Book Excerpt: The Expected One

A solitary and still island in the center of the chaos, she was one of the few women in the crowd -- but that was not what made her different. It was her bearing, a regal demeanor that marked her as a queen despite the layer of dirt covering her hands and feet. She was slightly disheveled, lustrous auburn hair tucked partially beneath a crimson veil that covered the lower half of her face. Maureen knew instinctively that she had to reach this woman, needed to connect with her, touch her, speak to her. But the writhing crowd held her back, and she was moving in the slow-motion thickness of a dream state.

As she continued to struggle in the direction of the woman, the aching beauty of the face that was just out of her reach struck Maureen. She was fine-boned, with exquisite, delicate features. But it was her eyes that would haunt Maureen long after the vision was over. The woman's eyes, huge and bright with unshed tears, fell somewhere in the color spectrum between amber and sage, an extraordinary light hazel that reflected infinite wisdom and unbearable sadness in one heart-searing blend. The woman's soul-swallowing gaze met Maureen in a brief and interminable moment, conveying through those improbable eyes a plea of complete and utter desperation. You must help me.

Maureen knew that the plea was directed at her. She was entranced, frozen, as her eyes locked with the woman. The moment was broken when the woman looked down suddenly at a young girl who tugged urgently at her hand. The child looked up with huge hazel eyes that echoed her mother's. Behind her stood a boy, older and with darker eyes than the little girl, but clearly the son of this woman. Maureen knew in that inexplicable instant that she was the only person who could help this strange, suffering queen and her children. A swell of intense confusion, and something that felt far too much like grief, moved through her at this realization.

Then the mob surged again, drowning Maureen in a sea of sweat and despair.

Maureen blinked hard, holding her eyes shut tight for a few seconds. She shook her head briskly to clear her vision, not certain at first where she was. A glance down at her jeans, microfiber backpack, and Nike walking shoes provided reassurance from the twentieth century. Around her the bustle of the Old City continued, but the people were dressed in contemporary fashions and the sounds were different now: Radio Jordan blasted an American pop song -- was that R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion?" -- from a shop across the way. A teenage Palestinian boy kept time, drumming on the countertop. He smiled at her without missing a beat.

Rising from the bench, Maureen attempted to shake off the vision, if that's what it had been. She wasn't sure what it was, nor could she allow herself to dwell on it. Her time in Jerusalem was limited and she had 2,000 years of sights to see. Summoning her journalist's discipline and a lifetime's experience of suppressing her emotions, she filed the vision under "research for later analysis" and pushed herself to keep moving.

Maureen found herself merging with a swarm of British tourists as they rounded the corner, led by a guide wearing the collar of an Anglican priest. He announced to his group of pilgrims that they were approaching the most sacred site in Christendom, the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher.

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