romance versus relics chapter 17

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Welcome to chapter seventeen! As you know, we last left Nellie fretting over having to deal with the obnoxious Relic Merchant, yet again. Now we will find out how goes after she has had all night to dream/think about it. I was going to say a good night's sleep, but I don’t think that would come easily in those crappy little tents they provide at that base camp! LOL! Anyhow, let's get on with the story.

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Page 1: Romance Versus Relics Chapter 17

Welcome to chapter seventeen! As you know, we last left Nellie fretting over having to deal with the obnoxious Relic Merchant, yet again. Now we will find out how goes after she has had all night to dream/think about it. I was going to say a good night's sleep, but I don’t think that would come easily in those crappy little tents they provide at that base camp! LOL! Anyhow, let's get on with the story.

Note: This chapter contains scenes of a mature nature, including sexual situations. Reader discretion is advised.

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"Oh my goodness" Nellie gasped, "you startled me!" After playing around with her meal the night before, her appetite pretty much gone, Nellie had crawled into her tent to get some rest. Her dreams had been troubled ones of fighting off mummies and nasty relic merchants. She had awakened almost as tired as she had been before turning in for the evening. The last thing she had expected was a visitor so early in the day.

She managed a wan smile. "So, what brings you here so early this morning? I have just finished breakfast and was getting ready to head out."

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"Good morning, Nellie" Youssef greeted brightly. "Your outing this morning is the reason I am here." Nellie's brow furrowed in confusion, and he continued with a chuckle. "I have heard through the grapevine, so to speak, that you have been having difficulty with a certain merchant in town. I also heard that you have dealings with him this morning, so I have come to offer my services as an escort, if you will allow me."

Nellie was taken aback by his offer, as well as touched. For several long moments, she was silent, not really knowing what to say. How did he know all those things? She almost asked the question, but then decided it did not matter. He was here and that was all that counted. Although she preferred to work alone, she was grateful for this type of assistance. "Sure" she smiled warmly at him, and the pair made their way toward the market square.

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"Oh God" Nellie muttered as they stood outside the Relic Merchant's shop. "I can feel his filthy gaze on me already!" The idea of dealing with the man repulsed her, but she knew it had to be done in order to continue her quest.

Youssef smiled reassuringly and patted her hand. "Do not worry. I will be here in case he gets too frisky." The Relic Merchant and Youssef Nagi had never been friends, but they had formed a tolerance of one another. One thing Youssef would not tolerate, however, was seeing someone he cared about being harassed by the man. So when he had gotten wind of the merchant's antics with Nellie, he decided it was time to step in and put an end to it.

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"You are back again, I see" Fahad Madbouli grinned lewdly. "So, you want information about where to find the third relic?" He stepped closer and leaned in toward her. "I will tell you, but first you must promise to meet me tonight. I know this nice little private place where we can . . ." his words cut off abruptly as he noticed Youssef Nagi hovering around just outside the entrance to the shop. He stepped back from Nellie and glanced in Youssef's direction. Youssef was glaring at him furiously, and if looks could kill . . . Fahad cleared his throat and said, "It is long past my lunchtime. If you will go to the Food Merchant's Shop and bring me a fresh plate Shawarma, I will share my information with you!"

Nellie released the breath she had been holding and smiled. "No problem. I'll be right back!"

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"This looks and smells scrumptious!" the Relic Merchant exclaimed when Nellie returned with the food. "You have earned the information you seek. You must go to the Great Pyramid to find the Relic of Eternity. It is quite large, so you may want to take extra food and supplies."

Nellie could see Youssef pacing back and forth outside the Relic Merchant's shop, and she knew that was why the merchant was being so cordial. She smiled at the obnoxious man. "Thank you so very much. Enjoy your meal!" She left the shop to join Youssef outside.

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"Thank you, Youssef!" Nellie cried as she impulsively wrapped her arms around him in a grateful embrace. "That was the most pleasant experience I've ever had while dealing with that nasty little man."

Youssef rarely missed it when an opportunity presented itself, so he reveled in the moment and pulled her closer. "What else are friends for, Nellie?" he replied softly. "As I said before, do not hesitate to contact me if you ever anything . . . anything at all."

Pulling back from their embrace, Nellie smiled, "I sincerely appreciate that, but now I have a large adventure to conquer. I'm on my way to the Great Pyramid!" She said goodbye to Youssef, stocked up on supplies as suggested, and headed off on her new adventure.

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The entrance to the Great Pyramid was littered with the remains of those who never made it out. Nellie was appalled at how they could have been so close to the exit, yet they perished. She cautiously made her way inside to have a look around.

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After passing through several chambers, Nellie came to one with a flame trap in the center. She picked up some gems and coins, and then made her way around the trap to the other side.

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She inspected a hole, which had a hidden switch that triggered a hidden door to be revealed.

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Nellie opened that door and stepped inside the next room.

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Soon, Nellie found a large boulder blocking her path, so she whipped out the mighty Axe of Pangu and smashed it to smithereens.

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Nellie gasped in awe and gazed around, her eyes wide in wonderment when she stepped into a long corridor filled with Egyptian statues and other décor. The beauty of some the underground chambers she had seen would never cease to amaze her. She turned to her left and moved down the hallway until she found another door to enter.

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The new room had several treasure boxes to plunder, some statues to be moved out of way, and a sarcophagus. Nellie moved toward the first statue after taking the things from the treasure box closest to the door. After moving the statue, she went straight for the next treasure chest.

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As she opened it and began pulling out some relics, the door to the sarcophagus creaked open and a mummy stepped from it, moaning and groaning in the usual mummy way. Nellie hoped it would not sense her, so she stood very still. She had no such luck, however, so the mummy approached and made ready to launch its attack. For the first time ever, Nellie had purchased some mummy snacks from the special merchant. Instead of attacking, the mummy took one and then looked at Nellie as if to ask if she had a napkin.

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The adventure, thus far, had taken up the whole day and Nellie was exhausted. She took the opportunity to slip inside the mummy's sarcophagus to rest. Once Nellie was inside, the mummy went away and went about its mummy business, whatever that may be.

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Soon after waking, Nellie was investigating the insides of a different sarcophagus. This time, however, all she found was a relic.

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Another room had several fire traps right in the middle and she had to push statues onto them in order to disarm them.

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Nellie found a staircase that took her even further into the depths of the Great Pyramid.

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The young woman was getting tired again, so she ignored the next sarcophagus she found and pulled on a suspicious-looking lantern that revealed a hidden door. She stepped through it and smiled.

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She found a keystone she was sure would come in handy somewhere very soon.

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When she entered the next room, she found another keystone.

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One of the keystones was put to use almost immediately, and Nellie stepped into the next room.

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Again she was awed by its strange beauty. She stepped upon a floor panel, and then immediately wished she had not. The flame traps directly in front of her roared to life. She went around them, and inspected the hole in the floor. A hidden switch she triggered allowed her access into the next room.

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Nellie was nearing exhaustion again. She found a good place to pitch her tent and then spent her second night in the Great Pyramid. Upon awaking, she opened a hidden door and passed through several more rooms. She was beginning to feel lost, as if she would never find the Relic of Eternity and would forever be trapped inside the deep recesses of the pyramid. Nellie passed through several more chambers and then stumbled upon something that surprised her; a bathroom!

The toilet was old and dirty, but she used it anyway. When she flushed the toilet, it revealed a hole in the floor to inspect. There was also a bathtub and she made use of that as well.

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She ran some water and then climbed into the tub, clothes and all! It felt great to get the dust and grime off her clothes, as well as out of her hair. Nellie emerged from the tub, feeling refreshed and renewed. Now she was ready to complete her mission.

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After passing through several more chambers, Nellie finally found the one she sought and could only stand for several long moments, her eyes agape.

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Flame traps roared and burned, a mummy broke free of its confining sarcophagus, and statues had to be moved in order to get the prize, but Nellie was undaunted. She had finally made it!

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Once the path had been cleared of the statues, the mummy noticed and then slowly approached Nellie. Nellie stood her ground and waited. Again, instead of attacking, the mummy took Nellie's last mummy snack. This afforded Nellie time to get the relic from the trunk, and she made her way back to Dalida Barakat, without being accosted.

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Nellie handed the Relic of Eternity over to Dalida. Dalida gazed at it in awe for several moments and then exclaimed, "Fantastic! With your aid, the MorcuCorp Resistance has secured all of the Sacred Relics before they were stolen. I will make sure all of them are hidden away forever from evil corporations. You have done a fine thing here, and we could not have done it without you!" She reached into her pocket and pulled out a bag of coins. "Here is something I scraped together for you to reward your effort, and the local population will be sure to adore you as well."

Watching Dalida's back as she turned to go back inside her home, Nellie did not feel very adored. In fact, she felt downright lousy! What had she done? She had never heard the term 'MorcuCorp Resistance' until a few moments ago. Now she felt as if she had done something horrible against her friend's company. Was he the leader of an evil company? Or was he on the good side, and now he would be upset with her? Either way, she felt she had betrayed his trust and kindness. The day was still early, so she headed back to base camp to gather her thoughts.

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"Hello?" Nellie said into the receiver when her phone rang shortly after arriving back at base camp. The day was still early at 10:30am. She had spent two days and two nights in the Great Pyramid. The familiar voice on the other end of the line brought her a measure comfort, but the tone was urgent, almost frantic, which brought a measure of alarm to squash the feeling of comfort.

"Whoa, slow down Gustav!" Nellie requested. "I can't understand what you saying when you speak so fast. Besides that, I only know a few words of French!" The man kept switching back and forth between English and French in a way that made Nellie feel a bit dizzy.

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"Yes. Yes, I apologize, Nellie" Gustav replied. The Frenchman did his best to slow down and tell Nellie why he called. "There is an attorney here in Champs Les Sims, Francois Lambert's attorney to be exact, who wants to meet with you. It is concerning something very near and dear to Mr. Lambert that he has left stipulations for you in his will. He would not tell me what it was concerning, but he wanted to contact you. Instead of giving him your number, I told him I would let you know." Gustav gave Nellie the attorney's name and phone number so that she could make an appointment to see him. "I miss you so much, Nellie! So, I guess I will be seeing you soon, no?"

Nellie laughed to hear the excitement in the man's voice. "That depends on what day the appointment will be set. This is a lot to take in all at once." The young woman was stunned. What could Francois possibly have left her? "Goodbye, Gustav" she said softly. "We'll talk soon! And . . . thank you"

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Gustav hung up his phone and began to feel instantly lonesome. It had been several weeks since he had seen Nellie, and he missed her terribly. It felt as if a big hole had been bored into his soul. He wanted her so badly he could almost taste it! It seemed almost like a miracle to him that this attorney wanted to meet with Nellie. That would bring her to France. Gustav would do his best to keep her in France this time.

He felt he had lost so much in his life, and he did not know what he would do if he lost Nellie too. Gustav could simply not allow it. He would not allow it! "Ah, Nellie" he whispered forlornly to the empty room, "come back to me! Come back to me let me make you mine. You belong to me, my sweet, beautiful Nellie!"

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"Good morning, Nellie" Youssef greeted softly.

Oh God, here it is! Nellie thought frantically, as her heart skipped several beats. Now he's going to let me have it for betraying him while doing Dalida's missions. She still did not know which side was good and which side was bad, but she figured she would be reprimanded by someone. Bracing herself for the worst, she decided to play it cool for now and allow him to make the first move. "Good morning, Youssef" Nellie replied casually. "I was just about help myself to some juice. Would you like something?" She walked toward the refrigerator and Youssef followed.

"No. Thank you" he replied. They went to sit down at the table. Once they were seated, Youssef spoke first.

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"You look . . . tired, Nellie" Youssef observed. There were the faintest of shadows beneath her eyes, as well as something he could not quite pinpoint; sadness maybe? He had people looking into Dalida Barakat and the mission on which she had sent Nellie. As he had told Nellie that first day, he did not completely trust the woman and he knew she would likely use Nellie as a pawn for her own means to an end.

You would look and feel tired too, if you'd just spent two days and nights roughing it in the Great Pyramid, she thought wryly, but she said, "Yes, these tents they insist we use here are not the greatest. I would pitch my Sultan's Tabernacle tent, but it's against the rules. My guess is they want everyone on equal footing around here." Nellie laughed, but it was a small, nervous laugh. She wondered what Youssef was thinking. She stood and Youssef followed suit.

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"Nellie" Youssef said softly, "There is another job for you to do for MorcuCorp, if you are interested."

Nellie was stunned. Did Youssef not know that she had betrayed his trust while working for Dalida Barakat, or was he testing her now? "I'm listening" she replied cautiously, afraid to express too much interest, yet intrigued by what the job could possibly be.

"The company is looking for a hardened adventurer to complete a few operations here. My employee, Sopdu Hawas has all the details. You would be reporting to him. Youssef felt almost guilty. He was about to use Nellie in much the same way Dalida Barakat had, but he felt it to be necessary.

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"I don't know, Youssef" Nellie replied uncertainly. Her guilt was high for helping The Resistance, but what if that had been a good thing? Should she turn around now and help out the evil company? Suddenly she felt old and tired. "I really am tired, Youssef" she replied wanly. "May I have some time to think about it?" Her eyes pleaded with his for understanding.

Youssef chuckled jovially. "Take all the time you need, Nellie!" he replied with warm smile. "Actually, there is something I would like to show you . . . if you have no other plans for the day, that is."

Uh oh, is going to take me somewhere and kill me? Nellie thought irrationally. She did not really believe that for an instant, so she agreed to go with him.

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"This place is amazing!" Nellie breathed. Her eyes scanned the sparkling pond, the beautiful landscape, and the quaint, yet gorgeous structure on the property. "Where are we?" she asked, wide-eyed with wonderment.

"It is called The Lotus Oasis" Youssef replied proudly. "I purchased it a couple of years ago as a place to go to when I want to relax and enjoy some solitude. The fishing is wonderful here as well." As if to confirm his words, a large fish jumped high out of the water and they both laughed. "Come, let us walk up to the house" he added, taking her by the hand. When they were on the deck, Youssef spoke again, "I want you have it." At her gasp of surprise, he added, "To stay in while you are here, of course. It is not much, but it is much better than the accommodations at your base camp."

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"Not much?" she gasped. "Why, it is one of the most gorgeous places I have ever seen!" she exclaimed. "Oh, but" she lowered her voice, "I couldn't." Nellie could not believe her ears. He was offering his place for her to stay, but at what price? What strings would be attached to his generosity?

As if reading her mind, Youssef said, "Why not? If you are doing work for me, it would greatly benefit me for you to be well-rested and comfortable. No one is using the place now. I have been too busy to take the time to come stay here for quite some time. You would actually be doing me a favor by taking care of the place."

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Nellie still could not believe it as she looked around the place. There was a kitchenette with an actual stove, so she would be able to prepare meals, unlike the base camp, which only had a refrigerator and a fire pit. There was a comfortable-looking double bed as well. Plus, she would not have to share a bathroom with all her fellow adventurers any longer. She was near tears when she next spoke. "I . . . I don't know what to say" she stammered.

"Say yes, Nellie" Youssef encouraged softly. "It would be my honor to have you stay here."

She grinned broadly and replied, "I'll race you to the fishing hole!" Youssef laughed heartily and went to grab a fishing rod.

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Nellie could scarcely believe she was actually fishing off the deck of her new living quarters. It was one of the most wonderful feelings in the world to her. Because it was an oasis, the air even felt a bit cooler here, which was a nice change from the sweltering heat around Al Simhara. "Thank you, Youssef" Nellie said quietly as they stood side by side, fishing in contented camaraderie. The conversation was kept casual and Nellie was grateful that Youssef had not asked about her quest for Dalida Barakat.

Youssef smiled warmly, "It is my pleasure to be able to do this for you, Nellie. You have brought much joy and happiness into my life since the day I met you." The man was as grateful as Nellie was that the conversation had remained light and airy. He had been tempted on several occasions to question her about her dealings with Dalida, but he was unwilling to rock the boat and cause tension to rise between them. He only wanted to enjoy her companionship.

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The pair fished until the sun started sinking into the horizon, although they had caught very little. The fish were not biting well that day. They seemed to be too busy playing, jumping in and out of the pond. Soon, Nellie realized her stomach was rumbling and she went to make her first meal in her new kitchen. Instead of cooking a large meal, she settled on an Autumn Salad.

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"So, Nellie, have you given anymore thought to my job offer?" Youssef asked once they had settled in to have dinner. "For the record, the job has nothing to do with whether or not you stay here. The place is yours to use, regardless."

He watched as Nellie slowly chewed and then swallowed the bite of food she had just taken. His question had startled her, and she had almost choked on her salad. What should she do? On one hand, she felt obligated to him and wanted to take the job. On the other hand, she felt her acceptance of the job would turn her into a double agent, of sorts. "I . . . I have some business to take care of in France first" she answered vaguely. The rest of their meal was consumed in amicable silence splattered with casual small talk. Soon, the dishes were done and the pair settled in on the sofa.

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"Is it a big adventure you have planned in France?" Youssef asked casually. He hoped not, because he really wanted Nellie to accept his job offer and to begin soon. The actions of Dalida Barakat had thrown a wrench into the operations of MorcuCorp, and the matter needed to be handled as soon as possible. He watched Nellie's face as several different emotions were displayed upon it, and it made him wonder what was on her mind. His pulse quickened slightly when he noticed how beautiful she looked in the moonlight. He wondered how sweet her lips would taste and he quelled the temptation to lean over and kiss her.

Nellie, being the private person she was, was reluctant to say much, but she then she thought about how silly keeping her reasons for visiting France to herself would be. It was not like it was a serious personal issue or something. Besides, it sometimes felt as if she could tell Youssef almost anything.

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"It has to do with my friend, Francois Lambert" Nellie told him with a sigh. She then went on to tell him about the attorney wanting to see her for some reason. Then she realized she had not made a phone call to him yet to make an appointment to meet him.

Youssef gazed into Nellie's eyes and could see the pain and heartache dancing within their depths. "Please, Nellie, allow me to go with you . . . for moral support. I know you are a strong, independent woman, but we all need some help from our friends at times such as these."

Nellie smiled sadly, "I'm not even sure when I'm going yet. If you'll excuse me, I need to make a phone call." Nellie stood and walked a few feet away to make her call. She returned a few moments later and sat down with a heavy sigh. Youssef wrapped a friendly arm around her shoulders.

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"I have an appointment for two o'clock tomorrow afternoon . . . if I can get a flight out that will get me there in time" Nellie told him quietly. She leaned into him, enjoying the warmth of his arm around her. She had agreed to allow him to travel to France with her. It might be nice to have a traveling companion.

Youssef smiled, "I do not see that as being a problem." He took out his cell phone and made a quick call. When he disconnected, he gave her a victorious smile. "There is a flight leaving at 5:00am! I have booked us on it. Between the travel time and the time difference, that should put us in Champs Les Sims at around 8:00am tomorrow morning!"

"Thank you, Youssef" Nellie smiled as she gazed into his dark brown, almost black, eyes. A girl could get lost in those eyes, Nellie thought.

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Suddenly, he was kissing her! He pressed his lips pressed against hers firmly, almost roughly, with a sense of urgency, as if he was starving and her kiss was the only thing that could satisfy his nagging hunger. Nellie moaned softly as his tongue snaked out and slid between her slightly-parted lips and intertwined with hers as it knowingly explored the recesses of her mouth. She sucked in a sharp breath when his lips parted from hers and he began to gently nibble her earlobe. From there, he turned his attention to her neck, sending shivers of delight down her spine as his lips suckled the sensitive place just below her ear. Her heart raced and her breath came in tiny gasps and moans as his fingers undid her blouse, and his warm hand slipped inside and fondled her tender flesh. Soon, she felt her body being lifted as he easily picked her up and moved toward the bed and laid her gently upon it. Her whole body ached for him as she watched him strip off the rest of his clothing, and he joined her on the bed. She eagerly welcomed him into her open, waiting arms . . . .

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"Nellie, did you hear me?" Youssef's voice reached Nellie's ears from what seemed like a very long distance. She snapped back to reality with a jerk, her face flushed and her heart still throbbing painfully against her breastbone from her wild fantasy. She looked at him with glazed eyes, and he saw her confusion, so he repeated what he had said. "I think it is time I go now. If we are to make such an early flight, we both need to get our rest in order to rise early and get to the airport on time. I will pack a bag and pick you up here in the morning."

Nellie cleared her throat, hoping to sound normal when she spoke. "Oh yes, I agree completely" she smiled. She thanked him and they said their goodbyes. Nellie went to her bed alone, wondering what was wrong with her to be having such fantasies out of the blue that way. Was that normal, or was she losing her mind? Nellie was unsure, but the idea was a disturbing one.

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Nellie gazed absently out the plane window as the landscape of France slowly came into view. Youssef sat silently next to her doing the same. It had been pleasant to have traveling companion for a change. He was a great listener and she told him of some of her adventures in France, as well as some of the people she had met. She even told him about Gustav Delven and the fact that he had a romantic interest in her, but she was not sure she felt the same. Nellie did not mention Ho Sung's name, but she did tell him a bit about her past relationship, and how it had left her feeling wary of beginning another one.

Soon, the pilot announced their descent toward the airport just outside of Champs Les Sims, and they put on their seatbelts in preparation for the landing. Nellie released a deep sigh. Soon enough, she would know what Francois Lambert's attorney wanted from her.

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"Good morning, Nellie! Ah, what have we here?" Gustav Delven asked in calm tone that belied the agitation he felt roiling in him, just below the surface, as his gaze fell upon Youssef Nagi. Who was the stranger having breakfast with Nellie . . . his Nellie?

Startled, Nellie looked up from her plate of French toast. "Hello, Gustav" she greeted quietly. She blushed hotly at the awkward situation. Gustav was the last person she had expected to run into so early in the morning. The food on the plane was horrid, so they had decided to stop in and have a bite at the café before conducting any other business. Just as she was about to speak again, Youssef rose to face Gustav and greeted him politely.

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"Hello" Youssef smiled as he held out his hand toward Gustav, "I am Youssef Nagi. It is nice to meet you."

Gustav looked at Youssef and his out-stretched hand for a long moment before taking it. "My name is Gustav Delven" he replied as he gripped the other man's hand firmly, too firmly.

Youssef's smiled broadened slightly as he reciprocated by tightening his grip on Gustav's hand as he stared him directly in the eye.

From her seated position, Nellie could see the two men were dead-locked into a battle of testosterone. Clearing her throat loudly, she stood to intervene.

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"It's so good to see you again, Gustav" Nellie exclaimed as she gave him a brief hug, taking the two men's attention away from one another for the moment.

Gustav took the opportunity to squeeze Nellie tightly against his body during their embrace, making sure to make eye contact with Youssef in the process. "It is good to have you have you back, Nellie" he murmured softly. "You did not tell me you were due to arrive today." His disappointment was evident in his eyes.

Nellie smiled warmly at him. "I'm sorry, Gustav. It all sort of happened so suddenly. When we spoke on the phone, I was unsure of what my plans would be." She noticed Gustav's brief glance in Youssef's direction and added, "It was a spur of the moment decision to invite Youssef along." She smiled weakly at him, sensing his derision over the other man's presence. "Now we are about to head over to the cemetery so that I may pay my respects to Francois Lambert."

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"May I come along" Gustav asked impulsively. "Francois Lambert was also a good friend of mine and I would not mind paying my respects at the cemetery as well." Besides that, I want to see if I can figure out this man's intentions where you are concerned, dear Nellie, he added in his mind. Gustav did not like the current situation one bit. He instantly disliked the Egyptian man and the fact that he was hovering around the woman he considered his own.

"I suppose that will be fine" Nellie smiled, and then glanced at Youssef. Nellie was suddenly feeling quite anxious. She could tell Gustav was on the defense.

Youssef had been silent through the whole exchange, but now he spoke, "It is fine with me. There is plenty of room in the car."

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"I can't believe he's really gone!" Nellie sobbed pitifully as she stood beside Francois Lambert's grave. She had promised herself that she would not become overemotional, but the finality of it hit home when she read his name on the tombstone. "He seemed so . . . so alive and full of health the last time I saw him."

Youssef was immediately at her side when Nellie broke down, wrapping a comforting arm around her shoulders. "I am so sorry, Nellie" he said sympathetically. "It is always dreadful and difficult when a love one passes on." He pulled her in close tohim and she pressed her face against his chest, drawing comfort from his warmth and the sound of his beating heart. "It will be alright" he whispered as he lightly stroked her hair.

Finally, she pulled back from him and swiped angrily at the tears streaming down her cheeks. "I know" she whispered. "Thank you."

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Gustav stood back watching the exchange, his anger rising more with each second that passed. How dare he? He thought furiously. It should be I who is comforting her, holding her, and easing her pain! His gaze shot daggers of hatred into Youssef's back as he watched the two of them together. Gustav had started in Nellie's direction the moment she began to sob, but Youssef had been standing a little closer and had moved a little faster, affording no time for Gustav to reach her first. He had ridden in the back seat of the car the Egyptian had rented at the airport. He would be damned if he would take a back seat in Nellie's life as well! The Frenchmen decided he would find a way to remove Youssef from the equation, one way or another.

"Come" Youssef said softly. "It is time to get you over to the attorney's office. The three of them got back into the rented vehicle and dropped Nellie off in front of the lawyer's house, which also housed his office. Youssef went to base camp after dropping Gustav at his house a couple of houses up the street.

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Nellie was anxious as she waited for the attorney, Laurent Durand, to finish shuffling his papers around, so he could speak with her about the reason she was there. She still could not fathom what in the world Francois Lambert would have stipulated that she receive in his will. They had become the best of friends in the few months she had known him, but she did not think that warranted being included in the man's Last Will and Testament.

Laurent Durand finally set the stack of papers to the side and cleared his throat. "It would seem, Miss Blye" he said in a professional tone, "that Mr. Lambert has entrusted one of his most prized possession to you . . . his memoirs." He picked up one of the papers and glanced at it before looking back at Nellie. "It says here that if not for you, he would never have gotten all the information he needed for his research, and therefore, he wanted you to be the one to insure its completion and publication." The attorney smiled warmly at her. "Included is a crate of his finest Nectar. I am quite sure this could prove useful!"

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"Thank you so much, Youssef!" Nellie exclaimed breathlessly as she threw her arms around him in a tight embrace. "I could have managed to do this without you, but your being here has made it all seem so much easier."

"It was my pleasure, Nellie" Youssef replied, thoroughly enjoying the closeness her body to his as he squeezed her tightly. "I am happy to have been of service."

"Nellie, may I speak with you?" Gustav asked coolly from the doorway. He had seen Nellie arrive home and had immediately left his home to follow her to base camp. He had seen and heard most of the exchange between Nellie and the Egyptian, and he was fuming. How dare the man step in and take over this way?

Youssef smiled, "I think I shall take walk now to see some of town before we have to leave. I will not be long." He smiled amiably at Gustav as he passed by him, but Gustav only glared back him irately. The Frenchman quickly closed the gap between himself and the object of his desire.

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"Nellie, must you leave so soon?" Gustav cried as he took a hold of Nellie's hand. "I was hoping for the chance to spend some time together on your visit!" On the ride back from the cemetery, he had learned that this was to be a one-day trip. Nellie and Youssef were booked on a flight returning to Egypt that very evening. "Please, Nellie, say you will stay a little while longer" he begged urgently.

Nellie was upset by Gustav's reaction to her leaving, but unsurprised. She had known he would be disappointed, but she did not know he would take it so hard. She shook her head sadly. "I'm sorry, Gustav, but I have promised to begin a job for Youssef's company tomorrow, and so it's not possible to stay longer." At first, Nellie had considered not taking MorcuCorp's job offer, but the curiosity had been too much for her in the end. Besides, Youssef had been so kind to her that her guilt at helping Dalida Barakat had pushed her into accepting the offer, even though she remained undecided on which side was in the right.

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Lu Zhi, a frequent explorer to France from China, happened to pass through the room in time to hear some of the exchange between Nellie and Gustav. She had met Nellie in China and the two women had become casual friends. Lu Zhi liked Nellie, but was disgusted by the rumors and innuendo she had heard about Gustav Delven during her visits to Champs Les Sims. She knew Nellie was an intelligent woman, but she was a bit naïve in the ways of male/female relations. Lu Zhi was worried that Gustav would take advantage of the young woman and she would wind up being hurt. Besides that, she had heard darker rumors about the Frenchman that were even more unsettling. Lu Zhi was not one to turn away from listening to and repeating gossip.

The woman from China grunted loudly in disgust as she continued toward the door. She left the building, but she did not move out of range of earshot.

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"Anything is possible, Nellie" Gustav insisted. "I have missed you so much, Nellie! Life is so . . . so mundane and . . . and dull when you are not around. I want you beside me, Nellie. Please . . . please postpone the job for a day or two and . . . and be with me!" Gustav knew he was sounding desperate, but his desire to spend time with Nellie was an all-consuming entity, which felt as if it would destroy him if he could not get his way. His mind went back to night they had been on his sofa and he had been unable to finish what had begun. He was beyond desperate to take it up from where it had been left.

The man's desperate pleas weighed on Nellie's conscience and nearly compelled her to say she would do as he asked. He was very handsome and the cologne he wore tickled her senses. She, too, remembered their night of passion, albeit unfinished. Instead, she merely whispered, "I . . . I can't."

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"Marry me, Nellie!" Gustav impulsively whispered into her ear. "Become my wife, and tell me we shall be together forever, and that you will never leave my side. I have never in my life wanted anything more! Please, Nellie, say you will stay with me." Gustav buried his face against her neck, closed his eyes and breathed deeply the sweet, feminine scent of her skin and hair, and it almost drove him wild with desire. He fought off an outrageous urge to carry her to the sofa and take her right then and there.

Nellie was stunned, to say the least, at his sudden proposal and outburst of emotion. For several long moments, her throat felt dry and constricted, and she could barely breathe, let alone speak. Finally, she sucked in a deep breath, released it slowly, and found her voice.

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"Oh, Gustav" Nellie murmured softly, gazing intently into his eyes. His eyes pleaded with hers to give him the response he desired, and she knew his sudden proposal of marriage had been dead serious. A lump formed in her throat, choking off her voice, which gave her time to carefully choose her next words. She swallowed hard and began, "Gustav, I cannot marry you. I am sorry, but I am simply not ready for marriage. Besides that, we haven't known each other for so very long. Marriage is a big step, and one I may not be ready to take for quite some time."

Gustav, although disappointed, seemed undaunted by her response. Instead, he switched to a new concept. "Then let me go to Egypt with you! Just think how much fun it could be to explore together. It would be fantastic, Nellie!"

"Gustav" she replied softly, "you know that I have a big assignment to do, and that I prefer to work alone. This time is no different."

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"What about him?" Gustav sneered crossly with a sharp jerk of his head toward the door Youssef had exited previously. His temper rose to new, dangerous heights as he thought about the way the man had cut in on his territory. "You invited him here! You have allowed him to join you on this visit to France!" Gustav leaned in toward Nellie, his eyes blazing furiously as he continued his rampage. "You are allowing that man to follow along behind you, sniffing around like a dog trailing a bitch in heat!" The idea disgusted and infuriated Gustav beyond belief. He could not remember a time when he had felt more betrayed, hurt, and enraged.

He opened his mouth to say more, but the stunned and pained expression on Nellie's face stopped him. Suddenly he realized the mistake he was about to make. He knew he was dangerously close to drawing and crossing a line that could never be erased, nor forgotten.

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At first, Nellie was stunned into a bewildered silence at Gustav's sudden, furious outburst. Dismay and confusion flooded her entire being at the sight of his wrath and the sound of the ugly, hurtful words that spewed past his lips. Who did the man think he was to feel he had a right to speak to her in such a spiteful, vicious tone? Suddenly, her own fury was on the rise and she lashed out at him, "How dare you speak to me that way, Gustav Delven! Just who do you think you are, anyway? I have not made any promises or commitments to you. Therefore, I will do, damned well, as I please!"

She paused to take a breath, as well as for effect, and then continued, "Besides that, Youssef is my friend. I am working for him, not with him. I continue to work alone, as if it is any concern of yours in the first place!" Nellie was going say more, but several fellow explorers passed through the room, so she fell silent. Her heart pounded wildly against her breastbone, and she could feel the beginnings of headache forming at her temples.

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"Oh God, I am so sorry, Nellie!" Gustav cried. His tone was full of anguish and remorse. "I do not know what came over me. It is just that I felt so . . . distressed from not having a chance to spend time with you. I allowed my emotions to take over and it caused me to act like a fool! I did not mean . . ." His voice trailed off into a pitiful whine. He could not finish, because he had meant every word he had spoken, although now he was sorry he had said them aloud to her.

Nellie's heart softened as she gazed into his sorrow-filled eyes. She realized, suddenly, that it was partially her fault for not contacting Gustav and informing him that Youssef would be with her. "I forgive you, Gustav" she murmured as she wrapped her arms around him. "I am sorry too, for not preparing you better."

At that moment, Youssef walked through the door. "Are you ready, Nellie?" he asked with a smile. "We have just enough time to make it to the airport to catch our flight back to Egypt." Nellie told Gustav goodbye, and that she would talk with him soon, and then headed toward the door with Youssef.

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As Gustav watched Nellie and Youssef make their way out, rage roiled inside him like the molten lava bubbling inside a volcano just before a violent eruption. He seethed in fury as he watched the man take a hold of Nellie's arm. It was all he could do to merely stand and watch the sickening display without rushing up to the man and wrapping his hands tightly around his throat, squeezing the life out of him. Gustav knew his fantasy was a ridiculous and dangerous one, but he could not help himself. He had seen Nellie first. It had been he who had kissed and held her first. There was no way he was going to allow the Egyptian man to snatch her away from him so easily. She belonged to him, and he would find a way to make it so!

Have your fun now, Youssef Nagi, he thought irately, because it will not last. I will not allow you to take what is rightfully mine! Gustav vowed to himself that he would take Nellie back from the clutches of the hated Egyptian man, and that he would stop at nothing to get his mission accomplished.