest as Ardeth grasped her hips, keeping them high. He didn't stay still like Rick had, he didn't grind and roll and tease — he thrust deep and hard, shaping the way Evy took each breath.
She was overwhelmed, and yet still within her there was a desire for it to never stop; for them both to take her until she truly gave out and fell into a space breathless and dark. The raw edge of too much ran across every movement and she rose to meet it, moaning with encouragement when Rick's hands cupped her breasts, arching to welcome Ardeth deeper inside her. There was no danger to her here, just pleasure, and she wanted to feel it all and be reckless with it.
When Rick reached down to pinch and rub her clit, she sobbed a breath against his chest, and her body would have squirmed away if Ardeth hadn't been holding her so, dragging her hips back onto his cock. She sobbed again when she came, sparks bursting behind her closed eyelids, breath hot and sharp in her lungs. Ardeth pressed inside her and gave a cry, leaning over her and letting his weight slowly ease her down until he'd slipped out of her and the three of them were lying tangled and breathless on the grass.
Evy twitched and shivered as her heart raced. Rick kept his arms around her, one hand drawing slowly up and down her spine, his shirt still caught low on her arms and across her back.
Ardeth rolled over and slung his arm across the both of them. They were silent as they caught their breath, listening to the breeze stir the trees and the river bubble over the rocks, the shadows growing darker and darker as the sun rolled over the sky.
They swam again, lazy and content, before the heat of the afternoon faded. The sky above grew pale and then darker, and Ardeth lit a fire by the lean-to he and Rick had strung up between two trees, their bedrolls lined up beneath it.
When the stars were out and showing as a bright wedge between the towering canyon walls, they crawled into bed. Rick put his head on Evy's shoulder as Ardeth knelt and slowly sucked his cock, taking his time and catching Rick's hands with his as he worked, fingers twined and holding tightly. Evy ran her fingertips along Rick's collarbone and made him squirm and grin against her neck.
He moaned over her bare skin when he came, and Ardeth swallowed, and bit gentle kisses into Rick's stomach afterwards, making him flinch and laugh. Ardeth rested his head on Rick's shoulder and let the back of his fingers stroke gently over the bruise darkening on Evy's ribs.
"You know," Rick said, "this makes almost getting killed worth it."
"You should not consider this a reward for your reckless behavior," Ardeth muttered.
"We've improved a little," Evelyn said reasonably. "No waking the dead this time."
His dark eyes shone at her. "It worries me that such a distinction is necessary."
"Are you coming with us back to Cairo?" Rick asked suddenly.
"I cannot trust you to continue on alone?"
"Nope," Rick said immediately, over the top of Evy's, "Absolutely not."
"I will escort you a little further," Ardeth said, closing his eyes as Rick's arm curled over his shoulders. "I would not want to bring some kind of terrible curse upon my people by letting you out of my sight too early."
"That's the spirit," Rick said.
When Evelyn woke, the sky was clear, the brightest stars still winking at its highest reaches, though the sun would soon reach the horizon. She stretched and rolled closer to Rick, draping her arm over his waist and watching Ardeth talk in a low voice to his horse as he ran a brush over his dark coat.
He had built the fire up again, and she could smell coffee.
Ardeth noticed she was awake, and smiled at her. "Good morning."
"You're going to make us leave early, aren't you," she said, not bothering to try and make it sound like a question.
"It is best not to travel in the middle of the day," he reminded her.
"Mmph." Evy snuggled into Rick's side and he ran his fingers down her arm, his eyes still closed.
"I would like to show you something before we leave," Ardeth said, and it was the hesitance in his voice which made Evy open her eyes again. "If you are able to make a promise that the British Museum will never find out about it."
She bolted upright. "What is it? Is something hidden here? Is there a tomb? A secret passage?"
Rick rolled over and covered his ears, muttering to himself.
She wriggled out of the shirt she had stolen from Rick the day before, and hastily pulled her own clothes on, staggering to her feet unsteadily. "Get up, O'Connell." She poked him between the shoulder blades.
"Are you sure you want to keep bossin' me around, now that there are two of us here to set you firmly in your place again?" he asked. He grinned at her and raked a hand through his hair, and for a moment Evy's body twinged in response.
"I promise," Evy said, offering Ardeth a bright smile. "I will forgo any recovery fee the British Museum throw at me; I shall forever resist the temptation to lead others to this place..."
"And," Rick added for her, "resist the temptation to end an argument with stuffy scholars by shouting about what you know."
"That too." She bit her lip and looked at Ardeth hopefully. "What is it? Please?"
He led them both back to the water, which looked chilly and dark in the dawn light. They followed the river between the trees until the cliffs enclosed the valley again and the water disappeared below the rocks, swift and silent.
"The river used to be much deeper here," Ardeth said, watching the current stream past. "The Secret Valley, known only to a few. The desert will lead you in circles if she does not want you to find this place, the khamaseen awakening to leave you lost beneath the sun."
Rick made a soft, anxious noise in the back of his throat.
"You would not have found the Golden Scroll with your maps," Ardeth said.
Evy's heart sank. "The temple was a decoy?"
Ardeth gestured to the river. "You chose the wrong entrance, Evelyn."
She followed the motion of his hand, but it took her a moment to see. A shadow, deep beneath the surface, square and strong and carved out by something other than the running water. She automatically took a step forward in her excitement, and Rick grabbed the back of her shirt.
"At ease," he said.
"Indeed." Ardeth looked amused. "You are not equipped for this path today, my friends."
"Can we — can we get equipped and come back?" Evelyn asked, her throat dry. "I swear, Ardeth, I swear I'll keep this secret, I just need to see it; I just need to know that it's down there, please, please..."
"If you promise to leave it in its place," he said.
"Of course," she said breathlessly. "Yes, of course, of course, and if you were to guide us, we'd pay you, of course, if you —"
Ardeth shook his head, it wasn't necessary.
Rick chimed in. "Pay him with the fee we won't get from the British Museum?"
"I can think of other favors to bestow," Evelyn retorted, and Rick coughed a laugh that made him double over.
"I will guide you back to town, and we can obtain supplies," Ardeth said. "It may take a few days."
Rick stretched and cracked his spine. "I vote for somewhere with a four-post bed and a thicker mattress than that old bedroll," he said.
"Four posts?" Evy asked.
"And some silk scarves," he added with a devilish grin. "You make a pretty picture dressed in nothing but silk."
She tutted, and rolled her eyes. "Perhaps I should bind you to the bed and show Ardeth how to make you squirm, O'Connell," she said, waggling her fingers at him.
Rick laughed and rose to the challenge. "You'll have to pin me first, lady."
Evy glanced at Ardeth for his input, and he smiled. "I fail to see why we cannot indulge in both," he said. "After all, neither one of you shows constraint in anything else you do."