Coming Summer 2014
A sneak peek of the first chapter (unedited)
Bullets pinged off the surface of the Indian Ocean. One spot-on shot and Professor Roger Jolley and I would swim with the fish. A water cannon blasted the side of our Zodiak raft. It reared up but didn’t flip over. I could have sworn Nefertiti blinked. I tossed her marble head to the bottom of the inflatable boat and dropped on top of it with my elbows on my knees to protect my stomach.
Roger threw himself over me. Either the shots were receding or my eardrums had exploded. The whipped cream clouds swallowed the rat-ta-tat of the gunfire allowing me to catch my breath.
Seven months pregnant with Little Roger, my small belly fit nicely under my body, squashing sideways against the bottom of the boat. By the time he was born, our son would be an experienced adventurer.
There was something so family about having Little Roger nestled under me, his daddy sheltering us with his sweaty body, his brown wingtips pressed into my exposed calves. I was flushed with a sense of belonging to something bigger than my own need for independence. By next Sunday, I would be Mrs. Roger Jolley. Our destination wedding was set at the Van Helsing Resort and Spa in Loutish, Vulgaria. I allowed Roger to pick the location my only requirement was that it be thug-less.
Dang, two more bullets chirped into the sea. The pirates were getting closer. I imagined the fragrance of goat-loin salami on their breaths.
The bottom of the Zodiak boat stunk of rotting fish and seaweed. I struggled to push my head to the side, gulping for air, and hissed at my betrothed. “Get us the hell out of here! Now!”
“Help is on the way!” Roger said, planting a kiss on the back of my neck.
Dodging smugglers and muggers for almost three years, we’d come to that point where we finished each other’s sentences. We’d saved each other’s butts so we had that bond thing… not James. Besides, Roger needed me if he was going to see forty. I’d seen forty, three years ago and it wasn’t a pleasant sight. You shouldn’t have to go through it alone.
Little Roger kicked once, making his objections known.
“Don’t lean on me!” I yelped.
“I’m not leaving you!” Roger yelled.
A gray Kenyan navy chopper dropped from the sky, a soldier in dark camo fatigues crouched in the hatchway and rained a wall of bullets between the pirates and our little putt-putt rubber boat. I hoped he was a better shot than our pursuers. A wave bounced Roger off my back.
Peeking up, I spotted a second chopper. It resembled a giant dragonfly dipping and buzzing. The gunner nailed the pirates’ fiberglass boat splitting the stern in raggedy strips. The thieves backed off, the sound of their motor announced their reconsideration of the snatch of Nefertiti’s noggin. They vanished over the horizon with one naval chopper in pursuit, peppering them with shots.
The second chopper sputtered overhead, the noise freaking me out and sending headache feelers through my skull. I cut a distressed look at Roger and he waved the helicopter off with two thumbs up. I had mixed feelings about parting with our rescuers. The chopper disappeared into a thick cloudbank.
Roger kissed the side of my neck. “You okay?” He rubbed my back as if that would help. I had his baby in my belly, a marble bust of an ancient Egyptian queen pinned under me, and I smelled like an old fishing boat. No, I was not okay.
“You know I would die for you,” he said.
That didn’t help. The point was I wanted him to live for me.
I wriggled onto my side and eased to a semi-sitting position, my back against the inflated side of the boat. Roger had promised me this Kenyan caper would a safe little antiquity pickup and delivery. These shopping trips never turned out the way he planned. He could be very naïve about thugs, mugs, and oligarchs with stolen art collections.
It was time for me to take a baby-on-board sabbatical. My eyes burned from saltwater, a string of seaweed clung to my cheek, and worst of all, my lips hurt.
My little baby bump pouched out, not quite as far as my boobs which for the first time in my life were pouching out nicely. For a mid-life pregnancy, I lucked out and was carrying a small load. I’d only put on thirteen pounds and in the right outfit could still out-leap Angelina Jolie.
Dr. McKenna said both baby Jolley, and I, were in super shape. We knew we were expecting a boy thanks to Mrs. MacGuffin and her magical pipeline. She was a combination afterlife coach and psychic fairy godmother. A darling dimple of a paranormal auntie we’d inherited through a bit of transmigration, but that’s another story and not one to share with a narrow-minded obstetrician.
I smiled at the thought of the tiny blue booties Mrs. MacGuffin gave me as a parting gift and imagined a little version of Doctor Roger Jolley, world famous archaeologist, joining us on our adventures. I could see him in a tiny safari suit and brown baby wingtips. My sunburned lips cracked in a grin.
A wave hit the Zodiak and it rolled and pitched. If you could feel a color I was puke-green. A headache settled in over my eyes. I’d had too much sun and not enough drinking water. Nefertiti’s head lay cradled between my legs and under my belly like an exotic bowling ball. Roger steered the Zodiak toward the horizon gazing at his wrist GPS and aiming for an infinitesimal strip of land. I really had to pee.
Time to distract my bladder. “Hey babe? About the wedding…” I said.
He gave me one of his worried looks. I’d been reluctant to marry, again. James Crocowski, aka the Croc, was enough marriage and divorce for one lifetime. Roger and I were together because we wanted to be, not because of some piece of paper. I had niggly doubts about marriage screwing up our friendship and our sex life. Friends were hard to come by; daddies for my babies were a dime-a-dozen. Besides how many happily married couples did I know?
Roger’s face was adorably rumpled and concerned.
“I’m not changing my mind. It’s a deal. But promise me for our ceremony there will be no Egyptology, no antiquities, no crooks, no mold, no holes. Little Roger has had enough excitement and he’s not even born yet. Let’s plan on a quiet first year for our little guy.”
“Aye! Aye! Captain!” Roger saluted, flashed me a gleaming grin, and steered into the setting sun.
I rested my hand on the squishy side of the Zodiac. It became squishier as I ran my fingers along the starboard rim. It felt like a bounce house after the kids’ party.
He cut me a panicked look. We must have taken some hits.
“Don’t tell me we’re sinking!” I can’t swim for one, let alone swim for two. It was then I realized we dropped into the ocean without lifejackets. Major screw-up. When I get excited my brain steps all over it self. No life jackets. Idiot!
Roger pulled his phone from his pocket and blotted it on his sleeve. He tapped the face. The phone crackled but came to life.
“May Day!… sinking. Need immediate assistance. Pregnant woman on board.”
“Did you have to say that?”
“That gets ‘em to scurrying. Everyone feels for a pregnant lady.”
“They should.” I watched the sea bob up and down, or was it me? Didn’t matter. I panic when I get my face wet. “Distract me before I freak out. Hurry! Talk about our wedding.” I’d begun to hyperventilate.
Choppers whap-whapped in the distance. I prayed they’d get to us before the Zodiac fizzled balloon-like into the sea. The bump, bump, bump, bump from Jaws played in my head. Way too many sound effects… I felt like the hero in an Oliver Stone movie. Does Oliver Stone ever have heroines?
“The wedding, Roger! Tell me about the wedding!” My tushie sloshed in seawater. The inflatable bottom was punctured.
“Vulgaria! We’re going to scenic Vulgaria. The most beautiful country on edge of the Black Sea.” He flagged the twin choppers while continuing to describe the village of Loutish, and the Van Helsing Resort and Spa. “It’s where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie take their holidays.”
I doubted Brangelina would be there, but he was getting my mind off our deadly predicament. The minute my face got wet, I would surely turn to stone and sink.
We exchanged matched looks of terror as a shark fin cut through the rollers, followed by a second finny friend. We were fast becoming a seafood buffet.
“There’s a great old cloistered monastery on a precipice overlooking the ocean. The monks at Carfax Abbey have taken vows of silence and solitude but I’ll bet they will let us hold our ceremony on their grounds. We can be married on a cliff overlooking the sea with the waves crashing a hundred feet below. A perfect setting.”
I turned my face from the spray of an incoming wave and gripped the rim of the little rubber boat. “Roger Jolley, just shut up about the bloody waves!” My crabby hormones kicked in.
Two naval choppers hovered over-head, the whipping of their blades caused the sea to buck throwing our little Zodiak up ten feet and down fifteen. I gripped the handholds, my knuckles the whitest shade of pale.
One helicopter backed off, while the other lowered a steel rescue basket on a metal cable. The bin hovered within inches of my shoulders. I plopped Nefertiti’s head in the basket and climbed in next to her. Roger jumped on the cable and we lifted off as the inflatable boat began to slip beneath the water.
Roger scampered up the cable and took the outstretched hand of a Kenyan sailor.
I rode the basket to the cab of the chopper covering my eyes as the blade-driven wind lashed my face. Little Roger kicked in my belly in perfect imitation of his father having a hissy fit.
Miami would be perfect this time of year. I could treated myself to a deluxe pedicure at Kit’s salon. Ever since we confirmed I was preggers, my best friend, nail tech, and the hottest drag queen on Miami Beach had been treating me like a princess.
Kit warned me not to risk this trip but Roger needed me. Roger always needs me. When will I learn to do the opposite of whatever my gut tells me?
Roger and a naval dude eased me out of the basket and onto the metal floor of the chopper. I looked down the way I’d come, and the world spun. The last thing I remember seeing were the sharks tearing at the limp rubber boat as the weight of the motor dragged it beneath the sea. I passed out.