Sharing an excerpt today from my newly released paranormal romance, set in Ancient Egypt. Here's the story, followed by the excerpt:
Khenet felt a breeze swirl around him, emanating from the closed door. Looking over his shoulder, he saw the bronze pins holding the bolts on the door to the innermost sanctum slowly turning. As he watched, one fell to the floor with a crash, followed a moment later by the other. The door drifted open very slightly, light blazing through the narrow opening and at the sides.
“The goddess is present,” said the high priest, clutching his staff so hard his knuckles went white. “Everyone is dismissed and may leave the inner sanctum, except for Lady Tiya and Pharaoh’s representative.”
Tiya’s father came to brush a kiss on her cheek before rejoining his impatient young wife and her brother, and then they too left. Khenet saw that although Tiya didn’t gaze after them, she did hastily wipe away a tear.
Murmuring prayers of praise and thanksgiving, the other priests filed out of the room. Khenet approached and offered Tiya his help in leaving the dais. “Allow me.”
She rested her fingers on his hand just long enough to keep her balance before snatching her hand back.
Marching up the stairs to the door of the innermost sanctum, Tiya held herself tall and dignified. He restrained a sigh. If she’s as haughty and rude as all her kind, this will be a long journey. But the other woman was sure to drive me to distraction with her interminable weeping, should Nephthys have selected her.
The high priest regarded them solemnly. “We go to meet the goddess. Nephthys wishes to assess both her Daughter and the guardian.”
“I’m ready,” Khenet said, fists clenched.
Tiya just nodded.
After checking to see that everyone else had left the chamber, the priest walked to the partially open doors and flung the gilded panels wide open. Light streamed out and Khenet heard the buzzing of wasps, as if he were about to step into a hive of the angry creatures. Tiya shrank back a little, took a deep breath, and followed the priest.
Not knowing what he expected, having been in the innermost sanctum of a temple only once, as a boy swearing allegiance to Horus, Khenet sized up the room as he crossed the threshold. A ten foot tall statue of the goddess dominated the space, with her arms out to the sides, palms up, her proud face carved as if she were challenging anyone foolish enough to enter her domain. The sculptor had depicted Nephthys wearing a pleated sheath that barely covered her ample curves,
and the entire statue had been covered in gold, which gleamed in the unearthly light the goddess herself was providing. A rich collar of turquoise, coral and lapis lay across the statue’s chest, matching earrings affixed to the shell-like ears. The strong scent of the lotus threatened to choke Khenet.
“The goddess is present,” whispered the priest, going to his knees, arms crossed over his chest, head down.
Tiya muttered a little prayer and knelt, copying the man’s pose.
Khenet planted his feet well apart, in a fighter’s stance, and remained standing. I’m here in Pharaoh’s place and he wouldn’t kneel to any goddess. Besides, I swear no fealty to Nephthys.
“Humility and obeisance are the safe choices in the presence of the Great Ones.” Where the statue had been, Nephthys herself now stood on the pedestal in front of them, taller than Khenet, wrapped in black robes and gray mist. Her black wig was adorned with golden and emerald beads, crowned with an ebony headdress proclaiming her name in one stark cartouche. Flickers of red shimmered in the air surrounding her, bringing the heat of the desert furnace. His ears rang with a muted buzzing sound as if a hive full of wasps flew all around the small sanctuary. Nephthys pointed her index finger at him, two great ruby rings on her hand winking like the fire she could summon at will.
Khenet felt sheer stubbornness sweep over him at her words. “I’m here on behalf of Pharaoh, Great One.” The hidden purple bead on his bracelet burned against
his skin, the small pain steadying him as he braced for punishment.
But Nephthys surprised him, throwing her head back and laughing. “I see Nat-re-Akhte has chosen his minion well. You are strong, well suited to accomplish the task I assigned to him.”