Prologue: Egypt, 2010 BC
She had seen many offerings to countless gods, but nothing could have prepared her for the way this priestess moved. Slow and sensual, her body flowed like the flood waters her chosen goddess controlled, each step of the dance seeming effortless. Music echoed off the walls of the temple, and Anck-su-Namun stood mesmerized.
The light of torches bathed the priestess in otherworldly light, her skin burnished until she practically shone. With every roll of her hips, she seemed to invite the gaze of onlookers. The translucent fabric which wrapped her body slid aside, drawing the eye to her tattooed thigh, while her kohl-lined eyes were half-lidded, something playful tucked into her gaze.
Closer and closer, the priestess drew, until she stood before the pharaoh and his wives. On one side was his consort, while on the other, Anck-su-Namun found that her gaze lingered nakedly. It was as if, every time that the priestess looked up, she sought her out. Those dark eyes were full of promise, the kind of promise which made her mouth run dry.
It was over too soon, concluded as the others ended their song and set their chosen offering ablaze. The priestess knelt then, before her god-king, breaking Anck-su-Namun from her trance.
“Rise, Amunet.” Pharaoh, too, could not take his eyes off her.
Amunet. The name seemed to reverberate around her head. Anck-su-Namun swallowed, daring to let her eyes linger on the priestess once again. Could Pharaoh see the way she flushed, or was he too captivated by this other woman to see? The thought should have made something hot and ugly curl in her chest, but there was nothing. Nothing but the sound of her own heartbeat, pounding in her ears.
The same promise was in Amunet’s smile, looking at the throne. Now something made Anck-su-Namun’s throat catch. A quick glance at the others arrayed around her showed something dark on the queen’s face, with similar shadows flickering across the features of Pharaoh’s other wives.
The other women were all looking at their Pharaoh.
She was looking at Amunet.
She was still looking when the priestess turned, and for the briefest moment, let her gaze travel up and down Anck-su-Namun’s gold-painted body. Something like want flashed across her face then, gone as soon as it appeared.
Anck-su-Namun couldn’t have said what it was that sent a shiver down her spine as the royal procession filed out of the temple, not of desire but of forboding. Perhaps it was a warning sent by the gods, telling her that the things she imagined were dangerous. The thought of how the priestess’s body might move under cover of darkness, arching the way a serpent coiled, those eyes lit up with passion… she could not think such things.
She belonged to Nebhepetre, to her god-king, in all things. Her body was his alone to touch. To want anything else was to invite her ruin.
And yet, when night came, Anck-su-Namun felt her heart in her throat when her servants slid open the heavy doors of her chamber, revealing the figure of a woman. The look they had shared inside the temple had felt like an invitation, but she hadn’t truly believed that any mortal would risk the wrath of a pharaoh just to have her.
As the bolts latched behind her, the priestess stepped into the light, crossing the room in graceful strides until she stood close enough that the heat of her body seemed to radiate. She stood still, but did not move to touch.
This was madness. Amunet might be willing to dare the gods, but Anck-su-Namun knew better. She knew the anger of the god who possessed her alone was fierce and unrelenting, and he was still mortal. To defy him was to consider upsetting Ma’at, invite chaos into her life. She couldn’t. This was mere desire, it would pass.
“I prayed for you.” Amunet spoke softly, her gaze never wavering. “I asked the goddess, that she might destine me a lover, and then you came. But it must be freely chosen… what is your will?”
Silence fell between them. Anck-su-Namun held herself rigidly in place, thoughts racing. Why else would this woman entrance her so thoroughly from the first moment their eyes met? If it was the will of the gods, then it was no transgression if she allowed herself to give in.
Leaning forward, she tipped her head, touching the tip of her nose to Amunet’s.
The priestess smiled, lifting a hand to curve around the shape of the other woman’s cheek. Her hand seemed to burn, though the gesture was gentle. They stayed like that for a long moment, eyes shut, content and still. One by one, the torches which lit the room sputtered and went out, until all that remained was moonlight, streaming through the windows.
Only then did Anck-su-Namun dare to move.
Nearly four thousand years later, in a small bedroom in Cairo, Evelyn Carnahan’s eyes flew open. The images began to fade the moment she came awake, as dreams were wont to do, but what was left of them made her flush. Sweat sheened her body, her heart was still pounding, and there was still heat pooling low in her belly, which only made her blush harder as she realized it was there.
She studied Egypt for a living, but she had never before dreamed something like this. The idea that she could be involved with an ancient priestess was, of course, absurd on a number of levels. For one thing, she was a woman, and for another, she was living in the twentieth century. How had her imagination conjured something so fantastical?
Exhaling a slow, steadying breath, Evey tried to relax, examining the shape of her ceiling in the pre-dawn light. Don’t be ridiculous, she told herself sharply. It was just a dream. You once dreamed that you were married to a camel, and that certainly had no basis in reality.
Shaking her head as if to clear it, she decided that it was no use. Despite the early hour, there would be no further sleep happening, clearly. There was nothing to do but to get up, make a cup of tea, and finish reading the book she’d left beside her bed last night.
Her life was an orderly thing, spent among books, and though she sometimes felt a longing for the unknown the way her father once had, Evey was not about to give it up. She was a librarian, and that was all she needed...