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Byrne’s lips peeled back from his dents acérées. “Harlech, cancel the men’s leave. We have turncoats to hunt.”

Beau shook his head. “Lord Tremayne desires this to be handled discreetly. I am commanded to go and infiltrate a group of mortals being used by the traitors to locate the gems. He bids me persuade them to reveal the identity of their ringleader, who I am to capture and deliver to him.”

“That sounds more like Tremayne,” Jayr murmured, her expression thoughtful. “But why does he command this of you, Beau?”

The suzeraina trusted him, Beau realized, because she had no reason not to. No one among his Kyn had any inkling of how long he had deceived them. For a moment he wished the earth would sprout a sinkhole to whisk him to hell.

“I daresay the high lord is aware that Beau knows our territory better than any member of the jardin,” Harlech said before Beau could compose an adequate reply. “He came here a century before the rest of us.” He gave Beau a hard look. “You were one of the first jardin in America, were you not?”

“Aye.” That much was the truth, and might serve as the reason Tremayne had selected him for this duty. The high lord had not actually troubled himself to explain his choice, and as a mere jardin warrior Beau could not question the Kyn’s supreme ruler. He still felt a pressing suspicion as to Tremayne’s motives; something in the tone of the high lord’s silky voice had not set well with him.

“Who is this group of mortals, and how are you to infiltrate them?” Jayr asked him.

“They are archaeologists from a northern university who are performing an excavation to the west of the city. The high lord has arranged a position for me as their manager.” He knew next to nothing about digging in the dirt for old bones and such, but he could glean some of the basics from the Internet. “He also directs me to keep close watch over a Dr. Al Stuart, the man in charge of this project. Apparently his knowledge of the Templars puts him in some particular danger.”

“So he orders you to skulk about, guard mortals, and spy on traitors, when we could track and kill them in a few hours.” Byrne sounded disgusted. “Tremayne has finally gone completely daft. We must call Michael.”

“I would rather we not.” Jayr put her hand on her lover’s forearm. “We have nothing to offer the seigneur but doubts and rumors, and our own suspicions. If we must consult Cyprien on the matter, I wish to present facts and evidence.”

“What of this ringleader Beau is to catch?” Harlech asked. “I have no doubt he will snare him, but what is to be done then?”

Jayr faced Beau, her dark eyes intent on his. “I know you are under the high lord’s orders, and as such I am loath to ask this of you, but…when you find this traitor, will you first bring him to us, that we might question him?”

That she would make it a request instead of an order humbled him all over again. “My lady, my faith is ever with you.” Beau bowed his head. “You have but to say, and it shall be done.”

She touched his shoulder in a rare gesture of affection. “I thank you, Beau.” She turned to Byrne. “’Tis likely this traitor is some mortal made unhappy by the Kyn, I think. But if there is more to it, we must know before we turn him over to Tremayne.”

“You were never this devious when you were my seneschal,” Byrne muttered.

“And if I was, how would you know?” Jayr slipped her arm through his. “Now come. We must ride out and inspect the landscaping. I fear that freeze last night may have finished off the roses at the entry gate.”

Harlech said nothing as Jayr and Byrne left for the stables, but once they were out of hearing range, he swore viciously.

Beau dragged his hand through his hair. “You share my sentiments, brother.”

“However this is played, no good will come of it.” Harlech eyed him. “I know you to be secretive, Beau. Were you once sworn to Sherwood? Is that why Tremayne presses you into his service?”

All the members of Sherwood jardin had been executed for conspiring against Richard and slaughtering the innocent and helpless during the jardin wars. Only Harlech’s wife, Viviana, and Rainer had escaped death and treachery, first by running away from their jardin, and then by concealing their origins altogether.

“After I rose to walk the night, I served in the London garrison,” Beau said stiffly. “I was sent to the New World to procure property and goods. I liked the life here, so I later petitioned him to be released from my oath, that I might serve Lord Byrne. You may call upon the Seigneur Geoffrey at your leisure to verify my claims.”

“Do not take that tone with me, lad,” Harlech warned. “You and I were mortal brothers.”

“You were the son of the house, and I the orphan whose care was thrust upon it.” As soon as he spoke, Beau regretted his words. “Forgive me. Your family, your father, they treated me as their own flesh and blood. I but yearned for what could never be mine.”

What would never have been his, had his foster family ever suspected they shared their hearth and home with the son of an English Crusader, and a Saracen whore.

“Think no more of it. I do not envy you this damnable mess.” Harlech clapped his hand on his shoulder. “Come. I shall help you gather what you will need for your journey.”

Chapter 2

The Jade Palms definitely lived up to its marketing, Alys decided as she walked through the enormous lobby toward the reception desk.

The hotel’s facilities occupied acres of what had once been central Florida swampland, now transformed into graceful landscaping embracing an international resort. According to the information package the foundation had sent to her, the hotel offered a multilevel Fitness and Wellness Center, five Olympic-standard pools, two movie theaters, a private river winding through a PGA-scale executive golf course, and various other amusements and amenities. The resort’s restaurants, of which there were nine, ranged from a casual Italian bistro to a five-star formal dining room enclosed by glass walls and a skylight in the atrium.

Designed to impress, Alys thought as she glanced up at the lobby’s centerpiece, a three-story, stainless-steel sculpture fountain. Whoever digs it up in a thousand years will probably decide it was a mass burial tomb for pilgrims who came to worship the Great God Disney, Lord of the Kingdom of Mice.

Arriving at the hotel marked the point of no return for Alys, and while her heart wanted to dance, the enormity of the task ahead kept her excitement and her emotions in check. Over the next thirty days she’d either make a name for herself by unearthing evidence of her unorthodox theories or dig a grave for her already-dubious reputation and fledgling career. She’d talked her way onto this tightrope of a project, stretching her professional life between triumph and disaster; now she had to keep a cool head while walking it.

This is what Robert wanted me to do, Alys reminded herself. Although she’d never spent much time with her legal guardian, he had provided her with the finest education in the world, and the guidance she’d needed to make something of herself. Out of gratitude she’d always tried to live up to his expectations. Robert’s tragic death in a car accident hadn’t changed that; if anything, she felt even more determined to prove his faith in her had been justified.

At the desk, the discreetly suited clerk greeted her with a shallow smile. “Welcome to the Jade Palms Orlando.” He accepted the reservation e-mail she handed to him as if it were a used tissue. He scanned the page and looked up at her. “You’re with Dr. Stuart’s team?”

“Yes.” She mirrored the clerk’s frown. “Is something wrong?”

He slid the e-mail across the desk. “No, ma’am. We’ve been expecting you.” He added another paper.

She thumbed back the bill of her Red Sox baseball cap before she skimmed the printout, taking in the number of suites and rental cars that had been reserved and sorting them out in her head.

“This is fine, except we won’t need this many rooms right now,” she advised him. “Two interns had to drop out and I’m not sure when their replacements will be arriving.” She wished she could have attracted more graduate students, or one or two of her colleagues, to join the project, but no one had taken it seriously, not even when she had landed the proper funding. The clerk was frowning at her again. “You were informed that we’ll be staying here until the end of January, correct?”

“Yes.” He looked past her, his eyes moving from one side of the lobby to the other.

She glanced over her shoulder at the mounds of cases, crates, and carryalls the porters were still bringing in from the charter bus.

“We’ll be transporting our equipment out to the field tomorrow afternoon, so we’ll need to use your storage area only for one day.” He didn’t seem to be paying attention to her anymore. “Did I forget to give you my credit card?” She began digging through her bag.

The clerk politely cleared his throat. “Ma’am—”

“Here it is.” Alys pushed two cards across the counter.

“I’m sorry, but hotel policy requires that…” His voice trailed off as he glanced down. “Oh. Pardon me—my error.”

Alys filled out the necessary paperwork while the clerk began stacking a pile of electronic swipe cards that served as keys to the hotel rooms. She’d just finished signing the last form when she heard young voices peppering the air, and turned her head to watch a small herd of college students trudge across the polished black tile floor.

“I’m here.” She waved at them.

The half-dozen interns hurried over to her and formed a tight, anxious half circle as all of them began to talk at the same time.

“I’m dying for a hot shower.”

“One of those guys knocked over the GPR monitor case. We should check it out before they try to hide the damage.”

“Some guy is looking for you.”

“Like you should talk. Does our grant cover room service?”

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