Every Last Kiss

Page 27

“I don’t know, my queen.You do have a profound effect on people. It’s just as entirely plausible that it is no ploy at all.We just won’t know until I get there.”

“I don’t like it, Charmian,”She murmured. “It would be an ambush.  And if he kills you while we are here, your history between now and the modern present-time will be destroyed. Your husbands, those that came after us… all will be changed forever.”

It was almost incomprehensible, unfathomable… the severity of our situation.But we couldn’t avoid it.It was what it was.And we were rushing at it by the second.Time could not be stopped.And besides… Lachesis had instructed me to use whatever means necessary.I shuddered at the thought.

Shaking it from memory, I shrugged my shoulders, trying to lighten the mood.

“My queen, we will deal with it as we have everything else that has been thrown at us. We are entirely capable. Besides, it is entirely likely that Tehran was not acting.I don’t think he would be that great at deceiving you—at least, not with your breasts in his face.He was at a total loss.”I giggled and she couldn’t help but join me.

We were still laughing when Antony strolled in a few minutes later.

“What is so funny, ladies?”he asked curiously. “I wish to share the joke.”

Walking directly up to the queen, he smashed her to his barrel-sized chest again, burying his face into her neck.I had always thought that it fascinated him, seeing how small she was in comparison to him.He seemed to always do things to emphasize that fact.

“Cleopatra, your scent is intoxicating,”he murmured as he nuzzled her, his wish to know the source of our laughter forgotten.She met my eyes again over his head and rolled her own.I smiled. She wasn’t fooling me- she loved him to distraction.

“Ladies, what say you that we lunch by the sea today?It’s a beautiful day, the air is crisp, the sun is warm.Let us enjoy life, yes?”He eyed us both. “I’ll call for Hasani and we can all dine together.”

My heart leapt at the sound of his name.I couldn’t help it.It was like music to me, second only to the sound of his beautiful voice.I found myself nodding before Cleopatra could even respond.

“That looks like a yes, sweetheart,”he murmured to her and she nodded in compliance.

Of course it was.We both wanted to enjoy them for just a few stolen moments more.My heart constricted at the realization that the end was approaching. I had been so focused on trying to put everything right before the end, that the end itself had escaped me.It was right back in my thoughts now, forefront in my mind. 

“Yes, Antony,”she answered.“Charmian and I have spent the morning worrying over darling Iras.She is horribly sick.I have called in Olympus and he is with her now. We could use a break.”

Antony’s face turned surprisingly concerned.But then, I really shouldn’t be surprised.He was a very kind man in actuality.Another fact that had escaped history.

“I’m sure she will be fine, my dear,”he comforted Cleopatra as he ushered us toward the door.“Why don’t you and Charmian check in on her now while I arrange our lunch and find Hasani?”He rubbed her back lightly as we walked.

Cleopatra nodded wordlessly and allowed herself to be led down the hall, escorted directly to Iras’ chambers.Antony left us there, while he went about his errands.

Entering her chambers, the thick scent of incense immediately assailed us.I almost covered my nose because the air was so heavy with it. It was difficult to breathe.  Through the smoky haze, we saw Olympus seated beside Iras’ bed, her hand grasped tightly within his own.

“Her heart is still weak, your highness,”he announced without looking up.“I fear that she will expire before night falls unless she does not awaken soon.It is Sekhmet’s will.”

“It is not Sekhmet’s will,”Cleopatra contradicted icily.“Do not give me that.Until she dies, we know not what Sekhmet’s will is.”

Properly chastised, Olympus lowered his gaze as Cleopatra stood next to Iras.Picking up her other limp hand, she drew it to her mouth, kissing it lightly.I didn’t even bother pointing out that the sickness might be contagious.We were all going to be dead within the week anyway. It wouldn’t matter.

“Iras, my love, if you can hear me, please get better,”the queen implored, her dark gaze frozen on Iras’ still face.Her breathing was labored, rising and falling shakily with each breath.I felt my panic grow as I watched her struggle to breathe.

On the one hand, it would be easier for Iras to simply slip away now, never regaining consciousness and facing the paralyzing fear that I knew we would face in Cleopatra’s tomb.

On the other, we needed to re-weave the fabric of time. Failure was not an option.Olympus knelt again, putting a steaming poultice of something rancid on Iras’ forehead.I wrinkled my nose in distaste, not even wanting to know what it was.It smelled like a rotting corpse. And knowing Olympus, that could very well be what it was.

Straightening again, he looked at Cleopatra, his withered face solemn.

“I will do my best, your majesty,”he promised. “If she dies, it will not be because of my lack of trying.”

“Very well,”Cleopatra replied regally. “That is all I can ask.But do not let her die.”

She turned on her heel and pulled me out the door as Olympus watched us leave.

As we strolled down the hall, seemingly without a care in the world, Cleopatra turned to me.“This is not good, Charmian.Her face was gray and her chest already had the death rattle.”

I nodded.“I know.I noticed that, as well.But Cleopatra, there is nothing we can do. If she is strong enough, she will pull through.If not, we’ll deal with it when the time comes.”

We continued wordlessly down the staircase, intent on waiting for Hasani and Antony in the courtyard.When we arrived, however, they were already there, chatting by a granite sculpture of Anubis.The heady scent of jasmine hung heavily in the air and I remembered now why it had always been my favorite smell in the world.It must have, on a subconscious level, reminded me of Alexandria.

Hasani’s face lit up as we approached and I smiled in response.I would never get accustomed to the beauty of it.It was as radiant as the sun.

“My love,”he murmured as I stepped to his side. I could tell that he desperately wanted to kiss me, but decorum prevented him from acting on it.

“This is a pleasant lunch time surprise,”he said instead, his eyes locked with mine. 

“Yes, it is,”I readily agreed as we followed Antony and Cleopatra down the stairs to the beach.“I wish I could lunch with you every day, general.”

He responded by touching the small of my back lightly and allowing his hand to trail down softly over my hips.My skin practically caught fire where he touched it and I exhaled a long sigh.

When we reached the beach, we saw that a table had been brought from the palace, elaborately set with golden dishes inside a royal purple tent.The doorways of the tent were fastened back to allow the breeze to flow through.

As we approached, I saw that the inside of the tent had been furnished as though it was a lavish room.A side table loaded with jugs of wine and plates of bread lined the side, while on the other side, mountains of silk cushions adorned the rugs placed on the sand.

Of course, I should have expected no less.Cleopatra did nothing shabbily, including a picnic on the sand.Knowing this, Antony had outdone himself. Roasted fish sat on the table, with side dishes of steamed currants, roasted carrots in garlic sauce and sautéed onions surrounded it.The smells emitting from the tent were making my stomach growl and we quickly seated ourselves around the table.

In front of us, the majestic Mediterranean lapped calmly against the shore, as if even the sea knew to behave in Cleopatra’s presence. The salty air breezed in gently, just enough to stir my hair and rotate the air in the tent.

As I looked around the table, at Cleopatra gazing lovingly at Antony, at Antony laughingly teasing his wife as he fed her a currant with his fingers and at Hasani… whose beautiful dark face was adoringly watching me… I knew that I would never forget this afternoon, not in two thousand years.It would be the memory that would break my heart as I missed these people for all of eternity.

Cleopatra’s tinkling laugh brought me back to the present and I quickly began paying attention again as we ate lunch together.But suddenly, with the magnitude of what I was about to lose staring at me in the face once again, it was suddenly difficult to swallow the decadent meal.

I lifted my chalice and took a big gulp of wine, only to find Hasani gazing at me as I lowered the glass.His smile took my breath away and I wished with every fiber in my being that it didn’t.

I struggled trying to uphold the charade that everything was normal as I listened to Antony prattle on about the upcoming battle against Rome.I could hear the undercurrent of worry in his voice and I knew that within a few days, he and Cleopatra would be acknowledging to each other that it would be futile.

What he didn’t know however, was that she was not going to allow her army’s defeat. She would defect first.As I watched him laugh, my knowledge was suddenly too heavy to bear.I stood quickly to my feet.

“Your highness, do you mind if I take a walk on the beach?”I asked desperately.She glanced at my face quickly, hearing the notes of panic.

“Of course not, Charmian,”she agreed.“Please- take Hasani and go for a walk.The weather is perfect today.”

I nodded my thank you and left the tent as quickly as humanly possible.Thankfully, Hasani didn’t notice anything amiss, as he looped his arm around my waist.

“Thank you, my love,”he murmured into my ear as we walked.“I desperately needed some time alone with you.I’ll be spending the rest of the day with my officers, so I will enjoy your presence now.You smell a lot better than they do!”His eyes twinkled as he laughed.

“Hasani, you are so beautiful,”I answered softly, stopping as I reached out to trace his jaw with my fingers.He stared at me quizzically, a small smile tilting his lips.

“Warriors are not beautiful, my lady,”he corrected.

“No?”I asked, sliding my fingers down his chest over the smooth fabric of his shift.“Then what are they?”

“Hopelessly in love with you,”he answered confidently, bending to scoop me up tightly against him, his arms as strong as steel bands.Bowing his head, he kissed me softly and soundly all at once, making certain that he got his point across as he held me suspended in his arms.There were no worries there.I received his message and smiled.

“What is it that you told me the other night, general?”I asked teasingly. “You’re just going to have to behave and wait until tonight?”

“Don’t throw my words back at me, woman,”he growled lightly, kissing the side of my neck.I could feel my heart slamming in my chest as it did every other time he touched me.His effect on me was immediate and profound.Every time.

“I’m just saying…”I smiled inwardly as he interrupted me mid-sentence, kissing me again, his lips soft against mine.He gently forced mine apart and his tongue lightly circled my own.When the kiss ended, I breathlessly managed to finish my sentence.

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