Friday, August 16, 2013

Echo Prophecy release day!

HAPPY ECHO PROPHECY RELEASE DAY!


Echo Prophecy (Echo Trilogy, #1) is now available for purchase in both ebook and paperback at:


Book Description:

“…we only see what we want to see…what we expect to see…”
Discover what’s hidden—a powerful, mythic race, an ancient Egyptian prophecy, and a love strong enough to shatter the boundaries of time.

Alexandra Larson isn’t human…but she doesn’t know that. As far as Lex is concerned, she’s simply an ambitious and independent archaeology grad student with a knack for deciphering ancient languages, especially Egyptian texts. When she’s recruited to work on her dream excavation, her translating skills uncover the secret entrance to an underground Egyptian temple concealed within Djeser-Djeseru—the famous mortuary temple of Queen Hatchepsut. Lex is beyond thrilled by her discovery…as is the enigmatic and alluring excavation director, Marcus Bahur.

As the relationship between Lex and Marcus heats up, a series of shocking revelations leave the young archaeologist reeling. As Lex learns the truth of her ancient Egyptian roots—the truth of her more-than-human nature—the people she trusts most make one final, terrifying revelation: Lex is the central figure of a four-thousand-year-old prophecy. She is the only thing standing between the power to alter the very fabric of time and an evil megalomaniac…who also happens to be her father. And, as events set in motion four millennia ago lead Lex and Marcus from Seattle to the heart of Egypt, the fate of mankind depends on one thing: the strength of Lex’s love. Will it be enough?

Echo Prophecy is a historical mystery/paranormal romance novel for adult readers.
***Contains adult content***

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Echo Prophecy Excerpt: Third Chapter


Chapter 3
Nightmares & Dreams


“Are you sure you—”

“Let’s just go already, Mom,” I interrupted. I knew I was being a brat in the worst way—my mom felt awful for lying to me about my parentage for twenty-four years, and I was taking out my inner turmoil on her, but . . . she’d lied to me. So had my dad. And it wasn’t just a little, I-broke-your-favorite-vase-and-told-you-it-was-the-cat lie, oh no. It was a whopper of a lie, requiring me to do a complete identity overhaul. I couldn’t just pretend that everything was hunky-dory. I’d never been a good liar.

Searching for a safe place in my mind, I focused on the beads of rain clinging to the passenger window of my mom’s dark red sedan. As the car picked up speed, the droplets seemed reluctant to stream across the glass, moving in a stuttering rhythm.

Part of me worried about leaving Thora alone so abruptly, but I knew Annie would take good care of her. I’d sent her a text in the wee hours of the morning, asking her to cat-sit for the next three weeks, and she’d agreed immediately. She hadn’t asked a single question. Annie had the kind heart of a saint, and I loved her for it.

As I felt myself falling asleep, a small sense of relief washed over me.

“Haven’t you ever wondered why you don’t really look like your dad?” my mom asked, her voice echoing all around me.

I was standing in front of a wood-framed mirror hung at eye level on a seemingly endless wall. A picture of my dad’s face was pinned to the mirror’s frame. I examined his features closely, and then did the same with my own, attempting to reconcile their many differences.

Maybe his lips, I thought . . . those could look a little like mine. But after cross-referencing the reflection of my own narrow, rosy mouth with his, I realized they weren’t a match.

Horrified, I stared at the photo of my dad, watching his mouth disappear completely. When I tried to scream, there was only silence. I looked into the mirror, and with gut-wrenching terror, realized that my own mouth had vanished as well.

My ears were next, as were my dad’s in his picture. And then my long, dark brown hair.

I brought my hands up to my face, attempting to hold the remaining features in place. As my nose vanished, so did my ability to breathe. I panicked, trying to suck air through a smooth expanse of unbroken skin.

I watched my frantic brown eyes until the lack of oxygen caused dark spots to wash over my vision. I glanced one last time at the picture of my dad before my world faded to black.

All I could think was,
I am nothing.

I woke with my head resting against the chilly car window. Involuntarily, I brought my hand up to feel my face. Everything was right where it belonged, including the salty tears streaming down my cheeks.

Glancing out the window, I realized the rain had turned to light snow and we were nearing my hometown. Yakima, the central Washington city where I’d grown up, was really quite demonstrative in terms of the stereotypical seasons. There are four distinct times of the year: sweat-inducing summers, reddish-gold falls, snowy winters, and flowery springs. I was always amazed by the way the fruit trees in the countless orchards accentuated the seasons. Nothing screamed winter like bare branches sheathed in ice, or heralded spring like apple and cherry blossoms.

As the familiar, mostly barren landscape of the high desert glided past, I wondered if coming home and seeing my dad was going to make the realignment of my identity any easier. Or, would it become infinitely more difficult?

*****

Silently, each unique, beautiful snowflake found a home on the deck around me. In the back of my mind I felt envious of the moonlit flakes—each was well-defined and individual. I, on the other hand, was vague, undefined. They didn’t have to worry about where they might fit in, let alone where they came from. They would just . . . land. Where am I supposed to land?

I’d been home for two weeks, and so far, the frigid Yakima winter had proven to be the only thing that could bring me peace. The falling snow offered a distraction from my morose thoughts. And because it rarely snowed in Seattle, sitting outside in below-freezing weather didn’t belie my sanity too much. It was snowing, after all.

At a knock on the sliding glass door, I jumped. I heard it open partially. “Lex?” It was my mom.

“Yeah?”

“Cara’s on the phone, sweetie. She said she tried your cell but it went straight to voicemail. She sounds really worried—you should talk to her.” My mom had always been a master guilt-tripper.

I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and surrendered. “Fine.” I could only avoid talking to people for so long. And if I was being honest with myself, even I was getting sick of the moping, sullen woman I’d become. I needed to rejoin the world, bask in the sunshine, seize the day, and . . . you know, all that bullshit.

As I entered the house, my mom handed me the phone with a sympathetic smile. I wandered upstairs to my old bedroom and shut the door, sitting cross-legged on the burgundy duvet. I focused on taking long, deep breaths, then closed my eyes and raised the phone to my ear.

“Hey, Cara,” I said in a reluctant, slightly hoarse voice. Not speaking for days tended to do that to a voice.

“Oh my God, Lex! It’s so good to hear your voice,” she said enthusiastically. “So, are you going to let me know what the hell’s going on? Why’d you just take off? I mean, weren’t you planning on staying in the Yak with your fam for only a few days during Christmas? How much family time can you really stand? Aren’t things still bad with your sister?”

I really didn’t want to lie to Cara—at least, not outright. After searching for the courage to respond to her barrage of questions, I spoke carefully. “Uh, yeah . . . I was planning on only being here for a few days.” True. “But when my mom was about to leave, I suddenly felt like I needed more time with her.” Also true. “So, on a whim, I just sort of decided to ride back to Yakima with her and stay until after Christmas.” True-ish . . . success! But I couldn’t ignore the sick feeling churning in my stomach.

“So . . . you’re not, like, dying or anything?” she joked.

“Nope . . . not that I’m aware of. I guess I’ve just been really distracted here. It’s been a long time since I’ve been home.” The partial truth was coming more easily.

“Don’t worry, darling. I’ll see you when you get back,” Cara said, and I smiled sorrowfully at her usual term of endearment.

“Definitely,” I replied.

“Love ya, Lex. Don’t be a phone stranger. I mean, you can only expect me to survive for so long with Lex deprivation . . .”

Surprising myself, I laughed. “Got it. Love ya, too.”

After goodbyes were said and the call was disconnected, I stood and stretched. Still clad in my winter deck-wear, I was extremely overheated and a little sweaty. I tore off my mittens, unzipped and removed my navy-blue down jacket, and slid my feet out of my waterproof, fur-lined boots. I traded my jeans for some purple and blue plaid pajama bottoms before curling up on a bed that had always been mine, in a room that had always been mine, with the odd sense that neither belonged to me anymore. That Lex no longer existed.

*****

Unsure of how I’d fallen asleep so early in the evening, I awoke. Night had fallen completely, darkening the room. My first thought was of being cold, so I quickly maneuvered myself under the covers. My second thought was one of relief—for the first time in two weeks, I had slept without having the nightmare. My third thought was about the strangely vivid dream I’d just awoken from. It had taken place in my parents’ house, and it could easily have been real, except that the dream switched back and forth between two time periods. The more I thought about it, the clearer my memory of it became.

Standing in the doorway between the kitchen and dining room, I saw my mom sitting at her brand-new, oak dining room table, her hands clasped together on the surface. My dad was sitting across from her.

Shaking her head, she said, “I just think it’s too late. We’ve gone such a long time with this secret . . . it just seems easier to keep it.”

“But Alice, don’t you see? The girls have a right to know who they are . . . where they come from.” My dad reached across the table and covered her hands with his. “It’s just not fair to keep hiding it from them. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Suddenly, the scene shifted—I was still in the dining room, but the table was our old, battered one. My mom and dad, who seemed to have lost a couple decades, still sat in relatively the same places.

“I just don’t know, Joe,” my mom said, shaking her head. “I think we should wait until they’re old enough to understand why we had to do it.”

My dad sighed. “I wish we wouldn’t ever need to have this conversation with our little girls. I just . . . okay, I guess a couple more years couldn’t hurt. But we will tell them eventually, Alice.”

Closing her eyes, my mom nodded.

In the blink of an eye, the scene shifted back to my mom and dad sitting at the new table, his hands covering hers.

“Alright, Joe . . . this weekend, I guess I’ll visit Lex and tell her. If she doesn’t take it well, I’ll just bring her back with me. But, if it’s too hard for her, then we’re not telling Jenny—she’s just not as, well . . . as strong.” When my mom glanced up at my dad, her eyes were as fierce as those of a lioness.

My dad scooted his chair back, stood, and walked around the table to her. As I followed him with my eyes, I noticed a flicker of movement just beyond the wide, arched doorway leading into the living room.


Lying in bed, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d really been present during my parents’ conversations. A sense that a dream was more real than, well, just a dream was something I’d experienced before. But it had only happened when I’d awakened from a dream that was really a memory.

Once, when I was a freshman in high school, I forgot my locker combination. It happened near the beginning of the school year, but I’d already stashed a couple of books inside. After sharing a friend’s locker for more than half the year, I had a sudden need to get into mine—the library was going to send a bill home for the books I’d “lost” in my locker, and I really didn’t want to pay the fee to reset the combo. The day before the library fine was due, I went home, resolved to pay the reset fee the following morning. That night, I had a vivid dream. In it, I was sitting on my bed after the first day of school, going through my backpack. In my hand was the card displaying the elusive combination to my locker. When I woke from that dream, I hastily jotted down the locker combination, absolutely positive of its accuracy. Later that morning, I opened my locker for the first time in months, saving myself a hearty sum of money. That dream had felt the same as the one I just had: absolutely real.

But, so had the dream of Dr. Ramirez getting hit by a car, and that never actually happened. I couldn’t possibly have “remembered” the conversations between my parents in my dream because I hadn’t been there. It’s nothing, I told myself. I’m just being obsessive.

For the second time in two weeks, I laughed out loud. If I mentioned anything about my crazy dreams to my mom, all of her worried looks and concern over my mental stability would quickly give way to a leather couch in a psychiatrist’s office. No, thank you.

Regardless, I couldn’t ask my mom or dad if they’d had any conversations like the ones in my dream . . . for their sake. I was pretty sure I’d been making the past few weeks fairly hellish on them, and I wasn’t about to make it worse.

I eventually chalked up the dream to my overactive obsession with understanding who I was . . . where I came from . . . who my father was . . .

Gradually, like a dimmer switch lighting up my thoughts, I knew where I could get more information—from Grandma Suse. My indecisive mom discussed nearly everything with her mother. Tomorrow, I told myself, I’ll drive over to Grandma Suse’s house and hopefully get some much-needed answers.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Echo Prophecy Excerpt: Second Chapter


Chapter 2
Mom & Dad


I sat down beside my mom, curling my legs under me and relaxing into the couch with a satisfied sigh. My belly was full of the most delicious take-out Thai food the University District had to offer, my mom was with me and nearly as excited about the upcoming excavation as I was, and I had nothing but free time for weeks to come. Damn, life is good.

“Sweetie,” my mom began in a voice that instantly told me something was wrong. “I came out here for a reason . . . not just to surprise you.” She took a deep breath, either to calm her nerves or strengthen her resolve. “Your dad and I were talking the other night, and we decided that, well . . . Lex, haven’t you ever wondered why you don’t really look like your dad?” she asked, gazing intently at the empty wine glass in her hand. Sickly yellow light from the kitchen reflected off its convex, crystalline surface.

What’s that supposed to mean? Tons of people don’t look much like their parents. Why would she ask me that? Unless . . . she can’t mean that . . . Dad’s not my
. . .

My mom had asked me a question. But her words . . . I couldn’t figure out what they meant. Deciphering the true, hidden meaning behind words was what I was best at, but I couldn’t decipher these words. They implied that there was something I should have noticed before, something that should have been obvious. But she can’t mean that Dad’s not my . . . not my . . .

Suddenly, I was more aware of the bite-sized living room than ever before. The bookcases set against the opposite wall were in serious need of dusting, and I had the urge to reorganize the hefty collection of historical fiction and romance books packed onto the shelves. The framed prints on the wall between the bookcases captivated me more than ever before. Dali’s Persistence of Memory stood out beyond all others. I felt a strange kinship with the melting pocket watches, like I, too, was losing form.

On my right hand, my grandpa’s ring became hypnotizing. Grandma Suse, his widow, gave it to me on my sixteenth birthday, and I’d had the wide, silver band resized to fit my slender ring finger. Its inky obsidian stone seemed to suck in the light rather than reflect it back to the waiting world. Was my greedy ring sucking in all of the air too? I couldn’t seem to draw a full breath.

Haven’t you ever wondered why you don’t really look like your dad?

It was true—I didn’t really resemble my dad. Had I noticed before? I looked so much like my mom that I’d figured I’d inherited less obvious characteristics from my dad—his laugh, the way he walked, his single-minded determination. But now, I realized those characteristics were undefinable as well. Truth stared me in the face, forcing me to see. She really means that Dad’s not my real dad.

But why tell me now? How did this happen? 

Possibilities, vile and corrosive, swirled around in my mind. Had my parents separated and been with other people before I was born? Had my mom had an affair? Had I been adopted? The last, I knew without a doubt, was wrong—other than differences in coloring, I was practically a physical clone of my mom. But an affair or separation was still a possibility. Is my happy family a lie?

Carefully, I reached for my wine glass with a trembling hand, hoping to numb myself with its contents. As my fingers touched the smooth stem, fear cleared my thoughts. Fear, and unexpected anger. If I was someone else’s daughter because my mom cheated on my dad . . .

“What do you mean, exactly?” I asked, voice sharp and eyes narrowed. It felt like eons had passed since my mom initially asked the question, but my chaotic thought process had borne conclusions in less than a minute.

Hesitantly, my mom raised her warm brown eyes to search mine, and then she shifted them to focus on the wall behind the couch. “Grandma Betsy had a really hard time having kids. She was given certain drugs. At the time, doctors were giving specific hormones to women who were at risk of miscarrying. Betsy, well, she was one of the women treated that way.”

“So . . . ?” I prompted, impatient.

Suddenly my mom was looking at me, weariness in her eyes. She sighed. “The treatment had an unforeseen side effect on the children. They were sterile, Lex. Your dad couldn’t have children.”

Dad couldn’t have kids? That meant Mom never had an affair . . . they never separated . . .

Relief flooded my body. It began in my lungs as I involuntarily inhaled a delicious breath of air, and it flowed out toward my nerve endings. Mom and Dad were never separated . . . my family is real! I was ecstatic.

My mom furrowed her brow.

Abruptly, relief fled from my body. If Dad couldn’t have kids . . . “Then who’s my father?” This can’t be happening.

“We went to the best place, where the donors were all guaranteed to be intelligent, talented men with a healthy family history.”

But none of those intelligent, talented men were Joe Larson, my dad—or rather, the man I’d believed to be my dad until two minutes ago. Despite my best efforts to hold it together, my chin began to tremble. The quivering spread to my cheeks and then throughout my entire body, but I didn’t cry. I was too stunned to cry.

Watching my devastation, my mom said, “Maybe I shouldn’t have told you, but your dad thought . . .” Again, she sighed.

I pulled my legs up to my chest and fit my head between my knees. My mom tried to comfort me by rubbing my back, but I flinched at her touch. I stared down at the hardwood floor, trying to focus . . . trying to breathe.

Me, the very essence of my being, retreated inside, seeking the only haven available: solitude.

Thud-THUMP. Thud-THUMP. Thud-THUMP.

I focused on my heartbeat. It was still the same. It hadn’t changed in the last few minutes, unlike everything else I knew about myself . . . or thought I’d known.

I’m still me.

Right?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Double Book Giveaway!

So...I currently have to Goodreads giveaways going on right now: one for a signed paperback copy of After The Ending and one for a signed paperback copy of Echo Prophecy. Both giveaways end on August 21. Want in? Sign up here:


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Echo Prophecy by Lindsey Fairleigh

Echo Prophecy

by Lindsey Fairleigh

Giveaway ends August 21, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Goodreads Book Giveaway

After The Ending by Lindsey Fairleigh

After The Ending

by Lindsey Fairleigh

Giveaway ends August 21, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Echo Prophecy Excerpt: First Chapter


Chapter 1
Unreal & Real


“NO!” I screamed as a speeding, moss-green station wagon slammed into my graduate advisor, who had been running across the street.

Dr. Ramirez’s body rolled up onto the hood, his head hitting the windshield with a sickening crack, before sliding back down and settling on the asphalt. His arm flopped out to the side, landing in one of the many puddles created by the morning’s incessant drizzle.

“Oh my God! Dr. Ramirez!” I sprinted the rest of the way down the paved path, across the sidewalk, and onto the university’s main drag. As I knelt beside Dr. Ramirez, I dropped the copy of the
Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology I’d been carrying—I’d been intending to show him an article on the discovery of a new Iliad manuscript, but the journal’s pages lay askew, dirty and collecting droplets of rain.

My hands hovered over Dr. Ramirez, but I was too afraid of injuring him further to touch him. He was wearing his usual, casual professor’s garb—medium-wash jeans and a heavy, navy-blue raincoat—but it hadn’t protected him during the collision. The hair on the left side of his head was matted with blood, and his forehead looked slightly misshapen.

“I’m so sorry!” the driver cried as she lurched out of the car, leaving the driver’s side door open. “I didn’t see him . . . He just ran out . . . Oh my God . . . I . . .”

I ignored her and the flurry of activity taking place around us, instead reaching for Dr. Ramirez’s limp hand, which still lay in a puddle. Trembling, I placed two fingers on his wrist to check his pulse, but I felt nothing.

“You killed him,” I said hollowly.

The driver looked at me—into me—her eyes filled with horror.



Gasping, I jerked upright. My right leg was curled under me, numb. I’d fallen asleep in one of the wooden torture devices that doubled as desk chairs in the Anthropology graduate office, and according to my stiff joints, it hadn’t been a wise decision. My beloved monstrosity of a desk—a battered, oak rolltop that might have been worth something if it wasn’t covered with as many dents and dings as carvings—had been an equally foolish place to rest my head. Damn, I thought as I took in the disarray under my elbows. A chaotic jumble of open books, photos, and papers was scattered across the desk’s surface, some with brand-new folds and wrinkles, and one with an unfortunate drool spot.

“Fabulous,” I muttered, wiping away the wet stain with a tissue.

Once again, I’d been attempting to decipher the ancient, oh-so-frustrating puzzle that had been driving me nuts all quarter. A combination of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs—
 


—that seemed perfectly content to remain undecipherable.



Shaking with adrenaline lingering from the awful dream, I sighed, shifted my leg from under me, and lowered my head to rest my cheek on the desk. I stared at the end of my coffee-brown ponytail, unbelievably glad that I’d been asleep and that Dr. Ramirez hadn’t been hit by a car. It had been a dream . . . just a stupid, freakishly realistic dream.

“Hey, Lex!”

“Gah!” I exclaimed, jumping slightly and causing the invisible pins and needles poking into my reawakening leg to jab with renewed gusto. At seeing the short, excited man standing beside my desk, I shook my head and laughed. It was almost impossible to be irritated at Carson, whose diminutive build, artfully mussed brown hair, and bright blue eyes made him look more like a member of a boy band than a fellow grad student. “Seriously, Carson? Was that absolutely necessary?”

He slapped his hand down on one of the open books, lifting it a few seconds later to reveal a folded hundred-dollar bill. “You win,” he said grudgingly. “I still think my article was far superior, but apparently my opinion doesn’t count.” He tossed an academic journal onto the desk beside the money. It was opened to an article titled “Fact From Myth: Cross-Referencing Texts Across Ancient Cultures to Decipher Unknown Symbols”—my article.

With a smug smile, I crossed my arms and sat back in my chair. We’d made a bet several months back—a Benjamin to whichever of us was published by a major academic journal first. Though we’d both been co-authors or contributors to other people’s articles, neither Carson nor I had been published for our individual work. Until now.

“I’m surprised they didn’t take one look at that monstrous title and toss your article into the trash,” Carson said.

“Ouch! You wound me with your pointy words!” I exclaimed, clutching my chest dramatically.

Carson flopped down in a chair beside my desk and let his head fall backward with a groan. “It’s not fair, Lex,” he whined, only amplifying his pubescent image.

“You’re ridiculous,” I told him, laughing. I patted his knee, happily noting that my own leg was back to normal. “Maybe you’ll be in the next one . . . doesn’t Mediterranean Archaeology come out tomorrow? I thought you submitted a few things to them?” Remembering my dream, the Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology discarded on the grimy road, I stifled a shiver.

Carson raised his head and stared at me with annoyance. “That’s the latest issue of Mediterranean Archaeology,” he said, pointing to my article. My blood instantly chilled, and this time I couldn’t repress a shiver. It was Thursday, and that particular journal was always delivered on Fridays. It’s just a coincidence, I told myself.

Pointing to the open journal, I asked, “So, other than my amazing article, is there anything else in there worth noting?”

Carson shrugged. “Mostly it’s just the usual . . . retranslations of this or that text, an update on Pompeii and the volcanic activity at Mount Vesuvius, an explanation of some new techniques for underwater excavating”—suddenly excited, he leaned forward and rubbed his hands together—“and, an analysis of a new Iliad manuscript. It’s fragmented, but it’s also the oldest version ever found.”

Something in my chest tightened, and my lungs felt too weak to draw in enough air.

When I didn’t say anything, Carson added, “Awesome, right?” He specialized in the classics—Homer, Plato, Catullus—practically worshipping the long-dead poets and philosophers.

“Uh . . . yeah.” I snatched my iPhone off the desk and checked the time—half past eleven. In fifteen minutes, I was scheduled to meet with Dr. Ramirez in his office downstairs for my final advisory meeting of the quarter. He’d barely been able to squeeze me in between appointments with professors and other students, so there was no reason for him to be crossing the road as he’d been doing in the dream . . . even if it did pass right by our building.

Suddenly, my phone vibrated, and a blue text message alert box appeared in the middle of the screen. The message was from Dr. Ramirez.

Running out for coffee. Will try to be back in time for our meeting. 

“No effing way!” I hissed, standing so quickly my chair nearly fell over backward. I grabbed the journal, then shook my head and tossed it back onto the desk before speeding through the maze of desks and cubicles honeycombing the communal graduate office.

“Lex? Where are you going?” Carson called after me.

“Be right back,” I said, not even glancing over my shoulder. I raced down the dim, narrow third-floor hallway and shoved the heavy stairwell door open. It slammed against the wall with a loud, metallic thud. In a matter of seconds, I descended the two flights of stairs and exploded into the main hall of the first floor. I bumped into someone, receiving a masculine grunt as we both crashed to the linoleum floor. My knee and elbow hit the floor so hard that bruising was inevitable.

“I’m so sorry!” I exclaimed, extricating myself from beneath the legs of . . . Dr. Ramirez. “Oh my God . . . are you okay?”

Dr. Ramirez—tall, dark, middle-aged, and dignified—stood and made a bit of a show of dusting himself off. He studied me, holding back a smile. I was still sprawled on the floor.

“I’m going to assume your rush was caused by excitement about the recent publication of your work,” he said.

Blushing, I stood. “I . . . yes,” I lied.


“Well, since you’re here, Alexandra, do you want to come with me to get coffee?” Dr. Ramirez checked his watch. “I don’t think I’ll have another chance all day.” But then he might cross a street, and there might be a moss-green station wagon, and . . .

“No!” I blurted, thrusting my hands out in front of me. When his eyebrows rose, I added, “I’ll go get coffee for us both. I’m sure you have better things to do.” Spinning away from him, I jogged to the main doors. From the ache in my knee, I could tell the bruise was going to be a beauty. “You just stay here,” I said over my shoulder.

It wasn’t until I was through the glass doors and halfway down the steep, slippery stone steps that I realized I had no clue what kind of coffee Dr. Ramirez liked. I turned around and, when I poked the upper half of my body through the open door, was only half-surprised to find my advisor standing exactly where I’d left him, his face utterly bemused. “I forgot to ask what you wanted,” I said breathlessly.

Chuckling, Dr. Ramirez said, “Just black coffee. Large, please.”

“Okay. Great! Sorry about . . . you know. I’ll be right back!” Again I hurried down the stairs, not caring that it was raining and that I was wearing only a thin sweater, jeans, and slouchy suede boots. I paused when I reached the sidewalk and road that had featured so prominently in my midday nightmare. Looking up the street toward the campus gatehouse, I spotted a single car approaching, but it was too far away to distinguish any details. I squashed my curiosity and changed direction, heading for the coffee stand in Suzzallo Library instead of the cafe in the Burke Museum, which was closer but across the main road. My psyche wouldn’t be able to handle passing a moss-green station wagon, coincidence or not.

-----

My phone buzzed as I was walking back up Denny’s steep front steps, one to-go cup of piping hot coffee in each hand. I set both on the campus newspaper stand beside the glass doors and pulled my phone out of my back pocket. Dr. Ramirez had texted me again.

Check your email. 

Intrigued, I opened my inbox and quickly scanned through the newest messages. Three were from students and were utterly predictable—two of my undergrads were asking for extensions on their final papers and one wondered how much it would affect his grade if he skipped it altogether. Shaking my head, I snorted and muttered, “Too much.”

The fourth message also had a University of Washington domain, but it wasn’t from anyone I knew.

Hello Ms. Larson,

I am a visiting professor in the Classics department here at UW. I contacted your department head, and he directed me to you. I need an on-site ancient languages specialist at an upcoming excavation in Egypt, preferably someone with a background deciphering unfamiliar symbols. Please let me know if you are interested, and I will send you the specifics. If you agree to participate, you will be abroad during the latter half of spring quarter and most of summer. Please let me know if you have any questions. I hope to hear from you soon.

Marcus Bahur
Professor of Classical Archaeology
University of Washington
University of Oxford



I studied the email, rereading it several times. A professor visiting from Oxford wanted me, specifically, to accompany him on a dig in Egypt . . . as an ancient languages specialist. I’d worked on a half-dozen excavations all around the Mediterranean, but mostly just as a grunt—a field school student. Being a specialist would give me the chance to pursue my own research along with that of Professor Bahur. The opportunity sounded too good to be true. It also sounded too expensive, and there wasn’t enough time to apply for grants to cover room, board, and travel expenses. If it cost anything on my end, I’d have to pass.

Rushing, I replied, vaguely proclaiming interest and requesting more details. As I typed, I thought, please be free . . . please be free . . . please be free . . .

Again with coffees in hand, I headed back into majestic Denny Hall. Built late in the nineteenth century, it was the university’s first building. Accordingly, the exterior was stunning—a combination of stone and archways and small-pane windows that befit a French chateau far more than a university building—but aside from the first-floor professor’s offices, the interior was laughably mundane.

After squeaking my way down the wide hall, I knocked loudly on the heavy wooden door to Dr. Ramirez’s office.

“Come in,” he called, his voice rumbling.

As I entered, Dr. Ramirez was placing a book on the top shelf of the built-in bookcase beside his desk. “Ah, I see the coffee has arrived,” he said, his eyes laughing though he wore no smile. After taking in my appearance, he asked, “Did you take a dip in the fountain on your way?”

I glanced down at myself, unsurprised to see that my clothes were more than a little damp, clinging to me like plastic wrap to ceramic, which was pretty much how they felt. “I forgot my coat,” I said lamely. I set the two cups of coffee on his well-organized desk but didn’t sit in either of the wooden visitors’ chairs. I didn’t want to be rude and drip all over them.

Noticing my internal predicament, Dr. Ramirez said, “Please, Alexandra, sit.”

For the thousandth time, I noted how lucky I was to have landed him as my graduate advisor. A sturdy, former college football player, he was like a towering, slightly intimidating father figure to everyone in the archaeology department. He was both stoic and sage, and tended to hand out criticism far more often than praise, but the criticism was always of the constructive variety.

I sat in the chair on the right, unable to repress my desire to examine the cluttered bookshelves lining the walls on either side of the office. They were filled with volumes of every color and size. Many of the spines were faded with age, some even flaking, making them stand out next to their younger brethren. Beside books on many of the shelves lay little trinkets and photographs from all over the world. Like always, I felt the overwhelming urge to examine each item, to discover its meaning, origin, and personal value to Dr. Ramirez.

“So, Alexandra,” Dr. Ramirez said, interrupting my visual reverie. He’d seated himself in his old-fashioned, brown leather executive chair. “How do you think this quarter went?”

Unashamed, I said, “Really well.”

Dr. Ramirez smiled. “Specifically, what do you think your top achievements were?”

I crossed my legs, pursed my lips, and thought for a moment. Finally, I said, “My dissertation proposal was accepted several weeks ago, as you know. I’m really excited to move forward with it next quarter. My ability to translate hieroglyphic, hieratic, and demotic texts has progressed really well . . . and I started learning Coptic, too.” I wiggled my foot. “Umm . . . I won’t know for sure until after I’ve graded their final papers, but I think my undergrads did really well this quarter.” I paused, knowing I was forgetting something. “Oh, and I was published in a major archaeology journal,” I added proudly.

Leaning back, Dr. Ramirez intertwined his fingers and rested his hands on his belly. For a moment he merely studied me, and I tried not to fidget under his pondering gaze. “You know, I don’t usually take on graduate students . . . but I have to admit, accepting you was a very good decision on my part,” he stated, giving himself a verbal pat on the back. I half-expected him to physically do it, reaching his arm over his shoulder. He didn’t.

“Thank you,” I responded, stifling the sudden urge to giggle. I glanced down at my hands.

“I’ve spoken with all of your professors. They’re all very impressed with your progress. And your proposal—I’m really quite excited to see where this project ends up taking you. I’m expecting great things from you, Alexandra.”

At the moment, all I could do was smile . . . and blush. Dr. Ramirez’s overt praise stunned me.

“Now, unless you have any questions, I believe we’re done for the quarter. Grade your students’ papers early and make sure you enjoy your break—and get some well-deserved rest,” he ordered with mock severity.

Hearing the dismissal, I stood. “I will. Thank you, Dr. Ramirez,” I said before heading for the door.

“Oh, and Alexandra . . .”

Pausing with my hand on the doorknob, I looked back at him over my shoulder.

“I hope the excavation works out—I know you’re perfect for the job,” he told me, grinning before turning his attention to some papers on his desk.

“Thanks,” I replied quietly. “Have a nice break, professor.” I slipped out of his office, gently pulling the door shut behind me.

-----

An hour later, I was unlocking my apartment door. I was more than ready to begin winter break—even if it was as low-key as hanging out with my cat in my seventh-floor apartment, grading mind-numbingly boring final papers and overindulging on pop culture via the television. The only thing to break up the glorious couch time would be a three-day Christmas visit with my family in Central Washington.

My little brown tabby, Thora—I’d named her after the adored Egyptian goddess, Hathor—greeted me with a soft meow from her perch on her favorite windowsill. The building was nearly one hundred years old, and it had the single-pane windows, scuffed hardwood floors, and steam radiators to prove it. It worked out well for Thora—the windows made the cars, busses, and pedestrians who trafficked the street below sound like they were in the apartment and thus provided her ample entertainment—but it was more of a bummer for me. I liked quiet . . . and sleep.


“Hey, Thora. Are you ready for break?” I sang, crossing the cramped living room to scratch under her chin. I earned a loud purr in response and watched her bright green eyes narrow to happy slits.

My apartment was pretty standard to a century-old building—the kitchen was tiny, with ceramic tile countertops, a deep, porcelain sink, and absolutely no dishwasher; the living room was cramped, with barely enough room for a sienna microsuede couch, an antique walnut steamer trunk that doubled as a coffee table, a pair of tall, matching bookcases finished to resemble walnut, and a small, flat-screen television; and beyond the living room, the small bedroom, adjoining bathroom, and closet were equally as spacious—as in, not at all. The place was cozy, and I loved it.

I dropped my messenger bag on the couch and headed straight for my room to change into comfy, dry clothes—a plain white T-shirt, a zip-up hoodie displaying the name of my favorite band, Johnny Stopwatch, and some black sweatpants that had long since faded to gray. Finally feeling more like a human than a swamp monster, I sat on the couch, pulled out my thin, steel-gray laptop, tapped the power button, and waited. As the slender machine hummed to life, I stared through the rain-streaked window. I had a view of the university campus, an artful arrangement of graceful brick buildings and emerald-green grass and pines. People hurried along crisscrossing paths like ants in an ant farm, eager to get to their next class, if only to be out of the incessant drizzle.

Unexpected anticipation fluttered in my stomach as my attention returned to the computer screen. The email window was open—it almost always was—and there was a new message from Professor Bahur. Hesitantly, I opened it and began to read.

Ms. Larson,

I am excited to hear of your interest in participating in my excavation. Attached you will find a document containing further details of this project and your potential position. I would like to set up a time to meet so we can solidify your participation. I also want to make sure you know what you are getting into and that you have time to prepare—it will be quite the adventure. Are you available to meet up the Thursday or Friday before the start of the new quarter? Please let me know what time is good for you, and I will rearrange my schedule accordingly.

I am looking forward to meeting you, Ms. Larson, as you come very highly recommended.

Marcus Bahur
Professor of Classical Archaeology
University of Washington
University of Oxford


For the first time, I wondered what the mysterious, visiting professor looked like. His permanent position was at Oxford, so I figured he was British, and his formal language patterns indicated someone older and gentlemanly . . . possibly with a crazy mustache or overgrown eyebrows. Shaking the frivolous thoughts away, I opened the attachment and scanned it, looking for dollar signs. I found them.

Oh. My. God. I sat back on the couch, staring at the screen. I could more than afford to participate in the dig. Housing and food would be provided, and along with a stipend for leisure and travel expenses, I’d get paid a sizable commission for my finds. The bigger the discovery, the more money in my pocket. It was, in a word, unbelievable.

Without hesitation, I sent a quick reply to Professor Bahur, informing him that I was eager to participate and that I was available to meet with him on either that Thursday or Friday, whenever worked best for him. Despite my curiosity about the professor and his extravagant excavation, I could wait the three weeks . . . barely.

Just as I clicked send, my phone vibrated. I plucked it out of the little pocket on the side of my bag, and seeing the caller’s name, answered. “Hi, Mom.”

“Hi, honey,” my mom, Alice, replied. Disappointment was heavy in her voice.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, instantly concerned. “Is Grandma okay?”

“Oh, it’s nothing like that. I was hoping to surprise you by showing up at your place tonight, but the darn pass is closed. But . . . I should be able to make it over there by tomorrow afternoon.”

“Oh . . . well . . . I didn’t know you were coming! That’s so sweet, Mom!” I said, genuinely excited. It had been more than six months since I’d seen my mom, and I missed her. Besides, I could barely wait to tell her the great news about the excavation. “I’m excited to see you!”

“Me too, sweetie. Let’s just hope the weather behaves.”

“My fingers are crossed,” I said, actually crossing my left index and middle fingers. “Will you call me when you leave?”

“Of course!” she exclaimed, laughing. “I want to make sure you have time to clean up all the piles on your floor.”

I rolled my eyes, avoiding looking at the various mounds of books, clothes, and mail strewn haphazardly around the apartment. “Thanks, Mom, that’s so thoughtful of you,” I said dryly.

“I’m just being your mom, Lex . . . trying to take care of you,” she stated with mock concern.

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” I paused, then added, “And Mom?”

“Hmm?”

“I’m glad you’re coming.”

“Me too. Bye, sweetie.”

“Bye, Mom.” I tapped the screen to end the call. After only a few seconds of thought, the phone was back up to my ear.

In the middle of the third ring, I was greeted by the voice of Cara, a young, prosperous businesswoman and one of my best friends. “Hey, Lex.”

“So . . . I just found out something amazing,” I said, leading her with my excitement.

“What?”

“Guess,” I ordered.

“Umm . . . you’re a princess?”

I laughed out loud. “Definitely not.”

“Didn’t think so. You won a Caribbean cruise?”

“Nope.”

“You dropped out of grad school and decided to pursue life as a nun?”

I choked on nothing. “You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s ridiculous.”

“Alright, I give up,” she sighed, and I could hear a smile in her voice.

After listening to me tell her about the two emails from Professor Bahur and that I would almost certainly be working as one of the leaders of an excavation in Egypt—my dream—Cara squealed. Very, very loudly.

Unfortunately, I pulled the phone away too late, and my ear rang from her high pitch and volume. Even Thora stirred from her study of the pedestrians far below to glare at the phone.

With obvious urgency, Cara blurted, “This calls for immediate, emergency celebrating! I’ll call Annie right now, okay? We’ll be over in a couple hours for dinner before we go out.”

“Umm . . . I don’t really have anything to make . . .”

“No problem. Annie and I’ll stop by the store on our way—we’ll surprise you!” she said, her words bursting with enthusiasm.

“Sounds good,” I replied.

“Great! See you soon!” She hung up before I could say goodbye.

Glancing at my laptop screen, I noticed there was a new message in the inbox. It was from the professor—I couldn’t believe how quickly he’d replied.

Ms. Larson,

Very well. How about Friday at 3:30 in the afternoon at the café in the Burke Museum? Please let me know if either the time or location is unsuitable to you.

Until then,

Marcus Bahur
Professor of Classical Archaeology
University of Washington
University of Oxford


“If nothing else, Thora, this should be interesting,” I muttered, reaching over the arm of the couch to rub the top of the tabby’s head.

-----



I’d been waiting at the bar, shoulder-to-shoulder with dozens of other patrons, for about ten minutes. Finally, a harried bartender finished making the three drinks I’d ordered—all vodka cranberries—and set them on the bar. I paid in cash and reached for the drinks just as the woman on my right lurched against me. In my attempt to grab the bar for support, I knocked two of the glasses over, and bright red liquid splashed directly onto the man beside me.

“Oh!” he exclaimed, leaning away too late.

“Oh no!” I stared at the blaring crimson stain marring the lower half of his formerly pristine, pale gray shirt. “Oh God! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to . . .” I trailed off, losing all sense of coherency when I glanced up.

Eyes the color of Baltic amber held my gaze, too vibrant and rich to be considered brown. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were an artifice. Strong, straight, and defined, his bronze features were equally as striking, especially when paired with the hint of dark-as-night hair covering his shaved head. He was absolutely stunning.

As he watched me, frustration seemed to blanket his face. “It’s not a problem,” he assured me in a deep, smooth-as-milk-chocolate voice. It was slightly accented, sounding Middle Eastern with a sprinkling of French and maybe a touch of German or Swedish.

“But . . . but . . .” was all I could say.

The corners of the stranger’s mouth turned down in a partial frown and he shook his head. “Really, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”

“Are—are you sure?” I asked quietly, incapable of breaking eye contact but desperately needing to. I blamed my awkwardness on the wine I’d consumed during dinner. He’s just a guy in a bar, I told myself. Get a grip!

“Yes, perfectly,” he assured me again. “I believe your friends are waiting for you—if those”—he smirked as his eyes flicked to the table where Cara and my other best friend, Annie, were sitting—“are your friends?”

Following his eyes, I found Annie and Cara, watching us in awe. Their wide-eyed expressions mirrored mine perfectly. “Um, yeah . . . those are my friends,” I admitted, and then I remembered that they had been two-thirds of the reason I’d been at the bar. “Damn! Their drinks . . . now I’ll have to wait for another ten minutes,” I muttered.

Within seconds, the enthralling stranger had snagged a bartender and ordered replacements for my spilled beverages. “I’ll help you carry them . . . to make sure they actually make it to their destination this time,” he teased.

I didn’t know how to reply to that, and he didn’t wait, so I just followed him to the table where Cara, a blue-eyed goldilocks, and Annie, a half-Japanese beauty, sat and stared. They gaped at my new acquaintance as he set the drinks on the table.

“I hope you ladies have a nice night,” he said, flashing us a tight-lipped smile. He met my eyes one last time, then turned and walked away.

“Whoa!” Cara nearly shouted.

“Uh . . . yeah,” Annie added.

“I know,” I agreed. Wishing the gorgeous stranger had joined us, I searched the crowd for him, but he’d already disappeared.