How Prince Marcos had become associated with the tribe was a mystery not fully solved. From what Tiani and Chief Gabor could piece together with Nicholas and Levi, Prince Marcos must have travelled to Tikal sometime after the death of his first wife, Lyla, and met Akna at one of the village trading posts, fell in love and married. They had a son, Emir, and stayed married for the remainder of their lives.
But Akna refused to leave her tribe, and Marcos refused to leave the luxuries of the modern world and his commitment and duties as Crown Prince of Madain Saleh to live in the wilderness. He travelled to visit his wife frequently and left her with over a million dollars when he died, but none of the tribe could read or write so the will was meaningless to them. The fact that they still had the will was a miracle in itself.
Akna and Emir must have understood its importance and impressed upon Emir’s son, Eadrich the necessity of holding onto that envelope, and that importance was passed on to Gabor, who shared the envelope with Tiani.
The envelope came with a legend about a light-skinned people who would come with complicated gadgets so futuristic the people bringing them would seem like gods. In reality, most of what the team of scientists had was basic survival materials: satellite phones, computers, prepackaged food and water, high-end shelters. Other than the LiDAR technology, everything else was equipment the Americans, Mexicans, and Guatemalans took for granted as commonplace.
After a full day of trekking through the dense jungle, followed by hours of being marched at the point of a spear, followed by hours of trying to understand one another, none of them could keep their eyes opened. Thankfully the tents were already in place and people began retiring to their respective places of refuge.
There was an unspoken understanding that the following day would be a day of rest and regrouping, trying to figure out where to go from here. The tribe members still didn’t understand what the team of scientists were doing there and why they wanted to see the temple pyramid. Somehow the team needed to explain the modern technology, the importance of preserving the inscriptions, and to convince them to show the team the rest of the way to the temple now that they were completely off track.
Explaining the team’s desire to study the temple pyramid proved to be more of a challenge then they anticipated. Modern technology included concepts that exceeded the tribal members’ limited understanding. They were warriors, protectors, watchmen, but not scientists. The only experience they’d had with antiquities was that of looters, thieves, destroyers. And they only learned of those through trade with the local villagers.
As far as their trade partners were concerned, the tribe was a small group of nomads who lived in the jungle, subsisting on limited resources. By trading in a variety of locations on opposite sides of the jungle they were able to conceal their vast population.
For hundreds of years looters had yet to discover the existence of this most sacred ancient site. Generations of this tribe had fiercely guarded its location. Because of the spiral of mounds surrounding the central pyramid, anyone wishing to search the area gave up after experiencing a maze of hills and valleys, dense jungle without paths and no obvious ruins in this wilderness.
Looters were correct in that respect. There were no ruins in this part of the wilderness, save this one location in the center of a complex spiral of hidden trails.
The path they had travelled that evening had been newly created in response to the foresters’ invasion in recent weeks. The tribe seemed to inherently understand that the small clearings were intended to be used by someone for a temporary settlement, but they didn’t know who or for what reason. Upon discovering the clearings, the tribe had created their own temporary settlement and laid in wait for the looters, ready to ambush them.
Levi’s ability to communicate in their native tongue had confused them. Most local looters would have spoken Spanish and been far more savage in appearance and stature.
Nicholas thanked his twin for diligently studying his chosen field of linguistics and said goodnight. He collapsed into his bedroll, pulled Becky into his arms, and fell asleep almost immediately.
Without seeking direction from her father, Tiani hurried away and returned from her tent holding an envelope, which she handed to Levi. “Je’ela wáaj u páajtal a xook le ba’ala’?”
“She wants to know if I can read this,” Levi said, taking the envelope. Nicholas and Timothy both peered over Levi’s shoulder.
“It’s in Spanish,” Timothy said. “Most of us should be able to read Spanish.”
“I wonder if she can read the letter.” Levi looked up at her. “Je’ela wáaj u páajtal a xook le ba’ala’?”
“Ma’.” Tiani shook her head.
“Can you speak Spanish?” Levi chuckled, probably realizing he needed to ask her in Yucatec. “Ba’ax je’el u páajtal a t’aan kastláan t’aan?”
“Si, puedo hablar español,” Tiani answered in perfect Spanish.
“She speaks Spanish,” Levi called out to the group with a giant smile on his face. “I wonder if all of them speak Spanish. Ba’ax je’el u páajtal a t’aan kastláan t’aan?” He waved his hand around, pointing to the warriors and the tribal chief.
Tiani again answered in the affirmative, explaining they spoke Spanish when they traded with the local villages.
For the rest of the evening, most everyone conversed in a broken combination of Spanish, Yucatec, and English. Nicholas sensed the team and the tribe relax into the common language with a mutual gratitude to understand one another without the need for a translator.
Eventually they circled back to the strange letter that Tiani had handed Levi. He read aloud to the group in Spanish, then read it again, translating into English to offer clarification for those in the group who were only mildly fluent in Spanish.
“This is a final will and testament,” Levi explained. “I, Prince Marcos Sayid of Mada’in Saleh do hereby bequeath my blessing to my wife, Akna Sayid, and our son, Emir Sayid, along with twenty-three million Mexican pesos, to be held in perpetuity until at which time they should wish to draw from the account.”
“Your little Mayan princess is a millionaire,” Nicholas mumbled. “Probably several times over if it’s been gathering interest for three generations.”
“There’s also information here about the local bank where the funds are being held,” Levi said. “The account is in Flores.”
Nicholas felt compelled to offer a formal greeting to the princess and tell her he was honored to meet her. “Princesa Tiani, me siento honrado de conocerte.”
Others of the team also bowed their head in respect. There were murmurs among the tribesmen. Her elevated status was news to them as well.
“Su Alteza”—Nicholas bowed to the tribal chief addressing him as Your Highness— “Me siento honrado de conocerte.” Nicholas wanted to make the message clear. The American scientists held the Mayan royal family in high esteem. This turn of events could actually go a long way to improving relations between the two groups.
They would use this to their advantage.
After another forty-five minutes of walking parallel to the mounds along an actual path created by the Mayan tribe, they were led into a small tent village not much bigger than the campsites the foresters had created for the team.
The tribe seemed to use similar camouflaging techniques by only clearing as many trees as necessary, leaving the canopy intact. This site didn’t look permanent or that it had been occupied for long. The trees were freshly cut.
Nicholas smelled the food and almost sighed with relief. The quickly lowering sun was a concern if they were going to have shelter before night and that was the most important issue, he reminded Levi. “Ask them if we can set up our tents.”
“Je’el u páajtal k instalar k koonolo’ob ba’atelilo’?” Levi asked the tribal chief’s daughter then pointed to the sun going down. “Ma’ili’ ti’ u ponga le k’iino’.”
“Mi je’ele’.” She held up a hand indicating the team should stay right there and wait for her. Then she lifted her chin and headed straight for the largest tent.
Nicholas reached for Becky’s hand and pulled her close, wishing he could promise everything would be okay, but knowing he couldn’t make such promises.
After a few minutes the chief’s daughter emerged, holding open the tent flap for a large man wearing a similar headdress as his daughter, but much larger. His bare chest and arms were tattooed and muscular.
All the team members straightened their stance, and the warriors stood at attention.
His daughter spoke privately to her father and pointed at their group. Levi took one step forward and the warriors moved in on them.
“Venimos tu Jets’ óolal,” Levi called out to the tribal leader. “Je’el u béeytal k p’áatal ta wéetel le áak’aba’? I asked them if we could stay here tonight and told them we come in peace.”
“Baʼax a kʼáat?” the tribal leader called back. That question seemed to come up a lot this evening. Everyone wanted to know what the others intended.
“We want to sleep here and talk,” Levi said, then translated. “Táak k weenel waye’ ka t’aan.”
“Untie my tent from my backpack,” Nicholas said, turning his back to Levi. “Show them we have shelter.”
Levi quickly did as his brother suggested and held up the tent for the tribe to see. “Yaan k tu’ux u yookoj maaki’.”
The tribal leader crossed the small clearing and stood before Levi, reaching out to touch the sturdy canvas.
“Je’el u páajtal k ts’áik k koonolo’ob Ma’ili’ ti’ u ponga le k’iino’?” Levi asked. “Can we set up our tents before the sun sets?” He pointed to the sun again.
The leader nodded once and took a step back, retreating to stand beside his daughter. The warriors barely relaxed their offensive stance while the team’s site manager, Jonas, started barking out orders.
“Set up your tents similar to how you would have if we were at the prepared campsite,” Jonas said. “Act natural as if this is no big deal. So far, they haven’t been hostile. Let’s keep it that way.”
With very little further communication, the team of exhausted archaeologists set to work preparing their tents in the waning light. As each completed their own tents, they helped each other so that everyone would finish as quickly as possible.
Levi was one of the first to return to the tribal leader and his daughter, allowing Nicholas and Becky to finish setting up his tent. Even from this distance, Nicholas could hear their conversation but didn’t understand a word.
Gradually the team members returned to the clearing and stood close to the campfire where they were given small bowls of meat stew with vegetables and herbs drenched in a heavenly gravy.
Nicholas bypassed the food temporarily and took his place at his brother’s side, still holding Becky’s hand. Timothy, the excavation director, also joined them.
Levi began introductions and told the leaders each of their names. Then he turned to his team. “My friends, may I present Chief Gabor Sayid and his daughter, Tiani Sayid.”
“Sayid?” Nicholas asked. “Are they related to the princes of Madain Saleh?” Nicholas had heard the stories of their uncle’s best friends who had once been heralded as princes in some Middle Eastern nation that no longer existed.
“Marcos Sayid leti’e’ ka’ach in bisabuelo.” The chief lifted his chin with pride.
“Prince Marcos was his great-grandfather,” Levi said with creased brows and a suspicious undertone to his words. “But that doesn’t make sense. He’s too old.”
“Not if he’s referring to Prince Marcos’ grandfather,” Nicholas said. “Benjamin’s father.”
“I thought Benjamin was an only child,” Levi mumbled.
“Apparently there are more branches of the Sayid family tree than we realized,” Nicholas answered his twin. “What an interesting twist to this already confusing day.”
If there was any silver lining that the team hadn’t had time to set up camp before the ambush, it was that they still had their packs safely strapped to their backs. But they were hungry, tired, and most of them needed to use the bathroom. After at least an hour of following the tribal warriors, Becky finally begged Levi to ask them if we could take a break.
“Je’el u páajtal k parar biilankiltej táankab?” Levi asked the chief’s daughter.
“She says there is no bathroom,” Levi told the group. “I’ll ask her if we can just pee behind a tree. Lu’um? Paach junkúul che’?”
“Please.” Becky stepped forward, crossing her legs and holding herself, pleading with her eyes, woman to woman.
The chief’s daughter rolled her eyes. “Ma’alob. Bin.” Her resigned expression was all the translation the team needed.
“Dad, get the toilet paper out of my backpack side pocket,” Matt mumbled.
“Mine too.” Becky turned around, offering her pack to Nicholas for easier access. “And come with me. I don’t want to be in the jungle by myself.”
The guys spread out, tucking themselves away for a tiny bit of privacy.
“This is ridiculous,” Becky grumbled. “You warned me this would be primitive camping.”
“Eh, don’t worry about it. Everyone else is thankful you begged. Look, even some of the tribesmen are tucked behind a tree.”
“I’m not going to look!” Becky hissed. “They better not be looking at me, either.”
“I’m standing in between you and them with a death glare,” Nicholas said. “Just finish up. I need to go too.”
When they were all safely back on the trail, Becky handed around her hand sanitizer and they all seemed grateful for that as well.
“Ba’ax le je’ela’?” One of the warriors grabbed the hand sanitizer bottle and sniffed then pulled back with a wrinkled nose. He shoved it back in Becky’s hands.
“It’s hand sanitizer,” Levi said, rubbing his hands together. “To clean your hands. Cho’oik k’aboob.”
The man shook his head and stepped back with his fellow tribesmen.
Before continuing, the team members helped each other reach into their bags for protein bars. Nicholas grabbed a handful of them out of Levi’s pack and handed them to Levi. “Offer some to the men and the girl.” Nicholas made a show of opening the wrapper and taking a bite to show them what the little bars were for.
“Lela’ jaanal,” Levi said, offering the food. Most of the men stayed in their positions but the curious man stepped forward again. He sniffed the bar and took a bite. Then he turned his head and spit the bite onto the ground behind him.
“Ma’ bin jaanal.” He shook his head and handed the bar to the chief’s daughter. She sniffed the protein bar, wrinkled her nose and handed the bar to Levi.
Levi wrapped the bar and gave it to Nicholas. “Will you put this back in my bag? They say it’s not food.” Levi chuckled and took a bite of the one he already had open.
The tribal chief’s daughter pulled aside one of the warriors and spoke quietly to him in their native tongue. He then took off running ahead.
“What did she say?” Nicholas asked.
“I think she told him that their guests were hungry and that he should run ahead to have the tribe prepare a meal for us.” Levi bowed his head to the woman in thanks and spoke softly. “Níib óolal.”
She grunted and flipped her braid as she turned to keep leading the march.
“Feisty little thing,” Levi muttered under his breath and Nicholas chuckled.
“Hope she’s not already married.” Nicholas pushed his brother’s shoulder playfully.
“Shut up.” Levi bit his lips, but a smile shown in his eyes.
If Nicholas thought a beautiful professor was out of his league, Levi had an uphill battle crushing on a Mayan princess.
The second day of trekking through the jungle was both easier and more difficult. Easier because they were able to chop through the brush with machetes. They were less concerned with leaving a visible path from the road now that they were over the first mound of the spiral. More difficult because they were exhausted.
There was little in the way of conversation all day. The only communication was in working together to blaze a trail and carve a path up and over the second mound. They took turns at the point position, but with five machetes between thirteen people, they were able to switch out frequently as their arms tired.
The elation at coming upon their campsite early that evening was subdued. The more quickly they could get their tents erected, the sooner they could climb inside and collapse.
They didn’t get that far.
What started as a few snapping twigs in the periphery of the camp led to the ominous feeling of being surrounded. Instinctively, everyone in the team gathered to the center of the camp and Nicholas wrapped his arms around Becky, a futile attempt to protect her.
Native Mayans were likely nervous about these foreigners invading their land. The team knew this might happen. But knowing something in the abstract and actually experiencing an ambush were very different.
“Hello?” Timothy called out. “Is anyone out there?” There was no noise.
“Máaxech” Levi called out. “Baʼax a kʼáat?”
A beautiful young woman stepped into the clearing, startling everyone. She looked directly at Levi asking, “A t’aan maaya’ex?”
Levi nodded and answered her. “Je’el.”
“What are you saying?” Nicholas asked his brother through clenched teeth. The fact that they were communicating was a good sign.
“I asked what they wanted,” Levi said. “And she asked me if I understood her language. Obviously, I do. She’s confused.”
The woman looked around at the other members of the group then back at Levi and said something else in her native Mayan tongue.
Levi shook his head and answered her then translated his statement into English. “No, I’m the only person here who speaks Yucatec.”
She wore a colorful textile dress, obviously tribal rather than a costume, had her hair pulled back and intricately braided on top and cascading down her back. A small headdress made of ornately carved wood and feathers adorned her head, not large enough to be that of a queen. A princess, maybe? Daughter of a tribal leader perhaps? She was fascinating.
“In k’aaba’ Levi.” Levi put his hand on his chest and then pointed to her, most likely asking her name. “Bix a k’aba?”
Her suspicious gaze darted between Levi and Nicholas, and Levi stepped closer to his twin, moving his hand between the two.
“In suku’un,” Levi said. “My brother. And my friends. In nuup’o’ob” He waved his hand in a sweeping gesture to include the whole group.
“Ba’ax a k’áat?” She turned his words around demanding to know what they wanted.
“She wants to know why we’re here,” Levi said to the group. “We are scientists. Chan científicos. We want to study the temple pyramid. Táak k xook le templo.” He pointed in the direction the team was heading.
A startled expression crossed her face. Her wide eyes darted around the group. “Teche’ ma’ k’a’ana’an wojéeltik tu yo’olal le je’elo.” Angry words spewed forth, loud and fast. Nicholas wondered if Levi could even translate that complicated rant.
“I think she said we’re not supposed to know about the temple. Their tribe has probably been protecting the temple for generations. I need to let her know we won’t hurt the temple.” Levi paused to breathe, then spoke to her in a soft, placating tone. “Ma’ táan k herir le templo. Táak k paakat le templo.”
“Ma’. Ko’oten ojéeltbil ti in yuum.” She turned around and made a motion to the others who were hiding in the jungle, out of our sight.
“She said, no, and that we need to come and meet her father.” Levi turned to meet Nicholas’ gaze with wide eyes. “I have a feeling we are about to meet the tribal chief.”
“I have a feeling you’re right,” Nicholas said. “Depending on how far away the village is located, this could be a long night.”
As he spoke, dozens of men with curved swords and spears surrounded their camp on all sides.
Nicholas was surprised how quickly he fell asleep, especially lying on the hard jungle floor. Not to mention the distraction of holding in his arms the most tempting and alluring woman his wildest dreams could conjure up. He didn’t stir until Becky stretched and yawned.
“Good morning, sleepyhead.” Her scratchy voice poked through his fog and Nicholas pulled her even closer.
“Stay,” he mumbled. “Few more minutes.” His eyes never opened but a soft smile pulled at the corners of his mouth.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Becky said, pushing him gently away. “I’ve been waiting for the sun to rise so I wasn’t searching in the dark for that hole in the ground you dug.”
“M—kay.” Nicholas reluctantly allowed his arms to release her from his clutches and Becky scrambled to unzip the tent flaps. He lay there in their makeshift bed and chuckled when she physically moaned with relief from emptying her bladder.
In all his twenty-nine years living on earth he never thought he’d get a kick out of listening to someone else use the toilet, especially when that toilet was a hand-dug latrine in the middle of a Guatemalan jungle.
He also never dreamed of falling in love this hard this fast. His mind wandered back several years to the first time he saw Becky and realized their love story hadn’t happened quickly at all.
Eight years and six months ago he’d walked into the GIS computer lab expecting a kid almost as geeky as himself to act as graduate assistant. When this elegant blonde woman turned around and smiled at him, Nicholas felt his knees go week. He could barely introduce himself he was so tongue tied.
Not only was Becky off-limits as his TA, she was out of his league. Yet she always found a reason to peek over his shoulder and ask him about his work. He never had to fake ignorance on something to request her assistance because she frequently gave him her undivided attention, almost as if she craved his closeness just as he craved hers.
He still craved her closeness.
By the time he’d mulled over the slow burn of their relationship, she returned carrying the roll of toilet paper she kept in her backpack, which she stashed in its designated pocket and grabbed her little bottle of hand sanitizer. As she rubbed the alcohol gel into her palms, Nicholas reached for his own backpack and dug out a pack of gum.
“I refuse to allow my morning breath to deter you from returning to snuggle with me.” He held up the pack of gum with a grin.
“Ooh, I’ll take a piece.” Becky scrambled across the bedroll they’d shared and wiggled her way back inside the sleeping blanket.
The unspoken message for each other in the gray haze of morning was of desire. Although his doctorate was in archaeology, he knew enough anatomy and physiology to remember that men’s testosterone levels were comparatively higher first thing in the morning than at any other time of day.
He ignored the warning in the back of his mind that making out with Becky was a really bad idea. His mind and body were in complete disagreement about the subject.
She was making his commitment to waiting for marriage very difficult. Her hands gripped into his hair and then roamed down his shoulders and chest. When Becky rolled onto her back and pulled Nicholas on top of her, that woke him up. Completely.
“Whoa, babe, we can’t do this!” Nicholas pushed her away gently but firmly, his conscience finally overpowering his body. Barely.
Staring up at the ceiling of the tent, Becky pulled her hair and growled softly. “Please?”
“No, no, no, no, no.” Nicholas scrambled for his shoes, needing to put distance between them before he changed his mind.
“I’m sorry,” Becky whispered. “I didn’t mean to—”
“Babe, you have nothing to apologize about.” Nicholas leaned over and kissed her one more time. “I want you just as much as you want me—probably more—but we need to wait.”
“I know, I know.” She sighed. “I can be patient.”
“Soon, I promise.” He placed one last tiny peck on her lips and reached for the tent zipper.
Dawn had awakened most of the team and the guys were emerging from the cocoons of their tents, sleepy-eyed and yawning. Nicholas tried to sneak away from Becky’s tent without being noticed.
“Well, well, well, what have we here?” Jeremiah, the team’s finds manager clucked his tongue at Nicholas with a knowing smile. “Who wagered they’d cave by day nine? Or would this be day eight, since I’m assuming Nicholas has been in Rebecca’s tent since last night. So, who wagered day eight?”
“We did not do anything last night.” Nicholas held up his hands in surrender to their teasing. “I just didn’t want her to be alone in the jungle.”
“The wager didn’t require proof of a physical relationship, just that you slept in the same tent, which seeing as how you are currently climbing out of her bed as the sun rises, I’m pretty sure we can make a reasonable assumption that you did indeed sleep in Rebecca’s tent.”
“I’m a billionaire,” Nicholas said. “I’m pretty sure I can afford to lose a few dollars on a wager, especially if that means I get to sleep in the arms of the most incredible woman in the world.”
“Wait, you’re a… billionaire?” Jeremiah wasn’t the only member of the team standing dumbfounded with his jaw hanging open.
“Well, our estate is worth over a billion.” Nicholas waved a finger back and forth between himself and the tent where Levi still slept. “Just because we shared a couple of strands of DNA our parents say we have to split the inheritance. I’m older so I really should get more than half.”
“I’m smarter,” Levi called from inside the tent. There was a flurry of activity inside as Levi made his way to the door and unzipped the tent flap. “I’m sure by the time we retire I will have invested more wisely, and my net worth will be greater.”
“My net worth is already greater from the simple luxury of sleeping in the arms of the woman I love.”
“And the rest of us are going to puke up our breakfast from the gooey love fest vibe you got going on,” Jeremiah said.
“No puking up breakfast,” Timothy called out. “We need to hold onto all the energy we can if we’re going to finish this trek before sundown. Now let’s pack up these tents, clean up your campsites and get going.” As excavation director, he was in charge. His little speech spurred them all into action and within 45 minutes the team was on their way.
Click here if you've forgotten what happened in Chapters One-Eleven!
The distance up and over the first mound was almost a full day’s walk. Instead of chopping down saplings and shrubs with machetes to make the trek easier—as they would do once over the first mound—they held branches out of the way for each other, creating as little trace of their path as possible to be visible from the road.
They relied heavily on GPS coordinates and compasses to maintain the correct heading, depending on faith and intuition as much as possible. Trusting that their field guide, a local man they called James, would know the proper techniques for navigating the jungles of Guatemala, the team followed his lead.
As part of their advance training, they’d all received basic cartography skills, beyond what any of them had learned in the computer lab. On this exploration, they weren’t just creating their own path, they were creating a map that could someday be used by others to reach this same sacred site.
The slope of the mound was gradual, almost to the point of being invisible to the eye but was obvious on the legs. By the time they reached the apex there was very little relief because they were too exhausted to be excited.
Gradually they made their way down the other side of the mound, the only evidence of the slope coming from the subtle difference in the ache of their legs.
Lunch had consisted of protein bars eaten on the move with the promise that their campsite would allow a tiny fire to warm up some premade meals and a few downed trees as logs to sit together as a group.
By late afternoon, the grumbling had turned to humor, especially after Becky started planning the trip to the spa that awaited them at the bottom of the hill.
“I sure hope the hot tub is ready when we get there.”
“It’s too hot for that tonight,” Tim answered her. “Maybe the pool will be open though.”
“But my sore muscles need the hot tub,” Becky whined playfully. “That or a massage. Hey, which one of you guys is trained as a masseuse?”
Levi was the first to jump on that opportunity. “Nicholas graduated top ten in his massage therapy class.”
“Really?” Becky turned to look at Nicholas. “I would have thought he was better than that. At least top five or top two.”
“You know this from experience?” the site manager, Jonas, asked. “Maybe we should all get in line when we’re done setting up our tents.”
“Very funny,” Nicholas said, winking at Becky and wishing he could fulfil her need for a complete rub down at the end of the evening. He wished he could fulfil her need for a lot of things at the end of the evening. He’d settle for helping set up her tent and dig her own private latrine far on the other side of the camp, away from the guys.
Now that he was in love with Becky, her comfort and security was almost paramount above his own. Anything he could do for her, he would. As independent as Becky wanted to portray herself, there was a soft heart underneath, and a vulnerability in her eyes when she spoke of her dreams for the future. He wanted to wave a magic wand and help make those dreams into their own two-person reality.
“Keep your eyes peeled for the campsite,” James called out. As field guide, he was paying close attention to the compass and GPS coordinates. “The foresters may have done such a good job with camouflage we might walk right past and miss it.”
“What are we looking for exactly?” Becky asked. Although she was the only person who hadn’t been on an exploration before, she was not the only one experiencing this extreme travel.
All other expeditions Nicholas and his brother had been a part of were at well-known and settled camps, where tents and cabins were already available. This was extreme wilderness survival.
“Remember those photographs we looked at a few days ago?” James asked. “The foresters took images of each camp site so we would know them when we saw them.”
“We looked at thousands of photographs this week," Becky said. "Remind me about some specifics.”
“From this viewpoint, we’re looking for pockets that seem to have fewer trees than the surrounding areas,” James told her. “Once we arrive, there should be obvious patches cleared of trees and shrubs large enough to fit a tent, and not much else.”
Nicholas saw the location about the same time several other people did and a general excitement embodied their renewed enthusiasm as team members pointed and said, “Over there,” and, “That’s got to be it.”
The team’s excitement was squashed upon arriving at the prepared campsite when they discovered there was barely enough room to fit the tents. Because of the need to maintain the integrity of the tree canopy, the foresters had cut as few trees as possible.
They got to work immediately setting up tents as best they could, helping each other out as much as possible to make quick work of the task. Rain threatened the evening, so they opted out of building a fire, choosing instead to prepare for an early retreat into shelter and a healthy dinner of MREs.
Nicholas and Levi set up their tent as close to Becky’s as possible in hopes she wouldn’t feel as alone. Most of the team had zipped themselves into their two-man tents already but Nicholas couldn’t bring himself to leave Becky.
“Nick,” Levi hissed from inside their tent. “Come here.”
“What?” Nicholas peered through the mesh tent flap where his brother lay on his back with his favorite Mayan codex in his hands taking advantage of the waning light to study a book he probably had memorized.
“Get in here and grab your bedroll and backpack and take them over to Becky’s tent. Nobody’s going to think less of you for comforting her on a stormy night.”
“Let me guess, tonight’s the night you would win the bet?”
“Screw the bet. I don’t want my future sister-in-law sleeping by herself in the middle of a jungle.”
That was all the prompting Nicholas needed to unzip the tent he was supposed to share with his twin brother, grab his things and brazenly move them all into his girlfriend’s tent.
“Does this count as sleeping together?” Becky whispered in the dark, tucked in Nicholas’ protective arms. “Have we officially lost the wager?”
“I lost that wager the first time I looked into your blue eyes.” Nicholas kissed the top of her head and relished this moment. Abandoning his preplanned accommodations in favor of sleeping in Becky’s tent had been the best choice he’d made in years, maybe his lifetime. “Do you mind losing the wager?”
“No. I’m just glad you’re here.” She snuggled closer.
“Me too. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep knowing you were over here by yourself.”
“What about Levi? He’s by himself.”
“He and I have slept in the jungle before. This is your first time.”
“There’s a first time for everything.” Becky’s statement had open-ended insinuations and a hint of innuendo.
“And some things are worth waiting for until the moment is right,” Nicholas said definitively, not wanting either of them to let their imaginations wander.
“I look forward to the day when the moment is right.” Becky sighed.
“Me too.” Nicholas pulled her closer. “Now, let’s get some sleep. We’ve got a long trek over another grueling mound again tomorrow.”
A stand alone novella in the All's Fair in Love and Sports Series by Julie L. Spencer.