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She didn’t have Beau’s natural charm, or his colorful communication skills, yet judging by her interns’ expressions, she had gotten across her point. They might still have doubts, but none of them were about her.

“It’s getting late, and you all look tired, so go on and head back to the hotel. When you come back tomorrow afternoon,” she said, pausing to make eye contact with each one of them again, “be ready to work, because I need every one of you. Together we are going to find proof that the Templars came to America.”

The students nodded, and after gathering their packs headed off for the vans. Only Charles lingered, his young face pinking as she glanced at him.

“I don’t agree with any of your theories,” he blurted, and then swallowed. “I never have. It’s why I signed up for this project. I wanted to see you fail, so I could tell everyone that I’m smarter than you.”

Such youthful arrogance usually annoyed her, but Alys heard something else in his voice, something fearful. “You probably are,” she conceded. “No one believes this project will be a success. Well, except me.”

“I haven’t changed my mind. I don’t think the Templars ever made it here from Europe. But after what you said, well, now I’d like to be the one who’s wrong.” His pinkness darkened to red. “So I want you to know, I’m going to do whatever I can to show you how right you are. And how dumb I am.” With a pained smile he hurried off.

Alys felt her eyes sting, and blinked a few times. After years of her being ignored or subjected to scorn by other academics, Charles had offered her something of an accolade.

“That boy,” Beau said as he brought the bus bin back to the table, “is coming close to worshipping you.”

Beau’s observation added to her pleasure before she became irritated with herself for indulging her ego. “Obviously I’ve made a favorable impression on him, but you’re the one they really worship.”

“And rightly so.” He picked up three forks and began juggling them. “Who among you can scrape a plate or scrub a pot half as well?”

“Oh, it’s more than your awesome dish-washing powers,” she told him. “How many teenagers do you know who would sacrifice the prospect of a free weekend in the tourist capital of America to help you survey an Indian village?” She watched as he fumbled a fork and it clattered on the table. “That would be the same village that I expressly said we would not be surveying until we finished at the mission.”

He picked up the rest of the utensils and dumped them into the bus bin. “I was planning to discuss it with you, Alys.”

“Of course you were.” She watched the students in the vans as they drove out to the road. “I’m sure you would have told me all about it. Afterward.”

Beau dropped into the seat beside her. “What harm is there in letting them poke about the village?”

“Frankly I don’t care about the village,” she said. “I have an issue with you undermining my authority. As I am the archaeologist, and you are not, you should defer to my judgment on these matters. If you disagree with my choices, please feel free to discuss them with me. But don’t ignore me.”

“Forgive me,” he said, surprising her. “It was wrong to disregard your wishes. It won’t happen again.”

Alys felt a now-familiar surge of exasperation mixed with affection; Beau often unsettled her with such good-natured reactions. Whenever she’d worked on a dig in the past, she’d had to deal with too many egotistical superiors and resentful subordinates. Beau was nothing like that; he went out of his way to make things easier on her. She was beginning to rely on it, and on him. Since she’d only ever been able to depend on herself in the past, it was a novel and oddly comforting situation.

I’m not alone in this. Alys felt her heart melt a little. He wants me to count on him.

But could she? Was Beau as sincere as he seemed, or was he simply using his charm to control her?

He touched the side of her arm with his. “You’ll feel better if you thump me, you know. Go on. I deserve it.”

“I’ve never struck another person in my life.” She’d done far worse, not that she could ever tell him that.

“But you’ve wanted to.” He picked up her hand, which she still held in a tight fist. When she loosened her fingers, he brought them to his mouth for a kiss. “I am grateful for your understanding.”

The intimate contact of his lips against her knuckles coupled with his voice and the memory of the nightmare from her childhood combined to completely unnerve her. “It’s done. Let’s forget it.” She pulled her hand away and picked up the carryall. “I’m finished for tonight, too. Would you shut down the generators, please?”

He nodded, and she headed for the cloister.

As she showered, Alys felt less annoyed with Beau and more aggravated with herself. Because he was so willing to shoulder so much responsibility, he was easy to blame for her own shortcomings and frustrations. She hadn’t been entirely honest with him or the interns, either. The students’ efforts had been remarkable, and they did deserve a weekend for themselves, but Alys also wanted the time to work on her other problem: the flaw in her theory.

Everything had indicated that the treasure was here at the mission. After a week of digging and turning up only the most ordinary and unremarkable artifacts, and finding nothing to indicate the mission was in any sense unusual, she was prepared to admit that she had made a miscalculation.

The most frustrating aspect of all was that she did know where the Templars’ treasure was; the location had been repeatedly described in dozens of letters and journals belonging to the Spanish priests. She knew it lay deep beneath the earth’s surface, and was accessible only by a narrow stone passage. The only entry to it had been carefully concealed to prevent discovery. Some of the priests referred to the location in religious terms, describing stone vaults chiseled by the hammer of God, and sacred waters welling from a source of never-ending life.

Although the descriptions varied, every single one of the mission priests had used the same name to refer to it: the fountain of youth.

The legend of the fountain, which modern texts always paired with Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, was usually dismissed as pure myth, no more valid or real than the pool of Bethesda, the philosopher’s stone, or any of the other folklore focused on the mystical endowment of eternal youth dating back to the writings of Herodotus in the fifth century BC.

Alys might have rejected the legend of the fountain herself if the timeline and location had been different. But long before Ponce de León had stepped foot on Florida soil for the first time, the mission’s priests had entered into a pact to protect the refugee Templars by relocating them to what was then an equally mythic New World.

Down in the cloister, Alys brought her laptop to bed with her, booting it up so she could begin reviewing her notes again. Her most important source, the letters of a priest who had attended the Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés when he had founded the first enduring colony in Florida at St. Augustine, had provided her with some clues.

Our master listens too much to his lady’s counsel, Father Gonzalo wrote in a letter to his sister. He often wrote about Menéndez’s wife, who had been obsessed with finding the fountain. She has urged him to march against the savages who occupy the land to the west and south, and capture their leaders, which has outraged the entire tribe. Yet even under torture, these old men refuse to reveal the location of the fountain. They will say only that it was made long ago by white-skinned strangers like us, and anyone who drinks from it is not restored to youth, but cursed. So dreadful are their superstitions that several of the poor wretches used their teeth to open their veins, so they might bleed to death in silence before they could be questioned.

Over time other explorers and missionaries encountered and recorded tales of what the Timucua referred to as the sacred waters, and from these accounts Alys had gleaned a few more precious bits of data. The settlement near the fountain had been abruptly abandoned by the Timucua at approximately the same time the priests at the mission had mysteriously vanished. After that, the natives in the area had become much more aggressive, vowing to kill anyone who tried to find the legendary fountain.

By mapping every recorded Indian attack in the region, Alys had been able to narrow down the possible location of the fountain to within a fifty-mile radius. After reviewing countless geological surveys, she had identified each water feature within the boundaries of her search area, and further refined her results by eliminating every body of water that was not within walking distance of a native settlement.

That had left her with a dozen potential sites, most of which had been exploited by modern municipalities. And of the three that remained undeveloped, only one had been located near both an Indian village and a Spanish mission.

“You said you were finished with work for the day.”

Alys hadn’t heard Beau come down the steps—for such a large man he moved with exceptional silence—and when she looked up from the screen, she saw he had left his shirt open to the waist. “Aren’t you ever cold?”

“I’ve lived here for some time,” he reminded her. “I imagine I’m used to the weather.”

“This region is subtropical, and reports indicate this is the coldest winter on record, so you can’t be accustomed to it.” Although she rarely consulted with others on her theories, she wanted to discuss her idea with him. “Would you come here and look at this?” She closed the research file and opened the latest version of her site map.

Beau walked over and studied the screen. “What am I seeing?”

“A map of the entire property.” She zoomed in and highlighted the location of the mission. “We’re here, the Indian village is here, and the spring pond is between them, correct?” When he nodded, she zoomed out. “Every survey on this property dating back to the turn of the century lists a pond as retention or seasonal. It’s completely isolated, so this makes sense, but the water in it is fresh, not stagnant. So what’s feeding it?”

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