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“SeaWorld,” Chan said instantly.

Brenda shook her head. “Universal is way better.”

“The Holy Land Experience.” Paolo cringed as the other interns glared at him. “I can’t help it. I’m Catholic.”

“If the time comes,” Alys promised, “we’ll take a vote.”

Driving her Jeep, Alys led the mini-caravan out of the city, following roads through hundreds of acres of undeveloped land until she reached the turnoff for the survey area. Newly installed fencing made of steel and wire had been tagged every few yards with danger signs warning of high voltage.

“Wow.” Brenda, who was riding in the passenger seat, peered at the signs. “Kind of extreme. I guess we won’t have to worry about looters.”

Electrified fences seemed rather excessive to Alys as well, but obviously Tremayne meant to keep trespassers off the foundation’s land at any cost.

She stopped at the entry, where she inputted the access code on the security pad to release the gate’s electronic lock. As the final barrier swung inward, the last rim of sunlight vanished, darkening the clear sky to an orange-bordered violet.

The lack of light didn’t bother Alys, as she had always been more awake and alert at night. She also liked seeing the stars glittering overhead; that was something she’d missed since leaving Europe.

The sky looks like his eyes.

“What was that, Dr. Stuart?” Brenda asked.

Alys hadn’t realized she’d uttered it out loud. “I said that the sky is a nice surprise. We can’t see this much of it in the city.”

Her intern frowned at her. “Are you okay? You seem a little, um, preoccupied. I mean, even for you.”

“I have a great deal on my mind.” And there was no room in it for Beau York.

The foundation’s property encompassed wide fields, acres of woods, and several small lakes, all of which showed no signs of occupation. Alys liked the sprawling majesty of the black oaks and their long, twisted limbs, made almost elegant by the silvery drapery of Spanish moss. The dirt road on which she drove had been recently leveled and graded, which would make the students’ trips back and forth to the site easier.

She spotted a crumbling brick wall illuminated by her headlights and slowed to take in the first sight of the old Spanish mission. Bright lights over the archaic buildings suddenly switched on, making her flinch until she heard the faint rumble of a generator. Someone is already out here, or Tremayne has the power supply on a timer. Since there was no sign of any other vehicles, Alys guessed it to be the latter.

At least Beau York hadn’t shown up yet. Alys needed time to collect herself and prepare to deal with him.

The preliminary surveys conducted by Hylord’s contractor had included a few photos of the mission, but seeing it in person allowed her to appreciate the fine details. The Spanish priests who had arrived here six hundred years ago had evidently taken their time constructing the place, which appeared much larger and more elaborate than some sixteenth-century Franciscan missions on Florida’s east coast she had seen in photos.

Four main buildings, all joined by open-sided passageways, made up the compound. In the center stood the mission’s church, which featured a two-story tower vestibule and arched windows that might have once held glass panes. Beside it a flat-roofed structure was probably the cloister, where the priests had lived and slept. The other two buildings were smaller, and she guessed they had served as a kitchen and a stable or storage barn.

From all indications the mission had been built as the precursor to the sustained European presence in the area, one that had lasted until the late eighteenth century, when Spain ended two hundred and fifty years of rule over Florida by trading it to the English in exchange for Cuba.

Alys parked in a clearing behind the mission, where she got out and directed her intern drivers to back in so they could easily access the cargo areas.

“Do you think we’ll find any dead people out here?” Brenda asked as she went to help with the unloading.

The groans and laughter drew Alys’s attention, and she joined the group of students. “If I answer all the questions, then you won’t learn anything. Does anyone want to offer an opinion for Brenda?”

“I doubt it,” Charles drawled. “The ground’s too wet in this part of the country. That decays the soft tissue right away, and turns any bones left into rice pudding.”

“Thank you for that visual, Charles,” Alys said. “Human remains can be found almost anywhere humans have lived, but we won’t be excavating any we might uncover here. Does anyone know why?”

“Because of chapter eight seventy-two of the Florida Statutes Unmarked Human Burial Law,” Chan said. “That makes it illegal to disturb any burial site, and any that we uncover we have to report to both the state and local tribal officials so they can decide on their disposition.”

Charles pretended to yawn. “You’re such a geek, Chan.”

“Bite me, preppy,” the Asian shot back.

“Gentlemen.” Alys gave them the eye before addressing the rest of the group. “What that means, people, is that any human skeletons or bones are to be left where you find them and reported to me immediately.”

Setting up the site would take most of the night, Alys estimated, although some work had already been done. Brush and grasses around the old mission had been neatly trimmed back, and she could see an ancient trail leading into the woods had also been cleared. Thanks to the winter season and its chilly night temperatures, they wouldn’t have to combat swarms of biting insects. According to the surveyors, the land hosted only a minimal number of nocturnal predators, none of which was larger than a raccoon.

Alys scanned the site with a deep sense of satisfaction. Hylord’s people had relieved her of hours of prep, which would allow her to begin searching for and mapping excavation sites as soon as they unloaded and set up their equipment stations. Her plan was to first use the ground-penetrating radar to sweep the area around the mission to identify promising spatial clusters.

Once they had mapped out a grid around the mission, Alys also intended to visit the nearby Indian village for any evidence of nonindigenous activity. With only four weeks to work, however, she wouldn’t be able to do more than perform a quick visual survey.

A grunt escaped her as she heaved a heavy case of field tools out of the van; a moment later it was pulled from her hands as the scent of warm caramel whispered under her nose.

“Allow me, Dr. Stuart.”

The sweet, dark fragrance faded from her senses, replaced by the same voice echoing in her memory. When he takes hold of your arm, child, jerk yourself to the left, very quickly.

“Dr. Stuart?”

Alys swatted at the hair that had fallen into her eyes to cover her distress. “Mr. York.” When she was able to, she smiled blindly up at Beau’s face. “Such a pleasant surprise. I didn’t expect to see you here so soon.” She recalled the absence of any other vehicles. “How did you get out here?”

“An acquaintance drove the truck that brought me and the equipment. I switched on the lighting and had a look around the old church.” He hefted the box of tools as if it were filled with cotton balls. “Where do you want this?”

“Under the long table the interns are setting over there.” She pointed toward Chan and Paolo, and watched him carry it past a wide-eyed Brenda, who rushed to her.

“Dr. Al, what’s the delish guy from the hotel doing here?” the student demanded.

“That’s Mr. York, and he works for the foundation that is funding our excavation. Once we’ve finished unloading, I’ll introduce him to everyone.” Alys handed her a box of cataloging materials. “This goes in the processing area.”

From that point the setup went smoothly and quickly, with Beau moving the bulk of the equipment cases and boxes of supplies, which allowed the interns to begin arranging their work areas. Alys focused on erecting the canopied mesh tent that she and the students would use as an on-site lab. Hammering the support stakes into the cold ground also allowed her to exorcise some of her pent-up annoyance, although the telescopic aluminum poles and the large roll of roofing canvas weren’t meant to be assembled by one person.

Before she could call Charles over to help, Beau appeared at her side. “You look as if you could use a helping hand.”

“No, what I need is some pepper spray,” Alys muttered.

“I have excellent hearing,” Beau said casually, “and as I’m certain you really don’t wish to temporarily blind me, why don’t you tell me how this goes together?”

He had a good sense of humor, Alys thought, feeling a twinge of envy. No one would ever accuse her of the same.

She gave him a brief rundown of how the tent was assembled, and added, “We have to raise the two support poles at the same time, which can be a little awkward. I can have one of the students—” She stopped as he strode over to the opposite side of the canvas and bent to grasp the pole, which he handled without difficulty.

“On three?” he suggested.

Alys nodded, he counted, and together they raised the canopy. Beau appeared to have no problem sinking his pole into the ground, and came over as Alys struggled with her side.

“The ground is still hard from the last freeze.” He wrapped one hand around the pole above hers, and she felt the aluminum slide through her fingers as his arm flexed. He stepped back and glanced at the other pole. “Is that even, then?”

“It looks like it.” She didn’t understand why his effortless show of strength made her feel even more resentful. If anything, it would be good to have a strong, capable man to help the interns with the heavy lifting and other physical work, something she’d always had to handle herself. Sharing the responsibilities with Beau would give her more time to focus on finding the evidence she needed, and for that, she could show a little more gratitude. “Thank you. I appreciate the assistance.”

“I think you’ll need more of it.” He picked up a roll of the enclosure mesh, checked the straps, and eyed the edge of the canvas. “This is used for the walls?”

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