Page 20

“Alys, no.” He reached out to her.

She caught his hand in hers. “Then tell me. Tell me who you are, and why you’re here. Please.”

Slowly he withdrew his hand from hers, and silently cursed Richard as he repeated the lie. “I am not here to harm you or the project. I was sent only to help. You know who I am.”

“No, I don’t.” She shook her head, backing away from him, and touching her face in surprise as she felt the tear spilling down her cheek. She glanced at her fingers, and then Beau. “I want to, but I don’t think I ever will.”

Alys fled, and as soon as she was out of sight, Beau turned and rammed his fist into the trunk of an enormous black oak. Bark and wood fragments exploded outward as he swore.

Someone cleared his throat, and Beau turned around to see Chan standing a few feet away. “What do you want?”

“Sex with Brenda,” the intern said, his eyes darkening and his voice taking on a dreamy tone. “Sex with Brenda in the back of a brand-new Infiniti. A winning lottery ticket so I can pay off my student loans and take Brenda to Bermuda. A banana split with extra sprinkles. A banana split on Brenda with extra sprinkles. That I eat while someone makes Charles watch.”

Beau sighed. “Come here, lad.”

The unexpected emotional reaction Alys had during the encounter with Beau left her in a state of confusion and depression. She found that she couldn’t concentrate on her work, make useful decisions, or respond to her interns with any degree of coherency. Fortunately Beau joined the students and kept them focused on finishing the last of the processing, allowing Alys to retreat to the lab tent and brood in silence over the unsettling incident. Gradually she came to one undeniable conclusion.

Beau wasn’t creating any problems; Beau was the problem.

The man was a logician’s nightmare. As dirty and taxing as the work they did was, Beau never refused to do any task, even the most menial. He kept busy throughout the night but never sweated or smelled of sweat. Over the past week Alys had yet to observe him stopping for a rest break or showing any signs of tiring. One evening he’d spent five straight hours going back and forth with their largest barrow, wheeling away from the work areas several hundred pounds of dirt, rock, and plant matter.

Beau was incredibly, even suspiciously strong. He constantly carted around packed equipment cases as if they contained nothing but feathers, and had repeatedly hefted huge stones out of the way of the GPR trolley. Alys had later tried to shift one especially large rock herself, and found it to be so heavy she couldn’t tip it over, much less lift it. A few nights ago, when she’d tripped on the stairs in the cloister, Beau had caught her from behind and lifted her back onto her feet. He’d saved her from a broken neck with just one hand, pressed to her midsection. Given the angle of her fall and her body weight, Alys knew it should have been impossible.

Then there were his stories about medieval life—supposedly from books he’d read—that included so many strange and unique facts. Alys would have confronted him and accused him of inventing them, but what he told the interns sounded eerily correct to her. She had been studying medieval literature and historical texts since Robert had first told her about the Knights Templar, and yet none of the hundreds of books she’d read contained any of the details he kept producing. Alys had asked him one evening about the texts he’d studied, but despite his excellent memory of their contents, he claimed to have forgotten the titles.

For such a studious soul Beau didn’t spend a second studying anything. He had yet to touch a book or one of the computers, and several times she’d caught the interns explaining to him how to use some of the simplest devices. The buzz of Charles’s electric razor had made him jump, and when Chan had asked him to work out a measurement on his scientific calculator, Beau had refused, claiming his fingers were too clumsy. Later Alys spotted him sitting alone in the lab tent and playing with the same calculator, turning it over in his hands, eyeing the screen and jabbing the buttons until he accidentally turned it on.

The greatest discrepancy about Beau was his terrible eating habits. Beau had told everyone that he had food-related allergies, so many that he had to prepare his own meals. Most of the time he ate alone in the church or the cloister, but the few times he’d joined her and the interns on their meal breaks, he’d brought almost nothing to eat, and had barely swallowed a mouthful of that. He also refused to drink anything but a little water, and she’d noticed him using the same bottle for the entire day without refilling it. His starvation diet would have caused anyone else to grow weak and dehydrated within a day or two, but Beau showed no ill effects or weight loss whatsoever.

Because Alys knew so little about Beau, every observational construct she had put together about him remained inconclusive and disconnected. While he talked a great deal, he never offered details about himself, his life, or his work for the foundation. A furtive search through his belongings had turned up nothing but clothing and toiletries. The wallet he carried contained a modest amount of cash, a preloaded credit card so new it still had the activation sticker attached, and a driver’s license issued one day before Alys had met him at the hotel.

Nothing about Beau fit any theory she formulated so far, which indicated a need for investigation. She simply needed to collect more data about him.

Alys felt a little better when Charles came in to speak to her shortly before midnight. “We’re finished with the last grid, Dr. Stuart. Do you need us to do anything else?”

Several forms had to be filled out on each of the artifacts they had recovered, something that would take hours, and Alys needed to begin mapping out and scheduling the work for next week. But she knew how much the students had been looking forward to their free weekend, and she could deal with the paperwork herself.

“Thank you for offering,” Alys told him, “but I think that will do it for tonight.”

Alys walked with Charles out to where the interns were gathered around Beau and chatting about their plans. Most of the work lights had been switched off, but Beau turned his head and looked in her direction before she came out of the shadows. As Alys said good-bye to the students, she added another item to her mental list: He can see in the dark.

Once the vans left, Alys made a circuit of the camp, and was pleased to see that the interns had made an effort to leave their work areas tidy. She stopped in the galley tent to retrieve a bottle of water, but found the last case sitting empty. Annoyed, she picked up a cup from the dishes container and went to the upright metal cooler the interns kept filled with water from the spring pool. As Alys reached for the spigot, she smelled a faint, burning metallic scent, and glanced down. An electrical extension cord snaked along the ground beneath the table.

“Who did this?” Alys crouched down to pull the wire away, but felt the heat radiating from the broad cable, and stood up again. She followed the cord around to the back of the table, where it had been carelessly draped over the metal handle of the cooler. On closer inspection she saw some of the protective sheath on the cable had been cut away, exposing the wires, which lay directly against the cooler’s metal exterior.

Alys backed away, groping until she found a metal spoon, and then tossed it at the cooler. It bounced off with a bright flash of sparks, and for a long moment the lights went dim.

If she had touched the spigot, she would have been electrocuted.

Alys used a wooden spatula to knock the cable away from the cooler, and once she disconnected the dangerous cable from the generator extension, she looked around. Someone had just tried to kill her; the attacker must have left tracks or some trace behind. The only thing she spotted out of place was a machete and a pair of binoculars someone had left on the seat of a chair at the planning table. She walked over to retrieve them when she saw Beau’s black leather jacket was also draped over the back of the chair.

Map. Binoculars. Machete. Jacket.

…Their campsites are only a couple of miles apart, just west of the old village.…

Beau intercepted her at the door to the cloister, his expression carefully bland. “Are you done for the night? I’ll shut down the generators.”

“Yes, thank you.” She covered a phony yawn with her hand. “I’m tired, so I think I’ll turn in early.”

Alys went downstairs, showered and changed, and got into bed before Beau joined her. She reached out to shut off the lantern near her bed and turned her back on him. Instead of going in to shower, Beau came to loom over her bed.

“Alys, I am sorry that I upset you today,” he said, his voice low and gentle. “That was not my intention.”

How sincere he sounded for a man planning to sneak out on her. Alys was tempted to tell him about the sabotaged cooler, but that might only make him more determined to do something stupid. “I’m not upset.”

His hand touched her shoulder. “You were crying.”

“I’m not upset now.” She feigned a drowsy, somewhat annoyed look as she rolled over to look up at him. “I’m exhausted, and I want to sleep. Can we talk about this tomorrow?”

“Of course. Good night.” He retreated into the shower.

Allowing her body to go limp and slowing her breathing was simple enough, and by the time Beau emerged from the shower, Alys felt certain her pretense of sleeping was convincing. She did have to wait for him to leave, but planning how she would follow him kept her mind occupied.

Beau didn’t leave immediately, and it was difficult for Alys not to tense when the scent of warm caramel told her that he had come to stand beside her bed.

Does he do this every night? She felt a touch on her cheek; he used the backs of his fingers to give her a gentle caress. Of course, he’s testing me. She mumbled a few consonants and turned her head away from his touch, hoping that would simulate a natural reaction.

“Don’t dream of me, love,” he murmured, and then moved away.

Don’t dream of him? Love? Alys felt like jumping out of bed and kicking him. How could she ever have trusted someone who probably lied to her every time he opened his mouth? She clenched her teeth and waited for the sound of his footsteps on the stairs, and then the sound of the door opening and closing before she opened her eyes and counted silently to thirty.

Copyright © novelfull All Rights Reserved.