Page 19

Beau stacked the case with the rest on the hand truck. “You’re certain these other archaeologists are working in the area.”

“That’s what they put in the equipment checkout logs,” Charles said. “I Googled the addresses on my phone, and their campsites are only a couple of miles apart, just west of the old village. The American team is so close to the property line they can probably jump the fence. I bet they do so they can spy on us, the assholes.”

“Charles.” Alys appeared, her expression as stern as her tone. “However much they behave like one, please do not refer to any colleague as a body orifice. They generally dislike it, and someday you may have to work for one of those assholes.”

Brenda giggled as she and Chan joined them. “I didn’t think you knew how to swear, Dr. Stuart.”

Alys gave Beau a narrow look. “Everyone has hidden talents.”

“Someone left this at the hotel for you, Dr. Stuart.” Chan handed her a sealed gift box stamped with the words PIRATE WORLD. “Maybe it’s some complimentary tickets?”

“Too heavy for that.” Alys broke the seal and lifted the lid to reveal three large, glittering green gems.

Beau went still.

“Oh, my God. They’re gorgeous.” Brenda leaned over to look. “Look at how huge they are.”

“About thirty carats each.” Alys took one out of the box and held it up. “If they were real.”

“They’re not?”

“They’re fakes.” She frowned as Beau plucked the emerald out of her hand. “What are you doing?”

“Admiring your gift,” he said before he handed it back to her. “Dr. Stuart is right. They’re made of glass.”

“Thank you for confirming the obvious.” Alys emptied the other gems into her palm and looked under the cotton liner. “No card.” She glanced at Chan. “You’re sure these were left for me?”

He nodded. “At least, that’s what the guy at the front desk said.”

“That’s odd. Maybe it’s some sort of park promotional deal. I’ll call the hotel later.” Alys tucked the box into her backpack, and her eyes shifted briefly to Beau. “Brenda, you and Chan can finish processing the last of the soil samples.” After the two interns headed for their workstations, Alys turned to Charles. “Those artifact logs aren’t going to update themselves. Get to work.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The intern made a face at Beau before hurrying off.

“I saw that,” Alys called after him before she eyed Beau. “And you. I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t encourage the interns to waste time. We have only seventeen days left to work, and I have to put something in my project summary report other than ‘Stood around gossiping with project manager.’”

Beau nodded and frowned as he watched her stalk off. Over the last five days Alys had grown increasingly short-tempered with her students, showing little of her former patience and sometimes snapping at them over the slightest mistake. Beau knew he was the cause, as she’d actively avoided him all week, barely speaking a handful of words to him whenever she couldn’t.

He knew why she was so angry with him. Her dark mood had begun one morning a week past, when he’d caught her slipping out of the cloister soon after they’d gone to bed. He’d assumed Alys was sleepwalking again, until he found her setting up her ridiculous little tent beside the church again. She’d insisted she wanted to sleep outside, even as she’d stood shivering in the cold morning wind.

Tired and in no mood for another debate, Beau had settled the argument by picking her up and carrying into the cloister. Once he’d deposited her back in her bed, he’d told her that if he caught her sneaking outside again, he’d burn the bloody tent. She’d turned her back on him in a huff, and the next night had refused to speak to him at all.

Alys’s anger wouldn’t be so difficult to bear if Beau hadn’t been wrestling with his own dark mood. The damned woman hadn’t the faintest idea of how lovely she was, how good she smelled, or how sorely she tempted him. When he looked upon her, he didn’t see a child, or a young sister. He saw a woman he wanted to touch and breathe in and hold. When he heard her showering in the next room, he drove himself half-mad thinking of her naked and wet. After they retired for the day, he would lie and listen to her breathing, and watch the outline of her breasts lift and fall, his hands clenched against the need to touch them.

No, if anyone should be sleeping in a tent outside, it should be him.

He had not touched her, would not touch her. He could not take such a risk. As she had pointed out, they had but seventeen days left to work, and while that now seemed to Beau like an eternity of torment, he could endure it.

Fortunately Charles had given him something else to dwell on besides Alys’s myriad allures: the two other archaeological teams that had encamped in the area. One or both of them could be the tresoran traitors; using the guise of a dig would allow them to openly search for the emeralds. Once the interns left and Alys went to sleep, he’d have to scout their encampments.

After he put away the supplies Charles had brought, Beau went to check on Alys, following her scent to the mission’s kitchen, where she had hung a large map of the site marked with a grid pattern. She was standing before the map when he found her, consulting it as she wrote notes in a small diary.

He cleared his throat. “May I have a word with you?”

Her shoulders tensed, but she didn’t look up from her notes. “Go ahead.”

“While we were gossiping, Charles told me that he was unable to borrow any equipment from the universities.” He waited for her to say something, but she only nodded. “I can send a request to the high—to the foundation for the gear you need.”

“Fine. Do it.”

Beau didn’t like talking to the back of her head, and came around her so that he could see her lovely, stubborn face. “You’ll need to tell me exactly what you want.”

“What do I want?” She tapped the end of her pencil against her bottom lip. “I’d like seventeen weeks—no, make that seventeen months—to continue work here. I’d like a dozen qualified, experienced excavators, artifact handlers, and associate archaeologists who won’t act like they’re on spring break or treat this project like a glorified Easter egg hunt. You’re not writing this down. Do you know how to write? I ask because I’ve never seen you do it.”

“You’re right.” Beau held up his hands in surrender. “We should talk later.”

When he turned away, she darted around him to stand in his way. “Wait. You want answers, and so do I. Why don’t we trade? I’ll give you an answer for every one you give to me.”

He could smell the anger rolling off her skin, and felt his own temper begin to fray. “You want to make a game of it?”

“I want answers. Here.” She flipped to a blank page in her notebook. “I’ll start making a list of mine for you. I want a small research submersible,” she said, writing as she spoke, “with dual remote controls, an onboard camera, probe and collection attachments, and a retracting tether.” She looked up at him. “All right. Why have you been following me, and how, exactly, are you locating me when you do?”

“That’s two questions.” And two answers he couldn’t give her.

She began writing again. “I’m adding a wireless video transmitter for the submersible. That’s two answers. Your turn.”

To keep from snatching the notebook out of her hands and ripping it apart, he shoved his hands into his pockets. “Why do you think I’m following you?”

“I don’t think; I know. You followed me into the woods yesterday, and to the palmetto grove the day before, and to the pond the day before that.” She gave him a measuring look. “I see. You’re not going to tell me the truth. Or you’re going to try to charm me into whatever you want me to think. Never mind.” She walked toward the kitchen’s back entry.

Grimly he held on to his self-control as he followed her. “Alys, you’re calling me a liar before I’ve said a word.”

“You’re stalling instead of answering, you’re avoiding my eyes, and you’re hiding your hands.” She ducked under some hanging vines and stepped outside. “That tells me you’re going to lie to me.”

“You’ve told the interns not to go off on their own,” he reminded her as he kept pace with her. “So yes, I have been following you, to protect you.”

“You didn’t see me leave camp when I went to the grove. You were behind the church, changing that flat tire on the van. You were in the stables helping Chan straighten the handle on the trolley when I walked out to draw some water from the spring.” She stopped and glared at him. “And I know you were taking a shower when I went into the woods yesterday. I waited until you did before I left, and I erased my footprints from the trail with a palmetto leaf as I walked. I was very careful.”

She was also too bloody perceptive. “This is not a large area, Alys. There are only so many places you can go.”

“Don’t you patronize me,” she snapped. “You know every time I leave the camp, and wherever I go, you find me within a few minutes. Even when I make sure that you can’t. So.” She gestured at him. “How are you doing it?”

“If I give you this secret, you must never repeat it.” When she nodded, he bent down to whisper next to her ear, “I ask the others where you have gone, and they tell me.”

She tried to push him away, failed, and nearly fell on her bottom. “You are utterly infuriating.”

“I’m not the one covering my tracks,” he pointed out.

“But you are hiding something.” The fiery note her anger added to her scent abruptly cooled, and her eyes took on a suspicious brightness. “This isn’t a game, Beauregard. This is my career, my future. All the work I’ve done, year after year of study and research and planning, it’s all brought me here. I’ve been given one chance to prove myself, and my time is rapidly running out. What happens to me for the rest of my life will be decided in the next two weeks. I’ve been trusting you, and maybe that was a huge mistake. If you’re here to stop me or discredit me—”

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