Read Twice Upon a Time – Chapter One
Lovers’ Leap 2
Lara flopped down on the hot sand and put her head between her knees. She took several deep breaths, the desert heat searing her lungs and drawing moisture from her already dehydrated body. Maybe she was overreacting. It wasn’t Reece’s fault that the ancient Egyptian amulet had chosen a particular man as his host. Their leaps through time were random. Reece didn’t get to choose whose body he shared and neither did she. It wasn’t Reece’s fault that they’d left the cool, moist lands of medieval England to arrive in this brain-baking desert. It wasn’t Reece’s fault that someone had murdered her in the future, so they were forced to find refuge in the past. It wasn’t Reece’s fault that he was so sexy the thought of being unable to make love to him for three short (or more likely exceedingly long) days was unbearable. Actually, that was his fault. He should try being less irresistible.
“Lara?” Reece’s shadow blocked the glaring sun from the back of her neck. “Are you okay?”
“Oh yeah,” Lara said. “Just fine. Give me a moment to adjust to this new body. I think this woman has the flu or something. I feel kind of queasy.”
This was no flu. Lara felt queasy because her lover would be doing no loving no matter how much she wanted him. This blew.
Lara stared at their half of the broken amulet dangling from the worn leather cord around her neck. It swayed gently in hypnotic circles. She lifted a hand and fingered the hieroglyphics carved into the artifact’s stone surface. Maybe if she repeated the words represented by those strange little symbols, the freakin’ thing would take them out of this place. Not in three days, like it usually did, but now. Right now, damn it! There was nothing but hot sand in every direction. She had no idea where they were or when they were. She wasn’t typically a complainer, especially when it concerned things she couldn’t control, but she had just admitted to Reece that she loved him moments before they leapt here and this had to happen. The amulet had forced Reece’s consciousness to share the worst possible body. It simply wasn’t fair.
Reece squatted in front of her. He took her by both shoulders and held her at arm’s length until she looked up at him. Except she couldn’t see him. Not Reece. She saw the even features of the young man Reece had leapt into when they left medieval England behind and landed themselves in the middle of the desert with no previsions and in Reece’s case no, well..
Ugh! She shouldn’t get hung up on something so dangly, but she wanted to love a real man, not a… a…
Lara squeezed her eyes shut hoping to make reality—this very bizarre reality that existed sometime in the past—disappear.
“It’s just for three days, sweetheart,” Reece reminded her. “You look like your world is coming to an end.”
There would be no coming for her. Not when the man she loved shared a body with this guy.
“I’m sorry. I think it’s the heat.” She couldn’t tell him the real reason she was freaking out. Jeez, he had more reason to freak out about it than she did. He was the one missing certain parts of his anatomy, not her.
“So, what do I look like?” Reece asked.
She forced herself to open her eyes and look him over. Not Reece. Well the soul was Reece’s—the soul was always Reece’s—but the body he was currently sharing was definitely not his. She had to admit, this new body was much better looking than the Viking of a week ago, not as easy on the eyes as the knight he’d just left behind, but still, no comparison to the real Reece. Reece Jericho treasure hunter with his broad shoulders, muscular chest and narrow hips. Hazel-green eyes. Firm, kissable lips. Gorgeous face with a strong jaw, straight nose, masculine brow. That’s who she wanted to see. The real Reece. The man she loved. Not this pretty, bronze-skinned guy who lacked certain important man-parts. Why couldn’t she see past the illusion this time? Why couldn’t she see beyond the real-time physical body of the man Reece had leapt into and to the man she loved? She hadn’t had this problem in their previous two leaps. She’d been able to see Reece almost immediately. She had no idea why she couldn’t see him this time.
“This guy you’re possessing is very young,” she said as she examined Reece’s temporary body. “Pretty even. Black hair, black eyes. Smooth, deeply tanned skin.” Her eyes raked down his lean body. “Lithe in an athletic way and practically hairless. What are you, twelve?” She caught sight of the thing she’d been trying to forget she saw when they’d first arrived, and sure didn’t want to see a second time. “I guess that makes sense considering your, um, little problem.”
“Little problem? I don’t think any man would think this guy suffers from a little problem.”
Lara winced. “Okay, I don’t want to think about it. What does the woman I leapt into look like?”
He reached forward and tugged the veil covering the lower half of her face aside. “You’re sharing a body with a gorgeous, dark-haired woman in a flowing red sari.”
“I guess we aren’t put into the bodies of certain people for a reason. We really aren’t here to help troubled couples of the past find love, are we? Who we leap into is totally random and I was just wishful thinking that it might have a purpose.”
Reece glanced down at himself, but just as she could only see her real self, he would only see his own body, not his host’s body. “It’s not that bad is it?”
She winced. “Yeah, it’s pretty bad.”
He grabbed his crotch to assess the damage. “They’re completely gone?”
She swallowed and nodded morosely.
He checked his nether region carefully and she averted her gaze so she didn’t have to watch him inspect things she couldn’t see.
“Everything feels normal,” Reece said.
“Well, this guy is missing two very important parts.”
“It’s just wrong.” He scowled, biting his lip. After a moment of staring at her, mortified, he said, “He’s a eunuch? Are you sure?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“This is a first,” he said, hand returning to check for missing parts. “Did they take everything or just the testicles?”
“Well,” she said, her face flaming. She coughed. “He still has his weeble, but the wobbles are gone.”
“Not the woobles,” he said, his voice cracking with distress. “I can’t live in a guy without the woobles. Not even for three days.”
She caught the smile he was trying to hide. Reece hadn’t lost his testicles, but his host’s body was seriously low on testosterone. Poor guy. “I think maybe you should take a closer look,” Reece said. “Maybe his woobles are just in hiding. Perhpas he’s severely dehydrated and they’ve shriveled to the size of raisins.”
She rolled her eyes, but bent for a closer inspection.
“Careful,” he said, “don’t poke your eye out on the—what did you call it—the weeble.”
She looked up at him, trying not to laugh. If he had a sense of humor about the situation, it was hard for her to stay out of sorts about it. She still had all of her girl bits. At least, she thought she did. “They’re definitely gone, Reece. No danglies at all.”
“Lovely,” he murmured. “And just when were to the part of our relationship that I might actually need them on a regular basis.”
She nodded morosely. “I guess we’ll just have to cuddle.”
“Just to be clear, the rocket ship is intact, but the boosters are missing?”
She lifted an eyebrow at him. “Right.”
“I’ve got a piston, but no sparkplugs. A frank, but no beans. A stick, but no berries. A noodle, but no meatballs. A bat, but no—,”
“Reece. I think we’ve established that. Why are you fixating on this?”
“Because you’re fixating on it, sweetheart, which means you can’t see the real me. You’re hung up on pretty boy and his lack of what’s hangin’.”
“I’m not hung up on pretty boy or things that hang,” she assured him, but he was right. She couldn’t see Reece. She could only see pretty boy. This wasn’t the way this was supposed to work. She should be able to see through the illusion and see the real Reece. She could hear him. Why couldn’t she see him?
“Do you think I might borrow one of those layers of cloth you’re sporting? I think this guy would prefer you weren’t staring at his lack of woobles. He totally has a crush on you. Well, the sexy woman you’re occupying at the moment.”
“He likes her? Romantically?” She gaped at him. Was it possible?
“Oh yeah. She makes him feel all tingly inside.”
Maybe they were here to help this couple find love. There was more to love than the physical, though the physical was exceptional with Reece. Nervous jitters fluttered through Lara’s belly. She hoped they could help this unlikely match. She’d felt good about helping Eirick and Helga become lovers during their first leap. It had felt even better to help Reg and Eleanor become man and wife in their second. Certain people were fated to be together. She believed that more and more with each leap through time. The instant Lara stopped worrying so much about the eunuch’s equipment—or lack thereof—Reece materialized before her eyes. She grinned appreciatively. Much better. She’d have broken into a sweat at the sight of him, if she hadn’t already been swimming in perspiration from the blazing heat.
She unwrapped her outer shawl and handed it to him reluctantly. It was easily over a hundred degrees on the baking sand, but it seemed a shame to cover up Reece’s body, which had all the appropriate parts. Being naked suited him. And it definitely suited her. Reece wrapped the cloth around his torso twice and then up between his legs before tucking the end into the waistband he’d fashioned.
She grinned. “Nice MC Hammer look you’ve got going on there.”
He did an obscene gyrating dance, which drew a laugh from her. One of the things she loved most about the man was how quickly he could put her at ease and make her laugh. Even in bizarre circumstances such as these. She’d have suffered a mental breakdown by now if it weren’t for him. Of course, he had a lot more experience with leaps through time than she did.
“Okay,” Reece said, glancing around with a sudden seriousness. “Let’s assess the situation here. Your clothing would lead me to believe that you’re very rich.” He took her hands and eased her to her feet. Dozens of golden bangles jingled together. “I mean, you’re a walking jewelry store. Look at you. Mmm. Look at you.” He stole a kiss.
“Which me are you looking at?”
“The good lookin’ one.”
She gave him a reproachful look.
He chuckled. “Don’t tell me you’re jealous of the foxy harem girl who hangs out with eunuchs.”
She lowered her eyes. It was foolish, but she was jealous of the harem girl. Reece took her chin between his thumb and forefinger and urged her to look up at him.
When their eyes locked, he said, “I’m not looking at the harem girl. I’m looking at Lara Kensington and I find her body delectable, her face beautiful, her wit delightful, and her jealousy charming, though completely unnecessary.”
He kissed her lips again, very gently and then nibbled on the lower one before soothing it with his tongue.
“You think I’d be safe from this kind of assault when in the company of a eunuch,” she said, ducking her chin to hide a grin.
He groaned. “Low blow, sweetheart.”
“Can eunuchs get…” She glanced down at his crotch, now hidden behind a gauzy red cloth. “Can you get…”
“Hard?” She glanced pointedly at his crotch.
“So you do want to have hot monkey sex in the sand. I was starting to worry that I’d lost more than my woobles.”
She laughed. “Stop it. I’m serious. Can you?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t you see what you can do?”
She took a step closer to him. Damn, he was hot. It was hot. The sun reflecting off the sand. Hot. Yeah. That’s why she was on fire. Sure. Lara ran a hand down the muscled ridges of Reece’s abdomen. Something in his improvised pants twitched.
“Is that a camel in your pants or are you happy to see me?”
He laughed. “I don’t think it’s a camel. Might be a cobra.”
“So you can get excited. Can you come?”
“Lord, I hope so.”
“Me, too.” She stepped away. They’d have to test out the equipment later. She was too feckin’ hot to actually consider sex. “So where and when are we? Any ideas?”
He glanced around and then appraised Lara more closely. “Rich, gorgeous, young woman in the company of a eunuch out in the middle of the desert with no travel provisions. I think we’re somewhere in the Middle East or northern Africa. There were eunuchs that served and guarded harem women during the Ottoman empire. Fifteenth through the nineteenth century.”
“There were also eunuchs in India who served royal women.” Being a history major finally had a useful purpose.
“You look royal, but not Indian. Maybe we’re in Ancient Greece.”
“In the desert? What are we doing out here in this wasteland with no provisions?”
“I might say we were out on a walk, but more likely we’re running from something.”
“I have no idea, but at least we didn’t land in the middle of a battlefield this time. It’s a nice change of pace. It might be hot, but at least it’s non-violent.”
A low rumble could be heard off in the distance. Lara glanced up at the sky, expecting thunderheads, but the only thing in the clear, blue sky was the blazing sun. The sound grew louder. She checked the broken amulet around her neck, which hummed when it was activated, but it was silent. She tucked it inside her garments. Reece pointed over her shoulder and she turned. A cloud of dust was heading in their direction. In front of the cloud was cavalry of Ottoman soldiers, recognizable by their distinctive tufted helmets.
“I spoke too soon,” Reece muttered.
The cavalry drew to a halt several yards from Lara and Reece. One of the soldiers, likely the leader, urged his horse forward.
“You are lucky we found you, Princess Farima,” the soldier said in Turkish.
Lara gaped at him. Even though she understood his words, because the body she shared (Farima) understood the words, Lara couldn’t think of a single thing to say. She was too busy staring at the broom-thing attached to his helmet. Did he just call her a princess? Not as a sentiment or an insult but because she actually was a princess? Whoa. Surely that had some perks. The knight moved his gaze to Reece. “What are you doing here, Nasir? I thought you accompanied Governor Ashar to Mecca.”
“I was charged to protect the princess in his absence,” Reece said in heavily accented Turkish. It apparently wasn’t his native language.
The soldier didn’t look convinced. “In the desert?”
“Wherever she happens to be at the moment.”
“I guess it is up to the governor to straighten this out. You better hope your claims are true. If you kidnapped her—”
“He didn’t,” Lara insisted. “He was trying to convince me to return home.” She knew it was a lie. She could feel Farima’s upset, and her need to protect Nasir. While she couldn’t read her host’s thoughts, she could sense her feelings. Lara was certain the princess and the eunuch had been running away together. The guy must be a great listener or something, because there was no way he was any good in the sack. Seeing as he was completely lacking in the sac department.
“Let’s go,” the soldier said, and reached for Lara. “Your husband will return soon and will be upset to find you missing.”
Husband? The princess had a husband?
But, but, but… what about Nasir?
She tried to catch Reece’s eye, but he had his attention elsewhere. Mostly on the long spear aimed at his chest. When she was seated safely in front of the lead knight, Reece mounted up with another of the soldiers. The company turned and headed back the way they’d come. Within a mile of travel, a palace seemed to appear at the edge of the sand. Apparently, Farima and Nasir weren’t very good at plotting escapes.