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The Curse of the Deserted Heart: A Tantalising Tale of Love and Adventure Amidst the Dunes of the Lost City That Will Thrill, Chill and Delight You!

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“Jonathan,” says Evy, walking straight into his living room that evening without so much as a hello. Her voice is saccharine, so sugary that it puts Jonathan’s teeth on edge. “Did you happen to become a bestselling author while Rick and I were in Luxor over summer?”

Jonathan clears his throat, sinks a little lower in his armchair, and lifts yesterday’s edition of The Egyptian Gazette slightly higher, obscuring the blush he knows he can’t control.

“I have no idea how I’m supposed to answer that, dear sister,” he replies, “seeing as I have absolutely no idea what the current bestselling novels are. I have far more important things to occupy myself with, you know.”

The fire crackles accusingly in the grate. From somewhere deep in the underbelly of the house, a clock ticks. Jonathan stares very hard at the sentence King Tut’s Treasury To Be Opened At Last! on page 2 and doesn’t absorb a single word of it.

“It’s just that Rick and I stopped at this dear little bookshop on our way back from the harbour this morning,” she says, standing very close to him indeed, “and we stumbled across a rather elaborate display of a brand new book that, the bookseller assured me, had only been published three or so months ago, but was already on its third printing. He only had a handful of copies left in stock. People had queued up outside to buy a copy the day the second reprint came out. It’s all the rage, apparently. Everyone’s reading it.”

Jonathan swallows. His mouth is suddenly very dry. “Everyone?”

“Everyone,” she affirms.

“A whole display?”

“A very large one. There was a banner.”

“Gosh.” He clears his throat, wets his finger, and turns the page of his newspaper. “Well, I can’t imagine what you think it has to do with me.”

The clock keeps ticking from some other room, which feels like a cruel lie, because time has quite clearly stopped. 

“You know that I do like to unwind after a successful dig with a good novel and a cup of tea or twelve,” says Evy. “So naturally, when I saw this highly acclaimed, bestselling novel about the discovery of an evil mummy in a cursed tomb in the lost city of the dead, I thought it would be the perfect reading material to put my feet up and relax with.”

And then, because Evy, despite being quite the decorous lady to the untrained eye these days, is also an absolute bastard, she reaches into her bag and pulls out a copy of the novel in question, and uses it to crumple down Jonathan’s makeshift newspaper divider so that he has nowhere to hide at all. 

Entirely against his will, he looks at the book in front of him. The Curse of the Deserted Heart is printed across the cover in stark black font, above the rather bold promise that the reader will find within the pages A Tantalising Tale of Love and Adventure Amidst the Dunes of the Lost City That Will Thrill, Chill and Delight You!  

Below that, there’s an illustration of a screaming blonde woman in an impractically low-cut red dress, apparently about to be devoured by a mummy, which looks, to Jonathan’s mind, more like a scarecrow made out of toilet paper. A swarthy man in black, who resembles Zorro almost exactly except for his darker skin, raises his sword aloft menacingly in the background, presumably about to save the bombshell’s life and therefore the day in very heroic fashion. 

He had absolutely no sway in the cover design, of course. He would never have allowed the woman to be a blonde.

“I simply had to buy a copy, you see,” Evy continues. “Especially when I opened up one of the display copies at the bookseller’s urging and realised that one of the principle characters was a librarian named Emmeline. I knew right away that this was going to be the sort of book that I could really—” She pauses, presumably for dramatic effect, a rather American habit that she’s picked up from Rick. “—get into.”

“Really, Evelyn,” he says, more grateful than ever that he’s had quite a lot of practice at keeping his voice steady while his mind performs cartwheels around the truth. “I hardly read novels, you know that. I haven’t the slightest idea why you think any of this would interest me at all.” 

She regards him coolly. Jonathan could swear that the temperature in the room noticeably drops, despite the fire.

“Would you like me to read some to you?” she asks, sweetly. “I’m certain you’ll have at least heard of it. It might refresh your memory.”

His heart twists in his chest and plummets into his small intestine.

“No, no, old mum, really. I must finish reading this—” He flashes his eyes to the nearest column in the newspaper he’s still, for some reason, holding, creased and ruined as it is. “—this piece about the price of fish in Alexandria. It’s edge-of-your-seat stuff.”

Evy pouts, and flops into the wicker armchair directly opposite him, crossing her legs over the left arm.

“Oh, do let me, Jonathan,” she presses. “It’ll be just like the old days, when mother would read us a storybook in front of a roaring fire before bed. Wouldn’t you like that? You always used to. You told me once that, if you ever wrote a book yourself, you hoped that parents across the globe might read it to their children the way our mother read to us.”

And God, if Evy doesn’t know exactly how to win an argument. He’s taught her well. Too well. Her eyes are glinting now with something akin to malice, and Jonathan can’t see a way out of this, beyond leaping into the fireplace and having done with it altogether. 

Some things, he thinks to himself, simply can’t be avoided. If Jonathan Carnahan can’t evade them, then no-one can.

“Go on, then,” he acquiesces, folding the newspaper up into a perfect square and contemplating, very seriously, paper-cutting himself to death with it. “But you ought to know, I really haven't read it—”

She interrupts him by loudly clearing her throat in the manner of an actor clearing their throat on the stage before a grand Shakespearean monologue. “Emmeline tossed her mane of wild, unbrushed hair and stood before the accursed mummy, a creature of absolute darkness and filth, and knew that her time had come,” reads Evy. “She knew that, despite her years of scholarly study and her fascination with useless old things, her love of all things forgotten and crumbling, she had done this. She had brought them all to this dreadful, endless ruin; the ruin of this once thriving and now lost city, the ruin of their own fleeting lives, so small in the face of all those ancient things. How could reading a book have led to this? No harm had ever come from reading a book, after all.

She pauses. The fire crackles in the grate. Jonathan wishes a spark would catch his trousers and immolate him completely. He’d quite like to be nothing but ash.

“Dreadful pulp, isn't it,” he mumbles.

Evy frowns, an exaggerated thing. “Oh no, not at all. It's really rather good. I must not have read you one of the better bits. Let me find one of the chapters with Joanna. You'll like her much more than boring old Emmeline.” 

“Oh God,” he says faintly, as Evy flips through the book and lands on a page about halfway through. 

“Here, this bit is much more up your alley,” she says, and clears her throat again, tracking the words down the page with her index finger. “Joanna's raven hair fluttered in the arid dark of the desert, an unseen breeze ruffling Abir's ebony robes as he stood next to her, surveying the last resting place of that infernal entity, that immortal being who craved only destruction. Abir’s profile was aquiline, noble, a thing of beauty above a city full of hidden jewels. ‘The creature lingers yet, so you must stay close to me,’ he said, his rich, oaky voice cutting through the silence of the dead city, bringing Joanna’s tender heart to glorious life. She found herself wishing, just for a moment, that he would put his arm around her, draw her as close to him as she needed, or perhaps only wanted, to be. She had never had a heart for diamonds and rubies, despite the reputation she held amongst her shallow-minded peers. The only gold she desired was the heart of a true, brave man. A man like Abir, his muscular form so firm and strong beside her, so very real, and so very utterly not a thing to be craved, or owned.

“Blimey,” Jonathan manages, after a few moments in which he quite forgets how to breathe. “That's rather racy, isn't it?”

Evy arches one delicate brow. “Rather.”

Evy looks at Jonathan. Jonathan looks, much less willingly, at Evy. She’s wearing her completely unnecessary reading glasses, perched low on the end of her nose, and she peers at him over them. It rather gives the impression that he’s being glared at from a great height.

“It really isn’t my cup of tea, Evy,” he tries. 

“You utter—” She leans forward and swats him ineffectually on the leg with the book, just a little too far out of reach to make any real contact. “I know you wrote it! There are—details in here that only five people know, and one of those people is currently dead for the second and hopefully final time under the ruins of Hamunaptra. And one of them is me, and I certainly didn’t write it, and neither did my fiancé, who I don’t think has read a book in his entire life, and I love him despite that fact, but it does rather take him out of the running in this particular race.”

Jonathan shrugs, and sits up a little straighter in his chair, trying to use the advantage of the inch or so of height that he still has on Evy to convey authority. “That still leaves one other person, apart from me.” 

He feels almost guilty, dropping the poor chap in it like this, but then again, the aforementioned poor chap didn’t seem to feel too guilty about abandoning Jonathan in the sodding desert and riding off by himself into the sunset like some devastating Byronic hero, so Jonathan thinks he’ll probably still be able to sleep tonight.

Evy blinks at him. “Ardeth Bay.” Her voice is flat, unbelieving. “You’re honestly trying to tell me that you think he wrote it?”

Jonathan shrugs. “He could have, couldn’t he? It’s entirely within the realm of possibility. Think about it. He’s an intelligent sort of chap, very voluble, likes his metaphors and his idioms and his proverbs and whatnot. It’s just as likely that he wrote it as I did. Probably even more likely, if you think about it, on account of all the proverbs.”

Evy rolls her eyes, and sits up straighter in her own chair, matching him for height. “Ardeth Bay did not write this, Jonathan,” she says, sighing. “For a start, Rick and I ran into him on the dig in Luxor, and he was rather preoccupied with stopping a rival team from digging up an enchanted amulet which would, in his words, rain ruin down upon all of mankind should it be lifted from the sands. I really don’t think he had the time to sit down and pen a romance novel.”

“I’d really call it more of an adventure novel than a romance,” says Jonathan defensively, before he even thinks about what he’s saying. 

Evy’s eyes widen. “So you have read it!” she crows. “I knew it!”

Oh, arse and buggery.

He sputters and almost falls out of his chair, tries very hard to form what he thinks might even be words. “No—I mean, just based on the bits you’ve read—”

“Jonathan.” 

It’s too late, he knows. The game is up, if it was ever even down to begin with. 

There’s nothing he can do now but save as much face as possible, which is not a challenge he particularly relishes. Especially as his face is currently redder than O’Connell’s back after two days on horseback in the desert.

“Now that I think of it, you’re right. I have picked it up once or twice, on my occasional visits to the library, you know,” he blusters, gamely, but she doesn’t look even remotely moved, and he slumps forward, resting his head on both hands propped up on his knees, knows that he has no choice but to acquiesce. He feels like a very small fish caught at the end of a long line, or perhaps someone’s old boot dredged up from the bottom of the Nile. “All right. Perhaps I’m rather more familiar with it than I’ve let on. But in my defence—”

He waits for a moment. Something usually comes. It doesn’t. Strange.

Evy takes pity on him then and closes the book, dropping it into her knapsack, out of sight. 

“I didn’t even know that you still wrote,” she says, and her voice is a gentle thing now. He almost preferred it when she seemed angry. He knows how to deal with that; people being angry with or around him is, after all, practically his resting state.

“I don’t, not really,” he sighs, and he looks away from her to where the fire burns dark and low in the grate. It’ll need more wood piling on it soon, or it’ll die out. “It was more of a… what was it that Aristotle chap called it? A catharsis. Better out than in, you know. Like a nightmare burp.”

The fire really does need stoking, he thinks. He watches a few paltry orange sparks leap expectantly into the air and fade out before they can land anywhere at all.

“Nightmares,” she says.

He sighs. “Are you really telling me that you’ve had even one good night’s sleep since everything happened?” She has the good grace, at least, to look abashed. “Of course you have,” he says, leaning back. “You have O’Connell, don’t you? I’ll tell you, it’s really not quite the same when you’re stuck here all by yourself.”

If he were to look at her now, he knows exactly what her expression would be, so he doesn’t. He’s seen that little furrow of pity between her brows before, all the times she’s gone to pick him up from some backroom auction and found him with a bloody nose, or smoothed over some unfortunate misunderstanding about an artefact’s veracity, or why, exactly, someone’s wallet had ended up in Jonathan’s pocket. Every time his little sister has slipped, without complaint, into the role of the elder sibling. And now she’s done it again, hasn’t she? Getting engaged before him, finding that person whose arms hold her tight enough to keep the bad dreams at bay. Starting the next chapter of her life and leaving him behind, her big, baby brother, here alone in the house they used to share, with enough bad dreams for them both.

“Jonathan.” 

Evy reaches out and puts her hand on his knee, so tender that it almost feels like she’s pressing her fingers into a bruise, and he can’t stand it. He gets up and goes over to the basket of firewood, selects a log that would really be much better for kindling, and lobs it haphazardly onto the quelling fire, then spends a good minute or so prodding it ineffectively with the poker. 

“Blasted thing’s going out,” he says. His voice sounds thicker than he would like.

He can feel her eyes on him even as he refuses to look, and he has the unnerving feeling that she might, in fact, actually see him, which is, quite frankly, something he’s rather hoped to avoid for at least two of the last three decades. Not that he’s ever truly managed it. She’s always been the more observant of the two of them.

“I loved the ending, by the way,” she says. She still sounds soft, in that way he’s never really been able to cope with, but there’s something else there now, too. It isn’t pity. 

The ending. God, of course she’s skipped forward to the ending. She’s always done that, says she hates not knowing how something will end before she begins. 

He thinks about the ending, about the odd fluttering sensation that had fizzled in his chest and settled at the pit of his stomach when he wrote it, the same kind of thrill he’s always had from pick-pocketing someone much taller than him, or blagging his way onto an expedition under someone else’s name and running off with the proceeds, or convincing someone that a particularly lovely piece of glass is, in fact, a rare diamond. The spark of knowledge that he shouldn’t, but he wants to, so he will. Not so much the thrill of taking a risk or of chasing danger as the knowledge that no-one else is quite as good at getting close to a fire without getting burnt as Jonathan is. No-one else has his knack for going right up to the periphery, staring the consequences in the face, and giving them a two-fingered salute.

Well. Until recently, anyway.

Something about that ending had felt less like beating the consequences, and more like surrendering to them entirely. Less taunting fate, and more tempting it.

He pauses his ministrations with the poker and turns around. She’s leaning all her weight on one hand, propped atop the arm of the chair, smiling at him fondly. 

“Really?” he dares.

She nods. “Really. It’s a shame it didn’t end quite that way in real life, if you ask me, but you never know.” She shrugs. “Sometimes we write all the way up to the end, and only then do we realise that the story is still unfolding all around us. Like with our evil mummy friend. He thought he knew how his story was going to end, but we put a bloody great spanner in the works, didn’t we? And then you have to ask, is it really over? What would happen if you were to go back to that bloody desert right now, throw another spanner around and see what happens?” Her grin turns wolfish. “Hypothetically speaking, of course. I’m sure there’s nothing drawing you back to the desert at all.”

Despite his years of practice, he knows that there’s frankly no hope in concealing the furious blush on his face right now. Evy knows him too bloody well, anyway. There’s absolutely no use trying.

Besides, if she’s saying what he thinks she’s saying, then it’s rather more than he’s ever dared hope for, except for blissful ignorance.

“Honestly,” he mutters, trying for casual and ending up in some very odd locale between devastated and grateful. “I’ve never heard such a load of rot in all my life. Stories unfolding around us, my left foot. Are you quite sure you didn’t write that utter pulp?”

Evy smiles again, back to benevolence. “You’re the one who called it pulp, not me.”

“Complete rot, the lot of it,” he says. “I don’t like it one bit.”

“Not that you’ve read it, of course.”

He’s never loved or hated her more. 


When she’s gone, Jonathan pours himself a finger of whisky—not his own finger, certainly, but he’d met a chap on a dig in Thebes last year who’d had absolutely huge hands, perfect for opening ancient chests and tombs and things, and, Jonathan had discovered, much to his own chagrin, for punching people in the temple, and Jonathan’s not ashamed to admit that he’s used that man’s fingers as his whisky metric ever since. He’s earnt it, with all the things he’s bloody been through. Especially today.

Really. Of all the conversations he’s had in that living room of his, this one has to rank amongst the most ridiculous, and that’s truly saying something, he thinks, harking back to the time he’d successfully sold someone a papier-mâché reproduction of a 17th Dynasty faience amulet for enough money to bribe someone to steal two real ones. It had been quite a rigorous negotiation, too. He’d had to throw the carpet out, in the end.

He sits on the end of the bed and pulls off his trousers angrily, balling them up and throwing them down into the corner of the room, then thinking better of it and picking them up, folding them neatly and laying them atop the dresser.

What is it to Evy anyway, he thinks, if he did write the bally thing? She’d been away with O’Connell, hadn’t she, digging up dead people and their prized possessions in the desert and probably smooching her chiselled American fiancé behind campaniform columns when no-one else was looking. And apparently, as he’s just discovered, they’d been with Ardeth too, so the whole bally gang was back together again, weren’t they, without the useless addition of Jonathan. 

Grumbling, he yanks off his socks and throws them into the laundry heap beside the bed. Ardeth had probably turned up on some wild glossy stallion, and tossed back his head of very impressive dark hair, and made some unnervingly profound comment about how the sands of Luxor were, if you thought about it, quite a good metaphor for the sands of time. Only he would have said it in a way that made it sound mystical and ancient. We stand here today as friends, drawn together across the world, on the same sands that kept our ancestors apart. Something like that, probably. The sort of rot that would sound absolutely preposterous on the lips of anyone else, but sounded like poetry on his. And he would have stared off into the middle distance as he said it, and all of the people nearby would have listened, rapt, drawn in by the gravitas of him, like moths to a flame, all desperate to burn up just to be close to him, because that’s the sort of man Ardeth is, which is frankly unethical, when Jonathan thinks about it. No man should have that sort of innate power over others. Isn’t that almost exactly what Ardeth had said about Imhotep?

And then, of course, having arrived and caused everyone within a fifty mile radius to thoroughly swoon, he would have galavanted around, doing a whole series of impractically heroic things with swords and knives and scimitars, unless that was really just another type of sword after all, until the day was well and truly saved. And then he would have gone off to speak to Evy and O’Connell, and they would probably have stayed up all night in one of the dig tents, drinking wine—Ardeth would have had tea, naturally—and eating grapes and thick cut bread, and talking about how much more work they’d all managed to get done in the absence of Jonathan flopping around in the heat like a particularly ungainly fish, ruining everything he touched like some sort of perverse anti-Midas figure.

Well, Jonathan thinks bitterly, he hopes that they had a simply excellent time without him, and yet he simultaneously hopes that they all fell off their horses at least once, preferably in front of a whole group of equestrians.

Thoroughly soaked in misery now, he turns off the lights and crawls under the covers, curling up like a croissant. A dry old croissant, left on the bakery shelf, that not even the most dedicated Parisian wants to buy. 

As he drifts off to sleep, he allows himself to wallow in tonight’s conversation more than he knows he ought to. Certainly, he admits, there are elements of truth to Evy’s accusations. He might be a seasoned liar when it comes to everyone else, but he’s perfectly capable of being honest with himself, especially after dinner. He can accept that there are, perhaps, one or two parts of her accusations which, although they’ve flowered into great untruths, did at least germinate from a seed of truth. They’re mere crumbs of validity, of course, but they’re there. 

So, all right. Perhaps Jonathan had, after quite a few months of tossing and turning at night, staring balefully out of the window at a city that seemed raw and unfamiliar with all that he now knew to be true—namely that the dead didn’t always stay dead, and the living were only living by the sheer luck of the whole bally thing—decided to exorcise the whole blasted debacle from his mind. 

Perhaps there was a kernel of truth in the accusation that he had, in fact, got out of bed just after midnight, on the fourth night in a row when he’d been kept awaken by horrifying visions of shambling corpses reaching blindly out to him with clawing hands, and he had sat himself down at the writing desk in his study, grabbed a ream of paper which he really only kept to hand in order to practice forging various signatures or receipts of payment, and began to write. That he had written and written, of ancient curses and true love thwarted, of gunfire on a steamship and swordfights in the desert, of a naive, doomed gang of Americans and a noble quartet of rescuers, consisting of two British siblings, a deeply unmannered American, and a mysterious desert warrior.

It might even be true that he had written almost solidly for an entire week, only really stopping to grab a hunk of bread and cheese or some port from the pantry, or to snatch a few moments of restless sleep in the chair; that he had, quite shamefully, even dragged a chamberpot in from the spare bedroom so that he didn’t have to stop writing mid-flow; and that by the end of that week, he had slammed the pen down on the desk, held the bundle of paper in both hands, and realised that he had, in fact, written a book.

And then, it could even be said that he had stared at the manuscript he had somehow written, at all the words that had been inside his brain and were now, by some frenzied magic, on a page, a living organ in and of itself but outside of his body, and that he had gone straight to bed and slept through the night for the first time in months, unhaunted by the living dead, or by dreams of being slowly buried alive in the sand.

One could even accuse him then of waking up the next morning, feeling calm and refreshed in a way that he hadn’t felt since before he’d learnt that death is not always terminal, and going back to sit at that same old desk he’d called home for the past week, and reading through everything he’d written, and, perhaps most miraculously, not hating it at all. 

And if one were to say that he had then, in a pique of what might, in his defence, have been some sort of sleep inertia, picked up the pen again and changed the protagonist from a devilishly handsome young man named John into a femme-fatale named Joanna, and rewritten the ending so that Joanna did not, in fact, end up simply returning home and vegetating in the old family manor until she dropped dead 30 years later of terminal banality, but instead was swept up on horseback at the very moment at which all hope for further adventure seemed lost, and was carried away in the arms of a certain noble desert warrior to begin a life anew in the desert—well. There may, Jonathan can admit, be some truth to that, too. 

Purely for the narrative arc, of course. 

Every story needs a bit of romance, after all.


When he wakes up the next morning, at the unpleasantly early hour of 11 o’clock, he’s perplexed to find a letter waiting for him. Frowning, he takes the letter opener from the top drawer of the desk, steadfastly refusing to be reminded of the time Ardeth showed him quite an impressive trick he could do with a knife which involved balancing it on the end of his index finger by the blade, and he carefully opens the envelope, pulling out the contents. 

And then he drops it, as though burnt.

There is, quite simply, no possible way that he can have seen the number he thought he saw. 

With trembling fingers, he bends down and picks up the sheath of papers, looking at the front page again. And there it is, that same figure. £700

That’s nearly twice what he and Evy paid their parents for the bloody house. He’s seen diamonds sold for less. He’s been beaten black and blue in the backrooms of auction houses for trying to counterfeit a tenth of that.

Hands still shaking, he leafs through the papers and arrives at the main part of correspondence.

Dear Miss Neachann,

Please find enclosed your royalty figure for the first three months of publication of The Curse of the Deserted Heart. This figure may shock you—it certainly surprised us, although pleasantly so!—but be assured that it has been checked and is entirely accurate. Congratulations are therefore in order!

As you may glean from the figure above, your book has rather outperformed our expectations, which were not low by any metric, but were based on similar figures for other books in this genre. However, in light of these quite unprecedented figures, we are writing to you in order to request that you consider revising your contract with us. 

We initially agreed to accept your current novel for publication only, but we would be remiss if we did not now tell you that we are eager to work with you on your next book, and build off the immense popularity and resonance that Deserted Heart has justifiably had. We would, of course, offer a substantially larger advance, and a much greater percentage of royalties, to be negotiated at your discretion. 

We feel that this arrangement would be mutually beneficial, and look forward to receiving your reply. 

Congratulations again!

Warm regards,

Misters. H. Ivory and J. Emerald, Springer Publications

Dazed, he goes to pour himself a restorative cup of tea, but ends up shattering two teacups, spilling half a pint of milk all over the freshly scrubbed tiles, and getting a not-insignificant quantity of tea leaves stuck under his fingernails.

Perhaps Evy hadn’t been exaggerating when she said that everyone was reading it, after all.

It’s not going to be a problem, of course. No-one knows he wrote it. The name he used when he submitted it to the publisher, which has turned out to be one of his more enduring whims, is Valery Neachann, which Evelyn need never know is an anagram of her name.

He changed everyone’s names, so he's covered his arse thoroughly there. Imhotep is Amenhotep, which he has to admit to feeling slightly sorry about, because the real Amenhotep—well, all three of the buggers, as a matter of fact—were presumably quite happy to stay dead, and he does feel somewhat like he’s desecrating their memories. Evelyn has become Emmeline, which, the more he thinks about it, may have been a little too on the nose. Rick O’Connell is Ryan O’Nally, and Jonathan even gave him a grotesque, seeping wart at the end of his nose to further disguise his real identity, which really, he thinks, O’Connell should thank him for. And Ardeth—

Well. Abir isn’t Ardeth, per se, is he? And Joanna isn’t Jonathan. The other characters might be fairly analogous with their real-life counterparts, but he used real artistic license for those two. An astonishing flash of creativity. Certainly, the kernel of truth is there—he didn’t invent a desert warrior entirely off the cuff, after all—but the romance, now that’s all fiction. Joanna is a woman, for Heaven’s sake. She’s clearly completely different to Jonathan, even if she is raven-haired and afraid of the dark and partial to a diamond or two, and 5’10”.

No, that whole part of the book was sprung entirely from his own imagination, and not for wishful thinking, either. It’s just a matter of what sells, he thinks. He simply decided to shoe-horn a bit of romance in to make the book more palatable to the unwashed masses, who won’t read anything unless there’s kissing and caressing and grand declarations of love on horseback in it these days. The fact that he chose to write the romance between Joanna and Abir rather than Emmeline and Ryan—well. Who wants to write a romance about a character based on their sister? Not him. It’s a perfectly rational explanation, and there’s quite a bit of truth in it, too, which helps to sell it.

There is, he reassures himself, teacup clacking against the saucer as he tries to drink from it, absolutely no need for this to be a problem.